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 list is by no means gender specific.
1. Perception = Reality
A Mary Sue is never tricked, prejudiced, confused, or in any way is decieved. When a Sue treats someone bad, that person always turns out to be bad, even if they behaved good at the time. If a Sue wants to take a particular course of action, that action will always turn out to be correct. They never make mistakes due to faulty information or personal bias.
2. Exotic or Beautiful Appearance
Mary Sues often have unusually colored hair or eyes, especially in fanfiction. 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 will be ancient (hundreds or thousands of years old) but still look young.
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. 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, they 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.
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 Blank, 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.