The Anatomy of a Mary Sue

Monday, February 6, 2012

Hiya, Annika here. This is going to be a very long post...

 Today we're going to talk about something that is highly annoying to many readers, RPers and writers: a Mary Sue. While most commonly female, it also takes the form of the male Gary Stu. This is what Wikipedia has to say: 
"The term "Mary Sue" is from the name of a character created by Paula Smith in 1973 for her parody story "A Trekkie's Tale" published in her fanzine Menagerie #2. The story starred Lieutenant Mary Sue ("the youngest Lieutenant in the fleet — only fifteen and a half years old"), and satirized unrealistic and adolescent wish-fantasy characters in Star Trek fan fiction. Such characters were generally original (non-canon) and female adolescents who had romantic liaisons with established canon adult characters, or in some cases were the younger relatives or proteges of those characters."
 We're going to be breaking this post down into two sections to cover the entire anatomy of a MS before examining two characters commonly thought to be Mary Sues, one fairly likable and the other not so liked by many, but still loved by some.

Part One: Traits of a Mary Sue

Appearance and Clothing  

Okay, let me set something straight: there is nothing wrong with a beautiful/handsome character. But truthfully, I'd rather have a unanimously beautiful/handsome side character/best friend than a straight up beautiful main character. I'd simply, unless I'm going for the narcissistic vibe anyways, have the character not see his/her potential looks or even dislike most of their traits. Speaking of traits, here are some MS ones: 

  • Purple or other non-human eye color: 
  • May be averted if the character is question is non-human, a red-eyed villain, possessed, a halfbreed etc., but if they are near human, e.g Elf, fairy, witch, goddess you might be walking on a thin line.

  • A perfect, expensive wardrobe even when the character's circumstances, social class and/or other factors suggest otherwise
    : what it says on the tin.

  • Hair of gold
    : again, not completely sueish, as many people exhibit this trait in real life. But let it also be known that oftentimes hair of that appearance fades to a light to medium brown by a persons late teens, so tread carefully with this trope. Mostly only believable with princesses or royalty for some unknown reason. In a more common setting, pale/ash blonde or a very light brown seems to be a more accepted route.

  • Black hair: 
    Is only sueish depending on the character. Even if a character is not a sue, you might be treading on dangerous ground if you pair this with green or purple eyes. More so purple. 

  • Each eye is a different color: 
    Again, this exists in real life. It is called heterochromia, but is fairly rare. Again, tread carefully with this. Don't have a combinations like purple and amber, if you know what I mean ;)

  • Flawless skin that is frequently mentioned: 
    Okay, while it is perfectly okay to have a clear skinned character, don't mention it every time he/she is (if ever) described. Truthfully, I'd rather read about a character who has a pimple or two and is a bit oily than have to suffer through the phrase 'his/her flawless skin' about 500 times throughout the whole book.  

Personalities are what make or break a character. In the end, you may not remember the hair or eye color Analiese had, but maybe her daring and witty remarks stuck with you for years. Here are some common personality MS traits:

  • Is incapable of feeling anything but anger, happiness, angst etc: Okay, we all know that this is impossible. Even everyday thoughts and feelings are made up of combinations of emotions. Happy can be tinged with sadness or jealously and vice versa. Now, if the character is just a sad or angry person in general, and people are like that, that's just how they are. But let them feel other emotions as well.

  • Is a total jerk to everyone,  ignoring the fact that his/her friends and family truly care for him, his situation isn't very hard and his/her life is going pretty good: 
    Now, this trait can make you want to sock a character in the face yourself or have your own character kill him/her in an RP situation. It induces the same anger that you have with ungrateful people in real life, to be frank.

  • Acts so nice you almost want to provoke him/her yourself: 
    While there is nothing wrong with having a nice protagonist, as most are, it's okay to have them be mean, annoyed, upset or just a flat out jerk every now and then. It adds humanity, even if they're a.... dragon :) 

  • Jerk Syndrome
    : the MS is a jerk who is truly kind inside and hid it for unknown reasons... OR s/he is just a complete and utter monster who people never will stand up to for some unknown reason... So basically, s/he is just going to keep on down the Magical Road of Jerk for eternity with no dead ends.

  • Has the urge to kill any and everyone for no explainable reason: 
    Now, if your MC is a serial killer or whatever, that's your choice. But in an RP situation, it is VERY annoying, especially if they try to kill all the other characters. It is against natural, stable sentient logic to have the urge to end another's life, so some readers, including myself are conflicted and disgusted  when they come across this trope. I love a good murder mystery, but I'd rather the murderer be put behind bars, not be the MC.

  • Mr. and Ms. McSue
    : A sueish name. I LOVE for my characters' names to have meaning; but don't overdo it with stuff that means, 'Blazing Hawk' and 'Unmerciful Blackness' and 'Loyal Beauty'. 

  • Is utterly amazing or dreadfully horrible at everything s/he does (usually the former): This is pretty much the only thing in this category. Because sadly, this is almost a MS must since they deal in absolutes. Like Sith... *snicker*. But seriously, it's one thing to be clumsy; and while many people are multi-talented in real life, they are not good or bad at everything. Plain and simple. I really wish this section was longer, but this is the sad truth. 

Part Two: Sue vs. Sue

Yes, believe it or not, many of fiction's most beloved characters are Mary Sues in some aspects! Of course, this is not always good... heheh. Today we have Anakin Skywalker and... Bella Swan as examples.

Anakin Skywalker. Also known as the Chosen and/or Whiny One, depending on who you're talking to and what mood they're in...*eyeroll*
Anyway, in some ways, Anakin is a sue. He can be occasionally rude to those who care for him, he seems to rarely have consequences that he truly learns from, he picks up some talents a little too fast, everyone immediately thinks there's something great about him (even though there is :D) and sometimes you just want to sock him in the face for his stubbornness. He also sometimes undeniably thinks the Jedi should let him break all their rules. He needs a major fishslap right about then.
But enough with the negativity...
I believe, in some ways, that there is an Anakin in all of us. The part that struggles to stay good, to stay in the light. To keep our anger under wraps, to avoid the shadows that tinge our edges. Maybe this is what about him annoys people; because they see a little of themselves in him, and don't like it. But despite his turn to the darkside and slaughtering of the Jedi Order, for some reason he remains one of the most popular Star Wars characters of all time.

Okay, before I start, I admit for my negative section- where Bella Swan mostly falls, I was tempted to include Edward as well. All the other characters were actually very interesting... Anyways, I've read some of Eclipse, and I was not impressed, if not disgusted. If only Bella was a little more assertive and stopped acting all depressed and lovesick... it would be a much better book. I mean, look at this quote from the Twilight Wiki:
"About three things I was absolutely positive. First, Edward was a vampire. Second, there was a part of him — and I didn't know how potent that part might be — that thirsted for my blood. And third, I was unconditionally and irrevocably in love with him." 
Yeah... But this isn't a rant about Twilight. No. This is about Bella. And her photoshopped promotional pics.
Okay, let's start with her name: Isabella [Marie] Swan. Meaning, in the revered sueish naming tradition, 'Beautiful Swan'!
Huzzah! Um... not. More like Donald Duck to me. (I would say Daffy Duck but I love that jerk :D)
Anyways, she is very whiny, seems to be in a perpetual state of angst as well and can be a jerk to those she loves, even having them unnecessarily coming after her. She is also... weird. And not in a be proud of yourself, awesome way. No, as in naming your daughter Renesmee Carlie. And staying with somebody who admits to wanting to drink her blood... and then broke the bed when they... yeah. 
Not to mention she is hard to relate to and an author avatar to the extreme.


Now, there are many more sueish things about her, but those are the most prominent..
. Thank you for reading this very long post. May the Force be with you :)   

P.S. As a disclaimer, I have nothing against Twilight's fans, I just greatly dislike the books... well, mostly Bella. I like Alice a lot ;)    


  1. I have often heard the phrase, 'mary sue' but never really knew what it meant! Good post. It was very thought provoking.
    I've never seen or read any Twilight, but I don't think I would like it. :) And you are right on about Anakin.

  2. Ooooh good post. ;) I have issues with characters who become sues. :P I accidentally have written them before, but am always now careful to keep them away. Unless it's a purposeful sue.....which can sometimes be used to the benefit of the story!

    And for the record, I agree about Twilight. :P ICKY! :P

  3. Very good post! :) You have captured what a Mary Sue(Gary Stu) is very well :). I agree, Bella is probably the biggest Mary Sue ever(I've only read the first book but I've heard enough about the rest of the series to know that the Sueishness continues).


comments make me smile. :)