[LMB] LMB as Mary-Sue

Beatrice Otter beatrice_otter at haugensgalleri.com
Tue Mar 1 03:26:00 GMT 2016



On 2/26/2016 12:12 AM, Gwynne Powell wrote:
>> From: Sylvia McIvers <sylviamcivers at gmail.com>
> Snipssssssssss.....
>
>> "When I read reviews, I see the term Mary-Sue used to mean
>> 1. A female character who is too perfect
>> 2. A female character who kicks too much butt
>> 3. A female character who gets her way too easily
>> 4. A female character who is too powerful
>> 5. A female character who has too many flaws
>> 6. A female character who has the wrong flaws
>> 7. A female character who has no flaws
>> 8. A female character who is annoying or obnoxious
>> 9. A female character who is one dimensional or badly written
>> 10. A female character who is too passive or boring
>> and it keeps going from there....
> I find this incredibly inhibiting when I write. I usually have female
> protagonists, and I'll be rattling along having a great time, then
> suddenly I wonder if I've gone Mary-Sue and I freeze up. But when
> you read that list, you're not left with much - it's hard writing a
>
> My characters are definitely no Mary-Sues, because I wouldn't want
> to be most of them. In fact, I'd sometimes like to smack them and
> sort them out, but certain attitudes or actions are necessary for the
> story. One thing that does reflect me - most of my female
> protagonists are clumsy. I can't help it, it just creeps in. Sometimes I
> fight it and try to make them incredibly physically adept, instead.
> Otherwise, there's a wide range - to suit the story I want to tell. But
> I worry that I'm Mary-Sueing and then it all freezes.
>
> I'm trying to get to the point of just ignoring the whole thing and
> simply writing what I want to write. How do other writers deal with
> it, or isn't it a problem?
>
> Gwynne (Trying not to be Gwynne-Sue)
Perhaps some history will help.  The thing about the term "Mary Sue" is 
that it's extremely misogynistic.

So it starts in the early 70s when fanfic was in paper zines, right?  
And the thing about fanfic in general is that it's mostly written by 
women.  And let's look at the main characters of Star Trek.  Let's see, 
there are three women in regular supporting roles (Uhura, Chapel, Rand) 
and precisely ZERO women in the big three. Over the course of three 
seasons, that's it.  Every other woman on the show was a guest star, and 
I'm pretty sure none appear in more than one episode.  So you have a 
bunch of women writing about these men.  And some of them create their 
own female characters to supply the deficit that the show lacked.  As is 
the case with any writing (but especially fanfic), the quality of these 
OFCs (and the stories they appeared in) varied widely.  And quite a 
number of the readers were annoyed by them on principle--because they're 
in it for Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, right?  The characters they already 
loved!  If they wanted to read a new character they wouldn't be reading 
fanfic!

So Paula Smith writes a parody of them, called "A Trekkie's Tale" in 
which Ensign Mary Sue pops in and steals the show, so that EVERYTHING IS 
ABOUT HER.  She's better than everybody else!  The other characters are 
supporting characters in HER story!  And that's where the term comes 
from.  Even in this infant stage, it's got a seed of misogyny.  Badly 
written OCs can be any gender, and there are many badly written and 
badly characterized stories which feature no OCs at all.  Which ones 
does she mock?  Only the ones featuring women!

And people laugh.  It's a great story!  They remember it.  And the next 
time they see a badly-written OFC, they call her a Mary Sue. Except it's 
a judgment call, it's really elastic, and within a short period of time 
it's used for any OFC someone doesn't like.  And people are scared of 
getting called names and laughed at, so they ... don't write OFCs.  And 
within a short time after that, it's getting applied to any character 
(not just fanfic) that someone doesn't like.  And people are scared of 
getting called names and laughed at, so they ... don't write female 
characters as much.

Look at that list again.  There is ABSOLUTELY NO WAY to write a female 
character that doesn't fulfill at least one of those characteristics to 
/*someone's/* definition of it.  Well, unless you write the most bland, 
boring, average, milquetoast character imaginable.  And people are 
afraid of it, so they either don't write women, or they purposefully 
make them boring.

Now, when people use the term "Mary Sue," are they cartoon villains 
rubbing their hands in glee and trying to suppress the writing of female 
characters?  No.  Certainly not.  They are speaking out about characters 
they don't like and/or find unrealistic.  But they probably haven't ever 
thought about *why* they don't like those characters.  They haven't ever 
thought about why they never have the urge to attack male characters for 
those same "flaws."  (Yes, there is the term "Marty Stew" or "Gary Stew" 
that is talked about as the male equivalent of a Mary Sue, but after 
almost two decades of participating in fannish circles, I've never 
actually seen either of them in the wild.  That is, I've never seen any 
story or character labelled as Gary or Marty Stew, I've only ever seen 
those terms when anyone asks "so what's the male equivalent of the Mary 
Sue?")  The reason people call out Mary Sues but not male 
characters--and the reason why the list of characteristics is so broad, 
all-encompassing, and contradictory--is because our society is 
fundamentally misogynistic, and this is reflected as much in how we 
treat female characters as it is in how we treat living women.

It's not about good writing or bad writing, or good characters or bad 
characters.  It's about controlling how women are written about.  God 
forbid they should be special.  God forbid there should be anything 
distinctive or interesting about them.  God forbid they should be too 
perfect--and God forbid they should be too flawed. God forbid they 
should *be*.

The only way not to risk having your female characters called Mary Sues 
is  ... not to write them in the first place.  But whether or not they 
are called Mary Sues has virtually nothing to do with them as 
characters, the writing of the work they are in, or you as a writer.  
It's about a misogyny so bone deep most people take it for granted as 
normal and right.

I hope this helps.

Beatrice Otter


More information about the Lois-Bujold mailing list