Who Is Mary Sue & Why Don’t Readers Like Her?

Who Is Mary Sue & Why Don’t Readers Like Her?

Just who is Mary Sue and why don’t readers like her?

Who Is Mary Sue & Why Don’t Readers Like Her?

‘Goody-two-shoes’, ‘butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth’, ‘holier than thou’, ‘Pollyanna’ and ‘Mary Sue’. What do all these terms and names have in common? Really, really annoying female characters. To be fair they’re not as annoying as female characters who are ‘too stupid to live’.

What’s Wrong With Mary Sue?

A Mary Sue is often created by authors to make their heroine especially attractive to the readers, but without creating any believable character, character development, or character arc.

If you want to start a lively discussion, the quickest way to do it is to describe someone’s favourite character as either a Mary Sue, or the male equivalent, Gary or Marty Sue. Why? Because these characters have no personality and are basically ridiculous.

Characteristics of a Mary Sue

There are many versions of Mary Sue, and some think they make great protagonists. I disagree. Today we’re going to talk about the common traits all Mary Sue’s have. They have no ‘Hero’s Journey’ throughout the book. They don’t grow or change as the story progresses. Why? Because they’re perfect in every way.

  1. Mary Sue is just too good to be true.
  2. As a result, she has no real personality. Personality is based on both the good and bad parts of a person. Mary Sue has no bad parts.
  3. She has special powers without having had to learn them or train.
  4. While she may supposedly be shy or awkward, everyone is drawn to her. Wallflower syndrome is not something from which she suffers.
  5. Everybody, including her enemies, love and admire her. As a result, Mary Sue has enviable romances.
  6. Mary Sue has only brilliant ideas. Put her in a room with the world’s most important scientists, and she will solve a problem that has them stumped. She will have an incredible IQ and can invent or create anything.
  7. The same applies to her advice. It’s always spot-on. She is very persuasive, even if what she says is basically nonsense or is something the author firmly believes. What Mary Sue says will convince even the most stubborn of other characters.
  8. Everyone trusts her implicitly. They will trust Mary Sue more than they would trust their families, spouses, or friends. She doesn’t have to do anything to earn this trust in any way. Mary Sue is a perfect judge of character. While other characters may distrust a potential villain, Mary Sue will have faith in him which will be justified at the end of the story.
  9. She is ‘so beautiful it’s a curse’ – often blonde hair and blue eyes. Other characters will mention her beauty, often declaring that her flaws are things like her bottom lip being ‘slightly too full for real beauty’, her nose is ‘too neat’, her neck is ‘too long or swanlike.’ Mary Sue will have a perfect body but not exercise in any way to keep in shape. Hollywood still resorts to trying to make attractive actresses ‘plain’ by making them wear glasses. If Mary Sue has a scar, birthmark or beauty spot, these will either be an indicator of Destiny or somehow add to her beauty.
  10. She loves all animals and everybody without exception. She may be frightened of people, but she never hates anyone. Disney animated heroines are often Mary Sues, Snow White and Cinderella are perfect examples, who often, just like modern Mary Sues, have a perfect singing voice and can play any musical instrument. Mary Sue can speak a number of languages fluently. If she is a Disney character she can communicate with animals. If she is in a science-fiction story, she will be able to communicate with aliens, despite never having studied linguistics.
  11. She is always polite, never swears, never loses her temper, never makes a mistake.
  12. Mary Sue will have unreserved wells of courage and will leap to save other people’s lives without considering her own safety.
  13. She is utterly incorruptible.
  14. Succeeding at everything, like sword-fighting, even if she’s never picked up a sword before in her life. Most of the time, the author gives her skills that she doesn’t even need for the sake of the story. A good example is Rey from the Star Wars movie, ‘The Force Awakens’. Rey goes from scavenger to Jedi Master in the blink of an eye, with skills that it took Luke Skywalker years to learn. 

So Why Do Authors Write Characters Like Mary Sue?

Writing a novel, when done right, can be hard work. As some authors are more interested in the number of books they’ve written, than the quality of the books, or they just want to see their names on the covers of books, that they will take the easiest routes.

Mary Sue’s are easy to write. They require no imagination, and no development.

The Last Word

If you would like to learn how to write real, deeply human characters who move the plot forward rather than just having plot happen to them, sign up for a course with Writers Write It’s the perfect place to learn.

Elaine Dodge

by Elaine Dodge. Elaine is the author of The Harcourts of Canada series and The Device HunterElaine trained as a graphic designer, then worked in design, advertising, and broadcast television. She now creates content, mostly in written form, for clients across the globe, but would much rather be drafting her books and short stories.

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Posted on: 8th March 2024