Have You Written Mary-Sue?
written by Gileswench



We've all done it. At one time or another, every fic author creates the dreaded Mary-Sue. In fact, some writers feel she's an important step on the way to learning how to create strong, original characters. That's as may be. Mary-Sue might be a useful learning tool, but she's not good reading, as one can quickly tell by trying to read a few stories she stars in. Some writers, however, manage not to inflict her on their audiences. How? By learning to recognize the warning signs and either deleting or altering the character so that (s)he is no longer Mary-Sue.

But if you're unsure what the warning signs are, how do you avoid sending Mary-Sue out into the world? One way would be to check your character against this list of Mary-Sue traits. If your character has more than two of these traits, you may have created Mary-Sue. If your character has more than four of these traits, you have definitely created Mary-Sue. Kill her instantly.

And remember, just because your character isn't female doesn't mean you're safe. Mary-Sue has a brother named Marty-Stu (also sometimes referred to as Gary-Sue) who is equally pefect, excessive, and painfully annoying. Test characters of both genders early and often. Knowing is beautiful.

1: If your character has an exotic or oddly-spelled name, such as: Raven, Kerolynne, Tabytha, or Sorbonne, you may have created Mary-Sue.

2: If your character is a Watcher assigned to a Slayer, but is only eighteen years old, you may have created Mary-Sue.

3: If your character has violet eyes and jet-black hair that are commented on repeatedly, you may have created Mary-Sue.

4: If your character is Giles' long-lost love child, Spike's eternal mate or Angel's great-great-great etc. grandchild by a serving wench in his favorite tavern, you may have created Mary-Sue.

5: If pre-soul Spike or Angelus takes one look at your character and reforms purely for her sake, you may have created Mary-Sue.

6: If your character is a vampire that can walk out in the sunlight, you may have created Mary-Sue.

7: If your character is a vampire who works for the Council of Watchers, you may have created Mary-Sue.

8: If your character is instantly adored by everyone who lays eyes on her, you may have created Mary-Sue.

9: If your character is the instant love interest of your favorite canon character, you may have created Mary-Sue.

10: If your character has amazing musical talent, you may have created Mary-Sue.

11: If your character has a legendary lack of musical talent, you may have created Mary-Sue.

12: If your character's only 'flaw' is a fiery temper that occasionally makes her act rashly in a good cause or a tendency to care too much for the safety of her friends, you may have created Mary-Sue.

13: If your character dies heroically saving the Scoobies and the story ends with them all mourning over her grave on the anniversary of her death as she watches beatifically from Heaven surrounded by angels, cherubim and seraphim, you may have created Mary-Sue.

14: If your character marries your favorite canon character and the story ends with the whole gang dancing at their wedding, you may have created Mary-Sue.

15: If your character meets the canon characters, and two minutes later is counselling your favorite UC couple to get groinal because their attraction is so painfully obvious... and they take this advice seriously, you may have created Mary-Sue.

16: If your character is a vampire who doesn't drink blood, you may have created Mary-Sue.

17: If your character is the human child of a vampire, you may have created Mary-Sue.

18: If your character had her entire family wiped out by vampires and was raised by the Watcher's Council, you may have created Mary-Sue.

19: If your character has a Deep, Dark Secret that is the key to the entire plot of your story, you may have created Mary-Sue.

20: If your character has shiny toys that help her be extra perfect (medallions of power; hyper-cool weapons Giles has never seen before; a magical,diamond-encrusted guitar), you may have created Mary-Sue.

21: If your character meets your least favorite canon character and immediately shames him/her before all his/her best friends... and nobody attempts to kill your character - or even thinks that wasn't particularly nice - you may have created Mary-Sue.

22: If the character thus shamed completely changes everything your character dislikes simply to please her, or disappears, never to be seen again, you may have created Mary-Sue.

23: If your character dies nobly, but is resurrected, you may have created Mary-Sue.

24: If all the canon characters adore and protect her no matter how she screws up... and her screw-ups always turn out for the best, you may have created Mary-Sue.

25: If your character is stronger than Buffy, smarter than Giles, a more powerful witch than Willow, faster than a speeding vampire, and funnier than Xander, you may have created Mary-Sue. In fact, if you have done this one, you HAVE created Mary-Sue. Drown her at birth.

Now that you've had a chance to take a good long look at your character and discovered her to be Mary-Sue, what do you do about it?

Well, you've got three options. The first is, you may decide to go ahead and post your story as it stands. This isn't always the worst possible idea. A few Mary-Sues have still managed to be entertaining characters... so long as they don't dominate the story too badly. If the canon characters are still the ones in charge of the story despite Mary-Sue's appearence, this may be a perfectly acceptable way to go.

Another way you can handle the situation is to simply scrap the entire story. Sometimes this is the very best thing you can do. If Mary-Sue entirely dominates the action and upstages all the canon characters, this is probably a work best left undiscovered.

The third option is the one that takes the most work, but is probably the most rewarding in the longrun: painstakingly rework the character and the story so as to make her a real person, rather than Mary-Sue. Give her a real character flaw or two, let her have ordinary brown hair or just plain blue eyes, allow her to be imperfect, let one of the canon characters distrust or even actively dislike her. It takes a lot of effort and a very clear eye to do this well, but it's worth the effort.

Storytelling is all about conflict. If there's no conflict, there's no story to tell. The worst thing about Mary-Sue is that she waters down or eliminates conflict in your story. She removes layers of subtlety. She turns potentially intriguing plots into simplistic wish fulfillment. There's nothing wrong with wish fulfillment - it's a part of what we do as fanfic writers - but isn't it best when we fulfill more universal fantasies than our own? Isn't our writing better when we take the road less travelled?

Your original characters need not be Mary-Sue. If you let yourself leave the shallow end of the creativity pool, you, too, can create characters that stay with your audience, make them think, make them care, make them want to spend time in your world rather than any other author's. It takes thought, imagination, and a willingness to let your character not be a nice person, now and then.

Trust me, if she's not nice all the time, and everybody in the cast doesn't long to be her, your audience will like your original character much, much better. And in the longrun, so will you.






back to Essays