The very mention of the name “Mary Sue” makes both writers and readers cringe. What’s so horrible about this name? Mary Sue, along with her male counterpart the Gary or Marty Stu, is one of the demons of writing, perfectly capable of killing an otherwise fine story. She can creep her way into any story and before you know it, the damage is done – unless you know what to look for.
Mary is undeniably perfect, even if she’s not perfect. Her flaws, if she has any, are small and insignificant. She is quite often unbelievably gorgeous and extremely talented in many areas. For example, she probably has a beautiful singing voice, is a gourmet chef, and is fluent in thirty-seven languages.
Mary attracts drama, plain and simple. Not only does she attract it, but she usually creates it. She will take any excuse to lash out and cause a scene so that she can be the center of attention. She’s almost always throwing pity parties and fishing for compliments, and while she can’t figure out her own love-triangle, she’s incredibly persuasive and can make anyone change their mind about anything in less than ten seconds.
The Tragic Past
You wouldn’t believe Mary’s luck. She witnessed her family’s brutal murder when she was only five years old, after which point she was sent to the orphanage where she was bullied to the point where she began to harm herself in some way. Eventually, she ran away and lived by her wits on the streets. Unfortunately for Mary, she was raped and impregnated when she was fourteen, but because she was noble and brave she decided to keep the child, but ended up losing it before she actually had to gain any weight. This was probably due to the fact that she was a slave to the royal family and was beaten for the slightest mistake and had to live in substandard conditions. As luck would have it, Prince Charming comes along and saves her, impregnates her, but is murdered on their wedding day. She loses this child as well, but that’s okay, because she’s strong and will keep it all inside until her next lover is around to comfort her after she inevitably breaks down in front of everyone.
Mary is nearly impossible to get down (unless she’s being dramatic, of course), but when she does, she bounces back in record time. Past experiences only affect her when it’s convenient. She could have been abused by men for years, but you wouldn’t be able to tell by her behavior. And the same goes for physical pain, too – she could have been an inch from death last week, but today she’s back out fighting and kicking butt as if she was never hurt!
Everyone loves Mary. Regardless of how she treats them, they just can’t get enough of her. She could be a complete and total cow, but they just keep trying to win her over. If anyone should hate her, it is simply for the sake of drama, because we all know that Mary is perfect and no one could possibly have a good reason for disliking her.
From day one, the love interest will be inexplicably drawn to her (in fanfiction, the love interest will of course forget about his or her significant other and/or make an exception to their preferred gender). At some point, there will be a clumsy “damsel in distress” scene, during which the love interest will come to her defense, which will lead to a rant about how Mary can stand up for herself, andthat will lead to a heart-felt apology and a love confession and quite probably a generous helping of smut (but it’s okay, because it’s “true love”).
Mary Sue is stronger than all the other characters. In many genres, this includes the use of super powers. While other characters may have useful powers, Mary’s powers are always more useful, and have no drawbacks or limits. She may even have the same (or very similar) powers as other characters, even if those powers are hereditary or otherwise extremely rare.
While this list is in no way comprehensive, it should give you a decent starting block when trying to determine if you may have a Mary Sue on your hands. The real danger of Mary, however, is that she puts her creator under a spell; while a reader will spot her as if she’s wearing a sign, whoever wrote her will often times be blind to the fact that their precious character is a little monster. When you have that sneaking suspicion that your character might be developing some symptoms (such as extreme mood swings and cravings for the spotlight), it may be time to take one of the many litmus tests out there. These tests were made for the sole purpose of helping writers identify a Mary Sue in their story before it’s too late.
Every writer will at some point run into a Mary Sue in their writing — they key is to identify her and flush her out of your character before it’s too late. Many writers don’t realize until it’s too late, and get discouraged when they look at all the fixing they’ll have to do if they want to fix their mistake. As you write, keep your eyes open for signs of Mary; she may be clever, but she’s not unbeatable.