Common Mary Sue Traits

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"Im good at too many things! WHY CAN'T I JUST BE NORMAL? IT'S A FUCKING CURSE!"
Ebony Dark'ness Dementia Raven Way, My Immortal

While Mary Sue is too nebulous to be judged by any hard and fast standard, certain traits have become surprisingly popular in defining what "makes" a Sue. In an effort to make their characters more attractive without having to do the leg work of natural character development, the authors just add some of these superficial traits to their character. Below are the ones that the collective unconscious (so to speak) find especially attractive and end up incorporating into their characters with regularity.

With the way the term "Mary Sue" has mutated over time, a great many people just end up labeling any character overdosed with these traits as a Mary Sue regardless of her importance within the story (or because they just don't like the character). That's not necessarily true. Even if a character has quite a number of the traits described below, Mary-Sueness can still be averted by a good enough explanation for why they're there. Some female characters may seem over-powered and a bit "too good to be true" on paper, but when placed in context they can be well-developed, three-dimensional characters. It's when a trait exists more to make somebody stand out than to develop them as a character that it starts going into Mary Sue territory (unless it's Played for Laughs). Alternatively, you may feel as if the writer is frantically trying to justify a trait to themselves and the reader.

Sadly, a lack of these traits does not automatically mean the character isn't a Sue: see Anti-Sue and Suetiful All Along. And with the many somewhat arbitrarily formed "is your character a Mary Sue?" questionnaires floating around, it's all too easy for a character who's well-developed and interesting to be slapped with the label simply because her blonde hair and blue eyes added one point too many.

This article will concern itself with gender-neutral and female traits. For (the few) male-exclusive variants, see Marty Stu. For a litmus test that draws on much of the same source material, see here. For a useful and reasonable definition and tutorial on how not to make a Mary Sue, see here:
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    Personality 
  • What personality? The typical Mary Sue doesn't have one, because she isn't meant to be a character; rather, she's an entity by which the author makes cool stuff happen. She's thus not defined by her personality, but rather by her special powers, fantastic romances, and random acts of heroism.
  • What little personality a Mary Sue has isn't as important as how other characters react to it. No matter how shy or socially awkward Mary Sue is supposed to be, other characters will be inexplicably drawn to her. All of her ideas are brilliant, all of her jokes are funny, and all of her advice is spot-on. People will trust her implicitly, even more than their families, significant others, or closest friends. Anyone who doesn't react to her this way is usually portrayed as evil or stupid. She doesn't have to do anything to deserve this treatment; she's an impossibly good person because the author says she is.
  • She's extremely persuasive; everyone finds her opinions to be better than their own, regardless of the actual content of her supposedly awesome arguments. This is especially common in an Author Tract. It's also particularly jarring when characters who are usually very stubborn immediately take her side.
  • She's a Friend to All Living Things and All-Loving Hero. Although the other characters are nowhere near as awesome as she is, she will forgive them for all their imperfections. And she's willing to risk her own safety to save another person, even people she just met. This is such a Mary Sue Classic trait that authors are starting to catch on, and it's gradually becoming less common.
  • She's incorruptible — so much so that she may be unaware of the concept of temptation.
  • She has a Dark and Troubled Past, which she deals with in two ways: either she turns up the Wangst (and thus gets lots of attention), or she remains unreasonably cheerful and optimistic in spite of it and becomes a full-on Genki Girl. There is no middle ground here.
  • She may be flawed, but these are all Informed Flaws. This usually happens when the author is actively avoiding these common traits but doesn't know how to do this realistically. This usually leads to "flaws" that never actually hinder the character or make her look bad. If it's something that makes her Darker and Edgier, like substance abuse or nymphomania, we never see any of the drawbacks of it. If she's a klutz, that just makes her a Cute Clumsy Girl. And sometimes she will even complain about her awesome power or stunning beauty or special place in the world, for no reason other than author realizing that the character can't look too perfect — except she usually forgets to write in circumstances that would actually cause someone to react that way.
  • And occasionally she'll be a complete asshole, even when she's supposed to be all of the above. This can manifest itself in several ways:
    • The author wants to write a badass but doesn't know how. This leads to a character who mistreats everyone around her and is never called out on her abrasive, casually abusive behavior. And other badass characters, no matter how tough or violent, provide her with an opportunity to "put them in their place" — or rather, they instantly capitulate and turn into meek Wangst factories around her.
    • The author is trying to present her assholery as a flaw, but fails like with all the other flaws listed above. A "flaw" like stubbornness will never come back to bite her because she will always turn out to be right all along. A bad temper just gives her an excuse to pwn her enemies, all of whom deserve it. Rudeness or tactlessness is usually portrayed positively as a form of Brutal Honesty.
    • The author doesn't know how to hold back the character, meaning that she will succeed at practically everything. This means that when she encounters rules or authority figures who would otherwise prevent her from doing what she wants to do, she rolls right through them (and they praise her for her "boldness" in defying regulations). If a bad guy is violent and aggressive, she can beat him by being more violent and aggressive (with all that entails). It's impossible for her to go overboard because she's protected by Protagonist-Centered Morality.

    Skills 
  • Her skills will generally be inexplicable and poorly defined. Many of them may play no role in the plot, not even as a Required Secondary Power; they're introduced solely to make the character seem even more awesome.
  • She will always be better than the canon characters, regardless of what canon has established they can do or whether it makes any sense. Her powers will often be similar to those of the existing characters, only with all the downsides and limitations removed. If the characters need a new skill, she'll often already have it. And if she does need to learn it, she'll pick it up in no time. It's especially common with a God-Mode Sue.
  • She has a perfect singing voice. She may also be extremely proficient at a musical instrument (often one which would be highly improbable for her to know how to play, like a medieval French princess playing the didgeridoo). And in a Song Fic, she'll even compose her own lyrics and songs (which the author has conveniently ripped off from the Internet). It's a very common Mary Sue Classic trait, enough that it died out for a bit when authors caught on, but with the popularity of Idol Singers it's never quite gone away completely.
  • She doesn't have normal sex; she has the most mind-blowingly divine sex ever. Interestingly, she's often also a virgin at the start of the story. Her lack of experience never diminishes the quality of the sex; nor does anatomical impossibility (which usually betrays the author's lack of experience). Her lover is often a Draco in Leather Pants, an enemy who can be redeemed by her vagina.
  • She speaks several languages fluently. Most of these languages are totally unrelated and just what the author thinks sounds cool; they range from Romance languages like French or Italian to Japanese to Lakota (many Suesnote  are of American Indian admixture, but never more than half). Sometimes the author will put the character in a situation where it would make sense to know multiple languages (like making her a diplomat or a translator); most of the time, they won't. The worst cases can also communicate with animals and aliens who don't already speak English.
  • Her skills will often be unrealistic within the story's setting. She can be a master of a martial art that she should have no way of learning or which doesn't exist. She can use magic or telepathy in a universe that's like reality otherwise. Her physical abilities will be absurd; she can run like the wind without breaking a sweat or ever having trained for it.
  • She has excellent fashion sense. Usually, this happens without her even trying; she's just naturally beautiful and whatever she wears will always be awesome and stylish. Even if she's meant to be a rough-and-tumble Tomboy type who doesn't care about that sort of thing, the characters will always praise her Unkempt Beauty and perhaps even admire that she's also low-maintenance.
  • And with all this, don't expect the Green-Eyed Monster to show up. Envy appears in the Mary Sue's life only as a means of angst; it's not there to show the downsides of being awesome at everything. Anybody who does get jealous of her is deliberately set up as stupid or evil (and often in the way of the author's preferred ship).

    Physical Appearance 
  • She's So Beautiful, It's a Curse. Being attractive doesn't make a Mary Sue in and of itself (who wants to be ugly?), but when the author tries to play it as so strong as to be a disadvantage, that's a sign you're dealing with a Sue. The other characters will constantly bring up how beautiful she is (even if the readers have no reason to believe it themselves). Alternatively, an author might realize how common a trait this is and downplay the character's beauty, but she will forget to address all the other problems; this usually makes her Suetiful All Along or an Anti-Sue.
  • She will be described in Purple Prose and in incredible detail. Saying she's slim with long black hair and blue eyes only tells you what she looks like. Saying she's a delicate, willowy goddess with flowing tresses that shimmer onyx like the feathers of a raven and sparkling cerulean orbs that shine like the ocean and radiate with femininity tells you she's special. Her clothing gets the same treatment (sometimes for each individual outfit she wears).
  • Not coincidentally, the color purple is also popular, partly because it helps her stand out and partly because it stands for particularly exotic traits (see Graceful Ladies Like Purple, Purple is Powerful, and Supernatural Is Purple).
  • She will have unusual hair, especially relative to canon characters' hair. This usually means a unique hair color or a funky hairstyle; Rapunzel Hair is also common. The worst offenders have unusual highlights, often natural but in a color not found in nature. It's essentially taking Anime Hair and using it everywhere.
  • She will also have unusual eyes. Almost no Mary Sue has brown eyes, and they'll only be blue or green if she's not Caucasian. Often, it's a color not found in nature, like violet or gold. She might have Mismatched Eyes to get more unusual colors in. And if she has Kaleidoscope Eyes, that's almost an instant Mary Sue indicator. Whatever color her eyes are, expect the author to use Purple Prose to describe them ("celery green", "cerulean", "slate grey") and for these terms to be repeated often.
  • She is often very underweight; if height and weight figures are given, expect them to violate physics unless she's made of Styrofoam. Furthermore, she often does physical activity like sword fighting or hand-to-hand combat that are much harder when you're that thin. This seems almost entirely because the author thinks a supermodel would look more attractive than an MMA fighter, who could more realistically undertake these tasks. Scarily, Mary Sue may even consider herself overweight (or at least Hollywood Pudgy). Despite this, she will almost always be very amply endowed in one particular area, regardless of how biologically rare that would be.
  • She is almost never depicted as putting any effort into maintaining her impossibly "perfect" body. She never has to diet or exercise to stay in fighting shape. She never has to use cosmetic products to maintain her beauty; the most she may get is an Adrenaline Make Over. Authors essentially give her a supermodel appearance without the hours of body maintenance Real Life supermodels undergo every day.
  • She will never look ugly, no matter what she's been through; the worst she'll ever be reduced to is Unkempt Beauty. If she is ever somehow injured or scarred, the scar will always look cool and serve more as a decoration than anything else. She may have a birthmark, but never in a place that compromises her beauty (although she may Wangst that it does, no other character will agree with her); it will also have a significant shape or be a Birthmark of Destiny.
  • All of her outfits are impractically fancy. They're usually very revealing, have tons of gems and other extraneous details, and include fishnets or Frills of Justice. If she's supposed to wear a uniform, it will be a Non-Uniform Uniform if she wears one at all.
  • She may possess an animal-like physical trait, like wings, tails, or cat ears, but otherwise appear human, especially in a world where such traits are rare or nonexistent. Sometimes she will believe this makes her look ugly, but every other character will insist the exact opposite.
  • If she's an actual animal or other non-human species, expect strange and unnatural fur colors (purple or otherwise). Color combinations will tend to clash horrifically, as if the author just threw together what she thought was cool and gave no thought to how it would actually look. She may also still have humanlike hair and Non Mammalian Mammaries.
  • Some Sues appear on roleplay sites that encourage "faceclaims" — the author can use a picture of a real celebrity to represent what the character looks like. A Sue will almost always have someone extraordinarily pretty as a faceclaim, like a Victoria's Secret model. If the character is a teenager, her faceclaim will be in her late 20s. And if she's an Emo Sue, her faceclaim will almost always be Amy Lee.

    Accessories 
  • She has exotic weaponry in a setting where she shouldn't have access to it. Usually, no one questions why she's allowed to carry it, and nobody finds her intimidating. Bonus points if there is no explanation for where she keeps it. Common Mary Sue weapons include:
    • Magic jewelry, which can be used as a Green Lantern Ring to justify her abilities. Bonus points if it glows.
    • Swords, especially a katana, because Katanas Are Just Better. While you can find them outside of Japan these days, their utility as swords is not high. Two katanas is a dead giveaway.
    • Guns, particularly Rare Guns. If they're particularly into guns, they'll have all the rare guns, described as lavishly as her outfits. She might use a gun even if the setting doesn't usually have them, in which case she can get away with a more elegant revolver or minigun.
    • Any weapon related to a canon one-of-a-kind weapon. The canon character's weapon may be unique, mysterious, powerful, and of unknown origin. The Sue's weapon will be the same but cooler and more powerful, and she'll know exactly where hers came from; it was handed down through generations.
  • If she has her own transport, it will always be cool and expensive. She may have access to a Humongous Mecha in a universe that lacks them, or only hands them out on a case-by-case basis. She may even have her own Time Machine, which could be lifted wholesale out of a different canon.
  • The web exists everywhere for her, even on other planets, medieval fantasy worlds, or prehistoric Earth — she can whip out her laptop anywhere and have access to both our normal internet and the local internet of whatever world she lives in. And she can use it to hack toasters and the Pentagon. Additional Sue points if her laptop displays an unnaturally long battery life, so she can use it even when she's been adventuring in the wilderness for several days.
  • She will often have a music player, usually an iPod. It's mostly used to let the Sue and other character listen to songs the author likes. The songs and bands need not exist when and where the story takes place. Sues have even been known to take these devices to less advanced people, only for them to be more impressed with the music than the device itself.
  • If she has a pet, it will be exotic or fantastic. Wolves are very popular, as are big cats, despite these being undomesticated and illegal to own in most countries. Unicorns and dragons are common as well. If most characters canonically have a pet or familiar, she might have a menagerie. These animals will rarely be mentioned after their initial appearance, and the story will never bother explaining how she cares for them.

    Canon Character Relationships 
  • Mary Sue is often designed to hook up with another character, often as a form of Wish Fulfillment. This isn't that bad in and of itself, but Mary Sue accomplishes this without any sense of realism. She just grabs her lover's attention straight away, and their relationship will never face any obstacles or tension; it's straight to true love right away. The biggest giveaway is if the love interest is explicitly the author's favorite character, and she essentially "cures" him of all the angst that ails him (at the expense of his characterization).
  • Her love interest will often be with someone else in canon. This is not a problem for Mary Sue, whose author can get rid of the other girl in many ways, including killing her off, derailing her into a hateful person and thus easy to break up with, or even letting her step aside or sacrifice herself just so that he can be with Mary Sue. Sometimes Mary Sue is introduced as a canon character's New Old Flame, explaining why he might leave his current girlfriend for her (but raising the question of what led them to break up in the first place if they're that great together).
  • She will be related to a canon character in some way. This (marginally) helps explain such phenomena as her being a Copy Cat Sue and other characters accepting her so easily. She will often be a canon character's offspring — perhaps even the villain's for added Wangst — but this tends to raise further questions, like the character being too young for a child (occasionally resolved with a Kid from the Future) or being gay or asexual (occasionally resolved with If It's You, It's Okay or a Mr. Seahorse scenario — this is Fan Fic, after all). She may even be related to more than one character, or she may a character's clone (but better).
  • Most characters give her more heed than they normally would. The good guys never stop praising her. The bad guys never stop belittling her (and thus making themselves look bad). They talk about her when she's not present. At least one will confess to being secretly in love with her (if more than one does, they may fight each other over her). The villains will obsess over her, to the point of destroying themselves in their jealousy or opening themselves up to redemption and the realization that she was good all along (usually by having sex with her).
  • Characters' previously established personalities change in reaction to her. Proud, arrogant gimps suddenly acknowledge her superiority in everything. Reckless youths will listen to all her advice. Responsible leaders will defer to her instead. Villains will obsess with her to the detriment of all else. Extremely competent characters will become stumbling buffoons who require her help to do anything. Sweet, mild-mannered characters whom the author doesn't like turn evil and insult her. They all become unnaturally focused on her in some way.
  • She's a perfect judge of character, and she'll be right about everyone. If everyone suspects an ally is really a backstabber, she'll be the only one to trust him. If everyone believes the villain is really a good guy, she'll be the one to suspect him. It's particularly obvious when she's inserted midway into a canon story and knows exactly how everything will play out; this allows her to play Fixer Sue and do things like preventing a canon Face–Heel Turn.
  • She will get special treatment in-universe; anything the canon characters would have to fight for or earn, she just gets automatically. The classic example is the 16-year-old American Harry Potter "exchange student" who goes to Hogwarts, is immediately given a spot on the Quidditch team, and doesn't have to wear the uniform.

    Story Elements 

    Names 
A Mary Sue always has an unusual and Overly Long Name, often with four or more parts. It's the first and most obvious sign to the reader that this character is special in some way, especially if it stands out among canon names. That said, there are many ways for a Sue's name to accomplish this:

    Presentation 
  • Mary Sue is introduced with an incredibly detailed description of her every physical feature. It reads as though the author has a very fixed idea of exactly what her character looks like and considers it vitally important that the reader shares this image of the character. The worst cases will do this repeatedly and even have appendices on every little detail.
  • She is described in hopelessly Purple Prose, often with very fetishized language, while no other character (canon or otherwise) gets it. Whereas her love interest extends his hand out to her, she slowly but confidently raises her slim, tender, yet dexterous left hand that has a ring on her index finger to hide a small birthmark, shifting her weight to her front stiletto-adorned foot and causing her long, flowing aquamarine hair done with two front tails to ripple and her supple yet firm right breast to shift ever so slightly, rubbing against her slightly loose but supportive black lace bra and causing her heart-shaped face to gain a slight bit of blush underneath her sparkling emerald eyes.
  • She will be described with the most positive adjectives the author can think of. Often, she'll cover all her bases and describe her as "[Adjective A], yet [Adjective B, which contrasts with Adjective A]". The author may even resort to making up words to describe her.
  • Passages that don't concern her will be written minimalistically, as though the author is writing them out of obligation and only wants to write the bits she wants to obsess over. This leads to pressing concerns of the actual story not being mentioned in favor of the characters obsessing over Mary Sue; important plot points may even occur off-screen, no matter how impactful they may be.
  • The story is often told entirely from Mary Sue's point of view, often in First-Person Perspective. This allows the narrative to never stray from her.
  • In visual media, the camera just can't stop staring at her. Every part of her is seen from every angle, and her every action is heavily emphasized with close-up shots galore. Other characters almost never get the frame to themselves.
  • If Mary Sue is not on screen, the characters will be talking about her anyway, giving them a chance to speak "honestly" about her. If they like her, they sing her praises; if not, they will gripe about her and thus be portrayed as evil and jealous.

    Author Investment in the Character 
One of the biggest signs of a Mary Sue is the author having a particularly strong interest in the character at the expense of all others. Some signs that this is happening:
  • The character appears in nearly all of the author's works, whether literally the same character or the same character in spirit. This can be done properly, but it must be handled carefully (e.g. a Legacy Character or a series that allows for different iterations of the same character); without that, it looks like an obsession.
  • The author uses the character to promote his or her own opinions, often by pitting her against a Straw Character who will never be right no matter what he does.
  • The author takes personal offense at any criticism of the character or story, no matter how well-meaning or justified it is. Bonus points for displaying an overblown ego in the process.
  • The author tries to dictate how others use or interpret the character, or she gets upset when someone pairs up her favorite canon character with anyone other than Mary Sue.
  • The author creates a fan club for the character, or aggressively ships her with a canon character and makes a fan club for that (which admittedly is an extreme case).
  • The author has a massive gallery of art exclusively of the character. It's not always an indicator of a Mary Sue; some artists experiment with a character design to invoke Art Evolution, respond to requests to show what she looks like, or just like to draw her. But if the artist has clearly just built a shrine to Mary Sue with over a hundred illustrations, that's a red flag.

Alternative Title(s): Common Mary Sue Trait

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/CommonMarySueTraits