Posts Tagged ‘mary-sues’

Meet Mary-Sue

Posted: December 18, 2012 in Writing
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Hello there.

Yes, I am two days late in blogging. *gasp* Mad Christmas preparations possibly involving cookie dough and random dancing was the cause of this very slight delay in posting. However, now I’m here. YAY.

Anyways, onto the topic of this post. The topic I am about to address is a thing all writers fear…it is a syndrome exceedingly difficult to elude…it has immense destructive powers that can slaughter your novel in a single chapter…

The dreaded Mary-Sue Disease.

Perhaps you are thinking, “What the heck is a Mary-Sue?” Well, a Mary-Sue is a character [a female character in this case; if the character is male the term is switched to Gary-Stu in order to be gender appropriate] who is simply too virtuous, too talented, and too good to be true. A Mary-Sue character is pretty much a perfect person, in a way. You can read more about it here.

But I am not writing this post in order to just explain what a Mary-Sue is. I am writing it to assist in the fierce, constant battle against the Mary-Sues that invade novels today. There are many novels which I have read in which the protagonist (or a love interest; this is also very common) is, well, a Mary-Sue. And let me tell you, reading about that character is like intentionally torturing myself. I often feel like destroying the character–who cares that they aren’t real?!–before the end of the novel.

As I write, I try to avoid creating Mary-Sueish characters. I truly do. Before I begin writing a new novel, I typically fill out a simple character questionnaire for each major character and make sure that they don’t have any Mary-Sue qualities. Some of these qualities are difficult to avoid, and I don’t believe that it’s a bad thing to use them in a character, as long as it isn’t superbly overdone and makes the character annoying/unbearable. For example, let’s say you have a character who has been raised in extreme poverty. While this can be a Mary-Sue quality, I really don’t think that such a thing cannot occur in good fiction. If your character, along with being raised in extreme poverty, has ALSO been abandoned by his/her caregivers, has ALSO been chosen as ‘The One’ in a major prophecy, ALSO manages to completely reform the villain by the end of the story, ALSO is incredibly beautiful/handsome, ALSO has every essential magical power, and ALSO angsts constantly about everything, then yes, I would consider that character to be a Mary-Sue. But if your character is raised in extreme poverty and is The Chosen One (though this smells faintly of Harry Potter–though he wasn’t exactly raised in extreme poverty), then I wouldn’t really think of that character as a Mary-Sue. Especially if the story is executed well.

What I’m trying to say is that Mary-Sues are terrible. But qualities attributed to Mary-Sues shouldn’t always be treated like the plague, as in the example above.

Okay. That was my optimistic side. Time for my pessimistic/cynical side on the matter.

To begin with, nobody–I repeat, nobody–likes a Mary-Sue. And if some person in the world indeed does like Mary-Sues, then, well…that’s your problem, not mine. But I think I can speak for the majority of readers when I say that Mary-Sues are a big turn-off.

For us authors, though, sometimes writing a non-Mary-Sue can be challenging. Sometimes I’ll be writing away, la dee dah, and then my character is in a tight situation and all that comes to my mind is, “No! She has to survive so that she can save so-and-so! Uh…Let’s just say that she’s talented with throwing knives.” And then my character gets out of the situation and all is fine.

But it isn’t.

Because in that instant, what I think is a harmless decision could begin the transformation of my character from a well-rounded individual to a…Mary-Sue. That one decision in an of itself doesn’t ruin the character, not by any means, but if I continue to give my character these handy little traits for when she needs them, soon my character will start to resemble Superman, in that she can do pretty much anything to  help herself and others out of bad situations.

What I try to do in these moments of temptation–the moments where I feel an urge to make that one little upgrade to my character, and thereby embarking on the road to Mary-Suehood–is ask myself if my character really needs this quality, or if I’m just trying to find an easy way out of an undesirable moment that the character might be in. More often than not, it is the latter case. If it turns out to be the former, then I have the motivation to go throughout the rest of the novel and add that quality to my character. If I don’t, then readers will certainly feel like the author just pulled a nice trait out of a hat and plopped it in the story. Which isn’t a good thing.

Another Mary-Sue case that I’ve read much too frequently, and am guilty of it myself, is the Mary-Sue romance. In which one person in the couple is instantly attracted to the other, who may not be quite as interested but quickly falls in love. I am always, ALWAYS tempted to do this in my stories. I never feel like waiting, I want my characters to stop fooling around and acknowledge the fact that they’re perfect for each other.

The thing is, I have read many novels which employ this scenario, and I hate it every time I read of a new couple entrapped by the Mary-Sue romance snare. And every time I make a private vow never to do that in any of my own novels. Yet I always have that urge to speed it up, make the two characters so attracted to the other that when their eyes meet it’s like LIGHTNING STRUCK THE AIR BETWEEN THEM.

This is not good.

So what do I do about it? Well, to be frank, I haven’t quite mastered this problem of mine. I’m still in the process of doing so. But really, all I can do is just force myself to take a deep breath, and think about how real the romance is. I imagine what it would be like if these characters were real people and they were in love in real life. And I often come to the conclusion that anybody, upon hearing their story of romance, would be highly skeptical. The truth is, no matter what genre you are writing in, every romance has to be real. Unless you are writing about otherworldly aliens who fall in love at five times the rate humans do. In that case, you are free to pace the romance however you please. But when we’re talking about humans, people don’t just fall in love in two seconds. That’s just not how it happens. So, I always try to think of my character’s romance as a real thing. And when I use that strategy, I can usually begin to remedy my love-at-first-glance urges.

In conclusion, I will share with you all a link to a Mary-Sue test that you can take for your characters, if you so please. I usually take it for my main character and the love interest, if there is one in my novel. Perhaps you will find it useful, too!

On a side note, I’ve made the so very important decision that in addition to blogging weekly (every Sunday; I’ll keep that up unless a better day of the week works better), I’ll blog whenever I feel like it, too. Because I often feel the urge to write long spiels on random nonsense and publish it for the world to see. Right.

Anyways, see you on Sunday! Between now and then, however, remember to watch out for strains of the Mary-Sue disease that could pop up in your writing. If you spot any of the symptoms–including but not limited to characters you know people would be irritated by, unhealthy romance, or a rash on your fingers after typing in your novel–call 1-800-627-9783 to receive your official medical diagnosis, or visit for more details on this disease and how to combat it.