Mary Sue Test

Background

A Mary Sue is an unrealistic type of literary character commonly created by inexperienced authors. Although they vary, a typical Mary Sue has an unreasonable number of cool or special traits, especially ones the author wishes he or she had, and they tend to accomplish things too easily, solve problems too neatly, and become the center of attention whether they deserve it or not.

This test aims to help authors evaluate whether their characters are in danger of becoming Mary Sues by drawing attention to potentially problematic traits. However, authors should remember that a Mary Sue is a subjective classification. There is no such thing as a "Mary Sue trait"; any trait can be part of an interesting, well-balanced character. You shouldn't feel bad about checking a few boxes. In fact, if your character scores very close to zero, that may be a sign that he or she could use a little spicing up.

When taking this test, be honest, but keep it in perspective and remember context. We haven't read your story, so we don't know whether something that sounds unrealistic actually makes perfect sense.

The test has seven sections:

This test comes from this thread in the Writer's Block subforum on TV Tropes. As mentioned in that thread, this test draws from three other Mary Sue tests (The Original Fiction Mary Sue Litmus Test, The Writer's Mary Sue Test, and The Universal Mary Sue Litmus Test) and the list of common Mary Sue traits on TV Tropes.

Section 1: Author Avatars

There's nothing wrong with using yourself as the basis for a character. After all, you know more about yourself than about anyone else. Nevertheless, many Mary Sues are based on the authors, who insert themselves into the story for the wish fulfillment of being able to do cool things that don't happen in real life.

Generally, items in this section score one point each.

Section total:

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Section 2: Woobies

Because Mary Sues are usually good at everything and get everything they want, authors often give them tragic pasts to make up for it. Of course, bad things happen to excellent characters too. A character starts sounding like a Mary Sue if the tragic past has no consequences and he or she is still perfect despite what happened.

Generally, items in this section score two points each.

Section total:

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Section 3: Awesomeness

Special characters with cool, unique traits are fun to write and read about, but too many cool traits make a character hard to believe. Remember that there is nothing bad about checking a few things in this section.

Generally, items in this section score two points each.

Section total:

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Section 4: Setting-Specific Uniqueness

Some traits may sound like those of a Mary Sue, but actually be perfectly common in your world. This section seeks to balance out this problem by taking the setting into account.

If your character's trait is unnatural in the real world (glowing eyes, etc.) but normal in your character's world, check one box. If a trait is normal in the real world but unusual in your character's world (a blonde in a race of brunettes), check one box. If a trait is both unnatural in the real world and unusual in your character's world, check both boxes.

Each box checked scores one point.

Section total:

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Section 5: World Warping

Perhaps the most defining characteristic of Mary Sues is that they have an undue influence on everything. They virtually always get their way, accomplish things no one else could, and don't give anyone else in the story a chance to shine. While most heroic characters will have one or two of the below traits, many more than that is a sign that your character may be bending the world to his or her will too much.

Generally, items in this section score three points each.

Section total:

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Section 6: Reactions and Consequences

Mary Sues don't suffer the same consequences everyone else does. Other characters usually all like them, except for villains, who will immediately dislike them. They will get away with things that would get other characters in trouble and do chancy things without suffering from the results. Unlike the other sections, this is usually just plain bad writing. Your character should always be treated realistically for who and what he or she is.

Skip any questions that are reasonably justified by the circumstances of the story (for instance, a foreign ambassador avoiding arrest because of diplomatic immunity). The character him- or herself doesn't count as a justification (that is, people like him or her because he or she is really likeable), nor do plot necessities (that is, this needs to happen so the story can move along).

Generally, items in this section score three points each.

Section total:

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Section 7: De-Suifiers

Some traits are particularly unlikely to show up in a Mary Sue. Just as the traits from the previous sections are not bad in and of themselves, these traits are not good in and of themselves, nor can you necessarily fix a Mary Sue just by adding more of these traits. You should always think first and foremost about the role your character fills in the story and how you can make it more believable.

Skip any question where the trait is actually a good thing in context (such as helping the villains, but secretly being a double agent).

Generally, each item in this section subtracts one from the score.

Section total:

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Your character's score:

Scoring

-28-0: Your character may be an antihero. This character never gets a break: he or she doesn't have special skills, rarely gets anything done without help, and is not well-liked by others. His or her personal flaws, which outweigh his or her positive traits, are another struggle. This character may work well in a dark setting, but readers may also be alienated by his or her lack of likeable qualities.

1-10: Your character is understated. For every talent, he or she has a flaw, and for every accomplishment, he or she has a failure. Perhaps he or she is just a subtle character with a muted personality. Particularly if your setting is understated, this character may fit right in, but don't be afraid to spruce him or her up with some more special traits or to let him or her take charge of the plot more often.

11-25: Your character is well-balanced. He or she has enough distinctive traits to stand out, but he or she also has some flaws. Although he or she has won some victories and accomplished some goals, the world doesn't bend to his or her will, and other characters treat him or her realistically. You probably don't need to worry about this character at all.

26-40: Your character shows some Mary Sue tendencies. Maybe he or she has a few too many special traits to be plausible, maybe he or she accomplishes things too easily, or maybe the other characters are too focused on him or her. You should probably think of ways to tone down this character a little to make him or her more realistic. Then again, if your setting tends to be over-the-top, he or she may fit right in.

41-100: Your character is definitely in Mary Sue territory. He or she may have a tragic past that gets a little too much focus. In addition to having a lot of cool traits that may not always make sense, he or she often gets special treatment. The story revolves around him or her, rarely letting other characters do anything important, and other people love him or her and let him or her get away with things that other characters couldn't. This character needs a significant overhaul to make him or her more believable.

101-411: Your character is an extreme Mary Sue. He or she has every cool trait in the book. Even though he or she has a tragic past, he or she still manages to be the best at all kinds of things and to accomplish everything he or she tries. Rules don't apply to him or her. The other characters in the story are only there to praise your character and make him or her look good by comparison; anyone who dislikes your character is treated as an obvious villain. There isn't much hope for this character. You may as well scrap him or her and start over.

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