Here's to you, Mary Sue!

I’m pleased to be able to report that, effective Monday, October 7, I’ll be starting work at my permanent job at the University of Waterloo! Thanks to all of my lovely references!

I think many of you will understand that the feeling that’s predominant in my mind right now is relief.

What is a Mary Sue? (See Kevin Wicks’ comments to this post) Briefly, it is a fan fiction term for a badly written story whose sole purpose is to insert a new character into the fiction universe. The key is, this new character is a thinly veiled and very complimentary representation of the author herself (or himself — the male equivalent is known as Gary Stu).

The term was coined (as with several other fan fiction terms) in Star Trek fandom years back, when they had a horde of Mary Sues descend upon the Enterprise, be passionately loved by Kirk, Spock or McCoy (or all three at once), be exceptionally brilliant in their field and (of course) save the ship. At the end, they either die in a tragic fashion (usually sacrificing themselves to save the ship) and have a death scene in the arms of Kirk, Spock or McCoy (or all three at once), or they have a tearful parting with Kirk, Spock or Mccoy (or all three at once) wherein everyone agrees that they can’t share a life together on the Enterprise (for whatever reason), or they marry Kirk, Spock or McCoy (or all thr— never mind) and live happily ever after.

Basically, Mary Sues let fan fiction authors live out their various fantasies in the universe of the television show they so love. That in and of itself isn’t bad — many writers have their own fantasy worlds going on in their heads — but the stories are usually obvious, and poorly written. As a result, the repetitive nature of the plot points manifest themselves again and again and again, causing this ridiculed sub-genre to form.

One way to get farther in your writing is to not take yourself so seriously. Looking back over my fifteen years of fan fiction while producing the :Trenchcoat Farewell Project:, the biggest complaint I have over my own early material is that it is so earnest. Angst-fiction proliferates a number of fan fiction circles in the form of short pieces where the hero agonizes over having to kill the villain, the death of a friend or loved one, whether to put milk in the coffee or no, because it packs the most power with the least amount of effort.

Okay, that’s unfair; there are plenty of fantastic works of literature out there that put you through the ringer, but that’s part of the problem: everybody wants to be the writer of one (myself included). Neil Gaiman noted that it’s far more difficult to be funny and to write for children than it is to be serious and write for adults; and yet authors of children’s literature has a tendency to be looked down upon. But remember, Mordecai Richler relied upon his wry wit. Doctor Who was at its best when it captured a balance between horror and humour. M. Night Shymalan’s Signs is more frightening because of its comic relief.

Answers to recent search engine questions:

Do we need a painting in sight to make us feel better from a psychologists point of view? Er… Yes!

I love the way you smack my ass! (lyrics) (Top billing on this one!) Gee… thanks but… I think you have the wrong person.

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