Mary Sue, objective cardinal signs.

Jemini

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I have seen from personal experience and heard from the critiques of others about how the term "Mary Sue" is often used just to mean "character I don't like," and that it is really not all that objective of a critique to make about a character. Also, that quite often characters it is made about have similar characters almost identical to them that are not considered to be Mary Sues.

So, I looked around and found what I think is a far more objective set of criteria on which to judge whether or not a character is a Mary Sue.

A Mary Sue is a character that...

* Is admired, loved, and adored by the majority of the rest of the cast, especially the "good guys" and the "mob characters."
* The mere fact that a character in the story dislikes them is used as a sign that character is a villain.
* The Mary Sue's opinion is always somehow objectively true. If real world logic would make the Mary Sue's opinion the wrong one, the author will ignore real world logic and substitute their own for their cannon universe in order to make the Mary Sue's opinion correct.
* Any character who disagrees with the Mary Sue for any reason at all is wrong (see above.)
* Everyone else in the cast is always talking about how clever, witty, or insightful the Mary Sue character is.
* They are better than everyone else at everything they do, even if they have never tried doing it before.
*They are automatically at the top of the power scale of the world they are in without seeming to have actually had to work for it at all. They just seem to have popped into existence able to beat everyone at literally everything.
* They are completely lacking in all character flaws, or if they do have character flaws then they are not significant flaws or otherwise what is described as a "flaw" actually seems to be more praise for the character.

(Examples of the non-significant flaws a Mary Sue may have would be that they are clumsy, have some kind of cute endearing verbal tick, or they are "too nice.")

These are the objective 8 cardinal signs of a Mary Sue. Possessing all 8 cardinal signs absolutely and automatically means they are a Mary Sue without question.

If they only lack 1 or 2 of the cardinal signs, well, they're probably still a Mary Sue but the author might be trying to pull something clever. Whether or not they fall into the Mary Sue category depends entirely on whether or not the author succeeds in whatever they were trying to pull. (Recommended only for highly talented authors.)

If they only have 1 or 2 of the cardinal signs, well, it's probably not the best thing for the characterization but it's not really enough to have them classified with the dreaded "Mary Sue" label just for those 1 or 2 things. Being "OP" (a quick way to sum up the 7th item on the list) is one that is especially forgivable if One Punch Man is any example.
 
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Kotohood

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Just to add my two cents.
Mary Sue/Gary Stu as a concept is not something that is bad, but rather the execution of it.

If you want this guy to be perfect that's fine, but the moment this guy stops feeling 'real' and starts to feel like some sort of distant god that just bend the rules of the universe willy nilly, that is when you have a real problem.

The character must be plausible!
 

Jemini

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Let's put this more objective list through a test drive. I'm going to apply it to my personal favorite character in all of fiction, someone who very well might fit the "only lacks 1 or 2 of the cardinal signs, and the author is trying to pull something" category.

Vandaleu from "The Death Mage Who Doesn't Want a 4th Time."

*Is admired and loved by everybody.

It is cannon that Vandaleu has an ability called "death attribute charm." It causes him to automatically force all ghosts, spirits, vampires, and suicidal people to immediately consider him someone to be admired. He later gets the "Holy Son of Vida" title, which causes all races of Vida to love him, and then finally gets the "Guider" job which spreads the effects of his charm to cast a wider and wider net.

So, in a way, this is a more literal applications of this cardinal sign, he is actually using a kind of brain-washing charm magic to force people to like him. However, due to the dark twist that seems to invalidate whether or not they would really love him without these things kinda allows him to just barely skate by.

*Disliking them alone is enough to get a character classified as a villain.

It really is the case that everyone who likes Van is classified as a good guy, and everyone who dislikes Van is classified as a villain, and usually crazy on top of that. There is the slight mitigating factor though that the mere act of giving Van a chance makes you subject to his guidance (AKA powered up charm effect) and having a strong dislike for him is about the only way to avoid the effects of his guidance.

There is also the fact that Van is literally fighting against a twisted genocidal god bent on literally pulling a Hittler on all the races of Vida. You really would have to be evil and crazy to support Hittler, and it is only natural and good to rally behind the person fighting against, which in turn will make you subject to his charm effects.

* Their opinion is always somehow objectively true, even if the author has to bend the rules of reality in order to make it true.

Vandaleu is categorized as insane by the author. Somehow, his insanity has caused him to naturally adopt a philosophy that, when viewed with a critical eye, looks like the solution to Friedrich Nietzsche's Ubermench dellema for how to overcome the lack of god and be a good person despite the lack of a morality guided by god in a world in which "god is dead."

It is incredibly difficult to objectively call this philosphy incorrect when you read it. However, due to the fact that the author does not have to bend reality to make Van's opinion "the correct one," and also often portrays his opinions as "extreme" (in a positive moral direction,) and "crazy" things for a person to be doing, it seems more like the author is actually trying to say that Van is wrong despite the reader's disagreement and wanting to say that Van is actually right. Therefore, I think that this is actually the first criteria I can actually say Van is unmitigatedly safe from.

* Any character who disagrees with them for any reason is wrong.

There have been several characters who have disagreed with Van, and the narrative portrayed them as being in the right to disagree with Van. In fact, these characters are usually some of Van's friends, and they are able to quickly and easily persuade Van to stop holding his current opinion and to take what they view to be the correct thing to do. That is, if Van agrees with them. He will not agree with someone who really doesn't have a good opinion and he will defend his current way of doing things.

Basically, Van hears out disagreement and, for the reasons stated above, he is able to pivot and change his behavior inhumanly fast after having been pursuaded he's in the wrong.

Item #2 Van is 100% safe from.

* They are better than everyone else at everything they do.

Van is an incredibly hard worker who has had to overcome several shortcomings in his ability. He later becomes really good at everything he does, but the struggle to get there is real.

100% safe #3.

* OP protagonist.

Yes, Van is extremely OP.

* Completely flawless, or what flaws they have are insignificant.

Van is wrathful and vengeful to the point he makes himself look like a mad lunatic villain to anyone not under the effects of his guidance every time he sees someone doing something he considers evil, and this goes especially toward any individual connected in any way at all to his mother's death. In fact, 3 of those people connected to his mother's death are working hard to redeem themselves, but Van absolutely does not care and will go to any lengths to justify his desire to kill those people.

Van goes overboard to an absolute extreme. He completely looses himself in his emotion to the point he endangers himself when he sees evil being done, and his classification of what is and isn't evil is one that few readers would disagree with and often has to do with callously killing or oppressing innocents. Van seems to completely lack the ability to forgive people, an ability that has been plainly demonstrated by several of his friends under other circumstances to the point that Van's lack of ability to forgive seems to stick out even more.

Van is full of flaws, although most of them are mitigated and taken up for by his friends. His lack of ability to forgive though is an endearing feature throughout the story that has become a driving point of tension in several situations and has disrupted his ability to get things done on several occasions, and has had him act in very irrational ways that have done real harm to him.

100% safe #4.

So, Van is completely safe from 4 out of the 8 cardinal signs, and the other 4 (except the OP part) are things that seem almost like the author was trying to tempt the Mary Sue (or rather Gary Stu in this case) label, but put such an incredibly hard twist on it that you can't exactly justify that this sign of a Mary Sue actually applies to him. Indeed, I would say Van fits the category of a character written by an excellent author who was trying to prove something by crop dusting the Mary Sue concept without actually going there.

And the result... is brilliant. As I said, he's the protagonist from my favorite series of all time.
 

CupcakeNinja

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Huh. I always kinda worried my character was like that because he stumbles upon OP stuff a lot. But most people of his generation hate him except girls. Or think he's either weird, crazy or both. So I think I'm fine?

You know I never really understood the whole mary sue, Gary stu thing either. Nice to know what to avoid now.

...or what to know to turn on its head. There's gotta be a way to make that work without letting the dude seem like an OP little shit. And imma find it. Maybe. I dunno. I'm lazy.

A friend of mine once said, "Here's how to spot a Gary Stu: You're reading a book by Terry Goodkind."
I liked those books. Well. I only read the first few. But I watched the TV series and it was FUCKING BOMB. Wished it continued.
 

Pistachio

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I don't know how to spot a Mary Sue to be honest but I do know that if a character, be they female or male, is too much of a winner in life without actually working for it then it is a character not worth my time -ahem, unless there's a twist in the end-.

That being said, how about reading what TvTropes says about Mary Sues?

Mary Sue and Mary Sue Tropes

Mary Sue Types

No examples of the pages in this section, please. With the exception of Parody Sue, the various types of Mary Sue have been declared Flame Bait.

  • Anti-Sue: A Mary Sue who has many "anti-Sue traits"—ugly, clumsy, untalented, etc—but is still a Mary Sue by other means, such as being worshipped by everyone or always succeeding without fail.
  • Black Hole Sue: Much like a black hole, this is a Mary Sue who "sucks in" the plot and characters to her. Characters will behave outside their personalities, logic will be defied, and rules will be broken for her sake.
  • Canon Sue: A Mary Sue who is a canonical character.
  • Copy Cat Sue: A Mary Sue who is a carbon copy of the creator's favorite character (same abilities, same backstory, etc.)
  • Einstein Sue: A Mary Sue who is amazingly smarter than others, even if said others are professionals and said Mary Sue is an everyday person.
  • Fixer Sue: Within a Fix Fic, this is a Mary Sue who is more of a plot device than a person. Her main purpose is to railroad the plot and fix what the author originally didn't like.
  • God-Mode Sue: A Mary Sue who is so amazingly powerful that they can never be defeated.
  • Jerk Sue: A Mary Sue who is mean or maybe even cruel, but are still treated as an ideal person.
  • Lemon Stu: Appearing in lemon fics, this is a Mary Sue who can and will sleep with anyone and everyone they want to, on top of being a Sex God.
  • Marty Stu: A male Mary Sue.
  • Mary Sue herself.
  • Mary Sue Classic: The classic embodiment of a Mary Sue—beautiful, can do no wrong, the object of everyone's affection, and probably able to fix every problem.
  • Mary Tzu: A tactician Mary Sue, able to overcome every battle and war no matter if her side is outgunned and overpowered.
  • Neutrality Sue: Neutrality means that a Mary Sue can do whatever they want and get away with it.
  • Parody Sue: An intentional, Played for Laughs Mary Sue.
  • Purity Sue: Adorable, endearing to all, always positive, kind, and gentle, this Mary Sue's only flaws only make her more likable, like naivete or clumsiness.
  • Possession Sue: A canonical character-turned-Author Avatar.
  • Relationship Sue: A Mary Sue whose personality, arc, and traits all go towards being the perfect match for another character.
  • Sympathetic Sue: When The Woobie is cranked Up to Eleven, this Mary Sue's personality and backstory all carry the intention of making one feel bad for her.
  • Villain Sue: An evil Mary Sue, typically either A) given a Freudian Excuse to dismiss their wrongdoings, or B) made so invincible that the heroes suffer personality and intelligence changes so that the villain can win.
This site's terms are quite entertaining to read too!

Lastly, So You Want To Avoid Writing A Mary Sue?
 

awake1122

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This originated from star trek fanfiction. The character, Mary Sue, was a perfect human being that instantly had the solution to whatever problem she was faced with and non of the other characters really has any chance to shine. So I'd describe a Mary Sue as a eish fulfillment character.
 

XianPiete

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Wish-fulfillment self-insert is what you usually think of with a Mary Sue/Gray Stu for sure.
 
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ars

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A friend of mine once said, "Here's how to spot a Gary Stu: You're reading a book by Terry Goodkind."
Man, I remember reading his sword of truth book series when I was a teen. At least I was able to enjoy it back then... Enough to have an elitist attitude over the tv show, even :sweat_smile:


Back 13 years ago I would obsessively check if my edgy OCs were 'Mary Sue' on one of those quiz sites that asked questions like, "Are your character's eyes an 'unusual' color? +1 Mary Sue point, +2 if it's red or white", "Does your character's name have a hyphen in it? Is the name a 'cool' word like Ebony, Darkness, etc? +2 Mary Sue points". It was an accurate enough litmus test for deviantart OC/RP standards, probably.

I think nowadays, my POV is that the Mary Sue traits are inherently interesting, or at least definitely unusual, and that's why they become a crutch that inexperienced writers might try to use to make their story/character more compelling. It's tough for a 13-year old to find any passion in writing an ordinary, chubby 38-year old salaryman, whereas something like "the last of his clan who is ostracized from society and has red eyes and one angel wing and has a secret locked power which can trigger the end of the world" inherently has way more drama to unpack and explore. It also realistically has tons of baggage that gets skipped over in wish fulfillment/surface-level stories, so the actual compelling parts of those traits disappear or become cheapened. After someone has seen all those traits handled horrendously, though, it's no surprise if they would want to avoid writing/reading about them entirely. (They might also just not be interesting anymore because they're so overdone, so an author would need to add some fresh take to it to make it intriguing again.)

One other thing that I've realized lately is that even if a character is a Mary Sue on paper, if they're relatable, funny, compelling, or just plain likeable to the reader, then the reader can forgive anything. I've noticed this while reading power fantasy/thriller novels where the main characters are incredibly overpowered/intelligent/good-looking, but because the narration and dialogue are so snappy and witty, and because the character is still challenged by the plot in ways that make them lose their 'cool/OP' composure, the characters remain likeable and relatable people. Even if, in real life, they would be so unrealistically incredible that you wouldn't even be worthy to lick their feet...
 

Llamadragon

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In my book, a Stu is simply a character described as being better than the writing/lore/setting is logically backing up.

Like Bella Swan in Twilight. Technically she is not so good that she breaks the common sense provided in the books, it’s jsut that the common sense isn’t particularly described, so there’s nothing to break - and nothing much to back her up. A powerful/perfect character needs to be backed up by more than flowery words.
Bella Swan is also a good example of why it’s really hard to write a list of what a Stu character is, because she actually breaks several of your rules, but she’s still a complete Mary Sue if you ask me. The self-insert is shining through a little bit too hard.
 

Jemini

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Back 13 years ago I would obsessively check if my edgy OCs were 'Mary Sue' on one of those quiz sites that asked questions like, "Are your character's eyes an 'unusual' color? +1 Mary Sue point, +2 if it's red or white", "Does your character's name have a hyphen in it? Is the name a 'cool' word like Ebony, Darkness, etc? +2 Mary Sue points". It was an accurate enough litmus test for deviantart OC/RP standards, probably.
Lol, upon reading this I decided out of curiosity to find such a site and check my character out on it.

(I used this one) https://springhole.net/writing/marysue.htm

Whether I count the negative points or not, my score was below 16, which is in the safe range. If I do include the mitigating factors, she's all the way down in the 0-5 range, which means that on top of being absolutely safe from Mary Sue status she's also a pretty developed character (but only because she got into the 0-5 range via negative points. She would be a poorly developed character if she got there with no negative sue points.)
 
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awake1122

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:unsure: But doesn't everyone love mary sues?
They are misused in storys which causes the story to suffer and end up boring. It's like how goku always shows up last, he is the one who will win. You know it'll happen, but you still get to see everyone else work hard and push their own stories forward.
 
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Let's put this more objective list through a test drive. I'm going to apply it to my personal favorite character in all of fiction, someone who very well might fit the "only lacks 1 or 2 of the cardinal signs, and the author is trying to pull something" category.

Vandaleu from "The Death Mage Who Doesn't Want a 4th Time."

*Is admired and loved by everybody.

It is cannon that Vandaleu has an ability called "death attribute charm." It causes him to automatically force all ghosts, spirits, vampires, and suicidal people to immediately consider him someone to be admired. He later gets the "Holy Son of Vida" title, which causes all races of Vida to love him, and then finally gets the "Guider" job which spreads the effects of his charm to cast a wider and wider net.

So, in a way, this is a more literal applications of this cardinal sign, he is actually using a kind of brain-washing charm magic to force people to like him. However, due to the dark twist that seems to invalidate whether or not they would really love him without these things kinda allows him to just barely skate by.

*Disliking them alone is enough to get a character classified as a villain.

It really is the case that everyone who likes Van is classified as a good guy, and everyone who dislikes Van is classified as a villain, and usually crazy on top of that. There is the slight mitigating factor though that the mere act of giving Van a chance makes you subject to his guidance (AKA powered up charm effect) and having a strong dislike for him is about the only way to avoid the effects of his guidance.

There is also the fact that Van is literally fighting against a twisted genocidal god bent on literally pulling a Hittler on all the races of Vida. You really would have to be evil and crazy to support Hittler, and it is only natural and good to rally behind the person fighting against, which in turn will make you subject to his charm effects.

* Their opinion is always somehow objectively true, even if the author has to bend the rules of reality in order to make it true.

Vandaleu is categorized as insane by the author. Somehow, his insanity has caused him to naturally adopt a philosophy that, when viewed with a critical eye, looks like the solution to Friedrich Nietzsche's Ubermench dellema for how to overcome the lack of god and be a good person despite the lack of a morality guided by god in a world in which "god is dead."

It is incredibly difficult to objectively call this philosphy incorrect when you read it. However, due to the fact that the author does not have to bend reality to make Van's opinion "the correct one," and also often portrays his opinions as "extreme" (in a positive moral direction,) and "crazy" things for a person to be doing, it seems more like the author is actually trying to say that Van is wrong despite the reader's disagreement and wanting to say that Van is actually right. Therefore, I think that this is actually the first criteria I can actually say Van is unmitigatedly safe from.

* Any character who disagrees with them for any reason is wrong.

There have been several characters who have disagreed with Van, and the narrative portrayed them as being in the right to disagree with Van. In fact, these characters are usually some of Van's friends, and they are able to quickly and easily persuade Van to stop holding his current opinion and to take what they view to be the correct thing to do. That is, if Van agrees with them. He will not agree with someone who really doesn't have a good opinion and he will defend his current way of doing things.

Basically, Van hears out disagreement and, for the reasons stated above, he is able to pivot and change his behavior inhumanly fast after having been pursuaded he's in the wrong.

Item #2 Van is 100% safe from.

* They are better than everyone else at everything they do.

Van is an incredibly hard worker who has had to overcome several shortcomings in his ability. He later becomes really good at everything he does, but the struggle to get there is real.

100% safe #3.

* OP protagonist.

Yes, Van is extremely OP.

* Completely flawless, or what flaws they have are insignificant.

Van is wrathful and vengeful to the point he makes himself look like a mad lunatic villain to anyone not under the effects of his guidance every time he sees someone doing something he considers evil, and this goes especially toward any individual connected in any way at all to his mother's death. In fact, 3 of those people connected to his mother's death are working hard to redeem themselves, but Van absolutely does not care and will go to any lengths to justify his desire to kill those people.

Van goes overboard to an absolute extreme. He completely looses himself in his emotion to the point he endangers himself when he sees evil being done, and his classification of what is and isn't evil is one that few readers would disagree with and often has to do with callously killing or oppressing innocents. Van seems to completely lack the ability to forgive people, an ability that has been plainly demonstrated by several of his friends under other circumstances to the point that Van's lack of ability to forgive seems to stick out even more.

Van is full of flaws, although most of them are mitigated and taken up for by his friends. His lack of ability to forgive though is an endearing feature throughout the story that has become a driving point of tension in several situations and has disrupted his ability to get things done on several occasions, and has had him act in very irrational ways that have done real harm to him.

100% safe #4.

So, Van is completely safe from 4 out of the 8 cardinal signs, and the other 4 (except the OP part) are things that seem almost like the author was trying to tempt the Mary Sue (or rather Gary Stu in this case) label, but put such an incredibly hard twist on it that you can't exactly justify that this sign of a Mary Sue actually applies to him. Indeed, I would say Van fits the category of a character written by an excellent author who was trying to prove something by crop dusting the Mary Sue concept without actually going there.

And the result... is brilliant. As I said, he's the protagonist from my favorite series of all time.
Holy shit!!! Me too! xD I was just scrolling here to read but when you mentioned Van I had a real life squeal! (Though I just wish they release faster.)

Well I need to add my own two cents somehow so... Aegir from Road to Kingdom is a good example of a Gary Stu that doesn't feel like a Gary Stu at all ^^
 

Jemini

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Holy shit!!! Me too! xD I was just scrolling here to read but when you mentioned Van I had a real life squeal! (Though I just wish they release faster.)

Well I need to add my own two cents somehow so... Aegir from Road to Kingdom is a good example of a Gary Stu that doesn't feel like a Gary Stu at all ^^
Yeah, I just lost my patience with how slowly the chapters get translated and went to reading MTL raws. They are still releasing every 4 days, so that's enough to satisfy me.

Honestly, Death Mage is about the only series I would put up with MTL for. It's not so bad once you get used to it, but I've tried it with some other series and discovered that the errors in translation change depending on the author's style and preferred phrases. So, doing it with other authors means you need to learn a whole new set of rules in order to compensate for the oddities in the MTL. It's just not worth it to do it with more than one series, and Death Mage is the one series I've chosen to go MTL with.
 

TypeAxiom

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Several of your criterion seems to overlap too much to be considered cardinal. 1 & 2, 2 & 4, 6 & 7. Not all of them are equal-weight too, for example, number 8 is almost a sure sign of a mary sue, while number 1 is rarely an indicator depending on your setting and character distribution.

Anyway, Sue detection has always been a "know it when you see it" kind of thing.

And to further reinforce my irrelevant personal opinions, most harem protagonists are gary stus.
 

Phantomheart

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Mary Sue depends on the execution of the writer, if you are talking like the writing of the ever so infamous fanfiction, My Immortal, then please stop writing and burn all writing utensils you own.

However, there are many famous characters that we like because of their Mary Sue aspects:
Katniss Everdeen -- Hunger Games
Harry Potter -- Harry Potter
Percy Jackson -- Percy Jackson and the Olympians

All protagonists ever from every Asian web novel I have ever read that is categorized as transmigration and romance.
 
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