“When I came to Interscope 10 years ago, the first thing they did was offer me the chance to work with Timbaland and Missy, to cross me over. They still offer me that. But this is what I am. ‘Paper Planes’ was an accident. It wasn’t a song we made for the masses.”—
Recently, I’ve seen quite a few posts about Mary Sue characters cross my dash that I don’t feel accurately deconstruct or understand the term. As someone who feels very strongly about the representation of women in media, (and as someone who has been reading fan fiction since the age of Yahoo emailing lists and live journal) I felt the need to write an article on the subject. Hopefully this will help inspire some writers and settle the concerns of others.
1. What Is a Mary Sue Character?:
The term “Mary Sue originates from the name of a character created by Paula Smith in 1973 for her parody story “A Trekkie’s Tale" published in her fanzine Menagerie The story starred Lieutenant Mary Sue ("the youngest Lieutenant in the fleet — only fifteen and a half years old"), and satirized unrealistic Star Trek fan fiction. The best fan written definition I have come across can be found: here
In essence: A Mary-sue character is a female character that shares three major characteristics:
They are poorly written and one dimensional with incredibly predictable personality traits.
They are the romantic interest of nearly all the male characters within the text.
They are infallible in many ways. Including but not limited to intelligence, battle prowess, wit, and the consequences of their own actions.
What I believe most people who criticize the Mary Sue trope are missing, is that these characteristics all have different weights of importance to the development and identification of a Mary Sue character.
The most important characteristic of the three is the first listed: That Mary Sue characters are poorly written.
The reason that this is the most important characteristic is that without this aspect of the term, many of the strong amazing female characters who you would never even dream of considering “Mary Sue” characters would have to fall underneath the term.
It is the defining difference between characters of quality who happen to be strong and interesting and compelling, and characters who seem to have inherited these personality traits from osmosis. Meaning that the difference between a strong/diverse female character and a Mary Sue is the quality of character development and (in many cases) the understanding of well studied character design.
As you know, these women are decidedly NOT Mary Sue characters.
The list above is designed to showcase how vital being “poorly written” is for a character to qualify as Mary Sue. There is a certain… laziness that is associated with the personality and character development arc of known Mary Sue characters (Like Bella Swan for example). And one cannot be defined as a Mary Sue character without it…
I haven’t been to church in four years and my soul has never felt more refreshed. I used to sit in those pews and be miserable. there was always a baby somewhere crying every five minutes. some bad ass kid kicking the back of my chair. and some senior citizen shouting “tell em pastah” as many times as their fragile little heart would allow. and the messages seldom got through to me. they were so elementary and lazy. tone deaf, trifflin ass choir. why’d I do that to myself. but jesus still my nigga tho
You bring out the long haul of exile in me blackballed bellows of “sand nigger, spic, paki” left to envelop the embargo; the denomination of defile
The double barrel of blaspheme claw-marking these cross-hairs penciled between my brows mouth shut like polished leather on a gideon’s bible The spittle of scripture now fermenting its bile in me
Slaver. Oppressor. Other.
The barbed wire of electrocuted nights in me These iron-fisted, shattered jaw fights in me & know, - know I am not just a silhouette or a statistic or scarehead — No!
The skull filled with tequila and tears in me That jaguar’s clan; a toothed vernacular of antiquity now inches slow spears, in me knees skinned in prostrations to the firing squad;— the hunted child of fear, in me
This mute cleansing, high-bred, blue-rimmed
Brother, you bring out the cutthroat communist in me, The wheelbarrow tottering into a draught in me The hammer rusted to the sunbled of these wars covertly fought in me
You bring out teenaged girls gang-raped by a police state their torn vaginas, slit wrists in me
You bring out the tortured death of a pacifist in me
Once upon a time there was a river that flowed and swelled, hungry with heavy rain and a fast current. Full of desire to break its binding banks, it threatened and teased, torrents kissing the uppermost uncovered mounds of the bank, devouring and destroying any resistance. Stable land gave way to sinuous water, verges quivered and all was overcome.
A 60 year old hippie and a 40 year old punk were talking. "I don't understand why you guys were into all that peace and love crap," said the punk. "Yeah?" said the hippie. "I don't understand why you guys were into all that anarchy and aggression." Just then a 20 year old hipster walked by and they both started laughing.
That’s the hipster joke I wrote a few years ago. I posted it before but no one really followed me back then. Now, lots of people follow me, a few of which even read my posts.
Thanks, by the way.
Tonight, my son’s band, Fire Nuns, is playing the Tiger Bar in downtown Portland, Oregon. A Facebook friend of mine says “Portland is where hipsters go to die.” Maybe…but wouldn’t that be redundant?
Haha. I kill me.
So if you’re in downtown Portland, go check ‘em out. 10 pm Pacific. The Tiger Bar, my son tells me, is very popular and the closest thing Portland has to a biker bar. A biker bar! Even more reason to go.
Apparently, not everyone in Portland is a hipster. Hmm.
I’m pretty proud of him and his band. They’ve only been there since the beginning of September and already have jobs and a house and are playing gigs regularly. The only thing I contributed to the whole enterprise was a new cell phone.
"Text me," I ordered. "A lot."
They even got writ up in the Portland newspaper. It’s only a few lines, but it’s positive and a start. Next thing you know they’ll be in rehab and fighting paternity suits. You can see it online here if you want. The newspaper’s website put up a song of theirs as well. Scroll down to FIRE NUNS.
It was good for them to get out of South Dakota and go to a big city halfway across the country, a big city they had never been to before and had no connections in. And all before they were 20! When I was 20, I wasn’t even weened yet for Christ’s sake.
This may explain why I’m not a breast man today.
South Dakota is a great place to raise a child, but not a rock and roll band. People here still hold up burning lighters and yell out “Free Bird!”
I tend to attract sad girls with important, powerful hands that I can’t hold. I want to hug them; I want it to feel like a good fuck—a melting, an awakening. I want us all to be solid in the morning sun and ready for our lives by the afternoon.
Whatever it is inside that is shattering and rattling me with its jagged fringes needs to keep on breaking, until the parts are too small to hurt, until they become as fine as dust, and I can be polished by a gust of wind.
If I’m honest, I’ve been lost since last June, since coming home from college, since a good friend found God and lost me, since there was no more Monday Night Jazz at Crankies Coffee. And it is a challenge to remain ecstatic when you don’t know where to go next.
But nobody can say that I’m not trying. Tomorrow I see Janelle Monae in concert. I chose her over an oil change.
Once I let everything that needs to leave, I can dance again like the June before last.
A cold dawn in the settlement. Too early for stirring, yet a small dust storm blows up behind the beating feet of a dirty eyed child tearing up the main path. The watchtower guards follow him through their scopes. The boy waves a scrap of parchment at them and they lower their…