Monday, October 8, 2012

Mary Sue Vs. Debbie Harry


by Jennifer Harlow

Urban Dictionary Definition of a Mary Sue:
A female character in FanFic or original stories who is so perfect, so superior to all other characters, so powerful,she's annoying. Often based on the author.
(See Ana Steele, Bella Swan, TV Sookie Stackhouse)

Jennifer Harlow Definition of a Debbie Harry:
A female character who is flawed in many ways but does her best to overcome and accept them, is mouthy or prickly, strong or finds her strength, and who has to work for all she has especially love.   
(See Anita Blake, Kinsey Milhone, Lizbeth Salander)



I consider myself a tough broad. I have a mouth on me, dirty a lot of the times, I've walked through dangerous cities at night alone, I've seen someone assaulted and got my friends out of the situation while keeping a calm head, and I've kicked not one but three dudes in the balls when they wanted to play rough and I didn't. I can shoot a gun, change a tire, I kill spiders and open jars for my brothers, and I take shit from no one. I'm not ugly but it takes over an hour for me to become pretty. The only things I'm exceptional at are dispensing advice, story telling, and keeping fish alive (Beta Larry lived 2! years). I'm stubborn, solitary, I have no sex appeal or mojo, and I live with my parents.  In other words, I am not a Mary Sue. I am a human being, flawed yet still fabulous. And so should your main character be.

I came across the term "Mary Sue" when I read an article on "Fifty Shades of Grey" (yes, I read the book. Got it from the library. Wasn't great, wasn't terrible, read it in about three hours.) Like most blockbuster books, there was some derision about it, especially from authors. So much was said but for the purpose of this blog I'll just focus on the main character Ana. She was definitely a Mary Sue: perfect, every male falling over her, had the supernatural gift of having mind blowing orgasms every time. The woman would not exist in the real world.

In this article (which I'm sorry I can't remember the name of, sorry) the author also mentioned that this type of character a "Mary Sue" was prevalent in Fan Fiction, which is how Fifty got its start. The term came into existence when Paula Smith wrote a short story about the type of female character prevalent in Star Trek FanFic. Mary Sue was only fifteen, a genius, the youngest lieutenant, with unprecedented skill in everything both mental and physical, and is beloved by all characters in this case especially Spock and Kirk. Mary Sue has no flaws, she struggles at nothing, and everyone fawns over her. In other words, she's boring. Unbelievable. Those are the worst words any writer can face.

If Mary Sue kept herself contained in the pages of FanFic I'd really have no problem with her. Full disclosure, I don't read or write FanFic. My roommate was obsessed with it, especially Wincest and Harry Potter/Draco Malfoy parings (EWWWW to both). I understand the desire to write them. These are characters you love, and in writing the Fic you get to tinker with those characters however you see fit. You put yourself into this fantasy world. You're in control. But before Fifty no one was really making money on it. Now publishers are trolling the sites for the next Fifty. Besides the copyright issues, my main concern is that more characters like Ana (a copy of Bella Swan) are going to be the norm. The only acceptable female lead will be demure, gorgeous, subservient, basically a feminist like me's worst nightmare. Ana let a man tie her up and spank her just to please him. Bella literally became a teenage bride, got knocked up, then DIED in childbirth. This is what has captured the minds of American women. It gives me chills.

And I was aghast to find how close I can to Mary Sueing in my own work. In researching the Mary Sue I did come to realize that I am a little guilty of making my main character Beatrice a Mary Sue, or bringing her right to the cusp. I've gone on record as saying I view Bea as an idealized version of me. I'm tough, but if a zombie horde was coming and it was people I barely knew or me, I'm pretty sure they'd be on their own. (At least I wouldn't hobble them like my bro Liam said he would. He is not going to be my zombie apocalypse buddy, that's for sure). Bea has more patience than me, men do fall over her (sort of), and she is very powerful. But she's also plain, makes very bad decisions that get people killed, and nothing ever comes easy for her. I worked in flaws. She doesn't get the guy right off the bat. Her team mates don't really like her. She saves people a lot more than they save her. In other words, she's not perfect and there's a reason for that. Perfection is boring. Who would you rather hang out with, spend money on? Little Miss Perfect Mary Sue or flawed, funny, tough Debbie Harry? Me, I'd rather spend an hour with an interesting shit than a whole day with a super nice person. You get more from Debbie than Mary Sue. When you're doing your writing remember that.

What about all of you? Do you prefer Mary Sue or Debbie Harry? Why? Am I being too hard on poor Mary Sue? Can you think of any other examples of either?

4 comments:

Beth Groundwater said...

I absolutely loved this post, Jennifer, and it is so right-on about why your characters need to be flawed! As for your questions, I think I'd rather hang out with YOU--we'd have some interesting conversations.

Jennifer Harlow said...

If we ever do get to hang out I do warn you I think I've gone feral and lost my filter. Hope you had a blast in Ohio with everyone else. Wish I'd been there.

Yolanda Renee said...

I like the strong woman for sure, but everyone is flawed and Sarah, my MC maybe a bit of a Mary Sue, at first, but she gains her own power.

Good post!

Jennifer Harlow said...

A Mary Sue has allllllll the power in the universe. And being a strong woman can be a flaw if you have this armor on all the time and won't let anyone close. A MS is really just a character who all the men fall over., all the women love and can solve every problem with her perfect intellect and superpowers. Avoid these and your MC can rock out with me and Debbie