Mary Sueage (And How to Avoid It)
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Mary Sueage (And How to Avoid It) is an essay by Flourish Klink.
It was posted to FictionAlley, possibly around 2001 or 2002.
Mary Sues. Why are they so hated? Is it possible to write a good story using them? And what makes them what they are?
First off we need to define Mary Sue and Gary Stu. A Mary Sue (also known as an author avatar; her male counterpart is called a Gary Stu) is an original character, but not just any original character! Mary Sues are typically beautiful, with the same general looks as the author - or, occasionally, the looks that an author wishes he or she had. They are incredibly intelligent, wonderful at sports, and often have strange gifts - like Parseltongue. Sometimes Mary Sues are long lost descendants of the Founders, or the daughter of Voldemort; otherwise, they're typical Muggle-born children. The most common type of Mary Sue is an "American transfer student," moved to Hogwarts in a transparent deus ex machina. Here, I must note that sometimes the qualities of a Mary Sue are foisted onto a canon character, whose good characteristics are magnified - at which point the story begins to tread the well-worn path of author avatars.
Now that we know the characteristics of a Mary Sue, how is she used? Well, most of the time, Mary Sues breeze into Hogwarts during one of the books that haven't been written yet (The other option is that they're Remus or Sirius' lost love, if you prefer old-school stories). She becomes Seeker of one of the House Quidditch teams, often as Harry's rival. As threats come up in the story, she saves the world, snares Harry's heart, and never bats a fake eyelash. (Of course, sometimes it's Draco she falls in love with, or possibly Ron; ah, the diversity!) Then, one of two things happen: either she defeats the baddies and goes off to live happily ever after with her snookie Harriekins, or she dies heroically, and is mourned with much weeping and wailing.
I'm sure that you are beginning to see how Mary Sues quickly lose their appeal. Although they're quite fun to write - who doesn't like to fantasize about how they could take Hogwarts by storm? - you don't really want to read about somebody else's daydreams. However, there is a way that a very talented authors can pull off a Mary Sue. The problem with finding stories to illustrate this is that - well, you don't really notice the Mary Sue or Gary Stu, because it's too well integrated! In fact, one could even say that any original character is just a very well-written Mary Sue or Gary Stu, at least to some extent.Here's how it works: you have to make your audience empathize with the character. No, not sympathize - empathize. Sympathizing means feeling sorry for someone; empathizing means feeling what they feel. This means that an author writing a story with an original character must make it so that their readers think, Hey, that character sounds like a real human being.