Friday, August 17, 2007

The Mary Sue Dilemma

I'm nearing the 100-page mark on the new book, which means it's about 1/3 of the way done! And thanks to the tropical storm/depression/whatever they're calling it now, the heat wave broke and we're back to normalish temperatures for this time of year, plus rain. I know we spent most of June building arks, but I love me some rainy weather (how I ended up settling in Texas when I'd be happy with a daily rain shower, I don't know). And best of all, it's Friday, and I'm at home. I get to settle down on the sofa tonight with pizza, root beer and Doctor Who. I'll watch Flash Gordon, but the pilot last week left me kind of meh. It seems sort of mundane for Flash Gordon. Shouldn't he be running around the galaxy in a spaceship, or something? And when he goes to another planet, it looks way too boring and earth-like. Since the pilot is when they supposedly pull out all the bells and whistles, that has me worried about the future of the show. I don't expect the modern version to have him wearing metalllic spandex, but there should be at least a little something modern and futuristic in the picture. Still, there is Doctor Who, and I've decided my reward for finishing the book will be the series 2 DVD set so I can watch those episodes without the Sci Fi Channel's butchering. They seem to be making the commercial breaks using a chainsaw.

Back to the Mary Sue topic from yesterday ... fanfic writers (mental and otherwise) aren't the only ones who get accused of writing Mary Sues. That term gets thrown around a lot in reference to just about any character who seems too good to be true or who appears to be the author writing herself into the story, even in original fiction. My friends who write the kind of chick lit that doesn't have magic in it (and therefore isn't obviously total fiction) are always having people think that their books are true stories about their own lives. There's that whole first-person thing that makes people think it has to be autobiographical, and God forbid there's any element in the book that in any way resembles something in the author's bio, because then readers often assume that it's one of those thinly veiled autobiography novels (see The Devil Wears Prada or The Nanny Diaries as examples of the real thing). I'll admit that I've wondered how much is truth and how much is fiction when reading books by people I know when I recognize elements I know happened in real life. In my earlier books, the ones without magic in them, I did often have people assume that the books were about me. My grandmother was convinced they put my picture on the front covers (never mind that the first two pictured a woman with stick-straight hair, though the third one did look suspiciously like an old driver's license photo of mine).

Because of this, I'm probably a wee bit over-paranoid about writing a character who might be taken to be a Mary Sue. Though Katie in the Enchanted books does seem a bit like me and has a lot in common with me, I've gone out of the way not to give her the kind of traits that might make her sound Mary Sue. For instance, I made her be totally unable to carry a tune (a gorgeous singing voice is one of the often mentioned hallmarks of a Mary Sue, and then there's the fact that I do sing). In spite of being a very proud Curly Girl, I've never written a curly-haired character because with that being my most instantly noticeable physical feature that shows up in author photos, I've worried that any curly-haired character will be instantly assumed to be based on me.

Well, I'm biting the bullet on the book I'm working on now and making the heroine have curly hair. We need more curly-haired heroines, especially curly-haired heroines who manage to be seen as pretty without straightening their hair (my big pet peeve). In this story, the hair actually makes things rougher on the heroine, since she's in a situation where it rains a lot and she has no hair gel (and now I'm hearing that movie trailer announcer guy intoning "In a world without hair gel ..."). Anyone with curly hair will tell you what a potential crisis that is. But I want to make this clear: this character may have some physical features in common with me, but she is not me nor is she based on me.

Here's the thing, though: Every character I write is in some way based on me, and just about every character ever written is in some way based on the author. That's because I'm the only person I know from the inside out. I've only ever experienced life in my own skin. To create a character, I largely take little bits and pieces of myself so I can understand the character, then mix them in with other bits and pieces that come from outside myself, rearrange it all, and then throw into a situation and see what happens. A villain may be more of my negative traits and a hero more of the traits I'd like to have, but there's a little bit of me in all of them. Some characters are closer to my heart than others, but that doesn't really mean they're more like me or even my representatives in the story. I try as much as possible to keep there from being an obvious Shanna in the story.

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