Why Mary Sues and OCs Are Hated (and Why They’re Not the Same)

Mary Sues are hated in every fandom.

Fotolia.com | ©dreamerve

Fotolia.com | ©dreamerve

I don’t really mind OCs in fanfiction. Even if a writer uses an OC as a main character, I’m cool with it—as long as the character in question isn’t a Mary Sue.

Now, I understand that Mary Sue is a somewhat subjective term. If you ask ten different people what it means, you’ll get ten different answers:

A Mary Sue is the author’s wish fulfillment.

A Mary Sue is a character whose name and physical traits overcompensate for her lack of personality.

A Mary Sue pushes suspension of disbelief to the limit.

A Mary Sue is a badly written character.

Whatever your definition, one thing’s for sure: Mary Sues are hated in every fandom.

And fanfics aren’t the only ones with Sues. Some would argue that certain canon characters—like Batman, for example—would be considered Mary Sues if their genders were flipped. But that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms.

For now, we’ll focus on fanfic Sues.

One of the most common Sues is an OC created as a love interest for a popular (male) character. She’s often portrayed as beautiful, powerful, and equal in every respect to her love. Other times, she’s the exact opposite of all of these, but it’s clear that the author meant her to be liked by everyone who mattered. In both cases, the characters who adore her are rewarded within the narrative, while the characters who hate her aren’t.

To be fair, she’s not always a love interest. But she’s still portrayed as strong enough to keep up with the most powerful canon characters and may even end up upstaging them in the end.

What all of these have in common is this: The entire narrative favors the Sue and the Sue alone.

Unfortunately, many OCs end up as Mary Sues which is why people often stay away from OC-centric fics. It’s much easier to do this than to give the benefit of the doubt that not all OCs are Mary Sues and not all Mary Sues are OCs.

Now, it’s perfectly okay to write a strong, beautiful OC. It’s also perfectly okay to have her liked by the canon characters in the universe she’s dropped into. These traits only become an issue when they’re written at the expense of other characters.

For example, in cellostargalactica‘s The Hobbit fanfic “The Toymaker and the Widow,” Rikke is clearly meant to be the love interest of Bofur, one of the dwarves in the Company of Thorin Oakenshield. But since Rikke’s character is well-developed, without taking anything away from the canonical Company, she still feels like an organic part of Tolkien’s universe. Characters and story go hand in hand, after all.

So, even if you love your OC to bits, don’t forget about the other characters. Think carefully about their canon traits and whether it would make sense for them to act a certain way toward your character. After all, the canon characters (and universe) are what drew your readers to your fanfic in the first place.

Respect the canon of the fandom you’re writing for, and that fandom will respect you too.

(P.S. Cellostargalactica has a fantastic writing style. Go read her works, if you haven’t already! And if you know of any fics with well-written OCs, please share them with us!)

Recommended Fanfic: The Toymaker and the Widow by cellostargalactica
(T, 120,420 words) “He whittles for the widow and her child; his sweet, sad widow,” said Bombur smugly. “How is she his widow if he’s still alive?” Bilbo wondered. “Because she’s not my widow,” Bofur cut in. “She’s a widow. I have no claim to her, or anyone.”

About Lisa Miranda (2 Articles)
Lisa Miranda is a writer by day and a fangirl by night. She loves anime, slash pairings, and cups of hot chocolate. Also, she appreciates constructive comments and high-fives so feel free to send those her way!

9 Comments on Why Mary Sues and OCs Are Hated (and Why They’re Not the Same)

  1. What I don’t get is how come it’s always the same OC but with a different name and a few artificial weaknesses? Why doesn’t any of these OC’s ever have basic survival kits instead their backpack if they ever even bring it is full of useless shit with a dead phone being about the only useful thing.

    I’ve never seen an OC dropped into a fantasy world having a gun license or pepper spray/mace or even a common sense 72 hour emergency kit for when the SHTF either nationally or just a local disaster where help will be very very slow.

  2. I’ve seen quite a few fics where OCs are done well. I especially like them as outsider POV characters.

    But one of my favorite characters in fanfic is an OC. In that series, the author (later authors) wondered “What if our protagonist, who has very little family in canon, actually had a close relative[*] who grew up apart from him?” Six years, 34 stories, and two million words into the series, I’m still enjoying each of that OC’s appearances.

    [* I won’t spoil how close, in case anybody wants to go looking for the series :-)]

  3. I’m new here. What’s an OC?

    • FAN/FIC Magazine // January 6, 2017 at 5:08 pm // Reply

      Hello and welcome! In fandom, an OC is an “original character.” These are characters in fanworks (usually fanfiction or fanart) who do not appear in the source material (or “canon”). Instead, OCs are characters created by the fan author. To get more specific, an OFC is an “original female character” and an OMC is an “original male character.”

      So, if I wanted to write a Harry Potter fanfic about life in Slytherin house during the Second Wizarding War, I could write in an OMC who might be friends with Draco Malfoy.

      And, guess what? You’ve inspired me! I’ve been thinking about creating a couple of posts about “Fandom Lingo and Terminology” for people who might be new to fandom(s), so now I think I will do that. It can be very overwhelming at the beginning.

      Thanks for reading! And stop by anytime. 🙂

  4. I loathe OC’s with the greatest of passions. Unless it’s a random side character like the friendly barista named Tammy who makes an appearance in every other chapter, I almost always see them as author inserts who take over the canon realm. When Harry Potter’s long lost and forgotten 13 year old sister Alicia Katie-Grace Potter, emerges from the rubble in the Battle at Howard, that’s when I know the fic is gonna be pure author insert crap.

    • FAN/FIC Magazine // October 18, 2016 at 2:04 pm // Reply

      OCs aren’t my cup of tea either, but, to be fair, I haven’t given many fics featuring them a chance. The motivations behind inserting non-canon characters into fanfiction are very intriguing to me. Thanks for reading and commmenting!

  5. It says in your bio you like high fives so….HIGH FIVES for an awesome article. I’m so glad you tackled this topic. It’s a toughy and so many fanfiction writers especially beginners fall into the trap of wanting to fix all of their canon characters problems by introducing a super-powered OC or Mary Sue into their story and I guess people forget that the reason we resonate with our favorite canon characters is BECAUSE they have troubles to begin with!

  6. Rachel Smith Cobleigh // November 10, 2015 at 6:19 pm // Reply

    Thanks for making a specific fanfic recommendation to illustrate your point (it’s so nice not to just speak in generalities!) and nice job with the tips for how to avoid letting your OC become a Mary Sue. You’re right: creating OCs can be done well.

    I’ve written three stories that feature OCs as the main-perspective character, but in all three cases, my goal was to explore an interesting thought experiment, an implication of the worlds post-canon. Rather than loading the introduction to the stories down with a tedious exposition on how the world has changed since canon ended, I’d just drop readers into the middle of the OC’s story and watch as the OC encountered canon characters. Sometimes the most effective way to see the canon characters in a new context is through a fresh, outsider perspective on them. But nobody fell in love with the OCs, they were as flawed as the canon characters, and although I hoped they were compelling, rounded characters, I knew that the canon characters’ adventures were always going to be more interesting to readers than my OC’s adventures, so I made sure to keep the stories focused on the canon characters as much as possible. Readers’ response to these stories has been positive, and in one case, I actually had readers demanding more about the OC’s adventures in-universe, so that was satisfying.

  7. It’s a very rewarding feeling when people explicitly tell you that your OC is fun to read. I’ve had that happen before in the story linked to this post. One thing that helps is having interesting goals for your character ahead of time. If your character is about overpowering the most overpowered canon character in a franchise or claiming the most desired character as a love interest then people would be more likely not to give your character the light of day. My advice is to show just as much appreciation for canon characters as your own. That means give them as much good development if not more than the OC. If you do that people may condone even the most shamelesd of goals!

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