Mary Sue

Mary Sue

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comic of an original Star Trek female character with long blonde hair and dressed in stockings introducing herself as the new medical officer on the Enterprise


Mary Sue is a negative term used in fanfiction and literary criticism to describe an original character that is often overly idealized or assumed to be a projection of the author. When used by a male author, the character is referred to as a Gary Stu or Marty Stu.


The name "Mary Sue" is taken from a character[10] that appeared in Paula Smith's[18] parody Star Trek fanfiction titled "A Trekkie's Tale."[12] Originally published in the December 1973 issue of the fanzine The Menagerie[16], the 200 word piece intended to critique the abundance of Star Trek fanfiction Smith saw in which adolescent girls become the youngest member of the Starfleet crew whom every canon character fell in love with.[17] It was paired with a drawing of wide-eyed young girl with braces to illustrate what the character would have looked like.

The Menagerie fanzine from 1973 with drawings of Star Trek characters illustration of Mary Sue a young girl with large eyes braces and a bow in her hair

"Gee, golly, gosh, gloriosky," thought Mary Sue as she stepped on the bridge of the Enterprise. "Here I am, the youngest lieutenant in the fleet – only fifteen and a half years old." Captain Kirk came up to her.
"Oh, Lieutenant, I love you madly. Will you come to bed with me?"
"Captain! I am not that kind of girl!"
"You're right, and I respect you for it. Here, take over the ship for a minute while I go get some coffee for us."
Mr. Spock came onto the bridge. "What are you doing in the command seat, Lieutenant?"
"The Captain told me to."
"Flawlessly logical. I admire your mind."


Following its publication, Smith went on to speak at some of the earliest fandom conventions, cementing the definition of a Mary Sue to be a wish-fulfillment outlet for the author which can sometime seem out of place in the established universe and ultimately warps the canon characters’ personalities, causing them to act out of character.

how to tell if your character is a Mary Sue guide with side by side comparison of a normal girl and a magical creature

In March 1999, author Pat Pflieger presented a paper titled "Too Good To Be True: 150 Years of Mary Sue"[3] at the American Culture Association conference. Pflieger traces the history of these characters prior to the term’s 1973 coinage, marking that these types of charactesr have appeared in literature since as early as the nineteenth century, using examples of stories published in the children’s magazine Robert Merry’s Museum[21] throughout the 1800s. Both characters from these stories as well as ones from 20th century fanfiction shared traits including idealized beauty, tragic pasts, charming personalities and a desire to fix things the author deems "broken," whether that be feelings or canon stories that did not live up to expectations. The paper lists 30 different characters[22] written between 1849 and 1999 that could fit into the Mary Sue archetype.

pages from children’s magazine Robert Merry’s Museum

In 2002, the LiveJournal community The Mary Sue Report[15] was founded to highlight fanfics that featured Mary Sues, linking to the original story and highlighting the characteristics that fit the archetype. The following year, The Canon Sue Report[26] was created to feature characters outside of fanfiction that could be considered Mary Sues, including Rose Tyler from Doctor Who[27], Maito Gai from Naruto[28] and Lana Lang from Smallville.[29]

headshot of actress Billie Piper as Rose Tyler from Doctor Who Maito Gai from Naruto giving a thumbs up actress Kristin Kreuk as Lana Lang from Smallvile

Writing guides on avoiding creating Mary Sue characters can be found on Yahoo![7], Salon[8] and Fiction Press.[9] Additionally, a Mary Sue Litmus Test[1] exists for a writer to answer questions about their fictional characters to determine whether or not they would fall into this archetype. Discussion on Mary Sues can be found on Tumblr[6], TV Tropes[2] and the Fanlore wiki.[11]


As early as 1994, the term Mary Sue was seen as a blanket term for any heroine featured in a Star Trek fanfiction[19], with author Camille Bacon-Smith noting that it reached a point where writers were restricted for fear of creating a character that would be considered a Mary Sue. Research completed by J.M. Frey in 2009[20] found that these characters, though often hated by community members, can be stepping stones for writers trying to find their place in the fandom. Frey determined that self-based characters can be used as a tool for writers to understand ones self. The following year, Geek Feminism[14]compiled several blogs found on their link sharing group of writers automatically condemning original female characters to be vapid, noting that readers too readily dismiss a female-written piece with original characters on similar grounds.

The notion that Mary Sues are only disliked for being female was also discussed on book review blog The Zoe-Trope[4] in May 2011, in which the author defines key traits about the Mary Sue archetype:

1) A character who is based, at least partly, on the author
2) A character whom has no significant flaws (except possibly ones the other characters find cute)
3) A character to whom everyone within the story reacts as if they were beautiful and wonderful except characters who are clearly evil and/or motivated by jealousy
4) A character with whom, during the course of the story, every available character of the opposite (and occasionally the same) sex will fall in love given any contact whatsoever
5) A character who undergoes no significant growth, change or development throughout the story

Bella Swan

After the success of the Twilight series in 2008, many readers argued on personal blogs[23] that Bella Swan was a Mary Sue character. The discussion was continued on Cracked[24], Yahoo! Answers[25], and peer-reviewed contemporary culture journal Reconstruction[5], though no conclusion was made.

image of Stephenie Meyer author of Twilight with text comparing her to the physical description of protagonist Bella Swan

Search Interest

External References

[1] Springhole – The Universal Mary Sue Litmus Test

[2] TV Tropes – Mary Sue

[3] Too Good To Be True: 150 Years of Mary Sue

[4] The Zoe-Trope – You Can Stuff Your Mary-Sue Where The Sun Don't Shine

[5] Reconstruction via Wayback Machine – Pamela, Twilight, and the "Mary-Sue" in Literature: Patterns of Popular Criticism / Ashley Barner

[6] Tumblr – search for "Mary Sue"

[7] Yahoo! Voices via Wayback Machine – How to Avoid Writing a Mary Sue Fiction Character

[8] Salon – A reader’s advice to writers: Beware of Mary Sue

[9] FictionPress – The Official Mary Sue Manual

[10] Star Trek Expanded Universe Wiki – Mary Sue

[11] Fanlore – Mary Sue

[12] A Trekkie's Tale

[13] Tor – The Good, The Bad, The Mary Sues

[14] Geek Feminism – Quick hit: “Mary Sue” policing

[15] LiveJournal – The Mary Sue Report

[16] Fanlore – Menagerie (Star Trek: TOS zine edited by Paula Smith & Sharon Ferraro)

[17] Transformative Works and Culture – A conversation with Paula Smith

[18] Fanlore – Paula Smith

[19] Google Books – Enterprising Women

[20] J. M. Frey – Water Logged Mona Lisa: Who Is Mary Sue, and Why Do We Need Her?

[21] – An issue of Robert Merry's Museum

[22] List of Mary Sues (via Wayback Machine)

[23] Better That Way – Bella Swan, Queen of Mary Sues?

[24] Cracked via Wayback Machine – Bella Swan

[25] Yahoo! Answers – Do you think Bella Swan from Twilight is a Mary-Sue?

[26] LiveJournal – The Canon Sue Report

[27] Canon Sue Report – Rose Tyler

[28] Canon Sue Report – Gai from Naruto

[29] Canon Sue Repor – Lana Lang: Smallville's Sweetheart

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