Sunday, 12 June 2011


I hate Mary-Sues. No, I don't hate them. I despise them with every outraged fibre of my incandescently furious being!

Everybody know what a Mary-Sue is? I suspect most writerly types (or just about anyone who reads, be it fanfiction or published books) will know what they are, but here's a little definition for anyone I've lost. They're characters (both original and, in fanfiction, already present in the story) who are, for want of a better word, perfect. They're gorgeous, they have exotic names, tattoos and birthmarks, they have earth-shatteringly awesome powers, everything they wear oozes sex appeal and they are so insanely wonderful that anyone who's met them for more than two or three seconds would give their life for them at the drop of a hat. And they always, always, get together with a mouth-wateringly gorgeous love interest at some stage.

Oh, but the author knows they can't risk creating a perfect  character, so they quirk things up with a heart-wrenching (*bleck*) backstory. Rape, abuse, kidnap, the death of family, friends, mentors and loved ones, unbreakable curses, amnesia and tortured thoughts of atrocities they're sure they're responsible for.

And angst. Immeasurable eternities of angst.

All this tragedy is supposed to make us sympathise with the character, while their awesomeness is there to encourage us to look up to and like them. However, it has the opposite effect. The character is not the independent, spirited, kick-ass heroine we want, but a weepy-waily little floozie who hurls herself at the nearest male and spends most of her time collapsed and sobbing in his arms from stress and exhaustion. Gary-Stues {male Mary-Sues - less common, but just as toxic} are just as bad - their overpowered hunkiness sweeps through opposition like a hot knife through butter, reducing formerly self-reliant women to fawning doe-eyed concubines that line up to get a dose of his godliness. That is, if he's not in the middle of a rage-fit or breakdown.

But that's not the thing that irks me most about Sues. Cool powers, funky tattoos and wonderful physiques are not a bad thing in a character - in fact, I find bland characters to be almost as bad as over-wrought Sues - but they don't make good stories. In original fiction, the plots can be so contrite and ridden with cliches, that it's not much of a plot at all, just a series of exploits during which our Sue can both show off their awesomeness and have huge angst sessions. It's very hard to worry for a character if you know they can just snap their fingers and blast the foe into a thousand tiny bits.

Also, in fanfiction especially, the presence of Sues tends to do horrible things to the canon. It's bad enough in their own world, but at least there the other characters are little better than cardboard cutouts are are unlikely to know any better. But in fanfiction, the wonderful, colourful people we know, love and root for, are subjected to the worst sort of torture. Their personalities are stripped away, leaving blank puppets that are utterly defenceless before the sparkly evil of the Almighty Mary-Sue. Harry is helpless without them, Kirk's eyes pop out of his sockets as his years of hard-won skills are surpassed in seconds, and Aragorn and Legolas are lowered to the level of squabbling over who loves them more. The reader is left horror-struck as their beloved story crumbles to piles of fluffy crap, punctuated here and there with a badly written sex scene or another display of the Sue's deity-status abilities. The story we love is gone, and we are instead left blundering through this awful, predictable ordeal whereby every one of the story's key events is squooshed beneath a mountain of glittery crap.

Oh Boromir, I am so sorry you had to come back from the death to endure an eternity thanking the Sue for saving your wretched arse while they stomp all over your city and watch as your people gaze up at her in puppy-dog adoration. So, so sorry.

And the worst part? It's all so easily avoidable.As if Sues themselves don't stick out like neon-painted toxic sludge monsters, there are a bajillion-and-three "litmus tests" out there that can help you spot Mary-Sues and warn you about their draining effect on a story. Here's the one I use, and I cannot possibly tell how useful it has been in helping me rescue one of my characters from Gary-Stu-ness, and placing a protective barrier between the rest of his story and a truly toxic fate:

However, there is one thing that Sue-fics are good for. Sporking. These guys are the best of the bunch at turning an odyssey of agony into a non-stop LOL-fest: "Deleterius" Community - LiveJournal
Warning: bring tissues. You'll laugh until your brain dribbles out of your nose.

In the meantime, may the Supreme Spork keep you and your stories all safe from the dreaded Suethor.

~ Charley R


  1. Brilliant, Spook. And even though I agree with how cliche the Sues are, I'll still put them in my stories. I think that people (women, in particular) want to read about women who survive and rise above it all. It gives them hope. There are more victims out there than we know.

  2. I have no quarrel with that - stories of triumph are great. It's when they triumph purely because of their awesometasticness, rather than their own efforts. And I'm sure you have the good sense to give your characters quirks and weaknesses, rather than turning them into flawless godesses (wrongly despised goddesses, of course xP)

  3. I was going to take this test for Jennie, but figured she'd fail it. Miserably. Lol. I did Alex and he got, like, 22? Or something. Which isn't too bad. It's kind of hard to take as it's like, "from the norm" and I'm like, "Well, that's not norm for humans but it's norm for fairies..."

    *sigh* I almost did Leah, but couldn't be bothered. Leah rises above all such things.

  4. Well, I can tell you for a fact that Leah's no Sue. She has far too much personality and likeability, and she has quirks and weaknesses and a pleasantly not-cloying dose of awesome.

    Plus, she's blue. No Sue would ever dare go blue for fear of not looking sexy ;)