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Thread: Has the term "Mary Sue" been abused too much?

  1. #1
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    Default Has the term "Mary Sue" been abused too much?

    I ask this because of how characters from the Pokemon Anime have been accused of being Mary Sues when really they aren't and they accusers just dislike the characters. And it's not just here...

    But then I found this that gave me plenty of food for thought: http://browse.deviantart.com/art/Mar...ttal-200938337

    So what are your thoughts? Has the term been twisted so much that it's used to mainly attack a character and a writer when it's not true?

  2. #2
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    (Apologies if I bounce around a lot.)

    I've said this before in a different thread: you can make a likeable Mary-Sue. You just have to know what you're doing and are not just throwing in traits that you want the character to have. If you're going to give them these traits, you have to have it all play out by the end of the story, usually for the better of the character, though there are stories where they do it for the worse because that's how the plot worked out.

    You can say all heroes/heroines are a form of Mary-Sue/Gary-Stu in some way, at least back in the day before the anti-hero started becoming popular. Look at Superman for example. Yes, he is the last of his kind (I think, they might've slipped something in there that I missed), he's an alien, he can fly, shoot lasers from his eyes, is the Man of Steel, et cetera, et cetera. Does that make him a Gary-Stu according to the guidelines of Mary-Sues? In a way, yes. So why do we like him so? Because he's freakin' awesome and everyone wants to be Superman.

    I agree with the author, she made excellent points that make sense when you sit down and think about them. There's a reason why we write stories: to entertain. We also want the hero/heroine to be someone people can look up to, to have a desire to be like them. And what better way to do that than to make them as perfect as possible without making it too unrealistic. But of course, you have to have a balance in there, so when you're done giving that character traits, find ways to destroy those traits. With every good thing there's always a bad thing, and if the protagonist is not careful, one of their good traits will turn into a bad trait (though usually not permanently). And that is what I feel most writers are afraid of doing to their characters because they've come to love them in such a short amount of time.

    That can be a bad thing. You get too attached to your characters, you have a difficult time doing bad things to them. And almost always you're going to have to do bad things to these characters. Emotional attachment plays a big part in the character development for the audience, and in a way, if you're attached to these characters yourself, the better you understand the feelings you're going for. You just have to watch yourself to keep from becoming so attached to them, it backfires on the story and yourself (I'm sure there were some aspiring writers who gave up writing because of this).

    What the author said about people calling out "Mary-Sue" from what little they've gathered and because they're afraid to develop their own characters sounds very true. This hasn't happened to me yet, so I can't 100% say that she was right in that aspect, but it makes sense. Still, there are guidelines for a reason so that you can avoid making the character too perfect to the point their unrealistic, but if you're a good writer who knows their stuff, you can write any kind of character you want, even if they're a Mary-Sue.

    Would I say the term's been thrown around a lot? Sure, but it doesn't mean it's been abused to the point where no one cares. I'd say it's because most of these people who cry wolf don't really understand what a Mary-Sue is. They have the basic idea, but not the full picture, so their accusations tend to be false about half of the time depending on how far along the character's been developed. Is it wrong to point it out? No, because in a way, they do show concern that they're going to get a character they'll hate because of how perfect they are. Now if they would point out what exactly makes them a Mary-Sue every time, it'd be a whole different situation right now, but this is the Internet. You can't expect intelligent conversation about everything all the time.

    So in the end, it's not the reader's job to develop the character, it's the writer. If they want to make the character a Mary-Sue, that's fine. Would they do a good job at it? Depends on their skill, and in the case of amateur writing like what we do, chances are they don't. And if they don't, they disappoint the reader, and they move on, because the earth's going to keep on turning no matter what.
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    To answer the question, yes.

    The problem with the term "Mary Sue" is that people forgot what it actually means. The writer of this article has a lot of interesting points -- that one writes because they want to enjoy writing and that there are a lot of stupid people out there screaming that characters are Sues thanks to minor irrelevant details -- but what I'm a little disappointed about is that the term Mary Sue is never really defined there. So it feels like the author's encouraging people to write Mary Sues, rather than establishing the fact that, no, not every character is a Mary Sue. They don't even really establish the fact that not every Mary Sue ruins a story.

    So for that reason, let me just go right ahead and flat-out describe what a Mary Sue is. Sues are not packages of traits. They're not Sues because they're special or because they have technicolor hair or because they possess special powers. They're Sues because they don't make sense according to the universe you've established. They're not the OCs who are in a relationship with a canon character. They're the OCs who are in a relationship with a canon character who is massively OOC because of the love interest you've created for them. They're not Sues because they have special powers. They're Sues because they have special powers in a universe where those powers don't make sense. They're not Sues because they're main characters. They're Sues because the entire story revolves around them to the point where you warp the rules of the universe just so things are convenient for them. (Note: Superheroes do make sense in the grand scheme of their universe. Because they're in a superhero universe.)

    Here's the end point: the reason why a Sue is bad is because they're not developed characters. They come from plots where things happen conveniently for them because the author is either too lazy or not creative enough to figure out a way to write them without adding massive cop-outs. They're really more parodies of characters because they lack characterization beyond what makes them special (or, in an OC x canon relationship, beyond the relationship itself), rather than actual characters who readers can actually get emotionally attached to.

    Has the definition of that changed? Not really. It's just that a lot of people see litmus tests and think, "Oh hey! So a Sue is a bundle of traits!" But the thing is that a litmus test is not trying to tell you what a Sue is. They're only giving you an idea of what counts as ridiculous in the universe that you're writing. So you have a lot of people who outright miss the point, and they screech at each other that Character X is a Sue when Character X is actually perfectly fine. And honestly? The people who say the definition of Mary Sue has changed also miss the point of what it is. The reason why we have terms like Mary Sue is to identify and straighten out basic issues and traps with our writing. It's like saying that the term "plot hole" now means something completely different from what it actually means.

    Point is, I feel like you can't really have this discussion without firmly establishing the fact that people keep using the term "Mary Sue," but it does not mean what they think it means. You also can't really have this discussion without clarifying what a Sue is, else you'll end up perpetuating misconceptions. People who cry Sue are not stupid for doing it to every single female character and/or OC. They're stupid because they don't understand that "Mary Sue" has a specific definition.

    Can a writer create a Mary Sue that isn't completely horrendous? Yes. I read a rather interesting article years and years ago, and I wish I could remember where it was. But it talked at one point about this Transformers OC who was a background character and a Mary Sue because she was of the "I'm awesome and do impossibly awesome things and by the way, **** gravity" variety. And that was perfectly okay because, well, she was a background character. She didn't warp the plot to her every whim, and she didn't reduce the most important characters to piles of massive OOC when she walked into the room. She was still a Sue, but it was difficult to notice her unless one took a closer look at her. (And why bother doing that for a background character?)

    So, yeah. Sues aren't what people think they are, they're characters who by nature and definition warp reality to their whim, and it's possible to have a Sue in a non-parody so long as you're careful about where you place them in the story.

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    I've not got much to say on the topic itself, the previous two posters really nailed it. However, I do have a bit of a question, regarding the section bolded:

    Quote Originally Posted by JX Valentine View Post
    But it talked at one point about this Transformers OC who was a background character and a Mary Sue because she was of the "I'm awesome and do impossibly awesome things and by the way, **** gravity" variety. And that was perfectly okay because, well, she was a background character. She didn't warp the plot to her every whim, and she didn't reduce the most important characters to piles of massive OOC when she walked into the room. She was still a Sue, but it was difficult to notice her unless one took a closer look at her. (And why bother doing that for a background character?)
    After reading this, I immediately thought of the old superhero show, Superfriends. It's not exactly the same situation, but it do the Sue-like traits start intruding on the story and characters? In Superfriends, Batman, Superman, and several others were pretty much classical superheroes, able to solve any problem. But then there were the likes of Aquaman and the Wonder Twins, whose abilities really couldn't stand up beside the other superheroes. I'm not saying that Supes and co. were Sues, but beside the lesser superheroes they did steal the spotlight. It becomes obvious even to the young viewers that Aquaman is only any good when they're in the ocean, but Wonder Woman can fly, and so the more bland characters are either sidelined or get blatantly shoehorned in.

    When does the power gap change from 'different unique characters' to 'several interesting people and a scrappy'? How would this difference be judged in a Pokemon fanfic, and how could it be solved without being overt? Not sure if I'm really explaining this well, but I hope I get what I'm seeing across.
    Last edited by IJuggler; 9th February 2013 at 10:51 PM.
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    The writer of that article really doesn't seem to understand what a Mary-Sue is. There definitely are people who will claim that (especially female) characters are Sues at the drop of a hat, but even those people generally try to justify their opinion by pointing to genuine indicators of Sueness even if their claims don't really hold up to scrutiny. The term has only lost all meaning for the critics who are claiming it has.

    First of all, the concept of Mary-Sues has nothing to do with thinking everybody has to be perfect at writing right off the bat. Nobody is saying it's not normal for people who are inexperienced at writing to write Sues. It's also normal for people who are inexperienced at writing to write clunky prose and poorly thought-out plots - but that doesn't mean those things aren't legitimately bad writing which they legitimately should grow out of if they want to improve their writing. It is lamentable that people who have seen Mary-Sue litmus tests or poorly thought-out accusations misunderstand what it means and think their vampire character is automatically a Stu just because he's a vampire, or think their characters aren't allowed to have traits like attractiveness at all. But that doesn't erase the actual meaning of the term, any more than people thinking they shouldn't use the word "said" erases the meaning of stiff or boring prose.

    Here's the thing about main characters: if you examine them, they will ALL qualify as Mary Sues. A main character will always have something special about them. A main character will fit in to the universe they belong to: if the universe has superheroes, the main character will usually be one as well. Or a ninja or a pirate or an immortal, etc. A main character will always stick it out even though people tell them they suck and they need to quit. A main character will always triumph over adversity.
    No, no, no! This is one of the most irritating misconceptions about Sues. First off, as Jax said, if it actually fits into the universe, being a superhero or a ninja or whatever does not make a character a Sue. Not giving up in the face of disparagement is simply a personality trait, neither inherent to the definition of a main character nor an indicator of Sueness. "Always" triumphing over adversity is a fairly strong indicator of Sueness, but that's because always triumphing makes the conflict boring and choosing to do that suggests you're not really trying to write a story about a well-rounded character, but instead a shallow power fantasy - good main characters most certainly do not always triumph, even if they generally do so eventually.

    Similarly, just being special or unusual in some manner does not automatically make a Sue. There is no simple fact about a character that automatically makes them a Sue: Sueness is always ultimately defined by bad writing. And just as a character can be special without being a Sue, a character who doesn't have any "special" properties in themselves can still be a Sue if the world is written around them in a contrived manner. For example, imagine a story about a perfectly normal guy, where every woman in the story desperately wants to sleep with him and the guys all look up to him and everyone always happens to think he's right about everything, and he goes around admonishing other people for doing things the author doesn't like and they all immediately see the light when he's explained it to them, and when there are characters who don't like him, they are all portrayed as stupid, rude, pathetic, ugly, pointlessly sadistic and generally ridiculous, with the main character always defeating and humiliating them easily. No special powers, no destiny, no superhero... but he's a raging Gary-Stu, because the universe of the story clearly revolves around him in a ridiculous and really boring way. Where is the excitement in reading about this guy, when we know he's always right and will crush any opposition with a ludicrous ease?

    Of course, that's an extreme example, and most Sues are subtler than that. They may have token flaws, or token disagreements, or token losses. It's just that those things feel like, well, token things, slapped on to say "Look, my character isn't a Sue!", not like the natural flaws/disagreements/losses/etc. that would happen organically with a well-written character in a well-handled universe. They're really insignificant, or emphasized as not really being the character's fault, or the character immediately learns their lesson and never makes that mistake again, and ultimately, the character still doesn't actually feel like a real person in a hypothetically real universe.

    Generally, that's because the author isn't actually thinking about their story in those terms. They're not imagining a coherent universe with real people in it; they're just making up a chain of events that they want to happen. Basically every kid who's just starting writing does this; that's why people's first stories tend to not stand up to any scrutiny at all, with the side characters' behaviour being weird and arbitrary and the world functioning in ways that make for neat on-screen events but clearly wouldn't work at all if it continued to function like that off-screen. Sues in particular happen when, at the same time as the story is being constructed in this flimsy way, there's a particular character that the author is a bit too invested in - usually the main character - and as a result that flimsy universe gets warped out of shape to give the character things, make everyone adore them, show them to be right, or whatever. As these writers grow up and get better, they usually learn to make it a lot less obvious, but if the character continues to warp the world and characters around them in ways that don't make sense, the illusion of a coherent universe breaks apart, it won't feel like the conflict or characters are "real", and the story loses its believability and magic. That's what's wrong with Mary-Sues.


    The claim that people who complain about Sues never make original characters themselves is just plain wrong. In many fandoms, especially for heavily character-based works, most people are in the fandom because they want to read/write about the canon characters, and are accordingly not fans of OCs. Original characters being brought in tends to screw with the dynamic between the existing canon characters, and it doesn't help that a lot of OCs are introduced as wish-fulfillment characters written into a contrived romance with the author's favorite canon character. People who hang out only in such fandoms often have never written an OC because they just don't want to, and have basically never seen non-Sue OCs, so sometimes they generalize to the point of saying OCs are automatically Sues (or automatically Sues if they're female). But the Pokémon fandom, for example, has huge communities of people who don't give a damn about canon characters at all and only write and read about OCs - many of the writers in this particular forum if not most are among them - and plenty of them are nonetheless annoyed by Mary-Sues, because the term does mean something that is legitimately bad. (And plenty of male OCs in the Pokémon fandom are Stus, and they get called out plenty. Anyone who complains that only female characters ever get called Sues has not been to this fandom.)


    The author of the article also seems to think that writing an extension of yourself just means writing a character who vaguely resembles you in characteristics like age and gender, which isn't what it means at all (though they're also way too confident in the idea that people can't possibly write people different from themselves), and that complaints about author appeal are complaints about people writing about things they're interested in at all, as opposed to complaints about people gratuitously going on about things that appeal really specifically to them and nobody else. If I had a huge interest in cars and then wrote a story that repeatedly stopped for pages at a time to go on about cars when it contributes nothing to the actual story at hand, then that would be really obviously there for the author appeal, and other people would probably find it annoying, but that's because it's actively being detrimental to the story. If I'm interested in cars and write an interesting story about racing that doesn't just go on about cars as if cars are automatically interesting to everyone, that's completely different. Not that author appeal has much to do with Sueness either way, though - it's just another category of writing badly as a result of obvious bias on the author's part, this time towards particular subjects instead of a particular character.
    Last edited by Dragonfree; 10th February 2013 at 4:58 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by IJuggler View Post
    After reading this, I immediately thought of the old superhero show, Superfriends. It's not exactly the same situation, but it do the Sue-like traits start intruding on the story and characters? In Superfriends, Batman, Superman, and several others were pretty much classical superheroes, able to solve any problem. But then there were the likes of Aquaman and the Wonder Twins, whose abilities really couldn't stand up beside the other superheroes. I'm not saying that Supes and co. were Sues, but beside the lesser superheroes they did steal the spotlight. It becomes obvious even to the young viewers that Aquaman is only any good when they're in the ocean, but Wonder Woman can fly, and so the more bland characters are either sidelined or get blatantly shoehorned in.

    When does the power gap change from 'different unique characters' to 'several interesting people and a scrappy'? How would this difference be judged in a Pokemon fanfic, and how could it be solved without being overt? Not sure if I'm really explaining this well, but I hope I get what I'm seeing across.
    Don't get me wrong there about the bolded bit. The reason why she was still a Sue was because she still warped the story when she was in it to become this slightly ridiculous character in context. Likewise, she still didn't have much going for her besides the fact that she was awesome. The difference between a background Sue and a scrappy is that if you took that same background character and made her the main character, would she be the kind of thing who would cause the people around her to act OOC and who would suspend the basics of her universe just so she could have a convenient way to get out of pretty much every situation? Does she lack much of a character besides what makes her awesome? If the answer to either question is yes, then she's a Sue. The reason why a background Sue like the aforementioned character still works is that the rest of the story holds up despite the effects she has on her own corners of it.

    Now, about the power gap, the answer is simply, "Does this still make sense in the context of the universe?" As in, the reason why I hesitate to call many canon superheroes Sues is because they make sense for their universe. Generally speaking, a superhero universe is one in which you have an individual or bunch of individuals who have something extraordinary about them that they use to do good things in their neck of the world. Sure, power levels can be different, but to determine a Sue in a superhero universe, you have to look at the effect they have on the story and not their power level because the whole point of a superhero universe is to have that one person/group of people be bestowed with power somehow. So, does Wonder Woman check out because she can fly? Yes. Sort of. It's rather arguable whether or not flying would make sense considering the source of her powers. But really, characters act in-character around her, and she doesn't get convenient outs in the plots. Her powers do not allow her to pull deus ex machinae left and right. They're tools, and it makes sense for her to have those tools because of her surrounding canon.

    Pokémon fic operates on a similar principle of "does this even make sense for this universe." See, when you're in a universe full of super-powered magical creatures, it doesn't really make sense to have a character be super-powered except in very rare instances. (For example, it makes sense for the Psychic-type gym leaders/frontier brains/Elite Four members to be psychic because they're closely linked to their Psychic-type Pokémon. It doesn't quite make sense for a ten-year-old kid from Pallet Town to be a Chosen One and Aura Guardian who has the power to manipulate life-force, calm legendaries, and generally solve all the world's problems ever when he has had no background in anything weird until the plot decided it was convenient for him to be a super-special human, but no one ever said Ash Ketchum wasn't a Sue.) Likewise, the same very basic test exists for Pokémon characters as they do characters from any other 'verse. Does everyone else around them suddenly act OOC when they're in the room? Are characters with their own personalities reduced to being the love interest for your character? Does the universe resort to deus ex machinae just to pull the character out of a jam? Does the story focus too much on this character being awesome and very little on anything else? Is the character deeper than just "I AM SPECIAL AND HERE IS WHY," or are they just a bundle of special?

    Point is, there's a lot of concepts to what a Sue is that are pretty much universal. It's not really so much the power that a character is given as it is what is done with that power (and of course, how that character fits in the grand scheme of the universe).

    As for scrappies, same deal. Sure, the Wonder Twins may suck, but they still make sense.

    Hope that helps!
    Last edited by JX Valentine; 9th February 2013 at 11:35 PM.

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  7. #7
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    who ever this is made some funny points that I can agree with myself.
    Though i lol'd really hard at the comment he/she made in the description.

    "I am saddened by how a loudmouthed minority treats burgeoning writers, so I decided to be a loudmouthed minority in the other direction."

    At least he/she says its a minority. So I think we can take some steps back and analyze the purpose of it .-...

    Yeah I agree he/she should of defined mary sue better (or at all even), however I think he/she did a damn good job and looking like he/she supported newer writers and told them to just continue on .-... Which is nice.

    I think the word is abused way out of context, but when used in context, its fine. It falls honestly in the same role as "cliches" to me.
    I also expect different things based upon if its a game or a show, or a book/written fiction. My expections on characters rises as the list shifts to the right. lol
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  8. #8

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    Is it overused? Yes. But at the same time, it remains relevent.

    Something I've noticed people claiming that I vehemently disagree with is that Mary Sue is a female character. The term is genderless. It only has a female name because it's named after a character who parodied an existing archtype, and to claim that it can only be applied to female characters because of the name is ridiculous.
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