Do You Know Bob and Mary Sue?

On these, our “Free Weeks”, more often than not, I like to stay on writing. In doing so, I’d like to formally introduce you to two people whom I had seen and heard, but until recently, I didn’t know their names. They are:

Bob” and “Mary Sue”.

I am sure that you have been acquainted with them as well.

I wish we had not seen them, and hope never to again, but that is wishful thinking.

Recently my long-suffering husband has heard me rant about inane “conversations” in novels.(Or maybe hasn’t been suffering because he probably hasn’t really been listening, but I digress.) The conversations go something like this:

Bob: “ Old Man Oldman’s house is looking good.
Rita: “ His son hired a lawn service and the painters have been in.”
Bob: “ Mr. Oldman isn’t able to come back home, is he, or are they selling the place? I thought it was tied-up in a trust.”
Rita, “Well, as you know, Bob, that was actually Mrs. Oldman’s house. She inherited the house from her father. When they read the will, they found that the man had put it in perpetual trust…”
Bob: “Oh, yes, I remember the story, it was because Dr. Casanova didn’t approve of Mr. Oldman’s family. He was afraid that Oldman was a gold digger and a swindler, like his sister.”
Rita: “That’s right, Bob, his artist sister, Connie. And so Mrs. Oldman’s father, instead of disinheriting her…”

The people in a scene go over the whole series of events and fine points of a situation, even though it is well-known to both of them.

Or you may have read something like this:

Mr. Winsome: “Bob, I need you to help me go over the Newhouse files.
Bob: “The Newhouse files?”
Mr. Winsome: “It was a high-profile case, years ago”.
Bob: [Snaps fingers].”I remember that case! I was working here that Summer as an intern with Iva Case, the head counsel. Why, I sat up all night reading and rereading the evidence! I was obsessed with it.
Mr.Winsome: “ I was at the Tierra del Fuego that year and never got to see all the notes.”
Bob: “Is there any new evidence?”
Mr. Winsome: “No, I ‘m just working on a hunch that there was more than met the eye”.
Bob: “I always thought Isolde Newhouse was the intended victim, although there was nothing to suggest that other than my distaste for her real estate tycoon husband, Byer. I was never convinced that it was an attempted robbery and that Reginald the gardener was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time .”
Mr. Winsome: As you know, Bob, the gardener, Reginald Sono was found murdered in the Japanese garden at the Newhouse estate and …”

People don’t converse that way. Bob obviously knows the background on both situations, so why would Mr. Winsome and Rita insist on (literally) repeating history and bore Bob with known details? While “Bob” is often allowed to interject details and has a number of “That’s right, Bobs” flung at him by his partner on the page, they are on the same page, so why waste each other’s time?

It doesn’t happen that way.

If one person has forgotten part of a story, the other person stops rehashing the situation as soon as they are both agreed that the first person remembers, unless there is more information to add. Even then, the new info is simply imparted and only those parts of the situation are discussed, not every nuance and detail in chronological order. These  conversations  are only written as a way to fill the reader in on past events, but it is so phony. Just such ‘conversations’ are included in many works, even those of big-name writers and these are called:

“As You Know, Bobs”, whether the person addressed is named Bob, Dick, or Harriet.

Try to avoid these. Do your best to impart information subtly, within the unfolding of the story. You can always tell a backstory through a flashback, a preface or by a narration.

Don’t make me grit my teeth and give my husband another excuse to stop listening to me!

“Mary Sue” is a minor character who can pull rabbits out of hats and she shows up in far too many stories, movies and TV shows. She’s one who just happens to have every skill that the protagonist needs at any given time: she’s the never-sleeping weapons wizard/ computer geek that had meteorological training and can tell exactly when a thunderstorm will hit to assist the heroes; she can diagnose over the phone what is wrong with a car and can tell the heroes how to fix it with a paperclip; she can speak most languages and has someone on-call who can, at any hour, translate a specific dialect from a small corner of a small country; by the sound, she can identify the flying machines coming at our heroes, the number, the country of origin,(and probably guess the country that bought them), the caliber of projectiles about to hit and when they will hit. She is an expert in music; she can inform the heroes that a stanza they heard is from one of Mozart’s lesser-known operas, so they can deduce that it is the clue to where the bomb/victim is being held…and she can then get the two heroes the perfect romantic table for two in the most exclusive restaurant in Luxembourg within an hour after the defusion/rescue, because her uncle is the maître d’.

In a romance novel, Mary Sue is the best friend, elderly neighbor or an aunt who can soothe the protagonist’s feelings, bolster her ego, impart wisdom to her, sort out her love-life and knows all here is to know about men, (even though she doesn’t have one of her own).She has keen insight and either knows the protagonist’s family’s secrets or helps her to uncover them. She has had many experiences where she learned an avid array of unexpected skills, (like plumbing, reading shorthand, the formula for a secret cure for  colds, the ablity to solve any puzzle and she can pull into an inside straight). She can make an outfit out of nothing and lends or gives the one piece of jewelry of hers that has value; she can expertly create a great hairdo from ruined locks, and knows someone with a Lear jet or limo who owes her a favor.( In other words, she’s basically a plagiarization of the fairy godmother in Cinderella.) Oh, and she always uses only fresh herbs which she grows herself and she makes the best chocolate chip cookies in the world, which she just happens to be pulling out of the oven every time the protagonist shows up at her door.

Yet, none of this is tongue-in-cheek, unlike The Professor in “Gilligan’s Island”. (The Professor’s endless education, experiences and continual knowledge was SUPPOSED to have been outlandish and funny.) Mary Sues” are unintentionally funny, and are  downright annoying. Worse, this foolishness distracts from the story, especially with the protagonist’s continual praise, confessions of wonderment and “I owe you dinner!” proclamations within a series. (In ‘action’ scenarios, you’ll usually read/hear, “I’ve learned not to ask how she knows that.”) Even when these characters are played as comedic relief, honestly, this ploy has been over-utilized…way too often.

[Although sometimes males are referred to as a “Gary Stu” or a “Marty Stu”, “Mary Sue” is a term used for both female and male characters of this ilk.]

Did you need my introduction to “Bob” and “Mary Sue”? Did you know their names? Surely you have known their work.

Do these people annoy you as much as they annoy me?


About Tonette Joyce

Tonette was a once-fledgling lyricists-bookkeeper, turned cook/baker/restaurateur and is now exploring different writing venues,(with a stage play recently completed). She has had poetry and nonfiction articles published in the last few years. Tonette has been married to her only serious boyfriend for more than thirty years and she is, as one person described her, family-oriented almost to a fault. Never mind how others have described her, she is,(shall we say), a sometime traditionalist of eclectic tastes.She has another blog : "Tonette Joyce:Food,Friends,Family" here at WordPress.She and guests share tips and recipes for easy entertaining and helps people to be ready for almost anything.
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9 Responses to Do You Know Bob and Mary Sue?

  1. jeff7salter says:

    Delightful and quite educational as well. I’ve certainly come across both of these literary devices — though never knew they had their own names. [Heck, I’m sure I’ve been guilty of them at one time or another… though I don’t think I’ve ever written one as bad as your example.
    One of the few devices I recall studying in college was the time-tested Deus ex Machina.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. jeff7salter says:

    Oh, forgot to mention.
    One of the most intriguing movies I’ve seen — which features writers — is one with Emma Thompson (whom I love) and _______ (whom I dislike). One of the lines in the film, hammered on by the supporting star Dustin Hoffman, is “Little Did She Know”. Another literary device.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Patricia Kiyono says:

    I never knew they had names, either. And I always liked the Professor. He was a little stuffy, but a lot easier to take than some of the others.

    Liked by 1 person

    • LOVED him! Russell Johnson made a besmirching remark about him years after the show on a local DC talk show.I couldn’t get through to him, but I left tart message for him!
      I am surprised that you didn’t pick up on the gardener’s last name,Patty. One of the top status symbols when I was growing up was to have a Japanese gardener.I gave him the first name of “Reginald” after the old movie actor, Reginald Gardiner.


  4. This is new information to me. I have come across this in books and try to avoid it in my own but am not sure I succeed.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, Angie, we have to have our characters converse, and people DO talk about past events, just not in complete detail. We can let readers know SOME of the background this way.
      And we all have friends and family who do things for us.The super-human ones are what are distracting.


  5. Joselyn says:

    My husband was just complaining about one of these conversations in one of the shows we were watching. He said, “They wouldn’t talk like that.” They wouldn’t have been able to pass on the information to the audience as quickly another way, but it was definitely contrived.

    Liked by 1 person

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