How do I go about this delicately?
One of the most hated devices of all fiction, the Mary Sue (and her male counterpart, the Gary/Marty Stu), loathed above grammatical errors, receiver and object of much abuse, is poorly defined. But you know it when you see it: overpowered, superlatively beautiful, nice, loved/hated to irrational extremes by other characters, unambiguous self-insertions…the Mary Sue Litmus Test is a nice tool for determining whether or not your character will make people smash their computers in rage.
But why are they so damn popular? The praising of Suefics is common, even customary, and many of them have hundreds of positive reviews and ]various forms of “likes” (shares, follows, reblogs, kudoses, favourites, whatever). These fans and the author often defend the story vehemently from criticism. Of course, criticism should be kind and constructive, but anything less than OMG i luuuuuved it!111! 3 seems to result in a negative reaction, flouncing, retorts of “you just don’t understand”, “you’re just jealous”, “you try doing better”, and of course, “don’t like, don’t read”. They are famous even. And they’re bad. (Which is a tragedy in itself – how much writing on the Internet is the rare, shining top 10% of quality and ignored?)
I’ve made some.
I have made Mary Sues, but mercifully wrote none of their godless stories down, so their horror will never tarnish the screens of any unsuspecting reader. The first one looked nothing like me, had a different name, but was a supernally gorgeous God-mode Sue whose power was – get this – being able to literally do anything, even create logical paradoxes and resolve them. Anyway, I got bored of her pretty quickly, as I realized there was no struggle there. I replaced her with a more traditional Sue, who was not beautiful but looked like me, had a marginally similar name (they started with the same letter and was one of my kinda-nicknames) and could hop through different fictional universes and interact with the canon. The PPC is going to kill me. I then made her a Scary Sue counterpart, complete with lovely singing voice and lustrous hair. By that point, I had already written perspective shifts and side stories for short stories in class for homework and real-time strategy games. But that was some years ago, and I didn’t even find out about fan fiction until quite recently.
That’s right. I starting writing crossover fan fiction (in my head) before I even realized what that was.
Naturally, when I found out, I was horrified. The first piece of fan fiction I was exposed to was the infamous Fifty Shades, which I threw down in horror after reading approximately one sentence. I learned afterwards that it was based on Twilight, the book that divides teenage girls into the much reviled Twihards and the “sane” Twihaters (?). (I like to consider myself neutral on the matter, as I have moved from the first and second camps as an observer.) Then I heard of After, a piece of real-person-fiction-turned-online-sensation, which frankly, should have stayed on the Internet. Then, I took an ill-advised trip to wtffanfiction.com.
That scarred me for life.
After that, my opinion of fan fiction was tainted forever. The entire practice seemed to me as suspect. The overwhelming majority of the pieces were of very poor quality, only a few rivaling, equaling or (if the canon’s author sucks) surpassing the calibre of the original work. And Suethors were a mystery to me. Using other people’s characters to fulfill one’s own dirty fantasies? Warping them OOC to force them to conform to one’s sick alternate reality? What kind of monster does that?
Many people, apparently. I began to resent them, resent them for the success they leeched off my favourite authors with a crappy, pathetic half-hearted imitation of their work. I resented the bad writers who garnered fame from their poor work. I was angry them for twisting the stories loved and enjoyed by many and
Then I realized I almost did it too, and all that anger turned frighteningly inwards.
I waffle between hating all fan fiction and loving the crack, troll, mock, and spitefics, as well as MSTs and sporkings that result. Only some are smut writers, some of whom make incestuous, necrophilic, or otherwise pairings with beloved characters (and please, I respect your right to your work but stay far, far, far away from me I’ve suffered enough!). Many fan fiction writers are true fans who write for fun, try very hard to do justice to the canon. Who cares if they fail? (Okay, me, a little bit.) Readers read it for fun, and that’s all nice and good (unless the fic is full of discriminatory ideas and whatnot). There’s no quality control (anymore in the world – have you seen the dreck that gets published?!), but that gives us hilarious entries like “One night the drop of rain.” (“‘TRANSLATION ERROR’ said england the surprised!” I can’t stop laughing.) I’ve even tried my hand at some. (But not popular fandoms, and no serious fics. Flatland crackfics only.)
Suefics in particular are very entertaining to read, for some people. They are power fantasies, badly written ones, but enjoyable for a certain audience. Sues are the best at something. And being the best in everything is fun. I can tolerate Sueness in small amounts – every interesting character has at least some Sue-ish traits – but after a certain threshold it becomes unbearable. Many writers have a stage in which they wrote Mary Sues because they don’t know better, say, around 12 years old, and they grow out of it. Nowadays, no one likes to read good writing; they want to read fun writing. Much like the fiction that does get published – fan or otherwise – it gets horrible literary reviews, but the public laps it up, because it’s what they want. Parody Sues are also always fun. I like satire, maybe a bit too much, so any kind of lighthearted jab at this trope is welcomed, craved even.
Some people hate, and I mean hate, Suefics with a passion. It’s worse when the Suethor is unreceptive to criticism. I can understand that, but they will continue to exist as long as there are children, and as long as there are people who need the boost of self-esteem and the divertissment from their day to day mundanities, I’m afraid. There I go, making up words, but you may get what I mean. They will continue to exist, so we might as well suck it up. All we can do is hope that people take the writing advice, try again, and make an original character that doesn’t deserve to be sorted into Sparklypoo.