Mary huh?

StockSnap_3BWN7KIF4TOne thing that I have trouble with as a writer— and let’s be honest, as a human being— is wanting to be someone else.  I think I’ve mentioned before how I suffer from anxiety and so on?  I try not to talk about it here too much partly because that’s not what this space is about and partly because it’s a little too personal.  For as open as I am about myself, there is still a part of me that’s kept for my nearest and dearest, what can I say?

Anyhow.

It’s one of the things that first drew me to stories, in general.  The ability to read a book and, at least in my own mind, become someone else for a little while.  And of course, I have always loved stories with strong female characters in them because then, while I read that book or watched that movie or whatever, I could pretend that I was strong and brave and clever, just like Hermione or Alnosha or even the girls in Sailor Moon.  They weren’t necessarily perfect, but they possessed characteristics I didn’t see in myself growing up, and that sort of attitude stays with me.

female boxer raising her arms in victory

Photo credit: jumfer on Visual Hunt / CC BY

According to Wikipedia:  Mary Sue is an idealized and seemingly perfect fictional character. Often, this character is recognized as an author insert or wish fulfillment.[1] They can usually perform better at tasks than should be possible given the amount of training or experience.

It’s usually used as a derogatory term, and you definitely don’t want to have one in your story! You probably see where I’m heading.

I don’t actively seek out Mary Sue characters when I read (or watch a show) just so that I can identify with them and pretend that I have a perfect, idealized life, but when I do come across a character whose eyes I can see through I don’t automatically reject them.  I also look for a broader explanation.  Just because a character doesn’t have a skill at the beginning of the story, that doesn’t mean they don’t have a related skill they can adapt or a basic understanding of how the skill works without having any practice at it.  There are any number of things that can be going on in the life of a character, including legitimate giftedness.

Now I have written a couple of female characters, Sarah being the first to take center stage.  Every one of my characters does indeed have a little bit of myself in them, I can’t lie to you.  Sarah got probably a little more of my own self-doubt and social awkwardness than should have slipped by the edits, but I’ll have to live with that.  I’m fairly sure that’s not what Wikipedia means by ‘author self-insertion’ and it’s absolutely not any sort of ‘wish fulfillment.’ If anything, it put on display a part of myself I’d much rather hide from the world.  If any character in the Los Gatos universe is a Mary Sue, it’s Sarah’s dead grandmother, Lady Basically-not-appearing-in-this-book.  I do wish I was that outgoing and friendly and comfortable in my own skin.  Not to mention I kind of did envision my perfect backyard when I wrote about her garden.

But then I hear that basically, every female character is a Mary Sue unless they’re terrible characters. Hermione is one. Rey from Star Wars is one.  So my question, I guess, is why is every female character that discovers a gift or a skill or a talent some sort of terrible, throw-away, trope character?  It makes no sense to me, but I’m going to take any such accusations as a compliment.  I feel like Sarah and Doc and May are all in excellent company.  Right up there with Rey and Hermione.

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