In this question I asked about whether there was a standardized definition of the term "Mary Sue". However, a related question would be whether the repeated dilution of the use of the term has rid it of any merit as a label.

I ask this because in my ventures, I've heard the term used to cut down any character who shows any signs of sticking out too much, out of a desire to either darken the story down (or to "ground" it) or simply make fun of a new author. On one hand, there are people who say that the Mary Sue archetype can (very rarely) be used to good effect. On the other hand, some people insist that all Mary Sues are bad, as being bad is part of their definition.

When people do the latter, they risk either making the gross generalization that all idealized characters are inherently bad, or making the archetype lose all meaning. If a character is idealized to the point of unrealism, why not simply call her an unrealistic character? What good does the term "Mary Sue" actually serve in this case? And when people do the former, they violate the inherently negative connotation that Mary Sue has come to acquire. Who is right, if any?

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    This is a good question, but I think it's a discussion question, which is off-topic per our FAQ. You could edit to ask something more specific and answerable -- the second sentence in your first paragraph is closer to an SE question. "What is the correct use of the term 'Mary Sue'?" is better asked here, but that's essentially what your other question is asking. Feb 26 '13 at 20:33
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    This question is asking for opinions about a common term. While it might generate interesting discussion, it's not really a good fit for Q&A about Writers. Feb 26 '13 at 20:33
  • How about this question be rewritten as: 'Should I worry about creating a Mary Sue when I create strong character? How can I have a strong character, without it being dismissed as a Mary Sue?" Joe, if you agree, please rewrite the question Feb 26 '13 at 20:41
  • @NeilFein Okay. If that's the case, you can close the question if you wish. If I can find an acceptable rewrite, I'll use that instead.
    – Joe Z.
    Feb 26 '13 at 20:49
  • @JoeZeng, I've closed the question per your comment. If you revise it please ping Neil or me (or flag the post). Thanks. Feb 26 '13 at 20:52

I myself have asked a question regarding this, but over some time I have come to see Mary Sue as an bad term, a term that is used to bully authors into creating generic, standardized characters. I'll explain what I mean below.

The term Mary Sue has been very harmful to women characters. Anyone who tried to create a strong female character was immediately mocked as a Mary Sue:

"... fear of creating a "Mary Sue" may be restricting and even silencing some writers. Smith interviewed a panel of female authors who say they do not include female characters in their stories at all. She quoted one as saying "Every time I've tried to put a woman in any story I've ever written, everyone immediately says, this is a Mary Sue." Smith also pointed out that "Participants in a panel discussion in January 1990 noted with growing dismay that any female character created within the community is damned with the term Mary Sue."

This has led to the situation where people don't create strong characters at all. All characters follow the same cookie cutter, Disney/Hollywood formula- they will start off as comically bad- ignoring their children, mistreating their spouse/ employees etc, and by the end of the movie, suddenly becoming goody good perfect human beings, having learnt all the cliched lessons the script had.

I have written before about how I have stopped reading crime fiction, as almost every detective has a marriage problem, is an alcoholic, and usually is a jerk. I used to wonder why this was, till I saw all these online forums, where new writers are asked to give their characters "flaws", which the characters can overcome. And so a "flaw" is bolted on the character, which they can then "overcome", and hence tick the box that says "character development".

And that is the problem of the Mary Sue tag- writers are scared to write the type of characters they want, but have to think about what others will think. Even reviewers are caught up in this- I read an enjoyable fantasy/comedy book in which the hero defeats a bunch of demons. And most of the negative reviews basically said "There were no character flaws." How dare you write a book where the hero wasn't abused as a kid, didn't have his parents murdered, isn't suffering from alcoholism, and doesn't hate his boss?

So I'm ranting a bit, but the term Mary Sue has harmed writers a lot, and should not be used.

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    I can see why this question might not be good for the type of QA that Stack Exchange intends now.
    – Joe Z.
    Feb 26 '13 at 20:50
  • Personally, I think that bolting flaws onto a character will not stop them from being "Mary Sues". In fact, bolting too many flaws on a character is also considered a signal of a Mary Sue nowadays. Hence the definition that I now use, "a character that has any traits, good or bad, that are just bolted on for the sake of being there." I find it covers most cases I find, even if I never use the term in any serious way in literary criticism.
    – Joe Z.
    Feb 26 '13 at 21:08
  • But yeah, this topic will generate way too much discussion. Maybe we should, like, start a chatroom for this topic.
    – Joe Z.
    Feb 26 '13 at 21:09

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