Opinion / Writing

My Mary Sue Confessions

mary sueA 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


Art by Guillembe on Deviantart, check them out!

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
Status: Unusable

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
Status: Unfathomable

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.


17 thoughts on “My Mary Sue Confessions

  1. I actually still have Mary Sue fantasies in my head! I don’t write them down or draw them, but they’re all shameless self-inserts that everyone focuses on in my favored canons of the moment. They’re horrid if you’re writing anything ever meant to be seen by someone else, but for private escapist self-indulgence, I think there’s no shame in keeping a few around in your head! But you’re right in that I think everyone’s first characters are Sues. That’s how it works. No one should feel bad if they had one as a teen, imo. Your take on why is really interesting; I’d never thought of it that way, but I can see how that would make a lot of sense!

    I remember having one in middle school named Neko…despite the fact she had fuck-all to do with cats and in fact had water powers. She was the…daughter? sister? niece?…of Pegasus from Yu-Gi-Oh and had his silver hair, but she was for the X-Men canon (god knows how THAT crossover is even possible…although there was a mutant who brought Tarot card images to life!) and tagged along with Wolverine as yet another one of his daughter figures despite being on a villain squad. And did dramatic things with her powers and full of angst about something I don’t even remember exactly.

    • I used to write fan fiction when I was younger and remember inserting myself into Fraiser… which is weird now I look back on it. I think Mary Sue characters are harmless UNLESS you want to share them with the world and get enraged when other people don’t “get” them. That would have been the case with me if I’d carried on the way that I was. Perhaps I should compare my newer characters for contrast? 😛

  2. Your Louise reminds me of my attempt to write a sci-fi story when I was ten. X-Men had just come out (I think?) and I set out to write The Marie Project about a girl named Marie who was raised in a government facility for psychic children. Of course she’s the best psychic and beyond brown hair a and blue eyes her characterization stops there. She escapes and then the story devolves into Jason Bourne starring an even lamer version of Jean Grey/Phoenix. It even had a painful tagline. I never let anyone read it and I never even told anyone about it until now. It lives unfinished in a journal somewhere next to all my horrible Animorphs fanfiction (filled to the brim with amnesia, twins, and time travel, god did I love cliches back then). I wrote a book in high school that had the opposite problem. The Flawed Love Interest Who Needs to Learn to Love therein was pretty much all of my world-weary, impotent rage teen angst put into one person and she’s unbearable. I don’t know how my main character even went a chapter without shanking her, let alone fell in love with her.

    • Dude, I loved Animorphs! I had such a crush on the alien it was perhaps a bit concerning. I love how all Mary Sues seem to have these same hallmarks: lack of parents, best at everything, everyone loves them etc. I never dealt with the whole “teaching someone to love” trope but I bet they were great to read back! I’m loving these Mary Sue confessions, means we can also appreciate how far we’ve come 😀

    • I love it when I come up with a simple flaw that really ends up being a critical part of the story (I gave one of my male characters little man syndrome in exchange for his dashing looks and skills as a pilot and it was excellent to write!)

  3. I thought a Mary Sue was a new person who showed up all the more experienced people. With this definition, Kirk in the 2009 Star Trek movie was the ultimate Mary Sue.

    • I kinda consider Kirk a Mary Sue and he’s a good example of how they’re not always a bad thing in moderation. Kirk will always be right, no matter what ridiculous plot or reckless choice he makes. He almost never gets it wrong and has to suffer for his poor choices and if he does he doesn’t really change. He also usually gets to show up people that *say* he’s reckless.

      That said, Kirk does have moments of introspection whereas a pure Mary Sue doesn’t and there are lots of other parts to him that I don’t think really fit within Mary Sue-ness. That said though, can’t help noticing he lost his Dad in the new version; definite Mary Sue trait…. I kid, I kid!

      • I believe Kirk would be a Gary Stu rather than a Mary Sue, unless all that green chick collecting is some serious overcompensation…. I’m not sure he’s a true Gary Stu because he does have negative qualities that he is often chided for and the everyone loves him trope doesn’t quite hold up (more like everyone is exasperated by him or everyone begrudgingly excepts that his flaws are always assets but still wants to punch him in the face). However, he does have the always right thing going for him. Picard succeeds because he has knowledge and skills. Janeway succeeds because she’s savvy and resourceful. Kirk succeeds because the script says so.

      • I agree, this made it difficult for me to like him in the new movies. When he crashes that antique car I just thought ‘what a dick!’ When I think I was supposed to think ‘wow, such a daredevil rebel’. For me it’s Picard all the way 🙂

  4. After reading this article I had a discussion with my buddy and we decided to rate all of our fictional characters on a 1-100 scale of Mary Sue-ness. We did surprisingly well. Some of our creations started off very Sue-like but by the end we typically discovered what gave the character…character. Mary Sue-ness can be easily counteracted (to those who may not know) by simply getting to know you’re character a lot better. The character shouldn’t be a trophy to show off but an actor that interacts with a living breathing world. The fun of it all is seeing how this character interacts with this world and challenging situations with their own specialized abilities. If they can do everything then their not fun to read (typically).

    All that said, thanks for sharing this brilliant topic. Many lolz were had and memories uncovered from the good ol’ days.

    P.S. I’m actually working on a book as we speak about a character that totally subverts this trope. It’s about two months from completion and stars Average Joe. He’s the main character surrounded by awesome characters and their awesome adventures are seen through his regular ol’ eyes.

    • Thanks for the comment! I love looking at how Mary Sue-ish my characters end up being and then working out if that’s a bad thing. Dunno if you read Terry Pratchet but Carrot is an almost Mary Sue because he’s a perfect character surrounded by masses of flawed characters who essentially endure him. I love that!

      The idea of the Mary Sue is actually a lot of fun to play with, I like your book idea! Does he get jaded by it all or does something else happen?

      • Yes as a kid he tries a bit of everything to find himself. Sports, acting, academics, but he really isn’t good at any of it. He finally accepts that he is not special in any way and lives his life accordingly. Of course as the book begins adventures and truly extraordinary people find him.

        That Terry Pratchett book sounds interesting though. Think I’ll look it up. Mary Sues can be interesting, I think, if the world around them is interesting enough. Hell, their Mary Sue-ness can even be a character flaw in a way that makes it interesting.

  5. Pingback: From Mary-Sue to Heroine: Rethinking Jacquel Romanov~by FallenLordDoom | FanFiction Fridays

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