The (Original) Mary Sue Litmus Test

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Fanwork
Title: The (Original) Mary Sue Litmus Test
Creator: Melissa "Merlin Missy" Wilson
Date(s): 1997
Medium: online
Fandom: Gargoyles, but also other fandoms
External Links: Merlin Missy's Mary Sue Litmus Test; WebCite
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

The (Original) Mary Sue Litmus Test was written in 1997 by Merlin Missy for the Gargoyles fandom.

This test was highly discussed, and emulated by other fandoms. See Mary Sue Litmus Test.

Parts and Points

Fans were asked a series of questions regarding the topics below. Each topic had various points assigned to them.

Possible Points: 117 (assuming some questions obviate the rest) Preliminary testing suggests the following basic scoring scheme:
0-14 Developed character, unlikely MS.
15-19 Borderline character. Characters in this range are potential MS's, who can go either way dependent on the author's skill.
20+ Mary Sue/Gary Stu. Proceed with greatest caution.
35+ Reconsider your character and plot. Please.
  • The Name Game
  • Physical Attributes
  • Personal Traits
  • Super Powers
  • The Love Connection
  • The Real World and Your Character
  • The Fiendish Plot

Excerpts

Since its publication, I've received a bit of commentary on "Dr. Merlin's Guide," and fortunately for my ego, it's been positive feedback. However, there has been some concern about the section on Mary Sue-ism; specifically, many authors have talked to me and my associates about characters of their own, worried that said characters will be granted the dreaded appellation. First of all, not every original character is a Mary Sue. Most original characters are not, and for this, we may all be glad. On the other hand, Gargoyles fandom is filled with them, and only a few realize it. This test has been designed to help an aspiring author determine whether his or her character is a Mary Sue, or is simply another addition to the megaverse that is fanfiction. Scoring is simple -- for every question answered "Yes," (even if it's "technically yes, but," still count a yes) add the number of points in brackets to your score. Be honest; you're not helping yourself by saying "But it doesn't really count because ... " The higher your score, the more likely it is the character is a problem, or worse, is a retread of an hundred characters exactly like him/her/it.

Note for those who are going to come after me with pitchforks: yes, many of the following traits were drawn from "Gargoyles" and "Star Trek" fanfic. Just as many, though, have been drawn from my own stories, characters who saw the light of day only in my mind and were mercifully executed before they made their way into published stories. I know whereof I write. Consider this my way of trying to help.

Okay, so you've taken the test, and the character in question has failed miserably. You're stuck with a conundrum: should you write this wonderful story you have in your head? How can you do it without your character? I can't answer that for you. There are plenty of wonderful stories out there with characters who fit an alarming number of these traits, and still manage to be excellent fiction with interesting characters. The authors in question knew what they were doing when handling a character of this type, and pulled it off well. On the other hand, there are a disturbingly large number of stories in the same places with very painful examples of the above in them. Some of them helped inspire the test. In the end, your own common sense must be the judge.

If you see too many traits in common with your own character, can you change the character accordingly? Does the character have to be, or look, sixteen? Can you tell the exact same story with just the regulars? (You'd be amazed how often a little imagination can make this work, sometimes with even better results. Try it.) Does the character have to save the day? Must he/she be such an integral part of the story? Can you use the character instead as a means of examining the reactions of the regulars (to something other than the character's demise)? Can you give the character a major flaw? (Being unable to sing is not a major flaw. Being a gargoyle who is afraid of heights is a major flaw. Being socially inept can be a major flaw.)

I have one piece of advice to impart. (You knew this was coming.) When creating a new character, no matter of what species, at his or her most basic level, the character will be human, because the author will be human. The audience will also be human, and will relate to the character on those terms. Yes, your character might have wonderful magical powers, and that is fun to fantasize about having for yourself. At the same time, your character also has fears, and wishes, and dreams, and s/he will make mistakes, sometimes painful ones. Not everything your character does can be perfect and good. Humans don't work that way. We say stupid things sometimes, and get wrapped up in ourselves, and we step on the feelings of other people whether we mean to or not, and we laugh at dumb jokes, and we smell bad when we sweat, and we drool on our pillows.

If you really want to make an original character, give him or her bad habits, and good ones, and thoughts you don't necessarily share. Have the relationship not necessarily work out, especially right from the start. Even Goliath and Elisa didn't admit their feelings until they'd known each other for two years and a really long cruise. First and last of all, be real. The fantasy will make itself.

Fan Reactions

Other Mary Sue Litmus Tests

Fans created many other "Litmus Tests" for their fandoms.

Fan Comments

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