Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.
  1. minstrel
    Offline

    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 11, 2010
    Messages:
    8,723
    Likes Received:
    4,821
    Location:
    Near Los Angeles

    Mary Sues and Gary Stus

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by minstrel, May 17, 2012.

    I have honestly never heard these terms before I signed onto this forum. I’ve seen them mentioned in many, many threads as though they should be avoided at all costs, on pain of death or ridicule, and I still don’t really see why. There doesn’t even seem to be an agreed-upon definition of these terms. Cogito insists that a Mary Sue is an author insert, a vehicle through which the author can live out her fantasy. Others say that a Mary Sue is a character who is too perfect, too smart, beautiful, or powerful to be believable.

    Superman is the ultimate Gary Stu, I guess. Not only is he almost infinitely powerful, but he’s so pure and good that he embarrasses the most dedicated Boy Scout who ever lived. But that doesn’t mean people hate him. Rather, they’ve spent billions of dollars over the years buying Superman comic books, movie tickets, TV shows, toys, and so on and so forth.

    Everybody on this forum, however, seems to have a knee-jerk reaction against Mary Sues and Gary Stus. Nobody wants to write a character who could be considered a Mary Sue or Gary Stu.

    Why is this? Are these characters really so bad? Ian Fleming said that when he wrote James Bond, he was trying to write the ultimate male fantasy – a man with incredible skills and daring, who can back those up with a license to kill and an unlimited expense account, who can seduce any woman he wants, etc. etc. A deliberate Gary Stu, then. And Bond is a multi-billion dollar industry.

    So my question in this: Are the concepts of Mary Sue and Gary Stu useful at all to writers? I don’t think so. I think we obsess over them far too much and we’d all be much better off if we just forgot about them completely. Just write your characters the way you want to without worrying about Marygary Suestu – ness. Life is too short to worry about Mary Sue and Gary Stu.
     
  2. Lazy
    Offline

    Lazy Banned

    Joined:
    May 8, 2012
    Messages:
    85
    Likes Received:
    2
    Location:
    Michigan
    It's usually both. It can't be the former without being the latter, and the latter is usually a result of the former.

    What the hell is your point? Bad characters become popular, so what? Lots of musical artists with no skill or talent or artistic value to speak of sell millions of records. If you want to sell millions of books, go ahead and make a Mary Sue, the majority of people in the world won't care a bit.
     
  3. minstrel
    Offline

    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 11, 2010
    Messages:
    8,723
    Likes Received:
    4,821
    Location:
    Near Los Angeles
    You haven't answered my question. You seem to assume that these characters are "bad." Why? What is wrong with writing a character who is extremely good, or who is an author insert? Does that make them a bad character?

    And as far as "What the hell is your point?" is concerned, I made it very clear. I said I don't think the concept of a Mary Sue or Gary Stu is useful to writers. I think writers should just forget about this concept and carry on with their writing. That was my point.
     
  4. Lazy
    Offline

    Lazy Banned

    Joined:
    May 8, 2012
    Messages:
    85
    Likes Received:
    2
    Location:
    Michigan
    I'm sure there are lots of musicians who think the concept of writing original and deep music is not "useful" and we should just recycle the same lame pop songs that have been around for decades. These people make bad art. People who write Mary Sue characters make bad art by definition because it's a pejorative term. There is nothing inherently wrong with author insert or a character who is "extremely good." But chances are if you try it you're going to make bad art.

    Do people really think Superman is a deep, complex, believable and relatable character? I doubt it. Superman and James Bond have certain niches. James Bond is a cool character but he's not a terribly good one. James Bond films (I've never read a James Bond book and never will so excuse me on that) are mindless action movies. Are you writing a mindless action book/movie/whatever? Then go ahead and abandon the idea of making good characters.

    edit: and I don't really know that much about Superman but I know that he is not perfect, he has struggles both mental and phsyical, and he's probably not a Gary Stu. Still, is he a great character? Probably not
     
  5. MissRis
    Offline

    MissRis Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Apr 18, 2012
    Messages:
    235
    Likes Received:
    3
    Location:
    Canada
    Yeah, I think this is a good question. I still don't understand what a "Mary Sue" is.
     
  6. Show
    Offline

    Show Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 25, 2008
    Messages:
    1,495
    Likes Received:
    30
    I was probably better off before the idea of a Mary Sue ever entered my mind. lol
     
  7. shadowwalker
    Offline

    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 27, 2011
    Messages:
    3,299
    Likes Received:
    851
    It comes, I believe, mainly via fanfiction, and is indeed a combination of author insertion and perfection. In fanfic, the Mary Sue/Gary Stu is an original character who can outdo the fandom characters in everything. Absolutely everything. (My personal opinion is that the author actually detests the fandom characters and wants to show them up.)

    In original fiction, I'd have to agree with Cogito on the author insertion, and the problem there (IMO) is that the character's words and actions can tend toward soapbox territory. The antagonist can become one dimensional because the author is the MC (all important). The perfection thing - well, that's a bit more difficult because some stories/genres call for over-the-top characters anyway. But if you're writing a romance, for example, the combination of author insertion and perfection can make readers puke at the wonderfulness of the love interest. So basically it's writing characters that are just too good to be true - or believable. And who wants to read about characters they can't believe in (empathize with)?
     
  8. minstrel
    Offline

    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 11, 2010
    Messages:
    8,723
    Likes Received:
    4,821
    Location:
    Near Los Angeles


    Including what some call a "Mary Sue" does not mean your work cannot be original and deep. It doesn't mean you're just recycling the same lame pop songs.

    This statement doesn't make sense. If a Mary Sue is included, it's bad art by definition? Because it's a pejorative term? It takes a lot more than being a pejorative term to define a piece of art as bad.

    I'm not writing a mindless action book/movie/whatever. I'm trying to write decent literature. But in that context, the concept of Mary Sue / Gary Stu doesn't help, or even really apply. It's just a shorthand for something that everybody seems to complain about for little or no reason.
     
  9. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    Absolutely not.

    The correct meaning of a Mary Sue is a character who is a surrogate of the author in order to live out an author fantasy. The term Gary Stu was added later as simply a male Mary Sue/

    Since then, the label has been slapped on any kind of character somehow viewed as shallow or annoying, to the point that the term has lost any kind of useful meaning whatsoever. My experience is that throwing that label around is equivalent to saying. "I don't like the character, and can't be bothered to try to justify it." In many cases, it also means the person hasn't even read the story.

    It's sheer laziness, and I would be delighted if it were relegated to the same category as calling someone a Nazi. It says far more about the person slinging the name about than it does about any literary character.
     
  10. ChickenFreak
    Offline

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    8,936
    Likes Received:
    5,473
    Characters should be believable. They should be human. Flawless characters are not believable or human.

    JFK wasn't flawless. Florence Nightingale wasn't flawless. I know little about Bono, so I'm not going to address him, but I doubt that he's flawless. Yes, popular myth may see them as flawless, but I don't see how that's relevant. Would you finish a biography of any of them if it depicted absolutely no flaws, no failures, no struggles?

    James Bond's morals are extremely dubious; he's certainly not a flawless character. Superman is also Clark Kent; the world doesn't stop spinning on its axis to admire Clark Kent, and I think that Superman would be too boring for words without Clark.

    Minstrel, I don't understand your argument. Are you opposed to characters who have flaws? I can't imagine that you are. If you're just opposed to an ambiguous term that has many definitions, fine. But eliminating the term doesn't make it fine to have one-dimensional halo-wearing characters. Those characters will remain boring.

    ChickenFreak
     
  11. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    A character is either well written or poorly written. If poorly written, it is not a matter of the character's attributes. It's a question of dialogue, actions, believable reactions, whether the reader can identify with the character, etc.

    A vague label like Mary Sue is a lazy cop out pretending to be analytical.
     
  12. minstrel
    Offline

    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 11, 2010
    Messages:
    8,723
    Likes Received:
    4,821
    Location:
    Near Los Angeles
    That's why I used the term "in popular myth." Of course these people were flawed. But history tends to shine a golden light on them, whether they deserve it or not.

    Of course I'm not opposed to characters that have flaws. I am opposed to ambiguous terms - you're right about that. But is a "Mary Sue" a "one-dimensional halo-wearing character"? Is that your definition?

    All of the characters I write have flaws. But characters are not defined by balancing a column of virtues here with a column of flaws there. That kind of thinking is one-dimensional. You don't say, "I have a character with a ton of virtues, but I don't want her to look like a Mary Sue, so I'll make her short-tempered." Ugh.

    My main point was that the term Mary Sue is so meaningless that it's useless. Writers who worry about writing Mary Sues aren't putting their priorities in the right place. Just focus on writing realistic characters, like all the great writers did before the invention of the term Mary Sue.
     
  13. Akyra
    Offline

    Akyra New Member

    Joined:
    May 17, 2012
    Messages:
    10
    Likes Received:
    0
    To be honest, I've always found Superman's invulnerability to be beyond boring. We already know it's almost impossible to hurt/kill him so there's little suspense. They had to throw in kryptonite because otherwise there was no conflict at all. As for James Bond - well, the books are pretty awful, in my opinion. I've read quite a few of them as a kid and even back then I was surprised at how bad they were. Plus, the thing about James Bond is that it's almost pure action. There's little depth of character. Nice explosions, cool action scenes, yes. But beyond that ? The character himself is terribly boring.

    So, back to the question about Mary Sues - I don't think there's a problem with a character being awesome. Take Westley from the Princess Bride - he could be easily called a Mary Sue, and yet the movie is fantastic and you can't help but root for him as he tries to rescue his damself in distress. I think the Mary Sue thing isn't so much about the character's abilities, as it is about how the author deals with it. It can be a little hazy but the term can be useful for the more extreme example of that type of characters. Take a character such as Bella Swan from twilight. Apologies to anyone who liked her, but I believe she is the embodiment of a Mary Sue.
    Personally I think the Mary Sue is the embodiment of a fantasy - usually the author's fantasy - but it can appeal to a lot of people. Who hasn't dreamt of being that wonderful person who's loved by everyone and can do anything ? The character doesn't need to be deep because it's just a gateway for the dream persona of the reader. So it doesn't make for a deep or interesting character, but it does allow the reader to feel good. In the end it all depends on what you're looking for when you read a book.

    Regarding what Cogito said -
    I both agree and disagree. If someone just says "that character is a Mary Sue", then yes, you're right, but it would be the same if they said "that character is annoying". The term on its own doesn't mean anything, but if it is explained and justified then it is perfectly valid. For instance, "that character is a Mary Sue because this and that".
     
  14. ChickenFreak
    Offline

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    8,936
    Likes Received:
    5,473
    Yep. The author insertion aspect may be implied, but I don't care all that much about that. If an author can insert a realistic depiction of himself, that's fine with me. If the author creates an unrealistically idealized character, I don't much care if he sees himself in that character or not. So I usually avoid using the term, because the most accurate (IMO) definition doesn't properly address what I care about.

    Oh, I agree with you there. Fictional characters should not be created according to game balance principles. (For that matter, game characters shouldn't either, IMO.)

    But I think that the concept of a flawless character who is adored by all they survey is one that needs an expression, as a general concept separated from any specific character. New writers create them, frequently, and writing faults can be easier if there's a common terminology. Now, we could just use dictionary words like, say, "unrealistically idealized characters." But we shouldn't shy away from the subject.

    ChickenFreak
     
  15. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    A Mary Sue IS author self insertion. And I agree it isn't necessarily dreadful, although it is rather self-indulgent. All the other "definitions" are from widespread use of the word by those who have no clue what it means.

    The variety and murkiness of those other "definitions" are exactly why the term should be chucked in a wood chipper and flushed into the sewers. It has no more meaning that calling someone a Nazi when you have run out of legitimate points.
     
  16. jo spumoni
    Offline

    jo spumoni Active Member

    Joined:
    Jun 23, 2010
    Messages:
    392
    Likes Received:
    20
    Location:
    La Jolla, CA (and Mission Viejo, CA, during the su
    The majority of people I know who actually use the term Mary Sue do not mean that the character is themselves incarnated. They just use it as a generic term for a bad character. Perhaps that's what it meant originally, but the other forum I'm on where the term is used virtually every other post (annoys the living hell out me), it's just a term for a character who has no emotional depth and runs the risk of being perfect. I guess this just goes to prove the point: there's such a stupid hodgepodge of definitions and vague concepts that no one really gets what anyone else means when they say it. A perfect example is when someone asked me whether their character's name sounded like a Mary Sue. I said that no name innately makes your character a bad character. I read a book where the character's name was Mary Lou...and no, she didn't fit the dubious vision of "Mary Sue."

    If you're curious about the concept, google "Mary Sue quiz" and you'll get a bunch of quizzes about your characters to find out if they're "Mary Sues" or not. I took one once, just because I was curious, and I think it's total bull. My characters "passed", but the test first of all assumes that you have a fantasy premise, meaning that if you don't, questions like "Is your character a werewolf" will be kind of laughable ("Yeah, my character is totally a werewolf in Nazi Germany"). What annoyed me, though, was that it reduced the making of characters down to a checklist. For instance, it asked whether one of my characters was especially attractive or something. I said yes, and the quiz counted this as evidence that he was a "Mary Sue/Gary Stu". So apparently, I should NEVER write an attractive character...yeah, it's BS.
     
  17. Kaymindless
    Offline

    Kaymindless Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Mar 14, 2012
    Messages:
    281
    Likes Received:
    5
    Location:
    Beaumont, Texas, United States

    Those really are the biggest waste of time. What did it mark you for the werewolf? For or against? How does a werewolf make one a mary sue? I'm sorry, I got a little distracted and started thinking about Zombies in Germany.

    This. Mary Sue has about as much meaning as rock now a days. It's words thrown around for anything and everything. I imagine people with a stamp for Mary Sue just stamping 90% of the papers passing the desk without even looking at it.
     
  18. Silhouette
    Offline

    Silhouette Member

    Joined:
    May 17, 2012
    Messages:
    24
    Likes Received:
    0
    I think of the term 'Mary Sue' as an introductory concept. It's purposefully vague and maleable, because the word was invented to help fourteen-year-old fanfiction writers. As your writing improves, so does your need for coherent and analytical critiques, so a word like Mary Sue doesn't cut it anymore. Kind of like how they teach middle schoolers to write five paragraph essays. By the time you get to college the concept of the five paragraph essay seems incredibly childish and poorly thought out, but when you're eleven and new at this it can really help you get over some hurdles.

    I don't think the idea of the Mary Sue is useless, but I do think it's subjective just like every other critique.
     
  19. jo spumoni
    Offline

    jo spumoni Active Member

    Joined:
    Jun 23, 2010
    Messages:
    392
    Likes Received:
    20
    Location:
    La Jolla, CA (and Mission Viejo, CA, during the su
    Yeah, you have a point. I think the problem I have with it is that a lot of people seem to misuse the concept. They get that they shouldn't have a character written entirely to indulge themselves or who is one-dimensional, but without really understanding what that means. They make a checklist of "tell-tale signs" that ironically are just superficial traits: blond hair and blue eyes, orphan, most popular girl in school, and so on. So I guess it has the problems of the 5-paragraph essay in that people become so obsessed with following the model that they fail to actually look at whether the essay is any good. Yeah, I didn't like the 5-paragraph model; even when I was 11, I'd figured out that it was much too simple.
     
  20. The Tourist
    Offline

    The Tourist Banned

    Joined:
    Mar 27, 2012
    Messages:
    1,089
    Likes Received:
    28
    Location:
    Wisconsin.
    Yes, there are Mary Sues. And yes, Superman and Jame Bond are far too perfect.

    But before there can be an archetype there had to be a 'type.'

    For example, Donna Summer just passed away. Looking at her life globally, many attach the phrase "disco queen."

    She didn't even like the epithet, she told people she had been raised in 'rock.' However, when you think of all of the pretenders of that era, and how we tossed around the phrase 'disco queen' it's clear she was the original.

    I think it's an application of 'there can only be one.'

    The term 'Mary Sue' isn't even original. I've always known the concept as "spear carrier." In other words, you have a common, unoriginal guy in a story who carries the water for some plot device. I use one myself. The character doesn't truly need to be fleshed out, because readers get the idea. We can also refer to some of these guys as "comic relief."

    The idea is the same. Now it appears that a spear carrier can be the protagonist. Everything that goes around...
     
  21. Man in the Box
    Offline

    Man in the Box Active Member

    Joined:
    Jun 21, 2011
    Messages:
    254
    Likes Received:
    41
    Location:
    Brazil
    Superman and James Bond aren't viewed as Mary Sues because male characters are sort of "forgiven". Batman, Wolverine could be viewed as Mary Sues but they aren't because they're male as well.

    A Mary Sue is a character that consists in a flawless self-insert of an author in a fanfic. It originated in fanfics and IMO it should really stay in fanfics. Also, a character can be a self-insert without being a Mary Sue. Even Bella from Twilight who's regarded as the worst Mary Sue of all time by a few more vocal internet people isn't perfect (she's really "talentless", how can she be perfect?). It can be disputed whether she's a self-insert, but Mary Sue, it's really debatable.

    Common tropes like chosen one, prophecies and such can reveal the character as a Mary Sue, but it all depends on the writing. You can't point a characteristic like "Invincible!" and say that this indicates you've written a Mary Sue. I mean, Harry Potter is a chosen one prophecised to defeat Lord Voldemort in the series, is he a Mary Sue? No! Because, although he has huge plot armour working in his favour (like surviving a point-blank Avada Kedavra by Voldemort due to something JK Rowling conceived and it didn't make much sense), he's an average wizard, his only distinction being he's the only one who can beat Voldemort, really.

    Invincible does not constitute Mary Sue. A character (ANY human being except for a really sharp one) can be manipulated into misusing his/her powers. If he can't be manipulated, well s/he's not human! :D Also, a power does not make the character a Mary Sue. Sure, your protagonist could be very strong. What if there are a dozen other characters as strong or stronger than him/her? Healing power, superstrength, superspeed, whatever, won't help much if your opponent is Dr. Manhattan.

    The protagonist getting away with something other characters wouldn't is called "plot armour", not Mary Sue-ism. If you want your (initially) weak protagonist to win against the evil overlord, s/he's going to need some plot armour. Too much is undesirable, though.

    BTW in Wikipedia's entry for "Mary Sue" there's a link to a page which deconstructs the Mary Sue Litmus test, question by question. Worth a read.

    People need to stop worrying too much about it or else they'll start burning Bibles because Jesus Christ is a chosen one Mary Sue who sacrifices himself because he's too pure for this sinful Earth. (thanks to TV Tropes for the, erm, tropes).
     
  22. Cassiopeia Phoenix
    Offline

    Cassiopeia Phoenix Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Mar 13, 2012
    Messages:
    201
    Likes Received:
    2
    Location:
    Brazil
    I was actually worried with Mary Sues, since my desire for writing started out with fanfiction. But... Well, I came to the point where I just write my own characters without worrying with it, because the "Mary Sue" term is often incorrectly used/ simply used as perjorative term without any evidence behind it. Not to mention to fuzzy definition of what a Mary Sue is. And there's often misogyny behind the term that I could ramble about it for hours.

    What exist for me now are badly written characters. The End.
     
  23. shadowwalker
    Offline

    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 27, 2011
    Messages:
    3,299
    Likes Received:
    851
    I admit I was surprised the first few times I saw the phfrase in terms of original writing; I thought it was strictly a fanfic term. And I agree - that's where it should stay, because it doesn't make a lot of sense outside that realm.
     
Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.

Share This Page