Brace yourselves: Mary Sue is back.
Well, to be fair, I guess she never left.
Chihuahua Zero posted about Mary Sue and whether she still means anything today. I wrote fanfic on the side for years, and remember some of the Mary Sue discussions that would come out of various communities. By the time I stopped writing fanfic, she was the talk (but not the toast) of the town. I guess she still is.
I’ve participated in a handful of discussions regarding her over the years, usually during NaNoWriMo, when I crawl out of my cave and attempt to interact with other people. I was always kind of surprised to see it on the NaNo boards, but CZ pointed out to me in a tweet that Mary Sue has made the jump into regular fiction, too. No, I don’t know where I’ve been. Probably under my rock, watching zombie movies.
At some point several years ago, Mary Sue stretched out, encompassing more and more traits. Suddenly, if a character had access to powers of some sort (no matter what sort of universe the story took place in)…Mary Sue. If other characters liked her, or at least didn’t hate her on the spot…Mary Sue. If she had a backstory that was remotely interesting…you got it, Mary Sue. If she wasn’t downright ugly…the list goes on. At times, it seemed like any female character who was remotely capable of handling herself (in general and in a fight, regardless of the universe she operates in) was dismissed as a Sue.
Frankly, I think it’s become a catch-all term for when a reader just doesn’t like the character in question.
I do wonder if “she’s a Mary Sue” is indicative of society’s desire to make everything happen faster, and deliver information in small, bite-sized pieces. “She seems like a Sue” is easier to say than “She’s shallow, everything goes her way, five men fell in love with her in five minutes and her hair is NOT realistic.”
If you’re serious about helping a writer out, definitely go for specifics.
I can’t really speak for how the term “Mary Sue” is used in traditional fiction. If the discussions I saw during my brief Web search are any indication, then the usage hasn’t changed all that much. Looking at the books I’ve read in the last few years, I haven’t seen anything I’d really consider a Mary Sue. There have been characters I didn’t care for, but more often than not that was due to specific things I didn’t like about them, not because they were Sues, at least not by my definition.
Maybe I’ve just gotten lucky in my reading, or maybe I’m just not on Mary Sue High Alert. I’m curious as to what people are reading that they’re finding Sues to complain about.
To answer the question CZ posed, no, I don’t think Mary Sue a useful critique, because even if it’s not just used as a blanket insult, Sues are different things to different people. For me, a Mary Sue is the emerald-eyed, raven-haired, perfect-figured little cheerleader named Typhanie (the e is silent) who gets sucked into Middle-Earth and instantly attracts the attention of a certain blond elven archer, who is like, “Ah, I would give up all my lembas for but a taste of her perfectly plump, berry-stained lips…while she sings in fluent elvish.”
Talented girl, that Typhanie.