A Mary Sue is a self-insert character who is conspicuously more talented, more beautiful, more powerful, and/or otherwise obviously superior to other characters in the story. If the "Mary Sue" character is male, he may be referred to as a Gary Stu.
Traits of a Mary Sue
Characters may demonstrate traits of a Mary Sue, yet escape the Sue label due to other factors. Though this list is not comprehensive, it can help in identifying a Sue. Though the list assumes a female Sue, this is purely due to the nature of the term. This list is by no means gender specific.
1. Perception = Reality
A Mary Sue is never tricked, prejudiced, confused, or in any way deceived. When a Sue treats someone badly, that person always turns out to be bad, even if they seemed good at the time. If a Sue wants to take a particular course of action, that action always turns out to be correct. They never make mistakes due to faulty information or personal bias.
2. Languid pools of Deepest Sapphire
Mary Sues often have unusually colored hair or eyes, especially in fan fiction. They may have silver hair with pink streaks, or eyes that change color with their moods. Even if their appearance is more conventional, expect purple prose to be lavished on their description. If a Sue has black hair and green eyes, they will be described as "A thick mane of raven black hair over two shimmering irridescent emeralds," or something of that nature.
If female, a Sue will never be fat, or anorexic. She will always outshine every other person around her, usually without the use of cosmetics. If a Sue does wear makeup, it will never clash with her skin tones, crumble off her face, or run if she's crying.
There are no Sues who are nearly crippled from all the wounds they sustained. There are no Sues who lost their curvaceous figure after bearing their one true love a litter of children. There are no Sues whose skin is cracked and wrinkled from a lifetime spent adventuring.
Sues are either rather young (teens to early twenties) or ancient (hundreds or thousands of years old) but still young-looking.
3. Values Dissonance
A Mary Sue will always exhibit virtues held dear by the author, regardless of the setting. For example, she may consider slavery wrong in a society where it's an omnipresent part of life. She may want to marry for love in a culture where arranged marriages are the norm. If she comes from a prejudiced society, she will refuse to judge people based on their race, religion, or social class. This is a side effect of the self-insert concept: the author does not want to be seen as bigoted, and in their minds, this character is them.
4. "Because it's me doing it"
Even if things like murder, rape, or theft are normally condemned, the author will never call the Sue to account for it. No matter how many innocent people they may happen to kill, the author will never portray a Sue as anything but honorable and heroic. Her actions are automatically considered to be virtuous ones, simply because the Sue is the one doing it. Despite the author holding to such a warped code of ethics, a Sue will never be seen as immoral.
5. Ph33r mai L33t Skillz
A Mary Sue will be absurdly talented in many fields, even if they only specialized in one. If the Sue is a scientist, she will be skilled at Robotics, Genetics, Medicine, and Archeology, and many more fields besides. They will usually be hailed as a genius by other recognized authorities in the same subject.
If a warrior, she will be without peer in the martial arts, unmatched with a sword, or the world's greatest shot. It is extremely common for Sues to have a very beautiful singing voice.
And naturally, a Sue will be a near instant expert in any field she attempts. You will never see a Mary Sue train for years to learn a skill -- minutes are more likely. If they're simply fooling around with a piece of machinery, the Sue will somehow make it perform better then anyone else has done. Even if a technician trained in operating the device in question exists, they will pale in comparison to the Sue's technical savvy.
A Sue's first attempt at poetry will most likely produce an epic work that outshines the Iliad and the Odyssey. Her first painting will make the Mona Lisa look like a napkin that's been sneezed on. An invention of the Sue will do things not thought possible with currently existing technology.
6. The world exists for me
Sues inevitably devour the narrative in a story. When a story features a Sue, there will be next to nothing going on that does not revolve around them somehow. Even if the fanbase considers secondary characters to be more interesting, they will be shoved aside so the Sue can spend more time in the spotlight.
If the Sue is not in the scene for some reason, the focal characters will be trying to join the Sue, or wondering what it is the Sue is doing at the time. A Sue can reduce an otherwise interesting cast into a pack of obsequious hangers on.
This also makes the Sue an infallible weathervane in regards to other characters. Those who like the Sue and treat her nicely are good. Conversely, anyone who doesn't like the Sue is bad. All other charater traits they may exhibit are irrelevant compared to their relation to Mary Sue.
7. Crocodile Tears
Sues often have tragic pasts, featuring lost loved ones, rape or similar abuse, and possibly deep prejudice endured at some time. Even if their pasts have been so abusive that it should have made them traumatized wrecks, they will show no lasting damage from this abuse, making it more a case of cheap emotional button pushing then a case of a character overcoming their own personal demons.
8. Where does he get all those wonderful toys?
Sues are frequently loaded with rare and expensive objects, be they beautiful jewels, magical swords, telepathic animal companions, or personal vehicles. These exists solely to make the Sue more special and may never be of any use in the story. If the item is as mundane as mere clothing, it will be a garment fit for royalty and receive much lingering description.
9. OMG I gotz magik!?
If magic exists, the Sue will have unparalleled skill with it. If magic does not exist, the Sue can sometimes manifest it anyway. Magic may be referred to as psychic powers in more technologically advanced settings.
10. "I was just born that way."
While most Sues are considered great due to their outrageous skill at goddamn everything, some are automatically special simply by virtue of being born. She may come from an enchanted bloodline, be prophesied to save the world, or be the long lost heir to the throne of the Magical Kingdom of Suesylvania. Sues will be lauded for what they are rather then what they do, for they might never do anything.
11. UNLIMITED POWERRR!!!!
There are many works of fiction that have internal rules for how things function. It may be that genies are bound to lamps, a certain spell can only be cast once a day, or you can only teleport to a place you've seen already.
Once these rules have been established, they will be tossed out the window for the sake of the Sue. All other characters will have to abide by them, but the Sue will not.
Characters Reputed to be Mary Sues
- Eragon: "Gary Stu" for Christopher Paolini, author of Eragon
- Kathryn Janeway: Mary Sue for Jeri Taylor, a Star Trek: Voyager writer
- Anita Blake: Mary Sue for Laurell K. Hamilton, author of assorted "Anita Blake, Vampire-hunter" novels
- Dagny Taggart: Mary Sue for Ayn Rand, author of Atlas Shrugged.
- Richard Rahl: Gary Stu for Terry Goodkind, author of the "Sword of Truth" fantasy novels.
- Kenneth Chinran: Gary Stu for Michael Z Williamson, author of "The Weapon" and "Freehold"
- Bella Swan: Sue for Stephanie Meyer, Author of the Twilight Trilogy
- Honor Harrington: Mary Sue from David Weber's Honorverse series
- A TREKKIE'S TALE by Paula Smith, parody of the trope and introduction of the youngest ensign in Starfleet, 15-year-old Mary Sue