Expectations vs Mary Sue

So a thing happened. Over on Twitter no less. And now I have a paper to write. Wheee!


The lovely M.C.A Hogarth posts lots of thoughtful things, things that send my brain into overdrive. Things that cannot be answered in 140 characters or less. Heck, they can’t generally be answered in multiple TWEETS of 140 characters. Not with any sense of coherency.

Today’s brainworm was this:




To which I promptly had sixteen different mental responses. And thankfully, my brain-mouth filter was working…somewhat.

This is what slipped through:



See that? She told me to “Dooo eeeet.” I done been told XD

So, the two, maybe three people who just hopped in this roller coaster with me, strap in.  I even did RESEARCH.

I will say this as a bit of a kickoff (it was originally at the very end). Most Mary Sues are not normal. And most people, when they come up with a Mary Sue character, don’t want their alter-ego to be NORMAL. They want someone so far from normal that they’re truly unbelievable. But they do tend to expect to read/watch characters that are outside the norm in believable ways (for the context of the story). And that is where they balk at ‘Normal’ characters.

But before I go into my thoughts on the state of society and its collective views on fictional characters (and by extension, its views on real people). I need to say this: I am a Cynic. I don’t try to stop it. I do try to keep a clapper on my mouth (or tie my fingers together to keep from typing). Nine tenths of the time, my knee jerk response to things is snark. Or skepticism. Or some other socially inappropriate bit of word-vomit.

But I wanted to be sure I was doing this right, diagnosing myself as it were.  Behold, from Dictionary.com:

1. distrusting or disparaging the motives of others; like or characteristic of a cynic.
2. showing contempt for accepted standards of honesty or morality by one’s actions, especially by actions that exploit the scruples of others.
3. bitterly or sneeringly distrustful, contemptuous, or pessimistic.
4. (initial capital letter) cynic (def 5).


Number four has me stumped. Is there something I’m missing? Oh well, the top three are good enough for purposes.

Namely to prove that yes, I do know my word meanings! And also, to look at this in the right context.

But before that, let’s look at Mary Sues. I know that I myself learned about them from the fanfic community. Yaaaay fanfic. Innocent minds, do not go there. Especially don’t mark the ‘Yeah, I’m a mature adult box’ when they ask you. And you are a naïve 14 (So sorry mom). I learned THINGS. Not always accurate THINGS either.

I did, however, learn about Mary Sues. And holy crud, did I write plenty of them. (I shall not count, I can’t keep track. And I was a teenager)

Of course, I’ve also heard the term used in reference to non-fictiony things lately. So I wanted to be sure of what I was typing. It helped that the Lady Jaguar graced us with a tale of her first Mary Sue later on in her tweets.




Oh good. Same page. I assume. But just for kicks and giggles, let’s dive into this Mary Sue thing.

From Springhole.net, in screencap because I can’t highlight.



After which follows a truly impressive listing of the varied elements of a Mary Sue. If you would like, you can go read it, because they put a great deal of work into the site and I don’t want to just lift the whole thing into this post.  😉

TVTropes.org, that wonderful rabbit hole of time-wastery, had this to say about Mary Sues as a category:

Mary Sue is a derogatory term primarily used in Fan Fic circles to describe a particular type of character. This much everyone can agree on. What that character type is, exactly, differs wildly from circle to circle, and often from person to person.

Ah. Room for wobbling around the definition. Interesting. They also have much to say, especially regarding the history of this character phenomenon:


The name “Mary Sue” comes from the 1974 Star Trek fanfic A Trekkie’s Tale. Originally written as a parody of the standard Self-Insert Fic of the time (as opposed to any particular traits), the name was quickly adopted by the Star Trek fanfiction community.


Again. Much to read. If you go, bring cookies so you can Hansel and Gretel your way out of the website again. That place will eat you alive (Not really kidding here).

And finally, that paragon of knowledge, perfect repository of-wait. The sarcasm is showing *Cough*


Wikipedia *bows*

A Mary Sue for female characters, and Gary Stu, Marty Stu or Larry Stu for male characters, is an idealized and seemingly perfect fictional character, a young or low-rank person who saves the day through unrealistic abilities. Often this character is recognized as an author insert or wish-fulfillment.


Note that last. WISH. FULFILLMENT.

But let’s look a little closer at cynicism. Definitions again please:

1. distrusting or disparaging the motives of others; like or characteristic of a cynic.
2. showing contempt for accepted standards of honesty or morality by one’s actions, especially by actions that exploit the scruples of others.
3. bitterly or sneeringly distrustful, contemptuous, or pessimistic


Yup, I’m definitely a cynic. At least by the standards of Number 1. Number two makes me sad inside and just about spawned a whole other post in and of itself. Which means I should probably leave it right there.

And Number Three? Wow. They really went from mild to extra spicy with this list of definitions.  And, arguably, I think that may be the attitude most bring to bear on Mary Sues. Especially when they come in the flavor of “uber-awesome-cardboard-cut-out.”

Fiction in its many forms has taught us that everyone has an agenda, everyone must have some flaw, and that even the nice lady down the hall is more than a nice lady. And if the character ISN’T there to hide a secret, be a red herring, or otherwise be hiding under that nice, normal mask; then they’re useless schmucks who are exist to be laughed at the audience/readers and even the other characters in the story.

Remember Hawkeye in Age of Ultron? They gave him a family and EVERY PERSON in the theaters expected a horde of metal men to come out of the sky and blast that house to bits. And when it DIDN’T happen, the judgment hammer fell hard (except I was really happy his family got to live. I would have been mad if my expectations had been met)

Part of this is because of the mental budgeting of attention. Readers, and especially movie goers and those who watch a lot of scripted T.V. have been trained (again), to see a minor character in the beginning of a story (especially a mystery), and know that they have a bigger part to play later on. And that part usually doesn’t involve sitting down for coffee and cake and having a nice chat with the neighbor. (I’m grasping at straws here. What DO normal people do? I had not a normal upbringing. I know not these things!)

More definitions time!


Full Definition of normal
2 a :  according with, constituting, or not deviating from a norm, rule, or principle b :  conforming to a type, standard, or regular pattern
4 a :  of, relating to, or characterized by average intelligence or development b :  free from mental disorder :  sane
7 :  relating to, involving, or being a normal curve or normal distribution <normal approximation to the binomial distribution>

Thank you, Merriam-Webster (I have deleted a few of these because they are math/science related and HURT my brain)

 Probably should have put that up earlier, but we’re going off the cuff. And we also come around to one of the initial thoughts I had when I first saw our gracious lady’s tweet.

The hell is normal, anyways? In high school, it was one thing (and so many people never moved past high school mentality). In one culture it’s one thing. In another culture, something entirely different. Heck, from region to region in a given country, it can sway wildly. Normal in Alaska is different than normal in North Dakota. Which is COMPLETELY different than any sort of normal in an urban area (Grocery stores folks. How people do their food/household shopping in different population densities FLOORS me)

And that, I think, is part of where the judging of fictional characters comes from. I see a fictional family where the dad goes to work in a button down shirt or suit, gets ties for Father’s Day, and plays catch in the backyard and half a sudden case of “Oh, reeeeally.” Note that I didn’t mention any character traits. Just actions. Because that dad could have an intense interest in the search for alien activity. He could be obsessed with the number of squirrels running around that very backyard. He could–yeah. I’ll stop now 😉

My point is, normal is a surface construct, an ideal that doesn’t really exist in the same way for every person. I grew up moving all over the country. Neither my brother or I ever played catch in the backyard (Too many trees for one, bears, moose, and mosquitos for another). We both homeschooled through highschool. I have NEVER undergone the college campus experience (My introvert self would have had a meltdown sharing space with so many people. I lived OFF campus, thank you).

As a matter of fact, let me show you an example of regional normal. My first semester of college was in Fairbanks, Alaska. A number of students lived off campus as a matter of course. The paper was FULL of adds for off campus student housing. You know how they sold these places? The great wonderful thing about this or that place? Electricity, heat, water.  Most of them were cabins. Most had electricity. Some were too small for an actual heating system, so the occupant got a space heater. And the campus itself had a set of showers for off campus students to use, because most of them did not have running water.

Now, contrast that with the typical movie showing the typical college experience of a freshman. Different huh?

But now I’ve run down a rabbit trail and I need to get back on course. Because the next thought I had when read the tweet was: Everyone’s got some sort of pain. They CAN’T be perfect and normal. People just AREN’T

I think my pessimism is showing. 😉 But let me break this down a little bit.

People hurt. We’ve all gone through or are going through something. Sometimes we shrug it off. Sometimes, we stand out in the rain and scream at the sky.

Sometimes it feels like life is disintegrating completely.

I know we’re talking about characters here, but characters are people. Distilled people, but there’s still a basis in reality.

And if there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, it’s that my pain may feel like it’s tearing me apart, but to someone else it’s just a little tickle. And what to me looks like someone making a mountain out of a molehill, to them it might actually be like trying to climb Everest. While carrying another mountain.

Judging other people (and characters), and holding them to YOUR standard of normal, expecting your own level of pain, cynicism, etc. to hold true for them is common. But it’s doing them a disservice. And it does the fictional characters a disservice too. Maybe a character starts out normal and devolves. Maybe the character is trying to claw their way BACK to normal. Maybe they’re just trying to STAY normal as their life/world/whatever falls to pieces around them. But disparaging normal characters as fanciful constructs and unrealistic imaginings will blind the reader to the possibilities of what a normal character can do. And to their worth.

Yes, there’s a crap-ton of horrible fiction out there in all mediums. Stories where the author CLEARLY wanted a walking, talking Fix-It Button. But you know what, there’s also a crap-ton of GOOD fiction where the author thought long and hard about what their character was like and why. And then, in many cases, they decided that “Normal” was the way to go.

Anyways, those are my thoughts. All many, many words of them *wilt*


As a last little tidbit, here’s the Mary Sue Litmus Test over at Springhole.net. I ran Syrus, Jossa and Delfi through it. I am proud to say, they are NOT Mary Sues. Wheeee!

Also, essay done. I shall go ice my hands now *Crawls off*


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