[LMB] OT: Judging a Mary Sue

Elin B elbju at yahoo.se
Sat Sep 21 09:42:40 BST 2013

Eric Oppen wrote: 

>Quoting David McMillan <skyefire at skyefire.org>:

> >On 9/20/2013 8:31 AM, Rebecca Price wrote:
>>> The original Mary Sue, as I understand it, isn't just author
>> >self-insertion, it's that she's usually very young for her accomplishments,
>> http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/FanFic/MarissaPicard The *first*
> >Mary Sue?  Well, no, but she appears to be the one who made the trope
>> famous, at least in SF circles.

>As I understand it, the original "Mary Sue" was a character in a "so  
>bad it's almost good" ST:TOS fic, Ensign Mary Sue.  Ensign Mary Sue  
>was incredibly beautiful, got all the guys her author liked, and saved  
>the ship as often and as effortlessly as Wesley Crusher did.

From what I understand, it was a clear parody fic making fun of a type already existing in the fanfics of the day (though I've only read the fic itself, not any of those other old Star Trek fics). It was very short, too.

Personally, I still think of Mary Sues as being new characters in fanfics that didn't exist in the source material, who steal the spotlight from the existing canon characters while not being interesting in their own right because they're so annoyingly perfect or near-perfect, and we're told how great they are and how much we should admire them. And yes, they usually outshine the canon characters in various ways. (Necessary caveat to this: there are plenty of original characters in fanfic who really *are* interesting and intriguing, and who do fit in well with the canon characters whether as antagonist, ally or third party. I don't mind it when the spotlight is shared with those OCs. Similarly, an original character who mostly exists to fill a minor function doesn't need to have a lot of flaws or depth to justify their being there: they can just serve their part in the narrative and then we move on.)

I know that to many being an authorial self-insert is part and parcel of being a Sue, but I don't think it's a necessary requirement. To me, a female author can definitely create a male OC that has all the qualities of a Mary Sue/Gary Stu - and vice versa. And I frequently don't know anything more of the author than what gender they claim to be; and with many pen names not even that.

I find it confusing when people talk about Mary Sues when meaning canon characters and how those are treated by the author. At the very least, I think it's better to use the term "Canon Sue" for them, otherwise I'll just think of fanfics and be led astray. But even so, I think it's better to use a different term, because the dynamics in terms of reader expectations and narrative requirements are different. I don't really think there's anything wrong with wish-fulfillment itself in a story. It does need to be tempered by other elements if you want more depth and (IMO) more impact, but that doesn't need it can't be there. To the contrary, it can be a very effective part of the whole.



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