a boutique agency with a slight shoe fetish

From The Archives: About Mary Sue

While I’m on vacation this week, I’m diving into my archives for a look at some of my favorite old posts. You voted on what you want to see, and this is the result. The following was originally published in January of 2010. Enjoy!

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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