Tag Archives: King Arthur

Writing: The Mary Sue (and Why I Hate That Term)

When I first started writing, I did what most young girls did. I created a new character (usually female), threw her into a show or book I liked, and either rewrote what had happened in the show or set it after the show was over. And I will be the first person to admit…those stories were awful. I had no concept of how to plot, and because my brain functions so highly on visual input rather than audio, there would be far too many details. I also had no concept of what made a good or balanced character. I just made what I thought sounded cool and what I wished I could be if magic was real.

Cue the many cries of the fandoms in question declaring my character a Mary Sue.

Eventually, I learned what that term meant. I tried to do better, to not go so far in my characters. But remember, I’m a fourteen year old girl. I just want to have characters that I think are cool and happen to be my own gender in shows I like, since many of the shows/movies/books in question at that time were focused on making the boys cool and the girls…pretty twirly love interests with no real substance. None of it worked, and I even left one fandom that I loved, no longer able to tolerate their views on anything that deviated from the blessed, misogynistic canon.

Thus started my hatred for the term Mary Sue, and honestly as an adult and trained writer? I still hate it.

Once upon a time, a Mary Sue was a character who could do nothing wrong, knew things she had no right to know, and clashed with whatever fandom she was put into so bad, it was jarring. I mean throwing a magical girl into Lord of the Rings, jarring. Obvious author inserts were also lumped into this category (never mind that people like Mercedes Lackey do this in their original work). It originated from a Star Trek fanfic, and it’s just grown in infamy.

Now? Now it simply means a character has traits that people may or may not like. Is your character attractive and ends up in a romantic relationship with a male in the show? Mary Sue. Can your character sing and/or dance? Mary Sue. Has anything happened in the backstory that could be considered tragic? Mary Sue. Since the wonders of Twilight, is your character a klutz? Mary Sue. If you’re dealing with a fantasy story dealing with nobility at all, is your character nobility or royalty (and maybe doesn’t know it)? Mary Sue. And if your character is perfectly ordinary and has nothing special about her except MAYBE ending up in a relationship with a male in the series? Not only is your character a Mary Sue, it’s a BORING one. Do you see how ridiculous this is?

What makes it worse is the term has made its way to describing original fiction characters, which really blows my mind. I understand the main character maybe being poorly balanced or written, but I don’t understand how they can clash with their setting as poorly as a Mary Sue is supposed to…unless it’s because again, we are using the word to simply describe a character we don’t like, rather than what it is supposed to mean.

Let me make it even worse. There isn’t a definite name for male Mary Sues. Some call them Gary Stus, Marty Stus, or just male Mary Sues. It is nearly impossible to write one, either. Why? Because male power-fantasy characters are easily accepted in our current society. Seriously. Batman, Indiana Jones, Anakin Skywalker, even friggin’ King Arthur himself. All of them if they were female? Would be labeled as Mary Sues. But as male characters, they are accepted and are even made to be some of the greatest characters ever.

But their female counterparts are turned into one of three things or a combination of them. Helpless damsels in distress who are constantly kidnapped (because sadly, Guinevere becomes this way too often, and Indy can’t KEEP a girl). They get trapped in being the girly love interest whose supposed moments of awesome are just annoying or make no sense (Padme, I love you, but you play pretty pretty princess and awkward love interest and that’s it). Or they get hypersexualized until girls no longer want to read the comic (…the entire comic industry, really, is this. And much like Indy, Batman can’t keep a girl).

And when there is a strong, feminine, powerful character for female power fantasy? Mary Sue.

As I said earlier, I still hate the term, just in general. I wish instead, we could say, “I don’t like the character for x reasons.” Because then we could have a healthy conversation about the reasoning behind it. And honestly, that’s my response to original work too. If someone tries to say my main character is too perfect or too tragic, I want to know what specifically bothers them, so this way we can have a discussion about it. Is there a possibility my character is out of whack? Yes. But there is also a chance that this is just the patriarchal structure of our upbringing talking.

And I don’t know about other writers (except Tamora Pierce, she’s all sorts of awesome about this), but I’m pretty determined to get some female power fantasy characters out there who aren’t dependent on romantic love.

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Dragon’s Keep Review

This isn’t the first time I’ve read Dragon’s Keep by Janet Lee Carey, and I can’t say for certain if it will be the last. I don’t know what it is about this book that keeps drawing me back in, but I keep going back to it when I crave a high fantasy adventure…and coming away disappointed. So this time, I really looked at what had me going, “Eh…” about it, and what I actually liked about it.

The characters are a mixed batch of royalty, knights, and then commoners. I’ve managed to keep the royalty straight in each read, but every time the knights and the commoners bite me in the butt and I can’t keep people straight outside of their scene. I always have to have a moment of going, “Okay, who is this?” which isn’t what any writer wants. What’s worse is that there are several characters we don’t even meet, and I’m able to remember who they are and how they are important, but not the characters Rose actually deals with. They are cookie-cutters that never got filled out, but are acting in fairly important parts like actual cookies.

With the main characters, it’s a pretty evenly split. Sir Magnus and the king and queen, I knew and I liked. They were fleshed out, they had fairly clear motivations, everything was pretty hunky dory. But I am still confused about our witch character, as far as any of her motivations beyond being an evil witch, boo hiss. Our protagonist and her savior knight? Flat. Flat, flat, flat, flat. There is literally nothing about them I can dig my teeth into as far as real character traits are concerned. I think Snow White, Cinderella, and Princess Aurora have more personality, and those are my least favorite Disney princesses for the very reason that they are nothing beyond the pretty princess! And seriously, we get one little snippet of the hero, but otherwise, he just shows up at the end of this and they are in love, and just… Put down the Twilight and get into the real world, please.

Speaking of worlds, the world of Wilde Island…I like it. It has a King Arthur link with the story of the Pendragon queen of Wilde Island and Merlin’s prophecy about them. There’s a layer of serious authenticity to it, and I would know due to my work with the Arthurian Order of Avalon these last couple of years. I love how the dragons are, and yes, I’m okay that they talk. It’s her dragons, I’m not going to judge. (Wait till you meet my “dragons” in Eresith, you’ll understand.) There are a couple of loose ends, though. Tess’s connection with the witch seems sort of  tossed in. I’m told there’s another book, but I shouldn’t need a second book to understand what’s going on in this book. And Opal, God, OPAL. I swear, there was a subplot that was supposed to explain why she’s different from the others, but it never made it in. Or I hope so, or else I will be ready to throw things.

Plot wise, it was…okay. I mean, about the time we hear of the second prophecy that Merlin made to the dragons, we’ve vaguely figured out where it is going to end. The witch trial took me a little by surprise, but it worked with what we knew of the world, and on a second read it made more sense to me. I think the biggest thing I had with her plot was the amount of TIME she took to tell it. The book is a fast read, but it’s hard to realize that it takes years for all of this to play out. I think if it had been considerably condensed, it would have been much stronger for it. And I’ve already said how there was very little character, but if there had been more of Rose’s motivation, I would have known her as a character better. If condensed, the relationship with her future king would also have made sense.

The subplot with Kat was just an unnecessary mess. I really wish it had been cut, and more depth added to the main plot, especially with Rose and her would-be rescuer. Or modified to fit into the main story better. As it is now, it’s this awkward…thing that sort of sits heavy in the middle of the plot. It also seemed like there was a serious lack of conflict going on with Rose/Briar and her time with the dragons. I understood they were supposed to have this love/hate relationship, but it really didn’t come across well, mostly because we were told a lot more than we were shown about her interactions with them. Okay, we get, Lord what-his-name is being mean to you. But what about the dragonlings? We just aren’t shown enough of them.

Upon more reflection of this book, I’ve kinda realized what it’s a knock-off of. Here me out. At least with the dragons, I’m being REALLY strongly reminded of the first book in the Dragon Chronicles by Susan Fletcher, Dragon’s Milk. If you think about it, they have fairly similar plots if you compare the first half of Dragon’s Milk and the last half of Dragon’s Keep. They are enough alike that I have to wonder if maybe Carey read Fletcher’s and just tried to add her own twist to it, or if it’s just a coincidence. I don’t know. But I guess I keep coming back to Carey’s book because I love the Dragon Chronicles so much, and I keep wanting it to be just as good as them. Which isn’t really fair to anybody, including Carey and myself. So maybe I need to put Dragon’s Keep faraway until I forget I own it.


Random Update and What’s Ahead

I’m alive, I promise. I’m just swamped in semester tidings and work and yes. I shall update properly in two weeks. (Feel free to whack me if I don’t.)

As some sort of peace offering, I give you all my projects in the order I am working on them. (Provided editors pick them up, of course.) All titles are semi-tentative.

Shadow Day Quartet
Bandit’s Escape
Bandit’s Chance
Bandit’s Doubt
Bandit’s Return

(Somewhere in between quartet books, there might be a non-fiction book about a princess. Just saying.)

Shadow Hawk
(stand alone)

Vows of Courage Trilogy
Forged by Fear
Born by Blood
Proven by Pain

In the Spirit of
(stand alone)

White Hawk Trilogy
Chains of Illusion
Chains of Challenge
Chains of Lineage