The Original Anti "Universal Mary Sue Litmus Test"

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Title: The Original Anti "Universal Mary Sue Litmus Test"
Creator: Novadestin?
Date(s): 2007
Medium: online
External Links: The Original Anti "Universal Mary Sue Litmus Test", Archived version
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The Original Anti "Universal Mary Sue Litmus Test" is a response to: The Universal Mary Sue Litmus Test by Syera, Archived version

See: The Original Anti "Universal Mary Sue Litmus Test", Archived version for a conversation between the creator of "The Universal Mary Sue Litmus Test" and the creator of "The Original Anti "Universal Mary Sue Litmus Test."

Excerpt from "The Original Anti "Universal Mary Sue Litmus Test"

My opinion on Mary Sue characters is two sided; I don't like excessive Mary Sues just the same as most authors, but I also feel that they have a place in writing and sometimes can be a good thing. However, I am very certain that I am not a fan of overly picky people who think that everything has to be solely unique and/or original to be non-Mary Sue (and no, I am in no way calling Syera, the creator of this test, one of those people). I follow the original meaning of the term (and, yes, there is one!): a character who is overly beautiful, talented in multiple fields, well-liked, well-loved, well-respected, a great hero, does nothing wrong, etc etc... and a cherry on top too. A character that is not all those things is not a Mary Sue to me; sure they're getting close and need some work, but being close is not the same thing. I feel that people have become accustomed to shouting 'Mary Sue!' far too quickly and I think these kinds of tests are not helping. Why did I choose this particular test to pick apart? Simply because it is called the "universal" test. It seemed fitting to use the test that says it covers everything to do commentary on why these tests aren't very useful.

My dislike of this, and other Mary Sue tests, comes in three parts. The first is that they are all anti-description, the second is the whole ratings thing, and the third (and the biggest) issue I have is that they group several things together that shouldn't be. Plot points, author insertion, clichés, and things that are just far to commonplace to even be considered something that causes Mary Sueism should not be combined as if they were all one in the same. So, to start with the first part, these tests only ask if you do something or not, not if you have a logical reason to do it. For example, why does it matter if someone uses a Japanese weapon when they're not Japanese? Maybe they just liked the weapon over another or maybe it's a weapon passed down to them from a Japanese ancestor... who knows. The point is, if the writer explains why in the story then it's fine and does not make the character more or less a Mary Sue. Sure, if they just use a Japanese weapon and have no other reason for using it save the author thought it was cool, then that can make them a little Mary Sue, but it's all in the description (or lack thereof). One needs to remember that it's all about the circumstances behind what's happening, not just what's happening. As Syera said, the things listed here are just possible symptoms and not the actual disease. It's all a matter of whether it's reasonably explained in the story or not and these tests never ask that important question.

The next thing I dislike are the ratings. These tests don't need ratings, much less each question on each test having different amounts attached to them. Some people might think this is worse than that and some might think that is worse than this, it's completely relative to whomever is doing the evaluation. There is no 'doing this will always be worth 3 points' and besides, who decides how many points makes a character a Mary Sue or not? Again, it's all relative. What these tests need are simply for people to copy down which ones they answer yes to so that they can take a good look at them together and see what they can do. Just giving them an arbitrary number does nothing for them. With these tests it's the questions, not the answer (or total as it were), that helps them most and gives them something to work with. An arbitrary number can never tell me what the problem is, much less how to fix it. The box with the score should list the questions that were check, not a number. On top of that, especially with the longer tests, it really doesn't take much to get a high score. On this test 50+ is the top score you can get and, even though each question has a different value, one only needs to check the first 17 boxes to be at 52. That might sound like a lot, but when you realize that the first section -which everyone must do and then at least one of the other parts- has 93 questions as well as some which have multiple sub-questions, that is not very much at all. In the first section there are 30 check boxes by the end of question 10 alone. I went through and just randomly selected several of the ones most people might answer yes to and was already up to 26 before I even got past the middle of the first section; only a few more and I am at 30+ score: Fanfiction authors beware - Mary's on the loose).

Which leads into my last and biggest point, that many of the questions on here are commonplace, author insertion, clichés, or plot points and have nothing to do with the character's actual 'character.' It is that character that is the sole thing that should be looked at when deciding if they're a Mary Sue or not (yes, their role in the story is a part of it, but that is still their character's interaction within the world and thus is about them). Things that most people will click yes to, like "Any ordinary name spelled or changed so that it's more unusual?", shouldn't be on this test because they're common things that everyone does or has. This particular example is a very common practice and has been going on for ages, when was the last time you meet someone named Eleanor? These days it's Elynore, Elana, or Elleigh among countless other variations. Names change and are adapted to each new generation so who is to say what is ordinary and what is unusual? Besides, it's the 'parents' that do the naming so you can't really fault the character (unless, of course, part of the story is how they picked it themselves, but that is another issue). People too often forget that there is always more to the story than just what they're reading. And no, I am not talking about the author as the 'parent', however, that does bring me into the topic of author insertion which is so very often confused with Mary Sueism. I understand that author insertion is a way for authors to sometimes create a better than real life version of themselves, but that does not make it the same thing as creating a Mary Sue. One sometimes (but certainly not always) deals with the author making themselves better through the guise of a character while the other simply deals with the character, without any author projection. These tests almost never show a difference between the two, in fact most insinuate that if you commit author insertion (and they always treat it as if it were some kind of sin when it's not) than you are automatically guilty of Mary Sueism which is completely illogical.

Clichés are another big thing that often get mixed up with Mary Sueism, both with people creating characters and, especially, with people reviewing them. This one really baffles me as the whole idea of something being cliché negates it from being entangled with Mary Sueism. Clichés only apply when discussing a group of things whereas Mary Sueism deals with just one character at a time. As a reviewer, I can understand that reading the same plotline for the tenth time can be annoying, but that doesn't make that specific author's character more Mary Sue simply because they wanted their character to take that route. As an author, you're exploring just your character's relation to that particular dynamic (whatever cliché it might be), not your character and everyone else's. Speaking of plotlines, that brings me to my final issue: plot points. These are a more delicate subject because they could, potentially, play an indirect role in Mary Sueism. However one needs to remember that plot points by themselves don't affect anything, rather it's what your character does in that partiuclar situation that counts. Having a character's parents die is a plot point, what affect that has on the character is the part that should be looked at when doing Mary Sue testing, NOT solely the fact that the parents died.