|Synonyms:||Gary Stu, Marty Stu, Lt. Mary Sue, Lieutenant Mary Sue, Stufic, Mark-Sam, Marcus-Sampson|
|See also:||Canon Sue, Suethor, self-insertion, Wish Fulfillment, Biographical criticism|
|Click here for related articles on Fanlore.|
A character may be judged a 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 fully realized characters, although they may actually be intended as point-of-view characters for the reader. Many fans feel that in true Mary Sue stories, the Sue will warp canon characters, established story lines, and the very consistency of the canon's reality until they are wildly out of bounds.
In some fanfiction circles, it is considered extremely gauche, or at least very immature, for an author to create characters based on themselves (a practice that is seen as invariably resulting in the creation of a Mary Sue). In this mindset, creating a Mary Sue story is considered almost a rite of passage and/or something a fan needs to get out of their system before moving on to more "mature" creations.
The escalating backlash towards Mary Sues in the internet age (accompanied by the development of tools like the Mary Sue Litmus Test) may have had a detrimental effect on authors' creativity, with some authors even avoiding female characters altogether for fear they would be labelled a Mary Sue. Mary Sue has been analysed, scrutinised and debated, with fans offering rebuttals and defences of the character and even coming to embrace her.
In addition to fanfiction, the designation of Mary Sue has been applied to canon characters as well.
Original Work: "A Trekkie's Tale"
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 playful 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).[note 1]
... back in the dark ages there were stories about female friends in Treklit. The two-girls-aboard-the- Enterprise stories were a staple in the early days of fanzines. Usually, though, one got either Spock or McCoy, and someone came along and labeled them "Mary Sue stories" and scared them out of the fanzines. Too bad. Had they had a normal development, we might be seeing two-women-aboard-the-Enterprise-who-remain-friends-and-find-fulfillment-in-some-way-other-than-marrying-one-of-the-Big-Three stories. And I don't mean lesbian stories.
This character did not have a last name, despite some fans who attribute it as Whipple. Paula Smith called her "Lieutenant Mary Sue" or "Lt. Mary Sue" in both the original story and in many subsequent reviews and comments to other fans' stories. One example is Smith's 1974 review of a story called "The Tollian Affair" in which Smith lambasts the story and refers to Mary Sue stories as a "worthless genre."
Smith described the origins of A Trekkie's Tale in a 2011 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 .[note 2] 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...
In 2017, Paula M. Block explained Mary Sue's origin:
Paula used to write these wonderful parodies of things, and I think it was one of her parodies that was published in a fanzine, and a lot of people wrote these quintessential stories where Kirk or Spock or somebody would just fall in love with this unknown ensign on the ship, and just for no apparent reason, would think she was the most wonderful thing in the world, and then usually she would die at the end of the story, you know. (laugh) It was kind of a silly little sub-shoot of fan fiction, and Paula mentioned it in — I don’t remember if it was a poem or just a little short lyrical piece or what, but she talked about Mary Sue, and she kind of defined the characteristics of Mary Sue, and I think everybody just loved it. They thought it was hysterically funny.
Mary Sue as a Detriment to Good Writing, But Also to Fans Being Taken Seriously in Science Fiction Writing
Paula Smith's story stirred up considerable sentiment pro and con. Subsequent to the story's appearance, Smith and her partner Sharon Ferraro wrote letters of comment 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.
Smith claimed that her 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. [note 3] Smith objected strongly to Connie Faddis' proposed independent awards program for Star Trek fan writers:
Only the pro[fessionally]published stuff is widely distributed enough to be available to a majority of trekfen; perhaps two fanzines reach a plurality of the fandom. It's too easy to have a popularity contest, to vote for something that everyone is talking about, and ignored the well-constructed story. On this basis, a Lt. Mary Sue story like 'The Misfit' or a badly-characterized mish-mosh like Spock Enslaved could win out over the subtler and better Daneswoman [a novel this zined [fanzine editor] was hoping to publish through her boojums Press]. And that is too abominable to even consider. Moreover, why should such an obviously self-congratulatory award be respected by the general fan? He'd rightly say that the Trekkies couldn't hack the Big Time, and are now settling for a toy. It would be incest, it would be masturbation, it would be meaningless. Besides, don't think that the good trekwriters would be content with ersatz. [Laura and Margaret] Basta, Lichtenberg and Gerrold would still try for Hugos, [note 4] and Trekkies would still vote en bloc for them. If we wish the straights to respect us,[note 5] we must beat them at their own game, on their own terms. Our writers much be so damnably good that the genfan has to vote for them. We cherish entirely too much crap to the bosom in our quest for trekfic; we should not tolerate the Lt. Mary Sues stories where some idiot ensign saves the day with her hairpin, the plotless examples of the Lay Spock/McCoy/Kirk/Scott/Chekov/Uhura sub-genre, the inconsistent and too often badly characterized Get Spock stories. We ought to go beyond the Enterprise, or at least the Bridge, once in a while. We gotta show some class.
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. Since there was hope the original show would return within a few years, many fans wrote stories or scripts that could presumably be adapted into viable Star Trek episodes. 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. 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. They might have had a particular actress in mind, and so on.[note 6]
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. [note 7]
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 these were amateurs practicing and beginning their craft:
The alter-ego story, in which the fan writer projects some version of her fantasy self into a story in order to get to Spock (or some other character, but especially Spock), has become famous -- or infamous.
These stories have often been criticized, sometimes ferociously -- and with some reason. They are frequently the earliest stories a fan writer attempts, and one can often see lack of skill and simple wish-fulfillment getting in the way of the story. Yet, fundamentally, they are to be regarded with sympathy and affection, and sometimes even as signs of promise... Some fan writers may never learn the discipline needed to abstract and refine and divide and recombine elements of themselves into powerful characters -- but it is likely that if the dream image were not there, they could not even begin -- and would not want to.Besides, even the pure alter-ego story can often be fun -- and when well done, a delight.
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.
These are also known as Lieutenant Mary Sue stories, but this particular girl was an alien Spock met on shoreleave, I usually judge these stories by the female character involved. If she's a nice, strong believable personality, and maybe a hint of intelligence, and if the story has some kind of plot, I like the story, as far as this type generally goes.
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.[note 8]
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[note 9]
Some fan critics have a tendency to label any original female character, or any original character, a "Mary Sue". (For more, refer to Are all characters based on the author "Mary Sues"?)
In her article "The Importance of Mary Sue" on Tumblr, unwinona describes the evolving role of the Mary Sue and her importance, especially to young, marginalised readers:
...I felt crushed. I had remembered such complex, deep characters and didn’t see those women in front of me at all anymore. Where were those strong women who kept me safe through the worst four years of my life? Which led me to an important realization as I soldiered on through book after book. That’s why I needed them. Because they were Mary Sues. These books were not written to draw my attention to all the ugly bumps and whiskers of the real world. They were somewhere to hide. I was painfully aware that I was being judged by my peers and adults and found lacking. I was a fuckup. And sometimes a fuckup needs to feel like a Mary Sue. As an adult, these characters felt a little thin because they lacked the real world knowledge I, as an adult, had learned and earned. But that’s the thing...these books weren’t FOR this current version of myself. Who I am now doesn’t need a flawless hero because I’m comfortable with the idea that valuable people are also flawed.
The comment thread on this post is especially illuminating of the conflicted responses the Mary Sue concept receives, both in canon and in fandom. Some see her as the literary kiss of death, others as a useful learning tool and part of a writer's development.
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
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.
- Idealized self-insert: In the strictest sense, Mary Sue is an Original Female Character (OFC) in fan fiction who 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 a proxy, someone for the reader to identify with. This narrative technique is often used in classic fantasy and science fiction to introduce the reader to the story's environment. Mary Sue 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. [note 10] A fan in 1987 explained to others that a Mary Sue was one "with a female character who is obviously the writer, or the writer's friend." 
- 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.[note 11]
- 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.[note 12] 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 test, The (Original) Mary Sue Litmus Test was originally created by Melissa Wilson in 1998. 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,[note 13] or think that more adjustments are necessary,[note 14] 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.[note 15]
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.
However, "Mary Sue" is a highly subjective value judgement. One fan's Mary Sue may be another fan's awesome woman action hero. Someone at TV Tropes 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 Sues in Fandom
Fandom, and readers, dislike Mary Sues with varying degrees of passion. There is a Livejournal community, The Mary Sue Report, 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 consciously writing Mary Sues.
A fan in 2006 wrote:
To my mind, a story should have a purpose...to make you cry, to make you laugh, to make you think, to fill in a missing scene, to explain an action or lack of action, to go into the mind of the character. I don't consider Mary Sues to have a purpose other than to write yourself into a story and win the hero. That, I admit, is a purpose, but one that only interests the writer. That is a story that shouldn't be shared. It should be written and quietly put away to be reread after ten more stories have been written.I admit that I never really went the Mary Sue route myself, don't know why, it just didn't happen for me, so I may be a little harsher than if I had done it myself. When I wrote, I was the hero, whether it was Artemus Gordon or Goniff or Montgomery Scott or Tully Pettingrew or Illya Kuryakin or any of the many others that I dabbled with. I certainly didn't want some girl mucking up the friendships of my favorite characters.
Numerous parody stories with "Mary Sue" type characters also exist, and may be mistaken for the genuine article. Refer to Satirical Fanworks Involving Mary Sues for some examples of these.
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.
"Not My Character"
Many fans, if aware of the term and the trope, have made statements that their original female characters were NOT Mary Sues because their fanworks did not fit the definition of the term.
Case Study: Sadie Faulwell from Landing Party 6
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.
In 2017, Block restated how some stories, including her own, "transcended" the Mary Sue trope:
So, anyway, everyone thought ["A Trekkie's Tale"] was funny, and, ironically, down the road, I created a character for a series of ongoing stories that appeared in Warped Space called “Sadie Faulwell,” and she was a lieutenant in the Linguistics Division of the Enterprise, and she ended up having an affair with McCoy. But I always called her kind of an anti-Mary Sue because she was just an ordinary person that happened to get along with McCoy, and she would still do stupid things, and she wasn’t perfect by any means, and even Paula Smith said she kind of liked the Sadie Faulwell stories. In fact, in this book called Boldly Writing by Joan Verba, the opening quote in there is from Paula Smith, and she says, “Paula Block’s ‘Faulwell’ series has more human and humane characters than Doc Smith’s ‘Skylark’ series.” So, she actually liked it.
Case Study: Lt. Chantal Caberfae from Diamonds and Rust
Schultz said this about the series:
Obviously there's no prototype for what your average everyday alien female secret agent is going to be like, and we all know that much of the Star Trek ethos/mythos seemed based on 20th century mores and standards rather than the 23rd's, but honestly I wasn't that preoccupied with it. I sincerely feel that she isn't an alter ego because we diverge too often to be related very closely. She is her own person, liberated without requiring a movement, with her own problems. She's also a lover, a cop, a liar, a saboteur, a prostitute, and above all, a lady with a mission she'll let nothing—including love—stop her from for very long.
Other Examples in Fanworks
- The Displaced by Lois Welling (Star Trek:TOS) 1978
- Dream It Truth by Krys Britton (Beauty and the Beast (TV)) 1990
- For There is Much To Dare by Susan Crites (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) 1993
- Five O'Clock Shadow by Rachelle S. (Jim/OFC) (Sentinel) 1998
- Legolas by laura (Lord of the Rings) Early 2000s
- My Immortal (Harry Potter) by Tara Gilesbie, 2006. It is hotly debated whether or not this fic was genuine or a parody, meaning that the main character of Ebony Dark'ness Dementia Raven Way could either be a genuine Mary Sue or a parody of one.
- Try to Pacify this Hungering (while I deny your effects on me), Archived version by shaenie (Clint Barton/Phil Coulson) (MCU) -- some readers have described Clint in this fic as a Mary Sue. 2017
- With Fire and Iron | Draco Malfoy, Archived version by daixuki (Draco Malfoy/OFC) (Harry Potter) 2020
Satirical Fanworks Involving Mary Sues
- Jackie's Mary Sue by Jackie Bielowicz (Star Trek:TOS) 1977
- Nine Men and a Little Lady by Kielle (Lord of the Rings) Once upon a time a mysterious girl joined the Fellowship...damn her! Sick of annoying Mary Sues? Actually READ Tolkien? This may cheer you up. 2002
- The Sparklypoo Comic by GMonkey (Harry Potter with elements of LOTR crossover) 2003
- The Story of Maridah Sumaya by Calluna. A parody of "Mozenrath Mary Sues" and bad Aladdin: The Series fanfiction. 2003
- JUST THE BEST MARY SUE, EVER! by Bamfwriter. (The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) The Mary Sue Litmus Test taken to the extreme. F words. Mild slash. 2004
- Never Leave Fanfiction Lying Around by crazyroninchic. (Fourth wall-breaking LOTR fic) Several members of the Fellowship come across a Marysue Legomance. Chaos ensues…A bit of light humor and MS satire. If for nothing else, read to imagine the looks on Leggie’s face… 2005
- With 6 You Get Unicorns by Cupidsbow, a crackfic featuring a Mary-Sue named Dr Shaylindra who dramatically sacrifices herself for the slash pairing. (NC-17) 2008
- Don't Let a Mary Sue Into Titans Tower by Hinn-Raven (Teen Titans) A mysterious girl shows up and starts following the Titans around- much to their annoyance! Watch as she begins to drive the Titans to varying levels of insanity- particularly Robin. Chapter Five: Mary Sues die painfully. 2010
- The Vampoife Dood Who Lifed by Riddell Lee. (Harry Potter/Twilight) A Mary Sue has infiltrated the world of Harry Potter and decided to combine it with Twilight. Four unwilling and snarky readers of the story are drawn into the brave new world of magic, sparkles, and interactive narrators. 2010-11
- The Angelic Mary Sue, Archived version by hallowgirl (Supernatural) Castiel tries to win Dean's love becoming a Mary Sue. 2014
- suspend disbelief, Archived version by mystyrust (BNHA) Tagged "there's a very literal Mary Sue". 2022
Mary Sues in Canon
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.
Or, as a fan in 2010 said: "My essential problem with the Mary Sue phenomenon: when you have Dr. Dr. Dr. Daniel "I speak 23 languages and married the alien princess" Jackson on your show, and you call Sam Carter an unealistically talented Mary Sue, you have issues." 
Rey, in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, inspired considerable Mary Sue reactions in several professional and fan reviews. Screenwriter Max Landis has said that the character fits this description, claiming that Rey is excessively gifted at a variety of skills. Other reviewers accept her as a "competent woman" character. Caroline Framke of Vox and Erik Kain in Forbes contended that Rey did not fit the Mary Sue profile, since the storyline explains and contextualizes her many skills from the beginning. Tasha Robinson of The Verge defended the idea of Rey being a Mary Sue in a positive, female-empowering sense: "for women who've felt underrepresented through decades where most of the ladies onscreen were victims, tokens, rewards, or shrews, it's natural to feel a sugar rush of fulfillment over characters like Katniss Everdeen and Imperator Furiosa".
- "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." [note 16] 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.[note 17]
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."
The presence of any character identified as Mary Sue began eliciting 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 was 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 recent years, since the Internet became available to the general public, and particularly the creation of 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.[note 18]
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 have compared writers of Mary Sue characters to pedophiles and rapists and advised them to commit suicide.[note 19]
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.
Groups such as Protectors of the Plot Continuum and self-proclaimed "Sueslayers"[note 20] 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.[note 21]
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.
And this, ladies and gentlemen, this is the baggage the term "Mary Sue" comes with. This is the context. This is the culture and the environment and the experience of many, and it cannot be divorced from the term itself.
- 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." 
Dreamwidth user majoline, writing in response to boosette's essay, observes that the type of fanfiction criticism culture boosette describes made her ashamed to write or even to think certain things, including about her personal life, and that she's sure she is not alone: "This is probably the story of quite a few people out there. I don't write fic or really participate. I was too ashamed of what I liked and wanted to write. And now I write nothing at all."
From about 2019:
Why we should move on from using the term "Mary Sue."
Yes, badly-constructed and badly-written characters are a thing. Many new writers don't realize that what's fun for them to write isn't always fun for someone else to read. This often results in stories featuring over-idealized protagonists who fall into the center of things and get everything they want way too easily. Back in the early days of the Star Trek fandom, these stories were so numerous that a writer named Paula Smith wrote a single-page story titled A Trekkie's Tale to poke fun at them. The protagonist's name was Mary Sue, and her name became a label for any character perceived as being like this.
In the 90s and 2000s, writers began making Mary Sue tests to help writers (mainly fanfiction writers) gauge whether their characters were Mary Sues. These test were (at least usually) made in good faith to help new writers improve the quality of their work, but they weren't perfect. The message that many writers took from them is that certain character traits and plot elements are always bad no matter what, when the reality is that whether something is "bad" or not depends heavily on context and framing. Additionally, the term "Mary Sue" became a snarl word to describe almost any character, especially female, that somebody just didn't like for some reason. Both of these are still major problems today.So what we need to do is stop thinking in terms of whether a character is a "Mary Sue" or not. Instead, we should ask ourselves whether the character is someone we're actually interested in, whether everything about and around the character makes sense in context, and whether it's all done in a tasteful and entertaining way. This article will help you do that.
Are some "Mary Sues" just strong/competent women?
Any other definition [than the "warper"] really enforces the notion that there is no way a woman would be that awesome/capable/accomplished, and I am so not down with that. Makes me want to make Hatshepsut/Cleopatra/Catherine the Great/Elizabeth I/Joan of Arc/Annie Oakley/Marie Curie/Coco Chanel/Amelia Earhart/etc graphics that say "Hi, I'm a Mary Sue." - Dreamwidth user maharet 
Some fans who write original female characters feel 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.
The expression "competence porn", coined by Leverage creator John Rogers, describes narratives in which a group of people work together using cleverness and hard work to solve difficulties and challenges, or a single person is shown doing this, as in Andy Weir's The Martian. In a discussion on "books in which nothing bad happens," John C. Bunnell brings up competence porn and suggests that Mary Sue "can arise from competence porn done badly."
People who defend the existence and usage of the term point out that male equivalents exist as well (see Marty/Gary Stu), although even they admit that male characters are less commonly accused of being them.
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. Many fans consider it immature for authors to create characters based on themselves and any original female character written by a female author might be assumed to be a self-insert.
From a fan in 1994:
A Mary Sue story is one where the writer wanted to be in the story with her characters, and wrote herself in. The first Star Trek story I wrote (fortunately it remains unfinished) was a Mary Sue, and I well remember the pure, sweet, cold, and ultimately rather sticky feeling of being inside the story as I wrote it. (My "Mary Sue" happened to be an artificially-created alien being, with reversed eyes, white on black, multi-coloured hair, and two bone-white horns... and his name was Matheas.) Actually, [H's] description of impending orgasm sounds rather like what it felt to write a Mary Sue. Still feels like; though I haven't committed one to paper since. A writer who is inside the story as she creates it cannot do full justice to the story - like playing Monopoly with yourself. The story when it is finished will be rather like a burst paper bag — the character who is the writer will have stretched it beyond its capacity. A writer may use her own experiences in writing a story, or created a character. So long as she builds in only her experience, and not her ego, she has not created a Mary Sue.
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."  There is clearly confusion among amateur authors, and not just the very young, as to just what a self-insertion is: like Carmarthen, they hesitate even to ask themselves "what would I do?" in a character's situation. The advice "write what you know" (itself often misunderstood)[note 22] would seem to conflict with fandom's dire warnings against the self-insert character.
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 a romance with one of the leads, whether or not it is portrayed realistically, is often considered Mary Sue, particularly if written by a woman.[note 23]
Is "Mary Sue" a problem with a character -- or a storyline?
The reason why it is so hard to define what character traits define a Mary Sue is because Mary Sues aren't characters at all - they're stories. This is why adding character flaws to characters doesn't make them not be Mary Sues. This is why flawed characters can be Mary Sues. This is why which character appears to be a Mary Sue can rotate from character to character in a story, as each focus character ends up "being one" in turn.
A Mary Sue can have any set of character traits you want them to have. The real problem is the story they're put in. It doesn't matter how simple or how complex a character you make the protagonist, if the story is still a Mary Sue story, then the story will remain a Mary Sue story. You can put the most interesting, deep character you can imagine into a Mary Sue story, and because the events happen, she "becomes" a Mary Sue.
Worrying about a character being a Mary Sue is backwards - the problem is never that a character is a Mary Sue, it is that the story is a Mary Sue story. No amount of tinkering with a character will correct the flaw. Even having another character take the lead in some crucial scenes won't fix the problem - it is the plot which is ruining the story, not the character.It is easy to get lost in the weeds, and think about a character as affecting a story in a certain way; however, it is important to remember that it is the author who is ultimately making everything happen. It is the story itself which is creating the intrinsic Mary Sueness of the plot. While a character in a Mary Sue story may be poorly written, the real suspicion needs to fall on the story itself.
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,[note 24] 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." 
Between 1999 and 2002, Kielle hosted "The Mary Sue Society" (Wayback) on her Subreality.com domain; the Society was a webring designed to "[r]epay her (or him) with an introduction to the world!". Her introduction further explains:
I've simply decided that there's no shame in admitting to having a Mary Sue (or, to use nicer term, an avatar), as long as you don't expect the world to hail his/her adventures with unbridled enthusiasm. Mary Sues serve a psychological need: they make their creators happy. And, sometimes, wonderful original characters have Mary Sue roots, way back in the misty morn of his/her writer's imagination...
The Mary Sue Society, via Wayback, captured April 1, 2003.
Kielle also created the Mary Sue Society Livejournal in July 2002.
A fan in 2010 posted:
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.
Another fan in 2010 published a round-up of links and analysis in support of Mary Sues on LiveJournal, in response to a positive discussion at Metafandom about "what a Mary Sue is and how we can all stop bashing her." They wrote:
It's no secret that I am a champion of the Mary Sue. Each of these posts - all archived, so I won't repeat all the explanations here - are based on the assumption that a good Mary Sue story – well written, consciously plotted and with an emphasis of the inherently meta nature of the Mary Sue – can exist and can be meaningful and break down walls and make the reader think. I feel that they're vital for the evolution of people as fanfic writers and members of a self-sustaining fandom community.
I beleive that Mary Sues are a vital tool - both in the classroom and in fandom - for negotiating one's (IRL or OL) Identity and the formation of said Identity. The reason so many people write Mary Sues in the early parts of their fanficcing careers is because they are embarking upon fancrafting because they DO want to insert themselves into the world of the show, and their adoration manifests as an actual figurative insertion. I also discuss Mary Sue ficcing as a method of apprenticing oneself in Fandom AND as a method of learning/deconstructing the techniques of writing in order to better understand and weild the tools of the fancrafting trades.I think Mary Sues are a necessary step in a new writer's evolution, and deserve to be championed because the writer simply tried, because they created, and because they were brave enough to share it. And I think Mary Sues can be vital in later stages of a writer's or fancrafter's career as well, because the offers a chance to consciously and knowingly play with narratives, cliches, and structures.
There is a reason that most fanfiction authors, specifically girls, start with a Mary Sue. It’s because girls are taught that they are never enough. You can’t be too loud, too quiet, too smart, too stupid. You can’t ask too many questions or know too many answers. No one is flocking to you for advice. Then something wonderful happens. The girl who was told she’s stupid finds out that she can be a better wizard than Albus Dumbledore. And that is something very important. Terrible at sports? You’re a warrior who does backflips and Legolas thinks you’re THE BEST. No friends? You get a standing ovation from Han Solo and the entire Rebel Alliance when you crash-land safely on Hoth after blowing up the Super Double Death Star. It’s all about you. Everyone in your favorite universe is TOTALLY ALL ABOUT YOU.
I started writing fanfiction the way most girls did, by re-inventing themselves.Mary Sues exist because children who are told they’re nothing want to be everything.
In "Embracing the Sue", written in 2015, essayist Mary Leavines explores more recent insights into Mary Sue as a literary tool. Mary Sue as self-insert is a means of expression that allows amateur authors to become part of the environment of the story and thus to control it and gain agency within the standards set by the entertainment industry and the dominant culture it perpetuates. She cites Anupam Chander and Madhavi Sunder's scholarly essay "Everyone's A Superhero", which calls Mary Sue "a figure of subaltern critique" allowing readers as well as writers to challenge the dominant culture's stereotypes. She continues:
Henry Jenkins, in his book, Convergence Culture, outlines what skills children need to become full participants in convergence culture. Among them are "the ability to express your interpretations and feelings toward popular fictions through your own folk culture," and "role-playing both as a means of exploring a fictional realm and as a means of developing a richer understanding of yourself and the culture around you" (Jenkins 176). This role-playing, expecially [sic] in children, typically results in the undeveloped characters that are labelled Mary-Sues. "Expressing their interpretations and feelings toward popular fiction" can easily include what these authors believe is "missing," and so they engage with their fandom through their idealized selves. The Mary-Sue is not the harbinger of a fan fiction author’s ultimate demise. Nor is it, I believe, simply the face of an "empowered woman." In cases such as the one that Jenkins described in the chapter "Why Heather Can Write", he cements the Sue as a stage of writing. The Sue is the first tentative steps of a young author into the world of their chosen fandom; they create a character that literally inserts them into the narrative of their chosen story and therefore helps them to achieve the status of "initiate." With the literary tool that is the Sue, they fulfill their fantasies within the greater context of the narrative and impose their identity upon the fandom itself.
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.
Links and Resources
Mary Sue Websites
Notes & References
- 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).
- 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."
- Jacqueline Lichtenberg's Kraith series had received a nomination for a Hugo in this category. See more on this topic at Science Fiction Fandom vs. Media Fandom.
- A fan writer category already existed in the Hugo awards, and Jacqueline Lichtenberg had received a nomination for her Kraith series.
- Presumably referring to top-level science fiction fandom of the caliber of John W. Campbell, whose editorship of Analog magazine set the standard of excellence for over thirty years. Campbell was, in fact, "straight" by 1960s standards; to call him a political and social conservative would be an understatement.
Campbell took Star Trek seriously, and had run a lengthy article by G. Harry Stine in the February 1968 issue explaining how the show used factual science. Stine went on to write The Abode of Life, one of Pocket Books' Star Trek novels, under his usual pen name for fiction, Lee Correy.
- The Star Trek producers indeed considered unsolicited scripts submitted by fans. Several were actually produced, including "The Trouble with Tribbles" (David Gerrold), "The Empath" (Joyce Muskat), "Is There In Truth No Beauty" and "All Our Yesterdays" (both by Jean Aroeste), and "The Tholian Web" (Judy Burns and Chet Richards).
- 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.
- This character pattern has been a standard in children's and young adults' literature for centuries. Jo in Little Women or the title character of Carol Brink's Caddie Woodlawn are among numerous well-known examples of strong, independent wild girls who decide to become proper young ladies -- or have it decided for them. Jonathan Cott in his analysis of Pippi Longstocking in Pipers at the Gates of Dawn cites a 1974 essay by the Feminists on Children's Media, "Sexism in Children's Literature" which refers to such books as "cop-out books." "The actual cop-out may be only a crucial line, a paragraph, the last chapter. But somewhere a sexist compromise is made, somewhere the book adjusts to the stereotyped role of woman, often for the sake of social pressure and conformity. The compromise brings with it a change, and this change is not only disturbing, but often distorts the logical development of the character herself. Suddenly her development is redirected... or rather, stunted... Young readers of such grievous cop-outs are forced to believe that the spunk, individuality, and physical capability so refreshingly portrayed in tomboy heroines must be surrendered when girls grow up -- in order to fit the passive, supposedly more mature image of a young woman." Of course, Cott points out, this message can also carry the "seeds of rebellion" and can be subverted, inspiring girls to not change and to stay "wild". O'Dell's Island of the Blue Dolphins, Jean George's Julie of the Wolves, and Louise Fitzhugh's Harriet the Spy are cited along with Pippi as examples of "more recent, independent heroines".
- 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. Editor Caro Clarke lists descriptive writing for the purpose of scene setting/atmosphere among what she terms a beginner's four faults in novel writing. 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.
- 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.
- "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.
- "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.
- 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).
- "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 - Other, Tropedia, by an unknown editor. Had to have been written before December 24, 2010. TVTropes page found 2013-02-05. Tropedia as of 2014-04-22.
- 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.
- "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, Archived version.
- 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.
- For example, Bret Anthony Johnson says that "write what you know" is misunderstood as advice to stick to reality and facts; writing what you know should be the basis for a story, but not the story itself. "Don't Write What You Know", Atlantic, "Fiction 2011" issue.
- 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.
- 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.
- Medtrek 6 convention fanzine (2017)
- Blake's Seven: The Other Side #4 (1987)
- Margie Jones' "Anne-Marie Meets Mr. Spock", Allan Lappin's "You Won't Believe Me, But..." and Nancy West's stories, all published in Tricorder Readings, for instance.
- See "The Skyborn", by Dorothy Jones, Spockanalia 5.
- For example, the Dorothy-Myfanwy stories by Dorothy Jones Heydt and Astrid Anderson in T-Negative.
- Jean Lorrah in Interstat #31
- 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).
- Interview by Cynthia W. Walker. A conversation with Paula Smith, in Transformative Works and Cultures, Vol 6 (2011). (Accessed 15 March 2011)
- from Media Fandom Oral History Project Interview with Paula Block
- from issue 3 of Halkan Council.
- Jacqueline Lichtenberg, Sondra Marshak and Myrna Culbreath, Star Trek Lives! Bantam 1975, p. 237.
- Laura M. Hale, Historical Perspective on Mary Sue, covers some of this history.
- S.F. Czapla, review of "Almost A Legend" by Steve Barnes as it appeared in Barnes' ...A Handful of Snowflakes and Other Trek Tales. In The Neutral Zone #5 (July 1976).
- unwinona on Tumblr, "The Importance of Mary Sue." 2014-02-09. Page found 2023-08-27.
- from the editorial in Gambit #1
- Thoughts About Mary Sue by alias_sqbr, 2010-03-21.
- 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". Archived from the original on 2013-04-15.
- 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.
- For example, see the Sparklypoo comic.
- "Marysues at Livejournal". Archived from the original on 2011-03-18.
- "Canon Sues at Livejournal". Archived from the original on 2010-03-14.
- comment by Liz at Fiction Requests, Archived version (Sept 26, 2006)
- 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.
- from an interview of Paula Block in Menagerie #16
- the introduction to "How Long the Night, How Bright the Stars" in Tal Shaya #3
- Robert Wilfred Franson makes a case for Telzey as becoming a demigoddess in this 2002 essay.
- Actually, I'm just lazy and blogging the short version instead, staranise, May 17, 2010
- Max Landis, "they finally did it they made a fan fic movie with a Mary Sue as the main character" Twitter post December 19, 2015.
- Dan Woburn, Eight Problems Nobody Wants to Admit About Star Wars: The Force Awakens. What Culture, December 25, 2015.
- Caroline Framke, "What is a Mary Sue, and does Star Wars: The Force Awakens have one?" Vox, 2015-12-28.
- Erik Kain, "No, Rey from Star Wars: The Force Awakens Is Not a Mary Sue". Forbes Games, 2016-01-04.
- Tasha Robinson, "With Star Wars' Rey, we've reached Peak Strong Female Character -- And There's Nothing Wrong With That." The Verge, December 19, 2015.
- 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.
- The Propagator 7 has her statement, in a discussion on harsh fan critiques. "The Mind-Sifter" is respected today as a classic piece of Star Trek fan fiction, and was made into an episode of Star Trek: The New Voyages Phase II, released December 1, 2014 and available on Youtube for free.
- 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.
- In S&H 1-5 and S&H 11-15 .
- Just Bugs Me, Mary Sue Discussion Page on tvtropes; cached at WebCite.
- 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).
- 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.
- majoline, The confessions of a woman who's never written any fiction at all". April 12, 2010.
- fanficrants - Stifling Creativity (December 2003)
- "Does My Character Work Okay?" - How To Tell For Yourself!, also see The Universal Mary Sue Litmus Test by the same author
- 2010-04-14 response to thedeadparrot's "My Problem with Mary Sues" 2010-04-11.
- Alara Rogers at Make up your mind: what is a Mary Sue?
- 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
- John C. Bunnell, comment in Jo Walton's post Books In Which No Bad Things Happen on tor.com, March 20, 2020.
- "cbollngr", Review of Elixir by Hilary Duff. Random Library Adventures, 2011-08-27.
- from J C in Strange Bedfellows APA #5 (May 1994)
- 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)
- TitaniumDragon, Mary Sue: Analysis at TVTropes, June 11, 2016.
- ""Infodump," "Mary Sue" And Other Words That Authors Are Sick Of Hearing". Archived from the original on 2021-05-17., by Charlie Jane Anders, November 25, 2014
- from Datazine #42
- The Mary Sue Sociaty - Wayback, captured April 1, 2003
- ella404, comment at the good old days before google were dark and involved horses (2010)
- Mary Sues on Metafandom by sci-frey, LiveJournal. Published April 15, 2010 (Accessed July 15, 2018).
- Anupam Chander and Madhavi Sunder, "Everyone's A Superhero: A Cultural Theory of 'Mary Sue' Fan Fiction as Fair Use." Univ. of California - Davis Legal Studies Research Paper Series, May 2007. Free download at Social Science Research Network, also can be found on jstor and other academic archives.
- Henry Jenkins, Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York University Press, 2006.
- Mary Leavines, "Embracing the Sue." In her blog SomethingSomethingBounty, entry dated December 3, 2015. She has several other articles analyzing Mary Sue on that page.
- "LJ post by mistress_siana, entitled "Dear America, please stop it."".