Look Out! It's Mary Sue!

by Richard Pugh (with some help from Jessica Krucek) This essay was originally found here, among a lot of other useful stuff. Edited with a few comments added by Ocean Elf. 🙎‍♂️🙎Article: "Creating original characters and putting them in a series setting is a dangerous proposition. You must be careful not to fall into the dreaded fan insult category "Mary Sue." Mary Sue is an idealized projection of the author, usually an adolecent projection, who does things better than the heroes, and wins their hearts, but often dies at the end." [author unknown] So who is Mary Sue, and why does she have to die? Good question. Who is Mary Sue? Or more accurately, what is Mary Sue? Mary Sue is a label given to an original character that is usually a projection of the author, a facet of the author, or someone close to the author. Mary Sues tend to be very good at everything they do, and they do everything as well as, or better than, the established characters. They show up in almost every scene, do whatever it is the author wants them to do (often to the appreciation and awe of the regular characters), then humbly vanish. Almost everyone loves Mary Sue. The author, the regular cast, and supporting characters, and perhaps even the villians. She is just so cute, helpful, and perky that they can't help but love her. But there is one person who typically hates Mary Sue: the reader. Every time the she appears, readers tend to grind their teeth, curse, fume, and make up delicious scenarios that end the life of the Mary Sue, often in the most gruesome way possible. Mary Sues often end up dead, or permanently relocated at the end of a story, but that's of little solace to the readers. They wanted her dead the minute she appeared. Or better yet, to never appear in the first place. All fan fiction writing can be considered, to some extent, "Mary Sueing." Authors are always projecting their own thoughts, ideas, fantasies, and agendas into someone else's world. Mary Sue is when the author broadcasts them so loudly through one specific character that it disrupts the setting, and shunts aside the characters and setting that readers came to read about in the first place. Readers of fan fiction read fan fiction because they like a certain set of characters, or they like a certain setting. They want to read stories that deal with the characters they know and love, or that explore and expand the setting that interests them. They do not want to read about a character who is totally made up, and tends to upstage everyone and everything else. Sub-species of 'Maryicus Susicus' There are different kinds of Mary Sue characters. All of them are ultimately annoying, but some are inherently worse than others. Below is a brief overview of the most common types of Mary Sue. Kid Sister: This is one of the most annoying of the various Mary Sues. This is an original character who has a major secondary role. She tends to barge into every scene, steal the show, upstage everyone in sight, and is often privy to information that someone in her position shouldn't know anything about. Readers frequently gnash their teeth when she shows up, and mutter "oh no, not her again." She can be harmlessly annoying, or downright maddening, depending on the writer. She need not be a relative of an existing character, but somehow, one of the regulars knows her intimately, and they have all kinds of shared experiences that have absolutely no bearing on the context of the setting! But then, Mary Sue writers don't care about that. If they did they wouldn't be writing Mary Sue characters. A common variation of the Kid Sister is the Drinking Buddy. Avenger: This is the "illegitimate" Kid Sister. This is usually a dark character, hell-bent on helping the series hero out of a bad spot of trouble. She is an ally, and she knows way tooo much, like the Kid Sister. But unlike the Kid Sister, she is dangerous. She does the things the author wishes she could do to protect the character. This is one type of Mary Sue that is often male, but that isn't at all necessary. This type of character often ends up dead, but only after she has saved the author's favorite character from something totally horrible, allowing the Avenger to die a martyr, and giving her a permanent place in honor in the heart of the favored character. Fixer: She is a vengence valve for the author. There is something about the setting that the author simply can't stand, so one of these she-tanks is sent in to put things right. A very common example is the dangerous and "naughty" Klingon or Romulan girl who boards the USS Enterprise with the sole intent of seducing and killing Wesley Crusher. (More on him in a minute). 🧝‍♀️Ocean Elf: Not necessary. I'll give you a run-down. Wesley Crusher is a character in Startrek The Next Generation, who people have branded a Gary Stu because he was named Wesley, which happens to be part of the name of the guy who came up with the series in the first place... Next? 🙎‍♂️🙎Article: Another example is the character who deliberately breaks the mold of the setting, not for plot design, but just for the sake of being different. While readers may agree with the motives of the Fixer, after five or six pages of her ranting and raving, they start saying "enough already! We get the point!" Troublemaker: This is an extension of the Fixer, but she doesn't have a conscience. This is the brat that goes around making trouble, simply because the author enjoys disrupting the setting. Furthermore, no matter how much damage she does, she always comes out on top. Troublemakers are fun to write, but they are not good characters to read. These obnoxious characters tend to get very offensive, very fast. Groupie: This is one of the first Mary Sues. Female fanfic writers who had planet-sized crushes on William Shatner and/or James T. Kirk would create a female character, loosely (or not so loosely) based on themselves, and put them into a fling with Kirk. Considering the rate Kirk went through women, this isn't difficult to accept, but the obnoxious nature of many of these characters made one think that even Jim Kirk should show some discretion once in a while. More recent versions of this include the amorous young Centauri girl who boards Babylon 5 and gives loveable, lonely Vir Cotto a taste of true passion and love. Or the suave, sophisticated older woman who finally breaks through the shell of stoic Jean-Luc Picard. The Groupie is basically just the author projecting him/herself into the love life of a character, and on the whole, these Mary Sues are harmless. Annoying, but harmless. 🧝‍♀️Ocean Elf: No, they are anything but harmless. It's the most common way series characters get dumbed down and slaughtered to fulfil a fangirl/boy's sexual fantasies. It is nauseating to read. 🙎‍♂️🙎Article: They are often used in erotic stories that appeal to a limited audience. Doctor Who fan fiction is full of these, in the form of original companions for each of the eight different versions of the Doctor. Since the Doctor has been played by eight different actors, all of which appeal to different kinds of people, new variations of the Groupie Mary Sue crawl out of the TARDiS on a regular basis (much to the chagrin of die-hard Whovians). Teenybopper: This is the ultimate evolution (or devolution) of Mary Sue. She is perhaps the most common Mary Sue there is, and generally considered the most annoying. She is the helpful, perky, charming, and nearly perfect teenager who bounces around the set doing wonderful things. But at the same time, she is shy and self-effacing. Elements of the Groupie are often included in this little monster. For example, if female, she tends to win the heart of a leading male character, even if he's old enough to be her father! In the process of doing all this, she makes the rest of the cast look like undereducated dorks, and the rest of the cast never realizes that. The teenybopper never does anything wrong, never makes mistakes, and is basically the adult idealization of what a teenager should be like. Which is, of course, about as far from the truth as metaphysically possible. The most famous example of the Teenybopper Mary Sue is Wesley Crusher from Star Trek: the Next Generation. (He deserves some special discussion; I deal with him soon, I promise.) 🧝‍♀️Ocean Elf: With everybody having tons of conniptions over his name, that has already been done to death and I'm not putting with that same old crud here. Any further whinging about Crusher will get the axe. For anyone out there who wants to learn about Crusher from STTNG, do a search... 🙎‍♂️🙎Article: Mary Sue in a Suit: 🧝‍♀️Ocean Elf: Not... 🙎‍♂️🙎Article: Also called the Thin Disguise, this is easy to spot. This isn't so much a type of Mary Sue as a means of delivering other types (thus making it annoying on two levels). An established character is given characteristics that aren't in keeping with the source material, and remains a canon character in name only. The character becomes a tried and true Mary Sue: the author masquerading as an established character. 🧝‍♀️Ocean Elf: Actually, this is character mangling, not "Mary Sue in a suit" especially since female series characters as well as male get mangled and dumbed down to pathetic coddling arse-wipes for the Mary Sue. Especially when the Mary Sue is a groupie type... See Lavender Chelsey for an example of this. Her fanfic had all the series characters laid low by the sue. She was not in a suit, but a dress, and so were the characters she plowed over.

Also see Orianna for another example of repeated attempts at this. The result being other writers were kept on the run from the groupie Sue until she finally gave up and left. 🙎‍♂️🙎Article: Clown: In general, they are the least annoying, because they are not meant to be taken seriously. In fact, they are almost always meant to be taken as a joke, parody, or satire. Or, they are added to a serious story for the purpose of comic relief. While these characters may be good at every thing they do, they are largely a means for the author to deliver jokes or commentaries. They generally don't disrupt the actions of the other characters. Depending on the nature of the story, this can be fine, so long as the joker doesn't start making wise cracks every three lines. If the story is openly a parody or satire, then the whole cast may fall into this category. (But in that case, they aren't really Mary Sues, because all the rules change in Satire.) For example, the Clown character is often literally the author. The series hero is either displaced into the world of the author, or the author is somehow pulled into the fictional world. Usually the source character is not happy to see the Clown, and is totally baffled by her motives and actions. Non-Mary Sue Types of Author Projection There are also two types of author projection characters that are mistaken for Mary Sues, and while they can be equally annoying, they aren't as disastrous to the story. Modeling a character after yourself can work if you keep your personal flaws in place (difficult, I know, but ultimately necessary). All original characters are a projection of the author, or part of the author's world. But so long as these characters are kept in perspective, you can avoid most accusations of Mary Sue-ness. Another example is the character who isn't an active participant in the story, but is the "everyman" watching, describing, and commenting on the action around him or her. This can be used very effectively. This is also not a Mary Sue, because one of the necessary traits of a Mary Sue is her constant effect on the story. A third person observer isn't likely to do that, but does help to draw the reader in. 🧝‍♀️Ocean Elf: *Snip out social justice feminism drivel* Mary Sues were termed before somebody came up with "Gary Stu" to describe the male version. And this article even gets that wrong, going on about "Marty Sam". While not technically a wrong term for the male type, it could get confusing for anyone used to the more common "Gary Stu" reading about "Marty Sam" and going "Huh? What character is this?" It's just another name for Gary Stu... 🙎‍♂️🙎Article: The male counterpart, sometimes called Marty Sam, can also be found, often springing from the pens of male fanfic writers. Marty Sam often has several chips on his shoulder and a really bad attitude, but he always comes out on top. For example, he's the handsome young Private who tells Commander Ivanova that she's about to make a grave mistake, and intervenes to stop her from her disasterous course of action. If he lives, he gets all kinds of praise, which can include getting a night of wild passion with the ice-cold commander (who was openly bisexual and old enough to have been his babysitter, but that's moot.) If he ends up dead, he gets a postumous medal of honor and becomes some kind of martyr; a legend in his own time. Sure, bad things can happen to Marty Sam from time to time, but as with his twin sister, Mary Sue, it is a cold day in hell when an author is going to let anything permanently endanger his beloved character. Even if it means making the rest of the cast look like a bunch of dorks. 🧝‍♀️Ocean Elf: Well, considering Babylon5 is just another screwed up futuristic series anyway... 🙎‍♂️🙎Article: Specific Examples These obnoxious twins aren't restricted to fan fiction. The most notorious Marty Sam/Mary Sue in recent history is ironically, not from fan fiction, but from a commercially published source. That character is Wesley Eugene Crusher, 🧝‍♀️Ocean Elf: Here we go again, yadda yadda yadda, blah, blah, blah. *Snip* 🙎‍♂️🙎Article: George Lucas is supposed to have confessed that Luke Skywalker was his "Marty Sam" for quite some time. 🧝‍♀️Ocean Elf: Oh, heck yeah! Why not dog pile on Luke as well - probably because his first name was is similar to Georg Lucas's surname. The real Mary Sue in Star Wars is Rey, and the Gary Stu is *cough* Anakin... Here's a hint on who is really a Gary Stu. 🙎‍♂️🙎Article: True Mary Sues (or Marty Sams) 🧝‍♀️Ocean Elf: Gary Stud... 🙎‍♂️🙎Article: never learn from their mistakes, because they never make mistakes in the first place! They never have to learn. They know everything they need to know from the onset, and they always get things right the first time. 🧝‍♀️Ocean Elf: Not really. They don't learn from their mistakes because they don't even see them as mistakes... 🙎‍♂️🙎Article: Save yourself! Not every original character is a Mary Sue or Marty Sam 🧝‍♀️Ocean Elf: Gary Stu...! 🙎‍♂️🙎Article: and it is possible to "save" a character from the Mary Sue category. A lot of fan writers (including myself) like to use an established setting, but for whatever reason they want to use their own original characters. Sometimes these characters are more compelling, complex and interesting than their source material collegues. This is fine, and if you can do it, then do it! There is more to the Babylon 5 setting, for example, than the dozen or so people who work at Command and Control. 🧝‍♀️Ocean Elf: Yeah, I won't be frequenting that setting any time soon. Was never curious/interested in it before, and the prospect of that changing looks pretty much hopeless. 🙎‍♂️🙎Article: Diversity is good. Original characters are good! They are your friends! But you must be careful. If you create original characters, you may find yourself creating a Mary Sue without realizing it. It's a common mistake for beginning writers, and most of them outgrow it. The easiest pitfal is to model a character after yourself, then remove the flaws that all of us have. This character then proceeds to upstage everyone else, to the point of making them superfluous. There are some dead give-away traits of Mary Sues. If she never makes a mistake, always makes friends, and it allowed to get away with some pretty outlandish stuff, then you probably have a Mary Sue. And if you have a Mary Sue on your hands, then you should put your story aside and start over. If you can tell the story without using the Mary Sue, then re-work it accordingly. If your story depends on the Mary Sue, then you have a big problem, and the only solution may be scrapping the story. The best thing to do with a Mary Sue (male or female) is to not create the character in the first place. If you find yourself creating a Mary Sue (or Marty Sam), 🧝‍♀️Ocean Elf: Gary Stu... 🙎‍♂️🙎Article: stop writing and re-work your story. Redesign or even drop the character. Mary Sues are a magnet for hate mail, and most people dislike that. Now you know who Mary Sue is, and why she has to die. 🧝‍♀️Ocean Elf: And now it's time for you to shut up. This article was about 50% great, 25% suck, and then 25% snore fest. Over and out!


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