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Does Your Character Sparkle In Any Way?
December 22, 2013 1:33 PM   Subscribe

Hey! It looks like you're trying to write an original character for your fiction/fanfic/RPG, why not run it through The Universal Mary Sue Litmus Test and make sure you're not actually writing a self-insert wish-fulfillment fantasy.
posted by The Whelk (71 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
Hat tip to tel3lpath who pointed out that Hannibal Lecter scores ludicrously high on this test.
posted by The Whelk at 1:34 PM on December 22, 2013 [8 favorites]


Ugh, it's been almost three years since I read the books, but someone who has more recently should run Kvothe through this.
posted by kafziel at 1:48 PM on December 22, 2013 [7 favorites]


On the topic of the exclusively female Mary Sue trope, I just finished reading this article on Why We Need More Mary Sues:
We need women to take roles that men have had in Hollywood for decades. The iconic characters. The Chosen Ones. The superpowered, and the impossible adventurers. The characters with the fast quips, the dark backstories, who are burdened with glorious purposes and discover that with great power comes great responsibility. The heroes that kids want to dress up as on the playground and want to be (against all realism) when they grow up.

We need more Mary Sues. We need more unapologetically powerful female characters, on a wish-fulfilment level of awesome. We need them to be gods and superheroes and billionaire playboy philanthropists and science experiments gone wrong and normal kids bitten by spiders who now save the world. Why should female characters have to be realistic, while male characters have all the fun? Why shouldn’t a female hero appear alongside Iron Man and Thor, in a way where she can truly hold her own?
posted by fight or flight at 1:52 PM on December 22, 2013 [38 favorites]


I'm sure that if he tried, Kvothe would ace the test.
posted by tychotesla at 1:57 PM on December 22, 2013 [7 favorites]


We need more Mary Sues. We need more unapologetically powerful female characters, on a wish-fulfilment level of awesome. We need them to be gods and superheroes and billionaire playboy philanthropists and science experiments gone wrong and normal kids bitten by spiders who now save the world. Why should female characters have to be realistic, while male characters have all the fun? Why shouldn’t a female hero appear alongside Iron Man and Thor, in a way where she can truly hold her own?

Ha, I just ran Buffy through there and she got the highest/worst possible score. And Buffy owns. So this test is not 100% accurate, although it's still pretty great.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:59 PM on December 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


I'm glad it wasn't just me who noticed Kvothe was basically a teenager's wish fulfillment fantasy of a lead character--tragic background, just happens to ace every test he takes, has just the right witty remark to his teacher to make a room stand up and applaud, nails the unobtainable girl. Now if someone had warned me before I read both of those books trying to figure out why the hell everyone was crazy about them or if he'd just go skateboarding down main street while wailing on his electric guitar OH WAIT HE'S A MUSICIAN TOO FUCK.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 2:04 PM on December 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


> Why We Need More Mary Sues

That's a catchy but utterly misleading title (and theme running through the article). What the author means is that we need more female heroes, which is unquestionably true. And yes, since superheroes are such a big part of culture these days (insert grumpy rant here), we need more female superheroes as well. None of this has anything to do with Mary Sues; the term was created to bring to light a very common problem in bad writing, and to remove it from the context of bad writing and try to reclaim it as a positive seems counterproductive and pointless to me. Unless you're saying "Women have the right to be bad writers, just like men!" Which, yeah, I guess they do.
posted by languagehat at 2:09 PM on December 22, 2013 [12 favorites]


On the topic of the exclusively female Mary Sue trope,

Although Mary Sue tropes aren't generally seen as exclusively female. The most famous Mary Sue is probably Wesley Crusher from Star Trek: TNG.
posted by Bwithh at 2:12 PM on December 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Isn't an advantage of the litmus test, you know, that it's quick?
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:13 PM on December 22, 2013 [20 favorites]


If you can't have a Mary Sue I don't see the point. That would be like I was writing someone else's fanfic.
posted by Segundus at 2:15 PM on December 22, 2013 [9 favorites]


I always thought that Stieg Larrson Gary-Stu'd fairly hardcore with the character Mikael Blomkvist in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo books and those were very successful (whether or not you liked them is a different matter).

Self-inserts don't need to be so stigmatized but it does seem that the fan fiction community has unwittingly abused the technique to a humorous degree.
posted by coolxcool=rad at 2:17 PM on December 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


On the topic of the exclusively female Mary Sue trope, I just finished reading this article on Why We Need More Mary Sues:

That writer doesn't know what "Mary Sue" means.
posted by crossoverman at 2:24 PM on December 22, 2013 [8 favorites]


I really like Mary Sue characters in what I read, and my first novel had a Mary Sue character as a result.
posted by Peach at 2:27 PM on December 22, 2013


The most famous Mary Sue is probably Wesley Crusher from Star Trek: TNG.

Wesley Crusher was just an annoying kid, sci-fi fantasy is littered with them. Reginald Barclay, now THAT was a Mary Sue.
posted by mediocre at 2:29 PM on December 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ha, I just ran Buffy through there and she got the highest/worst possible score. And Buffy owns. So this test is not 100% accurate, although it's still pretty great.

There's not enough in the "De-Suifiers" to really take a heroic character from any kind of genre fiction down from a potential Mary Sue unless you basically deliberately take away any, you know, heroic characteristics. Applying it to original characters misses the point that a Mary Sue in fanfic is someone introduced by the author who is straight up better than the characters in the original work.
posted by graymouser at 2:39 PM on December 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


the term was created to bring to light a very common problem in bad writing

Well, yes and no. The term was created to bring to light a very common problem is fan fiction writing. It has subsequently been extended to other realms--but the problem with the extension of the term is that it becomes kinda squishy: it just means "don't have a character who is too perfect." Well, yeah, sure--but then that does start to become a problem that is used to clobber perfectly well-written female heroes who just happen to be really-good-at-something even if they have plenty of flaws.

Take the claim up above that Buffy is a Mary Sue. Well, if we go by the original meaning of the term, the claim is patently ridiculous: Buffy is in no conceivable way a simply proxy for Joss Whedon--a kind of fanfic wish-fulfillment character ("hey, I get to sleep with Angel! AND save the day because of my rare knowledge of medieval hebrew!"). But then if we go by the squishy extended definition of the term, what makes Buffy any more "too perfect" than any male hero you care to name? She's super strong and super brave and very much wants to do the right thing, but that's about it--and that's kinda minimum requirements for a "hero" of the kind. She's not super smart, she's not always right about everything, she's not always the first to see what the solution to the problem is, she doesn't always win etc. etc. etc. So the claim that she's a "Mary Sue" boils down to what, exactly? If you write a woman hero you're making her "too perfect"?
posted by yoink at 2:42 PM on December 22, 2013 [10 favorites]


Oh, this awful thing again. It fails at #1. Yet another fan comes up with yet another "comprehensive" list which is ridiculously overreaching.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:46 PM on December 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


Unless you're saying "Women have the right to be bad writers, just like men!"

Well, precisely.

The first Mary Sue was a character in a Star Trek fanfiction, written by a woman, designed to highlight the flaws in other Trek fanfics (most of them also written by women). This is still broadly true today, as writing fanfiction remains a largely (but not solely) female pursuit. When we use the term Mary Sue, we use it as an insult, suggesting the writer is not good at their job. However, as many people in this thread have already pointed out, many male characters (and female characters created by men) also adhere to the tropes commonly associated with being a Mary Sue. But when was the last time someone seriously called Superman a Mary Sue, even though he's one of the most famous self-insert self-deifying characters around? Or Batman? Or Captain America? And lived to tell their tale?

For some reason*, we hold women, especially creative women, to a much higher standard than we do men. We need to be able to accept that women can be bad writers. But we also need to accept that "bad" characters written by women, characters who share many qualities with equivalent characters written by men, are not intrinsically bad because they are written by women.

*patriarchy
posted by fight or flight at 3:06 PM on December 22, 2013 [11 favorites]


For reference: I've traditionally known a male Mary Sue as a Gary Stu.
posted by solarion at 3:10 PM on December 22, 2013


Buffy isn't the Mary Sue, you're thinking of Xander.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 3:11 PM on December 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


when I had summoned up the courage to include an original character in that freaking fanfic novella I wrote to keep myself from going nuts with anxiety during my other project I was so worried about Gary Stuism that I settled into a " they always do the wrong thing at every point." area
posted by The Whelk at 3:24 PM on December 22, 2013


For what it's worth, here's the original Mary Sue story, which was a parody of self-insert fanfics.
posted by happyroach at 3:25 PM on December 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


Maybe cause I operate from several filters deep but I rarely see any outright Mary Suism in the fic world that much. I mean, there are some ( okay a lot) of annoying trends out there but I I'm more likely to find a Mary/Gary in the literary fiction pile. Which allows me to repeat my favorite thing anyone ever said to me.

"Updike's novels are fanfic about his dick."
posted by The Whelk at 3:29 PM on December 22, 2013 [6 favorites]


Also using a gendered insult is messed up.
posted by ShawnStruck at 3:41 PM on December 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm glad it wasn't just me who noticed Kvothe was basically a teenager's wish fulfillment fantasy of a lead character

But... he ends up a broken shell of a man who apparently fucked up everything he touched. Surely that's the point?
posted by Justinian at 3:42 PM on December 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh lord, Whelk's comment reminds me of college English classes full of would-be Hemingways writing about failed writers in their 30s with drinking problems waking up after one more bender and having a cigarette in the morning and reflecting, for pages and pages, on the ruins of their life. No wonder I dropped out.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 3:43 PM on December 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Tralfamadorian Order of Good Guyhood.

Why isn't this a thing?
posted by The Whelk at 3:44 PM on December 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hemingway didn't even live the life of a Hemmingway character.

Martha Gelhorn was totally a Hemmingway character for real tho, I wonder if that came between them. She was an actual adventuring war journalist.
posted by The Whelk at 3:46 PM on December 22, 2013


(Also Kvothe is the one telling the story. He's almost certainly lying embellishing things.)
posted by Justinian at 3:47 PM on December 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I'm sure that more than a few of Kvothe's perfectly worded, perfectly delivered witty remarks were, in reality, thought up on the walk home afterwards.
posted by kafziel at 3:49 PM on December 22, 2013


Wesley Crusher was just an annoying kid

HE'S A REAL PERSON WITH FEELINGS DOING HIS BEST UNDER DIFFICULT CIRCUMSTANCES

*sobs*
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:06 PM on December 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yes, but he's doing much better now, but if you ever watch Wil Wheaton's guest shots on "Big Bang Theory" (and why WOULD you?), he definitely has PTSD.
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:08 PM on December 22, 2013


"Oh, this awful thing again. It fails at #1. Yet another fan comes up with yet another "comprehensive" list which is ridiculously overreaching," said Halloween Jack. But then he grinned, disarming and charming, all at once, as only he could do. His eyeliner sparkled.

As she listened to Jack's earnest and honest critique, Easter Jill felt that special moistness begin to spread between her coltish thighs.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:09 PM on December 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


What problem does 'xir' solve that isn't solved by 'their'?
posted by odinsdream at 4:10 PM on December 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


What problem does 'xir' solve that isn't solved by 'their'?

Pronounceability?
posted by yoink at 4:13 PM on December 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Buffy isn't the Mary Sue, you're thinking of Xander.

This (which is a claim I've seen before) is a good example of how hopelessly vague the term very quickly becomes when people start deploying it as a critical tool. A term developed to criticize fan-fiction writers' tendency to insert idealized versions of themselves as super-bright, super-talented wunderkinder into the fictional universes they're setting their stories in ("Why, Ensign Bloggues, you're the first person who has EVER managed a perfect Kessel run on your first try--and your cheekbones are simply to die for!") gets applied, somehow, to Xander?

In what universe does one imagine that Xander is Joss Whedon's ideal self? "Hmm," he thinks, "if only I were a great deal stupider, much less gifted, had no particular drive, had an endless penchant for falling in love with people who want to kill me and pretty nearly always fucked up everything I ever involve myself in"?

I mean, I understand why the term gets applied--Xander is the figure who is offered to a certain kind of nerdy fan as a potential point of identification ("hey, I could hang out with really cool superheros too!"), but that is utterly unrelated to the concept of the Mary Sue character as originally proposed. One can argue about whether Xander as a "relatable" character is written well or written poorly, but to suggest that there's something inherently wrong with inserting 'audience relateable' characters into fantasy fiction worlds is basically to say "I don't understand how fantasy fiction works."
posted by yoink at 4:21 PM on December 22, 2013 [18 favorites]


The best thing fan culture has given me is the term "Fanfiction green." I am abusing that term in the very near future.
posted by The Whelk at 4:42 PM on December 22, 2013


See also "McGuffin", a term that has been diluted to mean "an object in a story".
posted by Ian A.T. at 5:17 PM on December 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


On another front, we need a way to map length-of-introduction/people-who-actually-get-to-the-test. There might have been something interesting after all those caveats and clarifications but I'll never really know.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 5:41 PM on December 22, 2013


I don't really get the emphasis on looks in some of those questions? Of course any character is going to be good looking/attractive as a default.

Nobody in escapist fiction is below-average looking, at worst they're maybe "TV Ugly." Which in the real world is still basically gorgeous. Actually, in a lot of shows, I find it difficult to judge if a character is supposed to be gorgeous within their world -- they're surrounded by gorgeous people, how ordinary is anyone supposed to look? Maybe they're all just supposed to look "normal" or maybe they're supposed to be a group of super great-looking mutants, how can you even tell in the echo chamber that is the little fictional world of amazing-looking people? I just try to go with whatever the story's conceit is -- whether the character is supposed to be extraordinarily attractive within-world or not -- but sometimes even figuring out what the show's conceit is can be difficult.

I can't imagine trying to write a specifically ugly character into anything genre, unless by "ugly" you mean "sexy ugly" like someone who has a scar or injury that somehow only enhances his hotness (see: Vincent on "Beauty and the Beast") or you mean "ugly" as in someone is not conventionally beautiful but in a way that somehow only enhances his hotness, too (see: Syler on "Heroes"). Plus, the only way you could show that your character isn't attractive in writing would be to have nobody be attracted to her or maybe even snub/mock her, which is probably a bad idea structurally, since it's pretty hard for people to get on board with a character who nobody likes within-world (it makes the character look like a loser). Not that that's impossible to overcome (see: "House of Cards") but it requires *way* too much attention and skill to expect from hobbyists or even most writers in general.

Plus, if someone is writing fanfiction, the world they're writing about is likely already populated with beautiful people, and filled with romance/love interest storylines -- to avoid Mary Sue-ing it, you're supposed to insert that world's sole ugly or undesirable or romantically unattached character? Maybe the stuff I like tends to lean more soapy than other people's favorite books/shows/movies do, but for most of the stories I like, I would have a tough time *not* including a gorgeous character who becomes a love interest over the course of the story even if I were trying to hew as closely as possible to what the actual books/shows/movies are like. For example, how do you write a story for The Vampire Diaries that's not romantic and features not-gorgeous characters? That's basically what the show is, a bunch of gorgeous characters doing some supernatural/action stuff in between everyone falling for everyone else and wangsting about it.

Or maybe it's just one huge fanfic? Maybe I just like really slickly produced, filmed fanfic? I feel like that diffuses the meaning of fanfic to such an extent that it doesn't even make sense anymore...?

Anyway, trying to not insert a gorgeous character who gets into a "complicated" relationship with = or > 1 of the other gorgeous characters already in that world would be nearly impossible for most of the shows I can think of that I'd ever want to write fanfic for -- but maybe I'll write some Prison Break fanfiction featuring T-Bag, just to see if I can Mary Sue it.
posted by rue72 at 6:17 PM on December 22, 2013


Interesting Mary Sue tidbit: she [Shari Lewis of Lambchop fame] and her second husband wrote an episode for the third and final season of the original Star Trek series entitled "The Lights of Zetar". This was produced in 1968. Lewis had hoped to play the part of "Lt. Mira Romaine," but the role was given to actress Jan Shutan. Source: Wikipedia.
posted by jabah at 6:20 PM on December 22, 2013


Interesting Mary Sue tidbit... Lewis had hoped to play the part of "Lt. Mira Romaine," but the role was given to actress Jan Shutan.

That's ALSO not what Mary Sue means. Writing yourself a part in a television series might literally be inserting that actor into the narrative, but it wasn't supposed to be Shari Lewis and Lambchop on the Enterprise.

(I would totally watch Shari Lewis and Lambchop on the Enterprise.)
posted by crossoverman at 6:40 PM on December 22, 2013 [6 favorites]


Hemingway didn't even live the life of a Hemingway character.

Well, actually he did. Or at least he was more of Hemingway character than anyone else. Which isn't that surprising considering that he was, you know, Hemingway. Tho' his character, like his iceberg, was 7/8ths submerged.

Funny thing is, around here, I am my own Mary Sue.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:55 PM on December 22, 2013


xe? xir? What fresh hell is this?
posted by Confess, Fletch at 8:07 PM on December 22, 2013


I'm not entirely sure that I feel like taking writing advice from someone who evidently has no idea how pronouns work.
posted by sourcequench at 8:23 PM on December 22, 2013


What problem does 'xir' solve that isn't solved by 'their'?

"Their" is plural and "xir" as it is used in the link is singular.

xe? xir? What fresh hell is this?

This was actually my favorite thing about this post because it's always been sort of maddening to me that there are no gender neutral singular pronouns (at least in English). Often, in order to be grammatically correct when talking about a general person, it becomes necessary to insert phrases that interrupt the flow of a sentence like "his or her" and "he or she" or somehow change the pronouns to use forms like "oneself", which is awkward.

The invention of these words seems pretty clever to me and also happens to be more inclusive so I would welcome their addition to the English language.
posted by Percolate at 8:27 PM on December 22, 2013


"Their" is plural and "xir" as it is used in the link is singular.

Their is plural when referring to a ground, and is singular when referring to a single person of indeterminate gender. There's no need for some made-up bullshit word.
posted by kafziel at 8:41 PM on December 22, 2013 [7 favorites]


All words are made up. Some were made up more recently than others.
posted by reprise the theme song and roll the credits at 9:18 PM on December 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


You know exactly what I mean.
posted by kafziel at 9:24 PM on December 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


What the heck, Crossoverman gets favorited for saying that I'm wrong? The term Mary Sue originated in a Star Trek parody. The character of Mira Romaine in the episode "The Lights of Zetar" is cited (google it) as the shining example of a Mary Sue character (crew fawns over her for no obvious reason, Scotty falls in love with her). AND the script was written by a "huge" fan with the goal of inserting herself into an actual episode of Star Trek. If that isn't Mary Sue, what is?
posted by jabah at 9:26 PM on December 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Jabah, if only you'd explained all of that in your original comment. That makes a lot more sense!

(Please, people who favourited my previous comment, unfavourite it.)
posted by crossoverman at 9:30 PM on December 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


You know exactly what I mean.

Yeah, you say it's unnecessary, and you may be right about that, but you (and others) seem awfully angry about it. Someone put two or three letters next to each other, and made up a word. It's not even a swear word. What's the big deal?
posted by reprise the theme song and roll the credits at 9:32 PM on December 22, 2013


[The xe/xir derail should probably wrap up, as it's starting to look like similar "cis" derails and doesn't end well for anyone. Thanks. ]
posted by restless_nomad at 9:44 PM on December 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Their is plural when referring to a ground, and is singular when referring to a single person of indeterminate gender.

I actually didn't know this! I'd always been taught that "their" was exclusively plural by my English teachers/professors. It was especially important to get this straight with because of the writing portion of the SATs, which had lots of questions regarding pronoun-antecedent and treated using "their" as a singular pronoun to be incorrect. That section of the SATs is relatively new (introduced in 2005) but given the test's importance for getting into a university in the US, it seems to me that whole generations of college educated people from now on could consider it a mistake.

Reading up on it, I've learned that singular "they" is considered grammatically correct and has a long tradition of acceptable usage by English writers, though most American style guides like the The Chicago Manual of Style, The Publication Manual of the APA and the Purdue Online Writing Lab still say that "their" is plural and shouldn't be used with a singular antecedent.

(apologies for the continued derail, just wanted to share that I had learned something from this discussion)
posted by Percolate at 10:32 PM on December 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


As a similar exercise, I just tried running Dana Scully through the checklist...by my knowledge of the character, she ranks as a score of 33, which is 'high to very high chance your character is a Mary Sue"...
Fox Mulder, by comparison, gets a straight 50. Almost certainly a Mary Sue, and a bad one at that.....
posted by LeRoienJaune at 11:49 PM on December 22, 2013


My own perspective on whether "Mary Sue" is gendered: I see the term as a metonym. The first several characters I saw it applied to were all male characters by male authors. I've heard both "Marty Stu" and "Gary Stu" offered as male alternatives, but I feel they don't flow well.

And I feel that, by offering them as a male alternative, they emphasize the femininity of "Mary Sue", which, to my mind, is a bad, bad move.

The idea has to do with a mode of personal wish-fulfillment that appeals to the storyteller but not the storytellees. The teller invests too much of themself in a character, and decide they should get what they want, but people aren't particularly interested in seeing a character win without a fight. This infamous Patrick Stewart bit is probably the purest parody of that impulse I've encountered.

Aside from unearned victory, there's also the aspect of unearned tragedy - the original Mary Sue story hits both these notes, so I think the term is fairly applied there, too.

It might come down to characters that are just way more important than they have any right to be.

Anyway, maybe it's because I travel in circles where a lot of the fanfic is written by men, but I never got the impression that "Mary Sue" was meant to particularly be a dig against female authors or characters, or meant to insult by feminizing. The term carries a lot of connotations — in my experience, femininity hasn't been one of them.
posted by reprise the theme song and roll the credits at 2:48 AM on December 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


(I would totally watch Shari Lewis and Lambchop on the Enterprise.)

This is the song that doesn't end
Because we're caught in a loop in the space-time continuum...
posted by Daily Alice at 4:41 AM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Xander is the figure who is offered to a certain kind of nerdy fan as a potential point of identification

The kind who, despite all of his disturbing personality flaws, gets everything he wants, has his 'dimestore Bruce Campbell' version of wit and charm seen as a positive, and sleeps with just about every female character on the show save Buffy, who despite being the hero and main character, is often scolded and dressed down by none other than big fat powerless nobody Xander, the fittest, handsomest, basement-dweller on TV

If he's not Whedon's Gary-Stu, he's certainly somebody's.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 4:50 AM on December 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


Never heard the term Mary Sue before. I just thought of those characters as Ender Wiggins. Now I know Ender Wiggin is a Mary Sue and not an Ender Wiggin.
posted by GrapeApiary at 8:17 AM on December 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm glad it wasn't just me who noticed Kvothe was basically a teenager's wish fulfillment fantasy of a lead character

>But... he ends up a broken shell of a man who apparently fucked up everything he touched. Surely that's the point?

I'd bet dollars to donuts he'll have a last hurrah at the end of the story after he learns Lessons/is reminded of Reasons/has sex with a semi-divine character.
posted by ersatz at 8:35 AM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


To me, the worst example of this kind of character is late heinlein, with all the voice of the author characters also having lots of norm-defying sex.
posted by empath at 9:30 AM on December 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


And Sookie, in true blood is basically a master class in writing a Mary Sue character, though she didn't start off that bad.
posted by empath at 9:31 AM on December 23, 2013


Never heard the term Mary Sue before. I just thought of those characters as Ender Wiggins. Now I know Ender Wiggin is a Mary Sue and not an Ender Wiggin.

Well, there's a slight difference. Mary Sues are awful, but they're not literally Hitler.
posted by kafziel at 9:53 AM on December 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


The kind who, despite all of his disturbing personality flaws, gets everything he wants,

You know, if you've never seen the show, there's really not much point in commenting on it. There is simply no plausible reading of the narratives of the show in which Xander "gets everything he wants." For the first half of the show the one thing he wants more than anything--the thing that defines "want" for him, is Buffy's love--which he never, ever gets. He falls in love with Cordelia, and then totally fucks that relationship up. He falls in love with Anya, and totally fucks that relationship up. He repeatedly betrays Buffy. I mean, sure, a few things go right for him here and there, but if you're going to shout "Mary Sue" every time something temporarily goes well for a character then the term is utterly pointless.

has his 'dimestore Bruce Campbell' version of wit and charm seen as a positive,

Oh noes, a character in a TV series is allowed to be witty and charming--this is the worst sin ever committed by writers anywhere!!! (Seriously, a character being capable of witty comments=Mary Sue? That makes it the most laughably useless critical term in history.)

and sleeps with just about every female character on the show save Buffy,

TV shows are small worlds and romance is a major story driver. Unless you're saying George Costanza is a Mary Sue character, then the fact that Xander gets lucky at a statistically improbable rate is really neither here nor there. And we're supposed to think he's good looking. He's not "guy who is meant to be plain but is played by drop dead handsome actor and hooks up with improbably hot girls" he's meant to be "loser nerdy dude who is also a hottie." Witness Cordelia's response to him when she first sees him in the tryouts for the swim team.
posted by yoink at 10:53 AM on December 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


Also, Xander only slept with Faith (who subsequently tried to rape him) and Anya.
posted by Mavri at 11:02 AM on December 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Thank you yoink and Mavri. I read the earlier Xander comment and was like "Wat?", and then spent 15 minutes penning a rebuttal, and then told myself to relax and let the people on the internet be wrong. It's good to know I didn't just radically misinterpret a show I've watched waaay more times than is healthy.
posted by Balna Watya at 11:13 AM on December 23, 2013


Obligatory TV Tropes link about this.

For those who don't want to get sucked into the black hole that is TV Tropes, I personally like the take that what's wrong with a Mary Sue character isn't that they're powerful or smart or charismatic or whatever, so much as the story bends around them rather than flowing naturally:

Mary Sue as Center of Attention
Similar to the above, this posits that a Mary Sue is someone who gets too much attention from the other characters, especially if their personality and actions don't seem to fully justify such strong reactions. It's important to note that this isn't confined to positive attention; if every single villain the Sue encounters develops an intense, personal, obsessive hatred of them, that qualifies too. In fact, most Sues by this definition combine both types of attention: they're loved by every sympathetic character they meet and hated by every unsympathetic character.


For instance, Wesley Crusher gets the wrong end of that test because of incidents like the Traveler taking extra time to point out how special and magic he is, while Buffy wouldn't be a Mary Sue because being the Chosen One is just part of her premise, and Batman would flipflop depending on the writer.
posted by mordax at 12:24 PM on December 23, 2013


Oh noes, a character in a TV series is allowed to be witty and charming--this is the worst sin ever committed by writers anywhere!!! (Seriously, a character being capable of witty comments=Mary Sue? That makes it the most laughably useless critical term in history.)

Oh Moses smell the roses.

Fine, Xander is a perfectly realized character afforded no particular advantages beyond his station and totally wasn't a fanfic level wish-fulfillment for Nice Guys everywhere cancer on the show for a good chunk of it, clearly I must have been looking at the microwave instead of the TV for all 7 seasons of Buffy. Forgive me.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 8:49 PM on December 23, 2013


We forgive you. Welcome back to the fold.
posted by Balna Watya at 12:20 AM on December 24, 2013


So how do we balance "Write what you know" and "Mary Sues are bad"?
posted by quillbreaker at 3:51 PM on December 24, 2013


Don't write what you know, write what you're interested in.
posted by The Whelk at 7:37 PM on December 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


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