Posts Revisited: Avoiding Mary Sues

writer leopardHey all! Things are going well out by me. My hands are still achy as hell, but since they hurt no matter what, I figure I’m going to keep writing. Just a bit slower than usual (I say slower, but I’m sitting here pounding away at 90 words/minute).

Voting for novel length fanfics is OPEN right now! You can vote on Patreon – HERE. Or you can vote on WordPress – HERE. Voting will close on August 20th with the fanfic starting up in September. I am still working on outlining the novel choices. They’ll be up ASAP.

Anyway, today’s post is another one I’m revisiting – this one is all the way back from 2010, meaning it was probably one of the first posts on my blog. I figured after revisiting Writing Convincing Characters that I should come back to Avoiding Mary Sues. Once again, this is something that my views have started changing on. I’m not saying Mary Sues are good, but you know. You get older and suddenly your thoughts are changing a bit.

Why Mary Sues are Bad

I touched on this a little in the original post. The reason why Mary Sues are bad is because they’re flat characters. They don’t change, they don’t push forward in the story. Part of story writing is making sure your protagonist goes through some sort of change. If there isn’t a change, then why did the story happen?

I’m not saying a change needs to be enormous. A change can be as small as a realization. Something very, very slight.

But it needs to happen.

The issue with flat characters (Mary Sues included) is that they aren’t interesting.

No change, character is boring…

Doesn’t sound like a recipe for success, right?

Recognizing a Mary Sue

Well, specifically recognizing a Mary Sue is pretty simple. Is the character perfect? 100% flawed with no redeeming qualities?  Is the character perfect SAVE for being clumsy? (I still believe clumsiness isn’t a flaw for the general populace. Maybe for an assassin or a gymnast or…I don’t know). Remember – a character with NO redeeming qualities is just as boring as a character with no flaws.

They’re going to be predictable.

You want to surprise your readers and characters that are completely perfect or completely flawed aren’t going to be surprising. They’ll be very easy to predict.

There are tests/litmus tests online that you can put your characters through, but use your intuition. You’ll know. It might take a bit to admit it, but you’ll know.

Fixing a Mary Sue

Simple enough, right? Give the character the development they deserve! But this is one point where my point of view has shifted a little. Obviously the simple fix is giving a character strengths and weaknesses and developing them into something that isn’t perfect and feels more human.

But there’s always the chance to have a character be that ‘perfect’, almost Mary Sue character and have the events of the story shape them into someone who is more realistic. Have them learn that those views are detrimental, show them growing. Find ways to subvert, surprise, anything.

Or have that perfect character start down a path of darkness. I never said that change had to be positive right?

In Conclusion…

We’ve all been there. We’ve all written Mary Sues. Everyone wants to have that idealized character at first, you think that’s compelling because you don’t encounter something like that in reality.

But perfection is boring. Perfection is almost like stagnation. It’s already been achieved, there is nothing more to do.

Write people. Make your characters feel human (or whatever species they happen to be).

And if you’re still struggling? Have someone else read your work. Your eyes and mind are used to your story and characters. Someone else will have different interpretations, they’ll be able to see different things.

So here’s to continuing to improve.

Happy writing!
~LL

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