Mary Sue (sometimes refered to as Gary Sue for male characters or sometimes just Sue) 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 the author seems to favor the character too highly and has complex relations or pre-existing unseen relationships with established characters. 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. 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.
Sub-concepts of or relating to "Mary Sue"Edit
The "subtypes" listed below are by no means a comprehensive list of all cliches associated with "Mary Sues". Furthermore, note that a "Mary Sue" is, first and foremost, perceived to be an unrealistic and unsympathetic character, and a character possessing these characteristics can be written well enough not to be considered a "Sue".
This subconcept of the larger "Mary Sue" concept comes in two common variations. The first is a character who is constantly depressed and has a tragic past, frequently involving murder, child abuse, rape, or abandonment of some sort. She or he often feels guilt for something that happened in the past, even though it is usually not his or her fault, which gives him or her the ability to feel bad about something without having done anything wrong. Generally, if she or he doesn't commit romanticized suicide, then only the love or close friendship of one or more canon characters can convince her that she is not responsible for a tragic or horrific childhood or event that was obviously not of her making. Such backgrounds constitute an ill-advised attempt to gain sympathy from the reader.
- The other version of the "Angsty Sue" subconcept involves a character who has a similarly tragic past, but rather than angsting about it, she or he seeks revenge. She or he is thrust into the spotlight of the story while doing so. The writer is seen as using his or her past not merely as a device to gain sympathy, but also to claim moral superiority and justification for his or her actions. As such, this type of "Angsty Sue" rarely has any guilt at all - after all, she or he hasn't done anything "wrong."
Some authors make an extreme effort to avoid making their character into a "Mary Sue". The results of such attempts are sometimes referred to as "Anti-Sues". Given that the key difference between a well-developed, sympathetic character and a "Mary Sue" is often considered to be a lack of realistic faults, this generally involves making such characters extremely flawed. Some such attempts are seen as creating interesting, three-dimensional characters - though others are seen as being similarly over-the-top as the more stereotypical "Mary Sue".
"Anti-Sue" traits include physical unattractiveness, mental illness (including sociopathy and psychopathy), noticeably lacking in power or competency relative to other characters, being generally disliked by others or never interacting with them, cowardice, and other unflattering characteristics. While characters who can arguably be described as "Anti-Sues" have proved popular in some fiction, especially in modern times as anti-heroes, at other times they may be perceived to be as bad as or even worse than "Mary Sues" for their cliché nature or lack of sympathetic traits. "Anti-Sue" is viewed as merely another cliché stock character, or even simply an anti-hero variation of the "Sue" - especially if he or she still manages to take the spotlight away from the canon heroes.
Canon-Sue (in fan fiction)Edit
The term "canon-Sue" (also known as canon!Sue) or "Possession Sue" is used to describe canon characters who are changed significantly from their original canon characterization and sometimes even divorced from their original context completely. Such characters are seen as having been heavily idealized to the point of being more of a stand-in for the author's wish fulfillment than being the original canon character.
Characters most frequently labeled "canon-Sues" often develop over-the-top traits associated with "Mary Sues" with little precedent or explanation, a process sometimes called "sueification." Some examples are the discoveries of tragic pasts and abilities superior to other canon characters, the elimination or romanticization of flaws, and being antagonized by characters disliked by the fan-author while befriended by canon characters liked by the author - regardless of how friendly or unfriendly they were before. If the "canon-Sue" deviates enough from the original, it may be referred to jocularly as an act of "canon rape" - a term often used when a significant (and disliked) change has been made to the canon world or characters, such as when a former hero is vilified without explanation, a character who is unpopular in the canon receives a make-over and becomes popular, or a usually-chaste canon character is easily seduced by a fan-created "Mary Sue" character. Even in alternate universe stories where the premise involves examining how the story might play out differently if characters behaved differently, many readers criticize such changes as being too extreme.
Canon Sue (in original source)Edit
A "canon Sue" may also 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. The most popular examples of this in popular culture is Wesley Crusher from Star Trek: The Next Generation.
A male "Mary Sue" is usually referred to as a "Gary Stu" or similar masculinized term. References to male characters being a "Gary Stu" are less common than those to female "Mary Sues," possibly due to the low proportion of male fanfiction writers. They are generally identified as being much cooler, tougher, and sexier than the canon characters. Girls in the story will fall over themselves to capture the attention of "Gary Stu". While "Gary Stu" can be interpreted as the male version of the perfect character, he will often display more extreme anti-hero traits than the typical "Mary Sue," making him an "Angsty Stu" or a "Villain Stu". While anti-heroes have in recent times become increasingly more popular among their devoted fans, the most notable qualities of a "Mary Sue" still persist - a "Gary Stu" manipulates the canon universe around him, and furthermore he lacks an individual personality.
While the term is generally limited to fan-created characters, rare but still prevalent cases of "Gary Stu" exist in reference to canon characters. In a play-by-post role-playing game, many original characters are criticized as "Gary Stu" if they dominate the spotlight or can miraculously escape a near-impossible predicament (usually with an unlikely manliness and heroism).
This "Mary Sue" is intentionally created for a parody, usually aimed at readers who are familiar with the "Mary Sue" concept, and who dislike said "Sues." Her vast repertoire of skills and lack of personality are emphasized in a humorous way and generally, one of two things happens in the story:
She succeeds and everyone in the universe falls under her buxom charms. She fails, either because there are too many other "Mary Sues" fighting her, because another of the author's original characters interferes, or because the canon characters see how uninteresting she really is. It should be noted however that the origin of the term “Mary Sue” which came from "A Trekkie's Tale" is in fact a Parody Sue.
Self-insertion is used to describe clear (and usually seen as indisputable) cases where the author has directly inserted a version of him- or herself into the story in lieu of a wholly or even partly original character, generally going so far as to use the same name or pseudonym for character and author. Though some author surrogates are common in fiction - such as Philip Roth in his Nathan Zuckerman novels, Clive Cussler in his Dirk Pitt novels, or Lin Carter in his work - "self-inserts" in fan fiction are frequently seen as the most blatant of "Mary Sues", especially when heavily idealized. Some online fan fiction archives have an outright ban on any story which involves self-insertion. They are also sometimes frowned down upon in role-playing communities, despite that some argue that it is easier for inexperienced or casual role-players to learn.
"Villain-Sue" usually replaces, befriends or is romantically involved with a major canon villain. Other traits include defeating canon characters with ease, secretly having redeeming qualities, having a tragic past that somehow excuses and justifies all her heinous deeds, and letting the canon characters live when she could kill them — not out of bad qualities such as wanting to see them suffer, a desire to have all of them as prisoners at once, or wanting to gloat, but because she really isn't so evil as others might think. In fact, she may even secretly be a hero, or have hidden heroic tendencies. This can be seen as a variant of the "Angsty Sue" seen above.