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Of Mary Sues and Critics


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* On a site full of flamers, a.k.a "critics", creating a Mary Sue character is like pinning one of those arrow-target things to the front page of your story and screaming "Shoot! "

Of course, most "Mary Sue" authors are unaware of this. You've finished the first fewchapters of your masterpiece, and are sitting back, congratulating yourself and anticipating your first review. You go to your inbox and click on an email heading: "New Review for your Story." What you see, however, is not exactly what could be considered a critique.

"OMG this is so bad, it gave me a migraine. I had to take, like, fifty aspirins. Please, take your Mary Sue down, before you kill us all."
Now, this hasn't happened to me - at least, not yet, and I can't be certain that it will never happen. But it probably would have happened to me when I was younger, still in love with big words and philosophical angst - except for the fact that I never really began to use the Internet to post stories until I was nearly 14. By that time, alhough my characters were still Mary Sues, they were far better than the Sues of the earlier days.

Actually, I take that back. The Sues of my teens were not a bit better than the earlier Sues. In my opinion, they were worse. Much worse.
Growing up as a preteen girl in a moderate, orthodox Muslim family, I read all sorts of horror stories about the abuse of women in "extremist" families. Like any idealistic kid, I was indignant, and the fact that the topic of romance was almost considered a taboo with my parents only made the matter worse. So, of course, as an act of private "rebellion", I began to write stories about the injustice of slave concubinage and the horrors of rape. Before long, my sweet, kindhearted damsels in distress and my philosophical warriormaids were replaced by beautiful, hot tempered, angsty rape and arranged marriage victims. When I matured a bit and began to realize what was happening to my writing, I tried to drag myself out of the "abyss" - but I was in, waist-deep, and it took months for me to escape. Even after i'd managed to rid myself of the rape and arranged marriage cliches, a grey-black Angst cloud seemed to darken every story I attempted.
I longed to return to my old, lighthearted, sunlit-meadow style of writing, and I also longed to write a well developed, non-Sue character. But I just couldn't seem to pull it off - though not for the want of trying. I put my favorite character through every conceivable Mary Sue test, measured her against every Mary Sue article on the face of the earth - and wound up with an Anti Sue, a character who was so unlikeable and pathetic that she not only deserved no sympathy from the reader (and received no sympathy from me) but was completely useless as a protagonist.

"Why are all of my characters either Mary Sues or Anti Sues?" I asked myself.

"What is the real definition of Mary Sue? "

I'm certain that all of our flame - wielding critics have their own ideas about the definition of Mary Sue. "Its a character who is too perfect!" "Its a character who is *insert list of Mary Sue symptoms - beauty, angsty past, getting the guy*." "A Mary Sue is a character like Bella Swan!"
Basically, our "critics" know everything about what a Mary Sue is. Would they be able to give a thorough, helpful explanation if they were asked exactly why a Mary Sue is so horrible? A few of them, maybe, but in most cases, probably not. They might answer, "Its because she's so perfect / obnoxious/ annoying," which, as I've learned from hard experience, is not very useful.

Then again, I have to consider the fact that on FF.net, most of the time, reviewing is a rave or flame affair. If a "critic" likes a story, he/she will rave about it. On the other hand, if the "critic" hates a story, the author receives a nice little bit of abuse. You'd think hat an intelligent reviewer would leave some helpful suggestions for improvement - but, according to the "critic", the story being flamed is just "too horrible" to be given a thoughtful critique.

Or perhaps the reviewer is simply unwilling to admit that he / she bit off more than he / she could chew, when he/she decided to become a "critic."

After all, a Mary Sue is just a character who is flat - not well-rounded, underdeveloped, stereotypical, or unbelievable. But there are all kinds of flat characters that could come up in writing, and for the most part,they are all equally bad.

So what distinguishes a Mary Sue from other flat characters? Well, a Mary Sue is what a flat charcter becomes when the author portrays her with far too much sympathy.

In the end, the question is "How can we understand Mary Sues and why certain types of Mary Sues are bad, so that we can use that knowledge to create well-rounded, well-developed characters?"

Most "critics", however, aren't going to help you with that. Character development is a broad, deep subject, while Sue-flaming is really just a game, in the end. Most people on FF.net are amateurs, at writing and at reviewing, and although there's alot of complaining about how people don't work hard at writing, critiquing - which is supposed to help writers to improve - is often treated as a joke.

So why is a Mary Sue bad? We'll discuss it in the next chapter.
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