Monday, April 02, 2012

Mary Sue characters in scifi, women's fiction, feminist, or Christian fiction

I've written before about the "Mary Sue" character -- the perfect character (male of female) who is the epitome of all things good who rushes in to save the day. You all know how much I dislike this particular aspect of bad writing. And "bad writing" it most definitely is.

The Mary Sue pops up in all kinds of fiction but I find her incredibly egregious when she/he pops up in speculative fiction, romance, feminist fiction, and ---WORST of all -- Christian fiction. Because in those kinds of stories she has the propensity of bringing down the whole fictional structure upon the head of the author.

First of all, Mary Sue in speculative fiction:

Much specfic involves world-building. A lot of spec-fic contains heroic characters. A Mary Sue in these stories is often a hero who saves the day. She is the "flying ace" who knows how to operate the broken spacecraft or how to talk to the alien and to generally save the day when ALL else are useless. And that is the thing to remember, for the Mary Sue character...EVERYONE else is written as a support to her greatness. But in a specfic, Mary Sues are detonators of a story because she simply knows too much about that "world" and that "world" seems created simply to show how great she is. There is often a whole lot of technical mumbo-jumbo and spiritual lore (if the book is a fantasy) and ALL this is written so the Mary Sue character can be shown as knowing the lore that will bring salvation to all. She might be the herbalist supreme or the pilot who can build a spaceship from scratch but her knowledge (at least to me) becomes suspect and I simply cannot believe in that world because all problems seem to be created simply to show Mary's KNOWLEDGE.

Secondly, the Mary Sue in feminist fiction.

In these stories, the plot fails because the reader feels they are in a feminist polemic. Either Mary Sue is being the kick-ass "strong" savior or she has such a huge chip on her shoulder that she is hard to connect with. Everyone else in this story is written solely for the purpose of showing how STRONG the Mary Sue character is.

Thirdly, the Mary Sue in women's fiction.

Mary Sue's in romance have the same problem as Mary Sue's in feminist fiction. However, whereas the feminist Mary Sue is angry and bitter and snide because nobody knows the trouble she's seen, the romantic Mary Sue is "softer" and "more angst-ridden." She has a sorrow which she keeps in her heart -- she is brave and strong and is always being brave and strong toward herself and "understanding" toward others. This Mary Sue often has some wounded frail woman she mentors. Often a poor weak Black woman or otherwise disenfranchised woman. This Mary Sue takes up the white women's burden to save all near her while she goes on her life. Everyone in these stories are created to show how KIND the Mary Sue character is.

Lastly, the worst Mary Sue of all, the Christian Mary Sue.

The Christian Mary Sue is created to show how GOOD the main character is. This is what makes her so reprehensible. In a story with a Christian Mary Sue, every other character seems to be the embodiment of a particular sin or spiritual need and the Christian Mary Sue is the embodiment of all the virtues. The Christian Mary Sue doesn't dip or chew but she patiently hangs out with those who do...because she is "that good." She is long-suffering with the sins of the other characters because she has Christian love and patience toward them, but inside her heart, she --and the narrator-- is always aware of how sinful they are. This kind of Mary Sue is the hardest to stomach because the marrator/author literally is in judgment mode toward all the other characters and reading such stories by newbie Christian writers can push an experienced critter over the edge. Because not only are we dealing with a story that has the usual "Mary Sue (author stand-in) as the center  of the whole universe (which is embarrassing at worse and bad writing at least) but we have a Mary Sue who is the spiritual judge. jury, and executioner of her characters....and the smug self-righteousness just digs at the reader.


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