One 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?
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.
According to Wikipedia: A Mary Sue is an idealized and seemingly perfect fictional character. Often, this character is recognized as an author insert or wish fulfillment. 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.