1. Holo
    Offline

    Holo Senior Member

    Joined:
    Aug 31, 2011
    Messages:
    112
    Likes Received:
    0

    Keeping my character from becoming a Mary Sue?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Holo, May 17, 2012.

    I'm trying to see if my character is a Mary Sue. Though she has come to me pretty naturally thus far, I'm getting worried that some people may think she is a Mary Sue due to her backstory and abilities. (My main character is names Kai)

    Basically in my books werewolves and magic users, called practitioners (witches=female, wizards=male), exist and is set in an alternative reality in America, primarily New England. The werewolves are thought to have been wiped out by a genocide/war that occurred a couple hundred years ago, but a handful still live in hiding, scattered across the country. There is an underground anti-werewolf organization that tracks and hunts down the remaining werewolves. Kai's family and small pack was killed by the organization but she was saved by a wizard who took her in, adopted her, and took her to live with him at the Boston Guild (a lot of practitioners group together to form covens or guilds). Kai has been leading a fairly lonely existence, since in my story werewolves don't age past maturity so Kai knows her time with the Guild is basically limited. She has them and they know her secret, but she must maintain her human facade with other people. At the beginning of the story Kai is living with the Guild, but she is trying to find other werewolves.

    In terms of abilities, Kai is no different than any other werewolf except for her ability to turn people via bite. This is rare with werewolves, but not so rare that Kai is the only one and the ability to do this would make her hated among human society because werewolves like her used to turn people against their will before the war. When she realizes just how badly the werewolf population has been depleted, not just by the way but the organization, she wonders whether she should turn people or not and is pressured by some werewolves she meets to do so to save their kind.

    She has flaws, such as hubris and having extreme difficulty trusting people. She is also overly curious, unpredictable, and can be emotionally unavailable and stubborn.

    But I am wondering if her having a tragic backstory and a comparatively rare ability would lump her into the Sue category. She does not have a line of men chasing and while she does have a love interest, it develops slowly over the course of the story rather than him falling in love with her at first sight or anything like that.
     
  2. 123456789
    Offline

    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 28, 2012
    Messages:
    6,347
    Likes Received:
    3,092
    Someone will probably tell you to look up the definition of a sue, and they might have a point. But what I assume you're actually asking is how 'real' does your character seem.

    Here's something I just thought of to try to detect the realism in a character:

    Take ten people you know, like peers, workmates, friends, associates, lovers, family, yourself, etc, and list 1 weakness that defines each person (negatively) to a large extent . And see if your character possesses any similar or equally negative flaws.

    For instance, if I were to apply this test, picking ten people I know at random, I'd get : low confidence, simple minded, lazy, mentally unstable, arrogant, liar, long winded, immature, cheap, and selfish.

    Now, is pride as bad as any of those I listed? How about being curious or unpredictable or stubborn at times?
     
  3. The Tourist
    Offline

    The Tourist Banned

    Joined:
    Mar 27, 2012
    Messages:
    1,089
    Likes Received:
    28
    Location:
    Wisconsin.
    I'm beginning to wonder if a Mary Sue with a tragic backstory is becoming a new literative ruse to keep from making their characters too perfect.

    For example, it looks like recent character development stems from a lead that's perky, pretty, an ex-spec ops officer, a former race car driver, a Red Cross volunteer and 4th Dan karate instructor. However, she has gingivitis and once got a "B" in a grade school pop-quiz.

    For example, you conclude you overall premise with, "She has flaws, such as hubris and having extreme difficulty trusting people. She is also overly curious, unpredictable, and can be emotionally unavailable and stubborn."

    That's perfect description of me. And I'm not a werewolf or a spec-ops assassin.

    It's also the description of the guy who was the best man at my wedding, four old girl friends I can remember off the top of my head, at least one mentor and my next door neighbor who only mows his lawn at night--he has headlights on his riding mower, believe it or not.

    The traits you listed are common and sound "tacked on." And BTW, I am seeing a periodontal hygienist because I have a touch of gingivits.
     
  4. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    Unless you created that character as a surrogate for yourself, to live out a fantasy of lycanthropy, your character is not a Mary Sue.

    Better to avoid slapdash labels. The point isn't even that you are misusing the label, it's that the label is so often misused it has no useful meaning at all.

    Bottom line, don't worry about Mary Sues. Those who throw around accusations like, "Oh this character is a Mary Sue," are using it in lieu of actual analysis or thought. It's much easier than admitting, "I don't know why the character rubs me the wrong way," or even, "I didn't read it, but I know the character sucks."

    Just write the character, and write well.
     
  5. Ettina
    Offline

    Ettina Active Member

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2011
    Messages:
    441
    Likes Received:
    20
    I see no sign of her being a Mary Sue. In fact, it sounds like a fascinating premise.
     
  6. The Tourist
    Offline

    The Tourist Banned

    Joined:
    Mar 27, 2012
    Messages:
    1,089
    Likes Received:
    28
    Location:
    Wisconsin.
    I disagree. I think the author was so afraid of having a character described as a Mary Sue that he stilted his description just to avoid the tag-line. The problem is the same as with all compromises, the ideology reads like it was formed by a committee.

    If you ask the question, "Is this a Mary Sue?," then you probably have doubts. If you are sure that the character reads as a vital free-standing entity, then the idea would never cross your mind.

    He had doubts, so I had doubts. And the issue of tacking on hubris and a few minor foibles and tics is not enough to alter the character's guise.
     
  7. shadowwalker
    Offline

    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 27, 2011
    Messages:
    3,299
    Likes Received:
    851
    It's really difficult for me to label any character from a short description, and I don't really like to unless they're a Classic Example of "X". Write the character as realistically as you can (bearing in mind genre defines "realistic") and at whatever appropriate time, put up a chapter or section for critique (if you're still worried about it).
     
  8. Islander
    Offline

    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 29, 2008
    Messages:
    1,542
    Likes Received:
    59
    Location:
    Sweden
    Don't worry too much about your character description. If you let your character get away with things too easy, she'll become a Mary Sue, regardless of how many flaws you write on her character sheet. If you let your character fail, act foolishly and mess things up, she won't be a Mary Sue, no matter how perfect she sounds on paper.
     
  9. Holo
    Offline

    Holo Senior Member

    Joined:
    Aug 31, 2011
    Messages:
    112
    Likes Received:
    0
    Well her flaws are not tacked on and actually play an important part in her character development. There are reasons for those flaws as well. She is extremely proud of being a werewolf, having been raised by them, and thus overestimates her abilities and takes things on by herself that she would have been better off getting help. She doesn't trust people because she thinks humans are generally too afraid of what they don't understand so in a way she is a bit judgmental of people because she assumes they will all be closed minded.

    To me if there are reasons why a character has their flaws, and their flaws play a part in their character development, I don't think they are "tacked on" but that's just me. I guess I'm just worried people will see her backstory and assume since she is not a completely depressed mess that she is unrealistic and thus a Mary Sue.
     
  10. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    Again, that has nothing to do with the Mary Sue label.
     
  11. Pyraeus
    Offline

    Pyraeus Member

    Joined:
    Apr 8, 2012
    Messages:
    84
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Dundee, Scotland
    "The werewolves are thought to have been wiped out by a genocide/war that occurred a couple hundred years ago, but a handful still live in hiding, scattered across the country."
    I thought of Underworld when you said that. I'm not going to come at you pitchfork and torch for it though. Just becuase Underworld used it doesn't make it solely theirs (you probably haven't even seen Underworld)
    "There is an underground anti-werewolf organization that tracks and hunts down the remaining werewolves."
    Kind of like the death dealers (I think that is what they are called) from Underworld-again, other things have organisations that are anti-werewolf, Underworld isn't unique.
    "Kai's family and small pack was killed by the organization but she was saved by a wizard who took her in, adopted her, and took her to live with him at the Boston Guild"
    Selene (main character in Underworld) was rescued by Viktor (a vampire elder) in Underworld and turned and raised by him after her family were killed by werewolves. Like I've mentioned, it's nothing unique; every idea has been used at least once before. People saying "that's cliche" and similar bs are forgetting something: cliches are simply ideas that have been used more than others, to the point where they lose meaning. Some cliches were originally really good, but now people hate them becuase they have been used so much. As the saying goes, "too much of a good thing is bad"
    If they write it well enough, a writer can get away with using (the more common) cliches. So long as it is well written, mind.

    "mary sue" is a term people stick onto a character they don't like, similar to how "gay" is flung around as an insult. As long as your character isn't as perfect as barbie, can't take down whole groups of guards/soldiers with a snap of her fingers, and allows for other characters to show their talents and shine, I will gladly read about them.

    I hope I wasn't too harsh there. I assure you, I don't like hurting peoples feelings-makes me feel like a right douche.
     
  12. Akyra
    Offline

    Akyra New Member

    Joined:
    May 17, 2012
    Messages:
    10
    Likes Received:
    0
    I think your character having a special ability and tragic backstory is not a problem so long as you handle it right. Regarding the backstory, I'd say it's fine so long as Kai doesn't wallow in self-pity and doesn't spend half the story brooding. She also should not use her past as an excuse to justify her mistakes or flaws.
    Another thing that clearly identifies Mary Sues is the way secondary characters react to them. A typical Mary Sue is going to be loved by everyone no matter what she does. On the other hand, a well-rounded character is going to be hated by some people, and even their friends won't hesitate to let them know when they screw up. A good exemple would be the love interest getting fed up with her being too stubborn or whatever, and her having to work to gain back his friendship (instead of his begging for her attention all the time, for example).
    As a writer and a reader, I've found these two criteria to be the most useful in identifying a Mary Sue. Hope that helps. The storyline does sound interesting.

    EDIT : Another important thing is for her to learn from her mistakes. Mary Sues (in my opinion) typically are static characters - they're already perfect, right, so there's no need for them to improve. A well-rounded character usually learns and grows and is a different person by the end of the story.

    EDIT 2 : Just noticed what Tourist said
    I disagree. In my experience, many writers are blissfully unaware of their character being a Mary Sue and are, in fact, rather offended when informed that it is the case. In fact, an author who's worried about writing a Mary Sue is a lot less likely to do it. In my opinion.
     
  13. Holo
    Offline

    Holo Senior Member

    Joined:
    Aug 31, 2011
    Messages:
    112
    Likes Received:
    0
    Yeah that's just the problem. A lot of writers think they've made a well-rounded, three-dimensional character and end up with a static Mary Sue and wonder where the criticism comes from. I just wanted to double check.

    And that whole Underworld thing. Jeez, I may have to watch that and change a few things in my story to avoid comparisons. I've never seen the series so I didn't know how similar a couple of my plot points were. I may have to tweak a few things.
     
  14. ChickenFreak
    Offline

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    8,995
    Likes Received:
    5,503
    I don't really feel that I know your character from the description - it feels a bit like a job evaluation.

    Which makes me think of a few contexts for more detail:

    - if a friend of hers tried to set her up on a blind date, how would he describe her to the guy? How would he describe the guy to her?

    - what if the friend were trying to set her up in a roommate situation?

    - if she were writing herself an online dating profile (if she'd never dream of dating, let's assume it's part of some ploy to find those other werewolves) how would she describe her appearance and personality?

    ChickenFreak
     
  15. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    Of course not. Descriptions are a sketch made with sidewalk chalk on stucco. To know a character, you have to read the actual stories in which he or she exists.
     
  16. Ashrynn
    Offline

    Ashrynn Active Member

    Joined:
    Jun 3, 2011
    Messages:
    170
    Likes Received:
    7
    Doing a character interview sometimes helps when you need to define a character a little more. I think that might help you out in making your character feel like a "real" person!
     
  17. twilightguardian
    Offline

    twilightguardian New Member

    Joined:
    May 23, 2012
    Messages:
    12
    Likes Received:
    0
    I consider all new characters Mary Sues. Sues in part are underdeveloped characters that have one or both of two traits broken down into two main groups: 1. The character has been newly created and hasn't been smoothed down from the horrible rough patches. 2. You might have gotten a liiiittle bit crazy with giving said character background stuffs and powers. Hey, it happens to us all! It's usually hard to describe what a Mary Sue is because many people have differing definitions anywhere between overpowered perfect character that everyone loves to self-insert (not inclusive but definitely many are) or any character who happens to be an OC. In this case, it doesn't equate to a bad thing. New Sues are characters that haven't had the chance to become developed or polished yet. Full Mary Sues are mostly when they persist or get worse. At least this is my personal opinion and take on the term.

    Edit: In truth, it can be sometimes very difficult to see if your character is a Sue or not because over the years there have been so many characters that we've just gotten tired of. Certainly the more well known ones are something like fan OCs (most famous example: Ebony/Enoby/Tara Dark'ness Dementia Raven Way with her goffic attitude, guns, time travel, sexual encounters with plenty of characters, I could go on and on) but they can also be characters that infuriate the reader because the author hasn't written enough about them, and we don't know enough or care about them, yet they get the perfect fairy tale ending (possible example: Ginny Weasley/Potter with her rather random stealing of Harry's affections out of nowhere with very little in-novel development, her having multiple boyfriends like stepping stones and then her attitude when Harry makes his move: I KNEW you would come to me some day!).
    This is a typical Sue trait. Being a member of a rare species and possibly coupled with dead parents. This trait alone doesn't mean that your character is a Sue, and no one specific trait makes a Sue. It's the combined aspects of cliched or ridiculous traits of your character that makes a Sue. It merely means that you have to be more wary when you write a character with these. Especially when people are going to be more wary of them.

    This can be debatable. Like I said about rare traits, but a major part of a Sue happens to be more positive rare abilities that will make them look more "awesome" to the reader in the authors mind when in reality it might make for a good rolling of the eyes. If this is done well, it can gain a lot of sympathy from the readers, and I already feel a bit of sympathy for her thinking of the social problems she might have and the relationships she might develop with other characters either already present or down the road. Especially if she might have little urges.

    Flaws are good, but Sues can have many flaws as well. Anti-Sues are when people try too hard to create a character that isn't a Sue that they become just as annoying. However, I don't think that you are overreaching her flaws in this case. It seems perfectly reasonable for her to have some of these flaws.

    There are many ways to create a Sue. Not all of them are the female equivalent of skirt chasers or Captain Kirk's but typically that is a major association with them. Having a love interest does not make her a Sue, and having their relationship develop over time is more realistic and allows your readers to build a liking for them and support them. Like I said before, the tragic back story is typical of a Sue, but at the same time, so is not having said Sue affected in any way over the tragedies. If your character is, and it looks like she is, then it is just another well-used plot device. I think you're relatively good for having a Non-Sue character.

    Hope this helps!
     
  18. Man in the Box
    Offline

    Man in the Box Active Member

    Joined:
    Jun 21, 2011
    Messages:
    254
    Likes Received:
    41
    Location:
    Brazil
    http://www.writingforums.org/showthread.php?t=52822&page=2&p=906079&viewfull=1#post906079

    Also don't do the Mary Sue Litmus test, that crap will lead you nowhere. "Oh your character has a special power, s/he's a Mary Sue!" Seriously, whoever invented that crap should go bang their head against a wall and spare us of his/her existence.

    It's enticing to write about characters with tragic pasts because they tend to be more interesting people, with more conflicts, therefore they lead to good writing. But to suggest this is a Mary Sue trait is just wrong. I'd say a flawless character is far more likely to have come from a perfect past than a damned one. Tragic past is a cliché, not a Sue-ism.
     
  19. twilightguardian
    Offline

    twilightguardian New Member

    Joined:
    May 23, 2012
    Messages:
    12
    Likes Received:
    0
    I agree with you about the MSLT. It's utter crap and has a sort of unconscious bias against Fantasy characters - especially hybrids.

    However, that is not the only reason why it is crap. It's crap because it promotes one into believing that if your character has many of these traits, then your character IS a Mary Sue. It tells you not to think that way but when your character hits 30+ or so and is somewhere to boarderline or straight up Mary Sue? A person is going to flip and think their character is a Sue.

    Also, it's not just perfect characters that are rated as Sues. Sues typically have the traits of being from broken homes, have some sort of tragic past and have had some sort of physical/sexual abuse in their past or during their story. Again, this doesn't make a Sue, but it's certainly a trait that pops up in a LOT of Sue stories, and thus is associated with Sues. This comes from the author's desire to give them traits that make the characters seem like they have flaws because 'Their life isn't perfect, see!' instead of actually trying to create actual flaws and depth to their character. I think she was right for fearing that her character's tragic past might link her character to being a Sue.
     
  20. The Tourist
    Offline

    The Tourist Banned

    Joined:
    Mar 27, 2012
    Messages:
    1,089
    Likes Received:
    28
    Location:
    Wisconsin.
    Well, I'm not sure we're discussing a cure for boring writing or mundane characters as a 'litmus test,' but I can understand the direction.

    In working on my own story I've been reading a lot of other things, and clearly more than half of the submissions are either derivatives of other books or recycled TV and movie plots, or they contain characters right out of central casting.

    Now, I've come to believe that this has always been true. I mean, lots of guys can kick a field goal, but very few can do so accurately when 50,000 spectators are screaming. The old canard is that everyone has a book in him, but not all of them are ready to print.

    I also believe that even professionals fall into this trap. For example, after seeing Star Wars back when it first came out, I told my brother that Darth Vader was the hero. He laughed.

    I pointed out that most authors give the hero the best back-story, the flashiest clothes, the best weapons, the coolest car and all of the really good dialogue. That meant the hero was either Vader or Han Solo, however Solo was written as the roguish sidekick. That only left the Dark Lord, because no one else was as lovingly developed.

    One of the things I'm doing now is re-writing a female character. During these early revisions it's clear she too is a Mary Sue, and she deserves better.
     
  21. Man in the Box
    Offline

    Man in the Box Active Member

    Joined:
    Jun 21, 2011
    Messages:
    254
    Likes Received:
    41
    Location:
    Brazil
    I understand where you come from. People add a tragic past because they think it's cool and, by adding too many cool characteristics to supplement it, they end up creating a Mary Sue. Which is why the writer shouldn't use the "tragic past" trope for no reason other than being cool. People with tragic pasts realistically wouldn't be perfect.

    But still, a tragic past is only one part of the equation. Pinpointing a Mary Sue is much more accurate with the story already in course, because then we see the character acting and making choices. If the character always gets stuff right, and s/he doesn't have a large supply of Harry Potter's Liquid Luck, then we have a problem. :D

    Sometimes I wonder if we have to make our characters a little dumber than normal in order to create interesting stories...
     
  22. twilightguardian
    Offline

    twilightguardian New Member

    Joined:
    May 23, 2012
    Messages:
    12
    Likes Received:
    0
    My main character was a Sue as well. A really bad one. I've spent the entirety of my teenage years trying to develop her and hope that she's something decent now. Because I realized a lot of my characters (especially my early ones I developed as a child) were Sues I've become very interested in helping others if they are scared theirs are Sues as well. Being afraid their character is a Sue shouldn't be a crippling thing.
     
  23. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    Better to ignore the Sue stigma completely. It's utter cowflop.
     
  24. twilightguardian
    Offline

    twilightguardian New Member

    Joined:
    May 23, 2012
    Messages:
    12
    Likes Received:
    0
    In one way it is, but on the other hand, it's very prominent, especially on the internet. The main problem with Sue stigma is the requirements and conditions of a Sue in the minds of individuals is more of a spectrum that primarily depends on said individual's level of tolerance (like I said anywhere between the worst Sue stereotypes all the way to someone developing an OC). The reason why having a character that is a Sue is bad is because these are generally disliked characters and you will receive bad reviews or comments for it, or worse, the story will be either ignored or become an internet joke. The same is for characters in published literature, though the characters are usually a lot better in most cases with very few being incredibly bad. Sues in my mind are basically characters that can be considered self-inserts or ideal selves who not only are a vehicle for the author's desires but also a mass form of cliches either because these are part of the author's fantasy or trying to force sympathy on the reader to the character in a way that might horribly backfire. Usually people who are considering an actual career or job in writing and has done research can instinctively either avoid such traits, plot points and cliches or can mold them in a way that is more refreshing than characters who are considered Mary Sues. This is mostly why characters being called Mary Sues are more subjective and they can often be named such after reading a bio of said character or a short comic.

    When it comes to this person's character, they have many traits that are considered cliche for sure, but because she has developed her character in a balanced way and put set boundaries, ground rules, limitations and flaws this character is not a Mary Sue by any means. Nor does it mean that cliche necessarily equates to being bad. Sues have been around for a long time and it's gotten to the point where no one wants to write one either because they genuinely don't want to upset readers or because they don't want to be associated with such a negative term. I highly doubt that the term will go away but hopefully it will become more tightly defined as writing stays more readily available and we get more examples.
     
  25. The Tourist
    Offline

    The Tourist Banned

    Joined:
    Mar 27, 2012
    Messages:
    1,089
    Likes Received:
    28
    Location:
    Wisconsin.
    Why is that a bad thing?

    If I want to read a book, which would I choose (or purchase)? An original work with defined characters and stimulating plot, or a bandwagon rip-off and cardboard cut-out figures?

    Go look at a Honda Shadow and take a guess where my heart lies.
     

Share This Page