Stray beams of light sneak in through the large window, settling on an assortment of objects rearranged around the room during the night. A black leather office chair spins sluggishly, retaining the contour of the body sitting in it only moments before. On screen, a document stands complete, hundreds of black letters on a bright white background beginning with a single phrase:
The hard part is over.
Light from the sliver of rising sun creeps as the figure settles back into the chair with a hot cup in its hand. Before long, the text is scrolling down, and the document is revealed...
Recognizing and reworking Mary Sues to make a better character is really as hard as it gets. However, the most amusing part is learning to recognize them in other stories; so this document is devoted to just that: the classification of Mary Sues across the fandom by through inherently shared characteristics. The following are ideal descriptions: very rarely will a single character fit all the characteristics of a type of Mary Sue; in fact, most will pick and chose from the table to compose a quilted character of numerous annoying qualities.
Thus, without further ado… The Mary Sue Hunting Guide.
Teen OCs, Go!
There are two parental genes to each flavor of Sue, two branches in the family tree that lead to each individual: the mother gene is given by Typical Sue, the whore of every stereotype and label that ever walked among the pages of fiction; the father gene is donated by Insert Sue, the busybody father who comes home late every night, reeking of the perfume of millions of fanfics from thousands of fandoms worldwide. Their illegitimate children are many, and their limits are few, but – as of now – they have nowhere to hide.
Sucks to be Sue
The circumstances are always out of her control; that is the single defining characteristic of Victim Sue. Physical, emotional, verbal, and sexual abuse get piled onto her for inexplicable reasons, and the number of friends and family she has seen die cannot be counted on two hands. This Sue is often an orphan or witnessed the massacre of her family/village, possibly moments before being enslaved by an evil race that held her as a slave. (Some may note that this sounds strangely similar to Starfire's personal history; while this is absolutely true, it's important to consider how little she pities herself because it. She never talks about it in a way that suggests that she resigned to the situations around her.) Pity is the key to Victim Sue, as the Titans usually take her in because they feel sorry for her despite the fact that she can defend herself with her own powers. Along the same lines, Victim Sue is occasionally tricked into becoming Slade's apprentice and then redeemed by the Titans when she is converted to "good," but not before suffering horribly at his hands. It's not hard to understand why anyone would make this kind of Sue: it's easy to pretend that nothing is one's fault, and it's even easier to pretend that one is the sad, beloved OC.
NOTE: Victim Sue is closely related to ApocaSue, the tragically whiny, I-Was-Born-to-Destroy-Humanity-So I'm Going-to-Moan-Instead-of-Doing-Something-About-It type character Raven was in danger of becoming in the animated "The End" story arc.
the empty darkness of my hollow soul bleeds like a scarlet Sue
Dark, misunderstood by all, and both emotionally vacant and vocal, most original characters will at some point skim across this category; whether the character begins the story wearing his black leather trenchcoat or abruptly becomes very moody, it's a place many authors visit frequently, sometimes to attach some association of guilt over a tragic past or reveal a "dark" side to the character. Many of the more "serious" moments in stories occur while the OC is in this mode because of the commonly held perception that characters are inherently wiser when depressed. Its appeal is obvious: chicks who disastrously try to mask their emotional instability are hot, ask ANY guy who's ever been in a relationship.
NOTE: This is not to say that serious moments or generally unecstatic characters are necessarily Mary Sues, but rather that they become so when it is their sole gimmick in the fic.
The Journey of a Thousand Miles Starts with a Single Sue
Out of all Mary Sues, this one usually ends up being described on the first page, frequently in the first paragraph. The character (more typically a 'he') shows up on page one, in the middle of a long cross-country journey and does one of two things: either makes a temporary stop with the Titans on a trip to find/destroy/avenge someone or has the Titans' hometown as the final destination from the start. Often the guy will have a personal vendetta against Slade because he "destroyed his village" or "killed his master." As the fates of the character and the Titans' become increasingly intertwined, he grows to confide in the Titans (Raven) and, in return, teaches them all (Raven) a lesson in a specific life matter (sex). This type of character likes to carry things around: mementos, deadly weapons, scars, necklaces, ancient books, anything that could remotely link them to their quest and ultimate goal of retribution/discovery.
NOTE: Obviously, every character needs a purpose to live, but you can see the true nature of Quest Sue near the end of the fic, whenever the character finishes his quest by killing Slade, or finding the ancient object, or avenging someone; suddenly, the author will realize that is no reason for the character to continue existing, so s/he pitches together a standard "happily ever after" ending (nearly always with Raven), a tortuously dramatic death sequence for the OC, or a farewell scene where s/he journeys off to further pursue... whatever it is that motivates his flat life.
Jamie an her 2 Hawt Freinds Sue
This is probably the most confusing (to the reader) of all Mary Sues; there are two types – Vicarious and Literal – and both lack the logical foundation of a well-balanced character.
Vicarious Self Sue is the original character created to represent the idealized version of the author. This one has every article of clothing on his/her body described in painful detail and comes loaded with redundant powers; the backstory is not usually as tragic as Goth Sue, but can be blended quite easily. This character will never commit a bad decision, evil action, or foolish choice without being coerced; s/he is most easily picked out when authors riddle the story with "A/N"s describing how much alike s/he is to the original character, usually with some sort of questionable pride. "She had a long black hair (A/N kinda like mine) and listened to Cliché band here (A/N dats my fAvOrItE band eva!1eleven)."
Literal Self Sue is the instance when an author – without any fake characters or pseudonyms – inserts themselves into the story. These typically contain story summaries like "wat happns when me n my 2 frinds get teleprot to the titans tower? fun, Crazyness, Love, insanty, drama, and more" and contain extremely weak and clichéd plot devices for having a handful of friends getting taken through a television set into the cartoon. I don't honestly believe that there is a need to be detailed on what exactly is wrong with this type of character/fanfiction, besides the fact that most of the stories written this way are illegible, dry, and filled to the brim with pointless inside jokes that nobody actually understands.
NOTE: Fourteen out of fifteen psychologists agree that this type of Sue represents a latent desire in inexperienced authors (usually struggling with their angsty adolescence) to fix the flaws they find in their own lives (i.e. Be tough when the author would normally be afraid, say smart comebacks that the author would never say in public, do people that don't exist in the real world...)
One Plus One Equals Sue
There are not too many of these roaming around with the Titans, which is good when compared to other, not as fortunate, fandoms. Matchmaker Sues are characters that allow the author to enter the story (usually under the guise of a Self Sue) and then proceed to "hook up" every creature with sexual organs: Starfire, Robin, Beast Boy, Raven, Cyborg, Terra, T-Car, Slade, Jinx, Kid Flash, Silkie... NOBODY is safe from being auctioned and set up and generally sold in eternal Ever After. The Matchmaker Sues regularly possess the incredible gift of knowing the innermost desires of everyone that they see, as well as knowing exactly with whom each person should spend the rest of their lives. When these Sues are present, there is hardly ever any action actually taking place in the story: usually the Titans just chat, stumble, and stutter their ways into happy endings.
To my Daughter, I leave this priceless Sue
There's nothing parents like more than talking about their kids; whether they're praising or criticizing them, they can prattle on for hours without any regard to whether or not anyone actually cares about what they're saying. Authors of the Dynasty Sue so are no different: their characters are children of the Titans or perhaps close relatives of them, and they feel that that fact alone is enough to make them deserve more than their share of the focus for the story. The overwhelming majority of the offspring are usually flight-endowed, half-Tamaranian powerhouses with intense martial art skill and a slender physique OR magically-inclined, quarter-demon gothboxes with a wealth of mystical abilities and powers; in any case, the characters come with heavy baggage and enough issues to pass around to everyone. Sometimes these original characters are combined with the children of other Titans (i.e. More OC's) to create the "next generation" of Teen Titans, with mixed results; other times – when the character is a brother or sister of a Titan (Robin or Raven) – s/he will meet the Titans "by accident," be reunited with his/her long-lost relative, and join the Titans by relative default.
NOTE: Progeny are not inherently Sue-related, but a long history of overuse and misuse have beaten the plot almost to the point of uselessness. Writing a character that shares a past with a Titan is quite possibly one of the hardest things to successfully do in terms of original characters; I'm not saying it shouldn't be done, only that it shouldn't be done without extensive forethought and careful planning.
I Think Therefore I Screw Sue
Yeah, you know exactly what I'm talking about; she's the one that seems to serve only one purpose: doing the backseat mambo with whichever Titan the author feels inclined to bag. There is usually little sense to stories with this type of Sue, mainly because the plot is SO wrapped up in forcing the character and the Titan into a deep romantic love that silly little things called motivation and characterization are completely ignored; in fact, you can be guaranteed to have a Titan profess their love to her/him in less than a single week. Besides having the standard beautiful features of Perfect Sue, Nymph (along with Self) Sue has the tendency to have the largest assortment of modern/trendy/hip/sexy clothing ever to be possessed by a single sentient being (the better to seduce a Titan, of course).
NOTE: Nymph Sue tends to develop whenever a story becomes overly dramatic and romantic. Again, drama and romance are not implicitly damaging to a story – in fact, many successful stories have romance as their central theme and introduce non-Sue OCs – but when the story rests completely on the drama going on between an OC and a Titan, it becomes counterproductive and pretty boring to the reader.
NOTE: Any time a Titan is involved in a sexual situation, it is almost guaranteed that the author him/herself feels a romantic longing towards the character. Yes, some people can fake the empathy needed to create that kind of relationship, but for the rest of the authors... realize that any Titan getting busy represents a symbol or ideal that means something to the author. But mention it to anyone else at your own risk...
Straw Feminist Sue / Badass Stu
Xena, Warrior Sue
How delightful this Mary Sue is! They come in to the Tower – sometimes, having just beaten down an enemy with a single finishing move – and promptly let everyone know that they're completely independent through both verbal and behavioral demonstrations. Straw Fem/Badass Sue will snarl and/or threaten other Titans with bodily harm just to prove a point (usually over something as minuscule as "I don't want to talk about my past" or "Don't touch my stuff"). They'll stand up to and snap at Robin when he's giving instructions or conversating, and they've always got clever, biting responses whenever the spotlight is placed on him or her (always). In a battle, they usually employ unconventional and dangerous tactics, and will (at least once) completely disobey an order and end up saving the day. In terms of relationships, the guys always attract Raven despite the fact that any woman in real life would find them to be completely intolerable, and the women always initially reject the male Titan's (mostly Robin's) advances for a small time in order to prove their independence but - inevitably and by her own free will! – decide to enter a relationship with another Titan.
NOTE: The truth is that everyone wants their character to be a great fighter, but the grossly insubordinate and ridiculously hostile demeanor of this Sue goes beyond justification for characterization. No matter how horrible of a childhood, or tough of a training regiment, or brutal of a lifestyle the character has had, an OC that carries a constant aura of strife and discord simply wears out the reader; if the readers were into that kind of stuff, I'm sure they'd be too busy torturing kittens and small infants to read a piece of fanfiction, anyway.
You're a Wizard Mary Sue
Oh boy. Considering that the Harry Potter fandom is by far the largest on this website, it's no surprise that the Teen Titan fandom has its share of magically-gifted original characters. The character (like all Mary Sues, really) appears mysteriously under the cover of storm or nighttime and is immediately welcomed into the Tower; s/he will have a dark and apocalyptic backstory that explains how s/he received powers, lost family, and/or was tied into his/her destiny. This Sue will have convenient spells for all sorts of practical necessities – both on the battlefield and in the Tower – and there will be many a time when Magic Sue's incantations will save the day. The true problem with this type of Mary Sue is the fact that her powers are limitless, so long as it can be accomplished with "magic," it is well within a characters abilities to do just about anything conceivable; so they end up doing anything any author ever wished that they could do in real life. Even if they are limited to control of the "elements" (i.e. Earth, wind, fire, air), they are always in a position to solve all of the Titan's problems.
NOTE: The interactions with the Titans are pretty specific: Cyborg will undoubtedly be ignored by the character and Starfire will only serve to give needless praise to the newbie's accomplishments; Robin and Beast Boy will be used interchangeably as romantic fodder and awed bystanders; and Raven will either be drawn inexplicably to the character, reject him/her completely because of some kind of "magical rivalry," or succumb to an awkward mix of both.
Hiding Right Underneath Your Sue
The one you never suspect, the one that slips away time after time unnoticed: Canon Sue. This Sue appears whenever the author takes the conventional characterization of a Titan or villain and transforms him/her into something wholly unrecognizable; it can be something as subtle as changing Beast Boy into a brooding, angst machine to conjuring up a vampiric Robin. They are distinguished by their gimmicks, their new powers or startling new conditions that transform the original personality, but these characters are most easily noticed when their "special features" are ignored and, instead, the attention is placed on their personality and purpose in a story; given enough time, Canon Sues arise on their own and give themselves away when the Titans get to the point where they don't even slightly resemble their original versions anymore.
NOTE: Many authors and characters operate under the justification of "artistic license" or some kind of freedom of speech shtick when they experiment in the Canon Sue territory. That is fine and dandy, but the issue comes down to a single basic fact that defines everything authors love and hate about Sues:
ANY character – whether original or canon – portrayed with no depth of character and believability will slowly deteriorate.
And that, is what makes a Mary Sue.
Dawn has broken. The soft sounds of life have begun to get louder as activity increases in the distant hallways. In the large room, light illuminates everything clearly and reflections from distant office buildings can be seen through the large glass panel near the computer.
The figure at the computer stands from the chair and casually saunters away.
A screen saver takes over the computer screen - a small green elf twisting in erratic mock-dancing motions - just as several bodies enter the Main Room. The beginnings of conversation buzz around them.
Morning has arrived.