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Unfortunately, after so much rage and so many troll threads, /tg/'s definition of Mary Sue has become blurred; no one can agree on what the phrase means, to the point where the mere mention of Mary Sue is enough to set off shitstorms across the board.
Some accept nothing less than the above description, and will sooner gut you then look twice if you say it's anything else. Others prefer a more generalized definition, which refers to an overly-idealized character who exerts an unjust amount of influence upon their respective setting or story. Others still carry this meaning out to extremes, and use the term to describe anyone who isn't a homeless junkie or a brooding sociopath with an alignment of chaotic neutral.
However, there is a conundrum regarding the definition. If the character is part of the established story (such as some portrayals of Wolverine and Batman), some say that this is not a Mary Sue, as they are a canon character. For them, the term "Canon Sue" is used. The only difference between a Mary Sue and a Canon Sue (I'd like to take the time to apologize to any real-life people named "Sue" who are reading this) is a Canon Sue is an established character in the story/wish-fulfillment for the creator of the story (NOTE: few people will admit if the fictional character they create is for wish-fulfillment). For the sake of this page, the definition of Mary Sue will also include Canon Sues.
Another problem is when people use the term "Mary Sue" to refer to a "creator's pet"; a character that part of the fanbase dislikes but is adored by the creator of the character and gets treatment such as increasing focus, magnifying the importance of their role, and having the other characters talk about how awesome they are in painful ignorance — or sometimes in spite — of the fans' obvious hatred. This is not a Mary Sue though a character can be both; the two types share common traits and a Creator's Pet is more easily defined. For example; Marneus Calgar is a creator's pet, while some characters who are both Mary Sues and creator's pets are Thrall, Alice and Bella.
It is worth noting, however, that very rare authors have the skill to pull off the Mary Sue, creating a character of such epic awesomeness (Re. Jean Luc Picard) that no one gives a shit.
Origin of the Concept
The name "Mary Sue" comes from a short piece of Star Trek fanfiction called A Trekkie's Tale (No, seriously, that is it, look it up if you (rightfully) don't believe me). First written in 1974 by Paula Smith, the original Lieutenant Mary Sue was a parody of the half-Vulcan jailbait and other shameless self-inserts that had been clogging up the Star Trek fanfic magazines. The trolling was so epic that her name became permanently ingrained in the vocabulary of every fandom on the planet, and this makes Paula Smith a paragon of trolls.
The term is commonly used by trolls, and can most easily be spotted by a blanket accusation of a character being a Sue without attempting to justify actual reasons behind it. More clever trolls will attempt to offer some explanation that is deliberately intended to get under the offended party's skin.
How Can I Tell If My Character Is A Mary Sue?
Each "Yes" answer gives your character a piece of Mary Sueness.
- Does their personal morality always perfectly match objective reality? To put it another way, would there be any difference between describing their opinion and simply narrating what was actually going on in a scene?
- Do they start the story at the pinnacle of achievement and have no way to grow or improve?
- Do they have unexplained frequent good luck, even when by all logic they should fail in that area?
- Is it a fan character that is better than the canon characters?
- Do they have physical features, powers or items that are impossible to have or extremely rare going by the rules of the setting (ie; a human with cat eyes and wings with no explanation in real-world based fiction, or a ridiculous item such as a weapon which is chainsaw, electric-guitar and machine-gun combined in a swords-and-sorcery setting)?
- Do they have the most powerful ability or power in a setting, without any sacrifices? (For example a character that can use magic which would destroy any enemy, without any negative effects. But if character has that ability, and it reduces his lifespan, damages him forever and/or kills everyone including his comrades. it's not that overpowered.)
- Are they connected to the canon characters or do they become connected to them? This usually takes the form of being a "long-lost" relative or love interest to a canon character.
- Do they get a lot of shilling? For example; do all the canon characters suddenly start talking about a fan character, with their presence in the story largely relegated to providing opportunities for the new character to show how pure, powerful, good-hearted, etc they are?
- Do you never allow other characters to dislike them?
- Or do you punish those other characters for disliking your character by portraying them negatively and/or making something terrible happen to them? (For example; making them unlikable, a secondary villain, or having the one character that dislikes the Mary Sue "coincidentally" have their home destroyed)
- Are they someone's self-proclaimed fursona? (If so, stop reading this list and burn them for heresy).
- Do they always make good decisions? And/or bad ones that are suddenly revealed to have been a good choice?
- Do you use absolutes like "always," "everybody," or "never" when describing their abilities?
- Do they feature an entirely contrived "weakness" that doesn't affect them any time it would harm them (such as being clumsy unless they are required to perform a great feat of athleticism) or isn't really a weakness (such as being too kind or righteous "for their own good") which was clearly added solely so the author could point to it when accused of writing a Sue?
- Is the main problem in the story one that this character can easily fix or solve on their own? (Doesn't count if they're the only character in the story).
- Is it a character written by Matt Ward, Kim Dal Young, Stephenie Mayer or Ayn Rand? (Note, a Mary Sue can be written by someone who's none of these people.)
- TVTropes' article on Mary Sues, that discusses the phenomenon and its many forms in detail.
- sup/tg/ archive of a hilarious thread with ultimate Mary Sue and PURE ENERGY in it.
- sup/tg/ archive of the Ultimate Mary Sue thread continued.
- sup/tg/ archive; ITT, the most grimdark setting ever conceived.
- Mirabelle Armitage, D&D Mary Sure beyond Drizzt.
- The many different types of Mary Sue