Someone you know might be a Mary Sue — and that’s ok.
Mary Sues (and their male counterparts Gary Stus) are characters in creative works that are written to be unrealistically perfect.
They’re often the author’s stand-in or at least a character that the author loves and wants to showcase for readers.
Mary Sues often have superpowers or enhanced abilities. They’re so skilled, so talented, and so darn charming that other characters want to be near them. They can do no wrong.
The trope is named after a character from a 1973 Star Trek fanfiction who was accused of being too perfect.
And while being a Mary Sue is often looked down upon in creative writing circles, it doesn’t have to be!
Mary Sue Character
What Is A Mary Sue Character?
A “Mary Sue” is a character who is first introduced into the story as perfect and flawless in every way.
They are physically flawless, and have an ideal mental state; they’re usually smart, strong, beautiful and above all, morally perfect.
While this might sound like a superhero, the Mary Sue doesn’t necessarily have any special powers: she’s just a normal human being.
The term comes from 1973’s Star Trek fan fiction stories, where the main characters were often overly idealistic and unrealistic to the point of being ridiculous.
The term has spread beyond Star Trek fan fiction to be used in almost any situation where a character is too good to be true.
Types of Mary Sues:
This type of character is usually an author insert, but may also be an original character. The character can be male or female but the name ‘Mary Sue’ has become synonymous with female characters.
She is often described as beautiful and physically flawless and may have a tragic past that she overcomes through her actions in the story (e.g.: gains the love of all her family members).
She may also be unusually intelligent and talented in some area likeartistry or combat but has no character flaws.
A male version of Mary Sue who exhibits many similar characteristics. He may also possess extra abilities such as super strength or senses that have no limits or weaknesses.
Some fans claim that all male characters are secretly Gary Stus because they have positive traits that make them stand out.
Interpretations Of Mary Sue
The Mary Sue concept is used to describe a character who is chiefly defined by her effect on others, or her relation to the story. This was originally coined by the online fan community, but has been adapted for use in other fandoms.
The original guideline for “Mary Sue” was that she was a perfect female character in a story. She had no flaws and no negative characteristics.
She was simply perfect.
This can be interpreted a few ways:
- from Mary Sue being an idealised version of the author (which is technically the original definition),
- a token female who is added solely to please the author’s desire to write a female into the story,
- or any female character who is exceptionally attractive and exceptionally talented..
Mary Sues are not intended as serious literary creations, but as a sort of self-insert wish fulfillment. It’s expected that they’ll quickly be killed off or removed from whatever canon they’re inserted into.
What is a Mary Sue, exactly?
Ther’s no short answer.
Taken literally, the term refers to any female character in a story who is so idealized that she’s basically a female version of Marty Stu (from here on, “Marty Stu” can be considered shorthand for any idealized fictional character).
The phrase “Mary Sue” itself comes from the name of a character created by author Paula Smith in 1973 for her fanfiction Stranger In A Strange Land. The character—a teenage girl who travels to another planet and becomes romantically involved with an alien—was intended as an affectionate parody by Smith.
Unfortunately, the much more common usage of the term today has strayed far from that original intention.
More than anything else, it’s what we could call a “cliché” in terms of characterization.
If we were to give it a technical definition:
A cliché is a concept or plot point which has become overused to the point of losing its original meaning or effect or otherwise becoming trite
The Case Against Mary Sue Characters
Mary Sues combine every single possible positive trait a character could have.
The trouble is, nobody cares about perfect people. Perfect people rarely have conflicts or problems because nothing challenges perfection.
Drama comes from characters who have weaknesses and flaws. They start out with something to lose and then risk it or give it up for a cause.
Thus, the best thing you can do for your characters is to give them flaws. This doesn’t mean making them imperfect; it just means actively giving them bad things to deal with.
Bad people are more interesting than good ones because their decisions have consequences. Giving your character flaws doesn’t mean giving them flaws just for flaws’ sake — it means making those flaws active parts of the story.
Mary Sue Examples In Film
The Mary Sue is a trope that describes any character who seems to be fangirl wish fulfilment It’s so obviously designed to appeal to the demographic of the show’s creators that it detracts from the story.
This can include characters who are too special and talented compared to everyone around them, characters with a tragic backstory which gives them unbelievable motivation and characters who fall in love with a canon character for no adequately explored reason.
Some good examples of Mary Sues are Anakin Skywalker from Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, Lloyd Braun from Fanboys, My Immortal’s Tara, Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog’s “Moist” and Twilight Sparkle from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.
Mary Sue As Protagonist You Don’t Like
I didn’t like Mary Sue. She was too perfect, she had all the good traits I wish I had, yet she was completely uninteresting.
J.R.R. Tolkien’s Legolas is practically flawless in every way. A character that is just a list of better traits than you have, who does everything better than you do and whose only real problem is that he doesn’t quite know how to express his love.
That’s the definition of boring. The only thing you can do with a Mary Sue is put her in an extreme situation, where it’s more important to survive.
The only thing more boring than a perfect protagonist is an imperfect one who tries to fix every problem by themself.
We don’t care about the perfect person’s problems, we care about their reaction to our problems and what they can teach us about ourselves and the world we live in.*
I think it’s always more interesting if a protagonist has flaws and a bunch of little things that make them human.
Mary Sue As Poorly Written Character
The character is usually female and the story usually focuses on romance between the Sue character and a canon character within the fandom.
The term is commonly used in anime, manga, video games, comic books and other fandoms.
Mary Sues are not limited to gender, however.
Male characters that are poorly written have also been described as such. Unfortunately, Mary Sues come in many guises and some might not even be recognised as a Mary Sue untillater in the narrative..
The most common ones are:
- The character is too perfect and has no real flaws.
- The character gains special abilities without any form of training or explanation.
- The character is incredibly powerful/skilled/rich/beautiful etc, without any form of explanation or reasoning..
- The character has an extremely tragic past which helps them fit into their new life with ease. They can often relate to the canon characters despite their lack of experience with the events that happened before they joined the story.
Mary Sue As Clichéd Character
Mary Sue is not merely a writer’s wish-fulfillment, but rather an authorial stand-in for all the good things about the author.
She is often described as being “too perfect to be true” or “the ultimate author fantasy”. While accurate, this description does not begin to describe the sheer awesomeness of the Mary Sue.
Truly, she is more than the ultimate fantasy of an egotistical author, she is also the ultimate ego-stroking fantasy of every lonely and maladjusted geeky girl.
As far as I can tell, this definition applies to almost every female character in every piece of writing in which her gender has been identified (I am deliberately excluding male characters from this definition because I don’t want to see it applied to Harry Potter or Frodo Baggins).
Regardless of whether these characters are written by men or women, they are always pretty much the same: beautiful, graceful, brilliant (usually only in one area), and beloved by all. They have little, if any, real conflict.
Mary Sue As Author Avatar
As someone who writes fiction and fantasy, I’ve seen firsthand how the Mary Sue trope can ruin a story. And it has nothing to do with fan service.
I’m not going to get into the history of the term “Mary Sue”, but ratherhow the term is used today.
A Mary Sue is, at best, a crutch for lazy character development.
If you use one, there are ways to do it right.
A Mary Sue is not just a love interest or sidekick who happens to be perfect in every way; it’s a character who exists only as wish fulfillment for the author (I’m looking at you, Joss Whedon). In other words, if your fans are saying “what about this character?” or “but what about him/her?”, that character is almost certainly not a Mary Sue.
Mary Sue As Power Fantasy
The Mary Sue, both as a trope and an analytical tool, has limitations. It’s useful, but it’s not all-encompassing. It doesn’t describe female characters or even Sues; it describes wish fulfilment within the narrative.
It doesn’t explain why the character is wish-fulfilling (except in cases where the author is deliberately writing a self-insert or deliberately writing badly). It’s important to understand its limitations if we want to use it as a tool for understanding fiction and fandom in general.
The Mary Sue does a good job of explaining why some people are so invested in certain stories..
This is true of male wish fulfillment fantasies as well, but because female characters have been historically subjugated on screen (and in print), it’s particularly bad when they still have value primarily as sex objects/rewards for male characters.
Mary Sue As Infallible Character
Mary Sues are supposedly intended as positive role models for young girls, but usually wind up annoying everyone due to their perceived perfection and implausibility. They’re typically described as being unusually attractive, possessing unusual hair or eye colors, having unrealistic talents or abilities.
Mary Sue As Center Of Attention
Mary Sue, a conventionally beautiful and talented redhead, was the star of her high school in Richfield, Minnesota. She was on the basketball team, yearbook staff, and homecoming court; she also got straight A’s and had a job at the local movie theatre.
Mary Sue was always surrounded by friends, both male and female.
Actress Carey Lowell has been quoted as saying that Mary Sues are “too perfect” and that “You don’t relate to people like that.” This view is shared by many in the real world who feel they cannot measure up to the fictional characters in books or movies.
Although there is no real-lifeMary Sue (or Superman or Batman), there are people with many of her attributes. The term can be used as a form of flattery or admiration for someone who shares similar traits.
To recap a character can be considered a Mary Sue when he or she:
- Has more skill/talent/appearance in an area than any other character (making them almost god-like).
- Is loved by all members of the cast (making them god-like).
- Receives special treatment from an authority.