The almost-Mary Sue

I was telling Sherylyn about the fantasy I was reading the other day. “It’s not a great book,” I said.  “The main character starts at rock bottom. Twelve months later he’s equal second-in-charge of a secretive government department. Everyone respects him, he’s made friends with all the powerful people in town, and his magic is increasing fast.”  And then, because I was being honest, I added, “It’s not realistic, because his meteoric rise to fame and power (and his ability to defeat the bad guys) is way too fast, so you have to suspend belief to read it.”

“In other words,” she said. “He’s a Mary Sue.”  (Technically, he’s a Mary Stu, but let’s not quibble.)

“No.  Well … yes.  But I’m enjoying the story anyway.” 

So much so, in fact, that I went on to read the rest of the series.  I liked the characters; I liked the idea behind the book.

But it got me thinking about Mary Sues.  If you’re unfamiliar with the term, a Mary Sue is a story where the character is too perfect.  They have few weaknesses, if any, and they’re often the author putting an idealised version of themselves into a story as a kind of wish fulfilment.  They’re also usually written as a new character in an already-canon of work. A character in Star Trek, for example, who comes on board the Enterprise and saves the day while our regulars—Kirk, Spock, et al—all look on in awe.  Or a Sherlock Holmes rewrite, where Holmes and Watson look on admiringly from the sidelines while our Mary Sue solves the mystery.

Given that our ‘perfect hero’ in the novel I was reading was the protagonist, then technically the character wasn’t a Mary Sue in its purest form.  However, he was certainly too good to be true.

As a reader there’s a fine line as to when I’ll put a book down because the character is so unbelievable. I persevered with this one. I liked the character. I liked the idea behind the story.  I liked the secondary characters.  I was in the mood for a story like this.  A whole lot of things came together to keep me reading.  Another day, another mood, I might have thought ‘this character is too perfect. It wouldn’t happen that way,’ and put the book down.

I’ll leave you with a video from Terrible Writing Advice.

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