perfectly imperfect – or how bad writing might be good

I waste an embarrassing amount of time on tumblr. I don’t have a real “author-blog” there anymore, I just have a page full of my wordpress posts lol! But I do have a tumblr in my real name and I don’t care about posting original content or gaining followers on that one. Instead, I use tumblr as I think it was intended: a massively entertaining time suck.

My tumblr dash is very random. Basically it’s a mix of porn (all varieties), fine art, and feminism. A virtual emotional roller-coaster. I love it. But sometimes I find things there that really make me think, and are super interesting. When that happens I bring them across the blog-pond to wordpress, where I can ramble about them.

I found this really great post by UnWinona about “mary sues” in fiction, and it made me think a lot. Here is an excerpt, but you should totally click over and read the whole thing:

“…That’s why I needed them.  Because they were Mary Sues.  These books were not written to draw my attention to all the ugly bumps and whiskers of the real world.  They were somewhere to hide.  I was painfully aware that I was being judged by my peers and adults and found lacking.  I was a fuckup.  And sometimes a fuckup needs to feel like a Mary Sue.  As an adult, these characters felt a little thin because they lacked the real world knowledge I, as an adult, had learned and earned.  But that’s the thing…these books weren’t FOR this current version of myself.   Who I am now doesn’t need a flawless hero because I’m comfortable with the idea that valuable people are also flawed.

There is a reason that most fanfiction authors, specifically girls, start with a Mary Sue.  It’s because girls are taught that they are never enough.  You can’t be too loud, too quiet, too smart, too stupid.  You can’t ask too many questions or know too many answers.  No one is flocking to you for advice.  Then something wonderful happens.  The girl who was told she’s stupid finds out that she can be a better wizard than Albus Dumbledore.  And that is something very important.  Terrible at sports?  You’re a warrior who does backflips and Legolas thinks you’re THE BEST.   No friends?  You get a standing ovation from Han Solo and the entire Rebel Alliance when you crash-land safely on Hoth after blowing up the Super Double Death Star.  It’s all about you.  Everyone in your favorite universe is TOTALLY ALL ABOUT YOU.

I started writing fanfiction the way most girls did, by re-inventing themselves.

Mary Sues exist because children who are told they’re nothing want to be everything….”

UnWinona Emphasis added)

So obviously, I don’t write for children. And I don’t think I write Mary Sues. Or Marty Stues. (Stews? Stu’s? I don’t know) But the point is, and what I really started thinking about here was, that sometimes so called “bad” writing is perfect. If it reaches the right person at the right time.

I was reminded of women I’ve spoken with, in real life and online, who have admitted they read and enjoyed books that I myself found horribly weak. (I won’t name titles, but just think of the most popular erotic romance of the past five years and you can figure it out) The thing is, for those women, those books came at the perfect time. They filled a void, provided an escape. In a small, temporary way, they made life better.

And it also made me consider the ongoing debate about “realism” in fictional sex scenes. I try to strike a balance: mostly realistic, but still with enough fantasy to make it fun to read. Some people prefer pure fantasy, though. I was on a goodreads thread the other day and read where someone said the mention of the post-coital wipe-up always pulls them out of the scene, as a reader. Others say the absence of such things is worse. Now I’m thinking, maybe this has to do with what people need, the individual reasons they are reading erotic-Romance… Are they searching for a placeholder character? Seeking the “somewhere to hide” that unWinona mentions?  Do they want someone to relate to? A fictional friend? Or are they interested in the ‘warts and all’ reality of life from another point of view?

So many reasons to read. Luckily, there are also many different styles of writing. But I think it’s good to remember, before we get all crazy about bashing a particular book or character, that “bad” is not just subjective – it  is also relative. Our personal definitions of “bad” will likely change throughout life, for reasons beyond education and experience. Our emotional state has a lot to do with it, as well.

I think this is good to remember, on both sides.

As writers, we write what we have in our hearts. But we should realize that our characters and stories and styles of writing will not resonate with everyone. Some people might think our writing is too shallow, or too dense; too sappy, or too dark. But for some people, it will be perfect.

And as readers, we will read things that make us frustrated and disappointed. We will be shocked when we hear other people praising stories or characters or authors we find intolerable. But instead of saying ‘Ugh! What is wrong with you? How could you like that?’, we should maybe recognize that even an imperfect story/character/writing style can be perfect sometimes.

Here’s hoping we all find what we’re looking for 🙂

2 thoughts on “perfectly imperfect – or how bad writing might be good

  1. Ah yes, the Mary Sue/Gary Stu. They’re considered the bane of all fanfiction. But the whole of point of entertainment is to jump from the real world and into a fantasy. From my experience, it’s easy troll bait and a way for other fanfic writers to feel superior. But it’s just another phase most writers go through. Heck, some would say the original Sherlock Holmes was a Gary Stu. That is what’s so wonderful about stories. Someone out there is going to love it.

    • Yeah, I’ve never read any fanfiction, but I’ve certainly encountered plenty of Mary Sue/Marty Stu characters. They are common in fantasy, where the world and plot are so complex the characters can easily be bland and perfect.
      The whole thing just got me thinking about how everything has a function, even the “bad”. I guess I’m just sick of all the judgement and guilt people lay on each other about what stories they like or dislike. vive la différence 🙂

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