More About Mary Sues

August 1st, 2011 • Kate

francosartoThe other week, while on vacation, I reposted an old blog post about Mary Sues. Today, I read an interesting post by Zoe Marriott on the same subject, but taking it to a new level I hadn’t previously considered: namely, that many critics’ dislike of Mary Sue characters, as they call them, is actually a dislike of female characters in general.

Personally, I was struck by how much of an assumption calling a character a “Mary Sue” actually is, considering the initial meaning of the term as a stand-in for the author.

In any case, Ms. Marriott has a great checklist on her post of what a true Mary Sue character actually is, and urges critics and reviewers to check against it before they bust out the label on every hapless female character they take a personal aversion to. However, I still believe it to be a helpful shorthand in describing characters like Bella Swan, to use Ms. Marriott’s example.

What’s your opinion?

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6 Responses to “More About Mary Sues”

  1. Olivia Says:

    (about to read Zoe's Mary Sue post, but…) Question: If you sent a non-form rejection to an author saying the query sounded awesome but the pages weren't your cup of tea and the author reworked the beginning and explained that the old beginning honestly wasn't representative of the majority of the rest of the novel in terms of style, would you believe them and give them another chance, or just see it as unprofessional?

  2. @dpeterfreund Says:

    I probably wouldn't put it like that. Saying that the beginning of your novel is not representative of the rest doesn't bode well for a professional-level work– why wouldn't the opening be as strong if not stronger than every other part of the book?

    However, saying you've significantly revised may or may not be of interest. Depends on the project and the agent.

  3. Olivia Says:

    Yeah, I'd thought of that. (And I have an answer for you, but it doesn't matter now since it turns out that said non-form is just a really polite form.)

  4. @dpeterfreund Says:

    I think there's too much emphasis on form vs. non-form. All it means is variance in an agent's schedule or policy. I got form rejections on the same manuscript that I got offers on. (I also got form rejections on books that went to auction.) There are LOTS of agents, and you have LOTS of books in you. One or the other will eventually come through. Good luck!

  5. J.W. Bettencourt Says:

    I would cut Zoe's list down purely to points 2) and 5)
    "A character whom has no significant flaws." & "A character who undergoes no significant growth, change or development throughout the story"
    The lovey-dovey points are specific to specifically more romance oriented stories and Mary-Sues and Gary-Stus can exist just fine without them. And I would hold tightly that the character must be an author-insert either. While those were a common variety of Mary Sue back in the day, the important, defining feature was mostly the "Super character who is perfect in every way" angle.
    I honestly don't read many book critiques so I don't know how common the usage of the phrase is. I'm familiar with it myself from the early days of I could be wrong but it seems so melodramatic to say people are throwing the term at all kinds of female protagonists because they don't like women.

  6. @dpeterfreund Says:

    After talking to Zoe about this yesterday she specified that the term is quite popular on Goodreads. The problem is a lot of readers fashioning themselves book critics like to come up with justifications for things that they just don't like, and apparently the hot new thing is to call any female character they don't like a Mary Sue with little to no regard for the actual definition of that term.