Fanfiction and the Sue

While reading fanfiction the other day I stumbled upon a Tubmlr dedicated to critiquing (read: excoriating) that perennial fanfiction problem: the Mary Sue.

A Mary Sue is an original character (one created by the fanfiction writer) that joins the story and characters of a book/movie/TV series/ etc. The problem with the Sue is that usually she’s perfect. If she’s got powers, she’s invincible. Everybody likes her except the villain and she defeats them no problem, or everybody hates her for no reason and she’s treated poorly but endures through it. She has no flaws or everyone gives her a pass for them. Eventually she gets what she wants–especially the guy, even if he’s in a happy canon relationship or is not the relationship type.

I know it sounds like I’m excoriating the Sue, too, and I am, to a point. Mary Sues are bad characters because they’re unrealistic, they cause canon characters to act out of character (OOC), many of them are self-inserts, and they don’t display much creativity.

BUT–I also recognize that the Mary Sue is a step in learning to write, just like fanfiction itself is. You find a series you really like, maybe even a character you fall in love with, and you decide to write a fanfiction. You want to write well so you write what you know–and what you know is yourself (and how much you’re crushing on a character), right? The perfect formula for a Mary Sue. Everyone writes one–the OC’s I’m working on for my fanfictions are definitely Sue-ish, if not fullblown Sues. But the more one writes, the more one learns to move past the Sue and create characters with depth, human characters that can contribute to a good plot.

How does one move past a Sue? Through criticism. Other people read the fanfic, give you tips on plot holes, character problems (like Sues), grammatical inaccuracies, and stylistic suggestions. But just criticizing carte blanche doesn’t help someone: we are human beings with feelings after all, and the way you critique someone affects how receptive they are to the criticism. Thus critiquing someone in a friendly, loving manner is important. And note that this does not mean that the critiques should not be truthful, or even harsh to a degree–but simply loving.

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