Mary Sues was once a term used exclusively in fanfiction for original characters who appeared to be self-inserts of the author. Increasing, it’s being adopted to refer to canon characters in a demeaning manner as well. It’s often said in reviews that those effortlessly perfect protagonist, the flawless chosen ones, are often too flat for us readers to truly connect with.
However, the general public seems absolutely gripped with some of these infuriatingly faultless characters. I also used to be quite disdainful of Mary Sues – but as I read reviews, I realise some of the characters I love are deem to be too perfect for others.
So, is perfection in books truly alienating? Or is it an acceptable form of escapism?
i.e. the super obvious list of why we are turned off by Mary Sues & Gary Stus.
- Everybody Loves Bella Effect: Every single character in the book seem to be convinced of of how utterly special and endearing the main protagonist is, though she’s unbearably bland (sorry Bella lovers! The movies & the ensuing drama between RPattz + KStew provided me many hours of entertainment, if that helps any).
- The Inspirational Mockingjay: I adore Katniss, and characters like her e.g. Darrow of Red Rising – however, it’s a little hard to swallow how easily these confused teens becomes the symbol / empower the resistance; succeeding where half a hundred competent adult in their universe have failed.
- The Love Polygon Magnets: All of our protagonists, from Bella, to Katniss, to Celaena – either self-proclaimed plain Janes to drop dead gorgeous beauties – unfailingly attract at least two suitors. Always the most beautiful men in the series, of course. I have my hands full just keeping the attention of one dude, how am I meant to relate to this though?
- The Chosen One: Whether it’s The Boy Who Lived or The Prince(ss) Who Was Promised, everyone in these books seem to have a super special destiny. At 25 I barely have my life figured out (FOR SHAME)! Why do you have a prophecy telling you what you should be doing and where do I get one?
- The Physical Perfection: Red hair, green eyes, skinny-curvy, inhumanly beautiful, the list goes on, and you totally know what I’m talking about! My dark hair-brown eye combination have never felt as inadequate as when I’m reading a fantasy book haha.
- Aggravating Lack of Flaws: Cute-clumsiness is not a flaw, Bella! Your self-assured arrogance is also not really a fault, Celaena! The problem with perfection is the lack of room for delicious character development, and we all love that stuff.
i.e. Why it’s good to read about these magical flawfree characters once in a while.
- Escapism: Life is filled with enough mishaps as it is, sometimes it just feels good to see your favourite character adored and succeed in thwarting He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named for the umpteenth time. Many of the popular franchises have very faultless heroes and heroine, so I know I’m not the only one who thinks this!
- When There’s Good Writing: There are some characters such as Kvote of the Kingkiller Chronicles, who for all intent and purposes should be a Sue, but I love them anyway because of how solid the writing is. If the character excels in everything, yet still have layers to their narrative, I can accept them wholeheartedly.
- The Gender Issue: On the whole, I feel that female authors + female characters get a lot more flak for writing perfect heroines than vice versa. E.g. Bella Swan is a perfect every girl, but I can name a dozen male equivalent from the top of my head that is similar in feel – but don’t get nearly as much derision from the audience. I don’t think I should be ashamed to enjoy seeing heroine sparkle and excel as much as she damn likes!
Are perfect characters an instant turn-off for you as a reader? If you have some favourite Stus and Sues, please share them below!