Home > Writing Tips > Mary-Sue/Gary-Stu

I'm not sure if there has been a thread, but I thought I might share my friend's excellent description for her RP board. I do not claim this piece as mine, so if you come across this list elsewhere, don't say I didn't tell you!


Mary Sue

Mary Sue characters are generally marked by overdescription with extraneous, tacked-on paragraphs describing in great detail their distinctive appearance or possessions, even if they have no significance for the plot and seem out of place. For example, a Mary Sue would not merely be said to carry a gun. The model, color, appearance, and special features of the gun would be described all at once.

A Mary Sue may be tougher, smarter, and cooler than the established characters and so win their admiration. Alternately, the Sue may be nicer, sweeter, and more charming than the established characters (often despite being tortured by a tragic past) and win their love. Either way, the setting's protagonists are upstaged by the new character's perfection. If this new character dies in the story (typically as an act of self-sacrifice), there is often extensive grieving.

Common traits of Mary Sues:

* Has only sympathetic flaws; Mary Sues may be paraplegic, or dangerously naïve, but are very rarely selfish or petty-minded
* Can do no wrong - or, if she does do anything wrong, has strong justification for it
* Unique abilities
* Distinctive physical features (odd-coloured eyes, birthmarks, scars, etc.)
* Owns an unusual pet (especially, 'one that only she could tame')
* Deliberately exotic name
* Name based on that of the author (such as an anagram)
* Cultural/racial background very different from her peers (often adopted out of her culture)
* Deeply traumatic past
* Attitudes contemporary to the author in a setting where these are unheard of
* Close relationship with a major canonical character (long-lost brother, etc.)
* Well-liked by all the canonical protagonists
* Powers or abilities closely paralleling those of a major canon character
* Centrally involved in every part of the story
* Invokes powers impossible in the canon
* If the published universe is set in a different country to the one the author is from, the Mary Sue will probably be from the author's country of origin
* If much of the tension in a series is largely dependent upon a sequence of ongoing character flaws and misunderstandings (such as the works of Rumiko Takahashi), the Mary Sue character almost invariably possesses a 'big picture' view that allows them to solve all of these little problems, thereby sewing up the series in a happily-ever-after fashion

None of these traits in and of themselves make a Mary Sue; rather, a Sue depends on the author's reliance on such gimmicks to make a character unique and appealing. Another "yardstick" used to see if a character is considered to be a Mary Sue is how other characters react to that character. For example, even if a Mary Sue is impossibly beautiful or talented, other characters are unlikely to be jealous of her.

There are many definitions of Mary Sue. Those are some basics.

Gary Stu

Gary Stus are much rarer than Mary Sues, much harder to pinpoint, and generally more accepted. We shouldn't have a problem with them here, I wouldn't think.

A Gary Stu is somewhat different from a Mary Sue in that his perfections are less oriented on personality and more on physical traits, skill, or expertise. For example, some Gary Stus are very strong, skilled swordfighters, expert wizards, or legendary heroes with scars who often attract female characters within the story. Most are designed to fill either the role of dangerous action hero or caring, supportive lover. In addition to Mary Sue traits such as unusual background and lack of flaws, the following features are common:

* Dark, brooding, quiet, mysterious, tormented, or otherwise enigmatic, with a dark or tormented past yet somehow showing none of the psychological damage that such a past should inflict; sometimes being almost comic relief silly
* Either a devoted, monogamous lover, or an accomplished, "badass" action hero
* Plenty of gadgets; accompanied by lists of weapons, technology, etc.
* Penchant for violence or skill in battle (sometimes to the point of seeming sociopathic)
* Reluctant warrior, caught up in a conflict he's not ready for (for example, Luke Skywalker from Star Wars)
* "Strong but sensitive" alpha male type (for example, Wolverine from the X-Men)
* An attractive young ephebe who has earned the respect of his much older companions through his genius-level intelligence and/or skills.
I think most people here probably know Mary Sue/Gary Sue problems, but thanks! There's always a few younger writers around who haven't gotten the word on this, and that's a good list.

There's one special problem with writing fanfic: the main characters in canon are often dangerously Mary Sue/Gary Stu anyway. Harry Potter, or most of the lead characters in RPG video games.

How does one handle them in a way to keep them interesting and tolerable?
Have you noticed that if the character is canon, it is very hard to level charges of Sueism against them? I have often speculated that most characters are Sue, to a certain extent. I mean, I am writing a couple of original novels. In them, the lead characters do resemble aspects of me. Either emphasis of my better qualities, or subduing of my lesser good traits. That being said, it is only a Sue, if you have introduced an OC that is strong. Go figure. LOL

And, as the poster above mentions, use of a couple of those traits on the list does not make it a Sue, automatically. It is how much, and how many you use that can turn a good character into a parody.
I do think canon characters can become Sues, but it is harder to claim, because a big signpost of a Sue is when that character becomes the lead and best at everything over the canon characters. For me, it's all about balance. Give your OC very powerful psychic powers if you want, but they'd better have some sort of equally powerful weakness (I've seen autism used, and I made a character with psychic abilities blind and mute, with no ability to psychically compensate for that).
That is if you are writing canon character in fanfic. I was referring to the original characters in the original stories.
It's natural for a writer to make up characters they would wish they were or that have similarities to them. However, Sue-ish canon characters is, believe it or not, becoming much more common as time goes on.

Before the end of the century, the concept of the Mary Sue had only recently been born, and hence very few OC's (and much less, canon characters) were considered as such. Also, many new archetypes were blooming, and they were actually considered fresh and good.

However, by the late 90's until today, writers around the world started to run out of ideas (a.k.a the Writer's Block Epidemic), and hence many either un-original and/or un-inspiring works emerged from around the world. Only a few people were recognized as original and good, even fantastical.

Hopefully, someone (and that might be anyone) might break that barrier called mainstream corruption and break out a new revolution everywhere...

You guys agree with me, right?
All work is derivative, and it has been almost since the beginning. What didn't exist in fiction before was taken from real life or its trappings somehow. The reason everything seems like crap now is because the filter of mass media has expanded and weakened at once. More works are produced for the masses by mass media, and then the internet has exposed everyone to even the most droll pieces. The actual quality of artistic work hasn't changed any in recent years, except for perhaps subtle improvements in editing capacity due to word processing software. The only thing that has changed is the amount and average quality of the amount that reaches the consumer.

As for Mary Sues, they're a part of life. Most good characters have sueish traits. It's almost impossible to create a viable character without one. As long as a potential Sue is properly balanced, and original characters are handled delicately to avoid unabalancing the setup of the universe they're put into, there is no problem.
Couldn't have said it better myself.
There is a great Mary Sue litmus test here - http://www.onlyfiction.net/marysue2.html It's skewed towards fantasy writers, but you can test any character, even a canon one to see if they fall in the 'Mary Sue' category, even a little.
Hey, how do villains count?