1. Shaiesta
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    Shaiesta New Member

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    How to Un-Sue the Lead Female

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Shaiesta, Nov 4, 2011.

    First, let me say that I hate Mary-Sues. Hate. I loathe them with every fiber of my being. The last thing I've ever wanted is to write one myself. However, according to some of my friends, I've done just that in my current story. The heroine has become such a weak character that she might as well just be an observer, or an imaginary friend that all the characters share.

    For those of you unfamiliar with the term "Mary-Sue," it's a difficult thing to describe. There's no specific traits that a character must have in order to be considered one. However, there is a general consensus on the following things:
    1. The character is usually an idealized embodiment of the author and is used to fulfill the author's wishes or dreams.
    2. The character is described as incredibly attractive, incredibly skilled in various areas, and/or possesses skills that are rare or nonexistent in the setting.
    3. The character lacks any real, relevant, or notable flaws. Or if he/she does have any, they are obviously meant to be endearing.
    One of the greatest examples in modern literature is Bella Swan from the Twilight series... if it dare be called "literature."
    (Go to TV Tropes for a more in-depth definition: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MarySue )

    My character mostly follows number three, more so than the other two. She almost defies number two in that she's completely useless and has absolutely no skills whatsoever. Yet, no matter how I present it to my friends, they still say she's got that "Mary-Sue" feel about her. I'm eight thousand words and five chapters into it, and I still can't seem to knock her out of it.

    Does anyone have any advice on this? I don't want to completely recreate her character, but I don't want her to remain a Sue, either. Or, if you don't have any advice, maybe you or one of your writing pals has gone through something similar? I'll take anything I can get. I'm starting to become desperate.

    Thanks in advance!
     
  2. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, the main thing that you emphasize is that she's weak and useless. Is there any way to make her stronger and more useful?

    Just for analysis: if she _is_ weak and useless, why do the other characters even keep her around, rather than telling her to stay home and not worry her pretty little head about the plot? Is she a hanger-on to someone who has a function in the plot? Is she important for reasons that aren't innate, such as being rich and hiring the characters, or having some "power" (like, say, the ability to read Egyptian hieroghyphics, or magically unlock doors) that still doesn't make her character interesting?

    Or is there no reason to keep her around, and do you have to keep stretching the facts to get her into the action? Is she primarily there as a witness, rather than an actor? Is she there to be acted upon (say, a romantic heroine who just sits around and waits for the hero to win her trust) rather than to act? Is she fundamentally passive?

    Details, I need details. :)
     
  3. Shaiesta
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    Shaiesta New Member

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    The story goes that she's a princess, kidnapped by a group of pirates. The pirates set a date for the ransom, but it's still a few weeks away (because they asked for a LOT of money even for royalty). The princess makes a bargain with the captain that if she can find out his real name, she'll be returned immediately without ransom. If she can't, she'll add something to the ransom: a sapphire necklace with a golden chain. The captain's greedy enough to agree, and they make a rule: she'll have to find out through the crew, but she can't ask directly. Through this she ends up befriending all the members of the crew and discovering their secrets, their motivations, and so forth. She ends up falling in love with the captain, and questions her identity as a noble, as well as her duty to the people she supposedly rules. She learns more about the country she overlooks, and etc.

    That's the basic plot, at any rate. If you need anything more, let me know.~
     
  4. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    As I translate this: A group of hardened criminals and kidnappers _all_ fall sway to her adorableness, every single one of them, and allow themselves to become vulnerable in a way that's probably unprecedented for them. And she, who was raised from birth with a specific set of beliefs, has an open enough mind to break those beliefs in a matter of weeks, and to develop a very modern thought process that probably doesn't yet exist even in the greatest philosophers of her age.

    Problems, yes. :) The concept sounds very fairy-tale and fable like - is that your intention? If it is, then presumably you don't want to make the actual setting grittier and more realistic - for example, by making her perhaps successfully seduce or bribe _one_ pirate, who helps her with her plans, while the rest of the crew remain her enemies.

    If the plot requires that she successfully charm an entire shipful of criminals and psychopaths... OK, there's got to be a way to accomplish that, but you are working against a pretty big handicap with that requirement. I find myself wondering if she's even the main character here - she just sounds too perfect and adorable to identify with. Maybe the main character is one of the pirates?

    Hmmm.
     
  5. James Berkley
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    James Berkley Banned

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    Yeah i agree this seam likes a bit of a stretch. Win a few over maybe, all of them; well she belongs at a negotiation table. Maybe make it something interesting, like she is a trained manipulator or something similer.
     
  6. Jetshroom
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    Jetshroom Active Member

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    Yah, I agree, the Mary Sue is pretty obvious, you might just be too close to see it. Something to bear in mind, you say she's useless etc, but your description gives me the implication that she manages to pretty much seduce a whole pirate crew into liking her pretty thoroughly. I think something that might help your case is to not have her befriend the crew. Sure MAYBE one or two, but really, if the whole crew likes her, and she falls in love with the captain, she's not really undergoing any trouble whatsoever.
    As ChickenFreak said, it sounds very fairytale/fable. That means that you will have a difficult job not Mary Suing.
    Finally, at 8000 words in, there's no easy fix. She's feeling like a Mary Sue because in those 5 chapters, she's a Mary Sue. You'll probably almost need a re-write.
     
  7. Ixloriana
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    Ixloriana Member

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    First off, if she is the fairy tale princess she seems to be, you are skirting the edge of Mary-Sue territory by nature of the entire concept. The good news: it can be mitigated. I'm gonna go there: the problem with Bella wasn't that she had no flaws, it was that the author didn't recognize that her character was a condescending bimbo.*

    First off, your character is obviously not talentless -- she is clever enough to come up with this plan and to pull it off. Give her her props, and sneak in some flaws that make sense. Thinks she's clever enough to pull this off? She's got to be overconfident. Going to charm a whole crew of pirates? She's got to be ruthless. And for any of this to work, she's got to have a bit of charm to her.

    Someone has to not like her; if she's convinced the captain to gamble with the biggest payoff they've ever had, you better believe some of those pirates aren't going to be happy... which could work in your favor. From what I have heard of this story... where's the conflict? If she loses the bet, she loses... ooh a necklace. The stakes are not high enough. The perception that she is frolicking through this story with no conflict at all is what really makes her a Mary Sue.

    Why doesn't she just sit on her butt and wait for someone to send the money? Why is losing that necklace important? What if there's someone "back at the castle" who doesn't want to get her back? Maybe the prince that she's engaged to is stalling the ransom, because he'd rather marry another princess. What if there are bigger stakes to her returning home than just her personal safety? Maybe her parents set her up with the prince of the maybe-not-evil-but-not-exactly-nice-either empire so that their kingdoms will be joined peacefully through marriage rather than war, and if they pay the ransom they'll have nothing to use as a dowry.

    She can definitely be un-Sued, though. It's not just the character that's the problem -- it's how other characters act toward her. There are plenty of fairytale princesses with no flaws, or endearing flaws at most, but it's the conflict that makes the characters.


    *...As an aside: this was the part of Twilight that disturbed me; that this character could move to a new town and be worried about not making friends, and then when people are willing to be friends with her... she doesn't think they're good enough, because they're not popular or pretty. More than that, the way it is presented tells me that the author shares this warped sense of what makes a person worthy, and as a proud nerd, that insults me on a personal level. I never even managed to get to the sparkly vampires.
     
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  8. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    gotta love the term 'Un-Sue' :D
     
  9. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    That honestly just comes off as being quite over the top to me. I mean, my first thought is "Why?"

    I have two things to say. First, listen to Ixloriana's advice. Twice over, listen to it. That post is sublime.
    Second, just write the story. Ignore her Sue-ish features and just write her. If she comes out of it, brilliant. If she doesn't, it's only a first draft.

    A problem like that is only going to look like it's getting bigger the more you look for it.
     
  10. Tiki
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    Tiki Member

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    I agree with thinking over some of Ixloriana's interesting thoughts and just start some writing, see how she comes out. Think of some 'flaws' and play with them if you'd like.

    You've thought up some very interesting stuff to work with!
     
  11. Mckk
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    OP - do this do this! The quoted post above is absolutely fantastic! I immediately wanted to read the book after reading her sub-plots!

    And what struck me about your heroine is that she must be pretty damn smart to outwit an entire crew of pirates - so how can she be useless?

    And don't make her fall in love with the pirate - don't turn this into a love story, because get this, that's gonna be the focus. I mean, just tell me, what else is interesting about your basic plot at the moment? The whole crew loves her, she could potentially lose a necklace. Neither point is interesting in the slightest. Which leaves the love story. Now unless your aim was to write a fairytale romance, in which case, go for it, but otherwise, please don't.

    And why hasn't her physical safety been in question yet? Sure they might not kill her just yet, but why on earth is she freely roaming around the ship without so much as a bodyguard, or some ropes at least? First thought with the trade the princess made - frankly, the captain isn't gonna accept a little necklace, when he could be asking for half the kingdom and the ransom he gets will pay for many such necklaces. My first thought was that, as an evil sneaky pirate, he's gonna want to get the princess in bed. How come he and the crew haven't raped her already? You need a good reason for this one.

    Why not have her only pretend she's trying to get the captain's real name, and instead in the background, she's plotting how she could either destroy the ship or send some kind of message to her people to let them know of her location?
     
  12. Ettina
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    Ettina Active Member

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    My impression is that when you have a Mary Sue, the Sue herself isn't the biggest problem - it's everyone else. Mary Sues take up the empty space where other characters' personalities should be.

    Remember, each and every character, down to the cabin boy who only appears in a single scene and has no dialogue, is the protagonist of their own story. It may not be a story interesting enough to write a book about, but it's the story that matters to that character. Typically when you have a Mary Sue everyone else becomes props for the Mary Sue's story, instead of real people she interacts with. The handsome boy exists only for her to fall in love with, the villain exists only to kidnap her, etc.

    Try fleshing out what's going on in everyone else's heads, what they're thinking that has nothing to do with your main character. Maybe one of the pirates is saving up money to send home to his starving family - if so, he won't just forget his family because the princess dazzles him with her charm. Maybe the cabin boy is in awe of the captain and wants to grow up to be exactly like him in every way. If so, he'll only like the princess if the captain does. Maybe two minor characters are falling in love with each other, and they've got eyes only for each other and barely notice the princess. If you start working these things out for some of the other characters (no need to write them if they're not relevant to the story, but keep them in mind for their impact on the character's behavior) you'll find you have no room for a Sue to exist.
     
  13. Ixloriana
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    Ixloriana Member

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    Well said.

    By the way; how is the un-Sue-ification coming?
     
  14. foosicle
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    Sounds like a Mary-Sue is the by-product of a delusional egotistical sentience; not all to rare, no doubt.
     

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