Mary Sue

meaning and definition

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    What is a Mary Sue?

    A Mary Sue is a type of character often found in stories, particularly in fan fiction and amateur writing, who is perceived as overly idealized and lacking realistic or meaningful flaws.

    This character is typically the embodiment of wish fulfillment for the author and can disrupt the story’s balance by being unbeatably competent, universally loved, or having an unreasonably pivotal role.

    While originally used to describe female characters, the term has since been applied to characters of any gender, with “Gary Sue” or “Marty Stu” serving as male equivalents.

    The term originated in the 1970s from a parody character in “A Trekkie’s Tale.” The character, named Mary Sue, was a young and impossibly talented member of the Enterprise crew.

    The term was coined to criticize the unrealistic and self-indulgent nature of similar characters appearing in other fan works.

    Mary Sue FAQs

    How can you identify a Mary Sue character?

    A Mary Sue can usually be identified by their lack of realistic flaws, their central importance to every plot point, and their immediate and universal admiration by other characters. They often have special powers or abilities that are rare or unique in the story’s universe and face no significant challenges or growth.

    Why are Mary Sue characters problematic?

    Mary Sue characters are problematic because they can undermine the story’s credibility and relatability. Their perfect nature and lack of challenges can make other characters and the narrative itself feel less compelling and realistic. They can also reflect poor character development and storytelling.

    Is the term Mary Sue always negative?

    While “Mary Sue” is primarily a pejorative term, its usage can spark important discussions about character development, representation, and authorial self-insertion. However, the term should be used carefully, as it can be dismissive and discourage writers, especially younger or less experienced ones, from developing their storytelling skills.

    Can a Mary Sue be a well-written character?

    In rare cases, a character initially perceived as a Mary Sue can be developed into a more nuanced and balanced figure. This usually involves introducing vulnerabilities, conflicts, and complexities that challenge the character and allow them to grow in a believable manner.

    How do I tell someone else that they’ve written a Mary Sue?

    Offering critique in a constructive way can be tricky, especially if you don’t have a solid working relationship with that person. If you think someone has written a Mary Sue character unintentionally, one thing you can try is to start the conversation by telling them something you like (something positive) about the character. Then, suggest what would make that character even better. This can get your point across constructively and without being too disheartening.

    Myths about Mary Sues

    A common myth is that any powerful or competent female character is a Mary Sue. This is not true; a well-rounded character, regardless of their abilities, can avoid being a Mary Sue if they have well-defined weaknesses, face genuine struggles, and develop over time.

    Another misconception is that Mary Sue characters are only a problem in fan fiction; in reality, they can appear in any type of story, from published novels to professional screenplays to crossover roleplay.

    Mary Sue examples

    • A new character in a fantasy realm who immediately masters magical abilities that others have spent lifetimes learning.
    • A detective in a mystery story who solves cases effortlessly, never faces any personal or professional challenges, and is admired by all other characters without cause.
    • An adventurer who is inexplicably the best at everything they try, from fighting to diplomacy, and who has no personal flaws or unmet desires.

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    About the author

    Andruid is a writer, roleplayer, storyteller, and nerd who tries to live by Bill and Ted wisdom, i.e. "Be excellent to each other."