Vanity Writing – The Mary Sue

by | May 28, 2019 | General | 4 comments

I’m saving the 8thseason of Game of Thrones for binge-watching with my husband after the season and series finale. I have only run into two spoilers so far – the Starbucks cup on the table in front of Daenerys in episode 4 and the water bottle by Sam Tarly’s feet in the series finale. I promise – no Game of Thronesspoilers in this article. It’s not about Game of Thronesanyway. Not directly.

It’s about the Mary Sues and her male counterpart, the Gary Stu.

According to unfounded rumor, a bunch of incels (angry men who call themselves involuntary celibates because women won’t fuck them) claim that Arya Stark is a Mary Sue because she’s too perfect, too lacking in flaws, too strong, and too feminist for their taste. They don’t like her. Now, I haven’t found any posts from a single incel who actually said this. I found Twitter and Facebook comments from people who heard about it. It’s kinda like that line in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off– “My best friend’s sister’s boyfriend’s brother’s girlfriend heard from this guy who knows this kid who’s going with the girl who saw Ferris pass out at 31 Flavors last night.”

I wanted to correct the misconception, but those on Twitter and Facebook got it wrong. Yes, Arya is not a Mary Sue, but not because she’s who she is. She’s not a Mary Sue because she’s not a thinly-veiled version of George R. R. Martin.

According to Wikipedia, a Mary Sue (or Gary Stu) “is an idealized and seemingly perfect fictional character. Often, this character is recognized as an author insert or wish fulfillment. They can usually perform better at tasks than should be possible given the amount of training or experience, and usually are able through some means to upstage the main protagonist of an established fictional setting, such as by saving the hero.” Some famous examples of Mary Sues are Star Trek’sWesley Crusher (he’s really James Roddenberry whose middle name was Wesley) and Elizabeth Bennet fromPride and Prejudice. Bennet is a thinly-disguised Jane Austen.

Other famous examples of Mary Sues:

Lily Potter and Ginny Weasley

Dorothy Gale

Bella Swan

Katniss Everdeen

Beth March

I’ve seen the most egregious examples of Mary Sue’s in fan fiction. I used to read Harry Potter fan fiction for kicks since it was so awful but it was like a train wreck. I couldn’t resist it! Women and girls wrote the fan fiction I read, and I focused on the Severus Snape stories because I thought they were the most entertaining and my favorite character in the books and movies was Snape. These women and girls injected themselves into the Harry Potter canon as a new female character who is beautiful, talented, magical, kind, sweet, loveable, so perfect she made your teeth hurt – and she becomes Snape’s love interest. They married and had children in more than one version. Most often she was an older student or another professor. Some of these stories were quite well-written and they held my interest. The writers were definitely romance fans and were in love with Snape. I recall that when J. K. Rowling heard about the women who took to Snape as a love interest she was like (paraphrased) “Oh my God, why? He’s awful!” He was but he was also a very complex, interesting character.

The main reason I wrote this post was to fix the misconception the incels have created when they tried to redefine the Mary Sue and the Gary Stu. Don’t let them change the definition! Mary Sues are when authors insert themselves into a story they’ve created or insert themselves into an existing canon. While some have pulled this off quite well, others are too damned perfect for their own good. And once and for all, Arya Stark is NOT a Mary Sue!


Elizabeth Black writes in a wide variety of genres including erotica, erotic romance, horror, and dark fiction. She lives on the Massachusetts coast with her husband, son, and her two cats.

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Elizabeth Black

Elizabeth Black's erotic fiction has been published by Cleis Press, Xcite Books, Scarlet Magazine, Circlet Press, and others. She also writes dark fiction and horror as E. A. Black. She lives in Massachusetts next to the ocean with her husband, son, and three cats. The beach calls to her and she listens.


  1. Jean Roberta

    Interesting post, Elizabeth! However, I was surprised that you didn’t name Hermione Grainger as the main Mary Sue in the Harry Potter novels. She’s a clever girl who was born to “Muggles” (parents with no magical abilities) who can hold her own with fellow-students like Harry Potter and Ron Weasley, both of whom have excellent pedigrees in the wizarding world. It’s hard not to see her as a version of the author, Joanna Rowling, who was apparently a single mother on welfare when she wrote the first book in the series.

    Beth March in Little Women is the one who dies! I always thought the Mary Sue character in that novel was her sister Jo, the writer.

    Re Star Trek, I thought the original Mary Sue was an officer in that series. I will have to look it up.

    Re the danger of writing a Mary Sue character, this is why as a writer, I like to avoid clearly autobiographical narratives. When writing about one’s own life, it’s hard to avoid either seeming to brag or seeming pitiful, or both (look how badly I’ve been treated, and how well I survived anyway). But without obstacles, conflict, breakthroughs and successes, there would be no plot.

    I agree that Arya Stark is not exactly a Mary Sue, but she could be considered a kind of Pippi Longstocking: an amazingly powerful young woman who seems to win every fight.

  2. Lisabet Sarai

    I don’t watch TV and even if I did, I don’t think I’d watch GOT because it would spoil the books for me. I *loved* all the books, and I’m waiting eagerly for the next installment. Meanwhile, this attitude or opinion makes me think that the Arya in the TV series must be quite different from the character in the books. In the books, Arya is indeed courageous and assertive as well as stubborn, but she certainly doesn’t win every fight. I shudder to think what other changes the TV version has made.

  3. Elizabeth Black

    Jean Roberta, how could I forget Hermione? She does strike me as a Mary Sue, and I believe Rowling described her that way, saying she was much like Hermione in school. Not sure about another Star Trek character being a Mary Sue. The one that stuck out for me was Wesley and I’ve heard him described as a Mary Sue in that he’s Roddenberry’s alter ego.

    I’ve written aspects of myself into stories but not in a Mary Sue fashion. I do like to base characters in part on people I know, but they’re so unique you’d be hard-pressed to pinpoint exact people.

    I love the assertive female characters like Arya Stark. As long as they don’t become perfect, two-dimensional clichés.

  4. Elizabeth Black

    Lisabet, I also read all the books. I’m waiting for the last installments from GRRM whenever he finishes them. I will watch the show because I believe it goes in a different direction from what he has planned for the remaining books. I don’t give any credence to what the incels say about Arya since she’s certainly not perfect or annoying in any way. I have all the show’s episodes recorded and my husband and I are going to binge-watch them in a weekend or two.

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