Recently, I’ve seen quite a few posts about Mary Sue characters cross my dash that I don’t feel accurately deconstruct or understand the term. As someone who feels very strongly about the representation of women in media, (and as someone who has been reading fan fiction since the age of Yahoo emailing lists and live journal) I felt the need to write an article on the subject. Hopefully this will help inspire some writers and settle the concerns of others.
1. What Is a Mary Sue Character?:
The term “Mary Sue originates from the name of a character created by Paula Smith in 1973 for her parody story “A Trekkie’s Tale" published in her fanzine Menagerie The story starred Lieutenant Mary Sue ("the youngest Lieutenant in the fleet — only fifteen and a half years old"), and satirized unrealistic Star Trek fan fiction. The best fan written definition I have come across can be found: here
In essence: A Mary-sue character is a female character that shares three major characteristics:
- They are poorly written and one dimensional with incredibly predictable personality traits.
- They are the romantic interest of nearly all the male characters within the text.
- They are infallible in many ways. Including but not limited to intelligence, battle prowess, wit, and the consequences of their own actions.
What I believe most people who criticize the Mary Sue trope are missing, is that these characteristics all have different weights of importance to the development and identification of a Mary Sue character.
The most important characteristic of the three is the first listed: That Mary Sue characters are poorly written.
The reason that this is the most important characteristic is that without this aspect of the term, many of the strong amazing female characters who you would never even dream of considering “Mary Sue” characters would have to fall underneath the term.
It is the defining difference between characters of quality who happen to be strong and interesting and compelling, and characters who seem to have inherited these personality traits from osmosis. Meaning that the difference between a strong/diverse female character and a Mary Sue is the quality of character development and (in many cases) the understanding of well studied character design.
Without understanding the importance of this particular aspect of Mary Sue characters, the following characters would be considered Mary Sues: Xena, Martha Jones, Anne of Green Gables, Eowyn, Rose Tyler, Sailor Moon, Wonder Woman, Black Widow, Katniss Everdeen, Allison Argent, Lisbeth Salander etc.
As you know, these women are decidedly NOT Mary Sue characters.
The list above is designed to showcase how vital being “poorly written” is for a character to qualify as Mary Sue. There is a certain… laziness that is associated with the personality and character development arc of known Mary Sue characters (Like Bella Swan for example). And one cannot be defined as a Mary Sue character without it…
I just spent the past few days reading through your entire blog (it's relevant research boss, I swear!) and I must offer Cheez-Its to your greatness. I was wondering, what's the difference between a copy editor and proofreader? And do they follow the same/a similar path to getting a job in the publishing world as other editors, as you've previously discussed here?
Of course it’s relevant! I am a font of indispensable knowledge. I happen to have been quoted in at least two (2) high school English class papers (no srsly… they referenced me as “Quagmire, Query” and it was awesome).
The difference between a copyeditor and a proofreader is the jobs they do and the order in which they do it.
A copyeditor takes the manuscript after it has been written by an author and tweaked by a developmental editor or agent, and they do what people traditionally think of as “editing”: correcting spelling and grammar, checking for consistency, formatting according to house style. There are different levels of copyediting (light, medium, heavy), all of which depend on how much work a particular manuscript needs. Sometimes a copyeditor will leave “queries” (not to be confused with query letters) on the manuscript for the author to answer. These are usually yes or no questions, or fact-checking things like “Hey, did you mean Broadway or Lincoln Street? Because Broadway is one-way going downtown and your character is driving to the burbs.” After copyediting, the author answers the queries, and then the copyeditor does query integration (QI), the act of integrating the author’s answers into the manuscript.
A proofreader generally works on the typeset pages, or at the very least, a draft of the manuscript that has gone through copyediting and query integration. They are checking for any little things the copyeditor missed, or any mistakes introduced by the typesetter. Proofreaders use a special set of marks in the margins to indicate what changes need to be made. The typesetter then introduces the proofreaders corrections into the typeset files before passing the files on to the printer. In general, proofreading is a faster process than copyediting, and it can be a good skill to learn as you ease yourself into learning copyediting. If you’re a broke-ass author and you can only afford one or the other, pick copyediting and then proofread it yourself.
Most freelance copyeditors and proofreaders I know took a career path similar to most other publishing professionals I know (college, grad school or publishing institute, internships), though most of them also took a specific class in copyediting as well. Fun fact: I am a trained copyeditor and proofreader, though it is not my favorite form of editing and I don’t do it often.
Make sense? That’s kind of a very general overview, but there are lots of editors and authors among my minions who can fill you in a little more if you want. Minions?
Dr. Caroline Heldman breaks it down
To those who argue against the idea that physically strong characters are not necessarily empowered characters, I highly recommend watching Miss Representation. Also for TONS of other reasons (this is only one topic covered). Basically, watch Miss Representation.
Miss Representation is probably the best thing to watch if you’re interested in dismantling patriarchal ideals through creating diverse powerful media.
Interwoven Socks, Click for Source
Years after initially posting this, continual yeps
"Jeeves lugged my purple socks out of the drawer as if he were a vegetarian fishing a caterpillar out of his salad."
—P.G. Wodehouse, The Inimitable Jeeves
Well, this is beautiful.
1970s Vintage Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit Set
hello! I've been looking for a book of puns for my friend seeing as it's her birthday soon and her puns are terrible! I saw on Google images that you've made a pun book, but I can't find it anywhere? I was just wondering if you still sell it of if you even made the book, maybe I've confused you with someone else? I highly doubt it though, your works are unique and I'm a big fan of your designs!
I have indeed made a pun book!
It’s called “It’s a Punderful Life” and it’s available at (among others) amazon, urban outfitters and ohhdeer.com