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Editorial - Mary Sues and You: A Handy Guide to Not Sounding Like an Idiot · 6:09pm Feb 13th, 2014

So I decided to get my monthly editorial out of the way early this time around, and not wait until the end of the month. So before I begin, I would like to preface this editorial by saying this isn't aimed at writers, this one is aimed at readers.

It has come to my attention that a lot of people who read stories on this site really like to throw around this term "Mary Sue". That would be fine...if they were using it in the correct sense. People just seem to throw the term out as a generic insult to an OC without really understanding what it means. So let me clarify real quick. The term Mary Sue (or Gary Stu if you prefer) refers to usually self-insert, fantasy fulfillment characters, where the character has unprecedented skills or talents, and usually has some connection to the world or lore that really stretches suspension of disbelief—this character is essentially perfect. This would be like finding out Celestia and Luna have another sister, who is not only more powerful, but a lot more nice. Oh, and has some unknown destiny that promises to impact the entire world in some profound way, and she and Twilight are best friends, and she also has some dark past or something...I stopped caring just writing that little bit...The main question to ask yourself to see if you're dealing with a Mary Sue is "is this character too perfect?" If your answer is yes, then let's dig a little deeper. You may have a confirmation bias, so let's look into it a bit more.

So, what do people like to refer to as a Mary Sue on this site? I've seen it used any time a character has some kind of trouble in their past. Sorry, I hate to break it to you, but troubled past is a cliche, it does not make a Mary Sue. A troubled past is an overused trope, and nothing more. How effective that trope is utilized depends on the author. A poorly implemented troubled past is usually is a good indicator though. I would say it's more of a red flag than a definitive "yes, we have a Mary Sue".

There is also befriending one (or more) of the mane six. Again, this is more of a red flag. Building relationships with the main cast doesn't automatically make the character a Mary Sue. You have to look at the interactions a bit more. Are they just casual acquaintances? Did the OC move into town, and they happen to have an interest in books or clothing, and like to talk to Rarity or Twilight about their shared interest? Chances are that is not a Mary Sue. But, do the mane six start relying on the OC, acting like clueless idiots in their presence? If so, then there's a very strong possibility the second one is a Mary Sue. But again, let's dig deeper.

There's a another quality that's a bit harder to define. Suspension of disbelief is a pretty big aspect when talking about Mary Sues. Actually, it's probably the strongest indicator there is, but it's hard to really nail down as it's different for everyone. Did you roll your eyes and say "bullshit." when you read the story? Nothing screams Mary Sue more than a character who has a strange new power, or is in some ancient prophecy, right? Well, no, that's wrong. Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter, and even the biblical Jesus were all parts of long-standing prophecies. Each had strange powers associated with them (Luke had the force, which he mastered in record time, Harry had that love spell thing from his mom for the first half of the series, and Jesus had a few tricks himself). The issue becomes more from lack of explanation of said powers for a Mary Sue. It's not about their destiny, or what magic powers they possess, as many characters in literature had both those. So, what really makes a Mary Sue?

I'll go back to my first question I proposed. is this character too perfect? If your answer is yes, then they probably are a Mary Sue. If everything goes right for that character, and they never feel as though there is danger; if they are shown to be blatantly more powerful than not only their foes, but every other character in the story for no explained reason; if everything just seems to align perfectly, and anything that goes wrong is trivialized, then the character is probably a Mary Sue. All the aspects I've listed can exist within a character, and they can exist at the same time within a character and the character wont necessarily be a Mary Sue. The problem comes when the character is perceived to have no flaws. When a character is all powerful, all knowing, all lucky, and all everything, it upsets readers. That is a Mary Sue. Not a character whom knows the main cast, has a troubled past, and has a great destiny—those are characteristics used by Mary Sues, not definitive of a Mary Sue. There is a very big difference.

Now a lot of people have been saying that Twilight Sparkle has become a Mary Sue now that she's an alicorn princess. Well, let's take a look and see. Is she perfect? Does everything seem to go right for Twilight? Do we ever get the sense that she is never in peril? I wouldn't say so. There are plenty of setbacks along her adventures where things don't pan out right. Granted there haven't been too many Twilight centered episodes this season so far, but I think we can see that she still has flaws. The season four opener shows this. We see her captured by the vines in that episode towards the end. Even earlier we see everyone tries to rely on her, and she's not sure if she has what it takes (though she does still issue orders). She's not one-hundred percent sure of herself, and she still has the same character flaws she always had, but we see her in more of a leadership role now that she's a princess. She's still obsessive, still nerdy, still the same old Twilight, just with wings.

So in conclusion, not liking a character, whether it be a fundamental issue with the character, or the character's writing, does not make them a Mary Sue. You have to look deeper, and ask yourself a few questions before just throwing out a baseless accusation. Or at the very least, understand an insult before you just throw it out there!

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Comments ( 4 )

Although this is mainly aimed at reader, it helped me understand how to not write a Mary Sue/Gary Stu. Thanks for that! :twilightsmile:

So, I've wondered. Say you take someone like goku, and plop him in equestria. For all intents and purposes, he is pretty much unstoppable. Does that make him, an established character with limits, a Mary Sue in thi setting.

Not particularly. I mean there has to be a conflict in the story, or otherwise you don't have a story, so it depends on the direction you go with. If it's a slice of life fic with Goku getting used to life in Equestria, there's your conflict. He doesn't need to have some big baddie to fight with per se, but as long as the conflict exists, and he isn't perceived as perfect, he shouldn't be a Mary Sue character.

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