Mary Sue Whipple: A Comprehensive Sort of Thing

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Title: Mary Sue Whipple: A Comprehensive Sort of Thing ("The How and Who of Mary Sue")
Creator: Alice Karvonen Allonway
Date(s): July 15, 2001
Medium: online
Fandom:
Topic:
External Links: Mary Sue Whipple: A Comprehensive Sort of Thing; WebCite
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Mary Sue Whipple: A Comprehensive Sort of Thing is a 2001 essay by Alice Karvonen Allonway.

In it, she explained the history of the Mary Sue Whipple collective pseud. Allonway also protested the use of Whipple's name in revengefics, of at least one fan claiming ownership of her, of archiving Mary Sue Whipple stories without Allonway's consent, and of writing a careless origin story about the phenomenon at Writers University. [1]

"You love her. Or (more likely at this point) you hate her. Who is she? Why was she created? Who owns her? —and more importantly, who's responsible for her? Why does she do the things she does? Whew. All excellent questions. Whether you're here to beat her to a pulp or to pat her on the back, read on for the history, the story, the full-on tomato that is our Mary Sue."

"Yes, her stuff's shit. But it should be good shit, man."

Some Topics Discussed

  • Mary Sues
  • Mary Sue Whipple
  • badfic
  • the appropriation of Mary Sue Whipple by Michela Ecks
  • Star Trek fic
  • what is the purpose of Mary Sue Whipple
  • who owns Mary Sue Whipple
  • owning a concept, wanting to share, Mary Sue Whipple as an open source pseud
  • the false statements and history of Mary Sue Whipple on the Writers University website
  • inappropriately using Mary Sue Whipple to be cruel, as revengefic
  • much more

Excerpts

As many of you may know, Mary Sue Whipple made her first forays in the world of fanfiction on the Godawful Fan Fiction Message Board—a subset of the Godawful Fan Fiction site (at that time, Godawful Trek Fan Fiction, which is why so much of Whipple's stuff is based in Trek).

If one looks into the dark history of the Godawful message board, one finds that Mary Sue first came about to keep the board going (or the bored going, as the case may be). More specifically (and for people who want someone to blame, here's the answer), I was dead worried that a highly entertaining board I'd had the pleasure of inaugurating with a huge and wondrous flamewar would go kaput. So I started a game. Posters to the board could participate in a round-robin writing collaboration to make the worst piece of fic possible. I thought writing badfic was going to be fun, maybe educational, definitely an excuse for people to come and post often—so I started it all off with a title, a forward, and a name.
Mary Sue Whipple. I took the 'Mary Sue' bit from the popular literary term, first dubbed in fanfic circles in the sixties. [2] It was such a popular term, and useful to boot, that the name spread, and today even the professional writing/publishing business uses it to describe a particular phenomenon in fiction. (For a more thorough discussion of this, try Dr. Merlin's Guide to Fan Fiction.) The Whipple bit . . . well, I thought it sounded silly, and it fit well. It was only later that I discovered that there was an X-Files fanwriter of the same last name and middle initial; the use of her last name is not a comment on her writing, but rather a sad accident. [3]

As much fun as I thought writing badfic was, I didn't expect the game to take off like it did. Heck, I didn't expect it to last as long as it has, and I certainly didn't expect MSW to branch off into every fandom she could wrap her tentacles around. In some ways, I'm glad she has—it allowed many different people to experience the fruits of her labors.

But seeing as how it looks like she's here to stay for a while, it's time I stopped using paper plates and making her sleep on the couch—it's time I thought about what she is, or at least, what she is to me. Take the following with a grain of salt and in strict IMO-mode. As the creator and one of the original authors of Mary Sue, it's my right to lay down what I consider to be the truth of the matter—other authors also have the right to dive in and tell me I'm wrong, wrong, and more than wrong. But believe it or not, I care about MSW. I care about how people perceive her, and I care about her future well-being. This essay is really the second draft of one I wrote long ago, expanded and twiddled for a general audience.

Mary Sue Whipple, as a character, is your typical bad fanwriter. She's ageless, really, as all lousy fanfic is, but she's canonically too young for the stuff she's writing. She loves feedback, the more glowing and worshipful, the better. She's prolific, without a doubt; double that with a weak grasp of the English language, and Mary Sue is a force to be reckoned with. She inserts herself into her stories whenever possible—otherwise, she twists the actual players into strange versions of herself, with her agenda and her ideas firmly in mind. Heck, she'll do both, just because she doesn't know any better.

That's really the big thing about MSW: She doesn't know that she's a bad writer. No one's ever bothered to give her real critique-style feedback (few fanwriters ever receive such, drat it—the quality of fanfic today would be better for a few tough critiques), so she takes the less-than-kind feedback as flames, and glories in the rest of it.

That's the character of Mary Sue.

The reality is, Mary Sue ain't real. She's a collective entity, as I mentioned above—she, or rather, her fanfiction, is composed by people who are, in other circumstances, good writers, or by people who are simply tired of the lousy fanfic currently out there, and need to vent some spleen.
So what's this one thing you don't like?: Specifically, "Whipple's" behavior on FanFiction.Net, which I found to be stupid, disrespectful, and completely unnecessary. Revenge reviewing was not part of my vision for Mary Sue. Filling up the available space with badly-written badfic (not as entertaining as perhaps it sounds) was not something I thought was worthy of her. And most especially, I want to disassociate from Mary Sue the petty behavior of one member of the writing collaborative, who had been the self-appointed MSW of FanFiction.Net—due to a personal argument with the owner of FF.Net, she removed all Mary Sue content (without asking and/or mentioning it to any of the other authors) and declared herself the One True Mary Sue (likewise without consultation or notification of any other author). I wasn't even a witness to these events; I only heard second hand, months after the fact, and not from her.
Misconceptions about her conception. Telling people how she was born is extremely cool (especially 'cause, y'know, my name has to be plastered all over the story). Telling people lies and damned lies is a bad thing, especially when you know the truth of the matter. Here, I refer to the Writer's University website, wherein a false history of MSW simple beginnings is given (and her creation story is not one I'm shy about—I give it any time anyone asks about Mary Sue in my hearing). Though E. is a wonderfully humorous and intelligent poster on the Godawful board, E. did not start Whipple with me (though at this point, I wouldn't mind the company . . .). Neither did anyone else. There were a number of people who enthusiastically joined in the fun, but that ain't the same. So stick to the truth, and lo, there shall be much joy.
The fact of the matter is, like any character a writer creates, I like Mary Sue. I don't want to write in an environment where people will already despise her, not because she writes badly, but because she's behaved badly... Whipple with a bad name because she writes badly—that's fine. Whipple with a bad name because she's been a complete bitch far too often in recent memory—that is not fine. And that is precisely the situation that one Whipple author has put me and my creation.

I created Mary Sue Whipple. She was my game, and I made her to be enjoyed by any and all who, for whatever reason, wanted to write godawful garbage. Sometimes therapy can be derived from allowing yourself to be bad. Sometimes you just need to get all the rotten fanfic you've read out of your system. Some great MSW fic has been written by groups and by single people—heck, one of Mary Sue's poems even made it into one of the published Star Trek books. I'm really happy that I created her.

But I never wanted to own her.

[snipped]

Consider, for a moment, Linux. An open-source program (that means that the programming code can be read and used by anybody; imagine if you could see how your favorite video game was put together. Like that). Mary Sue Whipple is like Linux—you know how she's put together, and anybody can use her.

However, Linux is owned by the guy who invented it. He doesn't have to get cash for it; he doesn't have to directly control what people do with his program. But. If someone has a Linux program, they can't say it's theirs.
Mary Sue Whipple, as a character, is your typical bad fanwriter. She's ageless, really, as all lousy fanfic is, but she's canonically too young for the stuff she's writing. She loves feedback, the more glowing and worshipful, the better. She's prolific, without a doubt; double that with a weak grasp of the English language, and Mary Sue is a force to be reckoned with. She inserts herself into her stories whenever possible—otherwise, she twists the actual players into strange versions of herself, with her agenda and her ideas firmly in mind. Heck, she'll do both, just because she doesn't know any better.
Yes, her stuff's shit. But it should be good shit, man....There are plenty of good reasons to dislike Mary Sue intensely: She's not funny. She's a bad joke gone on too long. Her fiction is mean and unhelpful and a waste of space. It's okay if you think all this. You have the right to free speech just as much as I do. But there is that one thing I don't want people hating her for—something I had no control over, and therefore, neither did my poor Whipple character (and as a dear friend of mine once pointed out, one wants to be flamed for one's actual vices).

References

  1. for another view on this, see Michela Ecks Folds
  2. Actually, Mary Sue comes from 1973's A Trekkie's Tale.
  3. Allonway refers to Eileen S. Whipple.