Before You Go Declaring Other Peoples' Characters Mary Sues...

Note: The concept of a "Mary Sue" is outdated and fraught with problems, and it's time to move on to a better way of looking at things. This article is here for reading purposes only. Please see "Does My Character Work Okay?" - How To Tell For Yourself! for character advice.

Or, "how to tell the difference between genuine Mary Sues and characters you just don’t like" or "The Anti-Mary Sue Litmus Test," because way too many people have been labelling characters Mary Sues right and left for no other reason than they just don't like the character

First, if the character is female, imagine if a male character took the alleged Mary Sue’s place and did everything the alleged Mary Sue did. Would you still perceive the character as a Mary Sue? Unless the character’s actions should reasonably have negative consequences in-universe yet don’t (eg, a female character does things that would realistically end up with her getting a death sentence in that particular time period/universe), the character probably isn’t a Mary Sue; you’re probably just sexist.

If the character you suspect to be a Mary Sue is one half of a ship, ask yourself:

If you’ve answered “no” to both, then the character is not a Mary Sue for being in a relationship. Contrast Bella Swan: as soon as she meets Edward Cullen, she becomes his life.

If the character you suspect to be a Mary Sue is a fan/new character who associates with canon/old characters in any other capacity, ask yourself:

If you’ve answered “no” to these questions, then the character is not a Mary Sue for associating with canon/old characters.

If the character is exceptionally powerful or talented, ask yourself:

If you’ve answered “yes” to the above, then the character is probably not a Mary Sue because xe is powerful. Contrast Bella Swan after becoming a vampire: she frequently chooses options that are presented in-story as having potentially dire consequences, but these consequences never play out. Her powers aren't attached to any real responsibility, either - all they do is make life easy and conflict-free for her.

If the character has a tragic and/or traumatic backstory, ask yourself:

Tragic and/or traumatic backstories can be vital for a character. When used right, they set foundations for who a character is. For example, Tony Stark's experience with the Ten Rings in the Iron Man film was what prompted him to make the transition from a selfish and spoiled brat to a man who, while still childish in many ways, started putting the needs and lives of others before himself. A Mary Sue will have a tragic backstory mainly as a cheap grab for attention through pity and/or admiration.

See also:

What Is A Mary Sue?
Mary Sue Subtypes
The Universal Mary Sue Litmus Test
How To Write Powerful & Extraordinary Characters Without Being Obnoxious Or Boring
Basic Advice For Giving Useful Feedback To Creators

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