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Makalani's avatar

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Hello everyone!

I am working on a class project on (you guessed it) Mary Sue / Gary Stu characters.

This may seem like an odd question for a university scholar, but the prompt is very interesting to me. Once upon a time I made a Mary Sue character who was perfect in every way and loved to read about Mary Sue characters because they are such an ideal persona. So then, why do so many people dislike or even hate these once beloved creations? Thus, is the reason I search for the UNDERLYING reasons and possible perceptions of these "gods."

So, here is my task for YOU. If you would like to participate in my project please answer the following:

1) Why do people create Mary Sue Characters?

2) How do you feel about Mary Sue characters? (Also scale 1-5 from strongly dislike to strongly like)

3) How do you think others feel about them (Also rate on a 1-5 scale)

[Scale: strongly dislike (1), dislike (2), neutral (3), like (4), strongly like (5)]


Please provide the following information if you feel comfortable:

Would you prefer your username for anonymity or your real name [first name and last initial is fine]?

Links to examples of Mary Sue characters you've come across and your reactions to them

Any extra thoughts, advice, etc. that you think is useful?

THANK YOU TO ANYONE WHO IS WILLING TO PARTICIPATE. If you wouldn't mind, please advertise this forum so others can participate.

I am trying to gather both quantitative and qualitative research on the subject so I need all the help I can get!
Shanna66's avatar

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1- usualy a self insert and/or arent that good at developing characters so they end up being sues because the writer lacks the skill to make a believable character

2- depends on how they are written. i hate bella from twilight, but the entire story is badly wirrten. ive read other books with sue-like characters and adored them. it all depends on how good the writer is. if a character is too perfect i lose all interest in them. harry potter is borderline this, no matter what i know he will succed so i dont care about his character as much as others in the books, still a good story thats written pretty well so it works out for the most part

3- depends on the person i guess, as you said, some people like them while others hate them

one of my favorite characters ive come up with is very sue-like, she is meant to be a self insert character for the reader and keeps lucking into situations and has friends who always get her out of tight situations. overall she is a very useless character, she was just created for the reader to relate to while my friend and i develop the universe for future stories. i like to think she is a decently written sue, not great, but workable and so far doing what i want her to do

when i was younger i made sues all the time and didnt realize it, they would be amazingly perfect and could never lose at anything. looking back on them they were very boring characters because they never had to try to overcome anything
Syrella's avatar

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I'm not sure. I'm sure I made Mary Sue characters at some point given the vast number of RPs I've participated in, but I find them a bit boring. Alternatively, you might ask why people make "god mode" toons as well. They are also important to avoid except in very specific situations. Characters need flaws in order to be realistic and relate-able.
CelestialChild's avatar

Swashbuckling Gawker

Are we allowed to say we don't think Mary Sue is a valid critique of any character, and either the character interests you, or it doesn't? That Mary Sue is usually a sexist* cop-out for putting any real thought into one's criticism or making valid the ridiculous idea that "a character sucks" because "too many things are in their favor", etc.?

The premise of this is that Mary Sue is a valid thing in the first place. Rather than that, I would ask why characters get labeled Mary Sue at all.

People appreciate stories that fit the Mary Sue mold every day, especially when they are men. If people are enjoying a story, what does it matter about the character being a Mary Sue? The obsession with them (or preventing them) is rather frightful. The fact that there is naturally such a range in response to Mary Sue (even in Twilight - say what you want about Bella, many women loved her and responded well to her) tells me something is really messed up about the whole thing.

*Although some people try and milk the Gary Stu angle, it's pretty rare by comparison, and nobody can even decide on a single term for the male characters.
What a fun project prompt! I wish I could have had the depth of scope in my CW class back in high school to do/come up with something like this. It would have made a fun article.

1) Why do people create Mary Sue Characters?
From what I've observed in my particular fandom community (MLP, trust me, it's rife with 'em), it's not that they (generally speaking) do it on purpose. Many people who create a godlike/flawless character aren't aware that this makes their character boring and uninteresting. They also see this character as an extension of themselves; a persona, if you will, that represents them/who they wish they were in a fandom, roleplay, or story. These characters get the additional term "Self-Insert" applied to them.
Some people, on the other hand, make Sues on purpose. Their reasoning is "for the lulz". Because it's funny, or to prove a point, or to make fun of people who make Sues and then insist that the Sue is the "greatest character ever" and the rest of us are "just jealous".
But it seems the majority just haven't had the chance to learn what makes a character interesting and believable.

2) How do you feel about Mary Sue characters? (Also scale 1-5 from strongly dislike to strongly like)
As a rule, I stand at a 1 on this. I can't stand godlike/perfect characters, partially because I'm so bloody jaded by people who get really, REALLY huffy when you tell them that their character is a Sue/Stu.
My only exception is regarding "For the Lulz" Sues, because I know those aren't to be taken seriously. And half the time they're pretty hilarious.

3) How do you think others feel about them? (Also rate on a 1-5 scale)
In my fandom community? It's a three-way split, 1/3/5, dependent on how much the person/group judging the character knows/cares about Sues/Stus, and how they're made/how to avoid making them, and the intent of the Sue's creation.

I opt to refrain from linking to others' Sues. I will state a reaction to some of my own that I grew out of, as well as an overall reaction to Sues in general. My username-sake was one, and I was pretty embarrassed by my lack of knowledge on making an interesting, believable character who reacted to her environment, not the other way around. She's in the process of a characterization revamp as a result. As far as others' Sues go, my reaction is generally a deadpan "Oh great, another one of these" expression accompanied by a palm to the face, followed by a prompt ignore of the character's existence if it's not a published one.

CelestialChild
This is a different stance on the subject. I'd like to ask why you think considering a character to be a Sue/Stu is invalid.
Kaiser-chan's avatar

O.G. Elder

CelestialChild
Are we allowed to say we don't think Mary Sue is a valid critique of any character, and either the character interests you, or it doesn't? That Mary Sue is usually a sexist* cop-out for putting any real thought into one's criticism or making valid the ridiculous idea that "a character sucks" because "too many things are in their favor", etc.?

The premise of this is that Mary Sue is a valid thing in the first place. Rather than that, I would ask why characters get labeled Mary Sue at all.

People appreciate stories that fit the Mary Sue mold every day, especially when they are men. If people are enjoying a story, what does it matter about the character being a Mary Sue? The obsession with them (or preventing them) is rather frightful. The fact that there is naturally such a range in response to Mary Sue (even in Twilight - say what you want about Bella, many women loved her and responded well to her) tells me something is really messed up about the whole thing.

*Although some people try and milk the Gary Stu angle, it's pretty rare by comparison, and nobody can even decide on a single term for the male characters.


tl;dr whoops.

Personally, I feel this ties into the "women as objects," "men as power fantasies" aspect of speculative fiction. Look at any argument where women are complaining about objectification in comics (mainstream american comics are too easy for this. By being visual they walk their happy a** right into the argument in the first place), and you will find some man arguing that "male characters wear spandex too!" as though the designs of male characters are actually objectifying instead of power fantasies.

Fundamentally, speculative fiction is about larger-than-life situations and characters, which lends itself to power fantasies pretty damn well. Harry Potter is, fundamentally, a bit of a nerd power fantasy. Not necessarily a male-exclusive one, though. Conan the Barbarian, however, is mostly exclusively a male power fantasy. And it's pretty obvious how the gender dynamics in the entire fictional world changes once you shift that.


Mary sues are those power fantasies and nothing else, when you get right down to it. So many of them are placed in pre-existing worlds made to interact with pre-existing characters to take the actual work out of constructing the power fantasy and to enforce the writer's will and the character's power on familiar terms. Mary Sues have sparkly hair and pretty eyes and unique abilities that they get as a result of being a half-angel, half-demon, half-unicorn wizard elf crime-fighter to make them special and powerful. They shack up with everyone the writer would like to bone as an extension of the power fantasy, where even at their most potentially vulnerable they have control over their love-life in a way most writers wish they themselves could. Everyone fears, despises, or loves a Mary Sue, and they're pretty much the most influential being in the entire story.

When you get down to it, they are definitely power fantasies. But while male power fantasies are excused, female power fantasies... just plain aren't. I grew up in an era where male power fantasies were on kids animated tv... and the girls sometimes had to have their own that it wasn't "right" for boys to watch. Sailor Moon was novel to me just because it was an actual real female power fantasy where the woman wasn't one characters among a bunch of boys, and it wasn't a female-aimed spin-off of another kid's power fantasy tv show. Even still, I remember a lot of boys who had a lot of issues with Sailor Moon for just that reason.


So of course no one really cares when men create male Mary Sues. How can you even see them over the hordes of popular, published male power fantasies? They're not a part of "genre," they are the genre. No one will chase them down with a pitchfork or lambaste their fantasies because they're seen as an acceptable outlet.


Really this is my biggest problem with Twilight - that at it's core, it's not even a good female power fantasy. The most specialest, awesomest, magicalest ones are the boys right up until the last book. And even then, the fact that the annoying self-insert character woman is involved with them makes her the Sue to everyone?



And to actually answer any of the questions asked instead of continuing the gender tangent: 2) I don't much like Mary Sues, because I'm not usually into the same power fantasies as their creators are. I tend to dislike characters that are grossly perfect and powerful just because I can't find anything of purchase on them for myself. I've always been more a fan of villains than heroes, though, so I suspect if there were more villain protagonist Sues floating around I'd have more luck. They also tend to be created by younger people, who lack subtlety in their writing, art, and design. I like bombast and obvious things as much as the next person, but I need a little subtlety here and there for interest - and Sues normally have none at all.

I suppose I'd rate your question a 2, as a result. I've made my own, of course, and I still refer to one of my RP characters as my Sue. It confuses most people I play with, because of course he isn't gorgeous, he isn't charming at all, he isn't especially powerful (and I do play with some people sometimes who have outright typical Sues - not that they'd ever call their precious babies that). But he meets the criteria I'd consider that would make him a Sue - his name is similar in sound to mine, his coloring is similar, he's more attractive than I am, and as would be expected for an RP character, he is more awesome than I am. He's still a power fantasy, and still very much what I want in one, and I don't think he'd be very interested as a balanced character to market to others as a result. Those are all traits I spot a Sue by when other people create one, so I try to judge my own that way.


3) I suppose most people dislike mary sues except for younger folks that create their own still and aren't concerned about the sigma against them. So I'd say you'd probably get a 2-3 average from others? I'm not sure if you were looking for a hypothetical average or an actual guess, but without knowing the target "other people" audience I can't really guess.
CelestialChild's avatar

Swashbuckling Gawker

Eizoryu
This is a different stance on the subject. I'd like to ask why you think considering a character to be a Sue/Stu is invalid.

I'm going to rephrase your statement to make sure we are talking about the same thing. Yes, there are characters that meet the Sue/Stu criteria - but think calling someone a Mary Sue as a criticism is ridiculous.

Kaiser-chan (above) wrote out a pretty good summary of why I think it's ridiculous/invalid. Because "Sue-ism" is primarily about female characters - about people trashing and obsessing over the validity of a female character - it is sexist, and I practicing something sexist is ever a good way to evaluate the world, seeing as sexism is morally and intellectually wrong.

If you want to talk about why Bella Swan (for example) isn't a good/effective character, that's perfectly fine with me. I could give you reasons myself. But if your default argument is, "She's a Mary Sue," that's 1.) a lazy explanation seeing as MS tends to be so arbitrarily defined and received (literally, anything can make you a Sue), and 2.) because of aforementioned reasons, is riddled with sexist standards for a good character, and therefore I have little reason to believe anybody is judging the character with any sort of objectivity - that is, MS usually biases the critic from the start.

Also 3.) I think Mary Sue has created a phenomenon among certain writers/storytellers where they automatically devalue certain traits, characters, or kinds of stories (both their own, and others) simply because those things are associated with the Mary Sue, and not because those things are inherently invaluable or unlikable.

I didn't always think this way, but a few things opened up my eyes. The first was that this term is disproportionally applied to female characters and used to criticize female authors; the second was watching people all over the Internet stress out about whether or not their characters are Sues, especially female characters, such that it became about a bullet point list rather than what happens in the story. Thirdly, the minute I first saw a thread entitled, "Real-Life Sues" I threw up my hands. If primary objective of a good character is a believable character, and if real people meet the criteria of Mary Sue all the time (and they do, all the time), what does that say?

On the other hand, or in conjunction, if the primary objective of a good character is to create a character people can appreciate/enjoy and/or want to read about - Bella Swan, the current Hallmark of the Mary Sue, makes a fantastic character. Yeah, not everyone loves her (including me), but enough people did and do. Not just the power-fantasy gets-all-the-men aspect; I actually have a friend who said she knew exactly what Bella meant when she described her feelings about certain matters. So how is being a Mary Sue suddenly such a terrible thing? How is that a criticism at all?

Actually, I recently found this really excellent post on Tumblr that pretty well articulates the sexist nature of the Mary Sue, and why there is really nothing wrong with it. Sue or not, at the end of the day how many points your character racks up on the Mary Sue scale doesn't mean anything. Except for the crowd obsessed with finding and preventing Mary Sues, nobody is going to hate or love a character because they are a Sue. People judge characters by how effectively those characters communicate with the reader in a story, and that communication is not defined by the all-encompassing (there's a Sue for every kind of character) definition of the Sue.

In fact, the term Mary Sue started as a result of an apparently ineffective character in a Star Trek fan fiction. Characters aren't ineffective because they are Sues; characters are ineffective because they are ineffective. Mary Sue is no good way to term that ineffectiveness when it is 1.) sexist and therefore inconsistently applied with bias, 2.) routinely used to label characters whom a lot of people love and find effective anyway (Bella Swan, case in point).*

I should also add, that yes there are many things I don't like about Bella Swan, things that I think make her a somewhat ineffective character. I don't attribute any of those to Mary Sue. Also, as Kaiser-chan pointed out, some of us don't enjoy enjoy power-fantasies, which is perfectly alright:
Kaiser-chan

I don't much like Mary Sues, because I'm not usually into the same power fantasies as their creators are. I tend to dislike characters that are grossly perfect and powerful just because I can't find anything of purchase on them for myself.

But this is one type of reader. Some people really enjoy power-fantasies, myself included, and I hardly it makes sense to criticize a character for simply playing to those desires.

/god that is long. Hope it makes sense.
Seijaku_Ishida's avatar

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And interesting article I read once was explaining that conflict in a story can be summed up by Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. The story can be about them being knocked down from their spot on the pyramid or trying to climb up from their current spot on the pyramid.

A 'sue doesn't do that. Be they Pretty Princess Sue or Grimdark Tortured Sue, they tend to remain on their spot on the pyramid with minimal effort.
Difficult questions to answer because we might not be creators of Mary Sue characters but people who interpret them. So there might be a possibility that some people don't find some Mary Sue characters as Mary Sue characters. Hmmmm....
schmeddyhead's avatar

Eloquent Hunter

I will first "define" Mary-Sue/Marty-Stu characters as I perceive them. To say they don't exist I think is incorrect, it's just that people misconstrue a Mary-Sue/Marty-Stu as a set of character traits, when, in reality, the spanning issue I've found with characters I've defined as Mary/Marty-Stu is not a character flaw, but rather a perception flaw.

In fiction, the existence of a Mary/Marty-Stu is a character who is PERCEIVED, whether accurately or inaccurately, by the author or audience to be, effectively, unable to be criticized. If they make a mistake, they may admit to it, but they always do the right thing at the right time. The character can be anything and anyone. Bella Swan's character traits are often reprehensible to a reader, but she isn't perceived by anyone (who is "right" ) within the story as reprehensible. There are right and wrong opinions about her character within the story. You're not only told what to think about the character, but how you're supposed to think rarely aligns itself with reality. The perceptions aren't realistic, and they're often one-note. If a character has a perception not in-line with this authorial-imposed reality about the character, they'll eventually realize they were wrong, or are detestable in some way.

Basically, the Mary/Marty-Stu in question always has to win, even if they lose.

I've written and played plenty of characters with Mary/Marty-Stu traits in the past, but they aren't problematic because an assemblage of traits is really meaningless in the grand scheme, provided the proper lens is provided to view them through. An excellent example of this, I think, is Vlad Taltos from Steven Brust's Dragaera series. He wouldn't pass a litmus test that's based fully on traits, but because he's fully realized and is never above being called out on his bullshit, criticized for his mistakes, and punished in meaningful ways as consequences for his actions (rather than the melodrama heaping that often comes with Mary-Sue 'punishment'), the fact he's a pretty badass character with lots of cool traits doesn't come off as grating so much as neat and entertaining.

Because, frankly, most of the traits people will accuse of being signifiers of Sue-ish characters are also signifiers of entertaining and awesome characters, with the difference being execution.

1) Why do people create Mary Sue Characters?

Multiple reasons. Young/new writers don't understand that readers like characters who make mistakes, so long as there is meaningful growth/change involved. They mistake likable for above criticism. People take a bunch of traits they saw in other characters in other media that were "cool," but it's all style and no substance, as they didn't take the time to build a relatable, believable person to put these cool traits on top of. Or, author avatar/darling problems. The character is above criticism because it's the author and baaaawwwww.

2) How do you feel about Mary Sue characters? (Also scale 1-5 from strongly dislike to strongly like)

1. A Sue, by the definition I'm working with, can never be a well-written, engaging or dynamic character because there's no substance to start with. "Sue" traits with substance, on the other hand, comprise some of the more entertaining characters I've enjoyed in media.

3) How do you think others feel about them (Also rate on a 1-5 scale)

[Scale: strongly dislike (1), dislike (2), neutral (3), like (4), strongly like (5)]

No one admits to liking Sues.

Please provide the following information if you feel comfortable:

Would you prefer your username for anonymity or your real name [first name and last initial is fine]?

Hahaha well, I don't think citing me in a research paper is going to bear any credence, this would work best, if anything, as a think-tank for ideas. But, if you're really going to cite someone from an internet forum site targeted at teenagers...go all out and use my username.
            I gotta say that this thread has been... informative. To be perfectly honest, I never really saw any of the supposed 'sexism' in the concept of Mary Sues. Okay, to be perfectly honest, I never really see any sexism, full-stop. Such a half-assed woman I am. Feminists would cry.

            Whatever.

            While most people recognize Mary Sues for a set of personality traits that are commonly attributed to such characters, I found out that such thing doesn't really work for me.



            Let's consider the structure of a written piece. It is assembled with a collection of various elements, each with its own unique place and worth, carefully arranged in a clear configuration. In my head the elements are shaped like ugly little Reapers because Mass Effect is ******** awesome.

            Of course, a writer needs to put emphasis or particular elements, especially the 'main' ones--the main character, the main plot, and so on, and so on. However, all elements stay in a relative balance and are equally developed, each to their unique capacity. Unfortunatelly, it's pretty easy to upset the balance. That's what many bad writers love to do, and that's what I currently recognize as the Mary Sue effect--it's when an author focuses so much on their pet character they neglect pretty much everything else, to the point the entire structure starts to suffer and, eventually, is completely ruined.

            A Mary Sue is a character that happens when a writer doesn't understand the concept of flow. They want to create a cool, original character that is going to stand out, so they create crazy, oversaturated abominations that dominate the ******** outta the entire structure of a piece.



            And this, my friend, is what Zhevra thinks a Mary Sue is.

            That said...

            1. People create Mary Sues because they don't know any better.

            2. -1? I think they're a blatant example of horrible writing, and when it comes to arts'n'stuffs, I don't really like horrible things--unless they're intentionally horrible, which Mary Sues usually aren't.

            3. Depends. If there are people who actually enjoy things like Rihanna's songs, Brazilian soap operas or McDonald's, then it's only safe to assume that there are people who also enjoy Mary Sues.
Mathew Mii's avatar

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Sounds like a great project. I am happy to help out.

1. A reason I came up with on this question is that some of the creators are bully victims. They create a world or put themselves in a desired world to feel powerful. This was something my dad did and... It's a long story.

2. 1 They are annoying when you role play with them because they always win...

3. 1 It is admired by pre-teens. However, older people do not like them and desire something more unique.

As for extra thoughts, You might want to show why it's a good idea to tone down sues. Sues can wreck reputations of websites, fandoms, traits, and the creator him or herself. For example, the Sonic fandom. Because of the Sonic recolors, especially the infamous Sonichu, being a fan of the Sonic series is hard to do (not to mention creating characters).

If no one hasn't showed you yet, here's a great image about Mary Sues.

That is all.


Have a plan to kill everyone you meet
OhLookGreeeeeeen's avatar

Bashful Hunter

1) Why do people create Mary Sue Characters?
I say it's a lack of imagination, laziness, and for some it's a way of reinventing themselves and living another life via role plays.

2) How do you feel about Mary Sue characters? (Also scale 1-5 from strongly dislike to strongly like)
They are extremely boring, one dimensioned, and anything but a real person. I would rate it a 1. If I encounter one in a role play, I'm immediately dropping out. They ruin everything, and I mean everything.

3) How do you think others feel about them (Also rate on a 1-5 scale)
People don't care or don't realize it or stray far away from them. I'm sure the ones who do realize them, hate them to bits. And the ones who don't care, don't care because they probably do the same or they're just ignorant as to how much destruction they create.

[Scale: strongly dislike (1), dislike (2), neutral (3), like (4), strongly like (5)]

Please provide the following information if you feel comfortable:

Would you prefer your username for anonymity or your real name [first name and last initial is fine]?
Remain Anonymous, not even my username.

Links to examples of Mary Sue characters you've come across and your reactions to them

Any extra thoughts, advice, etc. that you think is useful?

I find that the people who truly love to write put more dimension to their characters, and the people who love to play Mary Sues are the ones who just want to escape from their current lives and pretend they're another person online. Basically, I think they have personal issues they're not attending to. That's my opinion.

Hope I helped,(:
Greeeeeeen
God-the-almighty's avatar

Enduring Gaian

Mary sues are a form of mental masturbation. It's the author putting themselves in someones story.

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