What Is a Mary Sue? – Meaning & Origin

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

Have you ever been called a Mary Sue? As a writer, I’ve heard the term about a female fan fiction character thrown around more times than I can count. It’s linked to fan fiction but has grown to include other uses in today’s world. So, I’m going to explain all the details and show you how you can use the term “Mary Sue” in your writing.

Meaning of Mary Sue

What Is a Mary Sue Meaning Origin

A Mary Sue is typically a fictional character in TV, books, and movies. It began as a term used in fanfiction but is now applied to all forms of writing for a character considered too perfect or just downright unrealistic. Basically, it’s a poorly-written self-insert character.

The character is often written as an idealized version of the author or an author’s wish fulfillment. Mary Sues tend to have no real flaws or weaknesses and are adored by other characters in the story. Basically, they’re perfect people, and the world revolves around them.

Today, the term has broadened and is also used in real life to describe or poke fun at people who seem to be perfect or have it all together and act as though they’re the center of the universe.

Is It Mary Sue or Mary-Sue?

The only time you need to hyphenate this term is when you’re using it in conjunction with another noun or adjective. Otherwise, don’t use a hyphen. 

  • Bella Swan is a Mary Sue.
  • Bella Swan is a Mary-Sue-type character.

Examples of a Mary Sue Literary Character

Even though it’s mostly used to describe a canonical character, there are many mainstream characters that fall under the idea of Mary Sue. These famous characters are ones just about everyone knows of, even if you have seen or read the media they’re in. 

  • Bella Swan from the popular Twilight series
  • Anastacia Steel from the adult series 50 Shades of Grey (fun fact: it actually began as a fan fiction of the Twilight series reimagined with a millionaire main character)
  • Hermione from Harry Potter
  • Rey from Star Wars

Origin of the Term Mary Sue

The term Mary Sue is believed to have originated as a character in fanfiction, in Star Trek fanfiction in the 1970s. The character “Lieutenant Mary Sue” was introduced in a story called “A Trekkie’s Tale” by Paula Smith. If you’re a fellow Trekkie like me, then you probably know the origin of this story all too well.

The character Paula created was a beautiful and smart Star Fleet officer who quickly rose through the ranks with little effort and saved the ship from danger when no one else seemingly could. The character was a thinly veiled self-insertion of the author herself, and the story was a parody of the common fanfiction trope of idealized characters.

What Does Mary Sue Mean in Writing?

Basically, if you create a character (usually female) that is too beautiful, too effortlessly everything, and you balance the entire plot upon their ability to do things, then you have yourself a Mary Sue.

What Is the Male Version of a Mary Sue?

The male version of a Mary Sue character, whether real or not, is called a “Gary Stu” or a “Marty Stu.” These people will possess all the same character traits and qualities as a female Mary Sue. However, they’re typically male and often have traditional masculine traits, like physical strength and intelligence.

Synonyms for Mary Sue

  • Self-insert
  • Wish fulfillment
  • Author Avatar
  • Little miss perfect

Using Mary Sue in a Sentence

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Here’s some deeper context surrounding this term to see what I mean about this certain character type. 

  • The main character in this fanfiction is a total Mary Sue, but I love the story, so I’ll keep reading.
  • I don’t like how the author made the protagonist such as Mary Sue. The story would have been so much better if she had some flaws.
  • The story would be more interesting if the main character had some flaws instead of being a Mary Sue.
  • Bella Swan has to be the biggest Mary Sue in history.

But more often, he roils his constituency with Kanye West-like pronouncements like his dismissal of the latest best picture Oscar front-runner, “The Revenant,” as “cinematic overkill” or his description of Rey in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” as a “Mary Sue” (genre slang for an idealized female character who triumphs only through authorial wish fulfillment). (The New York Times)

Don’t Be a Mary Sue

Although the character archetype is a common one, try not to use a Mary Sue in your writing because it makes things flat and predictable. Instead, make your characters more relatable and give them flaws because real people aren’t perfect.

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