The Importance of Mary Sue
When I was in Ninth Grade, I won a thing.
That thing, in particular, was a thirty dollar Barnes & Noble gift certificate. I was still too young for a part-time job, so I didn’t have this kind of spending cash on me, ever. I felt like a god.
Drunk with power, I fancy-stepped my way to my local B&N. I was ready to choose new books based solely on the most important of qualities…BADASS COVER ART. I walked away with a handful of paperbacks, most of which were horrible (I’m looking at you, Man-Kzin Wars III) or simply forgettable.
One book did not disappoint. I fell down the rabbit hole into a series that proved to be as badass as the cover art promised (Again, Man-Kzin Wars III, way to drop the ball on that one). With more than a dozen books in the series, I devoured them. I bought cassette tapes of ballads sung by bards in the stories. And the characters. Oh, the characters. I loved them. Gryphons, mages, but most importantly, lots of women. Different kinds of women. So many amazing women. I looked up to them, wrote bad fiction that lifted entire portions of dialogue and character descriptions, dreamed of writing something that the author would include in an anthology.
This year I decided in a fit of nostalgia to revisit the books I loved so damn much. I wanted to reconnect with my old friends…
…and I found myself facing Mary Sues. Lots of them. Perfect, perfect, perfect. A fantasy world full of Anakin Skywalkers and Nancy Drews and Wesley Crushers. I felt crushed. I had remembered such complex, deep characters and didn’t see those women in front of me at all anymore. Where were those strong women who kept me safe through the worst four years of my life?
Which led me to an important realization as I soldiered on through book after book. That’s why I needed them. Because they were Mary Sues. These books were not written to draw my attention to all the ugly bumps and whiskers of the real world. They were somewhere to hide. I was painfully aware that I was being judged by my peers and adults and found lacking. I was a fuckup. And sometimes a fuckup needs to feel like a Mary Sue. As an adult, these characters felt a little thin because they lacked the real world knowledge I, as an adult, had learned and earned. But that’s the thing…these books weren’t FOR this current version of myself. Who I am now doesn’t need a flawless hero because I’m comfortable with the idea that valuable people are also flawed.
There is a reason that most fanfiction authors, specifically girls, start with a Mary Sue. It’s because girls are taught that they are never enough. You can’t be too loud, too quiet, too smart, too stupid. You can’t ask too many questions or know too many answers. No one is flocking to you for advice. Then something wonderful happens. The girl who was told she’s stupid finds out that she can be a better wizard than Albus Dumbledore. And that is something very important. Terrible at sports? You’re a warrior who does backflips and Legolas thinks you’re THE BEST. No friends? You get a standing ovation from Han Solo and the entire Rebel Alliance when you crash-land safely on Hoth after blowing up the Super Double Death Star. It’s all about you. Everyone in your favorite universe is TOTALLY ALL ABOUT YOU.
I started writing fanfiction the way most girls did, by re-inventing themselves.
Mary Sues exist because children who are told they’re nothing want to be everything.
As a girl, being “selfish” was the worst thing you could be. Now you live in Narnia and Prince Caspian just proposed marriage to you. Why? Your SELF is what saved everyone from that sea serpent. Plus your hair looks totally great braided like that.
In time, hopefully, these hardworking fanfiction authors realize that it’s okay to be somewhere in the middle and their characters adjust to respond to that. As people grow and learn, characters grow and learn. Turns out your Elven Mage is more interesting if he isn’t also the best swordsman in the kingdom. Not everyone needs to be hopelessly in love with your Queen for her to be a great ruler. There are all kinds of ways for people to start owning who they are, and embracing the things that make them so beautifully weird and complicated.
Personally, though, I think it’s a lot more fun learning how to trust yourself and others if you all happen to be riding dragons.
Mary Sues exist because children who are told they’re nothing want to be everything.
A girl making herself the hero of her own story is a radical act. Stop shaming girls for doing it. Stop shaming yourself for it.
This is a really good point.
I hope one day
somebody loves you
that they see violets
in the bags under your eyes,
sunsets in the downward arch
of your lips,
that they recognize you
as something green,
something fresh and still growing,
even if sometimes
you are growing sideways,
that they do not waste their time
trying to fix you.
“If a clock could count down to the moment you meet your soul mate, would you want to know?”
lol yes, so then i can shave.
Has anyone written a book about this yet? I think it’d be interesting!!!!!!
One minute, 37 seconds.
My legs are shaking. Holy cow, there is no way I can do this. None.
One minute, 29 secods.
I glance around at the faces surrounding the room. Of course my Meeting would take place in the gross, overcrowded cafeteria.
One minute, six seconds.
Somewhere within these four walls, someone has the exact same countdown on their wrist. They’re going through the exact same pressure as me.
Mom said I should be excited, not nervous. Yet I still find myself wiping my sweaty palms on my dress. I can’t believe she talked me into wearing a dress. I mean, shouldn’t my Soul Mate meet me as I normally am? All plain jeans, blah shirts, and wild brown curls?
Something deep within me tells me to stand up. I do, drawing the attention of my tablemates. They all know too. They smile encouragingly up at me. I chew my lip nervously.
That same feeling pulls me towards the center of the room. My stomach drops away from me as I take a step in that direction.
I continue in that direction. With each step the tempo of my heart picks up.
17. More rapid.
16. It’s racing.
Oh my god this is it. The moment my life changes forever.
My eyes search frantically around the cafeteria, searching for someone who looks as nervous as me. For someone who’s heading towards their future with no sense of direction like me.
The feeling directs me slightly to the left. I turn to accomodate.
5. My heart has given up entirely.
4. I stop walking.
3. Just waiting left.
2. Everything is about to change.
1. Deep breath.
0000 d 00 h 00 m 00 s
Someone bumps my shoulder. I twirl around and my gray eyes meet blue, blue ones.
“Hello there, love. It appears as though we’re Soul Mates then, eh?”
As my words fail me, the only thing I can think is “I’m so glad I shaved this morning.”
^^^ THIS IS AMAZING
i think youre gonna write the book i nominate you you have no choice go get writing now
(I’d like to play what would happen in the ultimate plot twist)
“Thats weird…” I checked my wrist, the clock had just hit the 30 second mark but I looked around and there was no one there. I was a worrisome guy overall but I felt justified, I mean today was the day I was meeting my soul mate. Not that I expected my dream girl to be in the storage closet at work but still I was nervous.
Walking out with a box the boss had requested I walked back to my cash register setting it on the shelf. My wrist hit the 20 second mark
Where was she? I could not help but get worried that an error would pop up or that she was gone and my timer would run out with no response. I panicked, I’d change my own fate if I had to. Running out of time I hurried through the back door. There was a park outside and maybe I was supposed to be there to find my soul mate.
A faint ding of the doorbell hit my ear. Wait was that it?? She was here! I turned around running back to the counter. “Don’t worry I’m just in the back!”
I ran out looking at my wrist as it hit zero. Out of breath “Hi I’m Matt!” Sticking out my hand for a handshake it was met by a firm hand. Meeting my soulmate’s eyes for the first time they spoke.
“I’m Steven.” The man gave a smile “It’s nice to meet you.”
OH MY GOD
I watch my friend carefully. Her excitement is glowing all over her pretty face. Exactly 2 minutes left, she tells me. We’re waiting at the bus stop and the bus is coming in two minutes. I think she hoped she’d meet them on a beach at sunset or something.
”I mean that’s ok - these things can’t always be romantic I mean my mum met dad when he was working at the book store and it’s not like you can plan it to be romantic I just hoped, I mean everyone hopes don’t they-” she breaks off, looking at me awkwardly. “Sorry. It’s just a big day for me you know.” Yes I do know. You’ve been going on about it for the past year. I smile at her.
”Don’t worry. You nervous? You’ll be ok, you always are,” I grin, determined not to ruin this for her. It’s selfish of me to be moody. This is her future being determined. Right here. In now, precisely 1 minute 30 seconds.
She smiles at me, but it isn’t quite reaching her eyes. She’s restless and keeps tapping her foot. Her eyes are wide with.. fear? Excitement? Nerves? Probably all of them and a thousand more things I can’t imagine. She keeps checking her wrist. So do I. The bus comes around the corner. 1 minute 10 seconds.
”Hey. I’ll leave you alone now ok? The bus is here. I’ll sit a couple of seats away, and be there if you need me,” I say, squeezing her arm reassuringly. “Good luck.” I hope it sounded sincere.
The bus pulls up and I climb on first, taking a quick glance at her while I give the driver my ticket. She’s shaking and looks a little green. I want to give her a hug but know I shouldn’t interrupt now. I look at the passengers and it’s full of pensioners. My heart starts beating frantically. What? I can’t see anyone else at the bus stop. But she’s only 18, she can’t end up with a 80 year old.
I turn around and look at her - she’s breathing hard. The bus driver asks if she’s ok but she ignores him. Her eyebrows are creased and her face is flushed. Oh. Oh no. Stay calm. Someone is probably late. I give her a thumbs up and try to smile reassuringly. I think it’s more of a grimace.
I take a seat near the back. Look at my watch. 25 seconds. She sits down a few seats away.
Suddenly a dark shape runs past my window and a boy jumps on the bus. He has that same frantic look in his eyes. I breathe out with relief.
”Yeah get on, we’re running late,” the driver says, taking his ticket. The boy looks around, carefully stepping towards the seats. He’s tall and handsome, holding a sketchbook. I smile slightly; my friend hates art.
He spots her.
His eyes widen as he walks closer, as if being pulled by an invisible rope.
My friend stands up too, that same rope tying her to him.
1 second -
”I was worried the bus would leave. No way could I miss meeting my soul mate!” he jokes, though he looks just as nervous as she. They smile at each other as they both sit down together. I can’t hear what they’re talking about.
I take a deep breath and let it out slowly. Suddenly I’m crying. Hot tears dropping down my cheeks.
I look at my wrist, scratching at it. Trying to get rid of it.
The numbers have never changed.
They’ve always been at 0.
the lAST ONE HOW DARE YOU MY HEART BROKE OMF.
“Screw writing “strong” women. Write interesting women. Write well-rounded women. Write complicated women. Write a woman who kicks ass, write a woman who cowers in a corner. Write a woman who’s desperate for a husband. Write a woman who doesn’t need a man. Write women who cry, women who rant, women who are shy, women who don’t take no shit, women who need validation and women who don’t care what anybody thinks. THEY ARE ALL OKAY, and all those things could exist in THE SAME WOMAN. Women shouldn’t be valued because we are strong, or kick-ass, but because we are people. So don’t focus on writing characters who are strong. Write characters who are people.” – Lori
I got a tattoo yesterday of Dan Harmon’s story circle.
It also occurs to me that not everyone on here knows that that is! It’s the structure that Dan Harmon uses to write material and it is similar to The Hero’s Journey. The nerdy English major in me saw this for the first time and immediately connected with it. It describes a characters journey in many stories in history. The different quadrants of the circle mean different things and the numbers correspond with different points in the journey. 1) The character is in a zone of comfort. 2) But they want something. 3) So they enter an unfamiliar place. 4) They adapt to it. 5) They get what they want. 6) They pay a heavy price for it. 7) They return to their zone of comfort. 7) Having changed.
I’ve always enjoyed writing stories, ever since I was little but my problem is always ALWAYS the plot. When writing something this is obviously something to help you create a plot and it’s in a place that’s easily visible while I’m writing. But better yet it has personal meaning - we’re all on a hero’s journey in our own way. We all enter and exit zones of comfort for different reasons and is the price we pay to gain what we want worth it?
Community is very obviously a different kind of show and I think it’s due mostly to this structure. It’s the first show I’ve ever watched where I genuinely and honestly cared about the characters and I have been obsessed with it ever since. Community and discovering Donald Glover’s stand up made me want to do stand up myself, which I’ve done and it’s been one of the most difficult but rewarding experiences of my life. And listening to Dan Harmon’s podcast and reading has book has changed so much about how I think and how I relate to other people. And when things like that happen, it generally means it’s time for a tattoo.
Feel free to share - I’m proud of it and even though the thought of it sort of embarrasses me (at least the part of me that is in denial about being a typical fangirl) I’d be stoked if Dan saw it. Although being a fangirl helped me meet some really amazing people, so hell… I guess it’s time for me to own it!