mary sue litmus test
This test is based on the (original)
Mary Sue Litmus Test by Melissa Wilson.
Keep in mind that not every original character is a Mary Sue. For each of the below traits that apply to your original character, award one point. The score will tell you whether or not your character crosses the line.
How to read your character's score:
- Slayer and/or Vampire (add 2 points if she's a vampire with a soul)
- Is a descendant of a Slayer or Was made a vampire by Angelus, Spike, or the Master
- Rules that apply to others are bent or broken for her
- Is often maverick or unconventional, even compared to Buffy and/or Faith
- Is able to accomplish something single-handedly that the entire Scooby Gang has not been able to accomplish together, or has only been able to accomplish at great cost (i.e., closes the Hellmouth beneath Sunnydale, restores a vampire's soul, removes the loophole of Angel's curse, vanquishes an entire nest of Master-like vampires, etc.)
- Excels at everything she turns her hand to or conversely, fails at everything she turns her hand to, but is forgiven
- Is connected to a series regular, either through familial or psuedo-familial ties (Giles' illegitimate daughter, Descendent of Angel, Spike, Drusilla, etc., "adopted" daughter, etc.) or through a romantic relationship
- Is unusually physically attractive
- Unusual eye colour (violet, amber, etc.)
- Her hair is mentioned repeatedly (down to her waist, fell in blue-black waves, etc.)
- Unusual name (including spelling variations of common names involving y or e, nicknames, fantasy names, etc.)
- Is immediately accepted into Scooby Gang without question or must prove her worthiness to accepted into Scooby Gang by performing Slayer-like feats
- Is more Scooby than Scooby. (i.e., Is a better hacker than Willow, a better witch than Tara, as good or better hand-to-hand combatant as a Slayer, has more rare books than Giles, more occult connections than Willy the Snitch, etc.)
- Has uncanny or supernatural abilities and skills (i.e., a witch, a demon, a werewolf, etc.)
- Is unusually accomplished for her age (is an 18 year old Watcher, 16 year old member of the Initiative, etc.)
- Is miraculously spared by every vampire she meets, rather than immediately turned into snackfood
- Has a particularly traumatic past
- Is universally liked and/or respected
- Has an excellent singing voice
- Shares a hobby or passion with a slayer/vampire/watcher/scooby
- Dies a heroic death and is mourned by all
6-10 Needs work
11-15 Needs major work
16+ Beyond help
Do not despair! There are ways to turn your Mary Sue into an interesting yet realistic protagonist. First and foremost, avoid extremes and excesses. In order for your reader to identify with a protagonist, the protagonist should be kept to human scale, rather than operatic. Jettison the superlatives and go for believability. Do not make your protagonist you only cooler, taller, thinner, smarter, and from the future and able to read minds. Instead, think about guest stars and recurring characters that have appeared on the series itself, and try to add to their number without dropping a superhero in their midst. For more information about Mary Sue in fan fiction, read the Fanfic FAQ.
Slayer and/or Vampire (add 2 points if she's a vampire with a soul)
Okay, first off, to put it bluntly, the series is called Buffy The Vampire Slayernot Mary Sue The Vampire Slayer. Unless you are a) creating an alternate universe where the current slayer is Mary Sue rather than Buffy or Faith, or b) writing historical fiction about a past slayer or speculative fiction about a future slayer (a la Batman Beyond), there is no reason to create yet another Slayer. For every Faith (dynamic, interesting, and well-written character), you get five Kendras (tries, but misses the mark). People read Buffy fan fiction because they are looking for stories about the characters they know and loveand the chances of them, developing the same passion and devotion to Mary Sue the Vampire Slayer are slim to none. Likewise, Angel is unique. If there are all kinds of vamps with souls running around, you are completely undermining the character's importance in the Buffy universe. Why rehash what the series have already done?
Is a descendant of a Slayer or was made a vampire by Angelus, Spike, or Drusilla
Often, in her desire to be closer to her favourite characters, an author will envision herself as somehow related to the series leads. Unless there are strong plot reasons for doing so, examine your motives. For example, Somnambulist was a good reason to introduce Penn, and the audience bought it despite the continuity errors mainly because the story told us something more about Angel that was in keeping with what we already knew, and more importantly, impacted the characters lives profoundly. Penn existed to remind us that Angel is not entirely cuddly and still has a long way to go to atone for his past, but also to reveal Angel's secret to Kate. This was a valid reason for the characters relationship to one another, that best served the plot.
Is connected to a series regular, either through familial or psuedo-familial ties (Giles' illegitimate daughter, Descendent of Angel, Spike, Drusilla, etc., "adopted" daughter, etc.) or through a romantic relationship
It is the author's desire to be closer to her favourite character manifested through a surrogate, and it is transparent and usually forced. If you can find a way to sever unusually close ties do so for the sake of believability. I'm not saying that all of these stories are uniformly poorly written and in no way entertaining. But I am saying that not only is it a cliché, it has become quite possibly the single most contrived hallmark of the Buffy Mary Sue, and as such should be avoided at all costs. That said, characters with ties to the cast can still be interesting if their relationship is a major plot point, and is handled realistically. If I am reading a story about Giles learning that he has a teenaged daughter by an acquaintance from his former days as a punk rocker, if the characterisations are spot on, and the emotional content gripping without being melodrama, I'm willing to cut way more slack than I may to a story where Mary Sue reveals at the 11th hour that she was Liam's great-great-great granddaughter by a Galway barmaid. It all depends on the strength of the plot, and characterisations. If you're making your character related to the cast just because you want to be that smidge closer to your favourite character, then you are allowing your personal fantasy to get in the way of the good of the story. The quality of the story always, always, always comes first.
Rules that apply to others are bent or broken for her
Hi. Have you met Faith?
Is often maverick or unconventional, even compared to Buffy and/or Faith
What has made Buffy unique compared to all the previous slayers is her working in concert with the Scooby Gang (for which there would seem to be no precedent) and ability to trust her instincts and problem solving abilities rather than rely on standard Slayer practices (according to the Watcher's Council, anyway). Buffy finds what works for her, rather than trying to do what is expected of her. She often surprises her prey not because she is smarter, or stronger even--but because she is clever, and quick, and thinks differently than they do. Buffy is the ultimate 90s girl and is celebrated for her diversity, rather than chastised for it. However, Faith pushed the limits (of the law, as well as morality) and was punished for it. The series has already explored this with Buffy, and then Faith. Adding a new character to illustrate the same points would either be rehashing what the show ahs already done, or can appear to be trying to out-Buffy Buffy (or out-Faith Faith, if you're thinking of adding a "bad girl.").
Is able to accomplish something single-handedly that the entire Scooby Gang has not been able to accomplish together, or has only been able to accomplish at great cost (i.e., closes the Hellmouth beneath Sunnydale, restores a vampire's soul, removes the loophole of Angel's curse, vanquishes an entire nest of Master-like vampires, etc.)
Try and keep your supporting cast to human scale, rather than operatic. It's awfully hard to sympathise and identify with someone living through the Nibelungen. Don't let your additions to the crew eclipse the canonical characters to the extent the show's characters become guest stars in an episode of Mary Sue the Vampire Slayer. Unless you're writing parody, or recasting Superstar with Mary Sue as Jonathan, avoid all extremes when creating an original character, and keep her abilities and skills to human level rather than Superhero. The show already has one Superheroand her name is Buffy Summers.
Excels at everything she turns her hand to or conversely, fails at everything she turns her hand to, but is forgiven
Nobody's perfect. And nobody's so cute that when they burn down the gym, they're not kicked out of the high school... Seriously: extremes are to be avoided. Go for realism.
Is unusually physically attractive
How many supermodels did you go to high school with? Young men and women may be attractive, you rarely run into Greek Gods. People like to read about real people.
Unusual eye colour (violet, amber, etc.)
Unless they are wearing colour contact lenses, no one has violet eyes. Not even Liz Taylor. Go with the norms for whatever ethnicity you have chosenblondes are genetically pre-disposed toward light eyes (blue or green). Brunettes are genetically pre-disposed toward dark eyes (brown or black). Redheads are are genetically pre-disposed toward shades of brown and green. Asians predominantly have dark eyes, as do the Spanish, Hispanic, and African and African Americans.
Her hair is mentioned repeatedly (down to her waist, fell in blue-black waves, etc.)
Cut all but one mention, unless it relates somehow to the plot. Do not wax lyrical about her locks.
Unusual name (including spelling variations of common names involving y or e, fantasy name, etc.)
Fantasy names, or unusual spellings and nicknames is another common identifier of a Mary Sue. If your character is human, and of a certain ethnic background, go with the norm rather than trying to differentiate with weird spellings (for example, Kymberlee instead of Kimberly), or "fantasy" names such as Raven, Hunter, etc.
Is immediately accepted into Scooby Gang without question or must prove her worthiness to accepted into Scooby Gang by performing Slayer-like feats
Think about how each Scooby became a part of the gang, and how the relationships formed and have evolved. Also, keep in mind that while to us Buffy's slayer status may seem like the worst kept secret in Sunnydale, that's no reason for them to keep on adding folks to the "In the Know" list without some kind of screening first.
Is more Scooby than Scooby. (i.e., Is a better hacker than Willow, a better witch than Tara, as good or better hand-to-hand combatant as a Slayer, has more rare books than Giles, more occult connections than Willy the Snitch, etc.)
While an English Major can also have a fondness for chemistry, and a green beret member might cast a few spells now and then (okay, in the Buffyverse anyway), no one is a jack of all trades and equally accomplished in each. Especially if the trade in question requires the equivalent of a graduate degree, or seven years of apprenticeship. Keep abilities to a reasonable scale, and avoid upstaging a canonical character who is the acknowledged "expert" in that category.
Has uncanny or supernatural abilities and skills (i.e., a witch, a demon, a werewolf, gets visions, etc.)
Not everyone who lives on a Hellmouth (or in Los Angeles) can spin pencils, is a radio transceiver for the Powers that Be, or gets wacky in a lupine way every 28 days. Sure, these folks gravitate toward the Scooby Gang. But so do folks like Xander and Cordelianormal humans who are willing and brave enough to help. Don't give your character magical powers just for the sake of giving her magical powers because you personally think it would be way cool to be a Charmed One.
Is unusually accomplished for her age (is an 18 year old Watcher, 16 year old member of the Initiative, etc.)
Canonically, the youngest watcher we've ever met is Wesley (who appeared to be in his mid-20s). He was inexperienced, wet behind the ears, and full of book learnin' but no street smarts. Even if Giles and Wesley were trained from the cradle, it still takes years of experience and study before you're assigned to a Slayer. Likewise, the chances of the US Government is recruiting someone who isn't even old enough to vote for a super-secret covert operationeven if it is located on a college campusare slim to none. Again, go with realism rather than fantasy. It will make her triumphs and failures more poignant if your reader can identify with your original characters. But it's hard to identify with a Superhero.
Is miraculously spared by every vampire she meets, rather than immediately turned into snackfood
Go with canonical examples on this one. It is extremely rare for a vamp to listen first, let alone listen first and not eat later. Spike fully intended to kill Ford, despite making a deal with the poor kid. There's little doubt that he would have killed Willow and Xander, had he not sobered up and taken off to go torture Dru again. Vampire Willow only listened to Anya because there was something in it for her. And while the Major adopted Faith, it was a mutually beneficial relationship. What could your character possibly give a vampire, that a vampire can't already take? Seriously examine this one, and weight your options.
Has a particularly traumatic past
Do not torture your character in an attempt to have the audience immediately empathise with her. Do not try and out-pathos another character just for the sake of having an even more traumatised character. Sure, half the senior class was eaten at Graduation, and the undertakers are probably all millionaires. But that doesn't mean that every kid in town was orphaned by a feeding frenzy, or has witness countless atrocities that would have shattered a less hardy soul.
Is universally liked and/or respected
No one person is a seen as a saint by everyone. Even among less than a dozen people, there will be members of the gang who don't get along, or do but with some tension or even apathy. After all, Cordelia wasn't Willow's bestest bud. Willow isn't exactly bonding with Anya. And Xander isn't shooting hoops with Riley. Think about the dynamics of a group that works and plays together such as a high school class. Look for real-life examples upon which to base your fictional interpersonal relationships and social dynamics.
Has an excellent singing voice
When used in combination with other excellent traits, this in particular stands out as a classic Mary Sue identifier.
Shares a hobby or passion with a slayer/vampire/watcher/scooby
So far Tara is the only Scooby who became a Scooby through mutual interests. So carefully consider your motives, and examine your plot to see if it genuinely works, or if you're just looking for a way to further bind your character to your favourite canonical character unnecessarily.
Dies a heroic death and is mourned by all
This is also very common Mary Sue identifier that should be avoided if at all possible. Mary Sue is as often martyred as she is married, and the series has thus far only done it once (Kendra) and is not likely to do so again.
Have questions, comments, additions? Drop me a line!