What is a Mary Sue?
Gather 'round, gather 'round all ye fanfic authors. It's time to listen to the cat.
Now, I've given a little rant about sex in fanfics, and now it's another serious subject.
That subject is "self-insertion", as I like to call it.
Now what this would be, to those who may not know, is putting yourself (as an alterego) into one of your works.
This isn't necessarily a BAD thing. I've done it myself. Robert in Enter a Warmage is modeled after me. He's my alterego. There's nothing wrong with putting yourself into a fanfic. It can also be quite enlightening.
After all, writing fanfics allow us to enter a world which otherwise we could by no means take part. It brings our fantasies into a semblance of reality, and makes us feel a part of the world. Self-insertion is the next step, actually interacting with the world and it's characters.
However, it's not always done well. Often you'll find fanfics where the alterego comes in, and all the characters fall in love with him/her, sends the evil packing, though the entire world was afraid of it, and finds a cure for cancer. In the first five minutes.
They are always stunningly beautiful. They are always more powerful than God. They are Mary Sues.
Or Marty Stus, or whatever, if the author is male.
Mary Sues represent an idealized alterego of the author. They are perfect, they cannot be wrong, and they are ridiculous.
Now, I can't blame people for doing this: After all, who doesn't want to be perfect? Who doesn't want to be loved by everyone?
The problem is, it's not possible. As humans, we are essentally imperfect, and we can't please everyone. And having even one character as such tends to spoil the fanfic by ruining suspension of disbelief (something I will get to at a later time, perhaps). While a lot of things can spoil a fanfic, Mary Sues are the worst. Unsurprisingly, often you can find Mary Sues in lemons.
However, it can be done well. But it takes some thought. I know I spent SEVEN YEARS in thought before I actually wrote Enter a Warmage. As a person who feels that a person puts a bit of themself into their works, I would say that ultimately, all fanfics are self-insertions. But it's a bit too broad.
You see, this is an excellent opportunity for an author. It gives us a way to examine ourselves in a way we normally cannot. A way to put down ourselves on paper or Notepad and look at ourselves as others would see us.
I once read that when we look in a mirror, we see a skewed version of ourselves. When you look in a mirror, it's you. But subtly different. To get a true vision of ourselves, we need a reflection of that reflection. As such, we can never see ourselves as what we truly are, our vision is altered by our perspective. To truly learn what we really are, we need another viewpoint.
Self-insertion allows for that, and thus can be quite an educational and enlightening experience for the author. It also exposes ourselves to the world, allowing readers to get to know us better than the work without the self-insertion.
Thus the dislike of Mary Sues. Ultimately, the Mary Sue is the ultimate in hubris and vanity and it CLEARLY shows. Add on to that, as mentioned, it spoils suspension of disbelief, making the story less real and less enjoyable. Not to mention that Mary Sues tend to be intertwined with lemons, but let's not get into that.
So, perhaps you are intrigued by placing yourself into the fantasy world of your story? I will give you a few tips.
- If your character is respected by the canon characters off the bat, make sure there's a backstory. Robert had spent seven years with Cecil and company before Enter a Warmage. If your character is not in the story from the start, let them earn the character's respect the old fashioned way: they earn it.
- Avoid entanglements with canon characters. ESPECIALLY romantic. But this can also be extended to familial attachments. This is the mark of an idiot fanboy/girl. Rinoa should NOT break up with Squall just to be with your character. You should NOT be Cloud's long lost brother or son or whatever. Entanglements with other author created characters is good, as long as it doesn't eclipse the canon characters.
- On that, remember: while you may want to be the star, it's often better just to concentrate on the canon characters, or make sure everyone shares the spotlight. Not doing so, and consigning the canon characters to bit parts makes you look vain.
- Also, while you may want your character to be uber-powerful, resist that temptation. This eclipses the canon characters, like the example above.
- Finally, you are not perfect. Neither is your alterego. Respect that and your story will become more real. Allow your character thier faults and mistakes. Besides, they make excellent plot hooks. Why deny them?
To sum it all up, self-insertion can make a story fuller, stornger, and adds a little variety to fic. It also, like any other plot device, can doom it beyond mediocrity if not used well. If you're not sure you're up to it, write it out anyway and give it to a beta reader you trust.
Self-insertion is an unparalleled opportunity to get to know ourselves better, along with giving our readers a better story. Do us all a favor and don't screw it up, ok? We'll al be grateful, and you never know... Maybe the story will continue from someone else's pen.