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Wading into Murky Territory: Welcome to the Series on Mary-Sue

Updated on March 26, 2016

Strap Yourselves In ...

Yes, I’m back and I am writing my blog again. Hopefully I can get back to the post-every-Monday-night schedule. Right now I’m running between my original fic, my fanfics, and getting a freakin’ job.

So please, bear with me.

This blog is taking a slightly different direction. Yes, it will defiantly be about writing because you can’t get around this topic without discussing this phenomenon/plague referred to as the Mary-Sue Syndrome.

What is a Mary-Sue?

That is a good question.

I had originally heard that a Mary-Sue (or its male counterpart, called a Gary-Stu here for clarification) was an original fan fiction character that was perfect. I mean, literally perfect: beautiful/handsome, talented, everybody adored them, popular, smart, so on and so forth. They also had unusual physical characteristics (i.e. bizarre eye color, scars,) were half-breeds (half elf half human, for example,) were somehow related to one of the canon characters, had superb magical talents, tragic pasts and such. If a character contained these or more of these characteristics, they were considered Mary-Sues or Gary-Stus and their authors would be symbolically burnt at the stake in the form of ridiculous and often hurtful criticisms by the readers.

I was a little worried about creating a Mary-Sue because I had seen the horrible remarks regarding other people’s characters, but only once was I gently warned that one of my characters was bordering on Mary-Sueism. I thanked the reviewer and went back to tweak the character. No big. I never really thought much about it after that.

I recently began reposting some old Legend of Zelda fan fiction on Trust me when I say the stories are old: we’re talking thirteen years now. I took them down and decided to fix up a few things, partially the character of Vanessa, my OC character who was unwillingly sent to Hyrule to help Link and Zelda to fight my OC villain, Lamia Carna. Vanessa was a complicated character from a pair of unwritten Tomb Raider fanfics, and I thought that she was a fun character to work with so I decided to use her again for what I had originally decided was the final time.

Thirteen years later, somebody said that Vanessa was a Mary-Sue.

Huh? Wha?

I didn’t get it, so I reread what I had written a long time ago. I was already thinking about cleaning up the fics anyway, and even back when I was sixteen I remember looking at the story I looked back at it a short time later and thought, “Aw, crap. Vanessa sounds like a Mary-Sue. I didn’t mean for that.” Still, I understood that she was already a developed character from another fic (I’ll explain this in time), and I just didn’t feel like bothering with it.

I reread Vanessa’s part and shrugged to myself. I didn’t think that she was a MS, but then again she was already an established character. She was supposed to be in two Tomb Raider fics where you see how she grows and develops as a character. She just kind of got flung into the LOZ stories because I wanted there to be a tie-in from the TR stories to the LOZ stories.

Of course I noted a few spots that needing changing. There were some MS symptoms that written in because I had writer’s block at the time and needed to write something to keep going. I’m being honest when I say that I never liked those parts and I’ve removed them in the updated versions.

But there was something that was beginning to seriously bother me.

There are Mary-Sues and Gary-Stus EVERYWHERE.

Seriously. It’s not just fanfics, it’s in the media. It’s in movies. It’s in comic books. It’s even in real life (do you remember that cheerleader that was president of your graduating class, was prom queen, was home-coming queen, volunteered her time at three different organizations, was in the drama club/track and field/on the swim team/played volleyball, won dozens of trophies, was disgustingly pretty, extremely popular, praised by every damned adult in the tri-county area, had the boyfriend everybody lusted over, and still got A+s in all of her classes? Yeah, I can remember at least three of those. And yes, I loathed her too.) My point is that there are MSs/GSs all around us, and the majority of us don’t even know it. Therefore, it can’t be helped (to a certain extent.)

I brought this up with some online and offline friends of mine. We all sat together and talked about what a Mary-Sue/Gary-Stu really is. We listed and debated what we thought were MS/GS traits, what’s acceptable, what’s not, who can be considered a MS/GS, can a MS/GS character be rescued, etc.

In the end, we all came up with the same answers: either “I’m not sure” or “I don’t know any more.”

I started getting ticked off.

The clincher came when I received messages from several people saying how they used to write fanfic, but they were either attacked online for having a Mary-Sue, or were so afraid or in a few cases so embarrassed about possibly having a Mary-Sue that they stopped writing altogether. I really got mad, and thought it was time for a change and clearer definition of Mary-Sue and Gary Stu.

I spent this past weekend writing down notes, and I was amazed how much I came up with. I already have at least five people who are interested in contributing, and I will happily accept any feedback, suggestions or experiences. I know this sounds dire, but when I realized that people were giving up writing or were just afraid to post entirely it really did feel like a kind of emergency. This has got to stop!!

As I wrote down my ideas, I realized that between talking about MS and talking about writing in general, there was defiantly going to be more than two or three entries. I don’t know if you’re at all interested, but I know that some employers and potential book publishers like to look at this stuff, and I desperately need money. So, clicky-clicky on the ads, please!

Now, this basically is basically an outline of the next few articles I want to write. Nothing’s set in stone, but here’s the basic idea.

Week #1: Intro, & Defining the Mary-Sue Epidemic (this one you’re reading now—I hope)

Week #2: What are MSs & GSs and Why People Write Them

Week #3: Saving the MS & GS: Character Evolution (& the $%#@ing Mary-Sue Litmus Tests)

Week #4: Going Overboard With the Flaws

Week #5: The MS/GS Villain—Yes, They Exist

Week #6: MS & GS Allllll Around Us: Media

Week #7: MSs & GSs in Mythology

Week #8: Love, Romance & Sex (I’ll bet this will be the most popular)

Week #9: Canon Sue

Week #10: Self-Insertion

Week #11: Killing the MS

Week #12: Dealing With Criticism

Week #13: Getting Rid of Mary-Sue in Your Original Writing

In addition, I’m going to slip back into assistant teacher mode (so long as a class of 25 year olds doesn’t devolve into a class of 5 year olds … AGAIN!!!!) and assign some writing tasks. I’m not trying to be pretentious here, it just occurred to me over the weekend that it’s one thing to talk about it, but it’s another thing to talk and about it have people actually apply what I’m saying to their characters. In addition, I’m totally fine with offering up several of my fanfic characters for dissection. I’ll show you how I evolved them.

Furthermore, rude, insulting, aggressive posting IS NOT TOLERATED.

Oh, and for the love of God, never take a Mary-Sue Litmus test online. You’ll thank me.

Now, let’s get back to today’s lesson/set up for next week. Below is a general list of Mary-Sue traits as commonly found on the internet.


· Very attractive

· Very smart

· Liked by all characters

· A character that the author wishes they could be (self-insertion)

· Very strong

· Can defeat any villain even when others couldn’t get near him

· Is the only one who can wield a particular weapon

· Very skilled in martial arts

· Dies

Okay, that’s the general list. Now I need you to identify the following character based only on what can be considered/are considered MS symptoms:

She’s a very pretty teenager. She has super strength and speed. She’s popular with both kids her own age and with adults. She always has a witty retort. She’s been killed twice. She’s in the possession of a weapon that apparently only she alone can handle. She has a good repertoire with her parents. She can learn how to use a new weapons in five minutes (less, actually.) She’s had several boyfriends, all of which are gorgeous, and often attracts the attention of other men. She wins about 75% of every fight she’s in within two to ten minutes. She used to be a bully, but changed drastically. She’s perky. She’s friendly. She has lots of friends. She’s almost always very confident and not easily frightened. She’s extremely good at martial arts and gymnastics.

So take a guess and post it please. I’ll reveal who it is next Monday, and please don’t tweak when you find out who it is. I’ll explain it all then. And please contribute what you have: opinions, ideas, feedback, suggestions, etc.

See ya next week!


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    • Chiyome profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago

      Just FYI: Any application of Sue/Stu-ism to any religious figure (i.e. Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, Moses, etc.)is NOT going to be tolerated. My goal here is to help us fix the Mary-Sueness in OUR stories, not to spark any debate or flaming over who's god/prophet is better than the other's or anything like that at all. Arguing over all of this got us into this massive shit heap, remember? Please respect this.

    • Celanna192 profile image


      10 years ago

      Any demigod would fall into the sue category. Jesus wasn't the first demigod. However he is the only one to be labeled "savior" as opposed to "hero" like everyone else.

      Speaking of heroes, I don't think superheroes should be considered sues. They are purposely made over the top. This reminds me of another reason why I like Smallville. :)

      The writers of Smallville handle the potential sueness of each character well. Clark obviously has the biggest sue potential because he's the adolescent Superman. However what tones him down is his constant worry for the safety of his friends because of him, and his secret possibly getting leaked out into the world. Then there's the kryptonite, which Smallville, and some of its denizens, are saturated in because of the meteor shower that brought Clark to Earth.

      The staff also handled Lex very well. Nate and I are in agreement that Smallville is the only place, besides the comics, where he's done right. Rosenbaum's Lex is cunningm, intelligent, and resourceful. He is nothing like the comic relief character portrayed by Hackman/Spacey in the movies.

    • Celanna192 profile image


      10 years ago

      I think sueness also depends on the genre of the work. Fantasy and Scifi are more susceptible to sueness because a writer can get away with quite a bit in terms of abilities and strangeness.

      I think that if the character has a well developed backstory that is gradually brought out over time, the sueness diminishes. Personally I like seeing characters with a well developed psychological profile. Someone who is able to grow throughout the course of the story. I also like not know everything at once about a character. I like surprises. :)

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Here are a few of the Mary-Sue/Gary-Stu traits I tend to often see:

      Universality--Above, you say that he/she is "liked by all characters", and I pretty much agree. I think interpreting it as a "lack of dislike" adds significance, though--in certain stories it is not the praise a character receieves that's the problem for me, but the lack of any negative opinions, period. It gives me the impression that many new writers either purposefully or incidentally do not deal with discord and negative thoughts against theirs or any canon characters--either because they are not at a mature enough stage in their writing or because they are trying to preserve their egos.

      All-Knowing--Mary Sues tend to have the author's insights into canon events and canon characters, because the author is the one who knows how everything turns out in the end, or has that gamer's guide/Wikipedia entry in front of them. In the History community, a comparable fallacy exists called teleology.

      -Written in just to "get with" a certain character--many Sues are driven by nothing more.


      I also figured I would pose the question: when is a Mary Sue no longer MS, but an original character?

      My initial answer is, duh, development--the more detailed (details that -go together-, by the way--no being clumsy yet winning a dance contest) the more of a chance the reader can relate to the character.

      I think the combination of Mary-Sue/bad writing is very, very significant, though, and there is a high correlation between bad writing and Mary Sues. Incidentally, if the writing is good and the story is good, I like OCs more and more.

    • Celanna192 profile image


      10 years ago

      It's San. I'm actually looking forward to #5 and #9 on the list. :)

      I'm going to start making a list of canonical sues that I know of.

    • Fizzbit profile image


      10 years ago from Wichita, KS

      Oh hey yeah. Buffy. Definitely gotta be Buffy.

      I'd say all characters have at least one or two Mary Sue qualities (when you get down to it, they're all positive qualities). It's when you mash a bunch of them together that you get this boring, overly-predictable pile of perfection that no one wants to play with. A polished turd that might look awesome but is hardly useful.

      Totally looking forward to reading the 8th entry. Yeah. I'm pervy. Sue me.

      Heh. I already got an idea or two for a couple characters I could submit to the lynch mob for criticism.

    • resspenser profile image

      Ronnie Sowell 

      10 years ago from South Carolina

      I have no idea who this character is but I like her! I'm looking forward to reading these hubs.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      I was thinking Buffy, but I could be wrong.

      As I was reading this entry I started thinking of Lestat from Anne Rice's novels. Definitely a Gary Stu. XD

      Looking at what you wrote as identifiers of a Mary Sue/Gary Stu, all of them are what make a character interesting.(well not all at once) If your character isn't interesting, no one is going to want to read about him/her.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Anita Blake?


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