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Red hair that looked like liquid fire cascaded gently down her back to her waist; the lighting hitting it making it seem alive.
Her hair and grown considerably it was now just bellow her ass.
Her long dark red hair cascaded down her body as she let her dress fall to the ground.
Her fiery emerald eye’s linked with his as she licked her lips, staring into he’s big brown orbs.
—Descriptions of Dita

This article discusses the term Mary Sue as understood by the PPC, both in-universe and externally.

A Mary Sue is a fictional character that achieves its goals in the story with minimal effort, out of proportion to what the audience would expect given the setting(s), culture(s), and other inhabitants of that universe. In order to accomplish this, a Mary Sue will have character traits heavily skewed in favor of outstanding attributes over significant flaws. This character type is mostly associated with fanfiction, though it can be found in original fiction as well.

Female characters of this type are the most common in fanfiction due to female fanfic authors being more numerous than male. However, "Mary Sue" can refer to any character fitting the definition, regardless of gender, and "Mary Sue," "she," and "her" are used as blanket nouns throughout PPC Wiki.

The name "Mary Sue" was spelled without a hyphen in the original parody story,[1] but it may also be hyphenated (Mary-Sue). Mary Sue characters are also referred to as "Sues" for short.

Mary Sue Traits

As noted above, Mary Sues achieve their goals in the story with little to no effort. This is typically because the Mary Sue's story arc places no meaningful obstacles in her path, paving the way for her to triumph without suffering serious consequences or evolving along the way. Thus, Sues are shallow, static characters.

It is important to note that this does not automatically mean that a Mary Sue character can't be enjoyable to read about if written well, but there's the rub: it is extremely difficult to write about this character type in a way that creates an entertaining story. Good stories need conflict, and Mary Sue has none thanks to the traits that make her up.

Primary Traits

These traits, which allow for the ease of her journey through the story, are present in or around all Mary Sues:

  • Mary Sue does not react to her situation in a way that makes narrative or psychological sense. To use an example well known to PPCers, the "girl who falls into Middle-earth" written as a Sue has no trouble adapting to this new world. She can communicate with all the characters, despite the fact that they speak Westron instead of English;[2] she realizes where she is almost immediately and is excited, rarely stopping to worry about how she's going to get home, or the fact that Middle-earth doesn't have plumbing or other modern sanitary measures, or that she may not have the raw practical skills necessary to survive in a pre-modern setting, etc.; and she almost always joins the Fellowship of the Ring as a "Tenth Walker," regardless of the immense dangers involved and her aforementioned lack of survival skills. Rather, she goes on her way more like a tourist than a participant in the events of the story.
  • Other characters in the story do not react to Mary Sue as they would normally—canon characters become out of character.
    • Characters instantly like Mary Sue, even in circumstances that should make them suspicious. For instance, a fifteen-year-old breaks into Cheyenne Mountain, hacks the Air Force's website and steals data, assaults base guards, and employs blackmail in order to join SG-1. Colonel Samantha Carter decides that they can treat him like an adult due to his IQ and understands that all he wants to do is help. He is allowed to join.[3]
    • Characters instantly dislike Mary Sue for spurious reasons that don't fit their personalities. A frequently encountered example of this in Lord of the Rings fanfiction is the Designated Misogynistic Bastard: despite no indication in The Lord of the Rings that he dislikes women, Boromir (or Gimli, or Aragorn) puts Mary Sue down because "girls aren't strong enough for this."[4] This should create plot tension, but Mary Sue overcomes the token obstacle easily, either winning the DMB over or causing the others to shun him, and the story proceeds.
  • Mary Sue is special just because she exists. However inappropriately for the canon or downright badly she behaves, she gets respect for it, at the expense of characterization and storytelling. If she sings pop songs to the Phantom of the Opera, he loves them;[5][6] if the G.I. Joes' new cook mouths off to a superior officer and threatens to put the whole unit on rations, everyone is stunned into awed silence;[7] if she has yellow-and-blue striped hair and hooves, she is the most beautiful thing Legolas has ever seen.[8][9] This has the effect of warping or breaking the rules of the canon, not to mention stealing the spotlight from the other characters.

Secondary Traits

Some traits are commonly associated with Mary Sues without in and of themselves causing a character to be a Mary Sue. All of these traits can be portrayed well in an original character, but the reason they are associated with Sues is that they are often a part of the Sue's "specialness," meaning that they're used in the narrative as cheap tickets for the character to instantly earn the respect, admiration, or sympathy of others. Because readers can often see through traits used in this manner, they can cause readers to lose their ability to suspend disbelief, to the detriment of the story.

  • Extreme physical beauty. Female Sues especially are often described as having "perfect" or "supermodel"[10] features, reflecting not real beauty, but the impossible feminine ideal invented by fashion ads. Other Sues, and Stus in particular, may be described as being unnaturally buff, with a physique and agility normally only attainable in tandem by anime characters. If a Sue has a physical flaw, it tends to be something like a birthmark: visible, and a talking point when the Sue feels like drawing attention to it, but otherwise having no impact on her daily life. Other characters may even see this "flaw" as a unique decoration to be admired.
  • Extreme prowess. Many Sues have some kind of talent that far outstrips anyone else with a similar ability, if indeed anyone else possesses it. An Elven Sue may be a better archer than Legolas; an X-Men Sue may have the combined powers of Wolverine, Cyclops, and Professor X; a Harry Potter Sue may be able to perform wandless magic in year three.[11] Often, this is a talent Mary Sue was born with; she didn't have to spend years perfecting it like anyone else in the world would. This also includes the many, many Sues observed to have fantastic singing voices, able to enchant anyone with the stirring melodies of Britney Spears.
  • A terrible past. Something happened in the character's past that is supposed to make other characters (and the audience) sympathize with her in the present. Comes in two flavors in a Sue story:
    • Actually terrible, but trivialized due to mishandling: her parents died and she's living with mean foster parents... who don't understand her taste in manga;[12] or, she's the only surviving member of her race... so she must mate with Legolas.[13]
    • Not actually terrible: she's cursed with beauty,[14] or she's a nerd and no one recognizes her genius, or she's a princess running away from the horrible oppression of the royal lifestyle.
  • Related to the canon characters. She's Arwen's sister,[15][16] or Snape's niece,[17] or Jack O'Neill's daughter,[18] even if the character in question has a well-documented family tree or no family whatsoever in canon.
  • Falls in love with a canon character. Not all, but certainly a large number of the Sues observed by the PPC have had the goal of a relationship with a canon character. Whatever else may happen in the story, it's a good bet that she'll be kissing somebody before the end, even if she has to break up a canon romance or change the target's sexual preference to do it.

Related Terms

Male characters of the same type may be called "Gary Stu," "Marty Stu," or "Marty Sam"; all of these are synonymous plays on the feminine blanket term. "Stu" is the common short form among PPCers.

"Airy Ooh," another play on Mary Sue, is a gender-neutral term for the same character type. It is not widely used.

An "anti-Sue" is the opposite of a Mary Sue, being unrealistically flawed as opposed to unrealistically perfect. This is rare, however.

The PPC uses a number of other terms derived from "Mary Sue," such as Sue-wraith, Suefluence, and the verb "to Sue." In general, these have to do with applying the traits of a Mary Sue to a character not normally considered to be one. A Suethor is an author who writes a Mary Sue character. A Suefic is a fanfiction about a Mary Sue character.

Sue Classifications

Main article: Category:Sue and Stu Classifications

Many Mary Sue subtypes have been observed and documented by PPCers, too many to include a full discussion of each type here, but two main classifications exist apart from the basic fanfiction Sue.

Canon Sue

Main article: Canon Sue

Not everyone agrees that Mary Sues can exist outside of fanfiction, but enough do that it is worthwhile to mention canon Sues. These essentially share the same traits as fanfiction Sues, although naturally the details vary, since there can be no distinction between canon and non-canon. Canon characters often described as Sues by PPCers include Drizzt do'Urden, Eragon, and Bella Swan.

Canon Sues are not necessarily disliked to the same extent that fanfiction Sues are, since by definition they can't warp their own world; it never had a different shape to begin with. Drizzt, for instance, is as widely liked as disliked, and PPC Boarders have held up Rapunzel from the movie Tangled as an example of an enjoyable Mary Sue.[19][20]

Character Replacement/Possession Sue

Main article: Character Replacement

A possession Sue or character replacement is ostensibly a canon character, but in name only due to the way they are characterized in the story. A character replacement is what it sounds like: a Mary Sue that has taken the place of a canon character. This is often recognized by a name change in addition to wildly OOC behavior, so that the character isn't even herself in name anymore.

A canon character is said to be "possessed" by a Mary Sue spirit, or Sue-wraith, when she is still recognizable as herself, but also displays Sue-like tendencies she does not have in canon.

Sometimes these are also called canon Sues, confusingly enough.

A Brief History of Mary Sue

Origin and Evolution

In 1973, Star Trek fan Paula Smith wrote the parody "A Trekkie's Tale," starring a flawless character named Lieutenant Mary Sue. The term became popular in the Star Trek fandom to refer to characters of this variety, and later spread to fandom in general. The PPC picked it up from there.

Along with the PPC community as a whole, our definition of "Mary Sue" has undergone some evolution over the years. One earlier definition characterizes all Mary Sues as author-inserts;[21] many classify Sues in terms of their authors in other ways: the author's darling,[22] for instance. While these characterizations may be true of some Mary Sues, we no longer believe they hold true for all Sues, if we ever all did. Since PPC missions have always emphasized bad writing, not the author, as the target of the mission, we no longer feel that such definitions are appropriate. Our current definition and discussion of Mary Sue therefore restricts itself to Mary Sue as written, not in terms of her author.

Controversy

Many writers have eschewed the term "Mary Sue" because they believe using it is an act of misogyny. Because "Mary Sue" is a girl's name, and because some people use the term to insult any disliked female character, or even a real person, whether she shares the traits of a Mary Sue or not, they believe using it at all is hurtful to women.

The PPC respects this viewpoint, but does not share it. Our reasons are thoroughly discussed elsewhere, but can be summed up as follows:

  • By our definition, Mary Sues are fictional characters, not real people. Disliking or even insulting a fictional character is not the same as disliking or insulting a real person.
  • We believe many Mary Sue characters themselves are anti-feminist in their portrayal of women, and Gary Stus don't do men any favors, either.
  • If we called Mary Sues something else, the new term would still have the same definition and baggage. A different term would not change what we think about these characters, or what other people think about our opinions.

We do agree, however, that calling any disliked female character a Mary Sue is bad, and we strongly discourage our members from doing so. Although we do dislike Mary Sue characters in general, that doesn't mean we think any character we dislike is a Sue, or that we dislike all female characters.

Why Hate Mary Sue?

We got into fanfiction because we fell in love with a book, a movie, a TV series, etc. We love the characters, we love the writing, we love the acting. We love the craftsmanship (or -womanship, if you like) that went into making it. We wanted to find more people who shared our love and had something just as deep and compelling as our own feelings to say about it. We wanted more craftsmanship. We wanted more of the characters, the stories, the settings we had come to love.

What we found was Mary Sue.

Mary Sue is shallow: she cares only about herself and achieving her own goals. She is uninteresting, because she has no real conflict. Neither is she well-crafted, but characterized almost exclusively by how she looks, or how much her past sucks, or how good she is with her skill of choice. Worst of all, she warps or shoves aside everything we love about the canon and its people in order to put herself forward. Mary Sue has no respect for the work into which she intrudes.

To use an analogy, the canon is like the original author's home. They worked hard to build it and to get everything just how they like it. Other people admired it, and so, being generous, the authors invited the others over to enjoy it with them. Now, when you visit someone else's home, isn't it polite to leave everything as it is and to follow the house rules? Of course it is. Anyone would say so. But not Mary Sue. She doesn't take her shoes off when she comes in and tracks glitter mud all over the carpet. She doesn't like the fact that the table is in the dining room, so she drags it into the attic. She doesn't like the color of the bedspread, so she tie-dyes it. She doesn't think the basil should be next to the thyme, so she pulls up the garden. All the while claiming to love the house and everything in it (except that nasty basil, who obviously isn't nearly good enough for the thyme).

We would get angry if that happened to the home of someone we respected deeply. We would think how terrible we would feel if it happened to our own homes. That's why we hate Mary Sue.

Mary Sue and the PPC

One of the functions of the Protectors of the Plot Continuum (the fictional agency as opposed to the real life collection of PPC writers) is to hunt down and assassinate Mary Sues. Due to her tendency to warp the world and people around her, Mary Sue is like a virus or a parasite, which must be eliminated for the health of the afflicted world. This effort is spearheaded by the Department of Mary Sues, although just about every other department in the organization has also seen a Sue or two—she is a pernicious nuisance.

Mary Sues are not real people, so killing them is not murder. Some agents may even eat Sues (see Sue Soufflé) or drink their blood, though most find the very idea to be revolting. Torturing Sues is not condoned, mainly because no one wants to hang around with the kind of people who like to torture things.

To avoid killing a real character, the assassination must be justified with charges. Some characters may only be borderline Sues, with the potential to become real people with a bit of outside help. These characters must be removed from the canon on principle, but they may be set free in a generic universe of their genre, or even recruited into the PPC. There is a Sue Support Group for former Sues run through the Department of Fictional Psychology.

Sue Byproducts

The infectious nature of Mary Sues results in Sueification diseases, such as Vambiolaria, Suemonia, and Sueicosis, all of which result in a non-Sue character becoming Sued. Sue spirits can also possess other characters, and must be exorcized and dispersed in order for the victim to return to normal. To a lesser extent, a Mary Sue's Aura of Smooth can send other characters OOC without turning them into full-blown Sues.

Because Sues often come with bad writing, other effects of bad writing are said to be caused by Sues, such as impossible colors, creatures born of misspelled character and place names, and various effects of bad spelling, punctuation, and grammar.

References

  1. "A Trekkie's Tale" by Paula Smith
  2. "No Way Back," a mission by Jay and Thalia
  3. "Not Russians," a mission by Guvnor of Space
  4. Boromir in "Sisterhood," a mission by Jay and Acacia
  5. "Agents Regina and Berou," a mission by Nemthenga
  6. "RC 213," a mission by Spoofmaster
  7. "Tough Cookie," a mission by Tungsten Monk
  8. "I Will Be Waiting for Your Return," a mission by Akedhi
  9. "Of Pegacorns and Fluffy-sama," a mission by Fireblade and Kali to the same fic
  10. "Broken Doll," a mission by Jay and Thalia - the Sue IS a supermodel
  11. "Dragon Lady," a mission by Caddy-shack and Miah
  12. "Wait and See," a mission by WarriorJoe
  13. "Last of People of the Shadows," a mission by RosieAzrael
  14. "And the Goddess Did Wangst, and Spake Annoyingly Unto the People..." a mission by Lycaenion
  15. "What Might Have Been," a mission by Jay and Acacia
  16. "Ranariel, Elf Ranger of the North," a mission by Tungsten Monk
  17. "Family Ties," a mission by Neshomeh
  18. "Thomas' Excellent Adventure," a mission by Guvnor of Space
  19. "Agreed," a post by Phobos
  20. "The well-written Sue," a post by Araeph
  21. "The Beginning," a mission by Architeuthis
  22. "Heave Ho," the Department of Technical Errors' hub, by Araeph

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