Just what exactly is a Mary Sue?

If you’ve been writing and doing research on character creation, you’ve probably heard of the dreaded Mary Sue.* But in case you haven’t, a Mary Sue someone who:

  • Is so incredibly beautiful that everyone and everything falls in love with her at first sight
  • Is so trustworthy that even the most standoffish person with major trust issues will spill all their secrets and problems to her, sometimes within seconds of meeting her
  • Is very, very smart: both book-smart and street-smart
  • Is always good, just, and right
  • Anyone and everyone will make time for, even at the cost of other characters/their favorite activities
  • Can do anything and everything she puts her mind to, without practice or failure
  • Always wins against the bad guys, even in minor scuffles
  • Has no flaws or only has flaws that don’t really affect her life/the plot/the world (like being kinda clumsy sometimes or hating the fact that she’s so smart)**
  • Is so popular that everyone hates her

Don’t let the name fool you: Mary Sues can be male or female (some people call the guys Gary Stus).

If your character possesses even one of the qualities in the list above, you need to take a good hard look at them and decide why they do. You need a spectacularly good reason to be giving a character any of these qualities, and you really, really shouldn’t be giving them more than one.

Please, please don’t be afraid to write female characters because you don’t want them to be Mary Sues. IT IS JUST AS EASY TO WRITE A GARY STU. And, they can always be fixed. You might have to change a lot about the characters and the plot, but you’re going to have to do that anyway when you edit.

If you’re unsure if your character is a Mary-Sue or not, this is a pretty good test. Just make sure you read the description at the beginning, because there are some extenuating circumstances.

 

* I know it started out as a fanfiction term, but lately I’ve seen quite a few of these characters in regular fiction (Mary Sues and Gary Stus).

** Bonus points if she actually does have flaws, but they’re not seen as/treated as flaws by either the author or any of the other characters.

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