I’ve not yet been accused of writing a Mary Sue, but some people have come close, and Alison is always Exhibit One for the prosecution. The assertion makes me laugh; she is as unlike me as a character can get, and she fails utterly as a perfected-author avatar. I don’t want to be the kind of person Alison is. I would hire her, I would love to be friends with her, but I would never choose to be her.
The only traits we share are a love for reading and a preference for choosing principle over personal. I could never emulate her even if I wanted. Her disdain for all things outdoorsy or athletic would drive me nuts for one thing, and that’s only the start.
Alison is ambitious. She plans. She sets high goals and works her ass off to attain them. Her aim in life is commanding the respect of others, and she handles people with the same dispassion as she does work assignments. Me, I’ve never met a goal I didn’t subvert, I have the ambition of a potato, and I regard plans the way I do recipes (they’re great starting points meant to be changed or abandoned ASAP) I agonize over hurting feelings, even if I do go ahead and do what I want anyway.
Plus, Alison has self-confidence to spare: not the strong front I sometimes put up, but a true and solid faith in her strengths and knowledge of her weaknesses. Okay, yes, I wouldn’t mind having that last trait, but a little perfection does not a Mary Sue make.
The rest of her character traits make an awkward fit for action plots. She is a natural quartermaster, not a field marshal. Peril is a thing to be endured, not a thrill to be enjoyed. She weighs the pros and cons of every risk given half a chance. She doesn’t like action.
She was a fish out of water in Controlled Descent, and that was a great POV for introducing technical ideas to the reader in a non-technical way. Alison being competent, clever, and a little snarky was a fun bonus for the writer (and reader too, I hope.)
The thing is, keeping her in the action contradicted everything else I revealed of her. She isn’t a soldier or a thrill-seeker, and would rather not be anywhere bullets might fly. She loves to juggle logistics not grenades.
I could’ve taken away that choice and plotted her a bigger part in Flight Plan, like it or not. Thing is, coincidental inclusion always feels contrived to me as a reader. I call it the Jessica Fletcher problem. Oh, no, another murder just where Ms Fletcher happens to be! How does this keep happening?
I don’t know if that trick has an official trope name, but I didn’t want to go that route as a writer. Knowing Alison would do her utmost to help while staying out of harm’s way, that’s where I let her stay through most of the novel.
Most of it. Heh. Best-laid plans and all that.
Alison saves the day: Controlled Descent
Alison tries to stay home but still helps save the day: Flight Plan
Art attribution: Andrew Kwan again
Extra bonus bit. Someday I will find an excuse to give Alison this piece of dialogue: “I’m not letting these motherfuckers ruin my bake sale.”
I heard it from a friend in real life, but it’s too perfect to leave unused.