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A Mary Sue (sometimes just Sue), in literary criticism and particularly in fanfiction, is a fictional character with overly idealized and hackneyed mannerisms, lacking noteworthy flaws, and primarily functioning as a wish-fulfillment fantasy for the author or reader. Perhaps the single underlying feature of all characters described as "Mary Sues" is that they are too ostentatious for the audience's taste, or that the author seems to favor the character too highly. The author may seem to push how exceptional and wonderful the "Mary Sue" character is on his or her audience, sometimes leading the audience to dislike or even resent the character fairly quickly; such a character could be described as an "author's pet".

"Mary Sues" can be either male or female, but male characters are often dubbed "Gary Stu", "Marty Stu", or similar names.[1] While the label "Mary Sue" itself originates from a parody of this type of character, most characters labeled "Mary Sues" by readers are not intended by authors as such.

While the term is generally limited to fan-created characters, and its most common usage today occurs within the fan fiction community or in reference to fan fiction, original characters in role-playing games or literary canon are also sometimes criticized as being "Mary Sues" or "canon Sues," if they dominate the spotlight or are too unrealistic or unlikely in other ways. One example of this criticism is Wesley Crusher from Star Trek: The Next Generation.[2][3][4]



The term "Mary Sue" is taken from a character created by Paula Smith in 1973 for her parody story "A Trekkie's Tale,"[5] published in her fanzine Menagerie #2.[6] The character in question was Lieutenant Mary Sue ("the youngest Lieutenant in the fleet — only fifteen and a half years old"). Smith's story poked fun at unrealistic and adolescent wish-fantasy characters in Star Trek fan fiction. Such characters were generally original (non-canon) and female adolescents who had romantic liaisons with established canon adult characters or in some cases were the younger relatives or protégés of those characters. They also possessed unrealistic, often exotic skills beyond those that would have been expected of a character in that series or of a conventional author surrogate. "Mary Sue" was expanded to include any author surrogate or overly idealized character who plays a big role in original fiction as well as fan fiction.

Today "Mary Sue" carries a connotation of wish-fulfillment and is commonly associated with self-insertion (the writing of oneself into a fictional story). True self-insertion is a literal and generally undisguised representation of the author; most characters described as "Mary Sues" are not, though they are often called "proxies"[7] for the author. The negative connotation comes from this "wish-fulfillment" implication: the "Mary Sue" is judged a poorly developed character, too perfect and lacking in realism to be interesting. Such proxy characters, critics claim, exist only because authors wish to see themselves as the "special" character in question.

The term is also associated with cliché such as exotic hair and eye colors, mystical or superhuman powers, exotic pets, possessions or origins or an unusually tragic past, especially when these things are glaringly out of step with the consistency of the canon. These features are commonplace in "Mary Sues", though even a character who lacks them may be labeled a "Sue" by some critics. The term is more broadly associated with characters who are exceptionally and improbably lucky. The good luck may involve romance ("Mary Sue" always gets her man); adventure ("Mary Sue" always wins a fight or knows how to solve the puzzle) and popularity (the "right people" seem to gravitate towards the character). These characters have few problems while attempting to achieve their goals. "Everything goes her way" is a common criticism regarding "Mary Sues", the implication being that the character is not sufficiently humanized or challenged to be interesting or sympathetic.

Canon Sue

A "canon Sue" may refer to a character whose canon portrayal itself is seen as a "Mary Sue", rather than a character who has been altered in fan fiction. Typically, this refers to a character accused of being overly idealized or having other traits traditionally associated with fan fiction "Mary Sues", such as being "special" by having a gratuitously tragic past, unrealistic skills, or a seeming inability for the character to do wrong. Examples include Wesley Crusher[2] and Amanda Rogers[2] in Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Litmus tests

Various tests, commonly known as "Mary Sue litmus tests", have been written ostensibly to help writers (especially inexperienced ones) gauge whether or not their character is a Mary Sue, as well as bring the "Mary Sue" concept to writers' attention.[8] These tests list fiction clichés and character traits that are also commonly associated with stereotypical "Mary Sues", ranging from questions on hair and eye color ("Is it a color found in nature?") to the author's relationship to the character (such as if they share a name or nickname with the character). Matching more traits results in a higher score for a character. Once the score is high enough, the character is said to be a likely "Mary Sue", to varying degrees of apparent severity including "Uber-Sue". The original "Mary Sue Litmus Test" was meant for those writing in the Gargoyles fandom, though it has since been almost endlessly adapted for other fandoms and original characters, becoming somewhat of a minor meme online.

Most such tests include a disclaimer noting that even characters with extremely high scores can be executed well enough to yet still avoid being considered a "Mary Sue." The test is primarily meant as a guide for better characterization. Nevertheless, many writers believe that many of the litmus tests are too strict, finding that they make not only popular fictional characters out to be "Mary Sues", but also some real people as well (notably, the original test and a good number of its adaptations explicitly mention Bono as an example of a non-fictional person who actually tests as a "Mary Sue" by the test's criteria). Additionally, in determining the "Mary Sue" status of speculative fiction characters, some tests will score characters higher if they have magical powers, superhuman abilities, or "unusual" names, appearances, and pets - all of which are far more common and accepted in science fiction and fantasy settings. Even if such powers or appearances are normal in the context of the setting, many of the questions on older "Litmus Tests" will still rate a character higher for having them in the first place.

Litmus tests have also been criticised for increasing a character's rating for trivial attributes, such as having the same gender as the author (there are only two genders to choose from), being a teenager (even if the character would be less believable had they been older) or for the author pretending they are the character (which is in fact useful for better characterisation).


The "Mary Sue" concept has drawn criticism from amateur and professional authors. Many such criticisms are brushed off as coming from writers who create "Mary Sues." However, the onus of wishing to avoid being condemned as a "Suethor" ("Mary Sue" author) apparently weighs heavily even on professional authors and sophisticated amateurs, particularly women.

In chapter four of her book Enterprising Women[9] Camille Bacon-Smith includes a subsection on the "Mary Sue" concept. While not denying that such characters exist, with reasonable psychological observations as to why "Mary Sues" exist in the first place, she observes that fear of creating a "Mary Sue" may be restricting and even silencing some writers.

Smith quotes editor Joanna Cantor[10] as identifying "Mary Sue" paranoia as one of the sources for the lack of "believable, competent, and identifiable-with female characters." In this article, Cantor interviews her sister Edith, also an amateur editor, who says she receives stories with cover letters apologizing for the tale as "a Mary Sue", even when the author admits she does not know what a "Mary Sue" is. According to Edith Cantor, while Paula Smith's original "Trekkie's Tale" was only ten paragraphs long, "in terms of their impact on those whom they affect, those words [Mary Sue] have got to rank right up there with the Selective Service Act."[11] At Clippercon 1987 (a Star Trek fan convention held yearly in Baltimore, Maryland), Smith interviewed a panel of women authors who say they do not include female characters in their stories at all. She quoted one as saying "Every time I've tried to put a woman in any story I've ever written, everyone immediately says, this is a Mary Sue." Smith also pointed out that "Participants in a panel discussion in January 1990 noted with growing dismay that any female character created within the community is damned with the term Mary Sue."[12]

However, several other writers quoted by Smith have pointed out that in Star Trek: The Voyages Of The "Enterprise" as originally created, James T. Kirk is himself a "Mary Sue," and that the label seems to be used more indiscriminately on female characters who do not behave in accordance with the dominant culture's images and expectations for females as opposed to males.[13] Professional author Ann C. Crispin is quoted as saying: "The term 'Mary Sue' constitutes a put-down, implying that the character so summarily dismissed is not a true character, no matter how well drawn, what sex, species, or degree of individuality."[14]

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b c Pat Pflieger (2001). TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE: 150 YEARS OF MARY SUE. 3. Presented at the American Culture Association conference. Retrieved 2007-01-15. 
  3. ^ Pat Pflieger, 150 Years Of Mary Sue. Presented at the American Culture Association conference, March 31, 1999, San Diego, CA. Webpage found 2008-10-16.
  4. ^ Wil Wheaton. "Star Trek: The Next Generation: Justice". TV Squad. Retrieved 2008-11-18. 
  5. ^ Smith, Paula, A TREKKIE'S TALE,'s+tale+paula+smith&source=web&ots=yTmGDQRgTu&sig=VYd5H1K66REshTlrSw1MNd4QLak 
  6. ^ "SF Citations for OED: Mary Sue". Retrieved 2006-05-20. 
  7. ^ Orr, David (2004-10-03). "The Widening Web of Digital Lit". The New York Times. Retrieved 2006-10-02. 
  8. ^ The Universal Mary-Sue Litmus Test
  9. ^ Bacon-Smith, Camille, Enterprising Women, Television Fandom and the Creation of Popular Myth. Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1992.
  10. ^ Joanna Cantor, "Mary Sue, a Short Compendium." In Archives #5, 1980, ed. Joanna Cantor, Yeoman Press, Bronx, NY
  11. ^ Smith, p. 96.
  12. ^ Smith, p. 110. A footnote states this was reported to her by Judy Chien, who attended the panel at MostEastlyCon 1990 in Newark.
  13. ^ Smith, p. 97.
  14. ^ Smith, p. 98.

Further reading

  • Verba, Joan Marie. Boldly Writing: A Trekker Fan and Zine History, 1967–1987. Mankato, MN: FTL Publications, 1996.


Additional essays

Mary Sue "Litmus Tests" online


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary




Name of an intentionally over-the-top character in Paula Smith's A Trekkie's Tale (1974).


Mary Sue

Mary Sues

Mary Sue (plural Mary Sues)

  1. A fictional character (especially in fanfic), usually female, whose implausible talents and likeableness weaken the story.


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