My Origin Story Part 4: The Three Investigators and the Case of the Mary Sue

Previously on My Origin Story: I started a lot of stories in grade school and gradually wrote longer and longer stories.

The Three Investigators were teenage boys who ran around solving mysteries. Their HQ was a dilapidated trailer in a junkyard. I learned the word corrugated from the iron pipe they crawled through to get in. Jupiter, the fat boy, was the brains, Pete the athletic one, and Bob did research. They were smarter than the police. To my eleven-year-old self, they were unbelievably cool. But I felt that old dissatisfaction; the “this is great, but what it really needs is …” twinge that meant I would be writing. So in the 5th grade, I took matters into my own hands and wrote myself an installment.

At 9, I’d started acting out scenes late at night as I lay in bed unable to sleep. I’d slip into the fictional worlds created by books or TV shows and then my own worlds. My teddy bear would become Peter or Jupiter, Starsky or Hutch. I’d act out additional characters that I was writing into the scenario. Teddy would say something (in my head), and I’d answer in character under my breath. I called this “playing.” Scenes flew from my playing, one after the other–the primordial soup where everything I did was created. The next night we’d cover the same turf again, changing little things, editing. After lots of practice runs, I’d write the scene down. Thus was born my first, and so far only, fanfic.

But my prose lacked a certain, shall we say, seasoned writing style:

“Pete, being the athlete of the group, had been far ahead of the others. Then all of a sudden, his foot caught on a large piece of driftwood. He toppled over and hit his head on a rock.”

My critique group, and myself, would say this:

“Pete, being the athlete of the group, [show don’t tell] had been far ahead of the others. Then all of a sudden, [you don’t need both ‘then’ and ‘all of a sudden’, and you don’t ever need ‘all of a sudden.’] his foot caught on a large [be more specific and descriptive] piece of driftwood. He toppled over [good action verb] and hit his head on a rock.”

I also inserted a girl character into the boys’ world who was, coincidentally, eleven-years old and named Chris. She was tough-talking and could beat up dozens of bad guys by herself. She also seemed to have some special badge from the police so she could have people arrested. And she kept getting shot but was fine a few minutes later. Faster than Pete, smarter than Jupiter, she was, in short, a Mary Sue. Quoting from the Wiki article: “A Mary Sue (sometimes just Sue), in literary criticism and particularly in fanfiction, is a fictional character with overly idealized and hackneyed mannerisms, lacking noteworthy flaws, and primarily functioning as a wish-fulfillment fantasy for the author or reader.”

“A very pretty women (sic) in a bathing suit … began running toward Pete so fast you might have thought she was running for her life! … She picked Pete up and said, “Quick there’s a guy back there with a gun…” [She then goes back and picks Jupiter up under one arm and Bob under the other and races away with them to safety.]

The wish-fulfillment aspect is obvious; apparently, I secretly wanted to be from Krypton. I went over the manuscript years later and apologized to myself and the universe for how bad the writing was, how ridiculously over-the-top the character was, and I crossed out the name Chris really thoroughly. I didn’t really have the mystery worked out, kind of a critical detail when you’re writing a mystery. And when two friends of mine conspired to steal the pages from me and read it, I couldn’t write it anymore once I got it back.

But I bound it with tape at the top, like a real book, and see it now as the beginning of novel-writing.

  • How do you know if you’ve written a Mary Sue/Gary Stu character?  Here’s a litmus test to find out.

Next up on My Origin Story: First Novel
Next up on Devlin’s blog: Why The Stand Was Better the First Time Around

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9 Responses to My Origin Story Part 4: The Three Investigators and the Case of the Mary Sue

  1. Michelle says:

    I think your eleven-year-old self writes better than me!


  2. Chris Devlin says:

    Oh my, no. No, no, no. Just … no. 😉


  3. My blog’s post for March 21, 2011 was The Mary Sue Litmus Test (complete with the same litmus test link!).

    My novel’s protagonist J scored a whopping three points. And they were…
    One, he’s a vampire. Two, he has a superpower within his class (super running speed). Three, he’s the character I, the author, view as the one I would personally choose to be my friend. Should this even count when D and L have such obvious issues that it’s no wonder I’d pick J? 😈


    • Chris Devlin says:

      I did not know that! Yeah, that was the best link I found. Some of the Mary Sue litmus tests were so intense, I got bored halfway through.


  4. Whether critiquers want to admit it or not, people (yes, including adults) do actually use “improper” phrases in real speech such as “then all of a sudden,” so we should give 11-year-old Chris bonus points for bravely forging ahead with her truly realistic use of dialogue… 😈 😆


  5. Pingback: My Origin Story Part 5: First Novel | Chris Devlin's Blog

  6. You’re way too hard on yourself Chris. Your stuff as a 5th grader is mucho impressive. Of course it’s easy to look back now that you’re such a fantastic reader and think how awful your work was back then. I’m guilty of doing the same. But seriously, I’ve read worse stuff from adults, so you should be proud of your early writing. 🙂


    • Chris Devlin says:

      Aw, shucks–thanks! I still wouldn’t want to make the whole thing public–I just cringe all over when I read parts of it. All that wish-fulfillment laid bare…

      But it is a hoot to go back over all this stuff and see what I was thinking and doing back then. I thought everyone was secretly writing long stories and novels in grade school/junior high school. (As we called it back then.) Because I wrote down pretty much everything I thought or felt or dreamed of, some of it is bound to be cringeworthy. But yeah, some of it is cool, I guess. It’s fun to have a place to archive it, besides in boxes in my closet.


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