There are many opinions on what precisely defines a Mary Sue. Some say that it's extreme beauty or simply perfection, but there is much more to it than that. They can occur anywhere, from fanfiction to original fiction.
Characters deemed as Mary Sues are usually "author's darlings." The author spoils the character in some way, be it with too much talent, beauty, and/or charm, then writes the character and story in such a way that it becomes obvious that the writer intended the audience to feel obligated to like the character.
Alternately, the Mary Sue may represent the author's (ideal) self-perception. They may also serve as mouthpieces for the author, bringing his or her enlightened point of view to the other characters. Any "sensible" character will begin to see things the Mary Sue's way sooner or later.
Another way the typical Mary Sue can be defined is when all events in the story revolve around them, especially when they are a minor character in-universe. They will solve any problem and get the best roles even in the most unlikely situations.
Everything about a typical Mary-Sue is ultimately self-serving: for example, the loss of a parent is only a means to garner the audience's sympathy while giving the character an excuse to become friends with another character who has lost a parent. Exceptional beauty serves as a visual reminder of how unique and outstanding he/she is. Amazing talents allow him/her to accomplish things that the rest of us can only dream of. If he/she is clumsy, his/her clumsiness will later endear him/her to another character. In short, a Mary Sue often twists a potentially good and workable trait into an ostentatious display for attention.
Alternately, the Mary Sue may simply have no traits that create any difficulties. Even if they have no especially helpful traits, this is not a good setup for a character.
Mary Sues may also be placed into situations contrived to make the reader feel sympathy toward them. However, these situations are often exaggerated and unrealistic. They are often described with purple prose, even when other characters are barely described at all.
The term "Mary Sue" applies to both genders, although some people prefer to use masculine variations such as "Gary Sue" or "Marty Stu" in reference to male characters.
History & OriginsEdit
"Perfect" characters have been around quite possibly as long as storytelling itself. Several fairytale characters would be considered Mary Sues in modern times. (However, "perfect" characters are not part and parcel with old epics and fairytales - flaws were quite common.)
The term "Mary Sue" comes from the 1974 Star Trek fanfiction A Trekkie's Tale, which was intended to parody the yet-unnamed archetype. This extremely short piece succinctly summed up the absurdity of many fan characters.
In 1997, Missy Reimer wrote the Mary Sue Litmus Test for Disney's Gargoyles. People found the test useful, but limited - and so they started adapting it to their own needs.
Exactly what defines a Mary Sue has evolved slightly over the years with many differing opinions. Some consider any original character to be a Mary Sue. Some consider the "bright and cheerful" archetype to be the definitive Sue. Many seem to agree that a Mary Sue is the "obnoxiously ostentatious author's-ego-on-legs" character.
Qualities of Mary Sues Edit
These qualities may be found in realistic characters, but when several are added together, they may cross the line.
- Unhappy childhood
- High intelligence
- Ability to learn new skills quickly
- Unusual powers or abilities
- Great beauty or sexual appeal
- Lack of character flaws
- If it does have flaws, they are deemed useless to the "plot" or may serve as an advantage rather than a disadvantage
- Lack of conflict(whether physical or mental)
- No character developement
- Plenty of Character Derailment
What a Mary Sue is NotEdit
It is possible for a self-insert to not be a Mary Sue, though many Mary Sues are also self inserts. In order for a self-insertion to not be a Mary Sue, the writer must have a keen sense of his or her own flaws and must be unafraid to occasionally use them in a deprecating manner.
A character can have many skills and still not be a Sue, provided that he/she worked for those skills, and provided that those skills do not solve every problem all of the time.
Types of Mary Sues Edit
These are a few general categories of Mary Sues. Many may be a mixture of two or even more types.
- Author-insert-Sue: these characters are the author's ideal self image or are used by the author to fantasize about doing things that he/she can't do in real life. Some symptoms are a character looking like the author (or the way the author dreams of looking), being in love with a character that the author finds extremely attractive, holding the same opinions as the author on various (especially controversial) topics, and doing things that the author dreams of doing.
- Super-powerful Sue: Most Mary Sues have more skills or powers than other characters, particularly in fantasy stories. They may even be the only characters in the story with a particular magical power or (à la Star Wars) be trained by the last practitioners, who then die. They often are skilled in some type of fighting as well, aside from being highly intelligent and sharp-tongued. These can be extensions of author-insert-Sues, if the author wishes he/she had these characteristics.
- Angst-Sue: these characters seem to have every bad thing possible happen to them, or they apparently enjoy being depressed (angst is usually used to mean gloominess in popular culture). These characters commonly suffer several traumatic experiences, such as the death of parents, abusive parents or guardians, forced marriage, sexual abuse or rape, or war. Ironically, they usually do not bear physical scars (which would mar their beauty) or even deep emotional scars beyond what makes them appear sympathetic (or so the author hopes).
- Romantic Sue: These characters seem to have all the sexual attractiveness and romance they could possibly want (and most likely more than a healthy human being would want). They are often described as extremely appealing, and other characters are attracted to them, sometimes causing problems between characters. They often have romantic or sexual relationships with several people, or would like to but have to choose only one. Conversely, they may have "one true love" that they are devoted to despite attention from all sides. They generally do not get inconveniences like sexually transmitted diseases, though girls may become pregnant (or, more conveniently, believe they are pregnant) if the author feels that it will incite pity or create a plot.
- Jerk Sue: This sue is a bitch. Or a complete jerkass who suffers from PMS and can get away with being a complete bitch while everyone loves her (bonus points if villains love her too). Suethors claim her "stuborness" and "temper" are her flaws, but sadly, it seems that most, or all of the characters fail to realize this "flaw", and if they did notice it, it would be treated as "cool" or "badass." But in reality, she seriously needs to go to an asylum because there is nothing badass about being a complete bitch.
- Copy Sue: Nobody likes a copy cat. Or in this case, a Copy Sue. She's the exact carbon copy of your favorite canon character. Due to lack of originality, this Sue has uncannily similar appearence/personality to the canon character. (Bonus points if that said character is Mary Sue's soon-to-be boyfriend or/and relative). Whether it's similar clothes,powers, or/and personality, this Sue will never fail to annoy the crap out of most fandoms.
- Anti-Sue: Creators of these characters go so far in avoiding Mary-Sue qualities that their characters end up being unrealistically unlikable, cruel, or weak. Many authors are able to write antiheroes in a way that makes them sympathetic, but inexperienced ones may simply make their readers dislike the main character. A character with no particular strengths may be the center of an interesting story if he/she finds some strength to change the world, but if they only accidentally succeed or somebody else does it for them, readers may feel cheated.
- Parody Sue: Certain writers purposely write Mary Sues, often with extreme characteristics, in order to write an amusing story for readers who have read too many Mary Sue stories or to poke fun at unskilled writers.
Well-Known Mary Sues Edit
- Maximum Ride from James Patterson's Maximum Ride series. Max, a 14-year-old genetic experiment who escaped from a research facility known as "The School" (presumably when she was eleven years old), is a human female genetically altered to have wings and the ability to maintain steady flight. She escaped from the School with her "flock," several other experiments who all have the same traits; she is their leader, and always seems to make the right decisions and have the good plans/strategies, even though she is apparently stubborn, hard-headed, and lacking in common sense the rest of the time. She's also destined to save the world, and has a chip implanted in her arm that constantly helps her out and reminds her of her quest. The entire flock lived isolated from civilization for several years, and yet Max is still completely up to date with politics and global matters, and seems to have no problem with preaching to Congress about it, dumbfounding experienced politicians in the process. When in the middle of these self-righteous (but so brave and intelligent) speeches, she becomes a mouthpiece for James Patterson's own views on politics and global warming, another dangerous symptom of a Mary Sue; the fact that no one ever has anything to say to her afterward indicates that the author himself may believe his views to be indestructible. She always has a spitfire/witty retort or humorous taunt to dish out to any of her opponents. People who disagree with her in any way usually end up beaten up and/or dead. Max also has her angsty moments, related to her crush, Fang. She seems to have this crush on him for no particular reason, considering he habitually annoys hell out of her and flirts with other girls. Max, who is a strong character the rest of the time, often finds herself sobbing her eyes out because of this boy. The romance adds nothing to the integrity of the story and only serves to let Max have more than her portion of angst.
- Wesley Crusher from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Named after Gene Wesley Roddenberry, young Crusher was a child prodigy who was probably smarter than Engineering's collective intelligence combined. His father died at a young age, leaving him free to latch onto Captain Picard as a father figure. Finally, Crusher came to realize that he was too awesome for Starfleet and ascended to a higher plane of existence. Seriously.
- Eragon from The Inheritance Cycle is an admitted self-insertion. Eragon is an orphaned 15-year-old prodigy in magic, swordplay, and dragon riding. Author Christopher Paolini stated that Eragon 'became his own character' because he had adventures and did things that Paolini could only dream about - yet another symptom of a Mary Sue.
- Kid from the video game Chrono Cross is a Mary Sue. She is a young orphaned girl who appears in fully rendered cinematics in the series and is one of the few characters who is developed in the midst of an entire cast of neglected characters. There are many songs in the Chrono Cross soundtrack named after her ("Star-Stealing Girl," "Lost Child of Time," "Orphan of Flame"). She romantically likes the main character and flirts with him. She is a talented thief. She is the only character to faint on many occasions- part of the plot involves saving her from a disease. Many other Sue tendencies exist in this character.
- Bella Swan from Twilight. Stephenie Meyer admitted that she was Bella (self-insertion), and that she loved Edward. She is incredibly popular without even doing anything, has no extremely likable qualities although all the guys want her, and although she has a variety of 'flaws', these weaknesses are 'Moe Weaknesses,' traits that are given to make the character look cute and innocent. She is immune to things that no other human has ever been immune to; she tends to brush off minor unpleasantries (such as almost being a victim of sexual assault) and concentrate only on things that give her something to angst about (such as her boyfriend leaving her). It is also interesting to note that Bella's appearance is suspiciously like that of the author. Furthermore, many events in the series were self-serving. The rape attempt in Port Angeles was a vehicle to have Edward Cullen rescue her, so that he could reveal his identity to her in a romantic restaurant. Ravioli and all.
- Edward Cullen in Stephanie Meyer's Twilight, and most of the vampires, has far more magical powers than necessary, including super strength, super speed, lack of need to sleep, and mind-reading skills.
- Vic and Gwen from Crystal Doors by Rebecca Moesta and Kevin J. Anderson. Vic and Gwen are cousins, who were apparently human, but now seem to be the children of certain otherworldly beings. The authors couldn't be satisfied with that though...They also had to be the most powerful children ever found. Also, the bad guy tries to kill them (for no good reason for the whole first book, then kidnaps them near the beginning of the sequel. He needs them to open a crystal door, he says, needs both of them... then promptly goes on to tell them "both of you aren't necessary. Cooperate, or I'll kill your cousin," about two chapters later.)
- Raziel from Legacy of Kain. He was a priest, a vampire, and then a soul-devouring wraith. He is overpowered with a multitude of dark and light abilities- mixing good and evil has become overused in many characters today.
- Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean, though this is debatable. If all the other characters in the series were given as much attention as Jack -- not just in the movies' scripts and screenwriting, but in the media as well as fan attention -- then perhaps the cast of Pirates of the Caribbean would seem balanced. However, Jack is given all the best lines, scenes, and advertising. He is the face of Pirates of the Caribbean, which is not necessarily the fault of the series' producers, given the amount of fans that Depp has. Most Pirates fans are blinded by Depp's performance and cannot see past Jack into the mush that Pirates can be considered- a strange, sometimes muddy plot, and poorly developed characters. While Jack in himself might be a good character, no one else matches to his standards and thus, he becomes the equivalent of a Mary Sue when comparing him to the rest of the cast.
Mary Sue TestsEdit
Although Mary Sue tests are not generally considered to be the last word on whether or not a character is a Mary Sue, they can be very helpful in getting a general idea of whether a character is or not, as well as help a writer develop a sense of balance in character traits.
For links to various Mary Sue tests, go to this page.