Back in the early 2000s, I, like many of you, spent many hours on role play or “RP” websites. The RP site served as a platform for people to write stories together. More often than not, these were (and are!) different kinds of fanfiction. Sometimes you wrote from the perspective of a canon character, but I’d spend more time crafting my own characters to populate some author’s universe. For example, I’d create my own unique character and send them to Hogwarts, to get into all kinds of shenanigans with unique characters created by other people. Most websites had written (or at least, unwritten) rules about how these co-authoring relationships work. You couldn’t control another author’s original character without their permission, you couldn’t break the rules of the universe, you were encouraged to match your post’s length to your writing partners’, etc. One of the more popular (and nefarious) rules was “No Mary Sues”.
A “Mary Sue” character is more or less a fictional version of the author. She was a way for the author to insert themselves into the story, usually to steal all the attention. It’s hard to have fun writing when your writing partner’s character has the ultimate tragic backstory, special powers, is the constant center of attention, and usually has some out of the ordinary physical features. Mary Sues are the ultimate idealized versions of the author, inserted into the story. There’s a lot of argument of what really counts as a Mary Sue, and whether or not Mary Sue characters are even all that bad. I don’t think Mary Sues are all that bad. In fact, Mary Sues have been encouraged for centuries. I’m talking about a spiritual practice called Ignatian contemplation or, Mary Sue Spirituality.