Mary Sue’s, Sexism, and Self Insertion

Attributed to  Keith Willamson -

Attributed to Keith Willamson –

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.

There are certain things that making your character males 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 guarantee the absence of a love triangle. 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. 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 to help myself fix this was change the sex of the character. It worked. Make the character male, and bam, instant other character culture shock. I had to figure out who these characters were, and I basically had to learn how to create a character from scratch, something I hadn’t been doing before. I went on 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 for 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 presumptions 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?


3 thoughts on “Mary Sue’s, Sexism, and Self Insertion

  1. Quinn Inuit says:

    As an itinerant Kibologist of long standing, I am Allowed to to tell you: “You’re allowed.” Remember that! With that, you are an initiate. If ever again you question the acceptability of writing the character you want to write, remember that you have officially been Allowed to do so. Nobody can revoke that, not even me. Kibo, maybe, but he wouldn’t do that unless you used a really ugly font.

    So write the story that wants you to write it. You are, officially and for all time, allowed. (Just make sure to use a nice font, like Deeyenda Extra Normal.)

    • sechapman says:

      I had to google kibology to figure this out, but thanks. I don’t think it’s a deliberate hang up – it’s just something that happened, and I was surprised about it, and as such wanted to examine it.

      And I would never dream of using a really ugly font. The horror. 😛



  2. Abner says:

    Remember–this is YOUR story. You write it how you want, with the character that you want. Female, male, rabbit, dolphin, whatever. If you want to write a female MC who doesn’t get involved in a romantic triangle, so be it. That’s the world of the character. That’s the world you’ve created.

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