Episode 28 – The Mary Sue

We’re back with another fun guest-hosted discussion! This time, my friend Maverynthia stopped by to talk about the Mary Sue! What even IS a Mary Sue anymore? And are they really all that bad?


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So what do you guys think? Mary Sue: yay or nay? Can it still be a helpful criticism, or should we leave that shit in the dust? Let us know in the comments!

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Theme music is Overnight, by Aya.

WARNING: NSFW! Mature audiences only! Contains salty language, subversive ideas, industry-challenging discussions, and nuts.


14 Comments

  • Vanessa

    May 6, 2015

    I still think a Gary-Stu/Mary-Sue character can be a legitimate complaint – especially if they’re so one dimensional and poorly written that it seriously impacts your enjoyment of the book. But it is unfair to tar all characters with the same brush, especially since people’s mileages do vary and some people will consider a well-developed character who goes through emotional growth as a Mary Sue due to their own preferences, while others will lionise the least-developed characters and write them in fan-fic or whatever as their own personal Gary-Stu/Mary-Sue.

    It’s amazing how the term simply developed from Star Trek fan-fic and it’s really taken hold on the Internet, isn’t it?

    Reply
    • Maverynthia

      May 6, 2015

      I don’t think so, only to the fact a one dimensional and poorly written male character is simply called that, a one dimensional character. They never get tagged with the term “Mary Sue” or such. They always have the faults pointed it. The character is 1D, it’s poorly written, there is no character growth, etc. Female characters however are often slapped with this term and various other terms for being the same thing.

      Also I think we expect female characters to “grow”, while male characters can continue to be their anti-hero, angsty, violent, womanizing, etc. self and we expect that.

      Reply
    • Cyna

      Cyna

      May 7, 2015

      I think the idea of a Mary Sue can be a legitimate complaint – like, the bad writing factors that go in to making a Mary Sue can be boring af and irritating to read. One of the interesting things that interview with Paula Smith gets in to is that “Mary Sue” stories are just really indulgent, which I thought hit the nail right on the head. Like, someone types up their indulgent self-insert fantasy and posts it/publishes it, you gotta be prepared for people to not want to read a book that’s completely centered around you and your likes and fantasies.

      That being said, I’m with Mav in that the term “Mary Sue” is just too loaded and kinda shame-y now. Like, there are just too many ways for a character to BE a Mary Sue, it’s got such sexist connotations, and such a sexist history of application, that, in terms of criticism, I think it’s ultimately clearer to say “Hey, I found this character/story boring/unsatisfying because of x, y, and z.”

      But yeah goddamn like who’da thunk one fan-magazine joke would turn in to a staple of internet criticism.

      Reply
  • Azure

    May 6, 2015

    My idea of a Mary Sue/Gary Stu is someone so overpowered (either by fate or a ‘natural’) that s/he could decimate the villain without breaking a sweat, so loved by everyone that only evil people hate them, and that their actually flaws are treated as virtues (like if they get angry very easily but the book goes out of its way to excuse it or justify it). They don’t feel human to me so I can’t connect with him/her and ’cause they’re so powerful, it sucks the tension out. One book I read had the main cast be Mary Sues/Gary Stus that could easily destroy the villains but don’t ’cause Reasons.

    Eh, I wasn’t a fan of Frozen. It was alright, but I didn’t get the hype.

    Reply
    • Cyna

      Cyna

      May 7, 2015

      Jfc was that a published book? I can see that sort of thing in a one-off, like two paragraph fanfic or something, but how the hell do you write a published book were the heroes can defeat the villain with no problem and keep the story going for like two hundred pages?

      Reply
      • Azure

        May 8, 2015

        It was indeed published. It was the Black Jewels Series by Anne Bishop. What made it even worse was the villains would make a plan…only for it to be foiled after a few pages. Whenever the heroes do have trouble, it’s from them being stupid ’cause we can’t have the characters actually break a sweat, now can we?

        Reply
        • Cyna

          Cyna

          May 17, 2015

          Ahhhhhhh I’ve heard of that series, although for very different reasons. It’s surprising to hear that it’s that bad in terms of plot and characters though, I was under the impression that it was pretty well-regarded. Er, at least, judging from the number of stans that showed up to defend it, and how many ppl were supes excited for Bishop’s UF book last year.

          Reply
          • RobotLurker

            May 18, 2015

            Black Jewels is silly and I shamelessly love it, honestly. I picked it up because the cover was “wait it’s a fantasy novel but there’s a GIRL??” ( http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1400569100l/47956.jpg ) and I’d already read all the Tamora Pierce books and I was like, 12 and there was a MATRIARCHY?? Whoa what madness.

            I’ve re-read that series enough times my copies are falling apart, and there’s a lot of eyebrow-raising things, but I still think it’s a pretty interesting series.

            (Sorry if I sound defensive I’ve never seen anyone talk about this series before!)

  • RobotLurker

    May 6, 2015

    The first time I saw ‘Mary Sue’ it was back in the Harry Potter fandom days, and I thought it was a fair criticism when it was used against characters that broke canon. But now, oh my god, it’s everywhere, everyone’s a ~Mary Sue~ and it’s completely ridiculous. Like, yeah, I got annoyed with Mary Sues when I read HP fanfic because I wanted to read _HP fanfic_ not “obvious self-insert power fantasy” (and yes, guess what the first thing I ever wrote was? Oops.) but…

    Like that “Name of the Wind” book by Patrick Rothfuss? Everything I’ve heard about it is basically like “take a 13 year old girl’s fanfiction and dump it into an epic fantasy series” – but it’s fine for a MAN to write that without getting painted with the “terrible Mary Sue!!” paintbrush. Because it’s okay for Batman to exist as Batman but hellz naw, can’t have a woman Batman because OH MY GOD, WHAT A SUE. *slams head into desk*

    Also OH MY GOD YES at the Japanese localizations of stuff. Let me count on one hand the otome games that come out vs THE PILES AND PILES AND PILES OF Visual Novels that are targeted towards men. I could rant about that for days but I think it’s a bit of another topic.

    I also thought Cyna had a good point about male/female power fantasies / anti-heroes. Breaking Bad was a really popular example of an anti-hero protagonist, I thought, and I only watched the last season in real time – but I went and read reddit discussion threads. And the amount of hate leveled towards the female characters simply for acting in a rational (to them) manner was RIDICULOUS. But the male protagonist doing awful things? Oh, completely justifiable. Gone Girl is another example, I think – a female protagonist who leans into “fucked up” more than “anti-hero” (in my opinion) – and I thought it was brilliant, but then I found all these comments about how “oh I couldn’t relate to her, she’s a bitch,” – when people seemed to have no problem relating to the male protagonist of Breaking Bad (who was a WAY WORSE person than the protagonist of Gone Girl.) It’s really gross how “it’s okay for a man to do it, but when a woman does, it’s UNACCEPTABLE.” It’s really fucking sexist and gross.

    It just makes me so angry seeing ‘Mary Sue’ thrown around so easily when really – like you said – the problem with these characters is that they’re girls. And society just doesn’t like it when girls have their own narratives that isn’t “be a love interest for a dude.” I mean, the nerve of these girls having agency and superpowers and shit. *rolls eyes* It reminds me of Twilight – yes, there’s a lot of things wrong with Twilight – but DAMN did it make a lot of money because it catered to an audience that had basically been entirely ignored by the media industry. Which, I might be wrong, but I’m pretty sure is why we get to have The Hunger Games – which is making a LOT OF MONEY. Girls, spending money on things?! So weird, right?! But people want to dismiss Twilight / The Hunger Games because their audience is teenage girls, so obviously all the money they’re making is worthless because it has fucking cooties or something.

    I could rant about the term ‘Mary Sue’ all freakin’ day, so sorry for the long comment, haha. I think it’s a stupid term that needs to just die in a fire. You guys seemed pretty on point about the topic, IMO! I really loved listening / the links you gave, especially the first one.

    Reply
    • Cyna

      Cyna

      May 7, 2015

      I want to reply to this comment but it would all basically be YES YES I AGREE ALSO YES THIS, so:

      I will say on the subject of people dismissing Twilight/Divergent/Hunger Games, the same dudebros who dismiss those franchises bc they’re “aimed @ teenage girls” are the same ones who will flip their shit when ppl dismiss the Marvel movies, Batman, PacRim, or other “masculine” power fantasy flicks that they like, without realizing the irony. Anything that has ANYTHING to do with teenage girls liking it is just instantly “OH YEAH, that thing for GIRLS, EWWW.”

      Reply
  • Ollie

    May 7, 2015

    <3

    Reply
  • Elspeth Grey

    May 28, 2015

    For a well-done Mary Sue type character (she can fight AND had magic, special eyes, multiple guys fall for her, has a goddess interested in her), I’d say Alanna from Tamora Pierce’s Tortall books fits. While all the above stuff is true, she’s shown to work hard for a lot of her skills, the guys are a series of relationships where she works out how to relationship and what she actually wants from a partner, and she can’t beat everything just by herself. There ARE serious problems with the Song of the Lioness books, but I don’t think the execution of Alanna is one of them.

    Reply
  • Rynnec

    June 13, 2015

    Funny thing about male characters being criticized for being gary stu’s: I’ve seen a lot of people who hate Kirito from Sword Art Online (me included) because of his gary stuness. I’ve also seen a lot of hate for Tatsuya from Irregular at Magic Highschool for the same reasons. In both cases the characters are seen as too flat and one note, with nothing to balance out their gary stuness. Both characters still have a lot of fans, however, but I do think it’s interesting.

    Reply
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