What is a Mary-Sue? You’ve probably encountered such a character, especially if you read Internet fiction. A Mary-Sue is a character who is too good to be true, or the result of the author trying too hard to appeal to the reader; often, the character reflects the insecurities of his or her author by embodying the extreme opposite of those faults. A woman insecure about her looks may write a Mary-Sue character who is obnoxiously stunning. A man insecure about his love life may write a Mary-Sue (or Gary-Stu) character who is a lady-killer. Often, the Mary-Sue is “smarter” than the author and evades all trouble the author may write.
Unless the character appears in a satire, the Mary-Sue is unintentional; no one wants to write an annoyingly perfect character. Such a character alienates and frustrates the reader. Therefore, it’s important to keep your characters as realistic as possible–to give them faults and insecurities.
If you think you have a Mary-Sue on your hands, you can compare it with the checklist below. Three or more checks indicates a scarily Sue-ish character that you should consider rewriting.
Good luck, writers!
Wish-Fulfillment: When the Author wants her Sue to convey some sort of trait; think Bella Swan (or “beautiful swan”) from Twilight.
Cheap Disguise: When the Author and her Sue share some part of their names; think Jane Fairfax in Jane Austen’s Emma.
Dogma: When the Author uses a name that society has already attached a certain characteristic to; think Esmeralda of Any Friggin’ Thing That Has a Gypsy Character.
Race: When a character’s race brings her much reverence or rejection.
Age: When a character looks unusually good for her age.
Fitness: When a character is perfectly fit, but has done very little to be.
Fashion: When a character wears what you would wear if you had the money/guts/body.
Quirks: When a character happens to have something that sets them apart, but it does not hinder their attractiveness.
Physical: If a character has physical abilities, it’s based on grace more than strength.
Mental: Proof of this is summed up with a scene wherein the Mary Sue is too good to say “Told ya.”
Spiritual: These characters talk to deities, hear deities, see spirits/the spirit world…they don’t necessarily show more devotion than other characters, but they are treated as if they are more devoted.
Magical: They can summon/enchant/cast spells better than the great wizard with the beard (probably because they’re the reincarnation of Merlin); they never abuse their power, even when they abuse their power.
Artistic: Their art is usually quite expressive of what’s on the inside, and whatever they make is beautiful. Some of these characters make the prettiest ____, and everyone hates them for it.
Orientation: They love who you love.
Status: They never start out inconveniently taken; they’re either with the greatest person already, single, or on the brink of single-dom.
Personality: Second to ab-count. Always must be the most desirable.
Style: This could go the “classy” James Bond route or the “grungy” beautiful artist route.
Promiscuity: The characters are never naughty. Ever. Oh, and they never cheat…unless it’s really cool to cheat.
Birth: They are secretly nobility, reincarnated, part of a prophecy, or the last of a mighty group.
Class: Usually, secretly royalty, nobility, etc. They are not often subject to the whims of the powerful. If they are, though, they are subject so hard. They are like Jesus when he’s carrying his crucifix down the Via Dolorosa.
Popularity: Everyone likes them. If someone does not, they end up paying for it, and then liking them, if begrudgingly.
Power: They will get it. They will use it. They claim they won’t abuse it.
Friends: So many!
Foils: Too many.
No matter if they are Political, Spiritual, Ethical, or Societal, they’ll echo yours.
Home: When they have a charming house, clean, but not lavish, with (enter exhausting description of foliage).
Transportation: Is it a sexy sports car? A pumpkin-carriage? A dragon/griffin/magic carpet/etc.?
Collection: They always have one. It’s always sickeningly adorable.
Pet: Is it cute and feisty? Does it serve little purpose?