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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Mining Mary Sue

There's a familiar 'ouch' moment when someone hints subtly --or not so subtly, that your story reads more like a fanciful autobiography than fiction.

There might be a lot of reasons for your story to fall into the Mary Sue pit. I want to believe it's rarely intentional, though I've come across a few writers who believe they're writing to a theme when in fact it's a lightly disguised memoir or a Walter Mitty fantasy. You can tell because each successive story has a familiar ring to it, insisting on rehashing the conflict, character or angst of the previous novel.

It's like watching someone go through public therapy. I feel sorry for them because I would be humiliated to have so much of my life story on display, even if it is window dressed with elves, wizards or giant spaceships. For whatever reason, these writers seem oblivious to the fact that they've just walked out on stage naked.

But let me play devil's advocate with all those Mary Sue bunnies begging to come out of the closet. It's important to write what we know and what better place to find those descriptions than in our own warehouse. We need our Mary Sue-isms! They are an endless crop of emotion, ripe for the picking.

Things like regret, loss, love, joy and jealousy can be very Mary Sue-ish if you feel compelled to write yourself into the title character. But if you take pieces of those experiences rather than a broad portrayal of your life, you'll find yourself painting a deeply human and touching character without outing yourself as a train wreck personality in need of a shrink's couch.

Mine your Mary Sue's for details. Just don't wear it like a second skin.


Anonymous said...

When I write fiction I feel like I'm always telling a variation of the same story, but as far as I can tell it's not my personal story. The broken characters and families aren't much like me or mine. I'm not sure what that says about me. Maybe that I haven't tested my boundaries as a writer enough.

Maria Zannini said...

I think many of us do that, Raven. That's writing to theme.

And you *are* stretching your boundaries because you're writing something unfamiliar--but I'll bet you're writing them with what experience you've had with various emotions and incorporating them into your characters.

Anonymous said...

Yes, that's true. The emotional stuff comes from me.