Mary Sue is a when a character in a story comes across as a thinly veiled superior version of the writer. For example, if Bobby Fan is writing his Star Wars fan fiction and introduces a new character named Robby Kenobi, the long lost Jedi who is a better pilot than Luke, has more charm than Han and gets married to Princess Leia, then that is a Mary Sue. These characters are the center of their stories as the writer heaps one wonderful thing after another on them. It is as if the entire world is working to give this character everything they can possibly desire. Sometimes bad things happen to Mary Sues but don’t be fooled. In those cases the writer is just heaping sympathy instead of power.
Mary Sues gets a bad name in fan fiction because people who read fan fiction want to read new stories about popular characters. They want to see the further adventures of X even if X’s company no longer wishes to make movies. Mary Sues are often unwelcome as they make the fan fiction about them instead of these beloved characters. No one ever sat around and said, “I love ‘Veronica Mars’ but man, when are they going to stop talking about the characters there and introduce someone new and sassy who completely dominates all the storylines?”
As much as Mary Sues are often reviled, they do have one genre of fiction where they flourish often with fan appreciation. That home is erotica. This fascinates me to no end. Fans of genre fiction will sneer at a writer who creates an idealized version of themselves to seduce Captain Kirk, but they have no problem with an erotica writer who creates an idealized version of themselves to fuck the police officer who lives down the street. One Mary Sue prompts people to ridicule her, the other Mary Sue prompts people to masturbate and ask for more.
Erotica, maybe more so than any other genre, taps into some very personal issues for the writer. When you’re talking about sex and desire you have to draw from your own desires. There are writers who can write about sex that they don’t want to have and I applaud these master fraudsters but for the rest of us, we have to examine our own wishes and cravings in order to make an erotic story ring true.
I’d even go so far as to say most erotica writers are driven to write by their desires. On any given writing day I can choose to do something really fun or I can sit and try to pour my heart out into something that might be ridiculed, laughed at or ignored but yet I write. I write because I know I am not going to be fucking any sexy super intelligent submissives any time soon but I can in my stories. Erotica gets these desires out so I can have a sane life.
This is why so many erotica stories are about narrators or a single super character who manages to get laid in so many fantastic ways. Erotica is one long dream sequence of things the writer wishes was happening. These writers are not worried about changing class attitudes or proper spiritual enlightenment; these writers are telling a story where good simple porn happens to sexy characters. Sexy characters don’t have father issues unless it’s sexy and adds to the story. Mary Sues are inadvertently created not because every writer is an egomaniac, but simply because most porn is written trying to reach a better, more pornographic world.
I see this a lot in BDSM fiction. Mary Sues abound as BDSM writers not only tell stories of hot porn, but also how BDSM should be in their minds. I swear, sometimes BDSM isn’t a sexual preference; it’s a never ending struggle to reach Leather Nirvana Perfection. I enjoy characters about that struggle, but I often grow bored reading about a Mary Sue who has already achieved it.
What worries me ultimately about Mary Sues is that I see a lot of good erotica writers who started writing by writing their fondest wishes and using Mary Sues as their default characters. As they become better writers, they seem to have a blind spot for the Mary Sues that the stories are centered on. Mary Sues are already perfect characters who just need sex to be complete. Although readers cheer them on, they don’t connect to the Mary Sue because they the readers themselves are not perfect. To really tell a story of the quality the writers are capable of, they need to make some flawed characters who overcome their flaws, or perhaps succeed in spite of their flaws. As much as we all enjoy erotica that is a menu of granted wishes, we also deeply connect to stories about screwed up people who still manage to get laid.
I myself write quite a few Mary Sue characters. The shorter the story, the more likely I am to write about someone flawless. I also don’t think Mary Sues are inherently bad. I think literature and erotica needs a cast of perfect characters that we can escape with and enjoy grand adventures. We need Mary Sues as readers and I suspect many writers need Mary Sues as therapy.
In closing, I would like erotica writers, especially the talented new ones who spring up every other day it seems, to be a little more aware of what kind of characters they are writing about. Mary Sue has an important job in erotica, but think a little of what you could accomplish with Mary Sue’s chubbier insecure sister. What kind of story can you tell with Beatrice Sue that Mary Sue never could?
For a general definition of Mary Sue, try Wikipedia
Try this Mary Sue Test
For a silly example of Mary Sue, try Exhibit A