The Dreaded Mary-Sue…

Also known in the male form as Billy-Bob or Gary-Stue…

I thought that I’d explore this topic today thanks to a question posed by Fyrefly.

Mary-Sues and Billy-Bobs have been amongst us most probably as long as Fan Fiction has or even literature, because they are not just bound to the ff genre. They are over idealized characters, with no noteworthy flaws which included physical characteristics that an author favours too highly. This is usually because authors and readers alike use Mary-Sues to fulfil their own wishes and fantasy. They are, the way I’ve read them and encountered them, over dramatised, over active and over sensitive. Its comes in with this whole ‘too much of a good thing’ concept. I was never very aware of this until I encountered an article about them by accident along with the Universal Litmus test for Mary-Sue characters. As I read through the pages, I found myself submitting most of my characters that I used then to it and realized that they call came up frightfully short, or rather, frightfully Mary-Sue.

You can read this test here:

You can also read a very good explanation on what a Mary-Sue is here at Wikipedia, who as always explains it a lot better than I do:

Having a Mary-Sue is not necessarily a bad thing, and it also depends on how you write and for who you write. Some people like them, some people don’t. I’ve discovered that fandoms can be very critical on Mary-Sues if they are original characters thrown into very popular fan fiction. Personally, I try to avoid them as best I can, because I don’t like to think that my characters have the same ‘recipe’ as millions of other characters. I like them to be unique, unruly, difficult, flawed. Mary-Sues are not flawed, and I have to say, lol, they loose consciousness a lot and falls in love too easily.
But, they have their place in fiction, and I won’t lie when I say that I’ve abandoned all of my Mary-Sues. They just won’t necessarily come out to play in public.

What it comes down to once again is the whole reason of why you write. Writing must be enjoyed, it must be loved. Writing is an escape from lives that we can’t cope with, and if we find that we can cope in other worlds better than our own, why not go there in any manner that we see fit?

It’s good to submit your characters to the litmus test every now and again, to make sure that you keep a tab on your writing and make sure that you don’t fall into the habit of ‘same song, different tune,’ mentality. But, this is only if you wish for other people to read your stories in things like fan fiction.
And, also – ultimately, we are all unique and our writing is unique. And, I have to say – some authors have published Mary-Sues as well and became quite famous for them (Tamora Price’s Song of the Loiness for one). We take from fiction that we read what we want, we give to fiction what we need.

So, don’t despair if you do the litmus test and realize that your characters lean towards being the Dreaded Mary-Sue. As the author of the test said, it’s symptoms, not a disease. And, they can be fun to read and write.

Ultimately, you should enjoy what you do – that’s all that matters.