Clarifying Mary Sue
So, I realize that everyone has heard of Mary Sue characters, but the thing that bothers me is that Mary has never really been as clarified as she could be. Girls go around crying Mary Sue at every character with long pink hair, then go and create even worse Mary Sue characters in the false illusion that they're making nonMary Sue characters (or even anti-Sues) when in fact they're doing the opposite. Allow me to explain how this seems to happen.
First of all the term "Mary Sue" desperately needs to be clarified to these people, so this brings us to the very important question: What IS a Mary Sue?
At least everyone can agree on one thing. Mary Sues are characters that are so perfect it's annoying.
But. What do they mean by perfect? Everyone has different ideas of that, naturally. Unfortunately, this is how many fanfiction (and other) writers make their biggest mistakes.
When you hear the name Mary Sue what pops up in your mind? A beautiful princess who gets everything she wants, has magical powers and is loved by all the other characters around them? Is that really perfect to you?
Are you sure that in your heart you wouldn't rather be the mysterious emo that everyone else dislikes and is seriously misunderstood or the tough butt-kicking karate girl with short hair? These kind of characters can just as easily be Mary Sues as the girly girl Mary Sues that writers seem to be under the impression are the only ones.
"But my character has faults!" some might point out. Granted, this may be true, but your idea of perfect might in fact include these faults.
A common example of a Mary Sue fault that isn't really a fault is that they get into trouble because they are too caring or too nice to everyone. Well. . . This is an obviously stupid way to go about giving your character faults, BUT it's definitely not the only stupid way. You see, many people only pretend to give their characters "faults" by giving them something supposedly bad that they actually think of positively. Someone who thinks it's cool and funny to be sarcastic might make their Mary Sue character sarcastic, thus making them even closer to their personal definition of perfect.
Heck, if the author thinks shooting a gun off in an orphanage is a good thing and makes their character do it, then their character is STILL a Mary Sue, so long as it's portrayed as good (whatever "good" means. More on that soon).
Why do we hate Mary? While some of the writers might hate her because they hate girly girls in general (and labor under the impression that only girly girl characters are Mary Sues) true authors find her degrading not just because of her (usually) corny looks, background or history. Oh, no. That's the least of the problems with Mary Sue. We hate her, because she can do no wrong.
Mary Sue cannot do anything wrong. Sure, she can trip over a rock if it's funny and cute or maybe even accidentally press a button that blows up a city if it adds to the plot (naively assuming there is a plot). But she can't do anything that makes her a bad person. She cannot do anything morally wrong. At least, (and this is the most disgusting part) what's morally wrong according to the author.
"Ah, so as long as I make Mary do something unchristian she isn't a Mary Sue?"
No. Remember, this is perfect according to you. Even if you use the words "morally wrong" we all know that you're not thinking of it that way. You're not thinking, "This is the part of the story where Mary Sue makes a mistake that the audience knows is wrong and doesn't want her to do!" Give me a break. You're thinking, "This is the part of the story that makes Mary Sue more deep and mysterious and interesting!"
Also, it doesn't help that a lot of people skate over describing Mary Sue as sweaty, smelly, fat or anything like that even when it would be the realistic thing to do. Still, I'm not saying that just because you did use one of those words you're character isn't a Mary Sue either.
Mary can be your own twisted, lame or just plain pathetic idea of perfect.
Everything she does is your type of perfect. Basically reading about a Mary Sue regardless of what person's type of perfect she is feels like reading "BE LIKE ME, BE LIKE ME, BE LIKE ME," which is both tedious and insulting.
Then there are the "self-insert Mary Sues." There is nothing wrong with inserting yourself into a story. However, when people do this, they tend to make themselves seem (admit it) cooler than they really are. This could be by focusing on or emphasizing the (in some cases exaggerated) most interesting things about themself (which sometimes even leads to them getting big-headed and sometimes even believing they're really this mysterious, great person in real life). No wonder the phrases "self-insert" and "Mary Sue" usually go together.
How can you possibly try to portray yourself this way and not get a Mary Sue?
I guess, what I'm really trying to say, is that "perfect" is a very very very broad word to use as a definition for Mary Sue and if that's the definition you're going to use, don't you dare turn a blind eye to your own Mary Sues just because they don't fall in line with someone else's idea of perfect.
It doesn't matter whether they have long, flowing pink hair, special abilities, or who they fall in love with (it doesn't even matter if the author personally believes they ARE perfect). It doesn't matter if they're a tomboy full of flaws either. A Mary Sue is a character who is plainly, mercilessly and unfairly worshiped by the author (directly or indirectly, usually indirectly or even unintentionally so watch out). It's in the portrayal. What could be a Mary Sue in one author's hands could be a perfectly reasonable character in another's.
Real people could take a so-called "Mary Sue test" and score as a Sue. What then? Is the person unrealistic? Perfect? Not at all! How then do so many "self-inserts" get labeled as Sues? Because of how they are PORTRAYED.
How can stereotypical perfect characters in cartoons be bearable? Because the cartoonist is not worshiping them; they are making fun of them.
Mary Sues are not so much characters who are "so perfect that they are annoying" but characters that authors worship. "Perfect" is merely a differing opinion among everyone in the world. So Mary Sues are types of characters *portrayed* as perfect.
One could even go on to say that "perfect" isn't the only thing characters can be unfairly portrayed as. Instead of perfect, maybe evil, mysterious, deep, interesting, random, tough, or funny. It all comes down to how much the author is forcing their opinion on the audience (by doing so, they are either worshiping their character or a view of their character that we may or may not share, in an obnoxious and unfair way).
(I do have to admit at least, it seems that negative opinions are generally more tolerable than positive ones. Everyone loves to hate, but nobody likes a goody two-shoes, and calling a character out every so often can be good for a story).
One could go even FURTHER to say that not only characters can be unfairly portrayed, but THINGS in your story as well. Emotions, objects, lyrics, perhaps even the plot... The list is quite infinite.
One way to avoid doing this is to show and not tell (not even show AND tell. Worry about showing). Be fair. It's almost as simple as that: keep your opinions out of it.
While super-strong, beautiful, all-holy princesses can be corny and obnoxious that's not always the stuff Sues are made of and certainly not the only.
FALSE IDEAS OF MARY SUE:
Many people who claim they hate "Mary Sues" actually just hate girly girls. Most of these people tend to be girls themselves, who are bitter at the stereotype and mistake it for Mary Sue or vice versa.
Others mistakenly believe that Mary Sues are girls who don't fight for themselves or rely on men. Regardless of whether that's stupid or not, it's NOT what Mary Sue means. One of these characters wouldn't be a Sue if the author portrayed them as an idiot. They would be however, if you were supposed to look up to them.
Yes, that's right: stereotype Sues made to make fun of Sues are contradictions, for Sues never make fun of themselves.
Also, Sues are not "characters who are underdeveloped." That is simply a bad character. Underdevelopment and Mary Sue characters, while they tend to go hand in hand, are not the same thing, and the absence of one doesn't necessarily mean the absence of the other.
When all is said and done, perhaps what we need to realize is that Mary Sue isn't a type of character, but a type of attitude.
Oh, and you know all of that goes for Gary Stus too, even though I used Mary Sue as the example instead of the less heard of male-version, right?