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.

13 thoughts on “The Dreaded Mary-Sue…

  1. kyuun November 19, 2009 / 10:34 am

    Oh, I remember putting Edward Cullen through that litmus test… what a funny day that was. Sorry. Not a fan of Twilight, but I know many people are, so I’m going to stop there. 😉

    I’ve already put my main NaNo character through the litmus test. It’s a very useful tool indeed. I’m glad mine turned up a nice 16 on it. 🙂 (although, that may change as I go, depending on what I do with the poor man, other than put him through the wringer)

    As long as you’re enjoying yourself, yup! Although, more people should be aware of what a Sue is before publishing on the Internet, I think… still, we’ve all made the mistake of writing one before. I’m just as guilty – but only once or twice, as far as I can remember.

    • Alyssa November 20, 2009 / 6:48 am

      lol, definitively not a fan of sparkling vampires either. BUT – i have to say, if it wasn’t for them I would never have discovered my favorite author – Kim Harrison. I liked the Twilight movie, not for it’s story – but for the way it was presented. There was a kind of visual poetry in it. The colors that they used, the scene changes, the scenery, the music. It all blended very well. I was actually quite impressed. Then, I read the book and… I wasn’t.

      I throw all my characters through the litmus test. And, i do so more than once because they develop and change as the story progresses.

      • kyuun November 22, 2009 / 4:08 pm

        I read the book first and after skimming most of it (dead bored, sorry, too much unnecessary description, huge Mary-Sue factor and 2D characters, too much of the same thing, one whole sentence of build up to the climax = not exciting, not engaging, and you’d think that Ms. Meyer swallowed a thesaurus whilst forgetting to swallow a dictionary too… that’s just my opinion, of course) I never went near the Twilight movie. I heard there were people who liked it and those who didn’t. Personally, I have no inclination to see it, but I suppose one can appreciate presentation all the same. 🙂

        I don’t always. I just let them run about and do what they like. I really should put them through the test, but I can usually get the feeling of whether or not they’re leaning to Sue, and so get lazy and don’t bother…

      • Alyssa November 23, 2009 / 12:47 pm

        I’d recommend the movie, it was much better than the book. I;’m almost hesistant to say that I’m excited about the next one purely because i want to see what the soundtrack is like. I love music, and the movie music was well chosen.

  2. Fyrefly November 19, 2009 / 11:31 am

    Yay! thank you, now I know what a Mary-Sue is. I told my Aunty what a Mary-Sue is as well so, we both learned something new (she said so herself)
    I’m not too fond of Mary-Sues and I’m pretty sure I’ve read afew, not that I think they’re bad or anything, I’m just not a fan.
    Oh and I read some of the fanfiction you did (thats ok right, or am I not supposed to do that?) I only read two but I liked them, I’ve never really read fanfiction before but I’m glad I did, I like the ideas people come up with. So, thanks again for answering my question, I can sleep better knowing what Mary-Sues and Billy-Bobs are. Phew.

    • Alyssa November 20, 2009 / 6:51 am

      Chances are you’ve read about quite a lot. I’ve gone to search for some stories that I read on which wrote Mary-Sues on purpose. I remember one in particular that was hilarious. I would like to share that with my readers to show the other side of writing Mary-Sues and show you what I mean that it’s not all bad.

      And, you are more than welcome to read my fiction with the condition that you leave a review! 😉 Remember, Feedback feeds the flames…

  3. Phil November 19, 2009 / 11:56 pm

    So that’s a Mary Sue!? I think i’ve met one or two in high school, lol. College, too! Definitely college! 😉

    • Alyssa November 20, 2009 / 6:53 am

      ROFLOL! They were among us! You’re right!!

  4. GreyIxia November 20, 2009 / 4:57 am

    Lol Phil :). Looks like you have accumulated quite an audience here Alyss, congrats :). And you can count on me to keep coming back. I find your writings interesting, very interesting indeed.

    About the Mary-Sues: I am glad Fyrefly asked because even though I had no idea what they were, I had no thought of actually wondering until Fyrefly asked. So thanks, Fyrefly for asking, and thanks Alyss for answering :).

    Oddly, thinking about all of my characters, I have never made a Mary-Sue or Billy-Bob. What I DO do though, is always make my guys suit my tastes. So if you read about a guy in one of my stories, chances are I would probably have a crush on him or love to be his friend, were he to exist. But I like making my characters have flaws because it is more realistic. And if my character SEEMINGLY has no flaws, they are pretending for the sake of the people and are hiding something deeper and darker inside.
    I personally do not like Mary-Sues or Billy-Bobs. One is fine per story. But I like my characters experiencing problems and having flaws. I like to immerse myself in their problems and mentally help them out, and I like to see their flaws because, as I stated above, it is more realistic and easier to relate to. One would be nice though, for comparison purposes. Maybe I should try a Mary-Sue…

    I tried to make this one short… How do you guys write such terse comments that say it all?
    (By the way, I am probably going to use “terse” a lot. We have 10 vocabulary words every week or so and I enjoy using them as often as possible! I love me some vocab!! I also find myself using them a lot in my novel…)

    • Alyssa November 20, 2009 / 7:08 am

      Trust me, lol, nobody’s more shocked than I am with my visitors count. I really didn’t think that I wrote anything worth taking note of.

      Anyway, don’t worry about the long comments! I love it. Go Wild.

      I’m very fond of character flaws and just now actually received an email from a reader summing my one character up for me (likes, dislikes). It’s what makes them interesting.
      But, it’s good to try a Mary-Sue occasionally. As I confessed before – my younger writing were riddled with them. It’s quite embarrassing.

      I think a part of it comes down to what you said, that you enjoy characters and books’ company more than people. I feel the same, which makes living a very hard thing. There are two sides to us. The bit that pretends it likes to be social, the bit that laughs and smiles when in company. And then, there’s the part that screams while we’re out there – that wants to flee to comfort and solitude of the fictional world. My happiest times in life where a) when I was living in the Scottish Highlands with nobody around except my boss and b) when I was doing Shepparding in Milton Keynes. I spend HOURS on my own, and I loved it.

      I think one goes a bit mad if you’re in that solitude all the time though. 🙂 *twitch twitch*

  5. Phil November 21, 2009 / 12:44 am

    I agree with Fyrefly that your blog is really interesting! You’ve obviously had some exceptional experiences travelling abroad with more to come I’m sure. And your observations about writing are very astute and thought provoking!

    Btw, i noticed the time difference between us here, since we’re all in differents parts of the world, so sometimes a comment may appear in the previous day’s post. Hope you don’t miss those!

    • Alyssa November 22, 2009 / 3:01 pm

      nope, i don’t miss any, lol. Being a feedback hog – my blog lets me know the moment someone comments on it. And, then it’s chronological in my Inbox. 🙂
      Thank you very much for commenting btw! I really enjoy your comments and appreciate them!

  6. Phil November 21, 2009 / 3:48 am

    Sorry, it was Greylxia who made the comment I was agreeing with!

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