The dreaded Mary Sue... how to avoid?

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Re:The dreaded Mary Sue... how to avoid?

Post by Archonix » Sat May 29, 2004 12:21 pm

Possibly you have, yes... ;D

My experience (limited) has been that sometimes an author can become so fond of a character that they start moulding the world around him (or her, though "him" is a gender neutral pronoun when it needs to be and I wish more people would remember that). It's what you might call the unintentional mary sue, and more often than not it isn't so annoying, but the reader can tell that the author is very fond of the character. When that happens it tends to snap them out of the story for a moment. They loose their suspension of disbelief, which just ruins the story for them... the solution for that is to usually just toen back the character a bit, have a few more scenes where the character isn't present or isn't mentioned, stuff like that. In reality, if you're more concerned with the plot than the character, you'll find that these things tend to even out over the length of the story.
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Re:The dreaded Mary Sue... how to avoid?

Post by c_nordlander » Sat May 29, 2004 2:11 pm

All very valid points. (And *LOL* @ the one we all know.) When I read "Universe of Malice", though I agree about the fact that Leela was unnecessarily harshly treated, I had no major problems with the pirates being outraged by the [DELETED BECAUSE OF SPOILER], on account of it being a breach of faith. Might have been put better, but never mind.

I've had my problems with this as well, and I can only say what the others have said. Don't idealise the character. Don't make him despicable either, but everyone has flaws, even people you love and admire, so your character shouldn't be any different. Things come in packages. If someone is intelligent, if put in a morally tight spot they might compromise (and come off as lacking in moral backbone). If someone is very courageous, they might not be particularly bright. Even if someone seems to have all good qualities, they will more than likely end up self-righteous and overbearing. Just think about the characters as real people, and it should work. I always find myself most attached to those of my characters who are more than slightly flawed, so it works!

Secondly (or whatever), don't bend the rules for your favourite character. That's obvious in fandom (Sideshow Bob isn't likely to have a long-lost daughter, any more than your Nanwen Narphilmomorchaint is to kill off all nine Ringwraiths simultaneously), but works in original fiction as well. Right now, the main character of my novel is in the direst of dire straits, and as the author who likes her quite a bit, I feel like reaching into the story, as it were, and giving her a gun so she can bust a cap in the heads of those who torment her. That sort of thing can be avoided, but it works more subtly as well. Don't give your favourite original character unlikely strokes of luck. That is cheap, breaks suspension of disbelief, plus, if it happens to often, it'll make the readers dislike the character. ("Lucky bint just happened to be grabbed by a golden eagle when she fell out the window...")

Thirdly, separate yourself from the character. After all, one of the most applicable definitions of "Mary Sue" is "self-insertion". If you realise you're writing your favourite daydream about selling your book/getting laid/graduating whatever, maybe you should reconsider. (Not applicable to anyone on this board that I wot of, but it has to be said.)

Fourthly, don't try too hard. Mary Sues exist because someone, way back, thought they were a good idea. (The woman who launched a thousand ships with her face springs to mind.) Your character is entitled to good traits and stuff as much as anyone else.

Fifthly, wobbly polka-dot eyes are just *bad*, however. So are natural highlights.
The noose draws tighter;
This is the end;
I'm a good fighter
But a bad friend;
I've played the traitor
Over and over;
I'm a good hater
But a bad lover.


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Re:The dreaded Mary Sue... how to avoid?

Post by hadisia » Sat May 29, 2004 9:35 pm

Excellent points. By the way, Graham, I am well aware that "him" is gender neutral. I personally use "her" when talking about Mary-Sues because I have some across so few Gary-Stus (or whatever the male equivalent is).
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FRASER: The sound of a grown man squealing in a manner not becoming a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
WELSH: Oh, Turnbull.
-"Mountie Sings the Blues," due SOUTH
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Re:The dreaded Mary Sue... how to avoid?

Post by Iaret » Mon Aug 23, 2004 10:08 am

I was just wondering... Is the character still classified a Mary-Sue if it is self-insertion, but has a good deal of bad traits (such as vanity, greed, ruthless ambition, explosive temper, callousness, Hypocrisy, etc)? I was just wondering. It would be very helpful to get an answer.
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Re:The dreaded Mary Sue... how to avoid?

Post by Archonix » Mon Aug 23, 2004 10:49 am

Actually that's a good question, I've never been able to figure that one out. Of course I've never been a fan of self-insertions... :) I thihnk what you have to try to keep in mind is that the character shouldn't take up an inordinate amount of the story at the expense of the other character's personalities, and the like.
Our choicest plans have fallen through, our airiest castles tumbled over, because of lines we neatly drew and later neatly stumbled over.
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Re:The dreaded Mary Sue... how to avoid?

Post by arpulver » Mon Aug 23, 2004 6:50 pm

Commisar Geranovich wrote:Actually that's a good question, I've never been able to figure that one out. Of course I've never been a fan of self-insertions... :) I thihnk what you have to try to keep in mind is that the character shouldn't take up an inordinate amount of the story at the expense of the other character's personalities, and the like.


I've been involved with a few self-insertions (through other authors collaborative pieces), and my general rule is to personify the my self-insertion as if it was a separate character, and always as a support character. The persona is either neutral or negative- I've been the cocky son-of-a-bitch more times than I can count. I've also teased the Mary-Sue idea a few times- name a minor character after yourself once just to see the reaction!

As for the Mary Sue issue, my best advice is to be concious of your own relationship to the character. Something too strong and you do have a Mary Sue-crisis on your hands. However, if you do share an element with the character (a similar trait, goal, etc), then you can use that connection to improve the way you write him or her. As long as the character isn't a carbon copy of yourself and not idealized to any extreme, you should be fine. This has worked well with most of my characters- most notably Tom Wallace in "Grim Reality." We have more in common than you'd like to think.
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Re:The dreaded Mary Sue... how to avoid?

Post by hadisia » Wed Aug 25, 2004 12:33 am

I've always thought that Mary-Sue is a negative term - a perfect character with mood-ring eyes, etc. In my book, a good self-insertion (usually a minor character) isn't a Mary-Sue. But this is just my definition.
WELSH: What the hell was that?
FRASER: The sound of a grown man squealing in a manner not becoming a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
WELSH: Oh, Turnbull.
-"Mountie Sings the Blues," due SOUTH
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