NOTE: I am addressing Mary Sues in this column, which often involves questions of definition. As Mary Sues (and the male counterpart Gary Stu) are often a continuum, I wanted to clarify my definition. My definition is of an “author’s pet” – a character who gets vastly preferential treatment by the author in a way that distorts the story. Thus I am discussing them entirely in the negative.
A Dark Mary Sue? Most people would say that Mary Sues often darken things as it is. They may make works into pandering creations that are hard to enjoy. An author or game creator may be worried that, after so many Mary Sues, a new character idea will be seen as an ego-fulfillment vehicle. Wether they annoy us in literature or gaming or make us worry how others view our works, they’re there, worrying us.
In the worlds we build, we may even be cautious about how we design heroes, heroines, and supporting characters. We take that extra effort to make sure they’re not Mary Sues, or even that they’re not perceived as such. For all people may enjoy a good wish-fulfillment story, there are times they can be quite harsh on other tales (namely ones not fulfilling their fantasies).
So we’re careful with our heroes and our heroines. Perhaps very careful.
But maybe they’re not the ones we should be keeping an eye on.
When you’re busy scrutinizing your cast you might miss where else Mary Sues pop up. These authors pet, Mary and Gary are tricky little devils, and maybe you should be looking at the other side of your cast.
Because sometimes they’re the villains. Not in the ruined-my-story-sense but in the fact that real Mary Sues and Gary Stus can be the bad guys. The Villains. The Antagonists. The characters raging at the meddling kids and their pet.
Sometimes they can be even more annoying than Mary Sue heroes. Watching a likable, interesting heroine deal with a well-armed overblown author’s favorite Dark Mary Sue is a great way to kill interest in the story. When the threat is so bad you can’t see anyone realistically coping with it, or so beautiful-powerful-great that you feel like you’re reading ad copy, there goes interest in your tale.
Needless to say if you’re a dedicated worldbuilder, they devastate your setting just as sure as any Mary Sue can. Mary Sues, authors pets, distort the world and make it unbelievable as the author’s blatant biases are more important than an understandable setting. Your suspension of disbelieve flies out the window pretty quick when a Mary Sue makes his/her appearance.
Of course this may be an odd statement – a Dark Mary Sue? Aren’t Mary and Gary supposed to be beautiful, perfect, wonderful, loves, etc.? How do you do that to the character everyone is supposed to root against? How do you Mary Sue-ify them?
Theres something peculiar to many of us writers and worldbuilders, perhaps all of us, in that one time or another we create an author’s pet. Maybe it’s a wish-fulfillment, maybe it’s identification, maybe its a power trip. Mary Sues are powerful, lucky, have it all, and are something we, sadly, get attached to.
But none of these qualities say that Mary Sue or Gary Stu have to be good guys. You’ve probably seen a few of their ilk that were so annoying you wondered why the hell they were the heroes and heroines.
In my experience, a Dark Mary Sue or Gary Stu make it even easier to make their stories a power trip and use of authorial fiat. Consider:
If this starts reminding you of some characters here or there, then you understand what I mean. Ever see a particularly foul character be strangely popular with some people? You get the idea – far more dangerous you may make your own.
Dark Mary Sue’s actually irritate me more than regular Mary Sues – they seem to lean more towards wish fulfillment, provoke even more excuses, and drag the story down – especially if the hero is just someone for the villain to push around.
So here’s a few signs you have a Dark Mary Sue on your hands:
See these traits in your villain? Get out the Mary Sue detector and give them a careful examination. YOu may have a Dark Mary Sue on your hands.
A Dark Mary Sue is a real kick in the worldbuilding, as well as just a poor thing to create as an author. It’s also a bit easy to miss if you’re not looking for it.
Have I see these? Oh, yes I have, and they’ve always crawled up my nose. There’s something partially sad to see an author make a bad guy the author’s pet and have it affect their work or misdirect their talent. Also there’s only so often you can hear “He/she is just misunderstood” before you want to say “no, this character is a psychopathic a-hole.”
I also think that Dark Mary Sues can eclipse good villains or morally ambiguous heroes – the areas of really good writing and worldbuilding. I can think of a few characters like that I’m quite fond of, and I’d rather not see their bad names besmirched, if you know what I mean.
Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach. He blogs on careers at http://www.musehack.com/, publishes books on career and culture at http://www.informotron.com/, and does a site of creative tools at http://www.seventhsanctum.com/. He can be reached at http://www.stevensavage.com/.
(I saw this article at the www.OngoingWorlds.com blog, and the original author was glad to let me repost it – I figure it fits our various endeavors here at the Sanctum. It’s by David Ball. David Ball is a web developer and writer. He created the www.OngoingWorlds.com website which allows writers/roleplayers to work together on continuous stories. He also occasionally blogs at www.scifiideas.com.)
Mary Sue characters are common in roleplaying and fanfiction, especially if the writer is an amateur and doesn’t yet know the error of their ways. Mary Sue characters are perfect in every way, they’re written so that everyone likes them, they’re smart, incredibly beautiful, incredibly useful, and can do just about anything. They don’t have any character flaws so can tackle any situation in their stride. After a while this behaviour becomes very boring and we’re reminded why decent stories have characters with just the right amount of interesting traits to add realism.
We call these types of characters “Mary Sue” after a Star Trek parody of a fanfiction story (see here for the origins of Mary Sue), but it’s not just females that make Mary Sues, the same annoying qualities can be given to males.
While Mary Sue was a true beauty to behold, and everyone fancied her (or so the writer mentioned), her male counterpart is similar but not the same. He is unbelievably handsome, and females will swoon at his very glance. But he’s also a man of action, in fact he’s the total embodiment of action. He’s strong, daring and athletic and can win any fight. Even if the writer mentions he’s not very physically strong, he’s at least physically fit and fast in a fight.
Marty Stu is also intelligent and extremely useful. He can solve any scenario with his advanced knowledge of astrophysics, nuclear science or computer hacking. He has knowledge well in advance of his years, a skill he shares with Mary Sue. This means he can finish off any story with the least amount of tension or drama, much to the annoyance of any member who wants to create suspense in your roleplaying game.
Because Marty Stu is more about the action than Mary Sue (although of course Mary Sue could be an action hero too), writing about a Marty Stu makes you dangerously close to becoming a god modder.
Like the way Mary Sue is perfect at her job, Einstein Sue is the most intelligent character… ever. She (or he) will be the one that always comes up with the best solution to a problem, despite a team of equally qualified scientists thinking about the same problem.
This character type isn’t just limited to roleplaying or fanfiction, you’ll also see it in TV, films and books as it’s a way to roll several boring scientist geek characters into one so that you can consilidate the character development.
This is common in roleplay spinoffs from a TV or film series when a member creates a new character that is almost identical to one of the characters from the show. The member can’t think up an original character so they take the character from the show, copy their personality, their upbringing, and creates an identical character. A few things might vary from the original, like they might have swapped gender, or changed the hair colour, or removed a few character traits they weren’t quite sure about, but more or less it’s a copy of the original.
Sometimes the character might even have a similar name to the original, or possibly be a long-lost relative they didn’t know about.
A short tempered character who lashes out with her fists, usually at men. Jerk Sue is probably supposed to come across as a feisty, kick-ass, independent woman who can fight her own battles, but actually comes across as an unhinged mentalcase that bullies other characters into getting her own way.
A character full of angst, this is a type of Mary Sue who wants your sympathy. She’s normally a female character, as they’re generally more emotional characters but could easily also be a male. Sympathy Sue probably had abusive parents, had a hard time growing up on the streets, saw her parents killed or is the last of her species. She cries a lot and might resort to self harm.
In roleplay this could mean the writer has some problems, or wants some attention. Or it could be a genuine character that the member is quite happy to write. There’s a possibility that this character could be played well, and these quirks used to develop a character, but in the case of a Sympathetic Sue, the usual Mary Sue elements have to be there also, and the amount of problems a character has doesn’t equate to the unrealistic and exaggerated amount of depression they have.
A common trait of a Mary Sue character is that they’re the perfect girl, and that everyone loves them, so they’re all part Relationship Sue too. But a Relationship Sue is a character who’s only purpose in a story or roleplaying game is to be the girlfriend or wife of another character.
When they’re introduced, they’ll be the absolute ideal girlfriend for the main character, and will be the perfect match in every way.
Lemon Stu is a character usually in sexually explicit fanfiction (sometimes called lemon fiction). Lemon Stu is a sexual predator, he’s the type of character who can sleep with any woman he wants, as often as he wants.
Usually written by a hormonal teenager with a sexual appetite larger than his vocabulary or knowledge of character development.
Just like the Marty Stu, Lemon Stu is perfect at what he puts his efforts into, and this is sex. Lemon Stu will be the best sex his partner will ever have, and he’ll last as long as he wants (or as long as his parner likes). There’ be no awkwardness, nothing will go wrong, and he will perform perfectly every time. He most likely won’t even fall asleep after sex.
Most villains are given incredible powers to make them hard to kill. Imagine a villain so powerful and so evil that they’re actually impossible to kill. That’s the Villain Sue. S/he is so good at being a villain that you can’t actually kill them. This type of character is usually played by a god modder.
An intentional parody of a Mary Sue, when a Mary Sue character is created and used deliberately for a joke. Often in this case the name “Mary Sue” is actually used to let everyone else know it’s just a joke. Too much use of a Parody Sue can be just as annoying as the real thing.
– Steven Savage