Defending Mary Sue

If you’ve ever imagined a fictional self who, all things considered, might be a tad unrealistic for you — well, be prepared for intrusions by those who would mock you:

We were “talking” about “why do women write Mary Sue fanfiction” (because, Gary Stus notwithstanding, we probably do that more than men do). And I know exactly why:

If I were creating a world and inserting myself into it. (Or if I were a self-insert OC in any existing world), I’d want to be good at stuff. And I’d want to be universally loved. And I’d want to fit in. And yes, I would want attention from whatever handsome man/male pony/whatever other creature of the male persuasion given the AU we ar talking about.) Because isn’t writing self-insert fiction (or fanfiction) really about wish fulfillment, and for a heck of a lot of us, that wish is just to *belong.* And maybe just to *have love* and yeah, maybe that’s sad, but we seek in literature what we don’t get in real life.

(Also see: why I prefer the Albert Campion mysteries BEFORE he marries Lady Amanda…)

But yes: I think portraying any marginally competent woman in fiction as a “Mary Sue” is an overreach, and also perhaps a misunderstanding of the term.

BUT ALSO: snarking about “Mary Sues” and young women’s fanfiction? Just another case of pumpkin-spice-latte hating. Because it is something particularly beloved of the young and female, it becomes an easy target.

I went through this sort of self-examination while I was writing The Sparkle Chronicles, which wound up with an ambivalent but arguably happy ending that was about 135 degrees away from what’d I’d originally envisioned. Think the Doobie Brothers’ “What a Fool Believes,” which begins with a reunion that doesn’t reunite: she was the apple of his eye, but to her way of thinking, he’s empty (and forgotten) calories. But at that time, I couldn’t make myself write that. And while I poured some serious effort into making the narrator seem a bit less unreliable, the silly bastard fell in love. “Fine. Have it your way,” I said, and that’s the way it came out.

As a rule, I think of myself as being one of the least romantic people on the planet. What distinguishes me from the incels, it appears, is that I know whom to blame. And I keep any wayward wish-fulfillment thoughts on the sunny side of the street, if only because the light is better.


  1. The Other McCain »

    1 May 2019 · 10:41 pm

    In The Mailbox: 05.01.19

    […] Dustbury: Defending Mary Sue […]

  2. Gretz »

    3 May 2019 · 12:21 am

    A Mary Sue isn’t bad, per se. For Example: Arya, of GoT, earns her competence, and she’s portrayed realistically: She doesn’t one-punch 250 lb men into next week. Rey, and the rest of the women in the last few Star Wars, don’t, and on top of it, they’re pandering, and their ‘faults’ are like those of Hillary Clinton: “I care too much”, or “I have too much optimism”. They come across like the perfect women on TV, who endure pathetic men, always have the better wise crack, always have the right answer, and only lose their cool when some chauvanist queues it up for them to knock out of the park, again.

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