The Mary Sue: An Attempted Discussion

Okay so I have been thinking about getting my thoughts down over this for a while. And something has somewhat added to why I have such issues with this term.

The Mary Sue.

Anyone  who is involved in developing characters will possibly have this crop up and be told it’s such a ‘baaaaad thing’ and that you should never have a sue and that you should avoid making one at all costs.

But first let’s see what a sue is?

According to most definitons it is ‘An idealised character representing the author’ okay. Fair enough.

Most people probably know that the term ‘Sue’ comes from a very old Star Trek fic, and guess what the original Sue was actually written as a parody character anyway.

But of course, how do you know you have a Sue?

You take a test, with a whole bunch of traits on it that are assoicated with the Sue and if you have a high levelled character on the test, you have a Sue.

Seems simple enough, sounds like a good tool right?

Not really. Let me explain here.

You see it seems that now people are so scared of making  a Sue that they don’t want to use any assoicated traits, you know what this leads to? A boring character. A character with little personality, little traits and just nothing to them.

And there are some thing that are placed in the ‘Sue’ list that to be fair shouldn’t really be in there for a really good breakdown of said list go here it goes through all the critera and points out some stuff that really doesn’t need to be in there. And this is also a good one

But the thing is, having Sue traits doesn’t always make a bad character. For example let’s look at Superman:

  • Not from Earth
  • Very few weaknesses
  • Physically attractive
  • Has quite a lot of powers
  • Generally seems to be very popular

Yet, people still like Superman. Just look at many popular characters, chuck them through a Sue test and most will probably score pretty high, yet everyone seems to love them. Why?

Context plays the role. I shall make up someone: Let’s call her Varana, she has long pink hair, purple eyes, pale, very smooth skin. She has a very pretty singing voice, she can command animals and she’s telephatic. Oh and she’s also a princess.

Agh a Sue!

But what if I told you Varana comes from a world where just about everyone looks like that, and everyone has those powers? Back on her homeworld she would be normal, however if you took Varana and placed her in our world she would stick out and she’s probably be called a Sue.

Now I honestly found a varient on a test that chucked in two ‘traits’ that  just shouldn’t be in there.

1. A character being bisexual (need I say why this is a problem placing this as a ‘Sue!’ trait?)

2. A female character being bustier than a B cup (urm, a lot of people are just naturally busty, not a sue trait,)

See? This obsession with the Sue ends up with a lot of stuff being added in that doesn’t make a Sue.

Which then will lead to people just refusing to add certain traits as they don’t want to be hit with that label. Which in turn stunts the development of characters which creates a character with little depth to them.

I’m not saying the Sue doesn’t exist.

However, I feel the popular defining characteristics in the Sue traits are uncessary and are not necessarily a Sue trait.  Like I mentioned above my finding someone claiming bisexuality was a sue trait.

Also, a lot of sue traits are common story archetypes or cliches. These are not bad, it just depends on how the author uses them. A good author can make a story work with a whole bunch of cliches and archetypes.

Supposed Sue traits don’t let people be ‘good’ at things either. People can be good at things, and some people are good at mutiple things. Someone who has been training for years as an assassin probably could get away with knowing several languages, being skilled with a variety of weapons, making traps, first aid, probably knows a lot about politics and history.

Which doesn’t necessarily mean they are sueish.

For example if I felt like making a character for the Justice League, I would want to try and make someone on equal footing to them, otherwise why the hell are they in the Justice League if they can’t seem to do anything?

Most people write characters that are somewhat ideal, we want to look up to them. This isn’t bad. Nor is writing a character that’s relatable, but purposely avoiding traits in fear of calling someone a Sue is bad. It’s bad and it cripples writers.

Characters need context, they need reasons for what they have and why (like why does this character have red eyes when no one else does?), they need consequences and reactions from others.

If they seem to get away with everything, why? Is it because they’re socially untouchable? Or are they somehow that good at manipulation?

If they seem to pull off a lot of crazy stuff why? Are they somehow just lucky (it happens?)? Or are they protected by some strange force because they are needed for a higher purpose?

Don’t be afraid of having a Sue, if you end up with one you can work on them, you can make them better you can make them believable. Sues are often a case of people being inexperienced with writing or working with a character they can’t quite work with yet.

And if you just made a Sue for fun then by all means have fun for a while. Nothing wrong with that either.

At the end of the day it’s your character and for you to have fun with and enjoy.



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