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Mary Sue, who are you?

Discussion in 'Tea Room (Book Chat)' started by penumbra, August 4, 2018.

  1. penumbra

    penumbra Member

    I know that Mary Sue/Gary Stu are fanfic terms, but I've seen many people using these terms to describe characters in other forms of fiction as well. I can easily spot a Mary Sue in fanfiction, but the lines get hazier for me in other forms of fiction.

    In your opinion, outside of fanfiction, what do you think makes a character a Sue/Stu? Is it the absence of "legitimate" flaws in the midst of "too many" strengths? Is it that their strength is far superior to any other character?

    What do you think is the best way for authors to avoid this trope?

    Or do you only use the term when you're talking about fanfic characters?
  2. Honeybee42

    Honeybee42 Member

    I think of Mary Sue/Gary Stu as being more of a fanfiction term, because part of the definition is that the OC pulls the other canon characters out-of-character and/or supplants the actual hero of the story.

    I think that the flawed character that looks like Mary Sue/Gary Stu can generally be identified not only by the out-shining of all other characters (who might as well be neatly folded away like extra lawn chairs after a party), but also the character is never, ever wrong and characters who disagree/oppose are "punished" by subsequent events (this sort of character wouldn't dirty his own hands to cause this--but the universe itself agrees that this character is so perfect that all opposition must be squashed).
  3. Kindler

    Kindler Active Member

    As a classic example that even the best can get it horribly wrong I present to you: Wesley Crusher for Star Trek:TNG

    It's not that they are perfect, because they are not always so, although any minor flaws they have will never have any long term lasting impact. Anything they do wrong, will be quietly covered up, removed or the author will arrange for the universe to prove them right after all. Also, whatever plot they are going through is usually incidental and purely there to show off how great the Mary Sue is.

    I'm not sure there is a right way for an author to avoid this other than going back and making sure that your lead character isn't the be-all and end-all of the story and that there decisions when read in the cold light of day don't suddenly come across as horribly wrong.
  4. PageTurner

    PageTurner Member

    I use the term pretty freely now, but I used to only use it in fanfiction because it's where the term makes the most sense. Films based on books are the second most common area that I use it since they're also an interpretation of someone else's work.

    Oh yeah, never being wrong is a big sign of a Mary Sue. Sometimes they can be wrong, but never because they were exhibiting some kind of ~negative~ trait, like selfishness or cowardice. Never having to get their hands dirty when dealing out justice is also a pretty good sign.

    It doesn't always have to be that obvious though, as @Kindler pointed out. The flaws tend to be either very minor and/or inconsequential. They can also be the person who writes the, "Sometimes I work too hard," under "weaknesses" on their resume, without ever really having these flaws play out in a bad way that actually affects the plot.

    As for ways for an author to avoid this:
    • Make sure that one character isn't saving the day 95% of the time on their own. If it's always one character coming up with the solution at the last second, then you should probably rework some of those scenarios.
    • Check that the main characters' have a critical flaw that adversely affects them (and/or others) in a way that isn't insubstantial.
  5. penumbra

    penumbra Member

    @Honeybee42, yeah, I usually think of it in fanfiction terms as well. It's at least far more obvious in those kinds of works. You make a great point about the Sue/Stu never having to get their hands dirty during the punishment of their opposers. It must be nice to have the universe on your side all the time.

    @Kindler, you make a great point about them not having to be perfect. Inconsequential flaws are often present. Do you think they usually fall along the lines of a super minor flaw (like clumsiness) or positive traits that can be considered flaws because the character possesses them in excess (like recklessness because they're just so freaking brave)? Which one do you think is worse?

    Reading your work in the cold light of day is a great way to catch a lot of mistakes. I know I've written something I thought was solid only to cringe when I looked at it the next day.

    @PageTurner, it's easier to catch them in worlds where we already know how things are supposed to go. Those are some good tips to keep in mind!
  6. Angel

    Angel Munificent Critic

    There are several in mainstream fiction, but it is very common in fanfic.

    For me another of the defining traits is that they never have to face the consequences of their actions, or if they do it is quickly and quietly swept away, no matter how heinous the crime or dastardly the action might be that they have committed. The universe will twist itself to ensure that their motives were pure and true and that those around them will agree that it was necessary.

    Even if, as a reader, you wonder what is going on.
  7. Zelda

    Zelda Member

    I agree with what everyone else has said - they're far more common in fanfiction than in other fiction.

    As @Angel said, protagonist-centered morality can certainly signify a Mary Sue.

    Another defining trait is that these characters are usually exceptionally persuasive. Well, they're supposed to be, but their arguments don't even have to be good ones in order to get people to agree with them full-heartedly. They are also quick to figure out the answer to a problem, even if it would really be more realistic for another character to get there faster. For example, even if they're not the doctor in the group, they'll be able to medically diagnose more quickly, leaving the doctor in complete awe of them.

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