The Fear of Mary Sue

The Living God, my debut novel, will hopefully be out at the end of the year. It isn’t the only book I’ve ever written, but the first I’ve dared to get published. With the finality of that and knowing that it will soon be out for the masses to read, there is some shred of fear in what I’ll see in reviews. One of those is the fear of Saran being called a Mary Sue.

For those few who aren’t sure what a Mary Sue is, a Mary Sue is an idealized and seemingly perfect fictional character. Often this character is recognized as an author insert or wish-fulfillment.

When Star Wars Episode 7 came out, I was so happy to see the character Rey take center stage as the heroine of the new trilogy. Almost immediately there were people calling her a Mary Sue, even if there was plenty of evidence of why she wasn’t.

Saran, the protagonists in The Living God, has flaws. In my eyes, she’s far from a perfect character, which becomes more evident as the series unfolds. In that way, she doesn’t fit the typical description of a Mary Sue. But, then again, neither did Rey. Sure, Rey was inherently good at a lot of things, but so was Luke Skywalker and Anakin, and no one had a problem with either character. No one called them a Gary Stue, the male version of Mary Sue.

However, I do have a strikingly obvious problem that would lead a lot of people to think Saran is a Mary Sue and that she is the author inserting herself into a story. That problem? We both have red hair. Though, hers is more red and beautiful than my very dark auburn.

When I was younger, in elementary school and middle school (and a touch of high school), I got teased about my red hair. I had everything from people calling me the traditional Carrot Top, to people telling me that the Devil’s children had red hair. You would think that the last comment would have died out in a modern society where we no longer burn people at the stake for their hair color, but not in my small town set in lower Alabama. Because of that teasing, I made a small, quiet oath with myself that if I ever had a book published, that character would have red hair. Representation matters, even if it is something as silly as hair color.

I’m a redhead. Saran is a redhead. People won’t know the reasoning behind my choice to make her so. She’s one character in a series of books, the characters of my other novels have other hair colors, but as this is my first publicly offered book…  I feel there may be a natural instinct to consider her a Mary Sue because of that fact. I have to wonder if I would feel the same as a brunette or a blond who wrote a character that had blond or brunette hair. Would I be so concerned about the Mary Sue issue if the character and myself shared a very common hair color as opposed to a unique one? (Sorry, folks, no disrespect, but redheads make up only 1-2% of the world’s population.)

I’ve also been curious about the rate of women writers being accused of writing Mary Sue characters versus male writers. Or how male characters that are obvious Gary Stues are often accepted over female characters who show only slight resemblances to a Mary Sue or none at all. I hope to research and explore those curious questions in the future.

What are your thoughts on Mary Sues?

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