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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 overpowered 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 for comedic effect). Alternatively, you may feel as if the writer is frantically trying to justify a trait to themselves and the reader.

Contrariwise, a lack of these traits does not automatically mean the character isn't a Sue: see Anti-Sue. 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 or here.

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  • Erm... what personality? The typical Mary Sue doesn't have one per se, 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 they trust 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 an All-Loving Hero. Although the other characters are nowhere near as awesome as she is, she will forgive them for all their imperfections. She’s willing to risk her own safety to save other people, 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 one of 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, although she may occasionally alternate.
  • 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 it 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. Sometimes it's a flaw that has no relevance to the story, like being a Lethal Chef in a story totally unrelated to cooking. Sometimes she will even complain about her awesome power or stunning beauty or special place in the world solely because the author realized that the character can't look too perfect without alienating readers—except the author never writes in circumstances that would actually give the Sue reasonable cause to angst, making her seem like she's whining about nothing.
  • Occasionally she'll be a complete asshole. 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. 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 lay waste to her enemies, all of whom deserve it. Rudeness and tactlessness are portrayed as "speaking her mind", and she'll always be right.
    • 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 prevent her from doing what she wants to do, she rolls right through them (and said authorities praise her for her "boldness" in defying them). 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.
    • The author is trying to avoid the Purity Sue and winds up slamming into Jerk Sue territory, taking a character criticized as unrealistic and turning her into a character who's still unrealistic but now has no reason for anyone to like her. Some characters alternate between the two, resulting in behavior eerily similar to that of an abusive partner.

  • Her skills will generally be inexplicable and poorly defined. Many of them may not actually play any role in the plot; they're introduced solely to make the character seem even more awesome.
  • She will always be superior to 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. Even if she does need to learn it, she'll pick it up in no time. This serves to make her indispensable to the canon characters. It's especially common with a God-Mode Sue. Occasionally she will be described as only almost as good, but ultimately she always shows greater skill.
  • Relatedly, there's no effort to her skills. She never actually trains or learns anything to become more powerful; she just wins the Super Power Lottery, or is a freakish natural learner, or is just Inexplicably Awesome. The author rarely finds it necessary to explain why Mary Sue is as powerful as she is, and they're certainly not going to stop the action to show her training.
  • 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). 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-not for any plot reason, but to differentiate her from the other girls in 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 Native American 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. Her physical abilities will be absurd; she can run like the wind without breaking a sweat or ever having trained for it.
  • Transformation of some type is common, as this gives Mary Sue multiple beautiful forms for the author to describe. Like most Mary Sue powers, they're never used in the practical sense; they're just there to make her look cooler.
  • 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 other characters will always praise her Unkempt Beauty and perhaps even admire that she's also low-maintenance. Extra alarm bells go off if the clothes are described and not all that attractive or stylish. Be on the lookout for clashing colors and overly complex outfits, especially if these are portrayed as casual wear.
  • She’s uniquely intelligent, often to the point of being a Child Prodigy or a Teen Genius. Her IQ, if it’s mentioned, is outrageously high. Her academic achievements are numerous; depending on how much the author knows about academia, she might possess multiple advanced degrees that are either improbable or impossible for someone her age to have obtained. She seems allergic to speaking in Layman's Terms, and she often uses enormously complex words and extensive Techno Babble in everyday conversation, which may make her dialogue incomprehensible (especially if the author doesn’t fully understand what all those technical terms mean and is using them incorrectly as a result.) In more extreme cases, she’s an outright Omnidisciplinary Scientist who can invent anything, including time travel and the cure for cancer; her creations need not follow the laws of physics or the internal logic of the story, because she’s just that good.
  • Don’t expect the Green-Eyed Monster to show up. Envy appears in the 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 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 and Purple Is Powerful).
  • She will have unusual hair, especially relative to canon characters' hair. This usually means a unique hair color or a funky hairstyle. Long hair is also common. The worst offenders have unusual highlights, often natural but in an unnatural color. It's essentially taking Anime Hair and using it everywhere.
  • She will also have unusual eyes. No Mary Sue has brown eyes, regardless of her race. Often, it's a color not found in nature, like violet or gold. She might have heterochromia to get more unusual colors in. If she has inconsistently colored eyes, that's almost an instant Mary Sue indicator. Whatever color her eyes are, expect the author to use Purple Prose to describe them ("jade green", "cerulean", "slate grey") and for these terms to be repeated often.
  • She is often [1] 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 activities like sword fighting or hand-to-hand combat which 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, there are Sues who may even consider themselves 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's whatever race the author wishes she could be (most popular are Native American, Japanese, or biracial), which often involves a Foreign Culture Fetish and leads to Unfortunate Implications. Authors with a serious foreign culture obsession will have their Sues bring it up constantly, and characters she doesn't like are derailed into xenophobes who belittle that culture for no reason. Similarly, characters the author likes will all be really into the culture, no matter how out of character that might be.
  • 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 (or if she can transform into one), 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.
  • She might be a Half-Human Hybrid, giving her cause to angst. If a canon character is non-human and explicitly Last of His Kind, her non-human part might be of that race, just to keep him company. And being part-human, as you've come to expect, will never mean that she looks ugly; the most that will happen is that she's a Little Bit Beastly. There are many ways this can play out:
    • The non-human bit is often an Inhumanly Beautiful Race, which just means she looks even prettier. This allows her to Wangst about how ugly she is relative to the rest of her race and simultaneously be So Beautiful, It's a Curse.
    • If she is part-monster race, like half-orc, her human traits will make her "ugly" to other orcs, while humans will see her as "monstrous". Expect the writer to milk the Half-Breed Discrimination trope for all it’s worth. Of course, the character will never actually be ugly even if other half-orcs in the setting would never win a human beauty contest. She'll always be drawn or described as an exotically beautiful Cute Monster Girl.
    • She can be a Heinz Hybrid, which allows her to be basically human but with a grab bag of the best traits of all manner of fantastic races and species.
    • If she's part Rubber-Forehead Alien or other very humanoid species, she'll be able to pass for almost completely human, often by concealing the "rubber forehead" bit with glamour or science. She can therefore look like a pretty human but still take advantage of everything the other species has to offer.
  • Some Sues appear on roleplay sites that encourage "faceclaims," which means that 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.note 
  • If there is a Super Mode in the canon, expect hers to look unique or make her prettier. Often both.

  • 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 unless that's exactly what she's going for. 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 means 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. If she's particularly into guns, she'll have all the rare guns, described as lavishly as her outfits (but with no explanation of where she got them). Sometimes she uses large guns, in spite of a thin, waifish girl being unlikely to be able to actually carry and fire one properly. If she uses small guns, much like with katanas, it's a dead giveaway if she uses two. 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 a 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.
    • Any weapon that's been heavily modified to look stylish and cool, regardless of whether such a weapon would even be functional. These modifications are often described in as much detail as her clothes are.
  • Related to the above, if she uses a gun or a bow, she will never run low on bullets or arrows no matter how many Mooks she mows down. Her ammunition will remain endless even in settings where it shouldn't be easy to come by. However, other characters' supplies may dwindle, making Mary Sue look even more badass in comparison.
  • 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. More grounded Sues tend to have Cool Cars, and historical or fantasy Sues may have Cool Horses, but the effect is the same; no matter the setting, her means of transportation is flashy, exotic, expensive, and luxurious.
  • She has an Unlimited Wardrobe that allows her to change clothes constantly, and all of her outfits are impossibly cool (at least, according to the author.) Often, she inexplicably wears clothing and accessories that she shouldn't have access to given the setting, the time period, and her social standing. Taken to the extreme, this can result in things like emo Sues wearing band merch in settings where those bands do not exist, or supposedly impoverished Sympathetic Sues having dozens of fancy dresses they shouldn't be able to afford.
  • 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. Bonus 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 (although stories written after the mid-2010s are likely to give her a smartphone instead). It's mostly used to let the Sue listen to songs the author likes. The songs 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 (okay, it is kinda weird), 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 true love from the start and nothing else. 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 dating or married to 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 making her easy to break up with, pretending that the relationship never existed, 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 to have 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 Mister Seahorse scenario — this is Fan Fic, after all). She may even be related to more than one character, or she may be 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 over 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 prevent 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.
  • Disturbingly, when the author wants to go the Draco in Leather Pants route with their favorite villain (and ship them with their Sue), the Mary Sue often agrees with some of the most problematic parts of the villain's philosophy. A worrying number of Mary Sues have bought into Fantastic Racism (usually after discovering something outside canon that makes the race in question Always Chaotic Evil). These authors don't seem to grasp that fantastic villainy is often a metaphor for real-world evils (or worse, have no problems with said real-world evils).

    Story Elements 
  • Mary Sue is without exception a single-person Spotlight-Stealing Squad. The entire story hinges on her existence; if you removed her, there would be no story. All other elements of the story are designed to show off how awesome she is and cannot function independently.
  • She is not bound by the rules of the universe, whatever the setting may be. Nobody will ever comment on the impossibility of what she does; they'll just assume she's that talented.
  • Her backstory is often self-contradictory, as the author piles on more and more awesome things without any regard for how they could all happen. Most continuity issues are Hand Waved or Voodoo Sharked.
  • Mary Sue is The Chosen One, even if the setting already has one. There are many ways she can accomplish this: she can be a Sailor Earth type who "shares" the position with the canon hero; she may be vaguely "destined to help the destined one fulfill their destiny" (i.e. do all the work except the final blow so that the prophecy is still technically correct); or the canon hero may be revealed to be a Fake Ultimate Hero all along. Being the Chosen One doesn't necessarily involve her being a God-Mode Sue, especially as authors become aware of the phenomenon and try to avoid it, but it does make her critically important to the world and allows her to continue stealing the spotlight without the "god mode" label.
  • If the author likes the canon work, the fic will not change very much of the canon work. The worst Mary Sues of this sort don't have any effect on the canon story; they just watch the plot, correctly guess everything that will happen, and occasionally take over one of the canon characters' accomplishments, resulting in an experience that's like reading the original work with a thirteen-year-old fangirl talking in your ear. Sometimes she'll be a character who wasn't in the original work but was super important behind the scenes, usually as a canon character's secret Love Interest.
  • She is often around the same age as the author, usually around 16. This often becomes an Improbable Age as Mary Sue starts taking command of everyone and everything around her. Some authors work around this by making her look 16 but be Really 700 Years Old. Regardless of her age, though, she will generally act like she's the author's age, which leads to things like twenty-somethings treating college like it's high school and angsting over their parents' rules. If there is a significant Time Skip (usually covering Mary Sue having a child, as the author wants to rush past the squicky parts of motherhood), don't expect her to act any differently than before.
  • Speaking of children, she might have a child. She might get pregnant from her mind-blowing dalliance with her love interest. But there's an interestingly common alternative — she takes care of a very young child that isn't her own. This allows the author to (a) skip over the aforementioned squicky parts of parenthood; (b) avoid the stigma of a Teen Pregnancy; (c) focus on the tragic circumstances that killed or incapacitated the baby's real parents; (d) make the Sue look like an even better person for caring for this child despite having no legal obligation to do so; and (e) avoid the tendency of stories to end after the main couple has a child. The story will never get far enough to show the child actually growing up. Such children are not characters in their own right. They exist as nothing more than a cute Living Prop or a motherhood fantasy. Accordingly, the baby will be beautiful and weapons-grade cute, hardly ever cry, and generally be impossibly well-behaved. The baby will also be never quite as cool, beautiful, and powerful as Mary Sue herself. Indeed, as if to ensure this, 80% of such children will be male.
  • Most Sues have an unusually Dark and Troubled Past. It's often used to create a Sympathetic Sue, but any type of Sue can have one. Such backstories never actually factor into the story; they're just casually dropped into the narrative to draw attention to the character and let her Wangst (usually out of proportion to how bad it really is). Most authors tend not to research such tragedies and their effects, which breaks the reader's Willing Suspension of Disbelief.
  • Relatedly, she will often have a tragic family life. This could involve Parental Abandonment or orphanhood, and whichever parental figures she has are often abusive, sometimes resulting in a Cinderella Plot. Darker fics will often have Rape as Backstory. She might be the Black Sheep who's so smart and talented that the rest of her family fears and abuses her — or she might be the White Sheep who's the only redeemable member of her otherwise evil family. Regardless, this backstory will never actually hold Mary Sue back from anything she wants to accomplish.
  • She might be a Blithe Spirit who easily reforms an entire group of people of its negative qualities. This is often accomplished through The Power of Love, The Power of Rock, or (to paraphrase Lisa Simpson) being "rebellious... in a conformist sort of way".
  • She's Too Good for This Sinful Earth and will perform a Heroic Sacrifice to prove it. The story will often go out of its way to ensure that she doesn't leave an ugly corpse, either by a method involving no external physical damage or just not leaving a body to be recovered. Half the time, it doesn't take anyway.
  • She can redeem the villain through her overwhelming goodness and purity. More often than not, though, she does it by having sex with him. As explained above, she will often be a virgin when this happens, which would ordinarily imply that she's sacrificing a Virgin Power to redeem the villain — except the real reason she's a virgin is just to make her better than the rest of the female cast. Her virginity and lack of experience never prevent sex with her from being the most awesome sex ever. It's rarely written as particularly awesome, though.
  • She's a princess. This basically gives her a position of high importance and opulence but little actual responsibility. It's often combined with a Rags to Royalty or Changeling Fantasy element where she only discovers her royalty during the story (and it makes up for her angsty Dark and Troubled Past). Her newfound status as a royal will rarely, if ever, come with any noticeable downsides; she will never find herself feeling out of place in a Deadly Decadent Court, grapple with the real responsibilities rulers and their heirs generally struggle with, or become bogged down by The Chains of Commanding. Rather, she will simply enjoy the Requisite Royal Regalia and Cool Crowns that come with her position at absolutely no personal cost.
  • She almost never does anything wrong. Sure, it's possible for her to do things that most readers would consider objectively wrong, but she's protected by Protagonist-Centered Morality; according to the narrative, everything she does will be right, and everyone who calls her out will be wrong.note  In the rare instance that the narrative does consider an action of hers wrong, it's usually; (a) a way for the author to disclaim her being a Mary Sue by introducing a single imperfection (that has no bearing on anything anyway), and (b) designed to show her smarts by making her feel instant remorse, and she'll be Easily Forgiven anyway:
    Sue: I'm sorry I Just Shot Marvin in the Face.
    Marvin's friend: It's okay. I never liked him, anyway.
  • She will often suffer from Special Snowflake Syndrome; i.e., she has a trait or backstory that sets her apart from her group or race. This is exacerbated by so many notorious fanfics being Massive Multiplayer Crossovers, as she can wangst about this just because she's from an entirely different setting.

A Mary Sue almost always has an unusual 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:
  • A Meaningful Name that relates to her abilities or personality in some way, usually highly complementary (e.g. Bella, Divinity). In particular, the name Serenity is enough of a cliché that it's more commonly used in parodies than anywhere else.
  • An unusually spelled common name, especially if a "Y" is substituted for a vowel (e.g. Krystal, Syndi). Occasionally, the writer will also use apostrophes to make an otherwise normal name even more unique, turning names like Jennifer into Jeny'fyrre.
  • A masculine-sounding or gender-blending name, occasionally with feminized spelling (e.g. Micki, Harrie).
  • An awkwardly feminized version of the author's favorite male character's name, leading to things like Final Fantasy VII fanfic being festooned with Sephiras, Sephirothas, Sefiras, and at least one Sephora.
  • References to gemstones, flowers, celestial bodies, or pretty colors (e.g. Violet, Sapphire).
  • With Emo-Sues, something spooky, mystical, or related to darkness (e.g. Raven, Trinity).
  • A foreign name, particularly a Japanese name. The author will often really like the language and point out what the name means ("I'm Sakura Hinode! That's Japanese for 'cherry blossom sunrise'!") — and not always correctly. If it's combined with an unusual Western name (e.g. Hikari Rose Nightshade, Sapphire Morimoto), it's often a telltale sign that the character is a Mary Sue.
  • Any name the author plans on giving their future children (or has already given their actual children.)
  • And, of course, sharing at least one name with the author (or a name the author wishes she had).
  • If there is Theme Naming present in the canon work, one of two things will happen. The most likely is that she will break the theme because she's special and she gets to. If not, her name will be "the best" of whatever the theme is (e.g. if the other characters are called Steel, Bronze, and Gold, she'll be called Platinum.) Often, this theme name will be incorporated into a longer name, which will likely contain one or more of the above elements (e.g. she's not just Platinum, she's Terra Harmony Nightshade Platinum.)

  • The author goes out of their way to introduce Mary Sue 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. It also shoots down the excuse of Mary Sue being an Escapist Character, as such characters are usually described very minimally to allow the readers to easily insert themselves into the character's position.
  • 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 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 with little effort, 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 major they may be.
  • The story is often told entirely from Mary Sue's point of view, generally in First-Person Perspective. This allows the narrative to never stray from her. The story may occasionally switch to another character's POV, but only to discuss Mary Sue from their perspective; a common technique is to describe her through her love interest's eyes, so the author can emphasize how beautiful she is without making her seem egotistical or vain.
  • 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 it's clearly apparent that the artist has just built a shrine to Mary Sue with over a hundred illustrations, that's a red flag.