OngoingWorlds blog

News & articles about play-by-post games, for roleplayers & writers


Mary Sue Deconstructed

multiple facepalmsWe’ve talked about Mary Sues a lot in the RP community. That’s because we always have to deal with them as they infiltrate our ranks as Jedi or Starfleet officers, or any other field you want to name. For the most part we’ve gotten used to spotting Sues, but that’s because the Sues have a tendency to draw attention to their status as such.

What if I told you, there were far more Sues out there? And some characters who are clearly the offspring of Mary Sue.

In order to tell who a Hidden Sue is, very careful attention is needed, and there’s a fundamental premise we have to accept, even if we hate it. Having some Sue tendencies is not the end of the world. It doesn’t necessarily make a character terrible or require immediate incineration to prevent the epidemic from spreading. Save the flamethrower, I’m sure we’ll find use for it later.

At the very core, Mary Sue has specific frameworks of problems as a character. They all revolve around her being too good in some way. This normally manifests itself in the forms of age, intelligence, power, morality, romance, leadership, or je ne sais quoi.

The most common Sue in my experience is based on age. They do everything faster than everyone else and at a younger age than anyone. Sometimes this is utterly ridiculous, like serving as an officer in the military at 15, and other times it’s making Captain of a starship in the mid-twenties. Feel free to replace Captain with Jedi Master or anything else appropriate. The operative point is that they have been bumped up the ranks far too fast. This is probably due to the fact most Sue writers are inexperienced, and as such often young themselves, and victim to the idea that there is no life left after 40. People die at like 50 right?

SEE ALSO: Make sure your character acts their age

Intelligence may be one of the most visible, but it’s also one of the easiest to skate by with. You can tell me your 18 year old Starfleet Cadet is brilliant and can do everything, and I might not have much say in that because we see such things in the tv shows all the time. It gets acceptance as normal, and it only is seen as a major Sue if the intelligence is grossly abused. In this way, if the writer is talented enough, the Sue trait may pass.

Jedi Padawan Snuffy is the coolest thing since sliced bread, or whatever else is cool in Star Wars. He mastered all the lightsaber techniques and is stronger than the High Council, and they hold him back! I hope you all noticed the Mary Sue alarm on the wall, it was sounding a loud alarm and flashing bright lights. But, I could slip by that alarm if I simply changed the approach. Jedi Padawan Snuffy has a deep potential inside, at 17 he can wield Battle Meditation. I left off the ridiculous details, but kept the Sue concept, and the alarm… Didn’t go off.

Morality is fun. Do you remember the time when Hippocrates, Gandhi, Jesus, and Dr. King all raised a young woman in Star Trek? I sure do, because they brought about the most moral creation ever. Jesus may have toppled a money-changing table, and Dr. King owned a gun for defense, but Mary Sue is truly selfless. This trait wouldn’t be so abjectly obnoxious if the author didn’t insist on turning it up to 11. If the character was just a kind, nice, pacifist without absurd Suedom, then they’d merely be extremely boring to write with. But the author will invariably hurl obstacles to be overcome by kindness. Formerly such a character was always an orphan as well, but as we know now, rape is the new dead parents. Expect tragedy and abuse to follow this character everywhere, but they’ll overcome it with a smile.

Romance. Luckily in roleplay this trait rarely becomes as noxious as it does in fan fiction. That’s because in fan fiction, the author of Mary Sue, the newest addition to Stargate, controls all of the characters. They will, naturally, have nothing to discuss but their love for the aberration now in the team. Likely even the villain of the week will have some kind of love obsession. In roleplay, however, it usually just results in the character trying desperately to get everyone to love her in a romantic fashion, or writing every single random non-player character as being hopelessly in love with her. That can almost be entertaining enough to not warrant smiting… Almost.

SEE ALSO: Mary Sue, Defeating the beast

Leaders. There are some greats in history. Sun Tzu, Napoleon, George Washington, Lincoln. Sun Tzu’s personal details have been blurred with his descendant of the same name, Napoleon infamously failed in his efforts, Washington lost more battles than he won, and Lincoln was widely loathed and despised. Colonel Sue of the UNSC Marines is completely different. Her speeches are Presidential in quality, surely to be recalled fondly for hundreds of years, and her tactical mind is unmatched. A quick point towards the map and an ambiguous command yield immense and untold success as the enemy is swept through. Campaign after campaign and battle after battle, Colonel Sue defeats all enemies with ease, proving to be a Chuck Norris joke given much more embellishment. I’m sure you see the problem. Yes, I know the alarm went off again. The problem is that no leader is successful all the time, and every single one makes some bad decisions that will haunt them.

‘Je ne sais quoi’ is French for ‘I know not what.’ If you’ve ever noticed something wrong, but haven’t been able to put your finger on it, this is your new favorite term. Essentially while reading, we always come across something that just doesn’t feel right. We might not be able to articulate how exactly this thing is Sueish, but we know it is. This umbrella will cover almost everything imaginable.

But, when you deal with a Sue, look at the context. Is this unbearable? Is the Suedom threatening to rip a hole in the fabric of the universe? Or did someone who is otherwise a good writer simply hit a foul ball? If it’s the former, I hope you saved that flamethrower…

This article was written by Akeram Mulvar from the USS Hartington RP.

Some other articles about Mary Sue characters: