Paging Mary Sue

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Archonix
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Paging Mary Sue

Post by Archonix » Tue Dec 21, 2004 10:33 pm

A lot has been said on the subject of the Mary Sue over the years. For those unfamiliar with the term, Mary Sue (or Gary/Marty Stu for males) is a character so overpowered, so cloyingly beautiful, so flawless in every possible way that she overwhelms the story she’s been inserted in, to the detriment of the other characters, the plot and even the established canon. Numerous examples an be found by simply browsing a few fanfiction sites.

Despite the title, this article isn’t going to be the usual rant against the Mary Sue. At least not directly. Instead I’m going to have a few short paragraphs on how Mary Sue has affected the writer and reader of fanfiction and original fiction, to the point that it’s possible to see her everywhere.

Mary Sue is ubiquitous (some might say iniquitous as well) in fanfiction. You can’t avoid her. Every story has her. She gets in to every fandom, every plot, breaks up every canon relationship and destroys the characters she interacts with. That’s the kind of attitude you, as a writer, will often face these days. From a quick research it might seem to be a realistic assessment of the state of writing today. Well I’ve got news for you.

It isn’t true.

Yes, she is very prominent and yes, yes, she does go around mangling canon but that isn’t an excuse to proclaim every new character as a Sue, merely because they aren’t flawed enough for you. By the strict criteria some people apply, characters diverse as Tolkien’s Faramir, Wolverine from X-Men and Star Trek’s Captain Kirk would be Sues if they had been introduced in fanfiction instead of canon.

Faramir as written in the book was a near perfect man. The Ring of Power wouldn’t affect him at all. Wolverine has the “angsty” past, an amazing power that causes him more angst, women flocking... ok maybe I’m overstating my case. Kirk... well if you know Trek, you’ll know what Kirk gets up to all the time so I don’t think I need to say much, except that he breaks the prime directive and is loved, loved for it by the Federation, his crew, Spock, Nurse Chapel and the denizens of the known universe. Often very intimately.

My point is, it’s easy to see a Sue in something you’re reading if you don’t take in to account the context, the surrounding characters and their reactions to this particular person. Sometimes these people are necessary for a story to progress, and have enough depth that their apparent suishness isn’t an issue.

And here is the crux of the matter. A Sue will invariably be underdeveloped as a character, as they are most often an extension of the author in to the fictional world. Why would the author spend time describing themselves? It’s the natural human action; you know yoruself intimately and therefore don’t feel the need to tell anyone about it. Unfortunately this translates in to the poorly researched and flat characters that make up the world of the Sue. If they do have any kind of characterisation, it’s completely whacked out or unnecessary points of so-called interest such as the angst-inducing scar that blemishes the otherwise ivory-smooth skin of the Sue, the unnamed terror of the past that the Sue angsts about for several paragraphs, or the three-page description of their cute, pouting lips and beauty mark.

If you’re as jaded as me, seeing Sue everywhere, step back and consider the character for a moment. You might find that your haste to judge leaves you to repent at your leisure, and that the character you first leapt on as a godforsaken denizen of some Suish circle of Hell is actually a fairly balanced and thought-out character that simply transcends some of the imperfections of this world.
Our choicest plans have fallen through, our airiest castles tumbled over, because of lines we neatly drew and later neatly stumbled over.
— Piet Hein - Grooks
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Kif White
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Re:Paging Mary Sue

Post by Kif White » Wed Dec 22, 2004 12:07 am

*Kenneth applauds*

Very well worded, and true as well. :)
- Kenneth White

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Re:Paging Mary Sue

Post by Dagdamor » Wed Dec 22, 2004 6:37 am

Nice article. :) You should post it on the site somewhere.

Heck, and I agree with you too. (If I understood all of this right, of course. ;)) The only story that could be treated as "Mary Sue eulogy" is the "Lisa Fitzgerald" IMO, but! Even there the main character showed all sides of her personality, both positive and negative ones. So I think it's just critics' insanity in the most of the cases. :D
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Re:Paging Mary Sue

Post by c_nordlander » Wed Dec 22, 2004 9:41 am

Now *this* is what we need! Well said, and worth thinking about. I'm thinking about it already.

Can't really add much. It's an important thing, not to get too paranoid about the worst sides of fanwriting.
The noose draws tighter;
This is the end;
I'm a good fighter
But a bad friend;
I've played the traitor
Over and over;
I'm a good hater
But a bad lover.


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Re:Paging Mary Sue

Post by Vulgaris_Prime » Fri Feb 04, 2005 7:24 pm

Isn't that basically like saying that it's better that one person peed in the company water cooler than having the entire office do so?

One Sue can ruin a perfectly good day, y'know. Then again, I'm a pessimist.
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