So, you need a character — and you’ve heard that you want to avoid creating a “Mary Sue.” But what is a Mary Sue character? She can be wish fulfillment on the part of the author, presenting him- or herself as an idealized individual without noticeable flaws. Then, too, there are Mary Sues with enormous flaws or an outrageously disastrous past that moves the character from tragic to saccharine. Mary Sues are often highly unrealistic in experiences, abilities, and their interactions with other “normal” characters around them; many are far too young to have amassed the experience for their job, like a 15-year-old bridge officer or a Jedi Master. Mary Sues are often identifiable, too, by their unusual looks: unnatural hair or eye color described in more detail than what the story needs, almost as if those attributes were characters themselves. Mary Sue isn’t always a female; as a male, the character is often known as Gary Stu. Gary Stus are similar to their female counterparts, but will often protest that he has too many girls chasing him around.
The name Mary Sue originated in 1973 with a Star Trek fan fiction whose central character was named Mary Sue. The original Mary Sue was smart, sexy, and was a bridge officer at the tender age of fifteen; Kirk, McCoy, and Spock were infatuated with the character in an impossibly short time. The most notable Mary Sue/Gary Stu to Star Trek fans is Wesley Crusher, named for and designed by Gene Wesley Roddenberry.
But now that you know what a Mary Sue is, how do you avoid it? There are a few tips that you can follow to help avoid the pitfalls of a Mary Sue. And even if your character’s not in danger of Mary-Sue-dom, following some of these tips can make your character even better.