Fear of the Mary Sue

©ritically drawn by artist B.C. Matthews

Wikipedia: A Mary Sue (sometimes just Sue), in literary criticism and particularly in fanfiction, is a fictional character with overly idealized and hackneyed mannerisms, lacking noteworthy flaws, and primarily functioning as a wish-fulfillment fantasy for the author or reader.

I was reading on Kate Griffin’s website that she has an innate distrust of writing from the POV of female characters, for fear that writing in her own gender will create characters that are simplistic, one dimensional, wish fulfillment l caricatures of herself.

I thought I was the only one who had this fear…

Many of my previous critique partners have mentioned that I write almost exclusively from the male POV, and many of my close friends who’ve been brave enough to read some of my work have commented on it too. Don’t there need to be more strong female characters that women can identify with? Why aren’t I pumping out kick-ass heroines at the rate that most people read them? Don’t I like being a woman? What’s the deal? Where’s my “this is what a feminist looks like” t-shirt?

The truth is that having a female heroine has always made me nervous. Maybe it harkens back to my teen days of reading fan fiction, and reading all of these utterly stunning, beautiful women who have legions of male admirers, while still being a flawless hero. I’d never liked those characters, because as a teen girl, I hated those types of girls. I’ve read these heroines in published fiction too, and it annoys me more than anything.

The Mary Sue. The beautiful, the talented, the perfect, the always beloved.  

But even more than that, I’ve become somewhat irritated by female characters in my now preferred genre—urban fantasy. Many of the woman characters equate ramped up hypersexuality and skin-tight BDSM leather and gun-toting as a “strong” or “empowered” woman (I’m not anti-gun toting characters or anti-leather by any stretch of the imagination). Look, I know it’s great to own your own sexuality as brilliant, modern women, but does it have to be the be-all-end-all of our female characters?

Maybe it’s that out of all of my favorite fictional characters, that there aren’t many women. Maybe it’s a personal flaw, or maybe it’s that there aren’t enough great heroines in the more current fiction I read, or that they’re always secondary characters, but yeah, I can count my favorite female characters on one hand. Usually they wind up being a) not the sexiest thing on two stiletto points, b) willing to take a serious hit, whether physically or emotionally. Many times in an effort to not be a weak female character, authors seem to go the other extreme, which is more obnoxious to me than a weak, one dimensional character. It seems like sometimes they’re so busy being an ultra-strong woman that they don’t have enough time to simply be real.

In an effort to crate characters one more step away from myself, I usually make my protagonist male. Of course, that’s ridiculous. You draw something from yourself for every character, so why should my female characters be any different?

Go to hell, Mary Sue.

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