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Unfortunately, after so much rage and so many troll threads, /tg/'s definition of Mary Sue has become blurred to the point that any character at all can be (and probably has been) accused of being a Mary Sue on even the flimsiest of pretenses.
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 overpowered, idealized and part of an 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 in an original story. 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 Sylvanas (formerly Thrall too until recently), 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 (e.g. Jean Luc Picard) that no one gives a shit.
Origin of the Concept
The name "Mary Sue" comes from a parody of shitty Star Trek fanfiction called A Trekkie's Tale (no, seriously, that's the origin, look it up if you 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?
- Or do their new skills and abilities come from your ass at just the time they need them?
- 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 a 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).
- The Sonichu exception: If the author is making fun of somebody else's fursona, and isn't a furry themselves, everything is perfectly fine, at least as far as Mary Suedom is concerned.
- 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 protagonist character written by Matt Ward, Kim Dal Young, Stephenie Mayer, Ayn Rand or Terry
GoodBadkind? (Note, a Mary Sue can be written by someone who's none of these people.)
Since then, it's been realized that a character doesn't need to be a self-insert to be a Mary Sue, but it helps. Everyone has their own criteria for what makes one, but the big three traits are:
- They are super-powerful/hyper-competent. In established settings, usually more so than canon characters. Better leadership skills than a McDohl, faster than Sonic, etc.
- The story completely revolves around them, even in... no, ESPECIALLY in established settings.
- They can do no wrong. Everyone loves the Mary Sue and defends them even against perfectly reasonable concerns, invariably demonizing people that make these concerns.
- The Mary Sue's competence doesn't match the creator's knowledge, leading to things like "The greatest Scorpion Clan shinobi EVAR" walking around in broad daylight in stereotypical ninja gear.
- The Mary Sue is a hypocritical monster and the creator is totally blind to this fact.
- Other characters comment on how much better at their own skills the Mary Sue is like they're happy for her, even if the character is known for being arrogant and standoff-ish.
- Characters that don't react well to the Sue's 'harmless pranks' see the light and begin to love the Mary Sue as well.
- Those that don't turn out to be evil spies or something.
A lot of traits (e.g. too-long-names and heterochrome eyes) are assumed to be signs of Mary Sues, but in themselves don't make a character one. This is because the "But I'm Specul" features are more a symptom than a cause, and all of them can be used in a non-Sueish manner (for example, a character with a twenty-part name is meant by the author to be taken as overly pretentious, and is reacted to in-universe as such).
Not Really Mary Sue
There are many cases of the "Mary Sue" accusation being used against characters who aren't quite Sues.
Remember, one of the defining traits of Mary Sue is in her relation to the author; either the author sees her as herself/himself, or views her as fap or schlick material (or worse, waifu material).
As a general rule: If the character makes a mistake, and it's clear that the author understands that the decision is a mistake, then they're probably not fully a Mary Sue.
Negating the Mary Sue
Interestingly, there hasn't been really much written about how to defeat a May Sue aside from trolling, but we may identify a few ways to deal with Mary Sues and even Canon Sues:
- The first one, and quite accessible is character development, while this implies a risk of expanding the infection it is possible to remove a Sue status with a good writer either making fanfiction or a spin-off where the Mary Sue is changed for the better. Examples of this has been seen in long-existent characters which, due to good writing, become more down to earth, with the added bonus of annoying fans of the Sue period of time to no end. After all, one fanfic denies another.
- The second one is retcon, as the easiest way to annihilate a Mary Sue is to achieve the general consensus that it never happened. This is harder of course, as it requires the creators recognizing they made the wrong decisions or at least conceding to the fans. It can happen, but it can only be through official involvement, which requires a lot of fan reaction to happen.
- Third, have them operate in something resembling the real world; their impossible perfectness is treated as impossible by the people within the setting, and their actions have unforeseen consequences. (See, for reference, good quality Superman and Batman stories that don't focus on making either character more "human".)
- Finally, when it comes to reality, badly written characters end falling by their own weight. This is the reason no one remembers most of the overpowered characters added in fanfiction.net while everyone remembers cool, well molded characters - after all, reality ensues.
Note that like overpoweredness, Mary Suedom is relative to the context of the work. Much like how if in a game everybody is overpowered, nobody actually is; if you are describing everyone in a setting as a Mary Sue, more than likely you're just in a "cast of snowflakes" setting, like superhero comics or transformers. Here, everyone of import is super amazing and special with a lot of weight put on their decisions and actions. Or maybe you're just a dumbass flinging around buzzwords at things you don't like.
Hard Men Making Hard Decisions (While Hard)
A side note: A specific male version of Mary Sue known as Gary Stu (or Marty Stu, either works) is also well known. He is usually described as a "Hard Man making Hard Decisions", but works using that description are usually sufficiently closer to "porn logic" (crossed with a bad action movie plot) than actual human logic that it's usually called "Wank material". (Note that "Hard Women making Hard Decisions" is also very much a thing, but tends to be much less common.)
- 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