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Mary Sues: What even are they?


Well-Known Member
Overly Sarcastic Productions is a little known Youtube channel that discusses about writing and stories from way back when. However, I feel their Trope Talk series is a great resource for writers and a cool insight into storytelling tools. This video in particular was especially enlightening:


It raises some very valid points about how the term itself tends to be misused too often, forgetting its roots and how its often involves the narrative around character themselves rather than just the characterization.

I feel that it'd be worth discussing in regards to Pokemon so long as we don't get too personal and keep it civil. Enjoy the video. It's a ten minute quickie that you'll enjoy.


A Dense Irritating Miniature Beast of Burden
That was actually quite a good watch. It made me think of my own characters and made me consider how the world revolves around them, but that's for me to worry about once I get a solid idea of how others perceive my characters.

Since Pokemon in particular is a very easy story to write for, there are a lot of trainer fics that fall into this category, since most of them are self inserts of the author, which is fine. It's fun to insert yourself into another story, and even though it doesn't exactly make for a good story, as Trope Talk says, fanfiction is a hobby that's meant to be enjoyed.

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
Aaaa, I'm glad so see someone else a fan of Overly Sarcastic Productions! I was introduced to that channel recently, and fell in love with it immediately. I also really, really love her analysis on Mary Sues, and how it's not just having a powerful and cool character. Far too often the term Mary Sue gets tossed at any halfway cool or powerful character without any real thought. But in reality, sue-ism is not a character disorder, it's a world disorder. The comparison to a black hole is a particularly apt one. A Mary Sue distorts the flow of a story and the logic of a world to orbit around themself. Everything in the story serves them. It's not that they're cool, it's that other characters exist solely to sing their praises or appear less cool by comparison. It's not that they're powerful, it's that nothing properly challenges them in a meaningful way and there are no stakes to anything. Go out and write all the cool and powerful characters you want! Just make sure the world can accommodate them. Write the supporting cast as their own people with their own thoughts and feels that don't revolve around Mr/Ms Awesome. Give them awesome skills and then give them challenges that those skills can't quite measure up to. Make things genuinely inconvenient for them. Make characters who dislike them and aren't morally deficient. It's these things, rather than a laundry list of "flaws" and a crippling power nerf, that keep a character from becoming a Sue.

Viewed through that lens, it becomes clearer why certain Pokéfic tropes are associated with sue-ism. Let's talk about a common one: Legendary catching. In a vacuum, a trainer catching a Legendary can mean practically anything, depending on the context of the surrounding world. But let's add a few more details: a trainer catches a Legendary on their first day as a trainer because the Legendary deemed them to be pure of heart and worthy of it or something, and the trainer continues on their journey handily defeating every opponent in their path. Well, then it's become clear that this trainer is completely distorting logic for no reason other than their own benefit. Things are just happening for no reason other than to make them more awesome. It's not the thing itself (Legendary catching, in this case.) It's that the narrative is only serving to glorify the character, sense be damned.

Let's take a quick visit to canon for a moment with a look at the Pokemon Special manga. Now, if you've ever read PokeSpe, you'll know that it operates on World of Badass rules. Everyone is powerful and capable of extremely awesome and unique special abilities. But on the flip side, the protagonists are constantly facing challenges that those awesome abilities can't stand up against, constantly struggling and having to come up with new ways to come out ahead, and frequently needing to get help from supporting characters. In other words, their awesomeness enhances the narrative rather than takes away from it (although it still has plenty of "sense be damned" moments. ;P)


Well-Known Member
fanfiction is a hobby that's meant to be enjoyed.

I largely agree with Red as far as writing amateurishly. Though when sharing your work with others online, people aren't always going to see what you see in your own writing. Some may think its better or worse than you make it out to be. Basically, when you put yourself out there, the world's gonna come at you hard.

There's also how the "Mary Sue" accusation is thrown at characters you just don't like and you wanna validate your hate. That's a slippery slope to be sure.


A Dense Irritating Miniature Beast of Burden
I largely agree with Red as far as writing amateurishly. Though when sharing your work with others online, people aren't always going to see what you see in your own writing. Some may think its better or worse than you make it out to be. Basically, when you put yourself out there, the world's gonna come at you hard.

That's a good point. I will add to me statement that it depends on context for me. If the writer didn't take themselves seriously and wanted to insert themselves because of wish fulfilment, I don't think it's fair to dogpile on them for doing what they enjoy, especially if they're young. But if the writer seriously intended to create a story that was worth reading and wanted people to be invested in their characters, but end up creating Mary Sues, then that author should be criticised for it. Then the 'it's just a hobby' justification isn't an excuse. In any case, I do agree that once you put yourself on the internet, everything's fair game for criticism. But that's a topic for another thread.


The Pokemon Observer
I think it is unfair that this word of "Mary Sue" is used only to describe fan-fiction, but never used to describe canon or original works that are aired on TV or drawn/written in books or designed in games.

Badly designed characters that causes distortion of narrative gravity is not something limited to only fanfic. Actually any story in any format may expose to such badness. Even professional writers which are paid for their writings working in worldwide well-known fictional works that are known by everyone may have such black hole characters. One canon work I knew makes me hate this canon work due to the existence of such Mary Sue character. Everyone glorified that Mary Sue character to no end, it really irritates me whenever I saw today's episode is yet another case of Mary Sue did a fine job everyone can do but they don't do it because the plot didn't call for it and then everyone hooray Mary Sue for her fine job of doing anyone's everyday routine job for them.

Personally I do not agree fanfic is anything different from original canon work, narrative-story-structural-wise. Other than the mere point of building a story from an already-existing story, the basic structure of a fanfic is still the same as any original work, having opening/middle/ending, having characters and background world, having a story plot which are to be act out by those characters. Then how come black hole characters in fanfic is often to be criticized, but black hole characters in canon work is seldom criticized having a free pass? Where does this double standard came from?


Well-Known Member
Then how come black hole characters in fanfic is often to be criticized, but black hole characters in canon work is seldom criticized having a free pass? Where does this double standard came from?

If you saw the video, maybe characters in canon are indeed not exempt from being labelled Mary Sues. Hell, it's been a big point of contention in Star Wars.

BTW, what episode were you referring to?


The Pokemon Observer
"Maybe" is not a good enough answer. I do understand by definition, "Mary Sue" shouldn't limited to only fanfic. But in reality, you will never or very occasionally once in a blue moon saw non-fanfic reader used this word of "Mary Sue" to describe any character from any commercial fictional works in any reviews or fan sites. This word of "Mary Sue" is unknown or unfamiliar among normal readers and normal audience, probably not even among professional writers.

You sure you want me to gave out the name of that canon work? I think I'll anger a lot of people in this forum simply just by mentioning it.

Kutie Pie

"It is my destiny."
^ You're going to anger someone anyway, so just meet halfway and say "All of them", dust off your hands, and leave it at that.

Anyhoo, I don't think there's really anything new anyone can add to the topic of Mary Sues and Gary Stus, it's both subjective and objective. Are there Mary Sues who are awful? Absolutely. Are there Mary Sues who are liked? Of course. In fact, can Mary Sues be enjoyable? It just depends on the story and how they're being handled. For (a fan fiction) example, what is it about Ebony Dark'ness Dementia Raven Way that makes her enjoyable and famous as a Mary Sue, yet the similarly-made Jenna from the infamous My Inner Life is widely hated? Is it because My Immortal is so batshit insane and the characters (who are written so different from their canon counterparts they're considered to be their own separate characters) are off-the-walls bonkers and all over the place that it provides some easy laughs? It couldn't have just been the awful spelling. My Inner Life looks like it's written by an English major, and yet it's no easy read because it's regarded as one of the most boring, blatant self-insert Mary Sue fics out there in which the only thing it has going for it are the laughably bad sex scenes--which My Immortal also has, but it's more implied and isn't full of purple prose.

Let me quote from Princess Tutu, a series that takes your typical fairy tale and magical girl clichés and messes with it to the very point of breaking the fourth wall and then some:

"There's nothing more boring than a perfect heroine!"

Is there truth to this? Yes, many people get bored easily if the main hero has everything going their way and it doesn't feel like it's an actual story being told, at least it's not for the supporting characters who just get overshadowed and feel more like pawns. Is there a way to disagree with this? Yes, power fantasies are still common and sought after. Media is filled with escapism to let the consumer temporarily forget about real life problems, although some people have found solutions from what they come across in such media (and more power to them).

Ebony Dark'ness Dementia Raven Way comes off as a "perfect" heroine, but in actuality she's really not, she's just insane and her insanity has affected everyone to the point it's as if the story is driving itself off the cliff to the jagged rocks below and not the character herself. Jenna is the "perfect" heroine because she has no personality and yet everyone loves her and doesn't bat an eye that she and Link marry within hours of meeting each other and then have "perfect" sex that's described as them being tigers in heat. And that's the entire story of nothing happening except being told Link and Jenna are the perfect couple making the perfect babies in a world that's at a standstill. At least in My Immortal, there's a plot going on and not just "plot".

And I think that makes a big difference.


The magic of Pokemon
I've always managed to interpret Mary Sues (and the male counterpart Gary Stu or Marty Stu) as a specific kind of overpowered character--where the powers and abilities of the character don't make sense in the universe (eg. modern firearms in a fantasy setting, having a spell set or ability that typically takes years to master mastered in a matter of minutes)

I do wholeheartedly agree that Mary Sues/Gary Stus can be done right if you know what you're doing.

U.N. Owen

In Brightest Day, In Blackest Night ...
I always saw Mary Sues as black holes in writing. It's like the universe exists to revolve around them much like an actual black hole binds a galaxy together. It doesn't matter if some character is so great and so amazing that everyone kisses the ground they step on or if they are so pathetic that everyone spits on/pities the character.


Well-Known Member
I do wholeheartedly agree that Mary Sues/Gary Stus can be done right if you know what you're doing.
I think Kirito from Sword Art Online and SAO Abridged's version are examples of how do one woefully wrong and completely correct respectively. The former is a bland self-insert protagonist that has lip-service for some semblance of a character arc and the latter snarks it up along with actually compelling character growth without ditching the Mary Sueness. Essentially, the latter is honest about who it wants to be and at least makes it a blast for the audience too.


A cat who writes stories
The term used to be meaningful, but I think that its history of being misunderstood and misused, as well as the sexist connotation it's accrued, make it obsolete as a writing term. If you think a character is genuinely a Mary Sue, there's nothing stopping you from saying "your protagonist warps the narrative by breaking the established rules of the setting, and by never having any reasonable differences of opinion with other characters besides antagonists. Your protagonist should be capable of failure and of being in the wrong, and subject to the same rules of reality as everyone else." It's a bit long winded, but it won't be misinterpreted and it's more helpful.

I've seen plenty of fans of big franchises call characters Mary Sues and this criticism usually just means "she's good at things without good cause." I am mostly thinking about Rey in Star Wars here. Rey isn't unusual for the franchise at all - Luke never had any onscreen piloting or duelling training before he blew up the Death Star and kicked a bunch of ass with his saber. Yet, fans cry "Sue" about Rey's competence with the Force and a saber. "Mary Sue" really is just used these days as a way of saying "I don't find powerful women credible unless their gruelling training is focused on to an arbitrary degree" and I think it should be retired as an acceptable term.

(Twelve years ago I had an argument with a guy who thought that an original fiction goddess character with apocalyptic potential was a Mary Sue because that's Just Too Powerful. Dude was a fan of DBZ, so he's obviously cool with planetbusting powers so long as they're preceded by dudes screaming for long enough. This clearly isn't a new phenomenon.)


Active Member
The way I've come to understand it, a Mary Sue is a character, male or female, who never struggles or fails at anything. They always get things right on the first try, and they always have all the right answers to any given problem.
(Nice that you saw Over Sarcastic Production’s video, I may or may not have watched a good few of them.)

Honestly, I think I can agree that a Mary Sue is someone who the world distorts towards. Special ability? Dump it on the main character! Special plot scene with a huge climax? Let the other characters stand back, Mary’s got this covered! Aaaand you get the idea.

However, I’d like to bring up one of the best deconstruction of the Mary Sue archetype that I’ve seen - it’s not even a fanfic example here. May I bring your attention to The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel, namely its protagonist, Rean Schwarzer. At first Rean can come off a bit as your typical Gary Stu - he’s kind, attractive, a bit of a chick magnet, he has odd superpowers, he’s even a chosen one to pilot an ancient mecha divine knight thing - but then this game decides to display the consequences of what happens when you gain so much attention. Kind and attractive with all the girls? If you play him as someone who tends to not hang around the girls, it can begin to come off as bothering and exhausting. Odd superpowers? For the first two games they do him nothing but good, but some the third game and he’s lost control of it, because it’s something he’s doesn’t understand, and the person who can control it is the main villain of that game. Ancient mecha divine knight thing? He’s become forced to use it in a war that he doesn’t want to be a part of, and now the whole world knows his name - and he’d rather just study with all his friends at school. It has a serious impact on his mental health by the end of the second game alone, but it gets taken to a whole new level at the end of the third.

Not to mention, he has ten other classmates, and all of them actually play a role just as big as he does. The glasses girl who gets all of the marks? A witch sent to watch over a trial in th school. The two boys who initially feuded non-stop? Their parents are the two leaders of separate factions, and both end up playing important roles as you would expect due to this. The two small girls with short hair? One is an ex-assassin, while the other is a literal result of human experimentation who is sent as a government spy. The skiving playboy? He’s the main villain! On paper Rean Schwarzer is a Gary Stu, but Cold Steel managed to deconstruct just what it means to be the centre of what’s happening - you get caught up in so much that you can’t keep track of it all, and you need to fall back onto those you trust just to keep you sane.

I mean, that’s more serious example of a well-written Gary Stu, if you even want to call him that. I think that in fanfiction (and normal fiction too, like non-Abridged SAO) something that people miss with a Gary Stu or Mary Sue is that every action has a consequence, and nobody can do anything on their own. The universe can’t revolve around one person because one person can’t manage the whole universe - like a supermarket brand has cashiers, shelvers, the higher-ups managing the money they use and so on in order to just make one supermarket branch, a fictional world needs multiple different components to make it run smoothly - and one person can’t run all of those components and make it seem real. With the previous example of Cold Steel, in the second game the main class is left with an entire flying ship to operate, and they need to enlist of the help of at least 20 of their other schoolmates just to make the thing run well. If Rean could just do it on his own, I wouldn’t be able to believe it for a second.

So that’s the criticial flaw of a Mary Sue - if you put all that responsibility onto one character, and none onto any of the other characters, that’s what creates that black hole effect. At least, that’s in my opinion.
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