Don’t Blame Wil Wheaton

I wanted to be Julie Barnes.  What thirteen year old girl wouldn’t?  I mean, she had the long, straight blond hair, the model-slim figure, the beautiful face, add all that to a sad, checkered past, all the right clothes (for the era, oy) and, last but definitely not least, two strong, handsome defenders who would give their lives for her.  So, if I wrote The Mod Squad fanfic where Julie acted bravely and selflessly, was placed in Mortal Peril and still managed to Thwart the Bad Guys, well, sue me.  Living vicariously through fictional characters has been going on since Gilgamesh.  I did mention that I was thirteen at the time.

And there, my friend, in the primordial ooze of the murky hormones of teen-age wish fulfillment and fantasy is where Mary Sues are born.

Mary Sue (or Gary Stu, we aim to be gender fair, here) is a shameless self-insertion character who is so blindingly beautiful/perfect/intelligent/empathetic/talented that she grates on the nerves of readers and turns any story into Twi – er, a simpering teenage romance. 

Star Trek – Episode Mine

Act I, sc i:  A plucky young Starfleet lieutenant with violet eyes, long thick dark curls, and impressive physical attributes is posted to the Enterprise.  Her careful attention to duty and logical mind – for a human – immediately catches the eye of a certain stoic Science Officer. 

Act III, sc iv:  Said plucky lieutenant saves said Science Officer from the alien of the week.

“And the curtains close on a kiss, God knows…”

That is a painfully honest description of my first Star Trek fanfic, written in blue Bic and hidden within the pages of my vocabulary composition book.  Unfortunately, that same plucky/courageous woman also showed up as a crime victim in Starsky and Hutch, saving Paramedic Johnny Gage in Emergency!, and being stalked by Barnabas Collins in Dark Shadows.  (Oh, look, we’re back to Twi – er, teenage romance again!)

When Gene Roddenberry and all the good prayers and hopes and thoughts of the Universe brought Star Trek back to the small screen in The Next Generation, a Mary Sue for the ages was along for the ride.  Acting Ensign Wesley Crusher – brilliant, insightful, this kid knew how every ship’s system worked and could figure out an engineering problem at warp speed – all that wrapped up in articulate and cute and adorably innocent, with a dead hero father and a beautiful CMO mother.  And the fanfic community rolled its collective eyes and gnashed its few remaining teeth.

Just how many times did annoying-Wesley save the day?  I’m sure there’s a count out there in cyberland somewhere, just like there’s a count of Daniel Jackson’s deaths and how many babes Captain Kirk boinked.  The veteran officers of the Enterprise couldn’t get along without him.

But, don’t blame Wil Wheaton.  It’s not his fault his character was a painful attempt to draw ‘a younger audience.’  Or that Wesley’s ‘journey’ in the seven-year run of the series could never fully redeem the character from his MarySue-ish beginnings.  @wilw on twitter, Wil Wheaton is undoubtedly one of the most self-effacing, generous, and personable celebrities that I’ve met (at D*C, Wil, if you’re reading this).  His stint as a serial killer on Criminal Minds and his recurring appearances on The Big Bang Theory display his talent, and prove that he is not, himself, a Mary Sue at all.

But, after all that, my point – yes, I have a point! – is that if the late great Gene Roddenberry could use a Mary Sue, then I am in some stellar company indeed.

Hopefully, I’ve learned something about realistic, well-rounded characters since the 9th grade – at least how to spot a self-insertion character from light years away.  And I’ve learned it from reading – and watching – some of the greatest scifi and fantasy writers out there.

Thanks, Gene Roddenberry.  And Joss Whedon.  And all the other truly great television, comic, and novel writers out there, for teaching me about character.  And to Wil Wheaton and the other talented actors who brought those characters to life, the viewers couldn’t have come to love – or hate – them without you.

Until next time …

(For the first noted send-up of a Mary Sue, please see Paula Smith’s 1973 parody, “A Trekkie’s Tale.”)


9 thoughts on “Don’t Blame Wil Wheaton

  1. I have to agree, Buffy Summers is another Mary Sue. They do work in fiction but sometimes they do tip off the edge. It’s all in how you use and abuse them. That makes or breaks a story.

    How’s the toe dipping going. I’m still trying to get an sellable novel after four years. Too many ideas and not enough time…..

  2. Diana Lanier says:

    If Buffy is a Mary Sue, then you might as well categorize any super human as one. And yes, I have seen the younger, “fix-it” character introduced to an otherwside healthy storyline just to bring in the new and younger demographic, but that’s TV and not generally seen in books. Although I have read a few stories by a certain author that has a bad habit of inserting a “fix-it” near the middle or closer toward the end of the book that grates on my nerves when he does it. But, I digress.
    Mary Sue, I have read a few, but to be true, from many a great fanfic writer grew. It can be like a growing curve; get it out of the system – that evil plot bunny, so you can write other stuff. Okay, now to my real point – Where can I find the Emergency fic? I started finding a need to read about Johnny Gage recently. Will absorb at will, just insert link. Thanks.

    • marzipan77 says:

      Hi, Diana – I agree, on many levels. As for my Emergency! fanfic, that was lost amidst my youthful purgings, I’m sorry to say. You can still find Johnny Gage fics on LJ and if you do a search.

  3. marzipan77 says:

    Hi, Kelli – the toe dipping is going well. About half done with the first draft, I figure.

    As for Buffy, I think she has some Mary Sue aspects, especially as she was first written, but Joss ended up writing a well-rounded young woman with way too many responsibilities. Joss will always be a writer hero of mine.

  4. Diana Lanier says:

    Wouldn’t we all love to be a talented as Joss or even part of his world, hoping he might rub off on you? Joss’ work has touched me, made me laugh, cry, and mourn for the loss of a show. His writing skills are sublime. But I’ve only seen what he can do on screen; I’ve never read a book of his, if there are any. If there are, and I would imagine there must be, I wonder if the magic is there in the book too, or does it happen only when it’s on the screen?

  5. Uh-oh, now I’m worried about the main character in the novel I started last November. She seems to have some Mary Sue qualities.

    Also, I found some interesting references in the Wikipedia entry on the Mary Sue phenomenon, including a master’s thesis!

  6. marzipan77 says:

    Not to worry, Madaleine, that’s what editing is for. 😀 There’s quite a bit out there about our gal – I’m thinking of dressing as her for DragonCon this year. Diana, are you with me?

  7. Very interesting. And being a fanfiction fan (and occasional writer) myself as well as Mod Squad fan, I would like to know if in your story Julie and Pete would get together 😉 Most “Mary Sue” impossible 🙂

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