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Oct 05

Should We Avoid Mary Sue?

Does a female character seem too-good-to-be-true? Having trouble relating to her when she’s so far above the clouds that you can barely pinpoint her?

 

Many readers dread books that use a “Mary Sue”, an elevated female stereotype character that has no flaws and the fictional world around her just loves her. According to Wikipedia, Mary Sues are sometimes noted as “wish-fulfillment” roles and more frequently implied to be “a poorly developed character, too perfect and lacking in realism to be interesting”. Do note that there are male versions of these characters as well, though not as prominently known/criticized in the reviewing community.

Because the idea of Mary Sue is more based on opinion the opinion of the reader, I find the concept impossible to avoid. Too perfect and a female character isn’t believable. If she’s hardly special, she can just as easily be seen as weak, and just as undesirable.

Then again, I find the concept of Mary Sue to be overrated altogether.

I was recently referred to read Marked, the first book in the House of Night series by a friend (No, this isn’t going to turn into a review about the book) and I found it interesting how the critics often brought up Zoey as one of these “Mary Sues”, gifted by Nyx for no seeable reason. Out of the blue, Zoey is to be one of the greatest “vampyres” ever.

One of the more scathing reviews came from this blog. Scroll down to a comments section, and in it is a rare gem calling out the posters (I’ll summarize what I feel are the best parts below, but the full context is in the link. I will not spell out because again, this post is not for reviews):

 

“…I don’t really like it when you start going into the Mary Sue part. Foremost because calling a character a ‘Mary Sue’ is used to dismiss and disregard them. Secondly, the word itself is gendered female. Why? Mostly because the characters that get cut down the most are female characters.

“So we have another gendered term being used against mostly female characters to dismiss them for, what? Being a female power fantasy?

“A good number of male characters fit into being ‘the Mary Sue’. They are perfect, everyone loves them, their power is always unexpected and grand and impresses all the friends and foes alike. And these characters are considered AWESOME and ‘I wanna be that character.’ Characters like Harry Potter, Iron Man, James Bond, etc. However, flip the genders and suddenly ‘Oh it’s just a Mary Sue character. DISMISSED!’ ”

 

One of the beautiful things I love about fantasy is the ability to create powerful characters that both other readers and myself will enjoy. There are several major characters in my book The All Powerful and I love each of them for the roles they fill, including the females. They are all strong in their own way, and they all have moments where they shine, even the weakest ones. A couple of my females are naturally stronger characters, but even they have weaknesses to counteract their strengths, which keeps them both vibrant and real.

In the gaming community, we call it “balancing”.

Writers should not fear creating strong female characters, but only worry about how those characters fit into stories that are strong in plot, dialogue, and syntax. If the story is solid, it will not matter how strong a female character is.

I don’t have a list yet on what makes a bad Mary Sue (there are numerous sources on the topic if you search for them) but I intend to compile one from research and experience and present it in a future post.

What is your take on Mary Sue?