Mary sues, and how to avoid creatng them

Filed in Characters

A Mary Sue, or Gary Stu for the male version, is a much hated yet ill-defined character archetype. Ask twenty different people what a Mary Sue is and you’ll get 15 different definitions, but, from what I can tell is there are two widely accepted definitions out there: a character that is too perfect and can do no wrong, or a character that takes over the plot.

While they are far from mutually exclusive, I personally subscribe to the latter definition, simply because I believe that even a too perfect character doesn’t absolutely have to ruin the plot in and of him or herself, as long as they’re kept in the background, but a character that takes over the plot by him or herself can’t help but ruin it. I have several strategies for ensuring that this sort of Mary Sue never comes into existence.

Finding Mary Sues before you begin writing

Before you begin writing, ask yourself a few questions about your characters:

  1. Do I like this character enough to not want them hurt?
  2. Do I like this character that I would take it personally if someone criticized them?
  3. Do I like this character enough that everything in the plot is revolving around them?

 If you answer yes to one of those, tread very carefully. If you answer yes to two or all three of those characters, you likely have a Mary Sue, and you should consider retooling the character, so that they don’t become a Mary Sue.

Finding and eliminating Mary Sues while you’re writing

Now this is much harder, and much more subjective. Use your best judgment to see if one character is doing much more than their fair share of the heavy lifting, and much less than their fair share of anything bad or flawed. If so, focus on rewriting it so that other characters get their fair share of the limelight and the sueish character(s) show signs of being human, and flawed.

And on that note, we end the series on characters. Tomorrow, I start the series on avoiding offending your audience.

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