What's In a Name?Fanfic

The Mary Sue litmus test

This particular version is by Priscilla Spencer, but it's based on the test created by Dr. Merlin.

Who is "Mary Sue"? Mary Sue is the perky, bright, helpful sixteen-year-old witch who hangs out with the main characters as though she was always a part of J.K.'s universe. Everyone likes Mary Sue, because Mary Sue is good at everything. Mary Sue is an brilliant sorceress, a helpful friend, a good leader, a cunning and skilled dueler, and is stunningly beautiful. Her name is often the author's name, be it a net name, birth name, or a favored nickname. By the end of the story, Mary Sue will be locking lips with the author's desired character, will have left amid cheers from all the regulars, or will be dead, usually accompanied by heavy mourning from the cast. The reader, on the other hand, will be celebrating. Mary Sue's twin brother, Gary Stu can often be identified by his brooding, solitary behaviour, matched by his maverick disregard for authority.

Scoring is simple -- the more questions answered "Yes," the more likely it is the character is a problem, or worse, is a retread of an hundred characters exactly like him/her. Keep tally of all the questions you answered "yes" to, and then check out how you scored at the end of the test.

Section 1 - The Name Game

  • Is the character named after you? (This can be your first name, middle name, or the name you go by in chat or irc.) If so, stop now. Put your pencil (mouse?) down and turn in your test.
  • Does the character have a really cool name that you wish you had?
  • An unusual spelling of a normal name? An unusual spelling of a normal word?
    • Does this lead to an intolerable amount of puns/Tom Swifties? (Note: One of two Sirius/serious jokes are okay. Ten are not. Your readers will come after you with torches and pitchforks.)
  • Does the character have more than one name? (i.e. a nickname or a pseudonym) Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs count.
  • Did you spend more than a day looking for just the right name? (This doesn't count if the resulting name has historical/mythological significance. That's the whole purpose of names in HP. Baby name books, however, count.)
  • Have you considered naming your pet the character's name?

Section 2 - Physical Attributes

  • Is the character the same gender as you?
  • Is the character a hybrid of two or more species? (part-Veela count. If the character is part cat, turn in your test NOW.)
  • Is the character beautiful or roguishly handsome?
    • Does one or more of the regulars find the character highly attractive?
      • Is s/he (or is s/he related to) a Veela?
    • Do other regulars see him/her as a threat because of this?
  • Does the character have an unusual eye/hair color for no apparent reason?
    • A Weasley that doesn't have red hair?
    • Will this be a plot point later?
    • Do his/her eyes change color from time to time?
  • Do you mention hairstyle a lot? (soft silver waves, thick auburn curls, etc.)
  • Does the character have an accent that is not British? Students from non-Hogwarts schools (ex: Beauxbatons and Durmstrang) count.

Section 3 - Personal Traits

  • Is the character the long-lost child, descendent, sibling, or ancestor of a regular or recurring character?
    • Of Sirius, Remus, Peter, or Snape?
    • Of Harry, Ron, or Hermione? (If it's a long lost sibling of Harry, turn in your test. I don't care how well developed s/he is; I don't want to read it)
    • Of Malfoy, Hagrid, Voldemort, Neville, Dean, Seamus, or any other significant character mentioned in J.K.'s books?
    • Of any of the 4 Hogwarts founders?
    • Of another original character for whom you intend to write another story or even another series?
  • Is the character an exchange student from one of the other wizarding schools?
    • And traded for one of the other major characters?
      • Hermione?
  • Does the character have a twin?
    • About whom you plan on writing another story later?
  • Is the character remarkably intelligent?
    • As smart as (or smarter than) Hermione?
  • Do any of the teachers have an unusual liking toward your character?
    • Does McGonnagal?
    • Does Snape? (Bonus if s/he's not in Slytherin)
  • Do any teachers particularly dislike him/her?
    • Does Snape?
  • Does s/he particularly dislike Malfoy, even though they're not in the same year?
  • Does s/he play Quidditch?
    • Is s/he exceptionally good?
    • Is s/he seeker?
  • Is s/he in Gryffindor?
  • Does the character make more wisecracks and play more practical jokes than the Weasley twins?
    • Because Fred and George are your favorite characters?
  • Does everyone end up liking the character (among the regulars you like)?
  • If an adult, is s/he unusually young for his/her position in the work force?
  • Does s/he have random hobbies that are undeniably convenient to the plot?
  • Do school rules not seem to apply to your him/her?
    • Does s/he get away with insubordination with teachers/authority figures?
  • Does s/he spend an absurd amount of time depressed/brooding/sulking/being generally miserable about a situation beyond his/her control? Many Lupin fics are nauseating in this respect.

Section 4 - Wizarding Powers

  • Is the character muggle-born, or doesn't know s/he is a witch/wizard until s/he gets his/her letter?
    • Does s/he get her school supplies with Hagrid?
    • Is this scene nearly identical to the corresponding scenes in Philosopher's Stone?
  • Does the character have telekinesis or telepathy?
  • Does the character just "know things" for no apparent reason?
  • Is the character skilled in healing?
  • Do animals instinctively like the character?

Section 5 - The Love Connection

  • Does the character fall in love with Harry, Ron, or Hermione?
    • With Malfoy or Snape?
    • With another recurring character? Double points for James/Lily/Snape love triangles. ::gag::
      • With whom *you* have a crush on?
        • Sirius?
  • With another original character?
    • With an original character *you* have a crush on?

Section 6 - The Real World and Your Character

  • Would you like to be friends with the character if you met in real life?
  • Do you think everyone who reads the story should automatically like the character and want to be friends with the character?
  • If someone tells you he/she doesn't like your character, do you take it as a personal attack on you? (Be honest)

Section 7 - The Fiendish Plot

  • Do you introduce the character on the first page of the story? (J.K. did a great job of this in "Philosopher's Stone" and "Goblet of Fire")
  • Do you tell the story from the character's point of view, all or mostly?
  • Does the character meet the main characters, and after a few tense pages of plot, become friends with them?
  • Does the character manage to develop a friendship with an otherwise villainous character, and through this friendship, reform the other character?
    • Does the villain become evil again after the character dies, but retain some last vestige of goodness from his/her interaction with the character, evidenced in one selfless action at the end of the story?
  • Is the character transformed into a magical or genetically-altered being?
    • Is the character happier in her/his new form?
      • Do you wish you could be transformed because of the neat powers?
  • Does the character save the day and/or another character's life?
    • Through magical/mystical intervention?
    • Through dying?
      • Does everyone go into mourning?
      • Does s/he get not-dead by the end of the story? In the sequel?
  • Do you plan to write many more stories revolving around this character?

Total Points: somewhere around 83. You can't even get to 83, so if you're there, either you have a majorly messed up character, or you made a mistake with the grading.
If you care to score your own character and send me the results, I'll post them. Here's the basic scoring scheme:
0-15 Developed character, unlikely MS.
16-19 Borderline character. Characters in this range are potential MS's, who can go either way dependent on the author's skill.
20+ Mary Sue/Gary Stu. Proceed with greatest caution.
35+ Reconsider your character and plot. Please.

Other Mary Sue Resources:

  • Dr. Merlin's Guide to Fanfic - The rant that started it all.
  • Self-Insertion and Mary-Sueism - How to insert yourself in your 'fic and not commit MS.
  • Mary Sue at Writer's University - All about Mary Sueism. Lots of essays! Also features litmus tests for Dragon Ball Z, Newsies, Star Trek Voyager, and Angel. I'm featured there!

    Copyright 2000-1 Priscilla Spencer