(Authors Note: The following article is purely based on my own personal opinion and is not intended to be taken entirely seriously).
One of my favourite things about writing fantasy is creating characters. I love the idea of creating a character, setting up a backstory for them, creating a personality and making them as interesting a character as I can. As I'm sure every writer enjoys doing - creating characters is one of the fun parts of writing.
But then of course, there is the OTHER side of writing - the dreaded archtype known only as "The Mary-Sue!" Just to hear this word makes most writers and artists shudder in their boots! For those who don't know what a Mary-Sue is, Wikipedia describes them as such.
“...a fictional character with overly idealized and hackneyed mannerisms, lacking noteworthy flaws, and primarily functioning as a wish-fulfilment fantasy for the author or reader.”
Put simply, it's a character that's just too good to be true, doesn't fail at anything and is overly popular and knows how to solve anything! Perhaps you may have come across a fan fiction where the writer has created a character so powerful that they can't be defeated? That's a Mary-Sue! In fact, fan fiction is full of these sorts of archtypes, particularly within anime fan fiction (prime examples include Dragonball Z, Yugioh and Naruto fan fics).
Of couse, Mary-Sue's are not just limited to just fan fiction as mainstream media has their share of Mary-Sue's and Gary-Stu's. Some examples include James Bond (because he always gets all the girls), Wesley Crusher from Star Trek (because he always seems to know what to do) and Ferris Bueller (come on! That guy is so CLEARLY a Mary-Sue!). Even today in action movies, you always get some hardcore action figure that's able to fight off hordes of enemies without behind hit ONCE! Seriously, how are we supposed to get behind these characters when they can solve ANY problem that's put before them.
Naturally of course, what constitutes a Mary-Sue is subjective to everyones opinon (I mentioned some examples above, but I am aware people will disagree with me - and to be fair to James Bond, they have at least made him a much more interesting character of late), but Mary-Sue's do get a bad reputation and are reviled within the writing community. There are of course, Mary-Sue limitus tests to help you avoid creating these kinds of characters, but personally I find these sorts of test extremely unfair and biased. So I've created a top five list of tips to help you avoid your characters becoming a Mary-Sue.
Before we begin, two things I want to mention. Firstly, when I talk about Mary-Sue's, I refer to BOTH male and female characters. Mary-Sue as a title is not exaclty gender specific, just to clear that up. Secondly, this is NOT a definative list - it's purely based on Mary-Sue trends that annoy me personally within the fantasy and sci-fi community.
So without further ado - let's being.
TIP #1: Be careful how many superpowers you give your characters
Yes, I know it's tempting when creating superpowered characters to give them every power under the sun and make them the most powerful being on the planet. But then again, remember back to when you were a kid and you used to play games where you pretended to be superheroes with your friends. Remember that one kid that would always make himself so uber powerful that no one could beat him? Was that fun? No, I didn't think so.
Here's the thing, Superman is often considered a Mary-Sue as he has too many superpowers. But here is the thing, he actually isn't - because you CAN take his powers away from him. Whether by Kryptonite, hiding him from the sun, or even through magic. This is a weakness that has been explored by writers for years and actually makes for some of the best stories.
I think superpowers are important and should reflect the nature of the superhero - but at the same time, if they are too invulnerable and have no obvious weaknesses, then what's the point? Do you think Superman's enemies would be trying to defeat him if he didn't have any weakensses? I didn't think so.
For me, it's not usually how many superpowers a character has, but how they USE those powers that makes a superhero memorable. Take Spider-Man for instance, he has a few superpowers, but often using his powers causes more harm than good due to the fact that he overestimates his abilities. After all, with great power comes great responsiblity!
I guess what I'm trying to say is that superpowers are great - but don't overdo it and make sure your character isn't too overpowered. After all, even Thor had some human weaknesses - and he was an Asgardian God!
TIP #2: Avoid fanservice
Let me tell you what I mean by "fanservice". Put simply, I mean going to great lengths in explaining how sexy and hot your main character is! You would not believe the amount of fan fictions I've read where writers have gone to great lengths to describe EVERY detail on a characters person. I once read a fan fiction where a character spent a whole chapter describing his female lead - a whole chapter!
Look, character descriptions are important and we need to have enough to get a picture of a character - but we don't need to know every five minutes that the main heroine's costume is so tight that we can see the curves of her body, or that her boobs bounce with each step, or that the main hero's tights barely hold his huge package. This stuff may be acceptable in erotic fiction or adult fiction, but in other works it just comes across as childish and inappropriate.
I'm not saying that main characters can't be beautiful, but there are ways of putting across their beauty without going into huge detail. Maybe you can try showing their beauty through the reactions of the people around her/him, or how people treat them. Also the characters attitude to this can reflect their personality a lot more. Do they like the attention, or are they snotty towards them?
Beautiful characters are ok, but we don't need to know every detail of their body. So be careful of how much fanservice you use with your characters.
TIP #3: A dark past is good - killers aren't
In comic book and fantasy/science ficition - anti heroes seem to be more prominant than ever before. These days, characters with a dark past seem to be the norm in this medium. I don't have a problem with this, a dark past can be a very useful storytelling tool - it can make you sympathise you with the character and want them to do well.
However, what I DO have a problem with are these anti-hero types that just go around killing indiscriminately - whether they are villains or not! Too many times I have read a book/comic or seen a film where the protagnonist just goes around wasting villains left right and centre - and not because their life is in danger, but because they seem to enjoy it! You might argue that, because most of the time they are only killing villains, it's ok. Not for me it isn't! I just can't support a character that has so little regard for human life.
Look, a dark past may help you understand a characters motivations, but it doesn't always justify them. For me, a hero (or anti hero), should represent a kind of moral code or upbringing. They don't have to be clean cut or perfect, they just need to be better than the villains they are trying to defeat. I think the best example of this is Batman - he witnessed his family gunned down by criminals as a kid, but did he go on a killing spree? No, in fact the exact opposite. He REFUSES to kill criminals, preferring to make them pay for their crimes. This makes him a much stronger character as he refuses to go down the criminal path. Yeah, there have been times when he has almost deviated from that - but he always stayed true to his morals. THAT'S why he's one of the most beloved superheroes of all time.
I understand that there is an interest for these types of "uber-killer" heroes, but I personally don't find these types of characters interesting. Hence why I decided to include this tip in my list.
TIP #4: Don't be afraid to let your characters fail
A common mistake among beginner writers is that they think their hero characters have to succeed all the time. Not true! Remember that quote from Willem Defoe in the first Spider-Man move, "The World loves a hero - but the one thing they love more is to see a hero fail..." That's very true in my eyes.
For any good story, the hero needs to go through a change through the course of the story which affects them. Tragedy is a great tool for this - it adds real tension to a story when a hero fails in some way (whether to save a loved one, stop a villain, etc) and keeps you wondering how the villain will resolve this.
Jack Bauer from 24 is a great example of this. He often had to make split second desicions to try and solve a problem, even if it meant putting innocent lives in danger. Usually, things went according to plan - but when they DIDN'T, it meant that an innocent life was destroyed. Even if the objective was completed, Jack is usually left with innocent blood on his hand. Naturally, he tries to carry on his mission as normal, but you can really tell that it eats him up inside.
Not much more to say - new writers, don't be afraid to let your characters fail once in a while. It makes them more believeable and interesting as characters.
TIP #5: DON'T make your character a vampire!
Actually, this one is just a joke. But personally, I think this is one of the most overused trends in writing at the moment. Ever since Twilight series came out, it seems that everyone is trying their hand at creating vampire stories.
If I'm being honest, I'm not too big on vampire stories in general. I find it rather disturbing making a romantic icon out of something that is a killer. Of course, this is just my opinion. Also, the problem I find is that many people are writing vampire stories to - well, just because it's the current fad at the moment. And most of the vampire stories I've read are just dreadful - they tend to borrow too much from Twilight or Interview with the Vampire, or any other Dracula stories. And the vampires tend to be so overpowered or so whinny that they just annoy me rather than interest me.
It's not that I have anything against vampire stories, I don't. I just would prefer it if people tried to do something different with vampire stories rather than try and copy Stephine Meyer or Anne Rice. However, I did recently purchase a book that was recommended via Read2Review called Fang's Rule - A Girls Guide to being a Vampire by Amy Mah. This was a really hilarious and different spin on the vampire myth (and it has cool manga artwork as well!) and I highly recommend it to anyone who likes vampire or young adult writing.
So just to clarify, I have no problem with vampires really. If you enjoy reading and writing that kinda stuff - all power to you. But if you're just going to write vampire stories because it's the current trend, then I'd advise stepping away from the computer/typewriter/quill pen (if that's your thing) and rethink your writing. You should never writer because it's a trend as that's the first sign of being a phony!
So those are just my tips to avoid creating a Mary-Sue. Did you agree? Disagree? Or is there something that I've missed? Please comment below as I do enjoy hearing other peoples views (no spam or trolls though).
Thanks for reading. I'll have another writing article next week!
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