Mary Sue… Who are you?


Paula’s Post #90 – If you’ve been following the 5writers recently, you’ll have noticed the hot topics on our minds these days seem to be ‘research’, ‘character’ and ‘structure’ not necessarily in that order.

To recap, we are all focusing on the new novels we have started, (or plan to start very soon), each of us trying to find a fresh new perspective to the art and craft of writing. For most of us, that means a heartfelt re-examination of the mistakes we’ve made in previous manuscripts (classic and familiar faux pas like ‘the muddled middle’ or the lack lustre protagonist).  For some of us, that means thinking a lot about character and why some of our early protagonists did not come off as compelling or dynamic as we’d hoped they might.

In preparation for this week’s post, I decided that, like it or not, I just had to take a look at my former protagonists to see why my leads had come off well, frankly, less interesting than some of my side-kick’s and villains. This, of course, required not only some soul-searching, but also a little ‘show & tell’. Yes, I’m that brave, (or foolish). I’m going to describe my previous protagonists and, if nothing else, hope you get a bit of a laugh out of this post.

Unmemorable Novel and Character #1

Ms ‘X’?- Yes, I kid you not, I actually cannot recall the name I assigned to my very first mystery novel heroine. Perhaps that says something about how memorable she was (or wasn’t) in my mind. But, although I can’t recall the name of the character that I first created in a universe far, far away, a very long time ago, – I can recall, at least roughly, her back story:

Plot Synopsis:

Disgraced young prosecutor quits her job (or gets fired). She agrees to look for a missing friend who has disappeared from an inn on beautiful Bowen Island, only to end up being hired to be the cook (even though she can’t cook). She manages to pull this off by having several friends cook and bake for her, while buying all the rest at great expense, all the while investigating the disappearance of two missing persons, (one past, one present) on this West Coast cottage country Island. She also finds time to romance the handsome local RCMP officer.

Whoa! – yes, this one was bad! Even I knew it had to go straight under the bed, never to be seen again. No wonder I can’t recall my protagonist’s name. But, for the sake of reference, let’s just call her ‘Nancy Drew, Too!’.

More Memorable Novel #2 – Taste of the Past

Cat Castelli – now, how I love Cat. And so does Helga, my co-author of this wonderful, history/mystery culinary novel that is a self-described cross between Under The Tuscan Sun and Gosford Park. So even though my first novel was so-less-than-memorable-I-can’t-recall-the-protagonist’s name. I do recall dear Cat.

Plot Synopsis – sorry, this one is going to be published, one day. You’ll just have to wait until the book is available via traditional, indie, or online publishing. I will say that dear Cat was a mite more mature than poor Ms. ‘X’ my first protagonist. A sexy forty-something prosecutor with more than a few murder prosecutions in her rear-view mirror. But wait, do you see a pattern here?

More Memorable Novel #3 (Unfinished Novel about Child Prostitution)

Protagonist ‘X’ (again) – my third novel was loosely based on a real life jury trial I was involved in where four adults were accused of coercing 2 underage girls into prostitution. Now, it’s not that I don’t recall the name of the protagonist, (I do, or rather several) – the problem is I could never figure out who the protagonist actually was in this novel. I stopped writing it two-thirds of the way through, when it seemed to be turning out to be mostly a rather depressing YA novel. For what it’s worth, friend and 5writer Helga thought I should finish it, (and I may someday). I think I have enough distance to make it a better book, but I’d still need to find a protagonist in there, somewhere.

Novel #4 – Burnt Cookie (retitled ‘The Poppy Paradox’)

Mila MacKenzie – aka – Mila the Menace, a train-wreck disgraced prosecutor.

Plot Summary: Mila loses her job when she unwittingly consents to bail for a man she later learns is a suspected terrorist. After several terrible, horrible things happen, she actually tracks him to Afghanistan, where many more bad but also exciting things happen and she meets a number of colourful characters in her pursuit to make right what she has done wrong.

Somehow, this book ended up as muddled a train-wreck as Mila. No one in our group has suggested I return and re-write this one, (though I did have a lot of fun – including a great pen-pal relationship with a ‘boots-on-the-ground’ RCMP officer seconded to Afghanistan). Did I mention that by the time I wrote this, I’d switched from the Provincial Crown to Federal Crown and become a ‘drug prosecutor’. See any pattern here?

Novel #5 – Lonely Orchid – working title only.

Protagonist – Kane (John) MacLeod – half Scottish, Half-Hawaiian Police Detective in 1930’s Honolulu.

Plot Summary – Can’t tell you; everyone in my writing group LOVES this novel and wants it to be ‘the one’ I work on as my current project. Problem is, from the feedback so far, everyone thinks my protagonist should not be ‘handsome John’ but his superior.


Novel #6 5writers5novels5months YA Novel

Kaylie – Kaylie is a sixteen year old athletic honour student at an elite military prep school who participates with several of her similarly gifted classmates in a Jr. Navy Seal program.

Plot Summary:  Kaylie and her ‘friends’ discover some disturbing things about themselves and head off cross country on an epic journey/adventure to stop the bad guys and make things right. This is the YA Novel I wrote for our 5writers5novels5months challenge (researched and outlined for 3 months; manuscript written in the following 2 months). No one is our writers’ group is suggesting I revive this novel.

So there you have it.

But why?

Why am I laying bare my soul, so to speak, and revealing my inner-most secrets?

My flawed heros and heroines?

Why am I  holding up these pathetic characters and their equally pathetic back stories for your ridicule and derision?

Why, well to learn something of course!

That what we 5writers are trying to do here. Not just in our writers group, or in this blog, but in all the writing and reading we do each week. And that’s why this week, when thinking about how to strengthen my protaganist(s), I came across a marvellous blog post by Anne R. Allen, entitled 5 Protagonists Readers Hate.

Seriously, this is great stuff, and I commend it to all you fiction writers out there.

Curiously, not being too familiar with ‘fan fiction’, I’d never even heard of a ‘Mary Sue’ before reading Ms. Allen’s article. But guess what? I recognized the ‘pitfall’ and that I’d fallen into it on more than one occasion.

According to the Urban Dictionary:

A Mary Sue character is usually written by a beginning author. Often, the Mary Sue is a self-insert with a few “improvements” (ex. better body, more popular, etc). The Mary Sue character is almost always beautiful, smart, etc… In short, she is the “perfect” girl. The Mary Sue usually falls in love with the author’s favorite character(s) and winds up upstaging all of the other characters in the book/series/universe. 


So, touché, Anne R. Allen, you hit a nerve. More than ever, I’m leaning toward my next protangonist being anything but a ‘bio-copy’ of me and my life. But first, I need to go back and read more of Ms. Allen’s blog, and find out more about Mary Sue and Marty Stu. Not to mention Victim Sue, Warrior Sue, Punk Sue…

How about you?

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