Saturday, 16 January 2016

Take The 'Mary Sue' Test

Hello all.
          I'm trying to complete the rewrite of Sterkarm Tryst, and I've had to ask for an extension on the deadline. I now have until February 2nd.
          I'm enjoying the rewrite, as I always do - but I've got to get the head down, no messing about.

      So, instead of a new blog, here's something I came across...The Mary Sue Test.

           I found the link to it in the Kindle edition of the book, Medieval Underpants and Other Blunders, by Susanne Alleyn - a sort of aid to writers of historical fiction, which is as amusing as it is informative.
Medieval Underpants - Alleyn

               What's a 'Mary Sue?'
          Well, to quote Wikipedia (which Susanne Alleyn, I'm glad to say, tells us is 'our friend'):
The term "Mary Sue" comes from the name of a character created by Paula Smith in 1973 for her parody story "A Trekkie's Tale"[ published in her fanzine Menagerie #2. The story starred Lieutenant Mary Sue ("the youngest Lieutenant in the fleet — only fifteen and a half years old"), and satirized unrealistic Star Trek fan fiction. Such characters were generally female adolescents who had romantic liaisons with established canonical adult characters, or in some cases were the younger relatives or protégées of those characters. By 1976 Menagerie's editors stated that they disliked such characters, saying:

Mary Sue stories—the adventures of the youngest and smartest ever person to graduate from the academy and ever get a commission at such a tender age. Usually characterized by unprecedented skill in everything from art to zoology, including karate and arm-wrestling. This character can also be found burrowing her way into the good graces/heart/mind of one of the Big Three [Kirk, Spock, and McCoy], if not all three at once. She saves the day by her wit and ability, and, if we are lucky, has the good grace to die at the end, being grieved by the entire ship.  
Mr. Spock
"Mary Sue" today has changed from its original meaning and now carries a generalized, although not universal, connotation of wish-fulfillment and is commonly associated with self-insertion. True self-insertion is a literal and generally undisguised representation of the author; most characters described as "Mary Sues" are not, though they are often called "proxies" for the author. The negative connotation comes from this "wish-fulfillment" implication: the "Mary Sue" is judged as a poorly developed character, too perfect and lacking in realism to be interesting.

          Although, originally, the term applied exclusively to Sci-Fi and Fantasy characters, Alleyn warns writers of historical fantasy against Mary-Sue-ism. For instance, don't create a female character who lives in Tudor England but is really a poorly disguised expression of the author's wish to wear a fab-u-lous dress-up costume, without engaging with the reality of women's lives in the 16th Century. A character who is, in every way, except for her clothes, a 21st Century product of Western culture.

          The Mary-Sue test itself is here -

          I've amused myself in odd moments by running a few of my characters through it - including Per and Andrea from the Sterkarm novels -  and am relieved to report that neither came out as Mary-Sues. (And I was honest, honest!)



Sue Bursztynski said...

Sounds like a fun post. I have read that Paula Smith story, I even have the fanzine in which it appeared. She was a pen pal of mine for some years, the last time I heard from her she was teaching maths at a university in Canada.

She used the opening line in the Bulwer Lytton competition for the worst opening line of a non existent novel. It was chosen for publication in their first-line anthology. I didn't realise that's where the term came from.

I've written the occasional Mary Sue myself, just for fun - one year I even wrote several as Christmas gifts for friends, pairing them with their favourite characters from fiction. One of my friends wanted King Arthur, so I let her, as a lady in waiting, have him - and save his life - while the tiresome Guinevere and Lancelot were plotting against him. I have rarely had so much fun in my writing career, even if I wasn't paid for it!

Joan Lennon said...

Sue B - what FABULOUS Christmas presents!

And Sue P - nice blog - NOW BACK TO WORK! (I'm glad you got an extension, even a tiny one - and you'll have earned a fine single malt treat or ten!)

Susan Price said...

Sue B, I can only echo Joan - what a wonderful idea for a Christmas present - more unique and original you cannot get - and I can imagine that writig them was a whole lot of fun!

And what a small place the inter-world is!

Sue Bursztynski said...

I only regret I didn't keep copies of the stories. And yes, it was great fun, must do it again some time. Thanks for that link to the Mary Sue page, great entertainment! I posted about it on my blog and also put in a link to this post. Hilarious! It was a nice way of pointing out many of the tropes of - especially - YA fiction. Girls love their Mary Sues and they write such stories on line.

I also went and bought the Susanne Alleyn book, thanks for that! I recall a scene in the TV series Robin Of Sherwood in which Will Scarlett is climbing a cliff, when his tunic rides up, exposing a pair of bright red underpants. I bet someone had words both with the stunt man and the costume person! But then, this show(which I love, by the way!) also had a scene in which two Arab Asssassins fight a duel with Japanese katanas.

Susan Price said...

Oh film and tv are devils for getting it wrong. One of Alleyn's Rules is Never Take Your Historical Detail From Other Novels and Films.

As she's something of an expert on the French Revolution, she says that almost no film or tv series made of it gets the guillotine right. And they frequently show prisoners with their hands untied, their hair uncut and fully dressed in fashionable gear with big collars and cravats - when in reality, everything that might get in the blade's way - collars, cravats, hair - was cut away and all prisoners had their hands tied behind their backs.

I think you'll enjoy Medieval Underpants - hope you do.

Penny Dolan said...

That Mary Sue Test sounds useful and worrying in equal degrees. May need to have the dram close to hand for my results. Thanks for the recommendations.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Just finished reading the Susanne Alleyn book, hilarious! I loved all those "face palms" and "face desks" and she even admits she has made a few silly mistakes herself including one about some coins, which was corrected by a reader who collected the things! And there are some very useful links. This is a handy piece of reference writing, thanks for sharing. Oh, and I posted a link to this page and one to the Mary Sue test and one of my readers had a go too. I had great fun with it. I might use it with my student book club so the kids can test it against their favourite novels. ;-)

Susan Price said...

Glad you liked the book and find the test useful, Sue B - I enjoyed all those 'head-desk's and 'double face palms' too.

And Penny - always good to have a dram at hand. And I have a choice of three! Happy days.