Monday, March 28, 2011

Mary Sue and Pernicious Thoughts

I've been thinking more about that first stage of a writer's development. (See the previous blogpost.) We day-dream, following whatever romantic, adventurous, geeky or otherwise self-indulgent impulses strike us. And then we write it up.

So where does Mary Sue (or Gary Sue) fit in? The term is often used dismissively to describe a character, usually in fanfic, who is a thinly-disguised representation of the author, in many ways, "the author's pet." She or he can be wonderful beyond belief, or equally unbelievably ordinary, but every other character of the appropriately attractive gender falls madly in love with her/him.
The implication is that because such characters and stories are wish-fulfillment, they are without value. Or that writers who indulge themselves in this way are immature and unprofessional.

In dismissing "Mary/Gary Sue stories," we risk cutting ourselves off from the creative wellspring that fuels them. As children, we all daydreamed Mary Sue (and Gary Sue) stories--we all wanted to be heroes and have wonderful adventures. As we grew up, our notions about what constitutes a wonderful adventure may have changed. We may still want to go flying on a dragon, but now we also want that devilishly handsome (or intoxicatingly beautiful) dragon-rider to fall in love with us.

Mary/Gary Sue daydreams allow us to explore that landscape of yearning, to figure out what lights us up with wonder and delight. If we react to our "guilty pleasure" daydreams with scorn, we can never learn what they have to teach us. These characters, situations, and worlds bring passion and meaning to our work.

As we progress in our development as writer, we learn to take the raw stuff and refine it, plaster our heroes with warts, apply our professional critical skills, and take the story in novel and interesting directions.

Without Mary Sue, without those "idle" longings, guilty pleasures, and crazed desires for escape to the world of our dreams, however, all we've got is the warts.

This essay will appear in a different version in March 29, 2011 Book View Cafe blog. You've had a sneak preview!

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