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What Is a Mary Sue?

Journal Entry: Fri Nov 15, 2013, 6:58 AM
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Overview



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.


Definition



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

:police: 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.

some1eleven 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.


History



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?



No.

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.
Help! I Have a Mary Sue (a resource for improving a Mary Sue)
The Necessity of Flaws in Characterization (Faraleigh's compelling argument on why you should create solid flaws for your characters)
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!



Mary Sue Safe Zone by MissLunaRose
If you have a Mary Sue, I will treat you like a decent and reasonable human being.

If you are looking for critique and advice on a specific Mary Sue, you can ask me. My commission info is on my page near the comments section.
Add a Comment:
 
:iconheuring:
Heuring Featured By Owner Feb 27, 2015  Student Digital Artist
In one of my stories I was afraid that my main character was a Mary Sue. I didnt want that, but I didnt know exactly where to start to fix her. Thank you so much for writing this out for many people. I have a better idea on what to do to fix that character.
Reply
:iconmisslunarose:
MissLunaRose Featured By Owner Feb 28, 2015   General Artist
I'm glad that I could help you! :hug: Good luck with your character.
Reply
:iconheuring:
Heuring Featured By Owner Feb 28, 2015  Student Digital Artist
Thank you ^^
Reply
:iconrokita1:
Rokita1 Featured By Owner Dec 30, 2014
You are a saint for helping me out on this! Happy Bouncer 
Reply
:iconmisslunarose:
MissLunaRose Featured By Owner Dec 31, 2014   General Artist
Thank you! :hug: I'm glad I could help.
Reply
:iconleopold002:
Leopold002 Featured By Owner Oct 28, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
So I finally know what a Mary Sue is. Thank you.
Reply
:iconmisslunarose:
MissLunaRose Featured By Owner Oct 29, 2014   General Artist
You're welcome; I'm glad I could help. :aww:
Reply
:iconjakobkelly:
jakobkelly Featured By Owner Jul 9, 2014
Ok, so one of my friends sent me a link to "Oh no! I have a Mary sue!", and I made my character base off of my real life self, with powers. If you want to investigate my OC further, please read the profile page.
fav.me/d7lpeqg
Reply
:iconprincesswanderer:
princesswanderer Featured By Owner Apr 14, 2014  Student Writer
my brain thinks of plot lines first and the characters just fit into the roles I need and their quirks add to it. I have trouble making a "good guy" character believe in something I don't though. I have been searching in my head for any character that is too perfect or steals the show. I am sure I will find some.
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:iconmisslunarose:
MissLunaRose Featured By Owner May 14, 2014   General Artist
That's a good way to come up with characters! :aww:

(I know what you mean about the beliefs thing. I used to have some trouble making heroes have beliefs distinct from mine, until eventually I became more comfortable with making their beliefs extensions of their personality. For example, a guy who considers himself a champion of the downtrodden is a feminist with a special hatred for bigotry.)

As long as you stay aware of what you're doing, you'll probably be fine. :)
Reply
:iconprincesswanderer:
princesswanderer Featured By Owner May 15, 2014  Student Writer
C: yeah, characters have voices before they have bodies for me.
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:iconmisslunarose:
MissLunaRose Featured By Owner May 16, 2014   General Artist
I think it's usually best that way. :)
Reply
:iconprincesswanderer:
princesswanderer Featured By Owner May 16, 2014  Student Writer
C: 
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:iconstarlaandgilbird:
StarlaAndGilbird Featured By Owner Mar 5, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Am I a holy saint for not having even one Mary Sue?
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:iconmisslunarose:
MissLunaRose Featured By Owner Mar 5, 2014   General Artist
No, just very unusual. :)
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:iconstarlaandgilbird:
StarlaAndGilbird Featured By Owner Mar 5, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
WHOOOPS. I think I just spotted one in a small story I'm writing for a sick friend...oh no. That little snitch o^o
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:iconmisslunarose:
MissLunaRose Featured By Owner Mar 6, 2014   General Artist
Don't worry! :) Mary Sues are hardly the devil. If you're writing it for a sick friend, then the Mary Sue might not even be worth changing.
Reply
:iconstarlaandgilbird:
StarlaAndGilbird Featured By Owner Mar 11, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Thanks. Heart Love  And now that I think about it, I don't think I need to change her one bit.
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:iconcampestris:
campestris Featured By Owner Feb 17, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
That's strange, but I think my OC is a Mary Sue. She is nearly one of her race and trying to return her family back to life, and for me it's already a reason to call her so... Even though she has no special talent and is half deaf. Should I do something or deal with it?
Reply
:iconprincesswanderer:
princesswanderer Featured By Owner Apr 14, 2014  Student Writer
if the only-one-of-their-kind-left was a reason enough to call a character a Mary Sue, then fantasy literature would lose a lot of great books. Sometimes a character is super special. there needs to be a reason for the narration to follow them around after all. as long as her last-of-her-kind thing drives the plot instead of bogging it down or hindering it, then your OC is fantastic in my mind.
Reply
:iconcampestris:
campestris Featured By Owner May 5, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
OMG, thank you!
And sorry for a late reply ^^"
Reply
:iconprincesswanderer:
princesswanderer Featured By Owner May 5, 2014  Student Writer
I wanna hear more about this character of yours
Reply
:iconmisslunarose:
MissLunaRose Featured By Owner Feb 26, 2014   General Artist
From this information alone, it's impossible to tell if she's in a problem zone.

I have a resource on Mary Sues that may help you deal with the Mary Sue question. :) Or, if you felt like it, you could commission me for a detailed evaluation. 
Reply
:iconelisavetaawesome12:
Elisavetaawesome12 Featured By Owner Nov 16, 2013  Student General Artist
Oh
Reply
:iconcanislupusdingo:
CanisLupusDingo Featured By Owner Nov 16, 2013   General Artist
This was concise, but got the point across. I just wanted to let you know that the link "The Necessity of Flaws in Characterization" actually links to your most recent guide on Mary Sues (the "Help!" one). I was still able to find the guide you were referring to, but I thought you would want to know that your link wasn't linking. But this was still really well written!
Reply
:iconmisslunarose:
MissLunaRose Featured By Owner Feb 10, 2014   General Artist
Oh my goodness! Thank you for pointing that out! I fixed it.

(Sorry about the late reply! This was buried in my inbox.)
Reply
:iconcanislupusdingo:
CanisLupusDingo Featured By Owner Feb 12, 2014   General Artist
You're welcome!

(And no problem--I've figured out by now that your inbox is usually flooded, so now worries!)
Reply
:iconsecretagentjonathon:
SecretAgentJonathon Featured By Owner Nov 15, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Your guides are really helpful and informative.
Reply
:iconmisslunarose:
MissLunaRose Featured By Owner Feb 10, 2014   General Artist
Thank you!
Reply
:iconsecretagentjonathon:
SecretAgentJonathon Featured By Owner Feb 16, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
You're welcome. :)
Reply
:iconrosey-mae:
Rosey-Mae Featured By Owner Nov 15, 2013  Student Digital Artist
:omg: I actually do the "Helping Others with Mary Sues" a lot with my writer's group. :omg:
For me, none of these Mary-Sue deviantaions are "new info" for me, but I like your positive spins and gentle words. It's amazing to see how another person views it.

No, I'm not perfect, and neither are my characters. I never claimed that. And sometimes, I dislike critiques, which is why I never ask for them on dA because a lot of times some cocky belowmylevel artist comes along and decides to have at it, which really annoys me. I'm really picky about who critiques what. I do think critiques are important, but only if it's coming from someone above my skill level (in that specific genre of art, because then they understand) or someone more mature than I am.

It's nice to be reminded how to take critism though, because some people will just give them even if I didn't ask for it. Thank you for that gentle reminder. :)
Reply
:iconmisslunarose:
MissLunaRose Featured By Owner Feb 10, 2014   General Artist
(I'm very sorry about the late reply! My inbox and life have both been crazy, and the latter has been infringing on the former.)

Thank you! :huggle:

I'm a bit surprised by your words on critique. I understand that receiving critique is an emotionally draining process, and that's assuming it's a well-done critique—rude or overly negative critiques are simply awful. (I'm sorry to hear that you received critiques like that!)

However, I'm surprised that you never want critiques from artists who aren't quite at your artistic level. Isn't it possible that even if the artist can't draw an accurate hand, that (s)he knows what a foot looks like and would thus notice if your feet were off? People's hands aren't usually as skilled as their eyes are; thus their artistic skills are behind their observational skills. To play devil's advocate, I wouldn't call it fair to dismiss someone's opinion simply because (s)he can't draw as well as you can. I've seen people who can barely draw more than stick figures write fantastic and spot-on critiques (and one beginning artist in particular has given me some great advice on my proportions).

You get unsolicited critiques? :wow: Wow, that's surprising. (You'd think people would check that you wanted critique first!)
Reply
:iconruby99999777:
Ruby99999777 Featured By Owner Nov 15, 2013
Honestly, sometimes i make a sue just for the heck of it, or make a gal with obvious sue traits just because.
Although i do have one character that could be considered a sue on multiple accounts: Daughter of an immensely powerful character, Is pretty powerful herself, dosn't use a ship though the matter of fact she's a pirate, and has something of a direct link the main character of the anime universe she belongs to. Countless of my other OCs would be considered sue-like.
Fullmetal alchemist: Brotherhood OC Ira Buccaneer
Relative of a cannon character?: Yes
Automail?: Yes
Chimera?: Yes.
Dead parents?: Yes.
Strong?: Considering she hunts bears, yes.
And lets not forget, Cannon automail repair-person?: Yes.
Reply
:iconmisslunarose:
MissLunaRose Featured By Owner Feb 10, 2014   General Artist
Sues are definitely not inherently sinful! :) Sounds fun.

(My apologies for the late reply!)
Reply
:iconavirextin:
avirextin Featured By Owner Nov 15, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
You seem quite passionate on this topic. That's pretty good because I'm having my own questions on it.

Like, I was disguising it with one of my friends (Well, whenever I 'discuss' anything with him I say something, he yells at me, corrects my thoughts with his, snarks, and makes a poorly timed and rather poor joke regarding the topic in an attempt to lighten the mood he's crushed)  and I said that ever since I realized what a 'Mary-Sue' was, I've made an effort to avoid that. He said 'pretty much all Oc's are re colours and Mary-sues. *snark*' He then asked me to describe one of my characters, and as soon as I mentioned her name (It was something like Julia or whatever. The last name was Slavic.) He quickly shot it down. As soon as I named one of her skills (I think it might have been long distance running) he said 'Overpowered. See? Mary Sue.'

Before then, I've made it a bad habit to design a character, then take a litmus test. I'd always score super low or even in the negatives. I assumed this was a good thing, to have a character like that. Until I was your little guide.

I didn't really care about the Mary Sue thing. I mean, whenever I draw a comic, the characters are really just devices to me. I put good thought and effort to them, but I don't really care if people like them. I just want my story to do it's job. But now that I'm thinking of continuing an existing idea, I'd like to make really good characters.

... Yeah, this message held very little rhyme or reason. XD
Reply
:iconmisslunarose:
MissLunaRose Featured By Owner Feb 10, 2014   General Artist
I apologize for the late reply! :saddummy: My inbox has been a bit of a mess and things got buried.

Your friend's words were not only terribly rude, but inaccurate. It seems like he's using one of the less widely accepted definitions of a Mary Sue: any female character who happens to be good at something. ;) (Never mind that many people in the real world are good at long-distance running.)

It seems like you have a good attitude towards your characters: liking them, but viewing them from a professional distance to avoid overattachment and stifling. That will go a long way to helping you avoid writing them poorly. Other things you can do include making sure your characters have notable flaws, focusing on how the plot makes them grow, and not identifying with one far more strongly than with the others (i.e., you can identify more or less equally with different parts of several important characters).

If you have any more specific questions, feel free to ask and I'll do my best to answer! :)
Reply
:iconavirextin:
avirextin Featured By Owner Feb 10, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Oh cool, I forgot I'd asked this. XD

Thanks for the response. I will take your advice. :D
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:iconmisslunarose:
MissLunaRose Featured By Owner Feb 10, 2014   General Artist
You're welcome! :glomp: I'm simply sorry that I replied so late.
Reply
:iconavirextin:
avirextin Featured By Owner Feb 11, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
No trouble at all.
Reply
:iconthat1personyouforgot:
That1PersonYouForgot Featured By Owner Nov 15, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Would my character be considered a Mary Sue if she had unusual hair, but wasn't extraordinarily talented? Probably not, but thought I'd voice this. This article was great and helped clear some confusion with characters.
Reply
:iconmisslunarose:
MissLunaRose Featured By Owner Nov 20, 2013   General Artist
Have you read this article? It goes into greater depth about Mary Sues and their traits. :)
Reply
:iconthat1personyouforgot:
That1PersonYouForgot Featured By Owner Nov 21, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Oh, thank you :)
That does help a lot.
Reply
:iconmisslunarose:
MissLunaRose Featured By Owner Nov 22, 2013   General Artist
I'm glad I could help! :D
Reply
:icon88pixiegirl88:
88pixiegirl88 Featured By Owner Nov 15, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
The thing is, if people are scared out of making mistakes, how will they grow and learn anything? Everyone makes really, REALLY dumb stuff up when their little, but then when you grow up you get to look back, laugh, and appreciate how much you've grown. But how can you be expected to grow without making a few silly mistakes along the way? By realizing your old writing lacked realism, you can look back at past mistakes and avoid making them again. It's a really important part of growing up, in many more aspects of life than just writing.

I love your Mary Sue guides. Thank you somuch for writing them!
~bb
Reply
:iconmisslunarose:
MissLunaRose Featured By Owner Nov 20, 2013   General Artist
Precisely! :clap: I'd say more, but I think you summed it up quite beautifully—you can't learn to write like Hemingway in a day.

You're welcome, and thank you. :hug:
Reply
:iconagile-eagle1994:
AGiLE-EaGLE1994 Featured By Owner Nov 15, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
This is AWESOME! :XD:
Reply
:iconmisslunarose:
MissLunaRose Featured By Owner Nov 16, 2013   General Artist
Thanks! :hug:
Reply
:iconagile-eagle1994:
AGiLE-EaGLE1994 Featured By Owner Nov 17, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Welcome :3
Reply
:icondavidfoxfire:
davidfoxfire Featured By Owner Nov 15, 2013
It's one thing to have a Mary Sue or is writing a Mary Sue story.

It's another thing altogether to act like an asshole.

I can't support you enough, Luna Rose :)
Reply
:iconmisslunarose:
MissLunaRose Featured By Owner Nov 15, 2013   General Artist
I agree.

Thank you! :hug:
Reply
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