ReP Mary Sue's

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Title: ReP Mary Sue's
Creator: Flamingo
Date(s): January 11, 2000
Medium:
Fandom: it has a focus of Starsky & Hutch, but addresses all fandoms
Topic:
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ReP Mary Sue's is a 2000 essay by Flamingo posted to the mailing list The Pits.

It is excerpted here on Fanlore with permission.

Some Topics Discussed

Excerpts

The essay was posted in response to a discussion that includes a fan named [K's] comment: "I still think the term Mary Sue has a useful purpose. ... the too-good-to be true OC who exists only to fulfill the writer's fantasies is still reincarnated constantly on the net. ... I totally agree that "Mary Sue" is bandied about carelessly and destructively, and would be happy if that derogatory use disappeared. But novice writers *will* write their private diary fantasies and post them as if they were stories, and a quick and dirty term for this comes in handy at least when referencing and discussing story genres."

First off, I'd like to establish something that is an extremely unpopular point of view, but hey, when did that ever stop me? :-D (And [K], please know that I'm not picking on you, or mad or anything. In fact, I'm very grateful for your contribution to this thread because it lets me wax poetic [or is that polemic?] about a particular fetish of mine. Thanks, buddy!)

ALL of fanfiction is "private diary fantasies posted as if they were stories," and I blatantly confess that I am the most egregious perpetuator of this. There is no place in professional fiction that you could get publish what we consider the very best of fan fiction -- never mind the very worst. Fanfic is full of purple prose (why use 1 adjective when you can use 2 or 3 -- check out *any* description of Starsky in *any* of my writing), the plotting is often illogical or inconsequential (check out Murder on San Carmelitas, or my Crystal Blue Persuasion), the main characters, never mind any others, behave in ways ordinary humans never could (right [B]? check my latest chapters of Total Eclipse), it is mawkishly sentimental (bring on the h/c!), and often filled with so much gratuitous violence that it would curl the hair of any First Amendment activist (bring on the h/c!)! AND THAT'S THE BEST STUFF!!! That is why we LOVE it. If it merely filled the expectations of the pro fiction reader, none of us would be reading it, we'd be devouring the latest best seller. We CAN'T get this stuff in pro fiction, which is why we write and read fanfic. Fanfic fulfills our most private fantasies about these characters we have fallen in love with. That is why we write it, those of us who do, and when we read it, we are doing so in search of that fiction that will come closest to our favorite fantasies. (Which is why Starsky gets handcuffed to Hutch's bed in Chapter 2 [or 3?] of Total Eclipse. :-P) I write professionally for a living, and there is no pro market that will let me write what I write in fanfic.

I object to the rejection of fanfic from writers who choose to create original characters, especially female, who are overly dominent in the story. Why shouldn't they be able to write what THEY please and call it a story, when I am writing what *I* please, and believe me, what I am writing is a story. Assuming that fanfic is a level playing field, in that anyone who can put pen to paper has as much chance as getting published or publishing themselves as the next person, why shouldn't they have the same priviledge of attempting to garner fan readers as I do? Or Suzan Lovett? Or the totally unknown person who wrote to me yesterday who can't spell to save her life but has something for me for the Archive? (Non-American fans on the list, I don't mean to be exclusionary in this next sentence, but it is of specific cultural interest to those of us living in the US.) Fanfiction is the embodiment of America's promise of freedom of speech. Anyone who can scrape together the where-with-all to reproduce pieces of paper with writing on it, or who can find someone to post their story to the web can be published. This is TRUE freedom of speech, something people in repressive countries fight for, and we've got it right in fandom! It's wonderful!!! (Okay, you can cut the volume on the Battle Hymn of the Republic!)

Also, I'd like to mention that whether or not a story contains a "Mary Sue" character is very subjective. I've heard people say that Joan Meredith (a character from the show) that Suzan Lovett used in Goliath (which is considered a fan classic and the winner of many awards) is a Mary Sue -- which is ridiculous. Generally speaking, since the media characters we are using are usually given attributes no human could sustain, if anything, THEY are the true Mary Sues! So, who gets to judge which stories really have Mary Sues? Are the characters Mary Sues because they marry one of the media characters? So none of the media characters can NEVER marry (except in slash where they marry each other)? Is an original character a Mary Sue if they save the life of one of the media characters, or interact with them too much, or perform an act of bravery? This relegates all extra characters to cardboard figures that can only stand there and be used as furniture. You can't write like that! The writer has to have complete and total freedom to produce whatever it is she wants to produce. Some of the finest work in SH or any other genre has dominent original characters -- Nathan, in Cost of Love, Hutch's partner in the Beckett/Powers trilogy, Don in Murder on San Carmelitas, Joan Meredith in Goliath, Hutch's sister in a terrific story in the latest zine, Dreamers. Undoubtably, all these characters were drawn on the imaginations (fantasies) of the writers -- that's how writing happens.

Let the writers have all the freedom they want to do whatever they want. As you're reading it you can figure out how close it comes to your personal fantasy fulfillment and either keep reading, or stop reading.

[snipped]

Since "Mary Sue's" or even the favorite member of a slash pair often has the characteristics of the perfect person: totally beautiful, completely desirable, capable of super human feats both in and out of the bedroom, smarter than everyone else, and almost always right -- I reject the notion that these characteristics represent the author's view of themselves. Trust me, while I'm a lot of fun in bed and have been known to wear my partner out, I'm no Starsky! ;-) I couldn't fit his jeans on my arm! I have *none* of these superlative characteristics and neither do most of the fans I know. Most fans are disenfranchised from society, do not enjoy being conventionally attractive, have extremely low self-esteem, and are often not very physical, never mind superbly so. Most fans, that I know, couldn't imagine themselves that way. If they create an original character with those attributes, again, that is their wish fulfillment of a person they might desire (more so then say, they wish to be.) And if that's what they want to do, so let them! I've read some fiction I've loved that had these elements.

Regarding the "favorite member of a slash pair" who is overly dominent in a story, which is what I think you were trying to represent, there is also a term for that. It is called "author intrusion" when the needs of the story are sacrificed completely so that author can put in her favorite character doing her favorite things regardless of what the story needs. One of the most consistent perpetuators of this writing problem is Lynna Bright, who is considered probably the finest writer in all of SH and whose writing is breathtakingly beautiful. Hutch was her favorite and Starsky was frequently given a lesser status in her stories, his scenes truncated or not represented at all, the plot often sacrificed so that Hutch could do something great. I noticed every single time this happened -- because I've read every story of hers over a dozen times. Even committing this type of writers "sin" this woman's work is so superlative, I'm more than happy to let her do whatever she wants. I only wish I had her command of the language.

[snipped]

Bad writing will always be bad writing, whether it has Mary Sues or not. But fanfic is *full* of bad writing even without Mary Sues. And what one reader things is the worst writing will invariably be another readers's *favorite* story. And some of the worst writers will eventually go on to write something really good, especially if they get involved in fandom and get a chance to expand their repetoire and learn different styles of story-telling.

But I think the door must be left open for supposed "Mary Sues". It is a traditional form of self-expression in fanfic, and this may be the only place writers have to place that kind of story.

No one says we have to read it, or if we read it, that we have to like it. But every fan writer should have the freedom to write what pleases her.

Fan Comments

I think you're reading something into my phrase "private diary fantasies" that I didn't intend. I've got notebooks full of story ideas, snips of scenes and snips of dialog. I know these aren't stories, because I haven't made them stories yet, but they are certainly my personal fantasies. If I posted them in their raw form they would be *bad* stories, as well as my personal fantasies. I am just trying to point out the correlation between stories of the type "Dear Diary: I just met the two cutest cops today!" and the label "Mary Sue".

Certainly there are great stories that have been unfairly classed as Mary Sues, and some great stories that have transcended the label, "Mary Sue". Some readers are idiots. But there are plenty of bad stories that really are Mary Sues, and cruel as it may be to a novice writer to be told that her story isn't very good, she won't get any better if she is only told "great story!". And if she is told of the existence of the genre "Mary Sue", she might be able to recognize when she is walking down that path.

Maybe the prevalence of these type of stories is a function of the fandom? SH seems mercifully free of them, (I don't know about the old days), and I never noticed any when I dipped in MV. However, have you read any Phantom Menace?

[snipped]

In my first wave of SH fannishness ten years ago I read a lot of stories with clear author favoritism. Hutch was gorgeous and smart and Starksky was frequently pathetic, or at best, worshipful. I read with an eagle eye for Starsky and Lynna Bright feels like the *least* practitioner of this! I really want to know what scenes you feel shortchanged Starsky, or where she sacrificed plot to Hutch's advantage. Maybe I too have just been swept away by her writing.

[snipped]

I think that what I'm trying to say is that terms and labels for tendencies and genres of fan writing can be useful, at least as prolog to further discussion of story structure and plot. A short-hand, if you will, for a body of common knowledge. However I do see the counter argument than they can be more destructive than useful. And as soon as one tries to define the term it begins to slip away. "H/c" is a slippery one too. "Slash" is actually close to undefinable, if the discussions that have been going on on other lists are any sign.

Now if I were having this discussion with a non-fan I would probably shut up completely and let your arguments carry the day. "Polemic" is a perfectly good term for advocacy in a hostile environment.

I'd like to say that I've been very impressed with the friendly atmosphere on this list, especially when compared to lists in other, "nicer" fandoms. But that's another, loong story. [1]

References

  1. ^ a fan's comment at The Pits, quoted anonymously (January 13, 2000)