Looks like this essay was needed, so I went ahead and did it. Not sure I said everything I wanted to say, but I tried.
So, there’s this girl. She’s tragically orphaned and richer than anyone on the planet. Every guy she meets falls in love with her, but in…
Okay, there are some valid points made here regarding the origins of the term.
HOWEVER, I think there is a very real reason to be critical of the “Mary sue” trope when it is used in literature, film, etc., namely, that it is one of the only ways women are represented.
Male characters are not only heroic, idealized “Gary stu” types. We are given flawed male characters, imperfect male characters. Characters that represent the diversity of REAL MEN in the actual world. We don’t get anywhere close to that range of women.
Female characters are too often either two dimensional window dressing, or “Mary sues”. More recently, we have seen more and more “Manic-Pixie-Dream-Girl” type women, which is arguably a type of “Mary sue” (I could write pages about that, but I’ll refrain because it just makes me mad). But these aren’t anything like real women.
So maybe, instead of writing another “Mary sue”, write a real woman. Write a woman who is imperfect, who has a temper, who fucks things up, who doesn’t always get the guy. Write someone that actual women can relate to. Write a woman, instead of how you think a woman should be.
The thing is, those are not what people call “Mary Sues” . It’s typically characters written by women that get stuck with those labels and flawed female characters are just as likely to be stuck with that label if they experience any range of success.
"Manic Pixie Dream Girl" and "Magical Girlfriend" are tropes that already have names. You don’t need to call them "Mary Sue". What’s problematic about these women is they are defined by male characters and how they benefit male characters, not that they are successful. Men are still central in those stories, women are accessories or sexual fantasies.
It is very possible to criticize the lack of range of women in fiction without demeaning female writers and characters by sticking them with a dismissive, HIGHLY GENDERED, broad label that can essentially mean anything, but really means “too powerful and important” or “female power fantasy” or “eh i don’t like her”. It helps the dialogue about representation of women in fiction to be more specific in our criticism. Terms like “Magical Girlfriend” and “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” are valuable because they DO focus on specific narrative trends, and these trends happen to be perpetuated by men far more often than women, while people lean more heavily on female works for the mary sue characterization.
Honestly, female authors, write whatever women you want. If you feel like you want to write a power fantasy, fucking go for it. You deserve it. Everyone’s always tearing us down, let us fucking conquer. Just be aware of problematic, sexist tropes you could fall into that have nothing to do with being too powerful. And try to be interesting, or people won’t be interested!
If you want to write a character that’s a pile of flaws, GO FOR IT.
Don’t fool yourself thinking “mary sue” was started, and is largely used, to criticize lack of range of women in fiction. It is absolutely not. It’s just an easy, gendered method to blanket dismiss female characters and writers without engaging in real critical analysis.
(right now, i, the author of this essay, am writing a clinically depressed protagonist who has alienated all of the people around her, is distrustful and self-hating, afraid of touching, has underlying rage issues,feels like she’s never in control…and well, no getting the guy cuz she likes girls but she has a very rocky relationship with the one she does like but…what i’m saying is everyone reading this essay assumes just because i said i’m not going to be bothered by the accusations of writing a mary sue or that i advocate women having power fantasies like men do I must clearly not know how to write ~real women~ despite being one. (100 percent for realsies! complete with certificate of authentication) but you know, actually i love writing heavily flawed characters who screw up every five seconds. I just notice even those characters get called mary sues.And women should get to be powerful and successful and central too.)
Any author write whatever character of whatever you want I would say. I hate the idea that people might sacrifice good storytelling for the sake of representation or political correctness.
oh the horror of people wanting to see stories about something other than straight white cis dudes. Do they not know good storytelling is only about them? Why should we have stories about a range of experiences?? why should we let girls, minorities and queer peeps see people like them i stories instead of the hundredth “this speshul white dude is a chosen one will he get the girl” by the numbers fantasy? THIS IS THE DEATH OF STORYTELLING1!!!
this is not about “everyone”, meaning it’s not about you, dude. everything is not about you. deal with it.
What? That’s not what I was saying at all. I wad saying that as someone who writes ultimately my desire to tell the story comes first. So for instance something I’m currently working on is set in ancient scotland (pre roman invasion of britain), so everyone is scottish and white, because that what suits the setting. Now I could go ooh equal representation I better shoehorn in a character of a different ethnicity but I won’t, because it would be ridiculously out of place for a transgender african to shoe up in ancient scotland. The point I was making is that there should be no pressure to write a particular character of any sort, simply write the characters that form in your mind, okay yes make an effort to develop them etc. But just write what is the best for the story, if that’s a white cis guy great there’s nothing wrong with that, if, as in my book, it’s a flawed redheaded white cis girl with some serious issues, fantastic, if it’s a transgendered gay person with an asian mother an african father downs syndrome and schizophrenia then equally brilliant, just do what’s best for the story. Ultimately if you can’t read the books you want to read I suggest you follow Tolkien’s example and write them yourself. Have a nice day :)
shit you are like a bingo card
1. there were always poc in scotland. Always. do some research, there’s a tumblr called medievalpoc that can give you info. also transgender people always existed. It’s not shoehorning them in.
2. the characters that form in your mind do not appear magically. we are trained to default to straight white cis dudes and tell those stories. We are trained to see poc, girls, etc as “other”. Esp if you are cis white straight male.That’s why there’s so few stories that deviate from the standard, especially popular ones. representation is important. It’s easy to include. It does not require changing much. It just means you have to do some research and think a little. You could learn some things! If you are not one of the group your representing, it’s important to consult people to make sure you don’t use stereotypes or lazy storytelling. But in the end, it’s worth it. Because it’s a greater range of storytelling.
3. representation is important because it affects people in real life. i never saw a bisexual or asexual character in fiction. i’m biromantic ace, but I assumed i was broken, because fiction was my whole life. I was only presented with stereotyped representation of gay people so i assumed i couldn’t possibly like girls because i wasn’t “like that”. Also as a girl, i found myself hating femininity bc it was represented as a weakness in fiction.
it’s important. everyone needs heroes or other characters like them. everyone needs to know they’re not alone. And you, the author, will learn a lot writing a wider range of backgrounds and have more storytelling oppurtunities. It’s not shoehorning. It’s expanding your story.
(Also “redhead” is not a representation of anything, especially in a story set in scotland. saying this as a redheaded girl too, for what it’s worth)
i want to punch “write your own” in the face. I AM. I FUCKING SAID THAT, READ WHAT I WROTE. That doesn’t mean other people shouldn’t tell a wider range of stories. I’m gonna have to fight to publish my book likely, and who knows if it will be successful. In the meantime, other writers need to step it up too. no one can do it alone. And no, i won’t take a leaf from tolkien, he’s a total example of straight white cis dude fantasy sausagefest why would i do that.
this is basic stuff, so if you want to know more, there’s tons of resources. it’s up to you whether to listen and to use the power of google to your advantage. I hope you do.