April 11th, 2010

SGA-Jeannie Rodney Last Man

Oh, frig, I know what I want to say; I just can't figure out how to say it.

I've been reading a bunch of Metafandom links on the Mary Sue concept today, and trying to write a thoughtful and coherent post on how all of this is making me challenge my own core values as a writer (in a good way, I think) and it just ... will not come together. Maybe because I'm still struggling with my own reactions to it.

I particularly recommend reading Such stuff as dreams are made on, and Why the Culture of Mary Sue Shaming is Bully Culture, and on mary sue policing and why i cannot abide it. I am not saying that I agree with everything they're saying, but they've definitely given me a tremendous amount of food for thought, and made me look at the uglier side of my own drive to "write better! aim higher!" with newly critical eyes.

I feel like an idiot for not having realized the extent to which "writing well" is a moral value for me - I'm not saying that I judge people as less worthy for the quality of their writing, or anything like that, but reading these posts and trying to think of what I consider "poor" writing as being just as worthy and worthwhile and fulfilling as what I consider "good" writing - on an intellectual level, I absolutely think it is! But I still feel like a core value of mine is under siege and I'm struggling with that knee-jerk reaction - I know it's irrational and wrong, but I can't seem to make it stop. I've always pushed myself hard as a writer, and I want to keep doing that, but I want to manage to balance that with not being elitist and judgmental towards other people's writing, and I'm not sure how to do that. HELP.

It doesn't help that I don't think I'd had any idea that the creeping expansion of the Mary Sue term is as bad as it seems to be. I had no idea that people used Mary Sue for as wide a range of character types as they do - any OFC? Really? When I say "Mary Sue" I've always meant it in its narrow sense - or at least I thought I did, but then I get to thinking about all the various situations that I've used the "Mary Sue" term, and ... I'm not so sure anymore. But I definitely think of a certain type of character and situation when I hear it, so I'm struggling with both the battle to accept that as a valid character type even though my internal editor is saying NOOOO, and the fact that I think I've just been intellectually convinced that it's not really a useful term of critique but my internal editor wants to hang onto it.

It's interesting to consider Mary Sue a genre of itself, just as deserving of having fans and followers and communities grow up around it as, say, hurt/comfort or any of our other established fannish genres. Non-h/c people may roll their eyes at h/c or mock the more WTF? examples, but I don't think anyone questions its right to exist. I had honestly never thought of self-insertion that way, as a perfectly valid form of indulgence for some people that's just as deserving of its own dedicated communities and fans, but - why the heck not?

And this post is kind of completely awesome: Celebration of Mary Sue, or, Writing Advice I Could Have Used at Age 14. Because yes, this is SO much better than judging and looking down upon new writers - explaining community norms to them and giving them the tools to create their own spaces, so that they can play with the self-insert idea as long as they need to (forever, if need be) in safe non-judgmental places. Isn't that better than saying "Get your Mary Sues out of my fandom"? I'm not sure how to export that ideal to fandom as a whole, but I agree with the bloggers above that something ought to be done, because we don't want to be chasing away new writers before they have a chance to get their writing legs under them.

ETA: And here is another post making similar points. It's foolish and short-sighted to say "Don't write that!" when you can win friends and new writers in your fandom by saying, "Here is how you can take what you already have and make it better."

ETA2: Just in case anyone was thinking about it, please do not link this in Metafandom.