A way with worlds: 46 - Dark Mary Sue
by Steven Savage of Seventh Sanctum
Page 1 of 2
This column is about Mary Sues. Yes, in some cases people
have varied definitions. The one I use is, simply, an
"author's pet" who does not necessarily have to be
a self-insertion, but does get preferential treatment that
strains or breaks continuity. Thus for this column I use it
entirely in a negative context.
Dark Mary Sue? Most people
would feel Mary Sues are quite dark enough as it is. Many an
author or game-master is afraid to create a new character in fear
of it been seen, or worse, actually being, some ego-fulfillment
vehicle. If you create original worlds and settings people will
give you a break - but only sometimes.
So, often in this fear, many
of us are careful with our new heroes, heroines, and supporting
characters. We don't want scare off people who may think we're
living vicariously. We don't want our work to become a way to
compensate for inadequacies perceived and real. Even people who
don't care about their writing at least don't want to be
So we're careful with our
heroes, and our heroines, and our supporting characters. Every
originally created one is careful scrutinized.
Yes . . . we're very
About some characters.
THROUGH THE LOOKING
Of course this caution ignores the fact that only some
of a cast is scrutinized for Mary Sue-ism. Mary Sue and her male
counterpart (I've heard him called Marty Sue, Marty Stu, and Gary
Stu) are tricky devils, and you'd be amazed where they pop up.
And often in both completely
original worlds, and in original characters in fanfiction or
role-playing games, they can pop up as villains. The bad guys.
The antagonists. Ironically, this can be even worse than when
they're heroes - there's nothing like watching a hero go up
against a well-armed, author-favored Dark Mary Sue to completely
kill interest in the tale.
At first, this may seem odd
- after all, aren't Mary and Gary supposed to be beautiful,
perfect, wonderful, loved, etc.? I mean, how do you do that with
There's something peculiar
in some writers and worldbuilders, perhaps all of us at one time
or another, to create some species of perfect character, an
authors pet. Maybe it's a self-insertion desire, perhaps its
identification without self-insertion, maybe it's the enjoyment
of seeing someone or something tromp around and destroy all
opposition. They key factors are that Mary Sues are often
powerful, lucky, and something the author is quite attached to.
Note that none of these
qualities says that that Mary or Gary have to be the good guys. n
fact, you can probably point to many a Mary Sue you've seen and
asked "why the heck are they the good guys? They're
In my experience, in fact, a
Dark Mary Sue or Evil Gary Stu makes it easier to invoke the
qualities of power, luck, and authorial fiat. After all, the
villains are supposed to be the challenge to the hero - so they
can be powerful, right? And the villain has to be lucky so they
can keep coming back, right? And the villain needs that big
castle with its scantily clad male (or female) slave boys (or
girls), and the giant laser cannon . . .
BEYOND THE NORMAL
In my experience most Mary Sues are author's pets -
characters given special treatment for various reasons. But,
beyond the fact it may be easy to map Mary Sues onto the
villains, would it happen - and be noticed less? I myself have
seen more Dark Mary Sues get past people's authorial radar than
Why? Because, beyond the
usual ways Mary Sue sneaks into stories, people often handle
their villains poorly.Next Page
Copyright© 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 Steven Savage, sffworld.com. All rights reserved. No part of this may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the author.