Thursday, August 23, 2007

Best intentions...

I know I said the other was the last post, but I've been doing a lot of soul-searching and research, and THIS is really it.  Then back to writing topics, and new blog layout!  (I hit a snag with the widgets - one of my test blogs is fully outfitted and I thought copying the template over would bring all the widgets to this one, too, but no.  So once I get the time to re-outfit the widgets on this blog it'll be up and running.  BTW - isn't "widget" a great word?)
Anyway, I found this great article on "Mary Sues" and just had to share a line from comment string:
There is a lot of Mary Sue to be found in popular literature. You mentioned Gabaldon, and I find her Jaime [sic] character to be a prime example.
Ahaha, least I'm in good company.  *w*
Actually the comment string has a lot of good discussion.  I highly recommend reading all of it.  Continuing in the same comment from above:
Ayla, from Clan of the Cave Bear, is another. These stories are popular, and they work, because of depth. You take the Holy Trinity of character, plot, and style, and if you have the other two working for you, it doesn't matter if your character is a little bit over the top. It helps if the character has depth as well.

Mary Sue can have her beauty and her speshul powers, as long as she reacts and behaves in ordinary, realistic ways. She has to be troubled by her setbacks, she has to make mistakes, and she has to have realistic flaws to counterbalance her gifts.

Another thing about Mary Sue is context, and I mean perhaps genre, as well. [...]  In fantasy, or romance, readers want wish-fulfillment, and since that is the essence of Mary Sue, she works better there.

And this, from the author of the article:
...don't mistake a hero for Mary Sue.

Mary Sue is just always perfect, never makes a real mistake, she never shifts from the center of everything. A hero makes mistakes and learns, is not always the center of everyone else's thoughts, earns every step of his or her rise. [...]

I think the key is that Mary Sue never changes because she starts perfect and ends up perfect. She doesn't have to evolve, she just collects powers and posses. Conflict sort of bends around her. Her strength is that she makes a great wish-fulfillment story lead.

You may have a lovely main character, and she may have brains and wit and skill, but if she makes mistakes and changes and learns and risks, she's not a Mary Sue. She's a hero.

Seriously, my ultimate conclusion is this: I admit that when I started writing this romance novel, I thought it would be fun to have a character like me.  From the (many, many) articles I've read on the topic, it's common for first-time writers, and I'll own it.  (I maintain she chose the name Elspeth vs. me giving it to her, however.  And I think it's telling to note that since she laid claim to it a little over a year ago, I have ceased using it for myself.  That's her name, now.)
Now, 70+K words in, she has expanded beyond the very basic framework I set her up with at the beginning and become her own person.  I'm not just projecting myself into a slightly modified/enhanced container.  As for the "perfection" aspects of Mary Sues...sure, she's intelligent and a blackbelt.  She's pretty - in a normal way - and she attracts the attention and love of a desireable character (Alec).  But not everyone likes her - right away or at all - and things don't fall into her lap.  She's not perfect, and she goes through  a lot before she ends up with the man she loves (some her fault and some out of her control), she screws up a few times, and over the course of that she grows and changes. 
But I have also changed as a writer.  I'm aware of the phenomenon now, and I'm on my guard.  Elspeth will retain some similarities to me, those that are integral to her character or to the story.  But we also have our differences, and when a question comes up about her I won't default to filling in the blank with my life or personality - I'll really think about why I'm adding that detail, and if it's true to her.  And I'll cull the bits of "author insertion" extant in the MS to date.  I still feel confident in my ability to characterize, because Elspeth isn't the only original character in the book (as opposed to lots of fanfic, where there are canon characters and one new character - often a Mary Sue) and a great many of the other characters have taken on life without being based on me at all.  Yet it was still I who wrote them, and in some way they're all refractions of my experiences as Beth described in her post.
If I write more books (and ideas for #2 are starting to trickle in) the female MCs look to be Mairi NicDonald (nee NicGregor) and Andrea "Andi" Duluth (Elspeth's modern friend).  These are characters that "mushroomed" into the current story, and took on enough life to warrant further stories of their own.  Will those stories be inherently better because I didn't set the MCs up with similarities to myself, the author?  Or is it possible that Elspeth is strong enough to stand on her own, apart from me, and will be an accessible character despite her beginnings?  I intend the latter.
And that is my final word on the subject.

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