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  1. QueenVictoria73
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    QueenVictoria73 Member

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    Quick yes or no question:

    Discussion in 'The Art of Critique' started by QueenVictoria73, Aug 12, 2010.

    Are we allowed to say "mary sue" here? I was just wondering because I've seen plenty of times in reviews where people say "perfect, cookie cutter character" or something along those lines when the term mary sue could have easily been used. I want to make sure there wasn't a rule that banning the use of the word because it is disrespectful or something before I make a fool out of myself. Merci beaucoup! :D
     
  2. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I think we're allowed to say "mary sue". This is the forum where I first learned the term!
     
  3. QueenVictoria73
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    QueenVictoria73 Member

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    ok cool. i didn't know if that would be a silly question or not.
     
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    You can say it, but it would not be considered constructive critique without much more specific detail.
     
  5. QueenVictoria73
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    QueenVictoria73 Member

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    Cool, so I can throw the term in a critique but I can't just say "Your character seems like a Mary Sue" and be done with it.
     
  6. Aeschylus
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    Aeschylus Contributing Member

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    Why would you not be allowed to say "Mary Sue?"
     
  7. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    The Mary Sue Police are not going to hunt you down, it's just the kind of term that reduces everything down to a one term catch-all that is without detail or explanation.
     
  8. Daveyboyz
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    Daveyboyz Member

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    You could say Mary Sue to me and its only effect would be to confuse me. I have read my fair share of books but have never taken much notice of reviews and stuff so terms like cookie cutter character or this one generally don't mean much to me.

    Besides I think if reviewing someones work you can be critical if you are stating your reasons, to classify something in this way without any definition or explaination of thought process is not going to be helpful.
     
  9. HeinleinFan
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    HeinleinFan Banned

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    The term "Mary Sue" would be useful in a critique if the critiquer 1) defined it, 2) gave details to support that classification (the character breaks the rules of magic, everyone loves him / her, the character doesn't seem to have any flaws, the character seems to know information like obscure rocket fuel formulas or WWI history despite allegedly being a high school dropout who hates reading), and 3) offered ways to slightly alter the character to make him / her more bearable.
     
  10. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    In that case, why use such a poorly understood label in the first place?

    Your description above does not make her a Mary Sue. Annoying and not very credible, but not necessarily a Mary Sue.
     
  11. Unit7
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    Unit7 Contributing Member Contributor

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    That wouldn't even come close to being labeled a Mary Sue. That doesn't even make the character annoying in my opinion. I know all sorts of obscure information off the top of my head. Also just because the character is a high school drop out, doesn't mean WWI wasn't a topic of interest of him/her. Hell you don't even give a reason for them dropping out.

    As for the Rocket Fuel thats a different story I guess. I don't exactly know how one might even come across rocket fuel formulas in the first place(well I am sure the Internet is a good start...)

    But I wouldn't consider that character Mary Sue. Sometimes people just know obscure information about such things.

    I mean there is actually a guy out there who can calculate just about any math problem in his head faster then you could type it into a calculator.
     
  12. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Again, a Mary Sue is a fantasy-fulfilling injection of a character who is a surrogate for the author. A Mary Sue is not an unrealistically perfect character, even though many people believe that is what it means.

    And that is the primary reason fuzzy labels like Mary Sue are not considered constructive.
     
  13. HeinleinFan
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    HeinleinFan Banned

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    It seems that the word Mary Sue is growing to mean more than it did previously, much as the word "access" started out as a verb and now can be an adjective or a noun, as in "access port" and "the accessway."

    Limyaael's rants defined a Mary Sue very roughly as a character who was an Author Favorite, who broke the rules of the author's world, who all the other characters loved, who could act morally reprehensible and not get called on it, who could pick up skills instantaneously, who had no flaws ...

    There are other definitions, sure. One is that a Mary Sue is an author insert into a work not her own, such as a piece of fanfiction. Another is that a Mary Sue is someone who is too perfect for this world; some books in the 1800s featured characters who were perfect, flawless, religious ideals, properly obedient to their husbands, and everyone loved them except the evil villain, who would be redeemed by the Mary Sue in the end right before the Mary Sue dies and goes to heaven.

    Cogito: If many people believe that Mary Sue means an unrealistically perfect character, how long before that word can be taken to have that meaning? Words change, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly -- but "Mary Sue" no longer refers only to self-inserts. There are a lot of people who will argue that Richard Rahl and Wesley Crusher are Mary Sues, despite being original characters and not obviously self-inserts.

    One last thing. Well-written characters are very rarely considered Mary Sues, because if you are a good enough writer, you can justify a great deal in the world of your story. If a writer on this forum gets a critique saying that their character seems to have many Sue-ish traits ("they're the chosen one, they get magic no one else has, they know rocket fuel formulas or random WWI facts when the plot requires it but never at any other time, they pick up statue carving at a master stoneworker's skill level within hours despite never carving anything before"), it probably means that your character is coming off as unreal or too "conveniently" written, like a character who "conveniently" knows how to crack military level encryption despite this seeming like something they would have no interest in whatever. Or in the example I gave earlier, a high school dropout who hates reading but who randomly knows about WWI tactics or weaponry right when it deus ex machinas their friends out of danger.

    So in that sense it's basically a Red Alert for "your characterization is poor, and here are the things I found unbelieveable." Which is helpful even if you personally disagree because you think Mary Sue means a girl named Esmerelda inserting a character named Esmery into a Harry Potter fanfic.
     
  14. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    A definition spread like you describe makes a label like Mary Sue worthless, especially in a system that requires that critiques be specific in order to be considered constructive, if people cannot even agree on what it means.

    The same considerations apply to labelling a story cliche. Most strictly speaking, a cliche is a phrase of metaphor that has been overused to the point that it has lost all impact. To apply it to mean a story idea that a critiquer finds so familiar as to be benath contempt is a gross distortion, but one that has been carelessly misused to the exxtent that it has found its way into dictionaries.

    If we are writers, our words should be scalpels, not chainsaws.
     
  15. HeinleinFan
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    HeinleinFan Banned

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    Really? Because it appears that Mary Sue only has about three common meanings. 1) An author insert in a fanfiction piece. 2) An Author Darling who appears to break the rules of the author's world without explanation except that it was convenient. Ex: Richard Rahl 3) A character who appears too perfect and flawless to be believed, or who is better than anyone could reasonably be expected to be, such as someone who can learn how to swordfight in an hour and then beat masters, or someone who sits down and solves a difficult puzzle within five minutes when numerous puzzle experts have been stumped for months. Ex: Wesley Crusher, "perfect" young ladies in some 19th century books (it's been a while since I read the article on 1800s Mary Sues, so I can't cite individual examples)

    Unless the writer cannot discern a word's meaning from context -- in which case they're going to have a hard time using English at all -- I don't think it would be hard to use "Mary Sue" in a critique and have it be useful.

    Now, I could see your point if you thought that "Mary Sue" was a blanket term for "I found your character unrealistic." But I have never actually seen it used that way, despite complaints that it might be used that way.
     
  16. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I have never seen it used any other way in discussing someone's writing or story idea. It is a final judgment before the person who uses it turns his or her nose and walks away.

    Which is two too many for constructive critique. Remember that constructive critique is not purposed to judge the writing, but to suggest improvements. And, in fact, none of the three definitions is itself sufficiently precise either.

    The first, author insertion, is a big "So what?" How does author insertion intrinsically harm the writing? If the author indulges herself, what's the harm unless she goes too easy on the character at the expense of plot? If that were the case, then the pampering of that character, specific instances required, would be the constructive focus.

    The second is too vague as well. Exactly what rules are inconsistently applied? That should be the focus, instead of a lazy label. The character may be just fine. It is the specific violations of consistency that are the problems to be corrected. If they are character attributes, point them out, one by one.

    The third is certainly detrimental to the story, but is it a flaw of the character, or the imbalance in the plots that places inadequate obstacles before that character. The most popular superhero of the last hundred years is Superman. His powers are staggering, his moral character unassailable, and yet he remains popular, because his challenges are commensurate with his powers. So again, the analysis needs to go deeper.

    So if you want to use the label Mary Sue, go ahead. No one will know exactly what you mean, because either they don't know the imprecise nature of it, or don't know if you do. And even if we all agree on the original definition, and discard the ones based on popular ignorance of the origin, it won't be constructive, any more than labelling the story itself dull, or flat, or rushed. Without detailed elaboration, it's useless for helping the writer improve the writing.
     
  17. HeinleinFan
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    HeinleinFan Banned

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    Your arguments against using the term Mary Sue appears to be that either the term is misused, or the term is not useful because specific complaints must be listed in conjuntion with its use, or that there are specific instances wherein a character might be perfect and still work. (Jesus Christ, some depictions of angels, Rudi Mackenzie, Jaenelle Angelline, and as you pointed out, superheroes.) In these instances, "Mary Sue" becomes just another literary device, like plot or emotional tone or rising tension or antihero. And it is just as susceptible to abuse, misuse and misunderstandings.

    I've seen people say with equal sincerity that the word "antihero" is useless in a critique. Because every person draws the line differently, and no ten people off the street can agree on how to define that word. Is it a protagonist who uses evil methods to achieve his goals? Is it a hero who breaks the law? A deeply flawed character who does good sometimes? A "hero" like Spiderman who has so many issues in his own life that he loses more often than he wins, and gives up things that would make him and others happy in order to keep fighting crime? Yet I've seen "antihero" used in successful critiques, usually when the story's author is trying to make her protag simultaneously rough-edged and sympathetic, and wants to know whether the character is suitably developed along those lines.

    I certainly hope no one would write a critique along the lines of "Your character is a total Mary Sue. I didn't like your story. Bye." But if they do, I do not think that means that the term Mary Sue is useless, any more than "Your story has poor flow and pacing. Bye." or "I thought the point of view was inconsistent. Bye." indicates that point of view or pacing are useless.

    I submit that we don't actually have much of a disagreement here, except perhaps a semantic one. You are interested in critiques which are useful, detailed, thoughtful. You are interested in using words as fine tools in order to help fledgling writers earn their wings.

    And I am replying as a writer with enough pride that when I answer a question, or do a critique, I darn well try to do it right. So I have trouble grasping your fundamental stance -- that whatever value the term "Mary Sue" has, the value is outweighed by the way it tempts reviewers to be lazy and write cruddy reviews. I have to bend my head all weird to follow your logic, because your logic assumes that people are flawed and will misuse and abuse words that can be interpreted to mean multiple things.

    And of course, your logic is truer than my own. Because people do get lazy, and write two cruddy reviews so they can post their own work. (Hopefully not often, but you've seen it now and again and so have I.) And well-meaning people, ones who aren't lazy but simply inexperienced, can use "Mary Sue" and a couple dozen other literary terms and put them together into a review that is not specific or detailed enough to be useful.

    Anyway, I can see your side of things and am just trying to explain mine. I've read Limyaael's rants where she talks about Mary Sues in fiction, and have read excellent reviews of books (or, in some cases, ripping-to-shreds of books) where the term "Mary Sue" was used in conjunction with with numerous specific plot details, and the readership of that particular forum understood what the term meant just fine.

    So I bristled instantly when you took the stance that "Mary Sue" is necessarily a sledgehammer where a chisel is more appropriate. Because I'd seen examples of forums where that just wasn't the case. But I can see that, at least here, circumstances are different, and it's certainly true that while I could probably sort through the review area for stories with Mary Sue characters just in order to demonstrate that it's possible to write a thoughtful, useful and constructive critique, that wouldn't change the overall trend. It would demonstrate that exceptions are possible, but not change the trend. So it's probably not worth my time.

    Heck, if anyone's really curious they can just go to Limyaael's rants and poke around til they find one of her several rants on Mary Sues. But for the purpose of this thread, we can probably agree that whatever utility the term "Mary Sue" offers, it is only useful as part of a critique that also includes specific details, examples of what felt badly explained or unrealistic, and suggestions as to what the author might change. Not necessarily how, because writers think differently and will frequently find different ways of solving a given problem in the text, but at least a short list of things that felt particularly weak or unbelievable.

    And Cogito probably won't be using the term in any critique he writes, which will not decrease from the usefulness of his reviews one iota. But that's his decision, and not, strictly speaking, a rule.
     
  18. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Superman might not be the best example to use. I think his popularity is mostly historical: he was the first modern superhero. And very, very often his writers, in order to create interesting stories about him, have had to remove or diminish exactly those attributes you mentioned, his powers and his moral character. How many times has he lost his powers? How many times have his villains exposed him to kryptonite (a plot device his writers had to introduce precisely because Superman was too powerful)?

    There are many other superheroes of far more recent vintage whose popularities have grown faster than Superman's. Spiderman, Wolverine, the more recent version of Batman, and so on, are all characters of lesser power and greater complexity than Superman and Superman's writers have to struggle to maintain Superman's popularity, even relevance, in a world crowded with more interesting superheroes.

    My bet is that if Superman did not already exist, and you tried to introduce him into today's comic-book world, he'd fail to gain many fans, and he probably wouldn't survive.
     
  19. JessaNova
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    JessaNova Senior Member

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    Well considering the question, I think it would be highly useful to have a thread for terms, lingo, and common critiquing words that we use here. Especially describing different forms of poetry, writing techniques, phrases, etc...
     
  20. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Just stick to clear, unambiguous English and stay away from lazy labels. We already have a post explaining what is expected of constructive critique.
     

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