Hover over blue text for elaboration.
Mary Sues are a common phenomenon in stories: a character who gets special treatment. The definition of a Mary Sue is subjective
, so it isn't always easy to tell whether a character is or isn't a Sue.
A male Mary Sue might also be called a Gary Stu, Marty Stu, or Marty Sue. Male characters are less often accused of being Mary Sues than females are.
Mary Sues are a natural part of learning to write, and while the writing community often lashes out
at writers for creating them, their existence does not indicate a lack of writing ability. Mary Sues can be analyzed, improved, and outgrown over time, and they're common starting places for many writers.
Mary Sues are created when the author becomes too invested in a character (or that character's success) for the story's own good. This can manifest itself in a number of ways, such as...
- The character being unusually and unrealistically talented, successful, attractive, moral, etc.
- Attention constantly being called to the character, to the point where it detracts from the storyline or feels unrealistic
- The story turning into wish fulfillment at the expense of the plot
- The character never facing any challenges or having any major flaws; (s)he doesn't become a better person at the end
- The character becoming molded around a certain ideal or stereotype, either for wish fulfillment or as an attempt to make all readers love the character
Warning: Mary Sue litmus tests tend to list certain traits, such as "unusual hair" or "has at least 3 talents mentioned in story." These traits are simply ways that items from the above lists can be translated into traits or behaviors. (For example, if he has an unusual hair color, that can attract attention.) They do not automatically make a Mary Sue.
thought of a brilliant and quick test that can often tease out Mary Sues: Do you want all your readers to have identical impressions of your character?
If you have a Mary Sue, chances are you're trying to press your character into a certain mold and make everyone see things in this manner, which can be stifling for both your character and your story.
Mary Sues have existed for centuries, with examples being found
from as early as the 19th
century. I believe they've been around for much longer, in people's minds if not on paper.
The word Mary Sue
originates from the short story "A Trekkie's Tale" by Paula Smith, which appeared in the fanzine Menagerie #2
in December, 1973. "A Trekkie's Tale" parodies the wish-fulfillment Star Trek fanfictions by compiling ridiculous traits and behaviors into one over-the-top story. Fifteen-year-old Lieutenant Mary Sue receives a sexual request, pilots the ship, saves the day, looks beautiful, and dies tragically with everyone weeping around her bedside. For more on "A Trekkie's Tale," here is an interview with Paula Smith
More recently, backlash against Mary Sues has intensified into a hatred that can scare people away from writing or sharing their work. The term Mary Sue
has come to be a strongly negatively charged word. It is used against females more than males. The term has been used against any empowered female character
, character written by a female, or character who exhibits a stereotypical trait or two, regardless of how the writer treats the character in the story or how balanced the strengths and flaws are.
The hatred and sexism associated with the word Mary Sue
has created a toxic environment for some beginning writers, especially females.
Does a Mary Sue Make Me a Bad Person?
Mary Sues are a natural part of many writers' development. Some beginning writers find that Mary Sues are a good stepping stone, where they can experiment and learn new things in a more comfortable setting. Others rely on them to get through difficult times. You should not feel obligated to get rid of a Mary Sue if you don't feel emotionally ready to do so.
Besides, if having a Mary Sue in your history would make you a bad writer, then I would be a mind-bogglingly terrible and stinky writer with the least amount of skill on the planet. I won't say that they happen to everyone, but... well, they pretty much happen to everyone.
Dealing with Criticism
If people attempt to belittle you
, then try asking them politely to stop and blocking them if they continue. Belittling is bullying, and it says nothing about you
Or, if you're one of the more confident types (like me), ask them to be more specific. If you prove your self-esteem to be an unsinkable ship, then any bullies will eventually wander away, baffled.*
If people are giving you unsolicited
constructive criticism, I would recommend one of these options:
- Thank them for their time, ponder their ideas for a while, and make the choices you agree with
- Thank them for their time, change nothing, and add a note on your piece mentioning that you aren't looking for constructive criticism
- Thank them for their time and stop posting your pieces that include Mary Sues online
Remember, only ask for critique/constructive criticism if you are ready for people to point out flaws in your work. If you can't handle this, write a note saying that you are not looking for critique.
If you did ask for constructive criticism... then bask in it! You're going to be so much smarter and wiser afterwards.
*Fun fact: Around half of the rude people I've talked to vanished after I sent them a polite, respectful reply.
Fixing Your Mary Sue
If you have a Mary Sue, the best way to improve him/her is by reflecting on your attitude towards the character and what aspects are essential and inessential to your story. Constructive criticism can give you tips on which parts might need changing, but only when taken with high doses of reflection and self-evaluation. Once you feel that you are ready, begin making changes to your story with your new ideas in mind.
Here are some links.
If you know any other constructive resources for Mary Sues, feel free to comment with a link! I have found surprisingly few of them.
Helping Others with Mary Sues
Only help them if they state that they are looking for help or critique! If they don't want to hear your opinion, then you'll be wasting your time, and it'll quite likely end up with crossed arms and hurt feelings. Only the creator can make the decision regarding what to do about a Mary Sue.
If the creator has asked for critique, here are a few tips for helping.
- Isolate a few traits and behaviors that you want to bring up, and gently point them out to the writer.
- I would not recommend telling them that they have a Mary Sue. You don't understand the reasoning behind the character's traits, and the word is capable of devastating writers. If you know that they have enough self-esteem to handle criticism, try mentioning that the character could be perceived as a Mary Sue instead; it'll spare their feelings while encouraging them to troubleshoot specific problems.
- Remember to point out the strong points of their character/writing as well! When writers hear that they have skill, it helps build their confidence to try new things and analyze their flaws without losing perspective and seeing only their weaknesses.
- If the writer mentions being worried about having Mary Sues, you can point them to some resources for help, such as the ones linked in the previous section.
Good luck to you all!