What is a Mary Sue?

Now, I’ve been having this little discussion on another message board, and the term “Mary Sue” has come up.

Apparently it either means a character which is

  1. the vehicle of the author’s wish fulfilment, or
  2. a character which is perfect in every way, or
  3. both.

Soo… which is it?

3, kinda. It’s usually a character that a (bad) writer wishes he or she were.

Note that some well-written characters can, technically, fall under the category of a Mary Sue (or Gary Stu, which is the male equivalent). It’s only when the writing is severely bad / lazy / a combination of both that a Mary Sue tag really gets attached.

And, usually, Mary Sue must die.

It can be a wish fulfillment, of course, but usually the Mary Sue is kind and loving and thoughtful and loving and wonderful and kind to animals and loving – and who dies tragically because the world can’t handle her/his goodness.

Cold Mountain was an example of a Mary Sue story.

Another indicator is (in fanfiction, where the term originated) if a totally new character that’s never been seen in the official franchise begins a romantic relationship with ANY of the established characters. That “new student” in a Harry Potter fanfic whom Harry immediately falls head-over-heels in love with, for example.

And yet typically, her name isn’t “Mary Sue.” Imagine that.

Where did “Mary Sue” come from? Was there an original Mary Sue? Was she the litigious mother of God?

I seem to remember it’s from Star Trek fan fiction. Someone wrote herself into the story as the youngest Starfleet officer ever, and the character was called Mary Sue.

Wikipedia has a infomative [url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Sue]articel on Mary Sues. From the article:

What jayjay mentions is how I most often see Mary Sues. If I write a Harry Potter fanfic and add a new beautiful, more brillliant than Hermione, transfer student from America with gorgeous copper hair and intriguing slate blue eyes whom Harry, Ron, and Draco immediately fight over, that would be a classic Mary Sue…

A story by Paula Smith – but it was a parody of other fanfic. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Sue#Etymology

I’ve never heard this term before (or read “Cold Mountain”). Can you think of any other examples in popular fiction? Was Melanie in Gone With the Wind a Mary Sue?

Ah. Sorry.

More one than two. Mary Sues are not necessarily perfect in every way, but their flaws are often not really flaws, or very forgiveable flaws, or plot necessary flaws (the flaws tend to be “outspoken” or “opinionated” or “brilliant beyond her years”)

These days, I usually see it used to mean “any heroic larger than life character I’m not a fan of”.

Which, of course, was eventually trumped by the notorious Stephen Ratliff when he took a very minor character from the TNG episode “Disaster”, Marissa Flores, and turned her into the infamous Marissa Amber Flores Picard in the much-MiSTed Marissa Stories…

I don’t Melanie was treated with enough worship to really be a Mary Sue. There was a certain amount of contempt for her, so she doesn’t qualify.

Meg Ryan in City of Angels is another example, with two cliches for the price of one: a Mary Sue and a Truck Ending.*

Ali McGraw in Love Story might qualify; I haven’t seen it.

There was a Star Trek: Next Generation where Data built a robot “child” who died tragically that is considered a Mary Sue; it was actually the first I heard the term.

*“Suddenly, everyone was run over by a truck.” In this case, literally. :rolleyes: See Lesson 2 here .

Dunno about Melanie, but Dominique from the Fountainhead always struck me as Ayn Rand’s neurotic fantasty image of herself - statuesuqe, glamorous, beautiful, the object of every man’s lustful desires, and the one woman worthy of the ‘real’ man in the book. What makes this scenario even creepier is that the book contains a secondary character called “Cathy” (IIRC, she’s the villainous Ellsworthy Toohey’s niece) who is described as short, squat, drab…basically what Rand actually looked like. Cathy however is a fairly pathetic, easily manipulated character. Thus, IMO, she wrote herself into the story twice - once as the ideal woman she obviously wished she were, and again as a frumpish hausfrau worthy of contempt. (Paging Dr. Freud!)

A vdry early Mary Sue, from Uncle Tom’s Cabin, was Evangeline St. Clare.

The saintly girl died because she was basically too good to live.

Wow. This picture must be retouched to hell and back.

You think that was a bad picture? Take a look at this one. (Warning - not for the faint of heart.)