The Death of Mary Sue

Mary Sue floated above the ground, her arms spread out as if to embrace the world that had betrayed her. Her luxurious, glossy hair was a fine cloud of aquamarine that perfectly complimented her eyes–one looked like a black star sapphire and the other was topaz, and although they were full of tears and pain, they were soul-piercingly beautiful even though they were hollow with death. As her corpse rose into the sky to rejoin her sisters, the angels, every single heart on Earth broke, even those that belonged to people completely unaware of Mary Sue’s passing.

Serious post begins here.

I think the term “Mary Sue” isn’t very helpful anymore, if it ever was, and I don’t use it anymore when I critique people. Here’s why.

What do you even mean when you say it?

When you say Mary Sue, assuming the person you’re talking to has even heard of a Mary Sue, they might think of a list of traits that many Mary Sues share. These include, but are not limited to the following:

  • A bland or insufferable personality
  • Expertise in cliched, obscure, poorly defined, or  random/ unrelated skills
  • No flaws/ flaws that have no serious consequences
  • Being overpowered
  • Unusual physical traits
  • Being adored by practically every character and even the author–those that disagree are demonized or realize the error of their ways
  • Being the center of the plot
  • Being used for wish fulfillment by the author

Okay, if Mary Sue means all those things, it’s actually pretty informative, right?

Not necessarily, because not everyone agrees that traits like those are what make a Mary Sue what it is. They can argue that you can pull off a character with a good number of those traits if you know what you’re doing or you’re writing a satire. There are people who distinguish between Mary Sues and Anti Sues and others who think they are both Sues. Some think that a character can be a Mary Sue even if the plot isn’t all about them, despite that being a very common definition. And there are still writers who put faith in things like Mary Sue Litmus Tests where you do nothing more than check off a list of traits, many of them superficial.

Don’t believe me? Go hit up some writing forums and compare posts from multiple users. You probably need at least twenty for a good sample size. I can guarantee you’ll get multiple definitions. So which one do you mean when you call a character a Mary Sue?

Wouldn’t it be much better to just sit down and have a discussion with the writer about what makes that particular character a bad character instead of bringing up a term that carries so much baggage?

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