While it gives me great pain to publicly take exception with the greatest living science fiction writer, I have no choice but to do so with regards to what these days is an unfortunately all-too-pertinent literary matter:
A reader named Bellomy had a comment of dazzling insight I wanted to reprint by way of applause and emphatic agreement.
I learned the secret to what makes a character a Mary Sue.
You see, being great everything doesn’t make one a Mary Sue. John Carter of Mars is that. Batman is that. Wonder Woman, for a female example, is that.
What makes one a Mary Sue is the fundamental dishonesty in how the character is treated.
No, no, no! A thousand times no! A Mary Sue may well be a fundamentally dishonest character. Certainly most of them are. But a Mary Sue may also be an entirely honest character. The reader named Bellomy is confusing the observable fact that most Mary Sues are fundamentally dishonest characters with the basic nature of the Mary Sue.
The correct definition of the Mary Sue is very straightforward: a Mary Sue is a literary character who is an idealized stand-in for the author.
For example, the commenter HMSLion is correct in identifying Owen Pitt, from the Monster Hunter International novels, as an exemplary Mary Sue. Owen Pitt, the oversized accountant highly skilled with guns, who successfully steals the tall, beautiful dark-haired girl from his wealthy, popular, better-educated and more handsome rival, is a wonderful character because Larry Correia is himself a wonderful character. But there can be no doubt that Owen Pitt began as an unmitigated Mary Sue.
Authors have a tendency to reveal more about themselves than they realize, and often, more than they would like, when they write themselves into their stories. Consider the subconscious confessions contained in the two following quotes:
ITEM #1: She was beautiful. In fact she was possibly the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. She was tall, with dark black hair, light skin, and big brown eyes. Her face was beautiful, not fake beautiful like a model or an actress, because she was obviously a real person, but rather Helen of Troy, launch-a-thousand-ships kind of good-looking. She wore glasses, and I was a sucker for a girl in corrective eyewear. Since I was ugly it was probably some sort of subconscious reaction in the hope that I might have a chance with a cute girl who couldn’t see very well. She was dressed in a conservative business suit, but unlike most women I knew, she made it look good. If I were to guess I would have said that she was in her mid-twenties.
“Mr. Pitt?” she asked. Even her voice was pretty. She was a goddess.
I tried to answer, but no words would come out. Talk, idiot! “Um… Hi.” Smooth… So far so good, keep going, big guy.
“You can, um… my name is… Owen. My friends call me Z. Because of my middle name. It starts with a Z. Or whatever works for you. Come in. Please!”
Well, so much for smooth.
ITEM #2: I could not help but gloat a little as I smiled for my nemesis. Grant Jefferson. The smug bastard had only been able to do it in 2.5, which was still pretty respectable, but not even close to as fast as mine. And the best part was that he knew it. He was the one who said my first run had been a fluke. Grant was not used to being bested at anything. I enjoyed watching as he stomped off in frustration. He did not like me, and the feeling was mutual. I handed the shotgun over for the next shooter.
Grant was no Newbie. He was a full-fledged member of MHI, and also one of our instructors, though he was the junior man on Harbinger’s team. He had only come out to shoot in the hopes of showing us poor folks how it was done. Grant was totally my opposite. Lean and handsome, witty, charming, a product of the finest schools, and descended from the oldest established (as in super wealthy) New England families. He even had nice hair. He was the type of person everybody liked, and everybody wanted to be liked by.
I wouldn’t trust him as far as I could throw him. I thought he was a pompous ass from the moment I had met him, and I felt the primal and instinctual need to beat him up and take his lunch money.
But the real reason that I hated his guts was that he was Julie Shackleford’s boyfriend.
Now, would you like to bet against the surmise that there are real-life analogues to Julie Shackleford and Grant Jefferson? I would not recommend it. The line about “fake beautiful like a model” is particularly informative. Of course, as Larry Correia has improved as a writer, he is no longer reliant upon his own experiences and emotions to create credible characters, which is why Owen Pitt has grown beyond his origins as a Mary Sue.
The reason that most Mary Sues are dishonest is because most authors are not interesting and accomplished individuals like Larry Correia. Therefore, in order to make their characters appear attractive, successful, and interesting, they have no choice but to present them in a dishonest fashion, winning every argument and succeeding in every challenge with the greatest of ease. But that does not make a dishonest character, like Rey from the latest Star Wars abominations, a Mary Sue. She is not a stand-in for the various authors, she is merely a dishonest feminist archetype.