I’ve been following a kerfluffle about a writer who mentioned an unfavorable review to her fans, who in turn went forth and challenged the review. The kerfluffle itself is fairly simple - I’d never tell my mailing list about an unfavorable review. I think it’s iffy enough telling them about contests I’m entered in (because the implication is go and vote for me), but I figure that if they like my fic they’d like similar fic. It’s a public service announcement.
The kerfluffle led to a couple of discussions of what a Mary Sue is. Everyone can spot your basic Flaming Mary Sue: purple eyes, flowing locks, super powers, beloved by all, saves the ship, dies tragically at the end, etc., etc. But other definitions of Mary Sue are more controversial. To some people, any OC is a Mary Sue (or if male, a Marty Stu) by analogy, because all OC’s detract from the canon characters to some extent, just as Flaming Mary Sue supersedes the canon characters in all respects.
To me, canon characters can themselves be Mary Sues: when Seven saves the ship without needing anyone else’s help, she’s a Mary Sue for Brannon Braga. He didn’t want to deal with an ensemble show, so he tossed Seven in there and everything after that happened in relation to her. Likewise Wesley Crusher, to whom Gene Roddenberry gave Marty Stu superpowers so that eventually he had to ascend to a higher plane of geeking. And that’s just in canon - fanfic writers can also take the canon characters and turn them into authorial insertions.
Speaking of which, I don’t consider “authorial insertion” to be the primary definition of Mary Sue, and for that reason I don’ t think Yenta Sue (the name is from Rana Bob’s Field Guide to Mary Sues), the matchmaking Mary Sue of slash fandom, is a Mary Sue at all, unless she befriends all and saves the ship while she’s matchmaking. I’ve written too many matchmakers into my fic (both alien and canon characters) to disown them now as Mary Sues.
Yenta Sue is clearly an authorial insertion. My purpose in writing schmoop fic is to match up two characters (of opposite sex, but I don’t think the slash case differs in any important respect). Anyone who participates in the matchmaking activity, be it Tom Paris or Seven of Nine or Q or a convenient planetful of matchmaking aliens is acting transparently on my behalf as author. Calling Yenta Sue Crewman Pereira or Jemiminika the Alien doesn’t make much difference.
You might say that Jemiminika the Purple-eyed Alien is an authorial insertion while Tom Paris is not, but I don’t have purple eyes or superpowers and I don’t save the planet on a regular (or even semi-regular) basis. Real authorial insertion isn’t that common in fandom, though you do find the authorial narrative voice in those annoying inline notes (i.e., Isn’t Legolas SO cute!!!) and author-turned-character in I’m Janeway’s Teenage Daughter fics.
So there are three different sorts of Sue here:
- Flaming Mary Sue: the impossibly perfect character
- Yenta Sue: the character who acts on the author’s behalf
- Me Sue: the direct authorial insertion
I don’t think they overlap nearly as much as they’re made out to. Of all of them, only Flaming Mary Sue is prima facie bad writing, because the character is by definition all out of proportion to the milieu and genre. Yenta Sue is merely a stock character there to push the plot along. Me Sue could be anywhere - how would you know? Do you know the author so well that you can tell when she appears in her own fic? I don’t.