A while back my blog was featured on The Mary Sue, one of my favourite blogs for female geeks that I have frequented many times in the past and never dared hope I’d find my own name on their website (see here for the article)! To celebrate this fact, I’ve decided to confess to my own lapses into Mary Sue territory during the course of my writing career.
Wait, What’s A Mary Sue?
As well as the popular website for female geekery, a Mary Sue is a mocking name given to an overly perfect character. This is often related to the character being some kind of wish fulfillment persona for the author themselves, so the character is two dimensional as well as the stories they partake in. A lot of this is because the character becomes far too important to the author, which is a situation I certainly found myself in as a young teenager with my first two protagonists. In both cases these female leads had characteristic I wanted and elements of their story are what I thought would be cool at the time. To demonstrate how poor both these characters are, I will be using The Mary Sue test. I’ve used this test a few times in the past and feel that it covers a LOT of points that demonstrate why Mary Sues are such poor characters. Check it out for yourself if you want to
Mary Sue Number 1: Louise
Backstory: Louise is the lone escapee of a series of devious experiments done on 11 infants by a man with psychic powers. He forced their genes to mimic his, which resulted in a range of super powers instead of a small army of psychics as he had originally envisioned. How did she escape? Well, her foster mother was his assistant and stole her away, just managing to get Louise to safety before she was recaptured and tortured to madness. Louise grew up in foster care, being passed from family to family due to her “personality problems” which at no point appear during the actual story. At the beginning of the plot she is 17.
The Plot: The other 10 children are living in the care of a mysterious man and they kidnap her when she accidentally reveals her powers. They take her into a secret location to seek out the man who created them and then…. enroll her at the same secondary school they attend. Honestly, I didn’t even come up with any kind of an arc –hell – this isn’t even much of a story.
The Love Interest: Christian, a young man infused with animal abilities as well as an animal appearance means he is a reclusive shut in. He meets Louise during a rare rebellious outing and falls in love with her instantly when she’s working at an ice-cream store and gives him the perfect sundae. I’m not even joking, this is how a 13 year old writes about love: ICE CREAM!
Mary Sue Key Points
- Louise is an orphan; her parents were betrayed by the man who experimented on her and killed.
- It turns out that she is the most powerful of the children who were experimented upon and the most dangerous as well.
- Louise is an outspoken girl who yells at every other character at some point and this is NEVER held against her. Well, except for a couple of girls who are shown to be spiteful and horrible before the story is done.
- She’s stupidly athletic and smart as a button whilst also being attractive to boot.
- Most of the males she lives with want to date her IMMEDIATELY
- Christian, the love interest, is literally everything I ever wanted from a guy when I was growing up: a romantic gymnast who is Italian and had animal tendencies.
Mary Sue Score: 95
Mary Sue Number 2: Laura Phoenix
Oh god, even the name! Get ready, because this one is even worse and I wrote her when I was about 14.
Backstory: Laura Phoenix is a magic user from the hallowed house of Phoenix, the only magical family to be the keepers of the one phoenix that ever exists in the world. Her parents were killed by evil magic users (I honestly can’t remember anything to do with them anymore or why they were evil so they must have been bland) and she was sealed away with her grandfather until she turned 13. Her grandfather raised her and died of old age in her arms when she was 12.
The Plot: Upon her 13th birthday she is released with her pet phoenix (he is her pet, apparently him being the only one didn’t necessitate any kind of honour on her part) into the world. She discovers that magic has been hidden away from everyone in a mass mind-wipe and she must find the last remaining son of her family’s close friends to save the world of magic forever! Turns out the lad’s name is Michael and she has to teach him how to use his own magic before they can go out and unbind the rest of the world.
The Love Interest: Michael is just someone who Laura can teach and look great compared to. As in, Laura is so wise… compared to Michael. Laura is so cool because she has a phoenix. Laura is the only magic user left IN THE WORLD! And (just like with Christian) Michael falls in love with Laura with no effort on her part and she doesn’t even notice.
Key Mary Sue Points
- She has a magical animal pet and it’s a freakin PHOENIX!
- Laura is an orphan who has been alone since 12 and is yet really wise and can look after herself competently.
- Laura has unique knowledge that makes every other character dumbstruck AND dependent on her. Also everything Laura does is easy for her.
- Laura shares part of her backstory with me, I was raised by my grandparents and loved my grandfather immensely.
- Michael is literally there as Laura’s foil and romantic interest.
Mary Sue Score: 195
This Isn’t Just a Mock-Fest, I do Have a Point!
These early characters are a part of my writing canon and, as much as they make me a little embarrassed, they’re also a wonderful benchmark of how far I’ve come. Most writers will probably create an unrealistic character as their first attempts because we throw together all the obvious elements that make up a person. This means the events they have suffered, the tragedies they’ve endured become the only benchmark we understand how to use. We don’t realise the subtle parts of what makes up a person; we understand dramatics and vengeance. Likewise, the average teenager doesn’t really know what actually makes a person likeable. We know what we may like but we don’t really understand entirely how social stuff works, at least, I know I didn’t. Just look at the two lover interests; no effort at all required on either girl’s part for instant love. Considering I didn’t even have my first kiss until I was 15, it’s safe to say I had no idea how a romantic relationship worked and that really shows.
It was awful the first time I had someone tell me they didn’t understand Louise’s motivations. That her reactions to things seemed over the top and out of no where. I remember so well how I felt like she’d insulted me, I think I might have cried afterwards but I’m not 100% sure. It hurt far more than it had any right to and that friend had only wanted to improve my writing by making Louise more accessible to her. I’d inadvertently locked Louise in a cell of my own gratification. She wasn’t for any reader, I’d made her for ME, which made me a pretty lame author. Having my characters (and my work in general) torn is now one of my favourite things in the world because I remember all to well how heartbroken I felt because a friend didn’t immediately get how cool and awesome my Mary Sue was. I remember that moment as when I had a choice to actually try to improve my writing or keep it as a personal hobby just for my own gratification and I’m glad which direction I chose to go in.
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Anyone else got any Mary Sue characters to confess to? It’s ok, that’s how the healing begins.