Mary Sues and Other Confessions

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Title: Mary Sues and Other Confessions
Creator: Celli
Date(s): 2009
Medium: online
Fandom: multi
External Links: Mary Sues and Other Confessions, Archived version
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Mary Sues and Other Confessions is an essay by "Associate Professor Celli" and one of the "lectures" at Fanfic 101.

"So, here's the thing (Celli says with not a lot of shame): I write Mary Sues."


Readers like romance. At heart, most romance novels are Mary Sues: a female character the writer strongly identifies with gets involved with an exciting male character. And if the writer does their job well, the audience identifies just as strongly with said female character, falls in love with said male character, and three hundred pages later, everybody's happy. Works for me. (I have--I kid you not--nearly every Nora Roberts novel. Ever.)

But Mary Sues have a lot to offer, too. Introducing a new character into an established show is a good way to get a fresh viewpoint and a new perspective into the situation. If you're going to have to explain a lot of things, it helps to have someone to listen to them. It avoids the "As you know, Bob" trap: As you know, Sam, we travel through a wormhole to other planets...; As you know, Cordelia, we run a paranormal detective agency in the Hyperion Hotel.... It's also fun to imagine yourself in the middle of your favorite book, series, or movie. Most actors and writers and directors started out that way. We just write it down. There's a good argument that it's no fun reading someone else's thinly veiled fantasies--but isn't that what fiction is, fantasy done well enough that an audience buys into it?

Really, really, it's okay if your OFC is not universally popular. I read one story where, I swear, the plants grew better because this girl was around. (!!!!) It's like having Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, float into your story. Look at the established characters in your favorite fandom. Both Angel and Buffy have flaws, big ones, but we love them anyway. Duncan MacLeod has some serious issues, plus people are trying to kill him weekly. Someone told me once that about two percent of the people you meet will love you unconditionally, two percent will hate you unconditionally, and the rest will be indifferent. That's a good rule-of-thumb when creating a character.

She doesn't have to be either perfect or awful in every category. Don't mention her perfect counted cross-stitch unless she's going to strangle the bad guy with embroidery floss later.

Humor, humor, humor. Okay, I think everyone who writes fanfic should be aware of this, but it still bears repeating. Don't take her too seriously, and don't let her take herself too seriously.

Think carefully about the name. It's such a cliche now that Mary Sues have overly romantic names that some readers will delete a story at the first hint of a funny name.

Think of your character as a guest star on the show. You don't want to upstage all the regular characters. Readers especially revolt when Mary Sue gets the smart-ass lines that their favorite character would usually get.

Note: These authors don't necessarily classify their stories as Mary Sues. Technically, I'm not recommending any MS's here, because by definition those are bad, and all these stories are really good. I'm recommending stories I like that happen to have strong original characters. If I have a link to your story, and you don't want me to recommend it, let me know, and I'll take the link down.

If you're not sure about OFCs or haven't found a good one in your particular universe, here are some of Celli's suggestions: [MANY suggestions snipped, see original essay].