The mary sue

The Mary Sue


Both the Mary Sue character type and sub-genre originated with “A Trekkie’s Tale,” a short piece of satirical Star Trek fanfiction which famously began, “‘Gee, golly gosh, gloriosky,’ thought Mary Sue as she stepped on the bridge of the Enterprise. ‘Here I am, the youngest lieutenant in the Fleet — only 15 1/2 years old.’”

The Mary Sue

A Random Pile of Stuff

The very short story was written by Paula Smith in 1973 for Menagerie, a Star Trek fanzine for which she was an editor.

In a 2011 interview, Smith explained that, as an editor who read a significant amount of Star Trek fanfiction (written by women, in particular), she noticed a pattern of recurring adolescent female characters who were the youngest ever in their Starfleet position, irresistibly yet uniquely attractive, and uncannily talented and capable in every adventure she and the crew dared endeavor.

“A Trekkie’s Tale” was written to parody what Smith viewed as a common practice with young writers to perhaps subconsciously write an idealized version of themselves into the story and fail to write the original Star Trek characters accurately as a result of interacting with the author’s unrealistic wish-fulfillment figure. Because the character and story type continued to crop up in fanfiction submissions, Smith and other editors began referring to them as “Lieutenant Mary Sue” stories, and the term Mary Sue quickly caught on with the public.

The concept of a Mary Sue has received fair and significantly complex criticism in the decades since the term was coined, with confusion over whether it has become inherently misogynistic to accuse characters of being a Mary Sue or whether it is a legitimate type of literary character.

Salon wrote in 2015, “The term Mary Sue is rooted in a long history of dismissing female characters and holding them to absurd double standards,” alluding to the point that identical forms of author-insert or wish-fulfillment with male characters/writers are rarely noticed or called out, while female characters tend to be held to a much higher degree of scrutiny when it comes to believable traits and abilities.

As the joke goes: “What do you call a male Mary Sue? … A protagonist.”

While writing a Mary Sue is often viewed as an amateur move (and, indeed, Mary Sue is frequently used to simply suggest an overall poorly-written character, regardless of gender), Smith acknowledges that it is possible for author-insertion in works of fiction to be done well. Smith has also agreed with others who claim that writing an autobiographical Mary Sue character/story is an inevitable part of the process for new writers attempting fiction.

The Mary Sue


Although criticism and accusations of writers creating Mary Sue characters/stories have become far more frequent, more defenses have arisen as well.

In a lengthy exploration of the term, Elizabeth Minkel writes, “Even detractors admit Mary Sues are about young girls finding their power and agency in a world of fictional landscapes that rarely afford such journeys to women.

” In an example of how reclaiming the Mary Sue as author-insertion can be empowering, writer Ash Davis explains how she wrote herself, as a woman of color, into her Lord of the Rings fanfiction: “If there were no black people, I made them. If they were tokens, I made them stars. Mary-Sued

What is a Mary Sue, and does Star Wars: The Force Awakens have one?

The Mary Sue

BB8 and Rey, the latest target of Star Wars fan ire


Star Wars: The Force Awakens has only been out a week, but it's already tearing some fans apart.

Depending on whom you talk to, director J.J. Abrams's update has either brought the franchise roaring back to life, or echoed the original Star Wars in useless and derivative fashion.

But there's another argument raging among fans — one that is perfectly representative of some of fandom's most insular and insidious instincts.

That argument centers on this question: Is Rey, the new movie's protagonist, too perfect to be a good hero? Is she, in fandom speak, a “Mary Sue”?

See also:  The science of violence

The short answer? No.

For the long answer, we'll have to dive into what exactly makes a “Mary Sue,” and why the term has such a loaded connotation within fandom.

Strap yourselves in. It's about to get real nerdy.

Where did the term “Mary Sue” come from, and why is it so controversial?

“Mary Sue” comes from the world of fanfiction, where fans write stories within existing properties that they love. You can find fanfiction for anything from Star Wars, to Harry Potter to just about any television show.

Every subsection of fanfiction has its own priorities and grievances, but the derision toward so-called Mary Sue characters is nearly universal.

The Mary Sue, a feminist “geek culture” website, took the term on as a way of identifying itself with fanfic culture, unabashed and defiant in its geeky roots.

Mary Sue – TV Tropes

The Mary Sue

“Lt. Mary Sue ran the ship, and ran it so well she received the Nobel Peace Prize, the Vulcan Order of Gallantry and the Tralfamadorian Order of Good Guyhood.”— Excerpt from A Trekkie's Tale by Paula Smith.

“There's nothing more boring than a perfect heroine!”

Drosselmeyer, Princess Tutu

Mary Sue is a derogatory term primarily used in Fan Fic circles to describe a particular type of character. This much everyone can agree on. What that character type is, exactly, differs wildly from circle to circle, and often from person to person.

TV Tropes doesn't get to set what the term means; the best we can do is capture the way it is used.

Since there's no consensus on a precise definition, the best way to describe the phenomenon is by example of the kind of character pretty much everyone could agree to be a Mary Sue.

These traits usually reference the character's perceived importance in the story, their physical design and an irrelevantly over-skilled or over-idealized nature.

The name “Mary Sue” comes from the 1974 Star Trek fanfic A Trekkie's Tale. Originally written as a parody of the standard Self-Insert Fic of the time (as opposed to any particular traits), the name was quickly adopted by the Star Trek fanfiction community.

Its original meaning mostly held that it was an Always Female Author Avatar, regardless of character role or perceived quality.

Often, the characters would get in a relationship with either Kirk or Spock, turn out to have a familial bond with a crew member, be a Half-Human Hybrid masquerading as a human, and die in a graceful, beautiful way to reinforce that the character was Too Good for This Sinful Earth. (Or space, as the case may be.)

Mary Sue

Overly competent fictional character
This article is about the term used in contemporary discussions of fan fiction. For other uses, see Mary Sue (given name). For the fan media website, see The Mary Sue.

A Mary Sue is a generic name for any fictional character who is so competent or perfect that this appears absurd, even in the context of the fictional setting. Mary Sues are often an author's self-insertion or wish fulfillment.

[1] They may excel at tasks that should not be possible for them,[2] or they may upstage the protagonist of a fictional setting, such as by saving them. They may disregard previously established aspects of the fiction such as characterization and natural laws. Mary Sue is a type of stock character.

Mary Sue characters were first identified in fan fiction in 1973, but they have subsequently been identified in professional fiction and in films. A male character with similar traits may be labeled a “Gary Stu”. Critics, writers, and commentators have debated the way the term is used, both in general, and in its application to specific fictional characters.

Origin and development of the meaning

The term “Mary Sue” comes from the name of a character created by Paula Smith in 1973 for her parody story “A Trekkie's Tale”[3]:15 published in her fanzine Menagerie #2.

[4] The story starred Lieutenant Mary Sue (“the youngest Lieutenant in the fleet — only fifteen and a half years old”), and satirized unrealistic characters in Star Trek fan fiction.

See also:  How to format a bulleted list (and more)

[5] The complete story reads:

“Gee, golly, gosh, gloriosky,” thought Mary Sue as she stepped on the bridge of the Enterprise. “Here I am, the youngest lieutenant in the fleet – only fifteen and a half years old.” Captain Kirk came up to her.

“Oh, Lieutenant, I love you madly. Will you come to bed with me?” “Captain! I am not that kind of girl!” “You're right, and I respect you for it. Here, take over the ship for a minute while I go get some coffee for us.” Mr. Spock came onto the bridge. “What are you doing in the command seat, Lieutenant?” “The Captain told me to.” “Flawlessly logical. I admire your mind.”

Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy and Mr. Scott beamed down with Lt. Mary Sue to Rigel XXXVII. They were attacked by green androids and thrown into prison. In a moment of weakness Lt. Mary Sue revealed to Mr. Spock that she too was half Vulcan. Recovering quickly, she sprung the lock with her hairpin and they all got away back to the ship.

But back on board, Dr. McCoy and Lt. Mary Sue found out that the men who had beamed down were seriously stricken by the jumping cold robbies, Mary Sue less so. While the four officers languished in Sick Bay, Lt. Mary Sue ran the ship, and ran it so well she received the Nobel Peace Prize, the Vulcan Order of Gallantry and the Tralfamadorian Order of Good Guyhood.

However the disease finally got to her and she fell fatally ill. In the Sick Bay as she breathed her last, she was surrounded by Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy, and Mr. Scott, all weeping unashamedly at the loss of her beautiful youth and youthful beauty, intelligence, capability and all around niceness. Even to this day her birthday is a national holiday of the Enterprise.

In 1976, Menagerie's editors referred to the original story, writing:

Mary Sue stories—the adventures of the youngest and smartest ever person to graduate from the academy and ever get a commission at such a tender age. Usually characterized by unprecedented skill in everything from art to zoology, including karate and arm-wrestling.

This character can also be found burrowing her way into the good graces/heart/mind of one of the Big Three [Kirk, Spock, and McCoy], if not all three at once.

She saves the day by her wit and ability, and, if we are lucky, has the good grace to die at the end, being grieved by the entire ship.[6]

While originally used to describe fan fiction characterization,[7] the term has also been applied to professionally published fiction, one example being the main character of the Star Trek novel Dreadnought! (1986) by Diane Carey.[8][9][10]

The term “Mary Sue” has gained a connotation of wish-fulfillment and is commonly associated with self-insertion, though the characterization of upstaging the established protagonist remains fundamental.

True self-insertion is a literal and generally undisguised representation of the author; most characters described as “Mary Sues” are not, though they are often called “proxies”[11] for the author.

The negative connotation comes from this “wish-fulfillment” implication: the “Mary Sue” is judged as a poorly developed character, too perfect and lacking in realism to be interesting.[12]


In chapter four of her book Enterprising Women,[13] Camille Bacon-Smith states that fear of creating a “Mary Sue” may be restricting and even silencing to some writers.

Smith quotes an issue of the Star Trek fanzine Archives[14] as identifying “Mary Sue” paranoia as one of the sources for the lack of “believable, competent, and identifiable-with [sic] female characters.

” In this article, author Joanna Cantor interviews her sister Edith, also an amateur editor, who says she receives stories with cover letters apologizing for the tale as “a Mary Sue”, even when the author admits she does not know what a “Mary Sue” is.

See also:  Does herbal medicine work?

According to Edith Cantor, while Paula Smith's original “Trekkie's Tale” was only ten paragraphs long, “in terms of their impact on those whom they affect, those words [Mary Sue] have got to rank right up there with the Selective Service Act”.

[15] At ClipperCon 1987 (a Star Trek fan convention held yearly in Baltimore, Maryland), Smith interviewed a panel of female authors who say they do not include female characters in their stories at all.

She quoted one as saying “Every time I've tried to put a woman in any story I've ever written, everyone immediately says, this is a Mary Sue.

” Smith also pointed out that “Participants in a panel discussion in January 1990 noted with growing dismay that any female character created within the community is damned with the term Mary Sue.”[16]

However, Bacon-Smith notes that fans have argued that in Star Trek as originally created, James T.

Kirk is himself a “Marty Stu,” and that the label seems to be used more indiscriminately on female characters who do not behave in accordance with the dominant culture's images and expectations for females as opposed to males.[17] Author Ann C.

Crispin is quoted as saying: “The term 'Mary Sue' constitutes a put-down, implying that the character so summarily dismissed is not a true character, no matter how well drawn, what sex, species, or degree of individuality.”[18]


“Marty Stu”, “Gary Sue”, or “Larry Stu” are alternative names given to this trope, when the same wish-fulfillment aspect is applied to male characters.

[19][20] The Star Trek: The Next Generation character Wesley Crusher was described, in hostile terms, as a “Gary Sue” by the feminist popular culture magazine Bitch.

[21] There is speculation amongst fans and academics, mainly pejorative, that Wesley was a self-insertion character for Gene Roddenberry, Roddenberry's middle name being Wesley.[22]

How to Avoid Writing a Mary Sue Character

She’s beauty, she’s grace, she’s just another pretty face… in other words, she’s a Mary Sue and she’s ruining your story, dude.

Sure, you want to avoid creating a Mary Sue. But how can you avoid this trope if you don’t know what actually defines a character as a Mary Sue? If you’re not sure, you’re def not alone. See, the ‘Mary Sue’ title is slung around so much, the term itself has lost its true identity.

So what is a Mary Sue/Marty Stu trope and, most importantly, how can you avoid creating one in your story?

I’m getting to the core problems of the Sue/Stu character, without mentioning names. Why am I avoiding showing an exhibit of examples? Because a big issue the Mary Sue trope is facing is the pointing of fingers. We lose the sense of the term the more we point and say “LOoK AnOthEr mArY sUe!” Simply disliking a character does not a Mary Sue make.

The point of this article is to help you identify Sues/Stus without playing to the surface. We’re going deep, people. Getting to the real issue with this trope. So put on your diving masks and let’s break this trope wide open.

First of all, let’s talk about what a Mary Sue/Marty Stu is NOT:

A Mary Sue/Marty Stu is not a typical, basic or repeat looking character.

Now, I know some peeps would say run-of-the-mill looks would fall under the Mary Sue category, but that’s where we start losing the meaning of the word.

Sure, having a basic looking character may not be any fun but looks are the not the real issue with this problematic character. After all, there are plenty of wild looking characters out there that are Mary Sues.

A Mary Sue/Marty Stu is not just a copy and paste character. Or in other words, a character that is a replica of another character we’ve seen before. Why not? Because these characters have a more deep-seeded issue in common than twinning.

A Mary Sue/Marty Stu is not gender specific.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.