Friday, March 28, 2014

Who is Mary Sue? by Sheryl R. Hayes


Lt. Mary Sue ran the ship, and ran it so well she received the Nobel Peace Prize, the Vulcan Order of Gallantry and the Tralfamadorian Order of Good Guyhood."                                 — Excerpt from A Trekkie's Tale by Paula Smith. 

She is the woman with the jewel colored eyes, the model-level good-looks, the black belt in three different kinds of martial arts, and the intelligence to solve Hilbert's Sixteenth Problem in her spare time.   Every man she comes across falls in love with her.  Every woman sees her as their best friend, even her worst enemy.  Who is she?  Why Mary Sue of course.


Mary Sueis a term that originated in fan fiction  circles and has spread to canon works.  She is usually female, although her male counterpart Gary Stu or Marty Stu can be spotted on occasion.  What is the difference between her and a strong female character that you just created?


It all comes down to two words.  Believable flaws.  Mary Sue is perfect in all ways.  She is breathtakingly beautiful with her exotic eye/hair/skin color.  She is intelligent enough to have a college degree with honors at a younger than average age.  She has incredible physical prowess without the need for practice.  If she does have a flaw, be it physical or mental, it only serves to enhance her perfection and does not detract from her in any way.  If she is in the military and happens to snark (sorry Melissa) off to a commanding officer, not only did their CO deserve it, she is more likely to be promoted because of her insubordination instead of spending time in the brig.  Not only is the captain of the starship she serves on in love with her, but the first officer, the chief medical officer, and several random ensigns of any gender.  She may or may not reciprocate these feelings and worry about hurting the other people who have fallen for her charms, but only gets to express her emotions before dying tragically to save them from whatever crisis was about to cause their imminent doom.

How do you figure out if you are writing a Mary Sue? A good place to start is the The Universal Mary Sue Litmus Test.  I dont agree with all the questions necessarily being indicative of a Mary Sue since they have an all-or-nothing approach.  If a question makes you stop and think, thats a sign that you need to consider that aspect of your character a little more closely.  Also, keep in mind that one persons Mary Sue is another persons strong female character.  If you hear your character is a Mary Sue from more than one person giving you feedback, then it is time to make some changes.

What can you do make sure your character is not a Mary Sue?  Add a few flaws that hinder instead of help.  Let her struggle and fail a time or two before attaining her goal or even better, fail to reach her goal just because she is supposed to.  Not only will you be avoiding writing a character that is too perfect, you will be adding several plot points that can add a richness and reality to your story.

Author Bio:
Sheryl Hayes lives in the heart of Silicon Valley, Ca, where she cares for her mother.  Her cat graciously shares the house with the two of them.  She currently works full time at a private utility company.  When she is not writing her first novel, she is knitting, plotting what costume she’s wearing to the next convention she’s attending, playing World of Darkness, or reading.

You can reach her at sherylrhayes@gmail.com or follow her on Twitter.

12 comments:

  1. Thank you for hosting my post, Melissa.

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    1. Welcome, Sheryl! Thank you for bringing your Mary Sue wisdom to the Snarkology today. I believe you've described her as only a seasoned game can. ;-)

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  2. Or, you know, she's Batman.

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    1. Exactly. Male characters rarely accused of being a Marty Stu, Wesley Crusher from Star Trek The Next Generation being a notable exception. But sexism in character perception is another post entirely.

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  3. I wasn't previously aware of the Mary Sue Syndrome. Generally I concentrated on the Too Stupid Too Live Disease, which in my writing sometimes becomes an outbreak. Thank you for sharing your observations and knowledge!

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    1. You're welcome. I'm dealing with my own bout of Too Stupid to Live Disease. You would think there was a vaccine for it by now. ;)

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  4. This is a great explanation of the MS phenomenon. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. You're welcome. It was a fun post to write.

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  5. I hadn't been aware of this syndrome, Sheryl. But it's so funny--and now that I think about it--I've read Mary Sue characters and was disgusted. Lovely post. Barb Bettis

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    1. Thanks. I've been involved in fan fiction communities. It's one of the first tropes you learn about.

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  6. Awesome post ladies! I loved the Mary Sue litmus test (very thorough). My character started off as a mild Mary Sue, because I wrote a character I wished I could be. At least in my first draft. Gave her a lot of personality flaws and let her screw up a tone kind of cleared that up. But this is great advice and something I'll revisit before I start a new project.

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    1. Thanks. I know that my characters tended towards Mary Sue in their very first incarnations. I don't think it's bad to write a character you wish you could be, as long as you are very aware of it and take steps to counter it with flaws the way you did.

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