It’s the first Wednesday of the month again, time for a post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.
I don’t remember why, but I recently visited the Goodreads page of one of my all-time favorite books, Tinker by Wen Spencer. I’ve read this sci-fi book several times already, and I’ll probably re-read it again next year. I love the world the author has created so much that I’ve written 3 fan-fiction stories set in her world. Two of them are already published on wattpad. But that’s beside the point of this post. The point is: to my surprise, many reviewers didn’t like the book and gave it a very low rating. They explained the reason for their disdain: the heroine was too good. Several reviewers even compared her to a Mary Sue. But why is it a stigma?
I agree with their assessment. Tinker, the titular heroine of the novel, is a surprisingly good girl, cheerful, compassionate, and utterly honest. Plus, she is very clever, a mechanical genius. She helps everyone in need, and that’s why everybody in the book loves her. That’s why I love her. And because I love and admire her so much, this book and its sequels are among my favorite novels in all speculative fiction.
In general, I love good persons as protagonists in fictional stories. Their goodness doesn’t make a story boring. Positive and smart persons encounter their share of problems just as often as flawed persons. But the common perception among readers is that an all-around wonderful person is boring to read about. Why? It baffles me.
When you have a kind and moral person as a friend or a neighbor or a family member, you treasure them, probably much more than your perpetually lying druggie neighbor or your unreliable alcoholic co-worker. Why wouldn’t you love a fictional honorable guy? I’m sure you all adore your ‘Mary Sue’ aunt who helps everyone in the family. Why is ‘Mary Sue’ an insult, when applied to fiction?
I know that recently, making a story revolve around a flawed protagonist has been all the rage, but I don’t understand this approach. As a reader, I don’t like reading about problematic characters, like drug addicts or drunkards. I’m not interested in their stories. As a person, I try to avoid them in my life too.
What is even stranger is that this conundrum seems to be genre specific. Readers of speculative fiction frequently demand faults in their fictional heroes, but I have never read a romance review, where the readers would complain of a heroine being ‘too good’. It seems OK for a romantic heroine to be nice and faultless, but not for a sci-fi heroine. Why?
Tell me what you think in the comments.