Ask Daphne! About Mary Sue

January 13th, 2010 • Kate

Mary_Jane.29629I had several questions on my live blog yesterday about Mary Sues. Karen asked, “What lets you know a character is a Mary Sue from the query or the sample pages?” And Allreb added, “I’d also be really curious to know what you consider a Mary Sue character, or how a character gets to be so Mary Sue you’re turned off by her.” (And for Stina, a photo of a Mary Jane shoe, just for comparison!)

According to Wikipedia,

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 wish-fulfillment fantasies for their authors or readers. 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”.

Now, I do admit I use the term “Mary Sue” even more loosely. For me, a character feels like a Mary Sue when I’m told how everyone loves her, how the new boy at school is magically attracted to her, and her best friend is harboring a crush, etc. etc. The character just comes across as too perfect for words.

Now, that may be a failing of your query letter, but not your manuscript. In your full text, you may go into fabulous detail about the quirks that make your Mary Sue a Maggie, or, in other words, how she is totally flawed and relatable. It’s harder to do so in the short form of the query — which is one of the reasons (again) why I ask for sample pages. I want to try to get a sense of your character beyond the pitch, beyond the “perfect girl everyone loves.”

Does that make sense?

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14 Responses to “Ask Daphne! About Mary Sue”

  1. allreb Says:

    It does! Thank you very much. 🙂

  2. Iapetus999 Says:

    In my current WIP, everyone hates my MC…including my readers. Maybe I've gone too far in the other direction…:(

  3. Stina Says:

    Oh that's what it means. Whew! I'm safe on that one. Thanks, Kate! Love the shoes by the way. 😀

  4. Amy L. Sonnichsen Says:

    Wow, I'd never heard of this before. Thanks for educating us. Very interesting. I've read books with Mary Sue characters in them and, yes, they're pretty gaggy.

  5. Fiona Says:

    That's interesting – I was under the impression that it was just a MC that was too close to the author in background and experience.

    It gives me acute anxiety every time I write a female doctor into my stories, because I imagine everyone is going to thing it's a Mary Sue. Now I feel somewhat reassured – I could never write a female character whom everyone loves!

  6. callie Says:

    I hadn't heard of this before. Always good to know what to avoid. Thanks for the info!

  7. Donna Gambale Says:

    Great explanation, and a topic not often covered in blogs. Thanks!

  8. Karen Says:

    Thank you! I've always thought of Mary Sues more like the definition above–that the author wanted to write her ideal self–so that's why I was wondering how you could tell it was Mary Sue by just reading the query, but your explanation makes perfect sense. 🙂

  9. Abby Stevens Says:

    I'd never heard of a Mary Sue until everyone on Yahoo! Answers Books & Authors section started calling Bella from Twilight a Mary Sue. NOT to start that argument, but it led me to understand what a Mary Sue (or Gary Stu) was. I got so worried that my MC was a Mary Sue that I even took a test online to see! 😛 I feel quite certain she is not a Mary Sue, though. She CERTAINLY has a healthy helping of flaws, some of which will hopefully have changed by the end of the book, as a character should be dyanmic.

  10. I’m Obnoxious! « Old People Writing for Teens Says:

    […] for creating it.  And it leads nicely into my post for today – character flaws.  Ask Daphne had some interesting thoughts on perfect characters, namely, that it’s hard to like them.  […]

  11. Heather Church Says:

    Timely blog entry. My current manuscript is undergoing its second rewrite and I've been worried that my female protagonist is a little too Pollyanna-esque (or Mary Sue-ish).

    @Abby: What online test did you take? I'd love to give it a shot myself.

  12. Abby Stevens Says:

    Hi Heather,

    The test I took is this one:

    It is not written by anyone of real authority on the subject, but it does bring up some interesting points to think about when honing your characters.

  13. kt literary » Blog Archive » From The Archives: About Mary Sue Says:

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