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Thread: Rethinking the Mary Sue

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  1. #1
    Aerospace engineer turned writer Laer Carroll's Avatar
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    Sep 2012
    Los Angeles

    Rethinking the Mary Sue

    In the Basic Writing Questions forum there is a thread about breaking rules. The best answer to the original question to my mind is the following comment. It was in answer to a post that I wrote, about my seventh and most financially successful self-published book so far.

    Quote Originally Posted by Kat M View Post knew the so-called "rules." And you knew the story. And so, with the story so strongly upon you, you knew which rules to break and broke them confidently.
    That seems to be true of that seventh book. I wrote it in a nearly 24/7 effort of nearly feverish writing over seven weeks, the story almost writing itself while I recklessly followed an initial inspiration. My only addition to Kat's comment is that I did not CONSCIOUSLY break any rules. I simply plowed ahead letting intuition not conscious thought guide me.
    One of the "recks" I ignored is the rule/dictum/suggestion "Don't write Mary Sues."

    A Mary Sue to my understanding is a character who's perfect in every way. She has no flaws, is successful at everything she does. There is no conflict in the parts of the story she commands.

    There is a reason for my character Jane to be a Mary Sue: she was designed that way by an ancient super-advanced race. She is very strong and fast and tough, pretty but no sexier than any other healthy young woman, likable because she likes everyone - unless you're a threat to those she cares for. Then she turns into a flesh-and-blood Terminator like the deadly robots of James Cameron's movies.

    To top off the perfection formula she is a scientific genius able to invent extraordinary machines. AND she is charismatic, a so-called "natural" leader, inspiring others to follow her into a literal Hell if she chooses to. She is without fear; danger only stimulates her to greater effort. And, again, likable because she likes everyone. She lets them know it by her actions not words and without being conspicuous about it.

    As a result my book breaks another "rule" - ensure conflict is in every important scene. Throughout book one and two and now the final book of the trilogy Jane goes from success to success - typically a sure-fire way to bore readers.

    Back to the Mary Sue rule.

    By intuition not calculation I did the following.

    The viewpoint in most scenes is close third. Every event is seen through Jane's eyes/ears/etc. We readers ARE her. Her successes are ours. They seem easy and unremarkable to us because we expect them to be.

    Every once in a while I have short scenes where Jane and her accomplishments are viewed by someone else in several ways. This might be in a short scene whose viewpoint character is secondary and rarely met again. This might be part of an interview on TV or in a newszine (fifteen years in our future all newspapers are 95% online). Almost never do we see her in omniscient viewpoint. This would pull us too far away from an intimate connection to Jane.

    Another tactic I used to make Jane seem real (again unconsciously and intuitively) is to give her hobbies. Never do I spend much time on these, but they are an integral part of her character.

    She dances, first salsa when introduced to it in an orphanage by a Latina bunkmate, later as an adult the Argentine tango. (Both dances I've decades of experience doing, and so know tiny little details of the dances and their milieu that I can use to real-ize her experience.)

    She plays and composes music. (I've known such artists for many years, some of whom are pros and who've gotten entertainment awards.)
    So why are two books headed by a Mary Sue and with no conflict financially successful - by my modest standards?

    I DON'T KNOW. And it bothers me. The last book of the trilogy will come out (I hope, none too hopefully) September 1st. When it reaches market saturation and limps away into history I have another already completed book ready to self publish. And IT FOLLOWS THE RULES. Is it going to near disappear as my first six (rule-following) books did?
    Last edited by Laer Carroll; 08-09-2019 at 09:09 PM.

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