A lot of beginner writers, especially those of us that started very young, began building their stories around author avatars; or as those of us who wrote fanfiction call them, the dreaded “Mary Sues.” We’ve all encountered a Mary Sue. While the most glaring examples are in fanfiction, they are certainly present in film, TV, and mainstream literature. In the worst examples, they are the writer’s proxy wiped completely clean of their flaws. The Mary Sue, or Martin Stu, may be perfection personified or not even anywhere close to it. I think it’s used as an insult far too much since these characters do so much teaching. I like to define a Mary Sue by their relationship to the story’s plot and how it hinges on their every breath. Every character loves them, or despises them because of their perfection. It is the character created for the author’s own wish fulfillment and their own pleasure. There are as many kinds of Mary Sues as there are colors of the spectrum, and I probably wrote every single one of them. I’m certain I owe almost everything I have and love today to my Mary-Sue.
I was always an extroverted, gregarious, and downright annoying child. I was never afraid to go up to another kid on the playground and ask them to play. I voiced my opinions to adults at the top of my lungs. I was known to repeat everything I heard. In my opinion, it was pretty stupid of adults to assume I wasn’t listening. If you cracked a dirty joke, and I heard a laugh, you could bet I was going to repeat it. But by the time I was thirteen or fourteen I was a shadow of the exuberant child I was. My classmates constant harassment and bullying, my home life, and a sudden dramatic weight gain from medications had changed me into someone unrecognizable. I had suddenly become this introvert who had no idea how to relate to anyone around her. Thankfully that was about the time I discovered fanfiction, archives, and message boards.
I had always loved to tell stories, and I had been so deprived of an audience I immediately dove into writing fanfiction. I was always my harshest critic, so much of it never even hit the Internet, but it was still very cathartic. Looking back, it’s probably a good thing I didn’t learn what exactly a Mary Sue was until later in my fanfiction career. I may have become so afraid of that terrible label I wouldn’t have even written anything down. I frequently created original characters who were impossibly beautiful, who were popular with their peers, who had these incredible powers, and who were cherished by their lovers. But all these characters were essentially the same person— deep down, in their heart, they were still me. They may occasionally have had silver eyes or red hair or a seven foot wingspan or could turn into a giant bear, but they were still me. Over time they became a consistent and constant voice in my head, commenting and encouraging me in my daily life. She was so relentlessly positive she became an internal life coach, and the more I took her advice the happier I was.
My Mary Sue had many names over the years, but at the moment I call her Muse. Muse was so good at making friends, she coached me through introductions and she showed me how important listening to people was. She showed me I should never be afraid to talk about my geeky interests, since anyone who would call them lame or dumb probably lived a very boring and unfulfilled life. Muse never cared about anyone’s opinion of her unless they had proved to her first that they were worth the effort. She was constantly telling me to introduce myself to cool new people as friends or even the cute boy in the crowd, when she wasn’t fighting off alien invasions or winning the heart of the hero.
Muse looks more like me physically now. She’s a little more toned in the waist because she works out and has whiter teeth because she never smoked, but she has brown hair and a big butt. She likes her butt more than I do most days, and she’s constantly telling me how fabulous mine is, since they are in fact the same butt. Muse has an amazing singing voice, which I know I don’t have, but she’s always telling me I should sing anyway since it makes me happy. Anyone who tells me to shut up can just jump off a cliff. When I mess up a knitting or sewing project Muse always reminds me that I just need practice and I have to try again. Muse is always reminding me to make time to read for fun and that I should write everyday.
I wonder if I ever would have knocked down the walls built around me by the world if it weren’t for Muse and her predecessors. She quickly became a standard I held myself too. I was constantly saying, “Well, if she can do it, why can’t I?” Within the laws of physics, at least. As far as I know, I can’t fly or turn into a bear. I’ll never discourage a young writer from using their self to build a character, since I learned so much from my so-called “ideal” self. She’s become such a treasured friend and mentor that I can’t imagine my life without her.