What is a Mary Sue to you?

Odin

Regular Member
Apr 26, 2020
12
5
13
Country
United Kingdom
I see the word "Mary Sue" tossed around a lot lately when it comes to characters. When I think of a Mary Sue, I think of this:



But often on the Internet, I see it misused to mean the character is overpowered, or even just cliche. Not that these can't be problems in themselves, but they don't make a character a Mary Sue. It's the self-insert element AND the lack of flaws together which make a Mary Sue, imo.

Edit: Fixed image link
 
  • Like
Reactions: zoey

Hawki

Elite Member
Legacy
Apr 5, 2020
895
267
68
Country
Australia
Gender
Male
The image pretty much sums it up, so I'll spare you a thousand words.
 

BrawlMan

Lover of beat'em ups.
Legacy
Apr 3, 2020
2,131
588
118
Detroit, Michigan
Country
United States of America
Gender
Male
What @Hawki said. I'll give you this: there are things worse than a Mary/Gary Sue. They're called Jerk Sues or Villain Sues.
 

SckizoBoy

Ineptly Chaotic
Legacy
Apr 5, 2020
268
75
33
A Hermit's Cave
The image is fine with one exception. A Mary Sue has no meaningful flaws for no good reason. A female character can be well written, good at everything she tries her hand at and flawless, provided the writing justifies it. Whether or not it succeeds in this is another matter.

That said, the TVTropes page probably does a better job of explaining this rather nebulous topic than any of us can in a single post.
 
  • Like
Reactions: gorfias

Trunkage

Nascent Orca
Legacy
Apr 3, 2020
1,351
454
88
Brisbane
Gender
Cyborg
Alright, you got the theory down. How about a practical test.

Potential Mary/Gary Sues. What are your thought on these:

Rey (apparently Skywalker now because of nonsense.)
James Bond (particularly before Daniel Craig, as James Bond was actual given a character then. You also need to take each movie individually, as some have more worthwhile writing than others. )
Alita (She isn't awesome immediately but she learns things in about 5 mins.)
Wesley Crusher
 

Thaluikhain

Elite Member
Legacy
Apr 4, 2020
604
220
48
A female character who I don't like who is good at something.

Less flippantly, someone excessive. They aren't just good, they are the bestest ever, the most popular ever (except for evil people who hate them because they are evil and wrong), the entire universe changes it's rules in relation to them etc. (And are female and I don't like them, that's still a requirement.)

The character on the right might certainly seem to be a Mary Sue with all that, but I'd actually say they aren't unless nobody else is like that. One over the top magic princess, maybe, but if all her friends are OtT magic princesses and she fights other magic princesses who are like that as well, then she's not anymore. She'd be "normal", it's just that the setting has a weird normal.
 

Terminal Blue

Elite Member
Legacy
Apr 20, 2020
227
192
48
Country
United Kingdom
A Mary Sue is a character who exists to satisfy the author's wish fulfilment in a way that is transparent and obvious.

It's not about how powerful and competent a character is or whether they have flaws. Superman and Doctor Who, at various points in their history as characters, have been deliberately presented as these exemplary or inspirational figures who are both more powerful than and morally superior to ordinary people, and who are idolized and looked up to by everyone else in the settings they inhabit, but these characters are written in such a way as to try and bring the audience along with the premise, because ultimately it's the point.

Conversely, a Mary Sue can be riddled with terrible character flaws or crippling weaknesses, and yet still very clearly be a wish fulfilment object. Wish fulfilment can mean creating a weak character and putting them in horrible situations to indulge the fantasy of protecting or caring for them. Again, the original Mary Sue actually dies at the end of the story. The problem with Mary Sues isn't that they're too powerful or too perfect or never experience relatable loss or suffering, it's that the author has a relationship with them which the audience does not and indulges that relationship to the expense of everything else.

In any creative process there will be things that are deeply personal, that you personally love and enjoy, but which aren't going to elicit the same reaction in someone else. Mary Sues are darlings, they are characters whom the author enjoys, but which ultimately harm the work and need to be cut down.

As for the picture.. the character on the right is not a bad character because they're unrealistic (both characters are unrealistic), the problem is that there is too much information for an audience to absorb. Fictional characters typically have to be a bit simpler than real people because they need to be clear and memorable. This means that, while a real person could easily have a broad range of hobbies, for example, a fictional character should probably only have a few related hobbies which give them a clear identity. Too much information weakens the character.
 
Last edited:
  • Like
Reactions: Jarrito3002

Drathnoxis

Artificial Person
Legacy
Apr 3, 2020
425
102
48
Country
Canada
Gender
Male
It's more about how the world revolves around the character. Take Kvothe, from The Name of the Wind. Everybody loves him even though he's an unlikable git. The only people who don't like him are irredeemable jerks with histories of sexually abusing women or whatever, and obsess over ruining his life. People take notice of every little thing he does and spread wild and improbable rumors about him without question. He's perfect at everything he does, and even impresses a sex god with his virginal sex skills. Whenever he commits a crime or says something horrible it's completely fine, because it can't be wrong if it's Kvothe doing it!

Kvothe is one of the best examples of a Mary Sue I can think of, and he's male so it's even better because I can throw him up to those people who try to claim that Mary Sue is a sexist term only applied/applicable to women.
 
  • Like
Reactions: BrawlMan

BrawlMan

Lover of beat'em ups.
Legacy
Apr 3, 2020
2,131
588
118
Detroit, Michigan
Country
United States of America
Gender
Male
It's more about how the world revolves around the character. Take Kvothe, from The Name of the Wind. Everybody loves him even though he's an unlikable git. The only people who don't like him are irredeemable jerks with histories of sexually abusing women or whatever, and obsess over ruining his life. People take notice of every little thing he does and spread wild and improbable rumors about him without question. He's perfect at everything he does, and even impresses a sex god with his virginal sex skills. Whenever he commits a crime or says something horrible it's completely fine, because it can't be wrong if it's Kvothe doing it!

Kvothe is one of the best examples of a Mary Sue I can think of, and he's male so it's even better because I can throw him up to those people who try to claim that Mary Sue is a sexist term only applied/applicable to women.
what's worse is that you now only describe the Mary Sue, but a Jerk Sue at that. I told you to watch out for that, and you passed with flying colors.
 

sXeth

Senior Member
Legacy
Apr 3, 2020
123
22
23
The traditional variation is of course, an actual author insert, usually when said author is working on a media property that they themselves did not originally create.


Sure, people write what they know, but a character with your literal background and/or physical characteristics (especially in sci-fi/fantasy settings) tends to be an early red flag.


In the broader general sense its not used, it describes a character who dominates the plot for unestablished or inconsistent with the worldbuidling/storyline reasons. This could include an excess of convenient circumstances that throw them into a plot they have no actual purpose to interact with, being tolerated by professionals despite obvious liability in a situation, or having a host of unexplained/poorly explained talents, often exceeding professionals.
 

Agema

Ph'nglui mglw'nafn Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn
Legacy
Apr 3, 2020
1,816
1,278
118
Alright, you got the theory down. How about a practical test.

Potential Mary/Gary Sues. What are your thought on these:

Rey (apparently Skywalker now because of nonsense.)
James Bond (particularly before Daniel Craig, as James Bond was actual given a character then. You also need to take each movie individually, as some have more worthwhile writing than others. )
Alita (She isn't awesome immediately but she learns things in about 5 mins.)
Wesley Crusher
1) No
2) No
3) No
4) No

I think one of the most important elements of a Mary Sue is that it should be an obvious author wish-fulfillment. The author's slightly pathetic wank-fantasy for who they'd like to be. You can think of the author lying in bed at night as they go to sleep, imagining themselves in a story as the hero(ine), saving the world, winning the girl / boy / sexy alien / vampire / werewolf / etc. and admired by all the other characters, as an escapist fantasy from real life where they are probably an ignored geek of mediocre accomplishments. In that sense, there's usually going to be something quite emotionally immature about it.

The concept of author insertion is I believe a fundamental part of what makes a Mary Sue a Mary Sue. It's not just that the protagonist is super-powerful, super-cool, super-moral. It is that the protagonist is an idealised version of the author.
 

SupahEwok

Malapropic Homophone
Legacy
Apr 3, 2020
3,144
1,032
118
Country
Texas
You can think of the author lying in bed at night as they go to sleep, imagining themselves in a story as the hero(ine), saving the world, winning the girl / boy / sexy alien / vampire / werewolf / etc. and admired by all the other characters, as an escapist fantasy from real life where they are probably an ignored geek of mediocre accomplishments.
Oof.

Right in my feels, man.
 

Asita

Answer Hazy, Ask Again Later
Legacy
Apr 4, 2020
184
145
48
Country
USA
Gender
Male
To put it simply? It's a character that ends up embodying bad writing, and I mean that both figuratively and literally. Figuratively in the sense that at their most obvious Mary Sues/Marty Stus tend to be less developed characters than a wish list of awesome abilities or features molded into human form, literally in the sense that the story tends to be about how awesome these characters are, and that's treated as the damn draw. And before anyone asks, yes, the Isekai/Portal Fantasy/Reincarnation 'genre' is packed to the brim with these. It's not ubiquitous, but the 'genre' does have a disproportionately high concentration of such protagonists.

My basic benchmark is "does it read like 'My first OC'?" You know, immediately hits it off with the main cast, possessed of rare abilities that make them more special, instantly takes to any role they have to fill (and often shifting between several), hints at a special heritage to evoke the 'secret prince in exile' convention, supposedly has some inner darkness or affinity for evil magic that isn't reflected in them (outside of possible broodiness) that sympathetic characters will say doesn't matter and unsympathetic ones will hold against them, blah blah blah, etc etc. Mind you, I'm not talking about characters who have any one of these. I'm talking about characters where these are piled on like logs on a bonfire.

Basically the benchmark is that ruggedly handsome Grey Jedi who is wholly good (if a bit grumpy) but whose enlightened views allow him to wield Force Lightning Electric Judgment without any fear of falling to the Dark Side, and who practically ends up being a Jack of All Trades with abilities approaching if not surpassing those of specialists. Oh, and also he probably either has secret familial ties to the legacy cast and/or is going to end up romantically involved with one of them. It's the bad "I'm worried my character is not special enough" OC. You know the mold.

But here's the catch, that mold is just the red flag. The Mary Sue archetype is more than just the character itself, it's how the character is used in the story. The seemingly perfect character that everyone fawns over is terrible as a protagonist that we're supposed to empathize with, but works spectacularly well as a rival or antagonist, because that changes the gears on the story from "look how awesome my Original Character (do not steal!) is!" to something that the protagonist(s) have to overcome.

For the sake of example, the second book of Mistborn introduces a new morally ambiguous character that manages to routinely go toe to toe with Vin, is obviously intrigued by her, and is implied to have taken a romantic interest in her. Moreover, Vin herself repeatedly wonders if he's a better match for her than her love interest. Truth be told, if we look at his character in a vacuum, he hits a lot of the Mary Sue flags. However, he doesn't really come off as one because the story is not about how awesome he is. He's an antagonist who practically embodies Vin's doubts and insecurities about her place in the world. He's the temptation to give up and run from the people she cares about, because she's afraid that - one way or another - she doesn't actually belong with them and that by rights they should reject her. He does not exist as an awesome [side] character we're supposed to root for, he's an obstacle that Vin must overcome as part of her character arc, and that saves him from being a Mary Sue.

Contrast this with Wesley Crusher who got hit by the Mary Sue truck so hard in the first two seasons of Star Trek: TNG that it's a wonder that he didn't become an "Isekai" protagonist. So much of the writing around that character boiled down to him being some praiseworthy genius (And I mean that the character is literally called the math and physics equivalent of Mozart) or being unfairly not praised for his genius, to say nothing of the of "Wesley saves the day" stories, which could border on him being almost messianic. Heck, his final bow in the series was leaving with the Traveler (kinda a Q-lite, not omnipotent but freely capable of manipulating space and time with their minds) to develop his own Q-lite abilities (which he has simply because he's a super special human). And the start and end point of that basically boils down to "Wesley's supposed to be awesome". And he's hated for it (including by Will Wheaton himself).

(Edit: Typos)
 
Last edited:

TheMysteriousGX

Elite Member
Legacy
Apr 12, 2020
296
214
48
Country
United States
Basically every iseki anime worse than Sword Art Online is being helmed by a Mary Sue or a Jerk Sue.
And special powers don't really factor into it. A lot of these jerks are mediocre scrubs who just so happen to have a magic cellphone and the unquestioned adoration of a harem of dubiously aged love interests. And the writing's so bad that despite not even effectively using their magic cellphone, the world almost supernaturally goes along with the protagonist anyway, like his true superpower is infecting everybody else with an idiot ball

It's not really about power level as it is only "failing" in completely inconsequential ways while having the adoration of literally everybody who's important with the possible exception of a handful of designated Evil Guys (who are probably still in awe of the protagonist"
 
  • Like
Reactions: BrawlMan

gorfias

Unrealistic but happy
Legacy
Apr 6, 2020
708
187
48
Country
USA
The image is fine with one exception. A Mary Sue has no meaningful flaws for no good reason. A female character can be well written, good at everything she tries her hand at and flawless, provided the writing justifies it. Whether or not it succeeds in this is another matter.

That said, the TVTropes page probably does a better job of explaining this rather nebulous topic than any of us can in a single post.
https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MarySue !!!

Wow, a wish fulfillment for the author!

For me, Captain Marvel and Rey are pretty much the modern incarnation of a Mary Sue. (Rise of Skywalker trying to walk this crap back not withstanding). They are both so flat and without character. They do not truly have growth or character arcs.

Power by itself is not enough. Bruce Wayne is a billionaire off the bat. Superman and Thor are born with the power of literal g-ds! Even Wonder Woman, miracled into being by g-ds, has to grow and adapt to very alien surroundings and concepts.

Drama is born of conflict. (Helping explain why season 1 of Star Trek Next Gen was so weak. Rodenberry dreamt of a Universe where conflict had been eradicated). Rey and the Cap'n pretty much march through their movies non-plussed. DULL. To me, that is the modern definition of a Mary (or Gary) Sue/Stu.
 

BrawlMan

Lover of beat'em ups.
Legacy
Apr 3, 2020
2,131
588
118
Detroit, Michigan
Country
United States of America
Gender
Male
Basically every iseki anime worse than Sword Art Online is being helmed by a Mary Sue or a Jerk Sue.
Give me every season of Digimon (including the bad ones) over evey iseki anime in existance. The only iseki that holds my interests is Konsoba. And that is a good comedy parody of the genre. Once you see that, there is no other reason to watch other iseki shows. Soon or later the genre is going to drop dead from overexposure.
 

BrawlMan

Lover of beat'em ups.
Legacy
Apr 3, 2020
2,131
588
118
Detroit, Michigan
Country
United States of America
Gender
Male
Speaking of Mary Sue's in anime. Naruto, Sasuke, and the entire Uchia clan bloodline are Mary Sue's by default. More so Sasuke, but Naruto counts too.


 

ObsidianJones

Elite Member
Legacy
Apr 29, 2020
433
514
98
Country
United States
I'll actually go about this a different way.

I'll say why I don't think Superman isn't a Gary Sue.

It's really because of the Stories and how the character is portrayed.

On paper, yup, you can not get more OP than Superman. He's literally the character you compare another character to in order to see if it's ludicrous. But if you read his stories, he's not a Golden God that the second he walks in the door, he has women throwing themselves at him and everyone hanging on his every word.

He would have been the most boring of people. A guy who just wanted to do right by his family and keep his head down. He revels in the good he does, not that people praise him because of it. In fact, that's what he WOULD have been if circumstances didn't bring him to earth.

But he's here. And just like if you were orphaned and raised by ants, he became one of the mightiest beings in existence. And the fact that he chooses to use that power the way he does is mind blowing. Because really, how scared would you be if people today developed super powers? We would be lucky if anyone even tried to do the Superman thing for a second before getting bored and being selfish.