print this page
SMALLVILLE 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.
- Is related to either Clark or Lex either by blood or by familial or pseudo-familial ties (2 points)
- Is connected to a series regular, either through familial or psuedo-familial ties (Lionel's illegitimate daughter, "adopted" daughter, etc.) or through a romantic relationship
- Is one of Lex's old flames (2 points)
- Rules that apply to others are bent or broken for her
- Excels at everything she turns her hand to or conversely, fails at everything she turns her hand to, but is forgiven
- 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.)
- Discovers Clark Kent's secret
- Has uncanny or supernatural abilities and skills (i.e., is an X-Men-style mutant, a Charmed-style Witch, a Buffy-style Slayer, etc.) due to exposure to kryptonite
- Has uncanny or supernatural abilities and skills (i.e., is an X-Men-style mutant, a Charmed-style Witch, a Buffy-style Slayer, etc.) without exposure to kryptonite (2 points)
- Is unusually accomplished for her age (run a powerful company at the tender age of 20, is a student teacher at Smallville High and the tender age of 18, etc.)
- Is miraculously spared by every super-villian she meets, rather than immediately fat sucked/energy sucked/warmth sucked
- Has a particularly traumatic past
- Is universally liked and/or respected
- Has an excellent singing voice
- Shares a hobby or passion with a series lead
- Dies a heroic death and is mourned by all
How to read your character's score:
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.
Not to belabour a point, but there's a reason why Superman is called the Last Son of Krypton. Learn the lessons the comics learned before you: every time you add a Supergirl, a bottled city of Kandor, or a passel of Phantom Zone villains, you are diminishing a vital part of Clark's character: his uniqueness. As yet, Smallville canon implies that Clark is the only Kryptonian on Earth.
Is related to either Clark of Lex either by blood or by familial or pseudo-familial ties
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.
Is connected to a series regular, either through familial or psuedo-familial ties (Lionel's illegitimate daughter, "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 Smallville 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 Lex learning that he has a half-sister from one of his father's affairs, and 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 Martha Kent and Lionel Luthor's secret love child. 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.
Is one of Lex's old flames
To put it bluntly: One Victoria Hardwick was more than enough. It is reasonable to assume that Lex has had many relationships, and given the series habit of showing a beautiful woman on his arm, this is realistic and even plausible. However, unless the plot comes with the guest star, leave your gratuitous love interest at home.
Rules that apply to others are bent or broken for her
Hi. Have you met Lex?
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, 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 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.
Discovers Clark Kent's secret
Clark's secret identity is not common knowledge. If he hasn't told Chloe, Pete, Lex or Lana yet, then it is highly unlikely that he will spill it to a perfect stranger. Also, when other charactersgood or evil have discovered his powers, those characters have either died horribly (Sam Phelan) or disappeared off the face of the earth (Kyle Tippett).
Has uncanny or supernatural abilities and skills (i.e., is an X-Men-style mutant, a Charmed-style Witch, a Buffy-style Slayer, etc.) due to exposure to kryptonite
So far, everyone in town who has had prolonged exposure to the "meteor rocks" and develops a special ability has gone slightly completly nutball insane, or is bent on using said power for personal gain and/or world domination, with the sole exception of Kyle Tippett and, technically, Lex Luthor. You'd better have a darned good reason for giving the series a second superhero.
Has uncanny or supernatural abilities and skills (i.e., is an X-Men-style mutant, a Charmed-style Witch, a Buffy-style Slayer, etc.) without exposure to kryptonite
We know it's a comic book. However, the series has thus far not shown any superheroes or super-villians other than Clark, Lex, and the kryptonite "freak of the week" that generally are the A-plot of each episode. There is no evidence thus far that the Smallville universe is rife with meta-humans the way its comic book counterpart is.
Is unusually accomplished for her age (run a powerful company at the tender age of 20, is a student teacher at Smallville High and the tender age of 18, etc.)
While Lex appears to run an entire fertiliser plant at the tender age of 21, this is unusual bordering on inconceivable. We buy it because it's Lex and because Lionel has delusions of grandeur and thinks of himself as leading an empire, rather than running a corporation. When thinking of a position or plausible reason for your original character to come into contact with the series regulars, keep in mind their ages and relative level of experience. 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 super-villian she meets, rather than immediately fat sucked/energy sucked/warmth sucked
On the series, new characters are either a) evil or b) canon fodder. It's rare for anyone other than Lex, Chloe, Pete, Lana, Whitney, or Ma and Pa to survive the many brushes with death kryptonite freaks of the week have introduced them to. If you're going to have your original run afoul of the baddie, you'd better have a very good out.
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 student body has been terrorised by fat-sucking, shape-shifting, electrically charged, body-heat sucking freaks. But that doesn't mean that every kid in town was orphaned by a meteor fragment, 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, Whitney wasn't Clark's bestest bud. Chloe isn't exactly bonding with Lana without some jealousy. And Jonathan Kent isn't going to be shaking hands with Lionel Luthor any time soon. 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 series lead
Not everyone who writes for the school paper is going to become Clark's new best friend. And Lex doesn't seem to have any friends other than Clark, and a string of old lovers such as Victoria. 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.
Have questions, comments, additions? Drop me a line!