The Mary Sue Litmus Test

adapted from the original by Melissa "Merlin Missy" Wilson,
Copyright 2002 Emby Quinn

Missy Wilson's excellent Mary Sue Litmus Test is a useful tool for spotting problem areas with a self-inserted original character. Since the original test was highly geared towards Gargoyles and Star Trek fanfiction, I have modified the original to fit the Gatchaman universe. While this test is heavily Gatch-oriented, it can also be applied to Battle of the Planets, G-Force or Eagle Riders fanfic.

This test is designed to be as painless as possible; it is also very generalized. It's not intended as a point-by-point critique, but rather a simple preliminary test to determine whether or not a specific original character is a supercharacter (what is commonly known in fandom as "Mary Sue"). Supercharacters are annoying and have no place as "supporting characters" in fanfic--they deserve their own stories/series (cf. Xena).

Scoring is dead simple: for each of the following questions to which you would answer "Yes", score 1 point. Keep a running tally and compare your total score to the guide at the end of this questionnaire. Be brutally honest with yourself. It's the only way you can improve as a writer. There's no point in taking this test if you're not willing to be completely honest in your answers. Note also that there are no "maybe" or "sometimes" answers. If a question can be answered "yes" in one particular case, then it counts as a "yes" answer, period. If you have more than one original character, score each character separately. Provision is made for alternate universes; treat the characters from such stories as you would a character from one based solely in Gatch/BotP/etc. canon.

Now compare your total score to the list below:

0-15 Well-developed character, not likely a Mary Sue. Pat yourself on the head.

16-25 Borderline case. If poorly or inobjectively written, s/he could be branded a Mary Sue. If handled well, people will forgive you a lot of personal excess.

25+ Full-fledged Mary Sue. Danger, Will Robinson, this one's a supercharacter.

35+ Give serious thought to overhauling your character and/or plot. Please. In the name of humanity.

Okay, the worst is over. Let's assume your character failed miserably. What to do? Do you try to correct the problem or do you forge ahead and write what you want anyway? That's entirely up to you. There are no hard fast rules governing fanfiction, and popular opinion varies not only from fandom to fandom or from group to group, but even from story to story. If your character scored 35 or higher and you don't want to change him/her, that's totally okay. It's your character, and they're your stories, and you're allowed to write whatever you want. Just be aware that, if your character scored fairly high on this test, chances are that there are going to be some people who will call your character a Mary Sue. While that's potentially true of any "self-insertion" character (there's always going to be somebody around with a big rubber stamp waiting to brand an author-created with this label), a high score on this very generalized and hardly all-inclusive test will make that possibility a hell of a lot more likely.

"Emby, how would YOU fix it?" You mean how DID I fix it. >.< Trust me, I've written plenty of rabid Mary Sues in my time and I learned from my gaffes. The best advice I ever got came from Mercedes Lackey (of Valdemar fame): "Give your character warts." This isn't a directive to curse your darling with an embarrassing skin condition--it's a caution to build flaws into your character. Nobody's perfect except Jesus Christ and they crucified him for it. Flaws like "she has a tragic past" or "he cares too much about his friends" won't cut it either. Maybe your character's tone-deaf but THINKS she sings like a bird, or maybe he couldn't shoot straight to save his life, or maybe she's got a bad temper (and SUFFERS THE CONSEQUENCES FOR IT!!). If you're going to give the character something they can't do, make sure it's something they wish they COULD do. Not being able to fight effectively could seriously hamper your character. Not being able to tap-dance and whistle simultaneously is totally irrelevant.

If you must have your character romantically involved with one of the regulars (Joe, Katze, even Nambu), don't for God's sake let it be love at first sight (at least not for the regular!!). Show the relationship developing over time. Throw obstacles in their path. Let them have fights (and don't let your character win and/or always be in the right). Most of all, don't let your character abuse the love of their lives and get away with it--when Miya pushed Joe too hard, he walked out on her.

Speaking of the Savage Redhead, she scored higher than I thought she would, but still tolerable (I would hope). So she's a borderline Mary Sue. I could bring her score down easily enough (taking away her musical ability and singing voice, adding a prologue featuring the KNT to her introductory story, not having her fall for Joe, etc.), but I choose not to. (And yes, I answered "Yes" to the question about taking slams against Miya personally. If I can be honest, you can too.)

If you would like more tips on writing Gatch fic in general and this sort of fic in particular, check out my new guide. It might prove useful to you.

To quote Missy herself: "First and last of all, be real. The fantasy will make itself."


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