|Synonyms:||Gary Stu, Marty Stu, Lt. Mary Sue, Lieutenant Mary Sue, Stufic|
|See also:||Canon Sue, Suethor, self-insertion, Wish Fulfillment, Biographical criticism|
|Click here for related articles on Fanlore.|
A Mary Sue is an original character in fan fiction, usually but not always female, who for one reason or another is deemed undesirable by fan critics. A character may be judged Mary Sue if she is competent in too many areas, is physically attractive, and/or is viewed as admirable by other sympathetic characters. Mary Sues are generally presumed to be idealized self-inserts rather than true characters, although they may actually be intended as point-of-view characters for the reader. In fan fiction, it is considered extremely gauche, or at least very immature, for an author to create characters based on him- or herself.
"Mary Sue" is an extremely subjective value judgement. One fan's Mary Sue may be another fan's awesome woman action hero. Someone at TvTropes observed that "Mary Sue" is actually the reaction that fans may have to a work that "is unduly favoring a character by changing other characters or the environment in inappropriate ways. When the audience calls "Mary Sue" on a character, the author has shattered their Willing Suspension of Disbelief."
Mary Sue type characters do exist in both fan fiction and canon. The main difficulty with true Mary Sue stories is that they often cause canon characters, established story lines, and the very inner consistency of the canon's reality, to behave wildly out of bounds.
The male version of a Mary Sue is a Gary Stu or a Marty Stu.
Original Work: "A Trekkie's Tale"
It's a shame that Paula Smith didn't look more carefully at her own motivations when she wrote that damnable little story. - Fan author lj-dharma_slut
"I never intended to put down all stories about aspiring females." - Paula Smith, 1980, quoted in Enterprising Women, p. 96.
The very first published Trek fan fiction, Spockanalia, T-Negative, Tricorder Readings, Eridani Triad, Pastaklan Vesla or Babel, did not include any such characters or stories. Some zines printed lighthearted first-person narratives about accidentally getting beamed up, or meeting the characters through time travel. These were meant as non-serious farces or just lighthearted imaginary stories. However, more serious stories of Kirk, Spock, McCoy etc. befriending/assisting orphans and other Original Female Characters were likewise accepted without comment. This was in the days before fanfic criticism was a common practice in the pages of fanzines (although often took place behind the scenes).
This character did not have a last name, despite some fans who attribute it as Whipple.
Smith described the origins of A Trekkie's Tale in an interview:
It all goes back to the early 1970s... I went to a lot of conventions around that time and I bought every zine I could lay my hands on... Some of it was extremely good. But an awful lot of it was just plain awful.
As Theodore Sturgeon said, 90 percent of everything is crap. The amazing thing was, the crap had so much of a pattern. I'm very much a pattern seeker, and you could see that every Trek zine at the time had a main story about this adolescent girl who is the youngest yeoman or lieutenant or captain ever in Starfleet. She makes her way onto the Enterprise and the entire crew falls in love with her. They then have adventures, but the remarkable thing was that all the adventures circled around this character. Everybody else in the universe bowed down in front of her. Also, she usually had some unique physical identifier—odd-colored eyes or hair—or else she was half-Vulcan. The stories read like they were written about half an hour before the zine was printed; they were generally not very good.Then came along this one story. I don't even remember the title of the zine, but I remember vividly that its cover was illustrated with hand-colored yellow ducks.  Well, that didn't seem to have a whole lot to do with Star Trek, but I guess it meant something to the author. This particular one not only had the young teenaged girl who was a lieutenant come on the bridge, where Kirk and Spock immediately fell in love with her -- I think Scotty and McCoy did as well -- but they all backed off and were very respectful because she only had eyes for Chekov. So during the adventure, everybody beams down to the planet and everybody gets captured by the aliens, and this character manages to spring them because—literally—she has a hairpin. When they get back to the ship, she's sick. She had caught something down there and she dies. And then she resurrected herself... 
Ms. Smith's story stirred up considerable sentiment pro and con. Subsequent to the story's appearance, Ms. Smith and her partner Sharon Ferraro wrote LoCs to various fan publications to point out that this or that story "contained a Mary Sue". When the authors and other readers objected, Smith and Ferraro began to explain in detail what they saw as Mary Sue and why it was detrimental to fiction. Her overt purpose was to help amateur writers improve enough to be taken seriously by professional science fiction magazine editors and possibly earn more nominations for Hugo Awards in the fan fiction category. Smith objected strongly to Connie Faddis' proposed independent awards program for Star Trek fan writers. Smith went into some detail about this in issue 3 of Halkan Council.
A New Kind of Fan
Much of the very earliest TOS fan fiction, while often deeply emotional, did not involve extensive descriptions of sexual activity or romantic involvement. There were few if any relationship stories in the sense of K&S or other characters musing at length about how they felt toward each other. Fans of that era had never even heard the word "pairing". When characters did become romantically involved, it was always heterosexual, as in the Star Trek television series.
Along with depicting canon female characters (Elaan, Chapel, etc.), authors routinely created original female characters. These characters were taken for granted in early Star Trek fandom. Since there was hope the original show would return within a few years, many fans wrote stories that could presumably be adapted into viable Star Trek episodes. Original female characters with unusual gifts or attributes were taken for granted as were the female guest stars on the show, nor were all such characters deemed self-insertions of their respective authors.
In her history of Trek fan fiction, Boldly Writing, Joan Verba attributes both slash stories and the modern type of Mary Sue to the fact that by the mid-1970s numerous amateur authors with little or no background in science fiction were becoming attracted to the series. They saw Star Trek primarily as a "buddy" show about three guys exploring the galaxy together. These, not the very earliest fan writers, were the ones whose writing focused on emotions and relationships between the characters rather than on plot. 
Even after the appearance of "A Trekkie's Tale", some fans merely noted in passing the appearance of "adolescent wish-fantasies" or "alter ego" in stories, with the attitude that amateur writers create such stories for practice. However, since fan writers began publishing on the Internet, the focus on Mary Sue and the perceived need to avoid writing such characters has increased exponentially.
Changes in Mary Sues over time
Initially, a Mary Sue was a teenaged, brilliant, good-looking girl, who is also modest, self-effacing, self-sacrificing and gets the guy as her reward. In other words, the smart young girl gives up her independence and intelligence to fulfill the traditional subservient role of women in society. In stories where she did not end up with one of the canon male characters, she invariably died.
- "For intelligent women struggling with their culturally anomalous identities, Mary Sue combines the characteristics of active agent with the culturally approved traits of beauty, self-sacrifice, and self-effacement, which magic recipe wins her the love of the hero... [the] Mary Sue story is [the writer's] attempt, if only in print, to experience that rite of passage from the active child to the passive woman who sacrifices her selfhood to win the prince... Mary Sue writers traditionally kill the active self with their alter-ego character at the end of their stories."
Modern Mary Sues show more variety -- maybe because possible fictional hero roles for women have expanded. However, many fan critics may have a Mary Sue reaction today based on elements that wouldn't have caused this reaction in past decades:
- Unusual hair or eye color, general attractiveness
- Exceptional abilities, even in a "verse" such as Star Trek where exceptional people are the norm
- An exotic pet
- Being a confidante of one or more main characters
- A detailed description of the character
Some fan critics call Mary Sue on any original female character, or any original character.
The definition of Mary Sue has changed over time, which seems only right, as our definition of a "real woman" has changed drastically in the last thirty years. Interestingly, the concept of "Mary Sue" has trickled down from media fandom into general SF fandom and even the mainstream, a rare example of fannish drift flowing the other way.
Common fannish definitions
"We want our heroes to be better than us, but not to the point of being absurd." - Anonymous fan reviewer at Wikipedia
- Idealized self-insert: In the strictest sense, Mary Sue is an Original Female Character (OFC) in fan fiction. She is perfect in every sense of the word, and is usually considered to be a self-insertion of the author. Some fans have observed that she's just as likely to be intended as someone for the reader to identify with. She may also have been created as a "perfect mate" for one of the canon characters. She is unique in numerous ways (by having an unusual hair color, eye color, special abilities, etc) and the author may devote a lot of space to descriptions of the character. At some point in the tale she "saves everyone" in some way. Nearly everyone in the story instantly loves her; and those who don't are eventually brought around. Some Mary Sues may have emotional difficulties, and may have suffered a difficult or tragic past, inspiring sympathy from canon characters. If she has flaws, they are "perfect" flaws, such as wanting to serve others to the detriment of her own well-being. 
The term is more broadly associated with characters who are exceptionally and improbably lucky. The good luck may involve romance ("Mary Sue" always gets her man); adventure ("Mary Sue" always wins a fight or knows how to solve the puzzle); and popularity (the "right people" seem to gravitate towards the character). These characters confront very few significant problems while attempting to achieve their goals. "Everything goes her way" is a common criticism regarding "Mary Sues", the implication being that the character is not sufficiently humanized or challenged to be genuinely interesting and sympathetic.
- The Attention Hog: Original "guest star" character in fan fiction who overshadows the canonical cast. The focus of reader and character attention is unduly placed on the guest star rather than on the leads.
- The Warper: Any poorly-written character appearing in almost any story and in almost any form. They are created by writers who "lack sufficient skill or a sufficient understanding of human nature". The primary defining characteristic of these stories is that the "canon characters and plot warp around her to fit the author's wish fulfillment," allowing the Mary Sue to make the decisions and take the actions normally taken by others. A canon character can be made into a Mary Sue by this definition. Warpers may also be characters who are introduced as confidants of the main protagonists. They are set into the story for the purpose of bringing the two lead characters together or reconciling them if they have quarreled. 
The score: Mary Sue Litmus Tests
A 19-point Mary Sue Litmus Test was originally created by Melissa Wilson. Writers of original amateur stories and fan fiction can test original characters to see if they fit the profile.  There are other such tests, including for original amateur writing,, some tests are reputed to be more useful than others.
Some writers question the usefulness of having a litmus test at all, or think that more adjustments are necessary, especially after some amateur authors admitted to working from the test when developing a new character simply to ensure she would not be a Mary Sue.
In general, the Mary Sue concept seems to have evolved from a simple criticism of bad characterization into a weapon of the realism school of literature. If an unrealistic or unlikely character is undesirable, the author may have little left but depictions of mediocrity, inappropriate for fannish genres where larger-than-life characters are expected.
Mary Sues in Fandom
Fandom, and readers, dislike Mary Sues with varying degrees of passion.  There is a Livejournal community dedicated to making fun of stories with Mary Sues in them, as well as a similar community for Canon Sues, though some people feel this behavior is a form of character bashing and will inhibit amateur authors, particularly beginners or the very young, from writing at all.
Despite this, it is not uncommon for an author's very first pieces of writing to contain Mary Sues. An author who writes extreme Sues may be called a Suethor in some fandoms. Some more experienced authors also enjoy the wish fulfillment of writing Mary Sues.
Numerous parody stories with "Mary Sue" type characters also exist, and may be mistaken for the genuine article. My Immortal (Harry Potter story) is an example. Cupidsbow's (rated NC-17) With 6 You Get Unicorns, the sequel to the slash meta piece 8 ways not to write a fanfic (rated PG-15), offers another.
A Fan Talks About Her Mary SueA popular series in the mid-1970s was The Landing Party 6, and one of its characters was Sadie Faulwell, a character written by Paula Block:
The 'Faulwellian Epic's' genre was... well, I can't exactly say it was action-adventure, can I? I always considered it a Mary-Sue (how could I honestly consider it anything else, when the drawings of Sadie were patterned after me?), in that Mary-Sue incorporates portions of the author's personality within the main character. And Sadie certainly reflected a lot of my thoughts and yearnings. Though 'she got her man in the end,' I always tried to keep her as humanly imperfect as possible. She didn't win by beauty, gile or feats or heroism. It was her personality that pulled her through -- a sense of fatalism blended with a sense of humor, vulnerability balanced by stamina. A lot of people could identify with her, which helped transform the meaning of 'Mary Sue' in this case from Wonder Woman to Everywoman. 
Advice to Avoid Mary Sue
Along with common-sense advice such as attention to plot, theme, setting and mood, guidelines written for amateur writers by amateur writers now include a warning to "avoid Mary Sue". Young authors are sometimes warned not to create original characters who are so much as attractive although most seem to stick with the definition of Mary Sue as "too perfect" or an idealized version of oneself.
These types of guidelines and warnings also appear frequently in RPGs. For example, on the website for the Dragonriders of Pern RPG, New Landing Weyr, the subscription page (archived) advised new members:
- "Want to know what not to make your character? Please meet Righinn, our very own "What Not to Create Your Persona" created especially for the first pass! Thank you Melissa for creating her."
The bio for Righinn McGregor (archived) presented a deliberately overwritten, exaggeratedly virtuous, Mary Sue-type character as a mock candidate for membership in the game.
Apparently some people have had a Mary Sue reaction to the original Dragonflight, in which Lessa first Impresses the queen dragon Ramoth. This in turn prompted an exasperated reaction (and a bit of history) from a long-time fan:
Oooooh! What a dweebish way to classify the Anne McCaffrey book! Honestly, I’m getting REALLY fed up with EVERY book that features a female protagonist being automatically slotted as "romantic fantasy" or "a Mary Sue story". Talk about being sexist! Ask yourself this: Has there ever been a story about a guy who befriends a dragon, finds a beautiful woman, gets laid and saves the world? Is HE instantly labeled a "Gary Stu"??? No. How about "Tarnsman of Gor"? I read that one in high school too. As a female, it messed me up. Or how about ANY Conan the Barbarian book? Just because the male reading the book is incapable of putting himself in a female’s head for the length of the book does not make the story a "Mary Sue". A true "Mary Sue" requires that the female lead meet an already established hero (Mr. Spock was the first recipient of that honor) entice him to choose her despite all obstacles, and then father the obligatory children with her. And how do I know about the "Mary Sue" trope? I’m old enough to have attended Star Trek cons in the early 70’s, and the person who originated the appellation "Mary Sue", Paula Smith, is someone I’ve been on panels with at cons. Instead of showing a distinct tendency to be out of touch with your "female side", it is recommended that you have a better understanding of the labels you’re using. And to shove you into my shoes, remember this: women and girls are expected, as readers, to put themselves in both male and female lead roles in order to enjoy almost any book or movie. There is no reason at all that men can’t do it too. True men man up and try to see it from our point of view sometimes.
Mary Sues in Canon
Main article: Canon Sue
Sometimes fans notice when the writing staff steps over the fictional line and moves a character out of believability and into the Mary Sue realm. This is occasionally referred to as a Canon Sue.
Probably the most famous case of a Canon Sue is Wesley Crusher, from Star Trek: The Next Generation, annoying boy hero, written by Gene Wesley Roddenberry. Bacon-Smith points out that James T. Kirk himself could qualify as a Marty Stu. A female hero who seems overly competent or appears to exhibit new skills as the plot calls for them (James H. Schmitz's Telzey Amberdon, Anne McCaffrey's Menolly, comic heroine Modesty Blaise) may be viewed as a Canon Sue by readers, while male heroes with the same traits (Batman, McGyver, James Bond) may get a pass. Heinlein's concept of the competent man doesn't seem to extend to include competent women.
- "The automatic reaction you are going to get is 'that's a Mary Sue.'" - Interviewee at Clippercon 1987
Perhaps no term or concept in fandom has managed to stir up the amount of emotion evoked by the words "Mary Sue". Amateur editor Edith Cantor once remarked that "in terms of their impact on those whom they affect, those words [Mary Sue] have got to rank right up there with the Selective Service Act."  Fan writers report feeling inhibited, even frightened, by the thought of writing original characters who might be seen as Mary Sue by readers.
Is fear of "Mary Sue" stifling creativity?
Why is it that in a community that is probably 90% female, we have so few stories about believable, competent, and identifiable-with women? - Johanna Cantor, "Mary Sue, A Short Compendium", quoted in Camille Bacon-Smith's Enterprising Women'
The "Mary Sue" concept has drawn criticism from amateur and professional authors. Many such criticisms are brushed off as coming from writers who create "Mary Sues" and are thus beneath notice. However, the onus of wishing to avoid being condemned as a "Suethor" ("Mary Sue" author) apparently weighs heavily even on professional authors and sophisticated amateurs, particularly women.
Camille Bacon-Smith includes a subsection on the "Mary Sue" concept in her book, Enterprising Women, tying it together with the Canon Sue issue. While not denying that such characters exist, and going into considerable detail as to just why fans write them, she observes that fear of creating a "Mary Sue" may be restricting and even silencing pro as well as fan authors. She cites "Mary Sue" paranoia as one of the sources for the lack of what Johanna Cantor called "believable, competent, and identifiable-with" female characters in today's fan fiction. Bacon-Smith also quotes Edith Cantor describing a story she received from a neofan in 1978. In the cover letter, the fan said "I don't know if I ought to be sending this to you. I'm afraid it's a Mary Sue. Only I don't know what that is."
Amateur writers respond to the emphasis on avoiding Mary Sue in several ways. Some continue to create original characters, but make them as dull, unattractive and colorless as possible. Some do not create original characters at all. Fan critics are liable to judge an original character as Mary Sue unless she is plain looking, has many faults or flaws, and never has any traumatic experiences or distinguishing characteristics.
In 1985, when asked why she hadn't written any fan fiction subsequent to her novella The Mind-Sifter, published in Sharon Emily's Star Trek Showcase in 1975, Shirley Maiewski said that along with the editing hatchet job by Sondra Marshak for Star Trek: The New Voyages, she'd received sniping fan critiques by "experts" who called her work "poorly written, lacking character development" and containing a Mary Sue. "Best reasons in the world for a terminal case of Writer's Block."
At Clippercon 1987 (a Star Trek fan convention), Bacon-Smith interviewed a panel of women authors who say they do not include female characters in their stories at all. She quoted one as saying "Every time I've tried to put a woman in any story I've ever written, everyone immediately says, this is a Mary Sue." Bacon-Smith also pointed out that "Participants in a panel discussion in January 1990 noted with growing dismay that any female character created within the community is damned with the term Mary Sue."
Writing in 2013, fan author/editor Charlotte Frost said:
Fans, and especially slash fans, really did detest female characters. And, God forbid, if a woman had a large, positive role in a story, then the story was sneered at for being a "Mary Sue" story ... even if the female character wasn't the least bit all-powerful, or all-knowledgeable... if she was a "good guy" and female, then the story was automatically labeled a Mary Sue by disgusted fans. So, to not be viewed with disgust, one had to make original, positive characters in a story male. Which meant, if they were going to be any female characters at all, they needed to be bad ones." 
Several other writers quoted by Bacon-Smith point out that James T. Kirk could be seen as a Canon Sue, and that the label seems to be used more indiscriminately on female characters who do not behave in accordance with the dominant culture's images and expectations for females as opposed to males. Professional author Ann Crispin is quoted: "The term 'Mary Sue' constitutes a put-down, implying that the character so summarily dismissed is not a true character, no matter how well drawn, what sex, species, or degree of individuality."
In recent years, since the advent of the Internet and particularly fanfiction.net in 1998, criticism of "Mary Sue" has escalated to the point that amateur authors may hesitate to include any of these elements in their writing for fear of being called out as a Suethor. The amount of obsession and dire warnings associated with "Mary Sue" amount to a moral panic within fandom. The appearance of a character deemed Mary Sue is viewed as a license to ridicule and humiliate the character and the author. 
The presence of any character identified as Mary Sue now elicits expressions of murderous rage among fan critics. For example, in a 1979 LoC in an issue of S and H, a Starsky & Hutch letterzine, a fan is already well-aware of the term, and what it represented. "With any luck, Sergeant Mary Sue will be strangled in her cradle as she deserves, and readers will be spared the thoroughly embarrassing spectacle of daydreams made public... The defensiveness and ill-will that has sprung up in Trek over this type of story, and the K/S story, which negates its possibility, should serve as an additional warning."
Other LoCs to the same fanzine expressed the opinion that fans wrote S/H slash "because we want to enjoy their sexy bodies making mad, passionate love -- without having to share them with some other broad." Others pointed out that stories with sympathetic heroines were being unfairly classed as Mary Sue, while S/H slash was "safe". Again, Charlotte Frost:
[R]egarding fandom's tendency in general to make most competing love interests male, I think it has to do with the ladies of K/S wanting to read about men. It seems that whenever a K/S story has a strong female character, it is immediately disliked (even if she isn't a love interest). I know of some fans who automatically label a story a "Mary Sue" if it contains a major female character, no matter how intelligently that character may be written. To be honest, I think it's probably one of those unpleasant little hypocrisies of K/S. Many of us claim we like K/S because it represents a completely equal relationship, but we tend to not want women to have equal status in those same stories. Perhaps we subconsciously see them as competing with us— the female fans of K/S."
In 2012, Christine Scodari, a researcher in media studies from gender perspective, noticed a tendency within slash fandom to label major canon female characters (eg. Nyota Uhura in the Star Trek: Alternate Original Series film reboot) as "Mary Sues" because the slash fans "begrudged" how the development of the female character takes away screen time from slashable male characters.
In a 2009 discussion page at TV Tropes, one commenter questioned the practice of flaming young writers who created Mary Sues, suggesting that offering constructive criticism might be better. Her analysis was labeled a "brainfart" and she was told that Mary Sue was "the literary equivalent of publicly soiling yourself." Fan critics compare writers of Mary Sue characters to pedophiles and rapists and advise them to commit suicide.
Groups such as PPC and self-proclaimed "Sueslayers" now appear in online communities. Choosing stories that they judge as containing Mary Sue characters, they proceed to rewrite them, inserting characters based on themselves into the plot for the express purpose of killing the character they have decided is Mary Sue.
Criticism of Sue-phobia
In April 2010, Dreamwidth author boosette wrote a short essay, "Storming the Battlements or: Why the Culture of Mary Sue Shaming is Bully Culture". It began as, but was not limited to, a comment on the practices of the PPC. This essay set off a tidal wave of discussion and inspired many other fans to speak up. Boosette subsequently removed the essay citing inability to cope with the massive flood of comments. The core points have been quoted many times online:
Writing "Mary Sues" is empowering. Writing them being awesome is empowering. Calling Mary Sue, and contributing to an environment such as the above, which encourages the denigration of female awesomeness in fiction, which encourages the bullying and harassment of participants in female awesome, is participating in that culture.
- Calling "Mary Sue" in this environment is shaming women for empowering themselves.
- There is no substantive harm in writing a "Mary Sue" -- there is no substantive harm in creating a character, original or otherwise, who "warps the world around them", who is "adored by all for no particular reason", who wins the day.
- There is substantive harm in bullying and shaming real people for empowering themselves through their writing. Words have power. Words cause harm. Words hurt, and the wounds they leave are deeper and longer-lasting than many physical wounds. I nearly stopped writing entirely, as a teen, after having my work and my OC called "Mary Sue". I have friends who did stop writing because of it.
- Before anyone says: "Oh, they/you should just have sucked it up and grown a thicker skin! Learn to accept criticism!"
- You are blaming the victims of bullying for their bullies' behavior.
- That is Not. Okay. Ever. 
"I was also taught, very early on, that created characters of the female variety would automatically be dismissed as (1) alter ego, (2) Mary Sue, or (3) both. Well, I use a lot of created characters, some of whom are female. I do not write alter ego characters ... my characters are considerably more interesting than I am and the majority of them have personalities which are, by and large, vastly different from ran my own. And all of them are in some way flawed, because most of them are human beings, and I've never yet seen a perfect one in this life--so I don't consider that they fall into the Mary Sue category. But everywhere I looked, I constantly saw female-created characters being derided. Now, admittedly, some such may well have deserved the scorn and ridicule--but it seemed to be applied with little discrimination." 
Are some "Mary Sues" just strong/competent women?
Some fans who write original female characters find that these characters will always be labeled as Mary Sues, no matter how well written or characterized, and see the obsession with the Mary Sue label as evidence of misogyny in fandom.
"A hero achieving many great things over the course of a series is not bad and is not Mary Sue. It's what heroes *do*. Having a dark and/or complicated past is not a bad thing by itself. The problem arises only when, in fanfic, you distort the canon characters out of recognition by introducing a new character, or modifying a canon character, or, to a certain extent, deforming the laws of human nature in writing people's reactions to an original hero. It should not be a put-down for female heroes (or even male ones who are improbably competent.) It should not be wholly focused on self-insertion or ridiculous names. It should not be used as an excuse to not write women in fanfic. Otherwise the term starts to get watered down, and a serious level of sexism creeps in." 
"It looks to me like people are utilizing multiple definitions of Mary Sue, and by at least one of them, "any strong female heroine with an interesting life" qualifies. This is upsettingly sexist, especially to a person who hopes to make a living writing strong male *and* female heroes with interesting lives."
"My definitions of "success" have changed--does she need to be pretty? Does a man need to love her? Does everyone need to recognize how awesome she is?--but the initial impetus has not. When I sit down to write a woman now, I think: I want her to be awesome. I want her to achieve things that are important to her. I want her to succeed."
Here’s the thing: yes, the term came from rote, overdone, self-interested fanfics.
Here’s the other thing: absolutely nobody complains about the hundreds of thousands of male characters who perform the exact same role in any other piece of rote, overdone, self-interested media. There is misogyny inherent in the practice of labeling characters Mary Sues, but it stems from a larger vein of misogyny that encompasses fandom and media as a whole.
It’s that same misogyny that brands female-dominated spaces as illegitimate and trite and hobbies, when male-dominated spaces are careers and important and art.
There are dozens of variations of Mary Sues, from Purity Sues to Angst Sues to even Gary Stues. And you know why?
It comes from the knee-jerk response to labelling any character written by women for other women as a Mary Sue. For a lot of writers, these criticisms would come without justification or evidence for improvement. Just invoking the term “Mary Sue” was enough to label an entire story as unsalvageable. When the author would inevitably reply “how can she be a Sue? She doesn’t fill any of the criteria!” the person criticizing the character would then make up a new variety. When authors were criticized for doing it wrong, they tried their damndest to do better, only to be criticized for doing the exact same thing all over again. They even tried not making their characters women, which only succeeded in changing the name to ‘Gary Stu’ instead. The common denominator was not any quality, or even any set of qualities. It wasn’t even poor quality of writing. The only common denominator was that it came from a place dominated by women.By calling a character like Katniss Everdeen (or Black Widow, or Abbie Mills, or pretty much anyone) a Mary Sue, you are saying that she’s just like one of those characters that a woman would write when she expects other women to read it, and therefore isn’t nearly as valuable or important or legitimately good as, say, Dean Winchester, who was written by men for men and only incidentally observed by women. 
In mainstream literature, many of the most memorable and successful characters are based on their authors, are the center and focus of the tales, and are portrayed sympathetically. Clearly there is a way to create such characters without eliciting a "Mary Sue" reaction in readers.
Paula Smith herself specifically states that characters based on oneself, even if they have a romantic relationship with a canon hero, are not necessarily Mary Sue in the sense that she meant it: "For example, by 1976, we were seeing Paula Block's Sadie Faulwell in the "Landing Party" series in the Warped Space zine. It was a very loose roman à clef about Paula Block and her friends. They were really self-portrait characters, but for whatever reason, they had more of a sense of proportion about them. She had McCoy fall in love with Sadie, but it did not necessarily change McCoy's characterization, and it didn't change anyone's characterization, and the stories were intriguing on their own. Was this a Mary Sue or not a Mary Sue?"
YA reviewer Courtney "cbollngr" insists that while Mary Sues do exist, not all author-based characters are Mary Sue:
Now, listen: I’m the last person to think that author avatars are a bad thing. I actually find the frothing anti-Mary Sue movement to be tedious and tiresome, especially since many of its proponents tend to veil their internalized misogyny with diatribes about ‘exposing’ these types of characters in various published media (the canon_sue community on LJ is a cesspit of this type of thinking). There is nothing inherently wrong with using yourself as a character, and, indeed, I hold with the notion that all characters contain elements of the person who created them. We are vast and contain multitudes, etc. Here’s the thing, though. Many times, when novice (or just not very good, as in the case of Ms. Duff) writers use themselves as templates for their protagonists, they give in to the temptation of a little–or a big–makeover. The character becomes a glossy, cardboard vision of what that writer might like to be, or, worse, of how they already see themselves. This is problematic because no one is without flaws. And, honestly, even if you did manage to find somebody flawless, you wouldn’t want to read an epic saga about that person, would you?
I think that whenever you create a strong character, there's always that -- some dream-image of yourself. -- Gene Roddenberry
Mary Sue is often denigrated specifically because she's assumed to be a "self-insert", author avatar or alter ego. In fan fiction it is considered extremely gauche and immature for authors to create characters based on themselves. By extension, any original female character, when written by a female, might be seen as a self-insert. In an online discussion taking place in 2003, Livejournal user Carmarthen said she had talked to women who only write male/male slash "because they are afraid that if they write about female characters, they will use their own female perspective in the writing, which leads to Mary Sues." 
Stories of time-space displacement, such as Lois Welling's The Displaced, are often assumed to be self-insertion and therefore Mary Sue.  Any story in which an original female character has romance with one of the leads, whether or not it is portrayed realistically, is often considered Mary Sue, particularly if written by a woman.
It's Not a Mary Sue If It's Her Story
I genuinely wish that everyone would delete the word "Mary Sue" from their vocabulary. In its original, fanfic usage, it described a character who was, yes, usually female, but whose greatest crime was not perfection: it was twisting the story. A Mary Sue in that sense literally walks into someone else's world and makes everything about her. Flash forward to the modern day and it's a rare female protagonist who doesn't get accused of being a Mary Sue, and hence worthless. Here's the thing: she can't distort the story if the story already belongs to her. The protagonist, regardless of gender, is awesome and interesting and has a milkshake that brings all the boys, girls, or genderfluid space pirates to the yard, because that's why they're the star of the story. So calling female protagonists "Mary Sue" is sexist, belittling, and reduces them in a way that is very rarely applied to their male counterparts—even when those male counterparts are just as guilty of being a little too perfect to be real. 
Embracing Mary Sue
Despite criticism, some fans took Mary Sue into their hearts, though in a guarded way. In 1986, one zine asked for submissions for "The Unabashed Mary Sue." "Seeking submissions for an adult 'zine featuring stories which focus on female characters and strong relationships (not limited to romantic!). Erotic content acceptable but the strength of the story is the criteria for selection. Any fan universe qualifies. Names of authors carefully guarded if requested." 
And I LOVED Mary Sues, I mean I LOVED the idea that someone from our world could go to a magical fantasy land and get high on sugar and call the King an ass. 
Real Life Mary Sues
Some of the so-called litmus tests for Mary Sue characters include acknowledgements that there are real persons who score as Mary Sues on said tests. The usual example is Bono, the lead singer of the rock group U2, who got 72 points on the Original Mary Sue Litmus Test.
Can someone's real life be so lucky, so perfect, that if they were a fictional character, we'd insist they were a Mary Sue? Maybe.  Or at least it's funny to think about: "Dear America, please stop it. Your OMC, Obama, is the worst Sue I've seen in a long time."
- A New Author's Guide to Writing Good Fan Fiction: Who is Mary Sue?; WebCite (unknown date, probably late 1990s, early 2000s)
- 150 Years of Mary Sue, by Pat Pflieger AND 150 Years of Mary Sue -- The Mary Sues Listed, Archived version, around (1999)
- When is a Mary Sue not a Mary Sue? ljc (unknown date, probably late 1990s, early 2000s)
- On "Mary Sue" and "Lay" Stories, an essay by Judith Gran (2000)
- Mary Sue Gives Birth, Baby Undergoes Sex Change: The Role of Star Trek Fan Fiction in the Creation of Star Trek: The Next Generation; Archive ("At the Internet Review of Science Fiction". A history of the concept, analyzing Wesley Crusher and James Kirk as Mary Sue characters") (2004)
- Mary Sue, Who Are You? Often-cited essay by Merlin Missy describes traits most commonly identified as being Mary Sue; Archive page one, Archive page two (2007)
- Everyone's A Superhero; Archive (Academic paper examining Mary Sue characters as representing "subaltern critique and empowerment" rather than narcissistic wish-fulfillment; and Mary Sue fanfiction as being fair use under copyright law) (2007)
- The Heretic Loremaster » If I Could Scratch Five Words from the Fannish Lexicon …, Archived version on Heretic Loremaster (2009)
- On Mary Sue Policing and Why I Cannot Abide it; Archive by niqaeli on his/her Dreamwidth journal (2009)
- I'm no longer comfortable with the term 'Mary Sue'; Archive by goldjadeocean, Dreamwidth journal (2010)
- a tentative meta on mary sue and the inimical effects of misunderstanding feminismArchive by lj-albumsontheside (2010)
- So Sue Me; Archive community on Dreamwidth for exploring the positive values of Mary Sue type characters (began in 2010-)
- A conversation with Paula Smith by Cynthia W. Walker in Transformative Works and Cultures, Vol 6 (2011)
- In Defense Of Mary Sue: She's Not The Enemy; Archive, by Livejournal user dubonnetcherry ("Mary Sue, more often than not, comes down to internalized misogyny and bullying children... I want my fandoms to be better than that.") (2011)
- I know a little girl and her name is Mary Mac: The Misuse of Mary Sue; Archive by seanan-mcguire ("Saying "This character is just a Mary Sue" is a way of dismissing them that isn't fair to reader, writer, or character. We can do better. We can write better. We just need to know how. And give Mary Sue a break. I think the girl's earned it.") (2011)
- Avoid Writing A Mary Sue at TvTropes, pages found 2012-11-14. This is an observant and thoughtful article in their "So You Want To" series, going into detail about story elements that might "trigger" a Mary Sue reaction.
- Connie Faddis said, "[In] what I'd call our 'era of innocence.' (maybe 1969-74 or so).... Then, there weren't so many zines, and fen were into a broader spectrum of themes, and editors and readers were delighted to read any but the most inept or simple-minded stories. Criticism, when it was given, was minimal, and praise was given a little more freely, I think." In Implosion #6 (1977).
- A Trekkie's Tale accessed 2013-05-02] A Trekkie’s Tale at archive.org A Trekkie’s Tale; WebCite
- A Trekkie's Tale, originally published in Menagerie #2, reprinted in Boldly Writing: A Trekker Fan & Zine History, 1967-1987(pdf) by Joan Marie Verba (accessed 15 Aug. 2008).
- Every Trekzine? Or was this like some fans' perception, described on p. 64 of Boldly Writing, that "all Star Trek fanzines nowadays are K/S" when it was really less than half of them?
- The zine in question was apparently Sylvia Bump's Double Exposure. In an editorial in Menagerie #10, Paula cautions fan editors that their zines should "NOT look like Double Exposure, a handtyped, handcrayoned Spockie zine of some years back which had dozens of little yellow ducks tracking across its pages."
- Interview by Cynthia W. Walker. A conversation with Paula Smith, in Transformative Works and Cultures, Vol 6 (2011). (Accessed 15 March 2011)
- Jacqueline Lichtenberg's Kraith series had received a nomination for a Hugo in this category.
- This change in who the fans were and what they wanted to write was discussed at length in early issues of Interstat (1977), with observations about a seeming preponderance of badly written relationship and Mary Sue stories.
- Sondra Marshak, Myrna Culbreath, Joan Winston and Jacqueline Lichtenberg, Star Trek Lives! (Bantam, 1975)
- Laura M. Hale, Historical Perspective on Mary Sue, covers some of this history.
- Detailed description in literature has been discouraged since the beginning of the realist and modernist movements in the 1920s which engendered the "show, don't tell" technique. "Show, don't tell" has been gospel in creative writing classes for decades. Certain types of genre literature such as cozy mysteries allow for more description. See On Writing As A Fantasist by Dave Wolverton for more on the background and origins of the realist movement and how it affects SF and fantasy.
- Several blogs and online magazines criticize Stieg Larsson's character Mikael Blomqvist as a Mary Sue.
- This is more or less the definition in Recreating the Adolescent Self: Mary Sue in Camille Bacon-Smith, Enterprising Women, Television Fandom and the Creation of Popular Myth (Univ. of Pennsylvania, 1994), p. 94.
- If original characters become that interesting to the author, he or she might consider creating a gen series, in the old-fashioned sense of the word; stories which take place in a particular universe but involving none of the canonical characters. Fanfics in which the focus is on the original character and the canonical cast makes a "guest star" appearance in a story about this character are treated more like a spinoff series in television and do not usually set off Mary Sue alarms in readers.
- alias_sqbr, Thoughts About Mary Sue, 2010-03-21.
- "The problem is not the OC. It’s not that she’s a girl. It’s not even the purple eyes. The problem is when the story starts warping itself – when everything, and everyone, and every single piece of anything ever is all bound up in the one character. With no room for anyone else." Deird1, What I Mean By Mary Sue and Why I Hate Her, Livejournal entry dated 2010-04-15. References an otherwise well-written Buffy story in which Xander is portrayed as a "warper" character.
- KLangley, comment in Thoughts about Mary Sue], dated March 21, 2010; accessed Feb. 8, 2011; WebCite.
- When is a Mary Sue Not A Mary Sue?/WebCite
- Original Fiction Mary Sue Litmus Test
- "If you're just trying to exercise due diligence in making sure that your character is fine, that's one thing. But there is a general sense of "Mary Sue fear". This is caused by people looking at a number of Mary Sue tests and thinking that because their characters ring certain bells, they've written Mary Sues." Avoid Writing A Mary Sue at TvTropes, under "Mary Sue Fear".
- "I feel that people have become accustomed to shouting 'Mary Sue!' far to [sic] quickly and I think these kinds of tests are not helping.... The first is that they are all anti-description, the second is the whole ratings thing, and the third is that many of the questions have nothing to do with the character's character but rather are plot points or clichés or are far to [sic] common place to even be considered something that causes Mary Sueism.."The Original Anti "Universal Mary Sue Litmus Test at wiccananime.com.
- "I cannot stress strongly enough what a BAD, BAD, BAD, BAD way to write a character this is. You don’t put a character together like an equation. You don’t give her a negative score for positive attributes and a positive score for negative attributes, and then jiggle the figures until the character profile fits within the “not a Mary” category. If you do things like this, you will end up with completely false characters with a string of bizarre personality traits." From "The Fear of Mary Sue on impishidea.com, a fan critic's blog.
- For example, see the Sparklypoo comic.
- Marysues at Livejournal.
- Canon Sues at Livejournal.
- from an interview of Paula Block in Menagerie #16
- Original Characters by Silverfox at How To Write Fanfiction.
- Tips for Fanfiction Writers by Cmar on rangerfiction.net.
- InuNoTaisho, comment to Mighty God King vs. His Adolescent Reading Habits. October 29, 2013.
- The words to which Cantor refers are Greetings from the President of the United States. You are hereby ordered to report for induction. This is the opening of the U.S. military draft notice received by millions of young men from 1940 to the time the draft was discontinued in 1973. Those who received this letter, especially during the Vietnam era, often reacted with fear and anger, in some cases panic, flight to Canada ("draft dodging") and even suicide. Today, young men and women are still required by law to register for Selective Service, but the draft no longer exists and many reforms have been put in place. For a better understanding of these issues, see Michael Stuart Foley, Confronting the War Machine: Draft Resistance during the Vietnam War (Univ. of North Carolina, 2003).
- Bacon-Smith, Camille, Enterprising Women, Television Fandom and the Creation of Popular Myth. Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1992. The entire Mary Sue subsection is on line at Google Books.
- "Everyone seems so terrified of making their character a Mary Sue that they're going to ridiculous heights to make their characters/plots blandly average... even in genres and settings where everyone having some measure of the fantastic is not only forgivable, but preferred. These often end up producing Anti Sues that still dominate the spotlight unfairly in spite of the total lack of anything noteworthy of them.
"This is especially prevalent mostly due to the misuse of the Mary Sue accusation — it has evolved from something that was reserved for genuinely annoying characters to simply complaining about characters you don't like, with several "Mary Sue tests" including stuff that really isn't Sueish...just stuff the author of the test dislikes and wants to get rid of by calling it one of the Common Mary Sue Traits." From a comment in the article on Cliche Storms, TVTropes, by an unknown editor. Had to have been written before December 24, 2010. Page found 2013-02-05.
- The Propagator#Issue 7 has her statement, in a discussion on harsh fan critiques.
- Bacon-Smith, p. 110. A footnote states this was reported to her by Judy Chien, who attended the panel at MostEastlyCon 1990 in Newark.
- Charlotte Frost, The Male Or Female Thing, April 19, 2013.
- Smith, p. 97.
- Bacon-Smith, p. 98.
- Example, Bad-Fic: The Inquisition critique by Livejournal user shinobi_demon: "Shadowmancer1989, who is 18, should really die a slow and painful death for violating the meaning behind fan-fiction, violating the Naruto series, and most definitely pay for the costs of [Naruto creator] Kishimoto's funeral because he most definitely will have a seizure if he'd read that godawful piece of tripe... This girl should be thoroughly ashamed for writing such a godawful drivel at her age. Eighteen, for fuck's sake. That's when I first got my job at the editorial offices." The comments are also typical of online critique style in 2007; one hopes things have changed in the nine years since this was posted. WebCite.
- In S&H 1-5 and S&H 11-15 .
- Christine Scodari, "Nyota Uhura is Not a White Girl: Gender, intersectionality, and Star Trek 2009's alternate romantic universes." In Feminist Media Studies, September 2012, vol. 12, no. 3, pp. 335-351. Taylor and Francis Online reference (article costs $45).
- Just Bugs Me, Mary Sue Discussion Page on tvtropes; cached at WebCite.
- "You should be ashamed for subjecting us to this character. You should be ashamed for creating this character. In fact, you should just be ashamed, full stop." Commentary on the fan discussion board for My Life as a Teenage Robot;WebCite.
- These people go into considerable detail and can be said to have formed their own fan universes.
- Try a google search on +"kill the Sue" sometime.
- on mary sue policing and why i cannot abide it (Accessed April 10, 2010)
- goldjadeocean. Actually, I'm just lazy and blogging the short version instead (Accessed April 10, 2010); WebCite.
- Storming the Battlements or: Why the Culture of Mary Sue Shaming is Bully Culture. (Accessed April 10, 2010)
- 'Real Life', letter in Southern Enclave ca. January 1991, p. 28.
- Alara Rogers. Make up your Mind: what is a Mary Sue? January 30th 2003. Accessed 19 November 2008
- Alara Rogers, Make up your Mind: what is a Mary Sue? Posted January 30th 2003. Accessed 19 November 2008
- Such Stuff as Dreams Are Made On, Dreamwidth blog, April 10, 2010. Accessed Feb. 11, 2011.
- fandomhistorian.tumblr, May 18, 2016
- "cbollngr", Review of Elixir by Hilary Duff. Random Library Adventures, 2011-08-27.
- What I don't understand about the fear of Mary Sue, discussion by Carmarthen, 2003-01-26.
- The Displaced by Lois Welling, first published as a zine in 1978. (accessed 25 July 2009)
- Responding to a description of the Valjiir stories published in In a Different Reality back in the '80s, in which Spock ultimately marries his female assistant, male fan contributor AntiCitizen wrote: "Was that written by a female, by any chance? That plotline absolutely reeks of Mary Sue-ism." Legality Issues in Amok Time on TrekBBS, 2009-01-10.
- Referring to the 2003 hip-hop track "Milkshake" by Kellis, whose lyrics about sex appeal became an extremely popular meme.
- "Infodump," "Mary Sue" And Other Words That Authors Are Sick Of Hearing, Archived version, by Charlie Jane Anders, November 25, 2014
- from Datazine #42
- ella404, comment at the good old days before google were dark and involved horses (2010)
- According to her biographers, such glowingly angelic reports were written about the young Helen Keller that staff at the Perkins School for the Blind seem to have regarded her as a Mary Sue. Their antagonism towards her and her governess finally culminated in the scandal of The Frost King.
- LJ post by mistress_siana, entitled "Dear America, please stop it."
"Ooooh Spock, you were sooooo good! But I fear I have one small confession to make..." "What's that, my darling Mary Sue?" "I'm a Klingon agent. Bye bye, Spocko!" BLAM!! BLAM!! thud....