Friday, February 27, 2009

Understanding Mary Sue...

Mary Sue, where are you?

For those of you who’ve dabbled in writing fan-fiction (fiction based on the lives of various popular characters from comics, TV shows and movies, such as Superman, Star Trek, Star Wars, Alias, 24, etc), you know what the dreaded Mary Sue happens to be. Paula Smith coined the term after writing a satirical Star Trek spoof featuring a protagonist named Mary Sue.

In short, a Mary Sue story is one in which an author writes a wish-fulfillment character of all the things the author wants to be. Mary Sues tend to have no discernable flaws, are often idealized as being stunningly beautiful, with Cinderella type tendencies (kind, compassionate and picked on by nearly everyone), and if writing in the paranormal realm, have special powers only she can control. Mary Sues must also always save the hero, the day, the entire town, and possibly even the entire congregation or country. Basically, a Mary Sue is stronger, better, faster, kinder, more lovely and not egotistical about any of this at all.

There are many online “tests” where you can answer questions to determine if your hero/heroine is a Mary Sue. The ones for fiction are generally covered here:

Not everything in the test is accurate. Because of the nature of writing a newly formed character, it is possible to say yes to some of these questions without having an actual Mary Sue.

Mary Sues show up in romance fiction quite often. Now, let me say upfront, there is nothing inherently wrong with writing a Mary Sue character. Tempered with some reality, a lot of Mary Sue’s are actually quite likeable and fun to read about.

However, there are issues if any of the following happen more than a few times in your manuscript:

Every time someone meets Mary Sue, they exclaim over her stunning beauty. This includes people who’ve seen her before, exclaimed over her beauty then, and continue to do so every time they meet her.

Every time something bad happens, Mary Sue accepts it so stoically she is universally loved by all. And she is loved. No one hates her except the bad guys or the Other Woman. No one thinks she’s pushy, aggressive, gossipy, or nosy (despite her shoving her way into other people’s business to get the scoop so she can solve all their problems).

Every time something good happens, Mary Sue gets all the credit.

Every time someone needs something good done, Mary Sue is called upon to do it.

Every time someone is mean, heartless or cruel, it is directed towards poor Mary Sue.

Every time a hero appears, he bypasses every woman in the area to zero-in on Mary Sue, despite her rags, her bare feet, her state of cleanliness or her circumstances.

Only Mary Sue can save everyone.

Only Mary Sue does all the good things in the story, while every other woman is portrayed as mean, catty, heartless, cruel and stupid. This woman also tries to go after Mary Sue’s man, who is often noticeably disgusted with the woman. The exception to this may be Mary Sue’s mother, who is a carbon copy of Mary Sue.

If Mary Sue does have a woman friend, she is only there to stoke Mary Sue’s ego. She has no real thoughts of her own and agrees with Mary Sue on everything. Oh, and she NEVER, EVER, entertains the idea of going after the man Mary Sue has decided shall be her own.

If there are people in the book whose circumstances are less-than-stellar, only Mary Sue notices and tries to do something about it, often with a trusted friend who may have fallen below their means or who has had tragedy in their lives, too. The friend usually does all the actual work, Mary Sue simply attracts the right attention to right the wrong.

When Mary Sue does anything evil, wrong, or bad, there are massive extenuating circumstances that explain why this saintly woman has to go against her principles. These circumstances usually involve trying to save someone else.

If Mary Sue has extraordinary powers, she usually doesn’t know about these powers until she’s called upon to save another and when she realizes she has them, she is often appalled, and will deny them until she is forced to come to terms with the power. Once she has, she saves everyone.

Only Mary Sue is outraged so much by the injustices heaped on the hero, the day, the town, the congregation or the country that she decides to DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. No one else in the story can take this initiative because they are too weak, too scared, too sick, too upset or too beaten down by the circumstances to do anything for themselves (despite these same people holding powerful positions or having amassed great wealth without Mary Sue’s help).

As I stated above, a well-written Mary Sue can be a rollicking, fun read. If any of the above applies to your heroine (or hero) simply make her character have one or more flaws. Round out the other characters with realistic attributes. Everyone is not all good or all bad. By showing a more sympathetic set of individuals, readers will identify with the characters more. Mary Sue can save the world, she can have special powers. Just temper that character so that every reader can understand why she’s so special.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Earth Songs- Looking for Submissions

The Cactus Rose Line (historical westerns)is looking for stories for the Earth Songs series.

The stories can be set anywhere in the United States among any Native American tribe as long as it is between 1870 and 1890.

Each story should involve a Native American character as the hero, heroine, or both. Please make sure the information is accurate about the people you write about and that all information is historically correct.

Stories should be 40K or under.

All stories need to be believable, with fully realized characters, and a happy ever after ending.

If you would like to submit a story to this series send a query and synopsis to with the subject line "Submission for Earth Songs".

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Sweetheart Editor ~ Vicky Reed

This is the month for lovers, and here at TWRP we specialize in love. Our Sweetheart Rose line is especially profiled this February. That first tender blush of love, sweetly given and gently shown in stories that warm the heart. Editor Vicky Reed shares a part of her life and the kind of story that makes her heart glad.

TWRP: What do you think is the most romantic time frame in history?

VR: I guess I'm too much of a pragmatist, I can't help but appreciate hot and cold running water, deodorant and toothpaste, Contemporaries work for me every time.

TWRP: If you could take a trip anywhere, where would you go?

VR: Singapore. Does that make me horribly humdrum? I love the whole "idea" of Asia, and Singapore is like a romance novel, Asia with all the rough parts smoothed down.

TWRP: Would you rather fold clothes or cook?

VR: I would rather scrub a toilet with a toothbrush than cook.

TWRP: What is your favorite romantic old photo? Describe it.

VR: I have a picture where my husband was caught in the act of turning around. The sky and the trees are golden, and the sun is just right. You can tell he loves me. It's more than a picture, it's his love laid naked.

TWRP: What would be on the most romantic dinner menu?

VR: Anything my husband and I can eat together. I'm not picky. It's the company, not the menu.

TWRP: Tell us what you see first in an attractive man?

VR: His body shape. I'm so superficial. I fell in love with my husband because he had that whole, wide-shouldered, narrow-hipped cowboy thing going on.

TWRP: Tell the readers the book in the Sweetheart Rose line that best epitomizes a romantic incident in your own life.

VR: I'm working on a book right now, No Matter Why by Joanna Aislinn. It's about two people who grow to love each other, and over the course of their story realize that faith and trust aren't just words, but the building blocks of an enduring relationship. I think we all love books that resonate. No Matter Why might not reflect an incident in my life, but it reflects my feelings on why--twenty eight years later--I'm still married to my cowboy.

This is the blurb for it. (It's still in production and there is no release day set yet, sorry. It is, however--my absolute favorite).

Trust and stability become empty words the day motherless, sixteen-year-old Carrie Norwell's brothers are murdered and her father's heart gives out. Five years later, her own heart remains impenetrable to anyone willing to get close enough to offer what she wants more than anything: a loving family of her own.
Operating on a heart and spirit rivaled only by his looks, Billy Jay Eldridge is two years out of college, managing a store and on his way up the corporate ladder. Still, he toys daily with nobler--yet dangerous--career aspirations. When shy, quiet Carrie joins his crew, he sets out to know her better, unaware his life's calling will be the greatest obstacle to their love.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Character Of A Heroine

We talk about them all the time. We talk about their qualities, we talk about what they say, and of course, we write about their love life. So, exactly what constitutes a heroine and how is she clearly defined in her role? Why is this protagonist so universally loved that people will read an endless number of stories about her and her fellow heroines?

The meaning of the word, heroine, implies all the positive traits of humanity.

heroine – noun - 1 a: a mythological or legendary woman having the qualities of a hero b: a woman admired and emulated for her achievements and qualities 2 a: the principal female character in a literary or dramatic work b: the central female figure in an event or period. (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary)

She is quite literally, the central, lead character in a romance. When an author writes a story, the entire story revolves around this woman’s actions, challenges, reactions, thoughts and feelings.

Even when writing from the man’s point of view, we are given glimpses into the character of the heroine.

To write a heroine that readers love, an author must delve deeply into the psyche of humanity. A heroine can have negative feelings and thoughts, but they must always be tempered by the cause or motivation for those emotions. In addition, those feelings must be fleeting, or be negated by something positive in her heart.

Although there are a few heroines written who are gossipy, unkind, money-grubbing and self-centered (the movie character Scarlett O’Hara comes to mind) in most cases, a true heroine only displays these tendencies, without believing them. How she feels and thinks about these negative emotions is quite the contrary and it is delineated by her warmth, heart and caring.

Heroines, quite simply, are heroic. They may be scared, they may be angry, they may be upset, tearful, whiny, and cranky, but in the end, they understand that they must act, and by acting, they show their courage, control, compassion and worth to the reader.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Deus Ex Machina

Today I'm going to address a common novice writer's error: deus ex machina, literally "god from the machine." Writers who write their heroes into a corner and can't find a way to help him escape sometimes resort to an extraordinary and convenient rescue. Maybe someone with magical powers comes in at the last minute and swoops him out of danger. It's a convenient and weak plot device to quickly solve what might otherwise seem an insurmountable problem.

How do you avoid it? Simply put, write carefully. Think about the danger or conflict you want to put your hero in (what's a book without a little danger and conflict for your hero to overcome?), and think of one or two ways to get him out of it, that are not contrived. Give him the tools to do that, spread throughout the book, so that it doesn't feel like just a convenience that he happens to have that nifty skeleton key in his pocket that no one saw until this crucial moment. Give him a reason to have that skeleton key in his pocket in Chapter One, and now you're talking.

Convenient plot points are lazy writing. Find a way to make them less so. More necessary and inevitable to the plot. Critique partners are great for this. They can point out those convenience twists and help you smooth them out. The result is a better and more likely read that will have your reader cheering, because the hero will be the one doing all the work of getting out of danger--not that god from the machine.