MmeJavert wrote:How about Combeferre’s older sister, who managed to be the first female student at La Sorbonne? First off, that’s a Mary Sue, no matter how you look at it or how original you make her. Second, she still has the disadvantage of being a woman, and whether or not Combeferre personally introduces Enjolras to his sister, he still won’t look at her as anything other than Combeferre’s sister. Or the petite new waitress at Musian, the one who’s helping Louison? One, a Mary Sue. Two, still a girl. Three, waitstaff that he’s always going to take for granted, especially at his usual haunts. He gives no notice to Louison, so why should he give notice to a new assistant? He may look at her, to recognize her and give her tacit approval for entrance, but to him she’s the invisible carrier of food and drink, just like Louison.
But while difficult, I can’t say that it’s impossible. Although Enjolras is not fond of women, he’s likely a fairly good person at heart. Interested in elevating the poor people to the same status as the rich. I would say you’re three times more likely to get Enjolras interested in a woman if she doesn’t try her charms on him. If she approaches him as a persion, she’s three times more likely to catch his attention than if she tries to seduce him. If you want to pair Enjolras with a girl, find a girl who won’t be afraid of his icy glare and formidable expression at first glance. Find a reason for the girl to talk to him – ‘Don’t go to Corinthe; they're looking for rebels there’ – and give him a reason to want to talk to her – ‘How do you know? And why do you want to help me?’ – and just let it go from there. I’m not saying that this is necessarily better and more believable, but Enjolras is not suddenly going to notice the one grisette who misses landing at his feet and topples him over. He’ll just give her the same icy glare as any of the other girls and continue on his way.
Col.Despard wrote: ...or even in some instances Cosette. Far, far more.
MmeBahorel wrote:The character has to be reasonable, for one. If, for instance, your character is not French - where did she come from, why is she there, do these reasons hold up historically, is her foreignness important or just a way of making her uncommon (and therefore sparkly)? Where does your character fit into the socio-economic spectrum of the period? How would someone of that socio-economic status interact with the canon character? If your character is acting differently to how someone of her social status would act, why is that? What gives this character the motivation to do something socially unaccepted? How does the canon character react to actions that are socially unaccepted? This is where a lot can fall apart - the OC is doing something someone of her class would never a million years conceive of doing, and the canon character thinks she's awesome because of it. Things so far outside the realm of conception for the period that no matter how radical the canon character supposedly is, there is no way he would go along. "And after we've overthrown the monarchy, women will have the vote and I'll be the president of France!" "I think I'm in love with you, little match girl!" Yeah, uhm, no.
A Mary Sue kind of has two, often overlapping, definitions. One is the transparent self-insert; the other is the super special character everyone adores and kind of takes over the story. You can have the first without her coming across as super special, but usually one likes to dress up her self insert to be better than her self, thus the combination. Sometimes, this character is merely everything the writers wishes she could be and thus is less self, more super special sparkly. It isn't about having flaws or being entirely perfect so much as it is that the character simply doesn't fit into the original framework. Oftentimes, the character is defined by something that makes no sense - I used to role play with a girl who kept making up these characters. No, Feuilly is NOT going to end up falling for an Indian girl. (Indian from India, complete with ruby embedded in her forehead. In the Paris slums.) Those were threads I went along with but never took seriously. You do things for your friends because they're your friends, right? But if you're posting publicly, you're doing things for a whole load of strangers in your audience who are less likely to be forgiving of your current obsession with some form of Indian culture. (just a particularly egregious example.)
In a way, you have to edit from the beginning. When creating a character, what are your motivations for creating the character? Why does she need to have this characteristic? What does it say about her for the purposes of the plot you have in mind? If it isn't necessary to the plot, is it necessary for the characterisation? Does it tell the audience something really important, or just something you think would make her interesting? If it isn't important, it doesn't need to go in the story. If it isn't in the story, it won't be held against you.
The biggest thing with Mary Sues, though, is that they feel out of place to the people who did not write them. They act too modern or they require the characters to act differently than they should in canon or they take up more space in the story than they perhaps should. (thus the original Mary Sue who saved the entire Enterprise and everyone loved her and she died tragically but heroically - that one character did too much in addition to being flawless and getting treatment from Spock that was out of character for him.) If the character is far more interesting to the person who wrote her than she is to any other reader, that character is a Mary Sue. Usually, we're reading fic because we want to read more about the canon character. Which isn't to say that a story that focuses on an OC is necessarily setting that OC up as a Sue, but that a Sue is always the hero of her story, even when a bare description of the plot makes it look like the canon character should be the hero.
Basically, Sues are annoying because they are out of place and take over. If your OC fits within the canon setting and within that setting interacts with the canon characters in a way logical to that setting, you're most of the way to having an OC that doesn't suck. You can do all the detailed character development you want, flaws and all, but if she talks like a Second Wave feminist, she's a Mary Sue. If she's from China, in this fandom, she's a Mary Sue. If she's a gorgeous mulatta from the Indies, you're probably writing Dumas rather than Hugo *g*.
For a character I've written that I consider a Mary Sue but that other people actually like, see Some Enchanted Evening, which is Combeferre/OFC. She has a lot in common, however, with characters from George Eliot and Charlotte Brontë, which is probably what smooths it from "self-insert" to "literary reference". Not that I wrote her to be a self-insert: Combeferre's as much me as Diana is, truth be told, but there's enough there to make me cringe.
If, for instance, your character is not French - where did she come from, why is she there, do these reasons hold up historically, is her foreignness important or just a way of making her uncommon (and therefore sparkly)?
If your character is acting differently to how someone of her social status would act, why is that?
How does the canon character react to actions that are socially unaccepted?
"And after we've overthrown the monarchy, women will have the vote and I'll be the president of France!" "I think I'm in love with you, little match girl!" Yeah, uhm, no.
The biggest thing with Mary Sues, though, is that they feel out of place to the people who did not write them. They act too modern or they require the characters to act differently than they should in canon or they take up more space in the story than they perhaps should.
sb_soprano wrote:Out of curiosity, for each of you, what do you think establishes an OC as a non-Mary Sue? I'm debating on putting myself up to the challenge of writing an Enjolras/OC tale, but keeping it as real as possible. I have a character in mind (in fact, I created her for the time period, long before I knew about Les Misérables, but I want to know what your guys' opinion on what differentiates a OC and a Mary Sue.
Writing Enjolras/OC without it turning Suetastic is therefore pretty difficult, because Enjolras is all about the revolution and you can't change that without yanking his character right out of its orbit. I tend to be leery of any fic where Enjolras falls in deep, all-consuming, passionate, romantic love with anyone, male or female--it's been done well (as in Col. Despard's Enjolras/Grantaire AU), but not often. A sense of partnership around a shared cause that deepens into something more, or a tumultuous and not-entirely-functional relationship that Enjolras struggles to reject in order to focus on his ideals, would be more believable ways to get him involved with someone while ensuring that the revolution remains the center of his existence. Changing plot details is one thing (I have an Enjolras/OFC plotbunny set in a barricade survival AU), changing Enjolras from "Revolutionary first, second, third, and fourth, everything else fifth" to "My OFC's boyfriend first, revolutionary second" is quite another.
I have an Enjolras/OFC plotbunny set in a barricade survival AU
MmeBahorel wrote:I can get an American girl to Paris. I can get an English speaking actress to Paris. I might be able to combine those two, but it would be a stretch. I cannot easily get the English speaking actress to stay in Paris - I'd have to bring her in as part of the English troupe that toured Europe in 1827 and brought in a couple of Shakespeare plays, the first time any Shakespeare was performed in its entirety in Paris. I can get a doctor's daughter to Paris, but I can't justify her on the stage. I'd have to exert far more effort than the dramatic pay off would be worth to justify how a doctor would be ruined by bad weather and have enough money to emigrate rather than just migrate to the nearest city and set up practice there when the character I'm working with isn't even the doctor himself. If a trait makes the reader go "wait, what? Can that happen?", you might want to consider how many times you're doing it.
The reason Diana works is because she is firmly within her historical milieu. This specific generation of the Wild Geese is a documented phenomenon, and for hundreds of years, in any case, Irish and English Catholic families sent their children, both sons and daughters, to France for education. She dresses and studies like Dorothea Brooke in Middlemarch; her ambitions are at the level of Lucy Snowe in Villette. The family background is the only thing interesting about her, and it applies to a large number of other people.
Oh, and I can be brutal - I once told a friend that I was thrown out of her story because her characters were breakfasting on croissants. Croissants are a Viennese pastry that came into Paris after all the barricade boys are dead. Admittedly, I did that because I knew the friend would appreciate the correction - I wouldn't get on most people about croissants.
Do some reading by female authors as well as pay attention to what male authors say about their female characters. George Sand started publishing at the tail end of the period covered in the novel, and some of her stuff can get didactic, but it's still helpful to see what an educated woman of the period finds important to say about women in general. I've also found George Eliot helpful, in a way, though she's English - Middlemarch will get a very good cross section of female characters between Dorothea Brooke, Rosamund Vincy, and Mary Garth. As for the men, Balzac is excellent for a general idea of how society functioned - the rankings, the way climbing can happen, the treatment of men and women and the various classes, the various prejudices of the period. Dickens won't help you nearly so much, writing later and focusing on London.
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