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Drama: July 11, 2012 Issue [#5142]


 This week: Mary Sue, I Can't Stand You
  Edited by: Nicki <3's Mara!!
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Like many of you, I've considered myself a writer my whole life. But in 2007, I shifted out of hobbyist mode, started writing for an audience, and embarked on the exciting journey towards publication. As I continue on that path and delve ever deeper into the craft, I feed an insatiable appetite for creative writing theory. I seek out how-to books and workshop experiences to augment and amplify whatever talent I possess. For those of you like me, here's a little theory to appease your hunger.

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Mary Sue, I Can't Stand You!

"Mary Sue" (or her male counterpart, "Marty Stu" or "Gary Stu") is a character who is perfect in nearly every measurable way. She is drop-dead gorgeous, amazingly intelligent, and highly skilled in whatever urgent task needs performing. Her biggest flaws are trivial, like being younger than every other character, or having a short-temper, or possessing powers so strong that she has trouble harnessing them. These flaws never stop her from saving the day or being admired by everyone who encounters her. Everyone, unfortunately, except the reader.

"In 1973, Paula Smith first coined the term Mary Sue by writing a piece in 'A Trekkie's Tale' in Menagerie #2. The piece was satirical in nature, lampooning the original Star Trek female characters who became love interests for the central characters in the story."(Source ) Since then, fanfiction as a genre has grown in popularity, and with the rise of the Internet, Mary Sue characters today are more prevalent, and more reviled by fans and critics, than ever before. This may be because the fanfiction genre attracts some authors who are first and foremost fans of book or television series, and not necessarily experienced writers. They may not understand the importance of crafting multidimensional characters who must overcome inner struggles in order to face the ultimate challenges they'll encounter in the story's climactic scenes. Fanfic authors who fall into this category are simply enamored by the original, canon characters, and they enjoy weaving their own tales where those beloved characters go on new adventures with a character(s) born from the fanfic author's imagination.

When the fanfiction author creates a one-dimensional character which is based on the ideal version of him or herself, a representation of the person the writer would most like to be, and puts this flawless character at the center of their universe so they may right all the wrongs in the world, they bring to life a Mary Sue. "Basically, (Mary Sue is) a character representing the author of the story, an avatar, the writer's projection into an interesting world full of interesting people whom she watches weekly and thinks about daily. Sometimes the projections get processed into interesting characters, themselves. Usually, though, they don't." (Source)

But inexperienced fanfiction authors are not the only writers who are capable of producing a Mary Sue character. In fact, many contemporary authors have crafted Mary Sues in their original works. Two of the most widely recognized canon Mary Sues are Bella Swan from Twilight and Wesley Crusher from Star Trek, The Next Generation.

Bella is everybody's darling, a straight-A student who is beautiful but clumsy and stubborn, and the only person on the planet with private mind powers. Though she does nothing more than show up, she is immediately popular in her new school, particularly with the male characters, two of whom fall desperately in love with her and battle for her affections. Bella's physical descriptions match Twilight author Stephanie Meyer's exactly, right down to her heart-shaped face and prominent widow's peak. (Check out this photo of Meyers  .)

Star Trek fans will remember young Wesley Crusher, son of Beverly Crusher. He is handsome and his intelligence is off the charts. Despite being brilliant and considered a child prodigy, he is unable to pass the Starfleet Academy entrance exams. Despite this "flaw," he saves the Enterprise-D on seven separate occasions, each time coming up with disaster-thwarting solutions that none of Starfleet's best and brightest crew members could figure out.

Overwhelming criticism of the Bella Swan and Wesley Crusher characters exemplifies the biggest problem with Mary Sue characters: Fans can't stand these too-good-to-be-true creatures of perfection.

People don't want to read about perfect characters. We can't identify with their unrealistic abilities and freedom from challenging flaws. So what if a character has waist-length silver hair naturally streaked with purple, and gold-flecked, emerald eyes? Who cares is she's tall and willowy, with delicate hands and whimsical habits? We don't buy it, that her inability to remember to close the refrigerator door despite being telepathic, constitutes a character flaw.

Characters that readers want to embrace are three-dimensional. They have capabilities we admire and defects we can relate to. It is through the characters' struggles that we identify with something to root for, something of ourselves.

If you're unsure your original character is not a Mary Sue, there are several "Mary Sue Litmus Tests" available online to help you decide. I recommend this one: The Original Mary Sue Litmus Test  . After all, a Mary Sue can be an annoying distraction from an author's heartfelt attempt to entertain his or her reading audience. With a few inner challenges though, woven into the fabric of the character that provoke angst and cause the character to battle with herself, Mary Sue will be forced down a path of personal growth, one that will draw cheering fans to her sidelines.

Question For Next Time: What examples of Mary Sue or Gary Stu characters spring to mind from books you've read, television series you've enjoyed, or movies you've seen?

Thanks for reading!

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 At the Water's Edge  (13+)
PDG Advanced Short Story Workshop; Week 6: Flashback and Transition
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 Little Girl Lost  (E)
A young girl lost written for Sarah's Spectacular Contest
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The Man They Left Floating  (13+)
He knew in his heart they wouldn't just leave him.
#1588146 by Winchester Jones

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Question For Next Time: What examples of Mary Sue or Gary Stu characters spring to mind from books you've read, television series you've enjoyed, or movies you've seen?

Last month's newsletter asked, What new writing technique have you challenged yourself with lately? How'd the story turn out? Here's what readers said:

Being Diane -- heftynicki,
My son went on an archaelogical dig several years ago in south Alabama and brought back nurmeous sharks teeth, petrified of course. I'd be happy to send you one in rememberance of your muse. Read this month's Writer's Digest and you will see how many stories got their start. One for instance, "Animal Farm" by George Orwell watched as a young boy steered a massive cart horse along a narrow path, and he (Orwell) was struck by ann unusal thought: What if animals relized their own strength? His hypothetical question evolved into a metaphorical novella aboout animals taking over a farm.

You're so sweet to offer to send me a petrified shark's tooth! I have seen them available in stores, but plucking such a souvenir from a beach or ocean floor will give me the rush I seek. I've learned of scuba diving sites specifically for divers searching for shark's teeth, and as a newly certified diver, I've taken note. Loved the anecdote about Orwell's inspiration for Animal Farm. Thanks so much for sharing it!

BIG BAD WOLF Is Thankful -- (Submitted item: "Monster Cowboys The Book) Sometimes one has to mix things up. Being a soldier returning home from war can be difficult. Your wife leaving you because of the changes in you can be difficult. Having to rescue her can be difficult. Makes being a werewolf easy by comparison.

Somewhat perplexing answers, man.

platinumbwords -- I very much enjoyed this newsletter regarding your personally-initiated challenges for trying new things with your writing (and your personal searches for specific items on the beach!). As a rather verbose writer, I am the sort to go on for pages and pages at most times, so when I first entered The Amazing 55 Word Contest, I tried doing something that does not come so naturally to me (namely, putting in only what is absolutely necessary). Not only were these experiences fun, but I found that I can be pretty good at it! My initial story, The Cliffhanger, ended up in a May Short Story Newsletter.
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My second one, Spark(l)ing, actually won second place in the contest.
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I look forward to continue challenging myself as a writer, in this way and new ways. It's great to try new things!

Yes! Challenging ourselves so that we're forced out of our comfort zones is the fast-track to honing our writing crafts. I have tried the 55-Word Contest and I agree, it is a real lesson in choosing high-impacting words that carry a lot of bang for their buck, so that an exciting story is relayed despite the limitations of the micro-fiction genre. Looking forward to reading your entries!

See you all back here on August 8, 2012. Until then, have a great month!

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