Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Mary Sues and Why We Need More of Them | YA Talk

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What is a Mary Sue?

The term originated from fan fiction I guess. It typically refers to characters who are beautiful, loved by everyone, super powerful, super smart, but usually don't recognize their beauty.

They're loveable because they're sometimes even insecure, but they can kick everyone's butts if they wanted to. Also, every guy that meets them falls in love with them.

Mary Sues typically also have:

  • a super tragic backstory
  • a hidden talent/skill that makes them special
  • been "chosen" by a higher power to be the only savior/ are the only person who can resolve the plot
  • an exotic hair or eye color that makes them stand out
Readers always joke about Mary Sues, but in fact they do still exist in YA. The thing is, most people don't seem to realize that their favorite novel involves a Mary Sue heroine.

Typical Criticism and Why I'm not having any of it

1. They are self-inserts of the reader, even author, into the story

They don't really have a personally besides being flawless and perfect, almost inhumanly perfect.

... so? The term self-insert implies that it's easy to identify with them. There's a lot of characters that I think don't have a personality and still are the driving forces of big franchises. We all want to identify with the main character when we're reading. Because we're all different, it's absolutely impossible to please everyone. So of course the books with less opinionated characters are more likely to appeal to the masses. It's easy to interprete if the author is vague about their portrayals.

2. They're an unrealistic reflection of everything that everyone wants be: beautiful, popular, perfect, strong and loved. 

And that's hella good! We want to read about the things we don't have. Reading is a way of escapism! We want to travel to places that we'll never see, we want to read about situations that we'll never experience. So yeah, for once we want to read about someone that has it all, is popular and loved and beautiful.

3. They're the result of very poor writing.

You can have a Mary Sue main character and still built a kick-ass world and have a great plot. Best example? Caelena Sardothien from "Throne of Glass".  If you've read the book, take a moment to think about it yourself and then we'll talk.

Actually: We need more Mary Sues

Being called a Mary Sue is neither a death sentence nor an insult. There are some characters that are wildly loved by everyone who reads certain books and to me, they're absolute Mary Sues. I'm not going to call names, but there's a lot of undercover Sues that people don't even recognize. They look up to them, especially female characters that are great at fighting, beautiful and getting all the attractive guys.

Featuring unapologetically strong and kick ass female characters has been a recent trend. I mean if you look the most popular movie -to-book film adaptations you'll rarely encounter female characters that are strong, beautiful and super scary while still being feminine. The fact that the term Mary Sue is mostly used to refer to female characters and points out character flaw that have existed for YEARS in literature (not only YA) with male main characters is just flat out ridiculous.

Just look at popular action movies and characters like Indiana Jones, Chuck Norris, Superman, Batman - all those guys are classic Gary Stus and these are only the most popular ones. If you think in terms of movies, I can hardly tell you a single Mary Sue character in a similar franchise. It's a blessing that it's become a trend in YA to show merciless fighter-type heroine main characters and I am absolutely in favor or bringing all those books to the big screen and finally getting some gender equality in the medium.

So yes, I want more Mary Sues. Do you?


  1. Thank you! I think it's just a matter of reflection, if you think about it, everyone's favorite characters are actually Mary Sues ;) Oh, I read that one on TV tropes for a while! I had no idea its originally from a tumblr post.

  2. I've always sort of felt this way too, but I've never been able to articulate it the way you have here. Mary Sues don't bother me at all when they're done well, and I wouldn't mind more of them!

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

  3. I adore this post!! I feel like I've been the sole advocate for Mary Sues for years and it's so good to hear from someone else who appreciates these characters.

    I mean, a badly portrayed character is a bad character whether they're male or female. So I sort of set that aside in the Mary Sue discussion because I feel like it's something else.

    But the flawless, super popular and special wish fulfillment can be what makes the character fun. My example of a male equivalent for years has been James Bond. He's super special and can handle everything and always gets all the girls. It bothers me that we deride female characters like that and use the term Mary Sue as an insult and then spend millions of dollars to watch a James Bond movie and everyone loves him. I had a post a long time ago where I ranted much more voraciously (http://anniejacksonbooks.com/mary-sue/) :)


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