Thursday, February 06, 2014

Mary Sue's, Sexism, and Self Insertion

I've been noticing a pattern lately. Namely, all my recent MCs (main characters) tend to be male . There are reasons behind this, I think, that has a lot to do with how women are portrayed in media and books in general.

There are certain things that having a male character seems to let you do. One, you've got less chance of being called out on Mary Sue-ing things. (A very good essay on why the whole Mary Sue concept is less about audacious wish fulfilment and more about girls not being allowed to have wish fulfilment here). You can pretty much guarentee the absence of a love triangle by having a male POV character. You can have them do more with less justification.

But these issues weren't initially something I considered. For me, the real issue, as I saw it,  was self insertion. The first couple of characters I wrote were pretty much me. It was classic Mary Sue tropism, but without the fanfiction. Now, I believe there are plenty of male Mary Sues out there, but they get called on it less. They get away with it more (especially the whole "everyone finds me attractive thing". I'm not sure that happens an absolute heap for both men and women in real life). But I did have a significant issue with just putting myself in the books.

And I knew me. Me wasn't interesting, I wanted to be in the heads of other characters. So the first thing I did was change the sex. Bam, instant other character culture shock. I had to figure all this stuff out, and I basically had to learn how to create a character from scratch, something I hadn't been doing before. Then I went and made an old man my next MC. My currently WIP has a 32 year old guy as the MC. All distinct, different voices.

All well and good. Those were my initial reasons for writing from the male POV. But now?  I know how to do characters. I know how to build them. I know how to not self insert. But still, I cringe at the idea of going back to female characters. Why? Because I feel people will point and say "it's just you."  Or - "there's no way society would let her get away with that" or "wait, she finds both these characters attractive, I don't like love triangles (even when there is no triangle, it's just an observation she's made)." Guys are allowed to find umpteen girls hot and not have issues with angst. There's... certain ideas that are ingrained into my mind when it comes to the standard female and male characters are held to. Especially in Sci-fi and fantasy. For example, I found myself doing it again the other day - searching down urban fantasy novels with male protagonists because I knew the chance of cross over into paranormal romance (which is something that's not really my kettle of fish), was next to nill. I made all these presumption about the strength of the plot based upon the character's sex.

Now, this may just be my issue, but I wonder sometimes. I didn't suddenly wake up and have all these presumptions in my head, they happened somewhere along the way while I was reading and writing and looking at reviews.

I really need to give my self permission to write female POV characters again. And stop trying to freak out about what everyone else will presume. But it's hard, given I myself make those presumptions. If I make them about my own female POV characters, and I know I'm not self inserting, what will other people presume?

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