Vaginal Fantasy Book Club discussion

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message 1: by Julie (new)

Julie (subtleseasonings) | 88 comments Is anyone else as sick of this term as I am? I feel like once the ladies mentioned it on the show that it has just exploded on the forums (seriously, go count how many times it's been used in the Daughter of Smoke and Bone discussion). I cringe every single time I see it, and lately it's been a lot.


message 2: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca (chewbecca) Yes!


message 3: by C.G. (new)

C.G. (samatwitch) | 110 comments Yes! It was also used in last month's discussions to describe Roarke.


message 4: by Felicia, Grand Duchess (new)

Felicia (feliciaday) | 740 comments Mod
I've always hated this term and kind of consider it chauvanist? That's why I used the term Marty Sue for Roarke because guys throw it around a LOT when talking about female characters. It presumes a lot on the readers part about their writing "expertise" too which irritates me as A writer I dunno but it does irritate me too.


message 5: by Jennifer (new)

Jennifer Harlow (Jennifer_Harlow) | 13 comments The term's been around since the 70s when it was introduced re: Star Trek fan fic but I only heard it about 6 months ago. I'm personally all for a little wish fulfilment in my writing/reading but pure perfection is just so dull both in real and fictional life. I can never connect with someone male or female without flaws. The drama's in the struggle to weigh out the good with the bad.


message 6: by Kamil (new)

Kamil | 938 comments Felicia wrote: "I've always hated this term and kind of consider it chauvanist? That's why I used the term Marty Sue for Roarke because guys throw it around a LOT when talking about female characters. It presumes ..."

I tend to disagree on this point; the term itself is not offensive; it simply defines a female character that is bether at everything without any visible effort and her pheromosn have some superhuman powers; we might also say she's cumberbatching. personally me and my friends use the term to save time while describing someone perfect; so when I hear that a heroine is a Mary Sue, I can't wait to exploit every bit of word in the book. Unfortunately the term became some pejorative insult and is this connotation of the Mary Sue that irritates me.


message 7: by Sue (new)

Sue So, does Karou in Daughter of Smoke and Bone count?


message 8: by Serendi (new)

Serendi I think the problem is that it's used a LOT lately in contexts where it doesn't really apply. To the point where (as someone linked to recently, probably somewhere in this forum but I'm not sure) a lot of women are afraid to write a female protagonist at all because ANY female will be assumed to be a Mary Sue.

As a descriptive term, it's useful. As a way of putting down a book that doesn't deserve it, it's not. And the latter is happening more and more lately.

As for the chauvinism, it seems to be applied to women about (subjective guess) 100 times more often than to men (I include the Marty Stu etc. variants in that).

It's annoying when perfectly useful terms get ruined, but it happens all the time, so, well, sigh.


message 9: by Gary (last edited Mar 11, 2013 11:25PM) (new)

Gary I can see how it might be offensive if the term were applied in a casual way. It is dismissive and derogatory if used like that. "Oh, she's just a Mary Sue." In that sense, its an obnoxious way of saying "You suck" to someone who is really just trying harder or is more talented than others. It's derisive in the same way that the football jocks might deride the science kids. "Hunh. Yer smart, ya' stoopid nerd."

However, if we're talking about a character who is so ridiculously capable that the reader never feels any drama in the action, then I could see how it would be a useful term. Having a character who is so perfect that it makes the dangers or challenges that the character is presented get blown away casually is just bad writing. It's most likely the author trying to work out their own failures using a fantasy version of themselves. There's a certain psychological value to that kind of exercise... but there's not a great reason for someone to read it, let alone pay for it. That's why the Rocky movies started to lose their appeal... and then got them back when they dropped the invulnerable elements.

I'm reminded of the episode of Futurama in which Fry is writing his own comic book. When the crew complains that his thinly disguised protagonist has every superpower and never has any trouble dealing with the villains he explains. "That's because he was bitten by a radioactive Superman." Probably not going to get a lot of dramatic conflict out of that.


message 10: by Jute (new)

Jute | 238 comments I hate the term.

If you don't like something about a book, explain it. If you feel a protagonist is too good at everything, then say that and give examples.

I don't have a problem with an author writing wish fulfillment prose...I'm not sure why anyone cares if they do as long as it's good/entertaining writing.

It's bad writing or bad storytelling I dislike.


message 11: by Kamil (new)

Kamil | 938 comments I think a term that includes both gender versions of MS would be... Let the drums roll... wait for it... Commander Sheppard


message 12: by Serendi (new)

Serendi As in Stargate: Atlantis? Is it all this discussion of Wraiths that brought him to mind?


message 13: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca (chewbecca) Felicia wrote: "I've always hated this term and kind of consider it chauvanist? That's why I used the term Marty Sue for Roarke because guys throw it around a LOT when talking about female characters. It presumes ..."

I agree with Felicia. First of all I feel like everyone has a different idea of what is "too perfect" and I think Jute best explained how I feel about it. Don't just use the term; explain what you think is so overly competent or perfect. I didn't think Karou was like this at all, btw. She was an artist with blue hair that could speak several languages. The hair and languages are from wishes, which just ties in with the rest of the story, and her martial arts capabilities are so strong because she comes from a freaking demon world and her protector wanted her to be able to defend herself. I don't see the so-called "Mary Sue" issue here.


message 14: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca (chewbecca) Jo wrote: "Becca wrote: "Felicia wrote: "I've always hated this term and kind of consider it chauvanist? That's why I used the term Marty Sue for Roarke because guys throw it around a LOT when talking about f..."

True, you do have a point. Sure it's just a word, but I don't have a problem with the word necessarily, I have a problem with the connotation. As I said above, I am not saying I hate the term as it is arbitrarily used to label this issue; I have a problem with people continuing to describe main characters in this way because perfect is relative and, as you said, just saying Mary Sue without any good reason as to why someone thinks that makes it seem to me like nobody is ever happy with any of the main characters. I feel that it is overused. Very rarely have I read a story and thought the protagonist was too perfect. Someone said that Karou was "an artist" when calling her a Mary Sue. Maybe to some people that is a great thing, including myself, but some people couldn't care less about being able to draw and wouldn't categorize that as too good to be true. People were calling Roarke that because he was handsome and rich, but he had plenty of flaws including his temper. It's not that big of a deal to me really, I'm just sick of seeing the term and would rather people express specifically what they didn't like about a character. I do agree with you in that I don't have an issue with the term being used to express the idea; I have an issue with the idea itself :)


message 15: by Varia (new)

Varia | 4 comments Jo wrote: "Becca wrote: "I've heard people throwing that term around for years, and I've never noticed it applied more heavily to women than men."

People tend to use this term whenever they feel they can't connect to a character, whatever the reason for this is. And in that case they really should just be saying 'I can't connect to this character; they feel kinda unreal and too good to be true', because that's what they really mean :/

But even when you're using the term correctly, you should be specifying in what exact ways this character is a Mary Sue, just like you'd say 'this character is poorly written because they don't get affected by any of the events around them'. You can never just rattle off a literary term like Mary Sue and not explain what you mean by it. Unless you're a smart-arse who isn't worth listening to anyway.

Oh, and it should never be applied to real people, because that doesn't even make any sense! "Oh, you, you're such a badly-written author surrogate that has superpowers that no-one else has and absolutely everyone inexplicably likes you" I mean, what? I guess in a weird way they're just saying that they think you're flawless?

Also, if it's used more to refer to females it's either a) being used on real-life females in which case it's just part of this weird tendency society still has to criticize and judge women much more than men, where we have to be both perfect and the right kind of flawed all at once; or b) being used to describe a character in which case it might just be because it's the original (female) term, and you find female ones in fanfiction, where the term originated, because a lot more girls seem to write and post fanfiction. (And so a lot more girls are posting their amateur beginning-fanfiction which will almost always contain some Mary Sues, because that's jut a stage of writing people usually have to get through before their characters get more complex.)

Woah, that was long. :/


message 16: by Tpring (last edited Mar 12, 2013 06:00AM) (new)

Tpring | 2 comments I don't know if this has already been mentioned in the 'Daughter of Smoke and Bone' thread which I avoid because I'm still reading, but there is an interview with Laini Taylor on YouTube where she admits that Karou is a wish-fulfilling character because of her numerous accomplishments (but a very lonely one too). I think it is a little bit less frowned upon to do such a thing in certain kinds of magical, almost fairytale-esque YA novels.

Strangely I don't have that big of a problem with "Mary Sue characters" if they don't suck conflict entirely out of the story. I find the typical kickass, snarky, slightly selfish paranormal (romance) heroine just as one-dimensional and most of the times far more annoying. Mary Sues are at least likable characters. Or should be, I guess, to score a perfect 10 on the Mary Sue scale.
And now I've turned into my grandmother.


message 17: by Jute (new)

Jute | 238 comments Words aren't just words... I could point out extreme cases of which there are several. For instance most women dislike the 'C' word. According to your way of looking at things, what's wrong with the word itself, it just denotes a woman someone doesn't like.

Now before anyone goes overboard here, I'm not saying that 'mary sue' is equivalent to derogatory slang, I'm saying words aren't 'just' words and anyone who doesn't realize that is naive or was never battered with words.

Back to 'mary sue'... I'm sure there are careful reviewers who know the terms meaning and who aren't using it as a lazy short cut, but admittedly I'm biased against it.


message 18: by [deleted user] (new)

Before I weigh in - loving that this conversation is happening at all!

My two cents:
1) Many people do misuse the term, thinking it means a character which is some kind of "wish fulfillment" - as Jo said, the key factor which makes a character a Mary Sue (or Gary Stu) is that their competence undermines any real tension or conflict in the story. You can have as awesome a character as you like, but as long as their awesomeness doesn't make them invincible, they are not a Mary Sue.

2) There's no getting round that it is a derogatory term because (if the critic is correct) use of a Mary Sue character displays a writer's lack of understanding of the importance of conflict in storytelling (or, as in the case of much TV, a lack of time to tell the tale they wish to tell - which may or may not be their fault.)

3) John Sheppard was TOTALLY a Gary Stu many, many times!! :D

4) Is the Doctor's formerly-sonic screwdriver a Mary Sue? Can it apply to inanimate objects? Or does it make the Doctor a Mary Sue (certainly makes him a Wizard, now, imo.) But we should be talking books...


message 19: by Jute (last edited Mar 12, 2013 01:16PM) (new)

Jute | 238 comments Jo wrote: "Trying to address each comment that came after mine in order:

1. Becca: I think it's fair that you have an issue with the idea itself. I also think it's annoying when people use terms they're un..."


If you read all the way to the bottom of my post, you can see I was not talking about your use of 'mary sue' but your assertion that words were just words when you talked about the word 'greedy'.

Sometimes a word ends up taking on the meaning that the general public assigns to it. An easy example of that is the word 'decimate'. Everyone believes they know what it means, but the original meaning wasn't to totally annihilate something, but rather to take away a tenth of it. At some point the general understanding of the word became the official understanding of it.

Take a look at the entry on Mary Sue in Wikipedia and you can see that it's changing in the general populace.

Okay so I just know someone's going to give me grief about it being a Wikipedia entry... bring it on, I can take it. ;)


message 20: by Gary (last edited Apr 01, 2016 09:09PM) (new)

Gary The first time I'd heard this term was when the ladies mentioned it on the last broadcast, so from my little man-cave I can't really speak to how people are using or not using the term out in the real world.

However, I'm starting to think that there is a chauvinistic element to it, but that element has to do with the way the term connects to a sort of generalized chauvinism. That is, if you call a woman a Mary Sue it's more likely to be meant and taken as an insult. She can then be ignored. If you call a man a Gary Stu then it's like saying he's just such a strong character that nothing can stop him. Not good writing, perhaps, but it doesn't speak to the masculinity of the character. For a woman, though, there's another context. It's catty and/or derisive in that "Who puts on makeup to go to the beach? Why are you wearing those expensive shoes when shopping? You have such a nice home... I wish I had money to waste on expensive drapes."

For men, none of those particular societal pressures really work. (We have a different set that we pretend don't exist and couldn't possibly bother us if they did.) The term is chauvinist because it can be used dismissively in a way that covers for what would be overt sexism.

At least, that's the impression I'm getting. Does that make any sense, or have I flipped the boat?


message 21: by Philippa (last edited Mar 12, 2013 05:33PM) (new)

Philippa | 143 comments I think that sometimes when people use the term "Mary Sue" as a description of a character they are also combining the concept with the idea of the author-avatar. Or of a perfected author-avatar.

Done well, an author-avatar character has depth and dimension just as a person does in real life. Done poorly it feels like the author is channeling his or her 5-year old self from play time in their own fantasy land "And I'm the hero and I can fly and I can shoot laser beams and I get 5 ponies and all of the ice cream!"

I have seen this as an issue equally with female and male authors which is why I wouldn't say it's a particularly chauvinistic term in either its "Mary Sue" or "Gary Stu" incarnations. (For a recent female example see Discovery of Witches, for a male example see the The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.) The only reason why it's more prevalent in a vaginal fantasy context is probably that most of the books are from the perspective of a female protagonist and most are written by female authors.

And I would say it might be applicable to some extent in the "In Death" books if only that the back covers show that the author is clearly trying to look like Eve. On the other hand, Eve is shown as fallible and well-rounded, particularly as the series develops, so I think that any "Mary Sue" tendencies are mitigated substantially. I have no opinion on "Daughter of Smoke and Bone" as I haven't read it yet.

There should be a slightly different term used for when authors create characters which they themselves would consider ideal mates or partners. Roarks wouldn't be a "Gary Stu" since he's not the author's stand in - Eve would be. I suppose "wish fulfillment" works.


message 22: by Philippa (new)

Philippa | 143 comments Also, I agree with Jo, I've never heard the term "Mary Sue" used to describe a person in real life. It is only used to describe characters, and by extension, the ability of the author to create a character.


message 23: by Rachel (new)

Rachel | 1 comments I can't believe I'm quoting the aforementioned Wiki article on this particular topic but there was a comment made in it that perfectly describes my absolute detest and loathing for the term Mary Sue.

At Clippercon 1987 (a Star Trek fan convention held yearly in Baltimore, Maryland), Smith interviewed a panel of female authors who say they do not include female characters in their stories at all. She quoted one as saying "Every time I've tried to put a woman in any story I've ever written, everyone immediately says, this is a Mary Sue." Smith also pointed out that "Participants in a panel discussion in January 1990 noted with growing dismay that any female character created within the community is damned with the term Mary Sue."

It is a widespread condemnation in fan fiction writing and is largely why unless there are pre-established female characters for fan fiction writers to use, most steer very clear of crafting their own female characters due to fear of them automatically being labeled Mary Sues simply because they're female.

I would genuinely hate to see this sort of thing carry over to mainstream fiction because while there may be some instances where it's a legitimate criticism, I could also see it being used as a broad stroked brush to put down entire genres of writing.


message 24: by [deleted user] (new)

I also don't think that the term is chauvanist, at all, both "Mary Sue" and "Gary Stu" mean a badly drawn character for the specific reason of undermining suspense/tension/conflict because they are too competent for the audience to ever really wonder if they won't be able to get out of a situation. It is never a good thing, for a male or female character.

Now, that's not to say that those using the word aren't chauvinist - maybe they are more tolerant of, and less likely to identify Gary Stus, than Mary Sues. Maybe they like to throw the term at female writers simply because the writer is female - even when it does not apply to the characters - but that doesn't make the term chauvinist.

As to the 'evolution' argument - personally, I use decimate properly, too ;)


message 25: by Varia (new)

Varia | 4 comments Jo wrote: "I don't think anyone is arguing that the term Mary Sue applies to real people. I'm not sure what you're talking about."

Oh, I've never heard it used about real people, that's why I was surprised. I heard Felicia say in one of the hangouts that she hated the term because it was being used as an insult by people and I got the impression that people were using it as an insult on chat or comments or something, but I guess she meant in the context of characters. My bad, sorry for that.

But if people are just using it about characters all over the place then they're really just using it as a shallow term.

I mean, with the latest book - Daughter of Smoke and Bone - I would by no means call Karou a Mary Sue because there's way too much wrong with her life and all her perks make perfect sense in that universe, that is that they're consistent with the rules set up by the author. Sure there's wish-fulfillment, but other people get it too, and she gets it with some pretty serious family issues. I mean, they make her do things she hates, and don't actually include her fully in what they do. She's always honestly afraid that they'll just leave her stranded somewhere on a job, and that's really not healthy. She has no power in the relationship, and true Mary Sues are never that helpless.

I've only read the first few chapters, though, so I guess I can't really judge. That's just what I got from what I've read so far.


message 26: by Mochaspresso (last edited Mar 13, 2013 08:21AM) (new)

Mochaspresso  | 22 comments I think that criticism is valid if the character is overly perfect with only minor flaws or even worse, when he/she has glaringly obvious character flaws that the reader can clearly see but no one else in the story seems to pick up on or call them out for. I think that is when most people have the biggest issues with Mary Sue characters. When their actions interfere with the believability or credibility of the story.

An example might be an author constantly telling you how good or nice the main character is and then that character constantly does things that the reader sees as incredibly mean or selfish and no one else in the story has a problem with that character's meanness or selfishness.


message 27: by Varia (new)

Varia | 4 comments Mochaspresso wrote: "An example might be an author constantly telling you how good or nice the main character is and then that character constantly does things that the reader sees as incredibly mean or selfish and no one else in the story has a problem with that character's meanness or selfishness."

Oh, yeah, that's definitely a thing. Quite often they'll make the mistake of telling instead of showing, too... Like in Twilight when Bella is always described as being quite book-smart, but we never really see evidence of it. Whereas as a random comparison, Hermione is described the same way, but we see her studying, actively participating in class and sharing her knowledge and that actually makes us believe she's smart.


message 28: by Amanda (new)

Amanda (amandapearl) I think the term mary sue may have started off a just a word to describe a character type, but has devolved into a derogatory term for any character that someone thinks is poorly written. (This happens to many words, I mean the c-word used to be a term found in medical texts and faggot used to mean a bundle of sticks (which is where we get the term "flaming" when referring to gay people, as in flaming faggot or literally burning sticks)). Today when I see the word mary sue being thrown around it's usually just to say they didn't like the character. It's a term used to dismiss any good qualities of the character and to say that they aren't worthy of deep consideration. I would say there is almost always a negative connotation, like calling a woman a slut.

As for Karou she is totally NOT a mary sue. She is far from perfect and deals with a lot of really terrible shit. Just because she has blue hair and can speak languages doesn't make her faultless. If anything it shows how un-perfect she is because she makes frivolous wishes without understanding the price.


message 29: by Amanda (new)

Amanda (alwaysanswerc) Mochaspresso wrote: "An example might be an author constantly telling you how good or nice the main character is and then that character constantly does things that the reader sees as incredibly mean or selfish and no one else in the story has a problem with that character's meanness or selfishness. "

This is actually a really big "tell" for me. And I know it's kind of a very specific and kind of tangential version of Mary Sue, but that bizarre dissonance strikes me as the type of wish-fulfillment by the author that is lazy rather than utilized to build an interesting character.

I'm having a really hard time describing this in the abstract, so for a concrete example I'm very familiar with, take Elena from The Vampire Diaries on the CW. The main character traits that we are supposed to identify with Elena are her selflessness and compassion. These aren't particularly unique traits, but fine, I'll accept that she is allegedly in the upper 5% of selflessness and compassion on the spectrum of humanity. Except that what actually ends up happening in the context of the show is that Elena is constantly treated like a special snowflake, who needs herself and her family members to be protected by her ENTIRE social circle, because she is so uniquely selfless and compassionate that if anything happens to anyone she loves, she'll feel that loss so much harder than anyone else could possibly imagine. Meanwhile, other characters are also losing their friends and family members to gruesome supernatural deaths, and no one spends more than 10 seconds grieving with them or supporting them. And even worse, since (IMO) selflessness, compassion, and empathy are usually pretty intertwined, when we see Elena herself not being there for those characters in their times of need, that runs sharply up against what we're constantly told about her; namely, that she is CARING and THAT'S WHAT SHE DOES. Because that's her only defining character trait. So in Elena, we have a combination of a) her issues being given top priority amongst everyone she knows, because those things that we are told about her make her better than everyone else; despite b) not really being shown in practice those things that we're told make her better.

Compare that to Karou, who may be close to perfect and skilled in a way none of us will ever be, but at least her strengths and skills have utility in the story. Sure, she's wish-fulfillment, but the special skills she has aren't just given to her in a transparent attempt to give her dimension. She knows a lot of languages and martial arts because she has to in order to do her work for Brimstone. These aren't traits delivered with a swoon and meditation on her perfection; they're necessary skills acquired in the context of the story.


message 30: by Jamie (last edited Mar 29, 2013 10:49PM) (new)

Jamie (scarlettmoonlee) | 18 comments This article describes exactly why I don't like using the term Mary Sue and why it can be considered offensive.

http://adventuresofcomicbookgirl.tumb...

Edit: I just noticed I am rather late to this conversation, but I had to share that article because it changed my outlook on the term completely.


message 31: by Gary (last edited Mar 29, 2013 11:05PM) (new)

Gary Thanks for the link, Jamie.

I have to note that it says the male version of a Mary Sue is also Marty Stu, not just Gary Stu. Not that it's a huge deal or anything, but we Garys already have to deal with having Gary Busey on our side of the aisle, and that's plenty of infamy for one moniker.


message 32: by C.G. (new)

C.G. (samatwitch) | 110 comments Thanks, Jamie. I agree with the writer of that article. The terms has become a lazy shorthand for anyone who doesn't like the way a female character is written to throw around.


message 33: by Sue (new)

Sue That was an excellent link, Jamie. Thanks for sharing.


message 34: by Julie (new)

Julie (subtleseasonings) | 88 comments Jamie, that was a really great link. Exactly how I feel!


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