On the notion of the Mary Sue and the ubiquity of fan fiction
I’m a fairly non-social writer, by which I mean when I’m working on something I’m alone with it until I’m reasonably certain it’s truly and actually done. I have not historically taken advantage of writing groups or posted partials for comment, or really shown anything to anybody when I knew it still needed work. When I want to put up something for immediate public consumption it’s usually in the form of a blog (see: this page) or a social network posting on Twitter and Facebook.
All of which is to say I don’t spend any time on sites that are designed for community writing, such as fan fiction sites.
(Aside: Fan fiction, if you really don’t know, is “non-canon” writing of stories spun off of the work of an established creation, such as Star Trek or Twilight or… well, anything. It is written without permission from the original creators– usually– and is designed solely for the consumption of other fans, rather than profit or fame outside of the fanfic site itself. I am still formulating my opinion on fan fiction, but my preliminary findings are it is an enormous waste of time.)
Because of my lack of experience with fanfic it took until this summer for me to encounter one of its more interesting notions: the Mary Sue.
A Mary Sue is a character that is an idealization of the author. She (or he, although nobody has apparently come to full agreement on what the male version’s name should be) is always prettier/smarter/better than all of the other characters. Essentially, Mary Sue is the naked fantasy realization of the author’s desire to directly enter the fictive world she/he is writing about.
The term can also be applied to fiction that is not fanfic, where a writer might create a main character who is everything he or she wants to be and do. (This is the context in which I first encountered the Mary Sue, in an article by Laura Miller on Salon.com.)
And now maybe you can see where I’m going with this.
Is Adam a Mary Sue?
Short answer: no. Probably.
I spent a lot of time telling people who were reading Immortal who also knew me that Adam is a decidedly different person than I am, and for people who didn’t know me this wasn’t a problem. But the ones that knew me, well…
“I couldn’t get your voice out of my head until page 15o or so,” said one coworker who read the ARC. In some ways this makes a lot of sense because the book is written in first person, and he knows me personally, sees my emails and so on. On the other hand, Adam is a fully realized fictional character I pretend to be while writing him. His decisions are his own, and many of them surprised me when he was making them. So his voice may be similar to mine, but he isn’t me. (My answer to the coworker: I created Adam six years ago, he’s known me for three. I’ve been quoting Adam all this time.)
But is Adam an idealized version of me?
And is he an asshole?
The question was on my mind when I read a new review (SPOILER ALERT) written by friend @annikawoods the other day. It’s an interesting review because:
A: she said she couldn’t put it down
B: she gave it five stars
C: she thought Adam was an asshole.
This is in no way a bad thing, because really, if one can create a character a reader both dislikes and can’t stop reading about, one has done one’s job well. And Adam is often described as “untrustworthy” and an “anti-hero” which are both shorthand versions of “he’s a bit of an asshole.”
But now the Mary Sue question seems even more complicated. If Adam is a Mary Sue that would mean that:
A: I am an asshole
B: in Adam I am aspiring to be an even bigger asshole.
Now, while I am clearly biased, I don’t think I’m an asshole. My wife, who is also biased, doesn’t think Adam is “me” and agrees with Annika that Adam IS an asshole.
In the beginning
I’ve told the story before about how I started writing Immortal, but it’s worth repeating: I didn’t have much of a notion of the plot, I just wanted to write from the perspective of an immortal character and see what happened. And in that sense I think Adam did begin his life as a Mary Sue. But while we might share a sense of humor, I think he grew into a distinctly different person as I wrote.
That’s my take on it, at least.
On that note
And now I’m off to prepare for the launch party, which is tonight! Hope to see you there.