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I've been thinking... why is Mary Sue so vilified? It's become an automatic reaction with just about everyone, but I'm starting to question it for myself.

I can understand the problem when canon pairings are broken up in order to make room for the author aka Mary, but when a canon character has no love interest, what's so wrong about writing them one? Of course the original character will be an extension of the author's personality -- even canon characters are that in fanfiction, if you look closely enough. The only difference is how well the Sueishness is disguised beneath good writing and possibly a good plot. It's quite clear that 12 year olds, no matter how intelligent, won't be as adept at hiding their own burning wish to be the canon character's daughter, friend or lover as older, more seasoned fanfiction writers.

We all want to be loved. Is that so wrong? Most of us are very aware that we aren't as special as we like to think, and most of us don't live the life they want to. So we try to escape, to create ourselves better in fiction than we could hope to be in real life.

We all need the fantasies, the daydreams, the flights of fancy, and usually they remain just as fleeting. Putting something like this into writing requires effort, and as strange as it might seem, even people who can't spell have the right to artistic expression. Oh yes, even they should be allowed to give their dreams tangible form. And who knows? Self-improvement may even lie down that road. At the very least, their spelling will improve.

But instead, when that twelve year old puts her first story on the 'net for all to see, she is heaped with scorn by self-appointed canon guardians for daring to publish unpolished drivel, and ridiculed for salivating so openly over fictional males the experienced authors know to 'appreciate' in private. Of course there are people who take care to gently point out the flaws in both narrative and characters, and offer actual critique without first climbing onto their intellectual high horse... but most so-called reviewers simply need to loose some venom lest they poison themselves from the inside (and of course, it helps them gain an elevated sense of self-worth by comparing their superior intellect to that of lower lifeforms, subspecies 'the common fangirl').

And yet, the pubescent teen is still better off than the fourty year old who dares to put up her purple-hued prose of Sesshoumaru making out with a feisty original character who is neither particularly bright nor particularly likeable. She must prepare to receive ten times the scorn because she doesn't even have the excuse of youth.

Ultimately, I suppose this is what generally happens to people who try to 'rise above their station', to put it a little archaically. They are simply cut down to size. In this respect, every fandom is a reflection of the real world, complete with people raising to fake popularity on questionable merit, their bootlicking cronies, nutcases wo attempt to uphold what they perceive as 'moral values' under the onslaught of depravity (prostitutes! love slaves! hot buttlove, OMG!), as well as the not-quite-as-active masses who write the occasional story, draw the occasional picture and are easily distracted by the shiny when a newer, better fandom comes along.

I'm not saying I like wading for hours through fiction of poor quality in my favourite fandoms until I finally find something I like. I'm not saying I'm happy when the two existent het Saiyuki fics I've found after a long search are near-unintelligible teenage outpourings with a chapter length of 300 words and inflationary use of 'lol' in the author's comments. But in the end, who am I to judge?

The world isn't full of bright, beautiful, wise, kind, perfect people. Most of us are limited in one sense or the other -- intellectually, emotionally, or morally, whatever that might mean. And casual cruelty is still cruelty -- it still doesn't cut any less deep because it was delivered in passing.

Just something to think about when next one is tempted to crush canon-defying, OOC-perpetrating, intellectually bankrupt little maggots. LOL.


( 40 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 9th, 2005 07:08 am (UTC)
I think Mary Sues get under my skin because they are never, ever as good as pairing canon character with canon character, if only for the simple reason that canon characters have a history together, and I, by proxy, have a relationship with both of them (granted that relationship is purely voyeuristic, but I probably like them, and want to put them into stories and see what they do with a set of givens like history, the story so far, their relationship with every other damn character in the cast, personality, and so on). The thing about Mary Sue, or even well-written original characters, is that I just don't care. They waltz in from stage left and take over a story with which they've had no connection and no history until the moment the authoress thought an established world needed her own personal avatar. I've read two original main characters that I like - TWO out of five bajillion, and they were both daughters of a canon character and had no sexual or romantic interest in anyone from the main cast (yet, though I could probably accept slow build-up). The immediacy with which this or that hot bishounen thinks of Miss Sue as a potential sexual partner is almost always unrealistic, uncharacteristic, and just plain stupid within the context of a story. It engenders immediate irritation in me. I don't care if someone wants to write hot hot Author/Bisshie action, but let's be honest - no one wants to read that except the author. It's like talking about your private defecating practices in public - it just seems crass.
Jan. 9th, 2005 07:38 am (UTC)
they are never, ever as good as pairing canon character with canon character

Oh, that's perfectly true, up to a point. But some characters simply don't have an appropriate foil in canon, often because the sereis is skewed to stron male characters and women are just an afterthought. And I'm awfully sick of seeing male characters paired off with each other when they are quite blatantly heterosexual. To me, the depiction of homosexual love as something elevated, more pure that heterosexual love could ever hope to be, is worse than self-insertion.

It's true that one doesn't care one whit about original characters in the beginning. But I don't even care about canon characters in the beginning, and some of them leave me cold even after whole episodes of exposure (Kouga for example). So if a character I enjoy has no prospects whatsoever of a romantic relationship with another canon character, I'll take the OC over 'mere' gen!fic any day.

Which is all kinds of twisted, I'm sure.

But fanfiction writing is an intrinsically exhibitionistic practice, just as reading it or even watching a series/movie or reading a book, respectively, are voyeuristic actions through their very nature. If you like a fictional world, chances are that somewhere in the back of your mind, you'd like to be a part of it, at least for a while. Well-written OCs (and there are a few, IMO) can be just as compelling as canon characters, if they are given the chance. Or is it automatically more right to use a canon character who has appeared in one episode out of over a hundred?

On a final note, I've always felt that inside San's Kagome beats the heart of an OC in the very best sense of the word... and she's so likeable, flawed, and absolutely brilliant that she's utterly spoiled me for canon!Kagome, who now seems like a mere shadow in comparison. And if she had been a true OC, that wouldn't have made her less of a wonderful character, and I would still have scrambled to read it.
(no subject) - a_hollow_year - Jan. 9th, 2005 08:34 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - technoelfie - Jan. 9th, 2005 12:35 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - a_hollow_year - Jan. 9th, 2005 01:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - technoelfie - Jan. 9th, 2005 02:59 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - technoelfie - Jan. 10th, 2005 06:21 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - a_hollow_year - Jan. 10th, 2005 06:41 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - technoelfie - Jan. 13th, 2005 07:41 am (UTC) - Expand
Jan. 9th, 2005 10:33 am (UTC)
I have been in various fandom on and off for years and my tolerance for Mary Sues and the like has drifted from a bemused acceptance down to an absolute intolerance.

Anyone is free to say or post whatever they like on the Net, but that means other people are equally free to react to however they want.

I honesty do not care if I hurt some little teenybopper's feelings because she needs to take a refresher course on the proper use of the English language which she obviously cannot speak. The fear of exposure to failure in education and in our culture has created a generation of such self absorption and self centerness that the concepts of integrity and personal responsiblity are laughed at.

The reinforcement of mediocrity does no one a favor, whether in life or in fandom. While there is no excuse for overt hostility and personal attacks, but a person whose self image is so fragile they can not deal with a criticism of their magical mystical super miko Inuyasha character will not survive long in the real world.
Jan. 9th, 2005 11:18 am (UTC)
I think you believe that "OC" is synonymous with "shite writing". That's not completely true; some are written extremely well, with subtlety and depth.

And just because a story contains only canon charsacters is not necessarily an indication of quality.

It all boils down to the writer, not the characters. In the right hands, a story can be good no matter the content.
(no subject) - rianax - Jan. 9th, 2005 03:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - hardlyfatal - Jan. 9th, 2005 06:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - rianax - Jan. 9th, 2005 07:07 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - hardlyfatal - Jan. 9th, 2005 07:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - rianax - Jan. 9th, 2005 09:06 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - hardlyfatal - Jan. 9th, 2005 09:14 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - rianax - Jan. 9th, 2005 11:39 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - hardlyfatal - Jan. 9th, 2005 11:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - rianax - Jan. 10th, 2005 12:09 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - hardlyfatal - Jan. 10th, 2005 08:55 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - rianax - Jan. 10th, 2005 09:26 am (UTC) - Expand
Jan. 9th, 2005 12:43 pm (UTC)
I honesty do not care if I hurt some little teenybopper's feelings because she needs to take a refresher course on the proper use of the English language which she obviously cannot speak.

Then I think you're lucky you haven't encountered too many people with the same attitude when you started out.

What I'm objecting to is flaming. A really responsible person will either offer proper critique or refrain from commenting. But critiques take time and thought. True critiques are work, and that's why many people don't bother.

The reinforcement of mediocrity does no one a favor, whether in life or in fandom.

Now, that depends. If people are mediocre because they can't be bothered to improve themselves, that's one thing. If they are mediocre because they can't do any better, it's absolutely reprehensible to treat them badly because their perceived IQ is lower than one's own. It's very hard to tell the difference online.

However, in both cases thoughtfully offered suggestions will fall on more fertile ground (and help more) than veiled insults. And I've seen too many occurences of exactly the overt hostility you mentioned.
(no subject) - rianax - Jan. 9th, 2005 03:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - technoelfie - Jan. 9th, 2005 04:06 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jan. 9th, 2005 10:59 am (UTC)
Hi, Caro, I doubt you remember me -- I'm Ella, I've read your "By Divine Intervention" (and sequel) Legolas story on fanfiction.net -- but when I checked for updates I noticed on your bio that you had an LJ. So I added you. :) Anyway...

I have to tell you that I'm completely feeling what you say here. I have a tendency to scorn the Mary Sues or ancient, worn-out plotlines that are found in all genres of fan fiction, but I've also stopped and thought about something similar to what you just said. I mean, I wrote terrible, Mary-Sueish fan fiction when I first started. I think about it now and cringe, but oddly enough, getting that out of my system has made me a much better writer, I think.

I have this loooong fan fiction that I've been writing on for over three years, and when I go back and re-read it, I'm amazed at how much it's improved as I've gone along. My main OFC has gone from being an irritating quasi-Mary Sue to a genuine character that people in the fandom love. It's become such a great story to me, in fact, that I want to turn it into a real fiction piece when the fanfic draft is done.

And I have to think, if someone had come to my site back when I first started, and completely torn me up and down for writing such bad prose, would I have continued to write? Or would I have been disheartened and given up? Knowing me, I probably would have given up, at that time.

So, as aggravating as the Mary Sue stories tend to be, isn't there at least a chance that some of those authors are going to get better and learn from their mistakes, as I did? Is it better to actively scorn them and tell them to quit writing such drivel, or is it better to keep our mouths shut and ignore it for the time being?

Anyway, I really loved your post here, and it made me think quite a bit. I might be referencing this the next time the topic of Mary Sues comes up in our writing community. :)
Jan. 9th, 2005 12:48 pm (UTC)
Hi! Of course I remember you!

And thanks, that's exactly the point I was trying to make. 'Real' fiction is rife with OCs (naturally) and if the story is good people are interested enough, so the argument 'an OC is only interesting to the author' doesn't hold up. Furthermore, everyone starts out less than perfect. It's unfair to stifle a writer's growth for the sake of one's own intellectual exhibitionism -- which is exactly the well from which the more elaborate flames spring. :)
Jan. 9th, 2005 11:11 am (UTC)
Mary Sue. Not really as complicated as it seems. First of all: all piece of fiction is one way or the otehr an extension of the author, otehrwise he/she cannot write it well. Second, A Mary/Gary/whatev Sue is not necsessarily a blatant self-inserion, a Mary Sue is a favoured, outrageous and special character to whom the Author /cannot be fully objective/. Mary Sues exist in official and published fiction and stories, just as in fanfiction (The daVinci Code... there's Sue warning on that.. od the bad kind. ugh). Online, the term Mary Sue has come to represent ALL bad original inserts in fanfiction. Which isn't entierly correct.
Jan. 9th, 2005 12:53 pm (UTC)
First of all: all piece of fiction is one way or the otehr an extension of the author, otehrwise he/she cannot write it well.

Exactly my point! We're all intrinsically egocentric. Only some of us try to hide it. :)

And The daVinci Code does indeed feature the most sickening male Gary Stu I've ever seen. *shudders*
Jan. 9th, 2005 11:49 am (UTC)
To a certain extent...
...I think you're writing about me because I am paranoid do exhibit a lot of what you describe above: scorn for bad writing and transparent Mary-Sues. I guess the issue for me is not the premise of slash or Mary-Sue, but the quality of execution of same. I've read some really, really shitty canon-only fic, and I've read some absolutely great Mary-Sues and slash.

On the topic of M-S:

We have to consider that there's a certain point at which *all* characters are original, just popping in from stage left. If you think about it one way, only Kagome, Inuyasha, and Kaede are "canon" because they were in the first ep-- everyone after that (Sango, Shippo, Miroku, Kouga, etc.) were add-ons that showed up as the story progressed.

Who's to say that, if carefully crafted, a fic author couldn't achieve the same effect? Remember, Sango appeared in the story after Miroku, and romance has subsequently followed-- is she Takahashi-san's M-S avatar? She might well be: she's pretty, kicks ass, has a tragic past, travels with an OMG KEWL animal companion, etc.

Looked at another way, Kagome herself is the ultimate Mary-Sue. She "drops into" an established other world (Sengoku Jidai), and turns out to have a kickin' destiny and OMG SUPAH POWAZ. She's pretty and sweet, the perfect ingenue, and yet immensely giving and unselfish and loving, even when it comes to watching the boy she loves pine for someone else. She even has a secondary character fall in love with her and pursue her ardently, but her attentions are firmly engaged by Inuyasha.

On the topic of slash:

I, too, am sick of the character rape that comes from slashing people who are clearly hetero in canon. In far too many slash fics, two male chars get together and everyone's ok with it, esp. the guys themselves. Sorry, but I know too many gay men who had a hell of a time coming to grips with their true sexuality to think that it's something that can be overcome (heh) through just the merits of "healing sex".

What about the societal prejudice and brainwashing that declares gay = bad? There are a lot of issues many gay people must cope with and process on their to being ok with it. Where are the fics examining Kouga's conflict and guilt over feeling attraction for Inuyasha, Inuyasha for Miroku, Miroku for Sesshoumaru? Same with incest fics. Very few of us are raised in families where fucking each other is accepted and approved. Where's the story featuring Inuyasha's profound discomfort for being unable to control his feelings for Sesshoumaru? Sango's for Kohaku's?

And what about the fallout from everyone else? Especially for the woman in a closeted/clueless man's life-- I know a half-dozen women who were devastated when the man they loved, and who they thought loved them, suddenly came out. It threw their entire existence into chaos. So I really don't see Sango and Kagome just shrugging and smiling because Inuyasha and Miroku have finally realized they were in love after a lengthy bout of hot bishie buttsex. And I *really* don't see them putting their arms around each other with matching shy smils because they "just realized *they* were in love, too!" [simper, giggle]
Jan. 9th, 2005 12:57 pm (UTC)
Re: To a certain extent...
I was certainly not referring to you specifically! I think every one of is is guilty of less than kind thoughts about the mentally immature, simpering kind of fangirl. I still don't approve of reviews that are more geared towards displaying the writer's intellectual superiority than they are concerned with actually helping the author of the story.

About Mary Sues -- I fully concur with everything you've written here.

As to slash, that's my utter pet peeve, and you know the reasons by know, so I won't reiterate them here. Suffice it to say that what the average fanfic author regards as slash is so far away from the truth of homosexual relationships that it's absolutely laughable.
Re: To a certain extent... - hardlyfatal - Jan. 9th, 2005 01:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jan. 9th, 2005 12:41 pm (UTC)
Well, Mary Sues don't do anything for me - they used to, when I used to write them (with well, a flaw, generally stupidity, but in Ranma this is not so much a flaw but a run of the mill character trait, like breathing) and I couldn't imagine how to mix up the characters in any interesting way without chucking in a a new character. But I tend to *shrug* at them, figuring that fanfiction is a hobby, and if they are getting enjoyment out of their Mary Sues, that's good for Sue authors. I mean, I love skiing, and I'm bad at it, so if they love fandom but are bad at it, well, who cares? (Well, me, when I feel like wading through torrents of bad!fic in search of good fic, but still, this is a passing annoyance)

I generally would rather take randomly slashing or randomly, er, hetting a character rather than pairing him (or her) with an OC, except as background in the past (to the fic, not necessarily to the canon). I don't think this elevates slash as purer than hetero relationships; canon/canon relationships over canon/noncanon, maybe. So I hate Gaara/Hinata but would read it before Hinata/a boy from an eligible clan that we've never seen before (though the latter might make more sense), unless it was a background pairing in a gen Hinata-centric fic; I'd also take the random slash pairing of SakuHina before either. I guess it comes down to what Res said, about having a relationship with the character, them having relationships to canon characters as a jumping off point. Even characters who have very few to no character traits in canon (TenTen or Hanabi) paired with canon characters work well for me because of the latter; Hanabi/Neji would have a definitely different tone from Neji/TenTen, because of the relationships. So I don't in general read OCs paired with main characters (I like OCs if they have a purpose, like antagonist or bit/background character, and if you wrote Genma/your OC, I'd read it), but I don't care enough to go and review someone over it; I don't waste my time reading things I'm sure I couldn't possibly enjoy.
Jan. 9th, 2005 01:14 pm (UTC)
But I tend to *shrug* at them, figuring that fanfiction is a hobby, and if they are getting enjoyment out of their Mary Sues, that's good for Sue authors.

Yep. As you mentioned, wading through bad!fic is definitely a bother, but it's still no reason to take it out on some teen just because she's not a good writer yet.

On the topic of OC versus canon character, I admit that I simply approach the problem from another side. Instead of asking myself what pairing would be acceptable to the members of the fandom (i.e. potential readers), I ask myself who would fit the character best. In the Inuyasha fandom I can see both Miroku/Kagome and Sesshoumaru/Kagome, so I will read/write these pairings. There's no need for an OC in this instant -- she would be superfluous and merely push aside a perfectly fitting canon character.

Naruto is another thing altogether. I just can't see him with Kurenai or Anko (or Sakura), so he'll either be paired with an OC or an entirely marginal character like Ayame, whom I can mold to fit my purposes because she has not apparent personality. Genma poses yet a different problem: as opposed to Kakashi, who has a firmly established, multi-layered personality, Genma is a riddle. There are hints that he's a calm, cool man, and that he might or might not have a bit of an oral fixation. His womanizer personality is purely a fandom creation (as far as I know due to the fact that his seiyuu has voiced womanizing characters before). I like that aspect of him, even if it isn't established canon. So if I write a relationship for him, I will attempt to create an OC that will hold his interest, and, even more importantly, help him grow and unfold as a person.

In my eyes, that's the crux of every successful fictional relationship -- the characters of the protagonists must be such that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. IMO, Inuyasha/Kagome is typical of a relationship where the couple would stifle each other's growth, would keep each other caged in a state of immaturity, and would hurt each other constantly.

Similarly, Kakashi/Sakura will always carry the taint of the teacher/student relationship in my eyes. Even though there are beautifully written stories out there where she's grown and they meet again on equal footing, I will always view it as somehow uneven, with a potentially bad outcome after the curtain's closed.

I'm sure there was a point to this overly long answer, but it eludes me right now, so. The end. (very anticlimactic)
(no subject) - technoelfie - Jan. 9th, 2005 04:17 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - lynnxlady - Jan. 9th, 2005 09:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - technoelfie - Jan. 13th, 2005 07:47 am (UTC) - Expand
Jan. 13th, 2005 04:20 am (UTC)
The main reason I don't like MSes is because I want to read about the characters of the fandom, not OCs. If I was in the mood for OC, I'd go to the original fic section.
Jan. 16th, 2005 09:52 pm (UTC)
Actually, I think the real intolerance toward Mary Sues has less to do with the fact that they exist and more how they're presented. 99% of the time, a Mary Sue is badly written. If it's an OC overtaking a canon character's part, they rarely feel as real or as captivating as a character with flaws who actually have to *struggle* to have things come out well. If it's an OC in a romantic pairing, it's very rare that said pairing is as well written as a canon pairing.

Mary Sues, on their own, are not a bad thing. Hell, the original Star Wars trilogy, one of the most successful and beloved movies of all times, is built around the story of one of the most blatant Gary Stus to ever hit the big screen - Luke Skywalker. But the difference between George Lucas and, say, your average FF.net Sue writer is that Lucas is a good storyteller. He made Luke an *interesting* character, who, even though he more or less Sueishly overcome all odds and saved the bad guy with the power of his lurve, he had enough of a dynamic edge to him that real life people could still relate to him.

I don't have a problem with Mary Sues. Written well, they can be interesting. But written badly, which is unfortunately what most of them are, they are a plague waiting to feast upon the souls of hapless people like me who stumble upon them.
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