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What is Mary Sue to Do?

This topic is way overdue for discussion, and I thought today is a good day to bring it up. So, let’s talk about a topic that most geeky ladies (and gents) know about. Let’s talk about Mary Sues. More importantly, the criteria for a Sue and how really subjective these labels are in regards to female characters (and sometimes male characters).

I used to be “that guy,” you know the guy in your role-play community that tears down your fan-made character for a particular fictional story or setting. The one that goes on how “incorrect” it is, and how it doesn’t fit to “canon”; yeah, I was kind of a jerk. But fortunately I have matured quite a bit and I am not that guy anymore (that isn’t to say I won’t critique your fan-made character if you ask for it), I am different kind of role player and different kind of story teller. I don’t start judging people’s fan created creations or analyzing books and other media for “Mary Sues” anymore.

Now the question arises, what exactly is a Mary Sue? In the most basic of definitions, a Mary Sue, or Sue for short, is a female character that is poorly made, flat in design, lacks any sort of character depth or flaws and can seemingly do no wrong in the setting she is in. This is also applicable to fan-created characters for a particular setting either for role play or for fan-fiction. The problem with them is that they are the purest form of wish fulfillment and that they are boring and lack the qualities to captivate and interest. Now, there is merit in analyzing and critiquing poorly-made characters. In collaborative story telling (role-play) settings, there is merit in critiquing a character to better fit in the setting better and be more cohesive. But I am seeing something else something that is honestly disturbing.

Why are we tearing down women?

Why are we taking female characters and tearing them down? Why is it always the female characters who get the most scrutiny and judgment? It’s kind of scary, really. Male characters don’t get as much judgment (they do get judged, though), many of them get a free pass, but if a female character that is likeable, charismatic or talented appears, it seems that she immediately gets labeled a Sue and is “flat” and “boring.” It doesn’t seem fair at all. More so since the criteria for a Sue is all a matter of taste and execution. I’ve always found the judgment of a Sue to be an experiment in misogyny. We tend to judge the character qualities and personality on the basis that they are not “good enough” as a female character. They can’t be “too perfect,” or have too many talents or have everyone like her. I don’t see how those make her a terrible character. Sure, flaws and depth are necessary, but you can put depth in a female character and still make her likable all around and very talented.

We really need to stop tearing down female characters on the principle of them being female. We need to stop judging women writers and storytellers for making funny, cute, charismatic characters. In regards to judging bad characters, I’ve found it that it behooves me to look at the whole cast than just one character. Because characters don’t exist in a vacuum, I look for pacing, plot execution, her congruency to the motivations of the other characters and the story a whole. The label of “Mary Sue” is really subjective and sometimes hurtful, too. Maybe we should think on why we label girl characters “Sues.”

Have you made a fan-made character? And can you tell me who they are?

By Corbin

Corbin is a trans man living in Columbus Ohio with his fabulous ginger boyfriend and their two pet rats. He is a disability rights activist, fiction writer and collaborative storyteller, localvore and seeker of all things queer and geeky.

12 replies on “What is Mary Sue to Do?”

Most Mary Sues, like Opifex said, are created by young female writers. Some can pull it off, but others can’t. The best thing more seasoned writers can do is gently suggest ways on how to expand the character and how to give it more depth.

Also, much worse than the Mary Sue is the Bellasue. Even worse is the Reneesue.

I’ll admit I coined these terms. I read all of the Twilight books and was just flummoxed by Bella as a character. There are a bunch of paranormal romances –YA novels in particular–with a Bella-type heroine, hence the Bellasue.

The Reneesue is basically the Bellasue but she’s a SUPER SPESHUL SNOWFLAKE, oftentimes with fantastic powers, who can save the world from EEE-VIIIIL (just like Reneesme!). The Reneesue does not undergo any character development while learning how to harness her powers, or else she needs a boy to help her get to the point where she can use her fantabulous powers. Either way, there is no self-actualization of the female character that might occur with a male character (hero’s journey formula also applies to heroines), and the most important decision she makes is which guy to be with out of the two who are vying for her.

Ehh, even if the fan fiction or whatever is posted online, it’s not like anyone has to read it. You can usually spot fiction with a Sue from pretty early on in the story. Hell, you can usually spot it from the synopsis. I guess it’s one thing if people were complaining about a poorly crafted OC in equal quantities to the other bad writing things that happen in fan fic all the damn time. But there is such vitriol for the Sue while say, male characters in slash fiction loosing all sense of their original characterization to become slash fiction tropes goes largely ignored. Why do we wanna hate sooo damn hard on something that is largely a power fantasy for girls? If they come looking for improvement, then some help on not writing a flat overpowered character might be in order, but the level of anger against the Sue outweighs her crime I think.

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