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Avoiding the Mary Sue (+ a contest!)

HippieVan at 12:00AM, March 6, 2015

This newspost was inspired by this week's Quackcast on testing your writing and knowing your characters. In the comments, KimLuster posted a Mary Sue test and discussed her annoyance in finding that one of her characters scored highly.

So what is a Mary Sue? Everyone sort of knows one when they see it - it's that character who makes you roll your eyes so far they get stuck in the back of your head. Truthfully, there isn't a great definiteion because people use “Mary Sue” to mean different things. Generally, though, a Mary Sue is a character who is transparently the author's fantasy version of themselves. The most egregious Mary Sues are fabulously good-looking, universally adored, great at everything, and have special skills or powers.

Objectively identifying a Mary Sue is a pretty tricky business. I ran two of my characters through the Mary Sue test - Izzy and my new character Dee - and was surprised to see that both scored in the low range. I should say that I don't consider either character to be very well written - Izzy is completely single-faceted (he's just a huge grump all the time) and Dee's story is defined mostly by things happening to her rather than her personality or skills.

The problem with worrying overly much about this is that a Mary Sue isn't necessarily a bad character, and a bad character doesn't necessarily have Mary Sue qualities. Mary Sue tests don't account for overall good or bad writing. Some of the great classics have characters who are clearly “author inserts,” for instance! A Mary Sue can also appeal to audiences looking for escapism or wish fulfillment in their literature - I think the popularity of the Hunger Games books is evidence of this effect.

That being said, the test can still be useful for letting you know if you're relying on a few too many cliches in your writing. Run through the test here with one of your main characters and comment with how they fared! Do you think the test or the overall concept of a Mary Sue is useful?


This was ironscarf's idea, and I thought it would be really fun! Make a 1-page comic featuring a character who is as Mary Sue-ish as possible and send it to me via PQ or email. I'll feature all the comics in my newspost two weeks from now, and the winner will get a big ol' plug for their comic.

EDIT: Extending the deadline! Send me your Mary Sues by Thursday, March 19th!

I didn't have time to do a comic for this, but I drew a Hippie-Sue for you guys above. She's a much prettier me who leads the world with an army of cats (who she can talk to, because she speaks every language including animal and plant languages) and also has time to make amazing watercolour paintings. Plus her hair is never crazy, and neither of her eyebrows is weirdly lower than the other.


VinoMas is creating a fashion show for the site, and it's looking like it will be a lot of fun! Check out this newspost, and check out this forum section where the action will be happening!

Have a comic milestone, a community project or some comic-related news that you'd like to see here? Do you have original art for our newspost image database? Send it to me via PQ or at hippievannews(at), or leave a comment below!
For more info on News, please check out this DD Help Site article:



Hayakain at 6:02PM, March 11, 2015

Personal Opinion: Mary Sue Tests are an absolute waste of time. Virtually every likeable character from any mainstream popular cartoon/comic/manga/etc will fail these tests. The notion of the tests is, that the less like a Mary Sue your character is, the better it supposedly is. The tradeoff is often an unlikeable mess of a character who is either boring or too complicated to relate to. Make your characters the way you find most appealing, and relate them well to their purpose/situation. Don't let a test tell you what makes your character good or bad.

HippieVan at 2:43PM, March 7, 2015

Just go with your gut, ironscarf! I think research can only hurt when you're creating a Mary Sue.

Ironscarf at 1:29PM, March 7, 2015

When I suggested that contest I thought I had a pretty good idea what a Mary Sue was, but with the help of some additional research, I don't know what I'm doing at all! These Mary Sues are so complex and messed up, I think they deserve a hug!

Peipei at 9:12AM, March 7, 2015

@Kim and Tupapayon: Glad you guys don't think she's a Mary Sue, it wasn't my intention but I guess it's because I tend to gravitate towards more Earthbound characters. She has a temper and she has an attitude, but it's not always justified and is mainly caused by genuine human emotion to certain situations. Glad to know the Matriarch is receiving some love too as of late 0.-.

irrevenant at 3:48AM, March 7, 2015

They seem to have improved the test since the last time I saw it. Lots of "unless that's common in your setting" and other appropriate exceptions. My character, Chaos, scored fairly well, but I actually don't think a high Sue factor is necessarily a bad thing,especially in contexts other than fanfiction. The term originates from fan fiction where Sues are highly disruptive to established canon. But highly popular characters like House, Batman or Harry Potter score pretty high on the Sue test and work perfectly well in their settings.

VinoMas at 11:00PM, March 6, 2015

I just want to say how exciting this article comment thread has been! Wow, so many people turned out and had something to say! AMAZING! What's more Mary Sue than a paper doll or fashion show?! NOTHING...that's why all of you here need to move over to this link! HippieVan's newest character Dee and KimLuster's Kimber Lee, and my own Princess January are all there now as dress-a-doll's!!! That means you can go there right now, print out the dolls and draw clothes over their bodies (lightbox recommended), (or do it digitally) and post to the thread of each doll. OR...just draw your own characters in their own clothes or something creative and post to DRUNK DUCK FASHION PARADE. Where do you this? Right below!

Kou the Mad at 6:29PM, March 6, 2015

got around 21. may be higher or lower depending on if i actually do include or exclude certain things. i can live with that.

usedbooks at 4:42PM, March 6, 2015

I just tried the test with my UB protagonists. Kaida is right in the safe/good range. Seiko got a 1, making her Anti-Sue. :P I don't think she's 'poorly written.' I hope not. The weird thing is, halfway through each question, I'd think, "She tries but usually fails." -_- Yuki is pretty much a Sue, I'm afraid. (Although the verdict for Anti-Sue is harsher. 'Bland?' 'Bella Swan?' Ouch.) Eh, I don't care. They complement each other well.

usedbooks at 4:22PM, March 6, 2015

Just today, I was expressing my general disdain for the overdone "chosen one" plotlines in nearly all jrpgs and a generous portion of anime series, and how it's somehow even more eye-rolling in western productions. I have the feeling that we outgrow those stories. Most are sold to teens and youngers, and I remember loving that stuff when I was in the age range. There is a place for those stories and an audience. You can hate on it all you want, but those are the stories that make $$$ with ridiculously Mary Sue characters. If you write a Sue, don't deny it, defend it, or change it, just own that story and the character. Yeah, it's a trope. It can be insufferable (to many), but the audience is there.

tupapayon at 3:32PM, March 6, 2015

Orn is ok… but that matriarch can rock my world … I mean … Death Fingers gives all characters a chance on the spotlight… I guess that comic is one example of good balance… and still you see characters we would like to be… badasses, good looking, confident, magic powers…

KimLuster at 1:48PM, March 6, 2015

hehe Orn ain't no Sue! Although... when I read the early pages of DF I thought she was a bitchy ass little girl... and I still liked her!! Typically only Mary Sue's get away that haha :D Seriously she's a great character!

Peipei at 1:34PM, March 6, 2015

I took this test a few months ago and I can't really remember the score I got, I just remember that my protag didn't score too high on the Mary Sue test at all. While Orn does have her strengths and special abilities in the story, I still tried to maintain an overall human element in her.She's not even close to being invincible (she gets beat down both physically and emotionally), she's far from the strongest character in the roster and she doesn't even slightly resemble my real self. Point is, she's definitely a bad ass character, she is the story's focal point but she doesn't hog up the limelight 24/7 either. I think the main reason it's really hard for me to create a complete Mary Sue type character is because I like to draw focus to the supporting characters in the story from time to time as well. I would kind of get tired of DF if the sun and the moon revolved around Orn and if it was just ALL about her! Supporting characters matter too! xD (btw, I need to retake this test!) - S

tupapayon at 1:02PM, March 6, 2015

I like the article by strixvanallen… I'm going to agree that if once you strip your character of all the special or superhuman characteristics and physical beauty you should still have a person there… using Kimber Lee (Godstrain) as an example, she's still a normal woman without the strain… besides, she's struggling coping with all the consequence of her situation…

HippieVan at 11:17AM, March 6, 2015

Okay, I went ahead and extended it to two weeks! Go crazy! :D

KimLuster at 10:42AM, March 6, 2015

@JustNoPoint: I like your 'deconstruction' thing! Was thinking something similar to incorporate later on :D

KimLuster at 10:40AM, March 6, 2015

@HippieVan: Next Friday should be totally doable, but if you go another week as JustNoPoint asked, that'd be fine too. Or... maybe you could post some Next Friday and in two weeks...!!

JustNoPoint at 9:59AM, March 6, 2015

Hippievan. I would like more time please. 2 weeks would work much better for me. I can BREAK this test and make the test itself an author insert! It's own existence will make it the thing it loathes to become!

JustNoPoint at 9:58AM, March 6, 2015

I can't speak for everyone but I like to deconstruct tropes as well. In Fenny's case she has a LOT of the "I'm perfect" crap going for her. Her abilities as a super human with super strength, senses, healing, etc combined with that stuff tends to make her ratings go up. Most of my own stories began as an anime/cartoon rip off idea that I wanted to take in a different direction because I get so sick of seeing the same tropes retold. So yeah, pretty much every character I have will gain a lot of points in this. I think the test is a decent indicator. If you can look at these things head on and understand why you are using them and are confident you know what you're doing you are probably fairly safe.

HippieVan at 9:55AM, March 6, 2015

@KimLuster: My newsposts are always on Friday, so a week from now! Is that too short? I could post entries two weeks from now if people want more time.

KimLuster at 9:47AM, March 6, 2015

I'm sensing that a lot of us think the test is sorta bogus (or at least too weighted), or we're all sorta okay with Mary Sues to some extent... Or both!

KimLuster at 9:44AM, March 6, 2015

@HippieVan: what day next week for the Mary Sue one-pagers? I'd like to do one but I seriously doubt it'd happen by Monday or Tuesday? Is all your posts on Thursdays - I haven't paid attention lol!

JustNoPoint at 9:42AM, March 6, 2015

Fenny got a 54 on this test! :) Higher scores are always better! My characters always end up scoring high. Every one of them. So I figure if my world is full of nothing but Mary Sues it must balance out! It doesn't help that all my super powered ppl are called "chosen" either :P

Banes at 9:34AM, March 6, 2015

@Corntown - hahaha, that's great; Tek is fantastic.

Banes at 9:33AM, March 6, 2015

Speakinawhich, I notice many people around me rolling their eyes when I talk. I may be a real life Mary Sue!

Banes at 9:32AM, March 6, 2015

It seems like an important part of creating the Mary Sue is the way the rest of the characters in the story respond to the potential Sue. The universe bends to chuff up the character and reflect their awesomeness. They are adored by other characters, dispatch their enemies easily...a story about an extraordinary individual in the regular world, or a tale of wish fulfillment/fantasy doesn't necessarily induce the eye-rolling response to a true Sue.

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