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The Appeal of Mary Sue

 
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Schola



Joined: 10 Jun 2007
Posts: 1867

PostPosted: Mon Oct 27, 2008 3:57 am    Post subject: The Appeal of Mary Sue Reply with quote

+IHS+

I finally read Stephanie Meyer's Twilight over the weekend and found its heroine to be such a Mary Sue.

Talking it over with my friends, one of whom reads a lot of Fan Fiction and has run into all sorts of Mary Sues through the years, we concluded that part of the appeal of Twilight is that Bella is bland and nondescript enough for any teenage girl to insert her own face where Bella's should be and imagine that she is the one Edward loves so fiercely.

I suppose all Romance readers, to some extent, do the same thing--and it would be far easier to do, let's admit, with a "plain vanilla" heroine.

I've yet to think of more examples, but I think the ultimate Mary Sue heroine in Romance is Sarah Fielding in Lisa Kleypas' Dreaming of You, which is a big reason that novel is so popular.
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Linda in sw va



Joined: 27 Mar 2007
Posts: 4708

PostPosted: Mon Oct 27, 2008 5:45 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I agree, part of Bella's appeal to a lot of teenage girls is that she's an average girl, someone they can all identify with. I know my daughter is crazy about her and the series. For me, I found her a welcome breath of fresh air compared to the romance novel heroines I'd been reading lately. I admit, I'd never heard the term Mary Sue until I posted here and I'm not sure I'm crazy about it. Not sure why, maybe because I get a sense of some negative stereotype attached to it from some of the discussions we've had. Or maybe I just don't understand the term at all..

Linda
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NoirFemme



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
Posts: 1476
Location: America

PostPosted: Mon Oct 27, 2008 1:06 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The appeal of the Mary Sue stems from wanting something exciting to happen to you. While I don't have any Mary Sue books I've enjoyed, I do admit to frequent daydreaming where crazy stuff happens to me and I'm the center of the universe for everyone. However, IMO, it's only unhealthy if one needs to escape one's real life all the time.
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tafka



Joined: 06 Jun 2007
Posts: 43

PostPosted: Mon Oct 27, 2008 1:50 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I thought the term "Mary Sue" applied to the author, not the reader. Maybe someone can enlighten me on what exactly the term means.

BTW, not all readers insert themselves in the story. I, for one, read as an outsider looking in and never put myself in place of any specific character, but I do feel the emotion if it is a heartwrenching read...if that makes any sense.
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xina



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
Posts: 6635
Location: minneapolis

PostPosted: Mon Oct 27, 2008 4:06 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

tafka wrote:
I thought the term "Mary Sue" applied to the author, not the reader. Maybe someone can enlighten me on what exactly the term means.

BTW, not all readers insert themselves in the story. I, for one, read as an outsider looking in and never put myself in place of any specific character, but I do feel the emotion if it is a heartwrenching read...if that makes any sense.




I have always read as the outsider too. I've never understood the appeal of putting oneself in the story. As for Mary Sue...my idea was that the heroine was unrealistically happy or accepting of her life and/or her situation. Okay...I thought she was supposed to be somewhat of an idiot. I guess I never understood the term.
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Linda in sw va



Joined: 27 Mar 2007
Posts: 4708

PostPosted: Mon Oct 27, 2008 4:17 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

xina wrote:

I have always read as the outsider too. I've never understood the appeal of putting oneself in the story. As for Mary Sue...my idea was that the heroine was unrealistically happy or accepting of her life and/or her situation. Okay...I thought she was supposed to be somewhat of an idiot. I guess I never understood the term.


That's kind of what I thought too Xina but I got thrown for a loop because I hear different posters use it in different ways, color me confused. For instance, that is not how I would describe Bella from Twilight at all, she's kind of a brooder.

Linda
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Mingqi



Joined: 21 Apr 2007
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 27, 2008 4:33 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Linda in sw va wrote:
xina wrote:

I have always read as the outsider too. I've never understood the appeal of putting oneself in the story. As for Mary Sue...my idea was that the heroine was unrealistically happy or accepting of her life and/or her situation. Okay...I thought she was supposed to be somewhat of an idiot. I guess I never understood the term.


That's kind of what I thought too Xina but I got thrown for a loop because I hear different posters use it in different ways, color me confused. For instance, that is not how I would describe Bella from Twilight at all, she's kind of a brooder.

Linda


I always thought Mary Sues were supposed to be characters who are too perfect- even when they're being all flawed and imperfect- they're still perfect. Now that I'm typing this, I do kind of see how it's sort of hard to define. I guess it's when I start feeling the character could have stepped right off an episode of 7th Heaven.
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Susan/DC



Joined: 26 Mar 2007
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 27, 2008 5:15 pm    Post subject: Mary Sues Reply with quote

I'm with Minggi on my understanding of the term. To me a Mary Sue character is Anita Blake after the first 7 or 8 books in the series. She was the smartest, bestest, sexiest (every other character -- living or dead -- wanted her), most everything possible. Every time she turned around she developed a new skill or paranormal strength and overpowered a newer, more evil villain. After a while it got boring and I stopped reading the series. But to my mind she remains the quintessential Mary Sue.

Historical Mary Sues may not have the same superpowers as Anita, but they're the ones who merely need to breath to have the hero and every male in the vicinity fall at their feet, yet they're often portrayed as so pure and innocent that they don't quite understand why all these men keep pestering them and distracting them from healing sick animals and finding homes for orphans. Or they're feisty and foot-stomping, tossing their raven/titian/golden tresses while their bosoms heave, driving all the men to distraction and the hero to a forced seduction.

That's my take on the term; YMMV.
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CD



Joined: 15 Sep 2007
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Location: London, UK

PostPosted: Mon Oct 27, 2008 5:42 pm    Post subject: Re: Mary Sues Reply with quote

Susan/DC wrote:
I'm with Minggi on my understanding of the term. To me a Mary Sue character is Anita Blake after the first 7 or 8 books in the series. She was the smartest, bestest, sexiest (every other character -- living or dead -- wanted her), most everything possible. Every time she turned around she developed a new skill or paranormal strength and overpowered a newer, more evil villain. After a while it got boring and I stopped reading the series. But to my mind she remains the quintessential Mary Sue.

Historical Mary Sues may not have the same superpowers as Anita, but they're the ones who merely need to breath to have the hero and every male in the vicinity fall at their feet, yet they're often portrayed as so pure and innocent that they don't quite understand why all these men keep pestering them and distracting them from healing sick animals and finding homes for orphans. Or they're feisty and foot-stomping, tossing their raven/titian/golden tresses while their bosoms heave, driving all the men to distraction and the hero to a forced seduction.

That's my take on the term; YMMV.


That's my take on it as well - definitely the sick animals and homes for orphans. God, I still feel so betrayed with Anita Blake...

I wouldn't say that Sara from DREAMING OF YOU is a Mary Sue character at all although I can see where you're coming from. Sara seems more real (despite the carriage sex) - I mean, she does things which are clearly stupid and and she's not portrayed as some glowing beacon of light whom all around must worship. Also, unlike Edward and Bella for example, you can understand why Derek falls so hard for her - it's to Kleypas's credit that she really made us understand how their relationship worked.

As for examples, obviously Anita Blake and actually most other paranormal heroines for that matter. And a huge number of badly written historicals most of which I've blanked on the name.
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willaful



Joined: 02 Jan 2008
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 27, 2008 10:17 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Yes, the Mary Sue is the over-idealized character, not the easy to identify with character. Here's wikipedia on it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Sue

I haven't heard of a name for the tabula rasa type character. Perhaps tabula rasa would be a good one!

(I find most of MaryJanice Davidson's female characters to be Mary Sues, with the twist that most of them are incredibly obnoxious and yet everyone still adores them anyway.)
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monarda



Joined: 17 Dec 2007
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 27, 2008 10:49 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

For me, Mary Sues are easier to identify with because I want to identify with them. After all, they're perfect - that makes me want to step into their shoes. Of course, I don't like characters who are 100% Mary Sues - the heroine must have a few human traits, and she can't be completely over the top in being perfect.

However, too often, romance heroines are too maligned by fate or too flawed, in my opinion. I don't want to read about someone who always has a chip on her shoulder, cops an attitude about everything, or has deep psychological trauma to work through. I also don't want to read about someone who's not outstanding in any way - many heroines have mediocre jobs, are in a poor financial state and aren't especially good at anything. Usually it's the hero who's crazy good at everything. Further, the heroine is often plain or pretty in a simple way, while the hero is gorgeous.

Since I tend to put myself in the head of the heroine, it makes me feel as if she's inadequate compared to the hero - after all, what reason is there for his love for her? I guess I don't believe that someone who's rich, very smart, very good looking and very talented/successful can love someone who is plain, not particularly smart or talented, and really doesn't stand out from regular people in any way. I guess the fantasy of the plain heroine being loved by the "perfect" hero is appealing to some people, but I prefer more balance in terms of distribution of positive characteristics.

What I do not like is a heroine who is inordinately cheerful about horrible circumstances - some people have said that they associate this characteristic with Mary Sues, but I really don't. To me, a Mary Sue is someone who's just a little bit better at everything than the average person - I find that appealing, especially if, as I said earlier, she has a few humanizing characteristics.
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Schola



Joined: 10 Jun 2007
Posts: 1867

PostPosted: Tue Oct 28, 2008 3:29 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

willaful wrote:
Yes, the Mary Sue is the over-idealized character, not the easy to identify with character. Here's wikipedia on it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Sue


In FanFic, Mary Sue (or Gary Stu) is the wish-fulfillment character who lets the author enter into the fantasy of the original TV series or movie or book. She (or he) manages to be both completely average and super-idealised--exactly like, if you don't mind me naming non-FanFic examples, Bella in Twilight (or, say, Justin Long's character in Die Hard 4.0 or Orlando Bloom's character in Kingdom of Heaven).

She (or he) often ends up having a romantic relationship with one of the canon characters--predictably, the character the author is most infatuated with.

Outside of FanFic and in mainstream Romance, I'd say that a Mary Sue heroine is someone average and even awkward--someone you wouldn't expect such a perfect hero to even look at twice. (Sometimes she thinks that way, too, and has no idea what the hero sees in her.) It may not be the author's wish-fulfillment, but you can see how it could be the reader's.

monarda wrote:
I also don't want to read about someone who's not outstanding in any way - many heroines have mediocre jobs, are in a poor financial state and aren't especially good at anything. Usually it's the hero who's crazy good at everything. Further, the heroine is often plain or pretty in a simple way, while the hero is gorgeous.


That's so Bella! Laughing

CD wrote:
I wouldn't say that Sara from DREAMING OF YOU is a Mary Sue character at all although I can see where you're coming from. Sara seems more real (despite the carriage sex) - I mean, she does things which are clearly stupid and and she's not portrayed as some glowing beacon of light whom all around must worship. Also, unlike Edward and Bella for example, you can understand why Derek falls so hard for her - it's to Kleypas's credit that she really made us understand how their relationship worked.

As for examples, obviously Anita Blake and actually most other paranormal heroines for that matter. And a huge number of badly written historicals most of which I've blanked on the name.


Oh, I agree that some authors can take the Mary Sue formula and make it work. My experience with Paranormals is pretty limited, but I think the reason Kresley Cole is so popular is that her heroines are generally not Mary Sues. (However, her most beloved title still seems to be A Hunger Like No Other, which definitely has a Mary Sue heroine.)
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