Fix 0: The Basics

Hello all,

I’m the Mary-Sue Fixer, here to help you fix all your Sue-related problems. It’s my plane to write a once a week entry with tips of how to fix different problems with Mary-Sue Characters.  I have both read and written fanfiction for a long while now. I took a hiatus for a few years to write my own original work. Now I’m a much better fanfiction writer. I’ve written Mary-Sues in my time, even my own characters. This is how I know that 1) Sue is part of the writing process 2) Sue is part of being a young/inexperienced writer 3) Sue can be cured over time if the writer will commit to fixing their Sue-problem. 

To state it plainly: if you won’t help yourself, then I can’t help you. I am a tool to help you fix your own problems.

So, let us begin with the most obvious question: What is a Mary-Sue?

The term Mary Sue (as Wikipedia will tell you in a much more informative way), came about around the time of Star Trek. The first Mary Sue (by that classification) was named Mary Sue. Mary Sue may have named the trope, but she was not the first. There are many instances of Mary Sue throughout literature.  A lot of them were never very good, but a lot of them were also published. A very old example are the (numerous) stories of a young white girl captured by Native Americans, and swaying the hearts of the ‘savages’ with her pureness of heart. The Mary-Sue shows up in literature for thousands of years.  Just to prove this is profitable: The most modern example people think of his Twilight, which is insanely popular.

The Mary Sue is defined as a character whom is, in short, too perfect for her own good. The Sue often has amazing skill at things she probably has no business being able to know. The Sue may even have hither-to unknown in the fiction-universe powers that no one else has. She may be half-vampire, half-mermaid, half-a lot of things that don’t belong in the cannon. Sue’s may even suffer from the curse of being ‘too beautiful’.

Now, all of these things can be done really well. Mulan is the story of a young woman who goes off to war (where, in the society, she has no business going), and kicks major amounts of ass.  In a (very fun) series called the Black Jewels Trilogy, the main character is specifically tailored to be more powerful than anyone else, to the point that it causes all kinds of problems.  Vampire Hunter D is about a Dhamphir, or half-vampire. Merlin is often thought to be the child of a Succubus and a human. There are even instances where being too beautiful can be a serious problem. In a world where you’re a magical creature being hunted by humans, if you are so beautiful that you look inhuman you have a very serious problem, as do the other magical creatures you’re traveling with.

The truth is that many elements of the Mary-Sue can make a great character, and even Sue-like characters can be enjoyable. The main character of the Black Jewels Trilogy is essentially a cannon-sue, as she’s beautiful and powerful enough to attract men that no one else can, and yet still gets hurt (more emotionally than physically) by weaker characters. At the same time, she’s also the Macguffin for the (previously mentioned and very interesting) male characters, who actually get much more screen time than she does. As I said before, the books are very enjoyable, and while not everyone agrees with me, a lot of people love the main character, even though she’d be easily labeled a Sue in a fanfiction. This leads us to another point: Sue is all about perspective.

There is a serious problem of people classifying any female OC as a Mary-Sue. In reality, I was so afraid of writing a Mary-Sue character that I focused on writing only males instead. This has led to the interesting problem of having to relearn how to write my own gender. On one hand: I have some really great male characters now, on the other hand: I’m just now finding ways to fix female characters to not be Sue. For me, most of my female characters come pre-packaged as Sue, and I work backwards to make serviceable and likeable female characters.

I wrote some seriously bad Mary-Sues, but it also allowed me to start my own cannon for my own stories. Not all of the characters I made survived as main characters. Some of the side characters are now the ones I tinker with. Ironically, a female character I created for Hiei who had a history with Kurama (from Yu Yu Hakusho) ended up being still one of my most well rounded and interesting characters. It didn’t help that she up and decided that she’d rather have Kurama-like character and a seriously unhealthy relationship. As the writer, I’m merely the medium for the characters, so I didn’t argue for very long.

Around the same time I created a character to pair with Noah Kaiba (she happens to be the sister of the Kurama-paired character… just go with it). When I finally saw the Noah character I hated him so much, that I tossed what would have made very fine Sue into the back of my mind where all the dark and evil things are. A year later she emerged as one of the most terrifying characters I’ve ever met (made even more terrifying by the fact that she came from my own mind). The only trace of what she once was comes from the fact that she has Noah’s hair color.

I’ve just detailed some of my own character experience to explain this: About any Sue can be fixed, including that self-insert that you no hate but can’t get rid of (I’ll talk at length about that later).  Also, when you’re done fixing you sure, she may be vastly different from how she started out, unrecognizable even. This is a good thing. The point of this is to provide suggestions for you to fix your own characters.

I’m going to mainly focus on fixing your fanfiction OCs. OCs are not inherently bad. The truth is that some characters cannot be paired off with anyone in the series. For someone like me who had a compulsive need to make sure everyone has a happily ever after, at least in love, that meant I had to create OCs. There are such things as good OC characters. I found a very good one that paired Draco Malfoy with a muggle.  Sure, it doesn’t last, but it was a good story. What you need to keep in mind is that OCs don’t necessarily mean Sue. When crafting a story that fits into the cannon, or even just outside of cannon it’s often impossible to recycle old villans. You need to give the heroes new villains, new threats, new side characters. If you’re writing a Harry Potter fanfiction set with the next generation, or if you want to talk about the Potter characters as adults they need new characters to surround themselves with. 

Theses OCs need to be as believable as the original. During the course of the story they need to grow and mature as well. They may find love, and that love might be another OC. The thing is that the OC must always be there to drive the plot towards it end. Villians can easily steal a lot of screen time in a well written fanfiction, because the writer has to set them up as a character. The reader already knows about the cannon characters, but they know nothing about the original characters.

It’s often advisable to not make an OC more than a villain or a side character, but there’s also the possibility of creating the OC as the main character. Sometimes this works really well. In the Black Jewels Trilogy, the author has spent so much time writing about her characters outside the main trilogy that it’s actually now much more interesting to read fanfiction about original characters based in that universe. In a fanfiction you can create an OC and send him/her to Hogwarts. The point in an OC, or really any bit of writing, is to never forego the plot for the sake of character. If your plot demands and OC, you must have an OC, even if you don’t want to. The world is bigger than what we’re presented in any work of fiction. Real people interact with thousands of people, some of whom we may never see after buying a cup of coffee from them. Other times they become big parts of our lives.  

I’ve now spent a lot of time describing what is and is not a Sue, but in reality you can always find better definitions. My job is not to tell you what a Sue is, since you probably already know, but to tell you how to fix it. There are two ways. Now, while I’d argue that Stephanie Meyers’s success is because of some actual good (if ham-handedly done) writing techniques. The point is that most people can’t sell a Mary Sue, and the best thing to do is to fix the Mary Sue. Meyers sold her Sue because she understands pacing enough to get the reader hooked. You can make a good (or at least serviceable/profitable) story in spite of a Sue if you can find a way to make the reader keep reading. That doesn’t mean your writing will ever be good. The other thing you can do is fix your Sue into a being a good character.  This is where I come in.

I have read maybe thousands of fanfiction, good at bad, by both genders, by young-new writers and by older experienced writers. I’ve read many articles on Sues, including from Cracked.com, Wikipedia, TVTropes, and an honest to goodness academic article on the Mary Sue phenomenon. I have written Mary-Sues, and I have fixed them. I have written Gary-Stus and fixed.  I have a deep love of character, and I feel that character driven plots are generally more enjoyable than story or place driven plots. As such, I have a keen eye for what is good and bad in a character. I have taken classes on Comedy, Pulp Crime Fiction, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Shakespeare, Romanticism, Script Writing, Creative Writing, and Harry Potter. This means that not only can I spot good characters, I can also dissect any type of writing, include YA novels and fanfiction.

This is my first post, but not my first actual ‘Fix’, that will come later in this week. For the moment, thank you for reading, and I hope to see you again real soon.

Love,

The Mary-Sue Fixer

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. I loved this essay, same as the rest. You do a good job of explaining what Mary Sue/Gary Stu is and why it has to be fixed.


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