Project Protagonist

Mary Sue as Totem

Traits: Attention-grabbing, totally amazing, special snowflake

Ah, Mary Sue.

Sometimes spirit guides choose us, and sometimes we go to them. Working with the concept of Mary Sue in this way is very much the latter. If you’re going to seek out a guide who has the qualities you want to learn, why not start with someone who is, by definition, your idealized self?

Months ago, Deb at Charmed Finishing School wrote:

But I realized that if I wanted to become That Girl, I needed to wear her clothes. I needed to become her. If I wanted to change my set point I needed to do as Gordon suggested and enchant my purse. I needed to step up.

And that’s the thing about Mary Sue. Writing a Mary Sue is a small act of rebellion and reclaiming. You’re taking back the idea that you don’t matter enough to be in your own stories. You’re announcing to the world that fuck yes, you are that awesome. You’re too good for Harry Potter, Sherlock Holmes and Dean Winchester, and they better not forget it.

Mary Sue is not unlike your Higher Self. She’s what you want to be, and engaging her is a good step on the path to getting to that state of alignment with your own Mary Sue.

To start working with her (or Marty Stu), think about what you want to be. Describe yourself the way you want other people to see you. Go ahead and write it down like it’s the introduction to a fanfic if you want to; if not, just visualize it. What is she wearing? What is she carrying? What is she doing?

Now think about those traits and figure out how to get there. Start small – if your Mary Sue is a goth who goes out in full regalia, maybe you should start dressing more epically. If she has a business making magical objects, maybe you should take a class on woodworking or jewelrymaking. If she’s the kind of hedgewitch who uses bones and home-grown herbs to build her spells, consider getting some smaller potted herbs to start or learning to break down a corpse.

You can learn to be that person who’s always cooler than you. Don’t just aspire to be that awesome – see your inner Mary Sue, and then start taking steps to become her. Call on her when you need self-confidence, and ask her to help you see yourself as the hero(ine) of your own story.

0 thoughts on “Mary Sue as Totem”

  1. Oh, wow. I love Mary Sue types. I’m going to explain exactly why and how, and if you don’t have the time or inclination to read this wall of text then I completely understand and thank you nonetheless for sparking it with your wonderful post in your wonderful blog.

    So, there was a Buffy The Vampire Slayer crossover with His Dark Materials fanfic that I wanted to write, that hinged on a Mary Sue. Her name actually was Mary Sue Summers. Mary (which, interestingly enough, is a name that means “perfect” according to behindthename.com, and Sue reminds me of Susan Pevensie, the flawed and fallen beauty) was an interdimensional wish-granting symbiote, who gave a college-graduate Buffy Summers (I thought this up before season 5 of BtVS) the “normal life” that Buffy herself kept whining about not having.

    In exchange, Mary herself would get to take humanoid form and live as Buffy and Riley (…’s constructed doppelganger)’s daughter in an endless suburbia of Mary’s own creation. That is, Mary constructed herself to be Buffy and Angel’s daughter, and Doppelganger!Riley’s stepdaughter, who Doppelganger!Riley would never mistreat because both Mary and Doppelganger!Riley were so boring and perfect.

    When Ci’gazze technology revivalists reconstructed The Subtle Knife and started slashing up the multiverses, they accidentally broke Mary Sue’s bubble world, on the way to the Buffyverse proper, where Angel and the gang had teamed up with Serafina Pekkala and her coven to track down these dangerous Subtle-Knife wielders and make them stop creating Spectres by cutting dimensions up. So, Buffy had to deal with the life of adventure that she realized she missed, because the alternate dimension that Mary created was suffocating to Buffy’s spirit.

    Mary Sue had to deal with everything in her life going wrong like it’s supposed to in the Buffyverse, and learning what it really means to be human (well, half-vampire, half Slayer, with real problems of survival or injury during battle, and not everybody doting on your because they’ve got their own preferences and problems, and not having dimension-bubble powers anymore to outshine all these other special and interesting people, and sunburn, and bloodlust, and contact lenses, and stuff.) And she had to do most of that on the sidelines, because… epic crossover and OTP shipping! Mary who?

    I never did write that fanfic, but I liked that Mary Su(e)bversive character. I consider her the gatekeeper for a more intuitive understanding of fiction writing.

    See, I’d wanted to write a Mary Sue parody, as if to “make up” for all the Mary Sues that I wrote and was too insecure to publish, but I noticed that all the Mary Sue parodies that I read just seemed to be missing a point. Not to toot my own horn, but I think that Mary Sue Summers would have had a point: She fit in with the universe(s), and would have demonstrated character development without getting in anybody else’s way. She had genuine flaws, such as her hunger for human experience (and the arrogance underlying that hunger, that she can do “humanity” perfectly) without understanding what human experience in a real world truly actually was (imperfect.)

    I do still spot her sometimes in my headspace. She looks like season one Buffy but with black hair, paper-white skin, and amber-yellow irises. In a way, she guided me to, yes, delete the links to the Mary Sue Litmus Tests and throw away the laundry list of flaws and its comparative list of powers/virtues… because good characterization is more subtle than all that, and creativity doesn’t flow in a structure built out of “don’t”s but “here’s why maybe better not but really up to you”s.

    A flaw can simply be a virtue in the wrong time and place, rather than “she’s very clumsy” to counteract “she has perfect skin”. Power can be a curse as much as a blessing for reasons other than the empowered character complaining about it because it’s taken for granted to be true: Mary Sue guides me to think deeper than what I can get away with, by being so obnoxiously shallow that I’m compelled to rebel, and shatter that image, and see what’s behind it.

    She taught me that character is subordinate to plot, but good writing doesn’t make it obvious that it is: it will read as “character-driven”. And she taught me how to drive a character. She taught me to look out for fictional characters that I love, and examine why those characters get the love that a Mary Sue really tries and fails to get. I recognize a Mary Su(e)bversion of this type, in the character of Adam from the second season of Torchwood. A truly subversive Mary Sue or Marty Stu seems to mostly act as a reminder that suffering is meaningful to somebody’s identity, or that perfection is 1% illusion and 99% a painful yearning for that illusion to be real when only the pain is.

    That’s just the tip of the iceberg how Mary Sue has acted as a totem/muse/whatever, to me. In a less subversive form, I suppose that working with the Mary Sue allowed me to confront my envy for fluffbunnies: They allow themselves the opportunity to naturally (maybe even harmlessly) ride out that feeling of being great and superpowered, whereas I had always nipped that feeling in the bud for the sake of being realistic and never playing The Fool. Working out that misplaced resentment, really cleared up my view of what sort of “fluffiness” should be honored for the enthusiasm at its root, and what fantasy-fueled schism deserves compassion because the fluffbunny in question turned out to have been dishonest with themselves and/or others about their experience (spiritual or otherwise) because of some other unmet need in their life.

    1. Thank you so much for this comment! It’s really gratifying to know that I’m not the only one who is seeing the power in these archetypes/thoughtforms and is getting something out of working with them.

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