Let’s welcome Don A. Martinez, the author of The Advance Guard, Dinétah Dragon and The Insurgent’s Journal who’s now presenting book 4 in the series, Infernal Eighteen. Today he’s here conversing with 4 of his characters which had me chuckling away. Hope you find some good laughs too. Thank you Don for being here.
Preventing BellaSwanitis: Avoiding Mary Sue At All Costs
Don A. Martinez: Hello, and welcome to Day 3 of the Infernal Eighteen Blog Tour 2013. First off, before we begin our presentation, I’d like to express my thanks to Pragya for hosting us here at Reviewing Shelf. Also, please allow me to introduce my companions here on the panel, all from the Hidden-In-Plain-Sight Ranch, whose Tumblr feed shows off their thoughts on a regular basis. Left to right around our table, we have Cyrus Salem …
Cyrus Salem: Greetings to you all.
DAM: … his wife Kitty …
Kitty Salem: Hey guys, how’s it going?
DAM: … their daughter Michika …
Michika Salem: What’s up?
DAM: … and finally their friend William White Bear.
William White Bear: It’s a pleasure, sir.
DAM: Okay, now that we’ve introduced ourselves and each other, let’s get to the topic of discussion today, and that’s the problem with characters who act as proxies for their authors. While it’s all right for a character to be based on real people, or even the author him or herself, there’s never anything good that comes from making that character into a dreaded “Mary Sue.”
KS: Who’s Mary Sue? Does your wife know about her?
DAM: What? No, it’s not like that. It’s a character type. Mary Sues have a tendency to be falsely humble, but are admired by everyone they meet, have incredible amounts of power particularly in fantasy fiction, and wind up having the entire universe revolve around their little lives.
CS: I’ve read a lot of books in my time, and I’d have to say the ones I liked the least had characters like the one you’re describing. They’re self-centered, and the writing comes across as at best arrogant, but at worst unbelievable.
MS: But what do you write? I mean after all, right now you’re sitting here having a conversation with four of your own characters. That’s gotta be weird, right?
DAM: To a certain extent, but I’m used to having a dialogue with all of you, since I hear your voices all the time in my mind.
KS: That sounds like a personal problem.
DAM: Well, not exactly, not when I can generate characters to go with those voices. In fact, all of you embody some aspect of my personality, in one form or another. All of you in my cast of characters do, as a matter of fact.
WWB: How do you avoid making any of us a Mary Sue, then?
DAM: It’s because I limit the characterization of each of you to one aspect of my personality. For instance, you, William, you’re the side of me that’s a hopeless, helpless romantic.
WWB: But wait, so you mean your romantic side wants to eat people from time to time?
DAM: Not exactly, no, but look at how you relate to your girlfriend, Alanna Sharpe. Haven’t you noticed, you fling yourself full-steam into that relationship, am I right?
WWB: Well of course I do. I love her, why wouldn’t I?
DAM: Exactly. That’s one of the defining parts of your character. And you, Michika …
MS: Yeah? What about me?
DAM: … you’re part of me that refuses to grow up.
DAM: Stick with me here, Michika. You have this unbridled energy, the kind that only comes from youth and inexperience. When you get out into the field, sometimes that comes back to bite you in the butt, but you thankfully have your friends around you. Plus, there’s the whole thing with Prince Fahaian …
MS: Now wait just a damn minute, what are you trying to tell me?
DAM: That’s the definition of “schoolgirl crush.” Even though you want to be Peter Pan and never grow up, you have these feelings that you can’t … or don’t … understand for the prince, and it causes you conflict.
KS: I think somebody’s had her personality hit right on the head.
DAM: Which brings me to you, Kitty. When I write you, you’re the part of me that houses my unrealized natural need for violence.
KS: Ex-cuuuse me?
DAM: Haven’t you wondered at all why you know how to operate damn near ever gun ever made? It’s because you’re expressing every violent impulse I feel that I don’t express due to my pacifistic nature.
KS: Really? Because some of the stuff you write me doing is pushing it quite a bit.
DAM: Absolutely. After all, you’re my combat monster.
DAM: Plus, Michika takes after you.
DAM: Which brings us to the Salem patriarch. You, Cyrus, are the part of me where my maturity and wisdom resides, but has trouble articulating that wisdom.
CS: Please, elaborate.
DAM: Your character is one that has gained much wisdom over centuries of existence. When the chips are down, though, sometimes you have trouble expressing what you need others to know. There’s the Se Ri Pak incident, for instance.
CS: I think I was pretty clear when I was talking about soul possession.
KS: Cyrus, you told us if you were possessed we were supposed to kill you.
DAM: Exactly. There’s a better way you could have told the team about it, but instead you wound up freaking them out. Wisdom with articulation trouble, right there.
CS: Okay, maybe I was a little too blunt …
KS: A “little” too blunt?!
DAM: We’ve kind of gone off the rails here from our original subject, but really all of this discussion ties into it. To avoid Mary Sue characters, authors need to spread themselves around to all of their characters.
WWB: What happens if it doesn’t happen?
DAM: That’s a good question, William. What you wind up with is characters like Bella Swan … I apologize, but this is the truth … characters who are the prettiest, the most popular, the most powerful, can save the day singlehandedly, and are admired by everyone. They also express an artificial sense of humility, by claiming to be completely “oblivious” to their qualities unless it’s explicitly stated to them by other characters. To me, that feels like the worst kind of masturbatory ego-stroking on the part of the author.
KS: Then what the hell do you call this whole conversation? Isn’t this basically talking to yourself?
DAM: Yes, that’s technically true, but I’m not trying to make myself look like the greatest person in the world with it.
MS: I love your tie, by the way …
DAM: Well, before things get too far out of hand, let me just let all of you reading know that Infernal Eighteen, the fourth Phantom Squadron novel, has its worldwide release on February 15th in both print and electronic formats, and you can find out more information by going to the official Phantom Squadron website or to the Hidden-In-Plain-Sight Tumblr page. Once again, thank you all for joining me in this round-table discussion.
CS: Which reminds me, I should take this back to Avalon … (levitates table and carries it out of the room with magic)
About the Author
The son of two 20-year Navy vets, Don A. Martinez spent much of his formative years around the Pacific Rim before settling in the continental U.S., first in Michigan and New York before eventually landing in Texas.
He has been writing all of his life, getting his start in elementary school as a two-time Young Authors selection in Oak Harbor, Washington.
He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in writing and a Master of Arts degree in English from Buffalo State College (SUNY-College at Buffalo), where he wrote his thesis on application of mythic storytelling techniques to the modern media.
Currently, he lives with his wife, daughter, and four cats in Texas, where he is a college English instructor.