Sure, everyone loves an indisputably beautiful character that is beloved by all, undeniably brilliant, and predestined for greatness — but if you ask us, the Mary Sue trope can be a bit of a bore. Wondering what Mary Sue means? We can help.
In this post, we’re exploring the term Mary Sue to uncover its definition, origin, and more. So, if you’re searching for information on the meaning behind Mary Sue or wondering how it differs from Gary Stu, look no further, and keep reading!
What Is the Definition of Mary Sue?
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Mary Sue describes a type of fictional character — usually female — who is depicted as unrealistically lacking in weaknesses or flaws. Mary Sue, in other words, is perfect.
Think you might be dealing with a Mary Sue? If a character ticks off everything on the checklist below, she’s likely a Mary Sue:
- Beautiful and brilliant yet ordinary and plain
- Everyone in the story seems to love her — regardless of whether they’re a friend or foe
- Has some kind of tragic backstory
- Unbelievably talented and indisputably attractive
- Destined for greatness and often dubbed the “chosen one”
- Doesn’t struggle
Many readers aren’t particularly fond of Mary Sues in literature. Why? Because no one likes to read about a heroine who will undoubtedly save the day with little to no effort and still look flawless after a lackluster battle while everyone is covered in bruises.
In simpler terms, Mary Sue characters are boring.
What Is the Origin of Mary Sue?
Often used as a derogatory term in fan fiction circles to describe an idealized and seemingly perfect character, our word of the day stems from a short, satirical piece of Star Trek fan fiction. The piece was Paula Smith’s “A Trekkie’s Tale,” published in Menagerie — a Star Trek fanzine in 1973.
Originally written as a parody of the standard Self-Insert Fic of the time, the moniker was quickly adopted by the Star Trek fanfiction community.
That said, it’s important to note that the concept of Mary Sue has received significantly complex criticism in the years following the term’s initial debut. There’s been confusion over whether it has become inherently misogynistic to accuse characters of being a “Mary Sue” or whether it’s a legitimate type of literary character.
What Are Some Mary Sue Examples?
Now that you’re familiar with our word of the day, let’s take a look at some Mary Sue examples, shall we? Here are the most infamous Mary Sues in fiction:
- Bella Swan — Twilight
- Rey — Star Wars: The Force Awakens
- Jean Grey — Marvel
- Anastasia Steele — Fifty Shades of Grey
- Dora — Dora The Explorer
- Barbie — Barbie
- Katara — Avatar: The Last Airbender
- Carol Danvers — Captain Marvel
- Felicity Smoak — Arrow
- Tris — Divergent
- Katniss Everdeen — Hunger Games
- Ginny Weasley — Harry Potter
What Is the Male Equivalent of Mary Sue?
The term Mary Sue is generally used to describe a female character who is important to the story, possesses unusual physical traits, and has an irrelevantly over-skilled nature.
On the flip side, when looking to describe a character who is seemingly perfect and male (in other words, male Mary Sues), the term “Gary Stu” (or Marty Stu) is commonly used.
Some male characters that are well-known “Gary Stus” include:
- Caillou — Caillou
- James Bond — Goldfinger
- Spock — Star Trek
- Ferb Fletcher — Phineas and Ferb
- Edward Cullen — Twilight
- Luke Skywalker — StarWars
- Kirito — Sword Art Online
- Captain Kirk — Star Trek
- Clark Kent — Superman
Any Tips to Avoid Writing Mary Sue Characters?
Mary Sues and Gary Stus have been called out and criticized in canon literary works. If you want to avoid writing one, consider the following tips:
- Challenge your heroes
- Add dimension with an interesting background story
- Create a believable character that is relatable
- Give your character actual flaws
- Tone down the extremes
- Make your characters earn their skills
- Give comparable power to others
- Let them lose
- Take your time writing — remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day!
Related Terms You Should Know
As you continue on your journey in understanding the word Mary Sue, you’ll likely come across a number of terms that may leave you puzzled if you don’t know what they mean.
To prevent any confusion, we’ve compiled a short list of related terms for you to get acquainted with below:
- Airy Ooh — a gender-neutral term for the same Mary Sue character type
- Anti-Sue — the opposite of a Mary Sue (a character who is unrealistically flawed)
- Suethor — an author who writes a Mary Sue character
- Suefic — a fanfiction about a Mary Sue character
- Canon Sue — a Mary Sue or Marty Sue who happens to be a canonical character
- Possession Sue — the state of a canon character possessed by a Mary Sue spirit or Sue-wraith
- Gary Stu — a male version of Mary Sue
- TV Trope — a theme or device used in storytelling
- Backstory — a story that tells what led up to the main story or plot
A Mary Sue refers to an original character in fan fiction or fandom that, for one reason or another, is deemed undesirable by fan critics. Usually female, the Mary Sue character often depicts an annoyingly perfect individual that is flawless in every way.
That said, there’s no denying that Mary Sue is an interesting kind of character — she’s not merely a writer’s wish-fulfillment but rather an authorial stand-in for all the good things about the writer. Although Mary Sues may bore you to tears, they may actually be intended as point-of-view characters for the reader.
In other words, don’t discredit a character just because they are a Mary Sue, Gary Stu, or Marty Stu, as these characters still play an important part in the story!