[LMB] OT: Judging a Mary Sue

David McMillan skyefire at skyefire.org
Fri Sep 20 15:31:32 BST 2013

On 9/19/2013 1:16 PM, John Lennard wrote:
> Has the fic writer committed a Mary Sue?
> Reasons on a postcard, please. Thanks in advance.

     I'm out of postcards, will electrons do?

     To the question:  insufficient data.

     For *me,* the characteristic "flags" for tagging a character "Mary 
Sue" or "Gary Stu" are, in no particular order:

1:    Perfection
     1a:  what flaws the character has, or mistakes s/he might make, 
come across as contrived by the author just to defuse the MS/GS accusation
2:    Success
     2a:  Like 1a, the character succeeds in all the *important* stuff 
-- the minor failures come across as contrived
3:    Ridiculous
     3a:    the character simply has Just The Right 
Skill/Object/Trait/Whatever too often, too easily, and/or too coincidentally
4:    Saving the day
     4a:    in fanfic, the character fixes a canonical event that went wrong
     4b:    in original fiction, the character is present for every 
crisis, and always plays a pivotal role
5:    Gets the guy(s)/girl(s)
     5a:    Wins over the major "unallocated" love interest
     5b:    Wins the author's favorite guy/girl away from their 
canonical Significant Other
     5c:    HAREM!
     5d:    wins the otherwise unwinnable heart (gets  Spock to fall 
madly in love, can touch Rogue without being affected, etc)
6:    Wins all the Arguments
     6a:    The character holds a very strong 
religious/political/social/Whatever viewpoint and preaches it
         6a1:    And always wins the arguments
         6a2:    And/or events always prove him/her right
             6a2a:    extra points for sheer gratuitousness of said victory

The problem, of course, is that any (or several) of these can also be a 
part of a cracking great yarn.  And even all of them together don't 
necessarily kill a story, if handled deftly.  It really comes down to a 
matter of scale, and writing skill.  "Undocumented Features," for 
example, started out as a pure let's-have-fun-with-it 'fic about a bunch 
of college chums who become Fated Heroes and Save The World, whilst 
checking off every box on the above list.  But it was just light-hearted 
fun, to start.  What's really interesting is that, over the course of 
~20 years, the series has evolved into a mature story that still does a 
*lot* of those things, but with such a complex and rich universe that it 
nearly stands on its own, despite being "nothing more" than a giant 
stewpot of borrowed pop-culture items[1], and the writing quality has 
gotten much, much better.  And the non-self-insert characters have 
slowly grown to take over large chunks of the storyline.

[1] Any universe that can have a cohesive set of rules that make Star 
Wars hyperdrive, Star Trek warp drive, and B5 hyper/meta-space work 
together *and make sense* has got to be doing *something* right

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