The Power of Mary Sue
Written by
Glo Gray
May 2014
Written by
Glo Gray
May 2014

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Lately I’ve been reading quite a lot about the “Mary Sue” phenomenon, the supposed bane of fan-fiction and even original fiction.

Who is Mary Sue? She is a character that represents an idealised version of the author, inserted into the story, as a type of wish-fulfillment.

The internet leaves us in no doubt. Mary Sue is bad. Mary Sue will ruin your book. Avoid Mary Sue at all costs.  But how to spot one?

Criminal Profile

- Mary Sue is usually perfect, talented, and universally loved by other characters

- Mary Sue is often beautiful and/or has some kind of unusual feature (stunning purple eyes etc)

- She often has a traumatic past

- She commonly has some kind of powers or abilities, often ones that break the rules of the universe in which she is written

- Mary Sues are predominantly female, although there also exists the lesser spotted Gary Stu

- Mary Sue can be whiny, angsty, happy, lovely. She can be a warrior, an Einstein, a punk, a jerk. And so forth. She’s quite flexible

Oh crap! Does that sound like your character? Well, it should, because you would be hard-pushed to have a protagonist that didnt have any of those personality traits, was not special in any way, did not have any powers or unique abilities, etc.

Does this mean that all (female) leads are Sues? This is nicely discussed on the blog post here:

Do not fear! A character can have features of Mary Sue without being her. But should we be avoiding Mary Sue so feafully? Sue fear and Sue avoidance is an issue. The cry of “Mary Sue!” in a review can really undermine the credibility of your work. Many female writers say they are afraid to create female characters in case they get accused of Sue.

But is the real mistake to assume that being a Mary Sue is always a bad thing?

I have to admit, I was astonished when I first came across the idea of Sue, because I have always assumed that a lead character embodies part of the author. That the author lives through and with the lead character. And this is not a bad thing. In fact, it’s a powerful thing. If you identify with your lead, feel like you could be them, want to live their story and in their world, then you have passion and knowledge about this character. Both things that are essential for deep, rich characters.

And in many ways, you should want your character to be a Sue; just not a “Sue-for-You”. What you need is an “Every-Sue”. The more universal the Sue, the more EVERYONE will identify her.

For example, one high-profile and widely criticised Mary Sue, is Twilight’s Bella Swan. While there are certainly issue with the way Bella is written,  character is flawed in many ways, being a Sue is not one of them. Why? Because Bella is an Every-Sue. Everyone wants to be her, she is everyone’s self- insertion. That’s one of the main reasons Twilight was so popular. We could all imagine being Bella, perfect and adored, in the cool gang of hot vampires. Yeah, its a bit cringey, but it’s true.

If you write a good Sue, she can be MIGHTY! Write a character people can identify with and want to be, and you will have them hooked.

And that’s the crux, really. Write a GOOD Sue.

This isn’t about author insertion being bad. It’s about bad writing being bad.

Harry Potter is a notorious Gary Stu, but do we care? No, because he is well written and the books are great.

So let’s stop using Mary Sue as an insult. Let’s focus on improving our writing and characteristations, and let the characters be who we want them to be. If you want to write a Sue, write a Sue. Just do it well.

Because there’s power in a well-written Sue. She’s the girl everyone wants to be around, and that’s the book everyone wants to buy.

PS: Never ever ever let fear of criticism stop you writing what you want to write. NEVER!

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