Avoiding the Mary Sue

If you’ve been writing for any length of time and also have the internet, you have no doubt heard of the Mary Sue character. It is a character that, for the most part, is frowned upon by fellow authors but for some odd reason is loved by a lot of readers.

Wait…that’s not odd. I know the reason why. The Mary Sue character, at her best, allows the reader to plant herself right into the story. At her worst, she is the author.

This is what made Twilight so popular. And before any of the Twi-fans start, know that I have read all four books. Disclaimer over.

Anyway, all of these girls (and women) said that they could identify with Bella. I personally couldn’t because I didn’t like Edward and could not understand why Bella was throwing her life down the tubes for him. Bella was also basically the author, Stephanie Meyer, as she wished she could have been in high school; popular without the predictable stuck-up cheerleader persona.

A lot of authors were PO’d about how this insanely bland and “perfect by being non-perfect” character managed to grab so many fans. Here’s my suggestion: don’t create another Bella, and don’t try to go so far in the opposite direction (the Anti-Sue) that you end up creating a character no one likes.

There is an actual Mary Sue Litmus Test online, which I took with extreme anxiety for my main character in BLAQUE, Mysty. Mysty got a score of 14, which represents a well-rounded character. After breathing a sigh of relief, I asked myself : how did that happen?

Well, Mysty is not liked by all the other characters. Many of them grow to like her, but a few of them are annoyed by her for the entire series. A Mary Sue character tends to be well-liked by the entire freaking cast, no matter she does. In the real world, not everyone will like you. If they do, you are either dreaming or they are all secretly plotting to kill you.

Mysty also has more than one flaw. Bella had exactly one flaw, and that was being clumsy. Furthermore, Bella’s flaw never got her into any type of major trouble (unless you count her paper cut); she got in trouble by simply being too close to Edward. Mysty’s flaws get her into trouble all day, everyday, which is how our flaws usually work.

Mysty does have some of the Mary Sue traits, though. I gave her a weird variation of the name Misty, she does cause a major change in her love interest (though it doesn’t happen until the second book), and she does end up getting herself into some really interesting and unlikely situations.

She ended up being a nice balance, though, and that should be the goal. A main character has to be interesting enough to carry a story, relatable enough to appeal to readers, and real enough to pass any litmus test out there.

See, not too hard…

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3 Responses to Avoiding the Mary Sue

  1. Trudy says:

    Thanks for articulating this. Now I understand why I hate many heroines in books…they fall under the “Mary Sue” that you are talking about. If the character is so beloved and people identify with that, despite not having that actual type of presence in real life, that’s really interesting to me. How do you identify with a bland perfection if you are nothing like that? Maybe people want to be like that then, hence the obsession with Twilight?

    Anyway, good post, very interesting. Glad that your character has more depth than that—it will make the book really interesting.

  2. marysuefixer says:

    Thank you for posting THIS version of the litmus test. There’s another one other people keep posting, and that one is fairly well biased against fantasy characters. This one has more leg room for them.

    You make a good point about Bella. I know that (having read all the books) I never really identified with her. I wanted to cry when I saw that she could have been a good character with a competent writer (and I was so pissed when Meyers ruined an amazing villian (Aro) for the sake of a poorly done happy ending. In reality Aro is a collector of people. He’s also immortal. If he hasn’t won it’s because the game isn’t over. He would wait and eventually collect the other vampires he wanted. He might have withdrawn then; but he wouldn’t have acted like a common bully… okay, rant done!) . I can see how people can identify with her… maybe. Actually what I liked about (some) sues is that they less allowed me to identify with them, but instead go: “Oh, well if they can find a way to fit into the story, then so can I”. It gave me really bad ideas. Oh well. XD

  3. Pingback: The Heroine | The Clouds

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