Mary Sues and Other Confessions

by Associate Professor Celli

Mary Sue, aka: self-insertion, OFC (original female character), avatar

Definition: Strictly speaking, a badly written female character that draws the focus of a fanfic away from its canon characters. (See the "Mary Sue Society" at** for more details, and a lot of fun stuff.) In this lesson, any fanfic with a strong original character may be called a Mary Sue; don't be insulted if your definition and mine don't agree.

Lecture I: Where Celli attempts to explain the attraction of Mary Sue-ing by Talking About Herself.)

So, here's the thing (Celli says with not a lot of shame): I write Mary Sues. A lot. My first real fanfic, a Highlander Mary Sue called "Surrender," had it all. Hard-to-pronounce name, gorgeous red hair, admirable fighting skills, great sense of humor, blah blah blah. And we won't even mention the good sex she had with Richie (although I *swear* at the time I didn't realize they were having sex...but it's obvious when you read the dialogue between the two of them) or all the bad stuff that happened to her.

Erm. Yeah. Well. I read it with a fond smile now, but there are a lot of things I could have done to make it a better story.

Compare that with another self-insertion story I wrote, called "Overtime." This was a Stargate story where my character (Lt. Miriam Risk--okay, I'm working on the name thing) had to deal with an unusual pay request from Jack and Teal'c after the events of "Window of Opportunity." However, this time I attempted that crazy little thing called (wait for it) restraint. There is absolutely no description of Lt. Risk anywhere in the story. And she doesn't sleep with anybody.


But she's me. I have an accounting background and an addiction to Excedrin Migraine. That's what made the story so fun! What would I do if my job was to deal with Jack, Danny, and the rest of SG-1? (We don't see Lt. Risk drinking heavily, but I'm sure she does.) And if I ever write another story with her, you can darn sure bet she's gonna have a thing for Major Davis, because I find the character...rather attractive.

We won't even get into the UC: Undercover Mary Sue...we just won't. *g*

Lecture II: Where Celli defends Mary Sues.

Readers like romance. At heart, most romance novels are Mary Sues: a female character the writer strongly identifies with gets involved with an exciting male character. And if the writer does their job well, the audience identifies just as strongly with said female character, falls in love with said male character, and three hundred pages later, everybody's happy. Works for me. (I have--I kid you not--nearly every Nora Roberts novel. Ever.)

If you don't like Mary Sues, that's okay. A) Not everyone likes romance. B) A lot of people will only read romantic fic if it involves two already established characters (Mulder/Scully, Paris/Torres, Buffy/Angel). Also perfectly fine. I also love to read something that could clearly happen on TV, and imagine characters I already know instead of getting to know a new one.

But Mary Sues have a lot to offer, too. Introducing a new character into an established show is a good way to get a fresh viewpoint and a new perspective into the situation. If you're going to have to explain a lot of things, it helps to have someone to listen to them. It avoids the "As you know, Bob" trap: As you know, Sam, we travel through a wormhole to other planets...; As you know, Cordelia, we run a paranormal detective agency in the Hyperion Hotel....

It's also fun to imagine yourself in the middle of your favorite book, series, or movie. Most actors and writers and directors started out that way. We just write it down. There's a good argument that it's no fun reading someone else's thinly veiled fantasies--but isn't that what fiction is, fantasy done well enough that an audience buys into it?

Lecture III: When Mary Sues Go Wrong

I read a lot of stories to find the fics I recommended later in this lesson, and I have a few firm opinions on what makes a good and a bad Mary Sue. To wit:


Note: These authors don't necessarily classify their stories as Mary Sues. Technically, I'm not recommending any MS's here, because by definition those are bad, and all these stories are really good. I'm recommending stories I like that happen to have strong original characters. If I have a link to your story, and you don't want me to recommend it, let me know, and I'll take the link down.

If you're not sure about OFCs or haven't found a good one in your particular universe, here are some of Celli's suggestions:

~ Babylon 5 - Three warnings: One, these are AU (Alternate Universes...I'll explain it in another lesson). Two, these authors are three of my best friends. (So you may not believe me when I tell you the stories kick ass.) Three, two of the three stories are WIP (Works In Progress)...and the third is begging for a sequel, so fat lot of help that is. But they're worth reading even if they never get finished.

At any rate, the site is Babylon 5.14159 and the stories are "Freedom Network" by Christina Kamnikar, "Scenes From a Spaceside Bar" by Perri Smith, and "The Power of Persuasion" by Elizabeth Ann Lewis.

~ Harry Potter - "His Majesty's Secret Service" by Gwendolyn Grace is a good example of an OMC (Bobby Sue, Harry Stu...nobody's come up with the perfect phrase for an original male character yet). It's set in Harry and Co's fifth year.

~ Highlander - "Moments of Weakness" by Marina Frants is really a Richie story, but the original character of his wife is important enough that it qualifies.; Lisa Krakowka's "MacGreggor Saga"** would be an example of how *not* to write a Highlander Mary Sue...except Lisa does it so well.

~ JAG - No, not every fic is Harm/Mac. (Just most of them.) My favorite OCs in this fandom are all connected to the supporting characters--especially Clayton Webb. Go to the "Under Surveillance" Web site ** and check out Paula Bilyeu's "Dancing in Blue Neon" and its sequels, MoJo's "Dodging Bullets" and sequels, and Sweet Pea's "Spooked" and sequels. WARNING: Pay attention to the story ratings. Some of them are NC-17. Don't go wandering into a sex scene and come crying to me because you didn't read the disclaimer. Oh, and for a blatant, no-holds-barred, fun set of real Mary Sues--click here. (Thanks to MoJo for the link.)

~ The Magnificent Seven - "Four Corners Wedding" ** by Lissa Grinstead. No, it's not what you think. *g*

~ The Mummy/The Mummy Returns - There's so many OCs written in this fandom, I keep threatening to start a page called "Mummy Sues." But hey, if Stephen S. can't be bothered to give Ardeth a "true love," somebody's gotta, right? The "Avatar of the Gods" series takes a great approach to the concept. The heroine really *is* an avatar (in this case, the representation of the goddess Isis on earth)! Also, there's very little romance, so I developed an affection for Rhiannon, and am currently waiting for them to get over the UST (Unresolved Sexual Tension) and get on with it, already! *g* (And don't forget its sequels.); "I Watched Her Sleep" by Cat is a future story dealing mostly with Alex, and was so entertaining I didn't even notice a few writing and formatting things that would normally bug the heck out of me.; One of my favorite Mummy stories of all time is a Jonathan story called "Secrets of the Valley of the Kings" by Jonathan's Baby. Unfortunately, it's not available online right now...the author is revising it. She promises it'll be back up eventually, and I'll put a link up then.

~ Stargate SG-1 - Most romantic fic for Stargate involves characters we've already met--which is understandable, given the show. But Werrf's "Why Doctors Don't Get Guns" ** has a great original character that gets involved with Janet.

~ The West Wing - Jane Harper has written a whole series with the best example of a well-written OFC I have ever read. Sarah Cooper is a completely original, completely compelling character. There's even a few comments from Jane on the site, dealing with the whole "Mary Sue" question. (**)

Celli's stories mentioned above (in a vain effort to be humble):

~ "Surrender" by Sheila Marie Lane (yes, my real name, I *told* you it was my first story), not available online, mostly because I don't have it saved anywhere. You can order the 'zine it's in at look for "Richie Forever" in the Highlander category. And don't make snarky comments about the fact that I was the editor of said 'zine. I was young.

~ "Overtime" by Celli Lane. Also in a zine (and what, exactly, does that say about me?). See the Iris Code Web page for ordering info.

** Links no longer work or were removed becasue they no longer work.

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