1. Dubby
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    Dubby New Member

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    "Mary Sue" question?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Dubby, Aug 31, 2009.

    (Warning: long post ahead! Sorry, but no TL;DR)

    Okay, so, hello there. : )

    I was writing a novel but I put it on hold when I decided I needed more practice writing first, so I put it aside for now and I'm now just working on other smaller projects to improve my writing.

    At the moment, my project is a fanfiction (I know, cue laughter).

    My fanfiction is from a video game I love (who's name I won't give away, but if you're smart enough, you should be able to guess it).

    The main issue is... my main character.

    She's kind of half OC, half canon. Mostly because she's based on the player character, and as most video games go, the player character lacks a canon personality & has a vague background to make you, the gamer, fill in the rest yourself. This lets me play around with her background and personality.

    I'm trying not to make a Mary Sue out of her. The problem? She's based on the player character, and as we all know, the player character is sort of a Canon Sue game-wise - they're the best, they always come out on top, and they always knock out everyone that's in their way, making the "bad guys" eventually see reason and whatever. You know, typical video game.

    So how to keep to this flawless canon storyline yet still not make my character a Mary Sue?

    Well, I want you guys to be the judge of that. : ) Let me give a description of my character so far (I tried the Mary Sue Litmus Test, and I failed it, so critique on what I should add to lessen the Mary Sueish edge to her is good).

    Her name is Edna "Eddie" Knell. She's 16 years old. However, she has no will of choice. Her mother controls everything about her: her life, her friends, you name it. From birth, it was decided how Eddie would live her life. Her mother wants Eddie to be a "princess". You know, the typical housewife: as feminine as possible, cooks well, dresses well, etc etc. Her mother decides absolutely everything for her, even if Eddie isn't too keen to leading the lifestyle her mother planned for her.

    Now, they move to a new town, and Eddie isn't quite pleased with the move. She would have stayed behind in her old town (her brother, who has more freedom, did), but her mother forbade her and dragged her along with her. At her new town, she befriends the neighbourhood boy, who soon realizes the lifestyle Eddie leads.

    He encourages Eddie to become independent and live her own life, but she has trouble with this, as she isn't really the "independent" type of person, and never rebels or disobeys her parents. With her new friend's encouragement, she runs away from home to live her life, destroying everything feminine tied to her name in the process (literally too). She cuts her hair, starts wearing tomboy clothing, and refuses to be acknowledged under her "elegant" legal name of "Edna", instead self-styling herself as "Eddie" (thus... the name, yea). She also gets pissed and mad at anyone who calls her "girly" or similar, even if it's not really intentional on the other party's part (resulting sometimes in the chars getting mad at her defensive and rude behaviour).

    Now this is where it ties to the game's storyline. She goes on to become the "best fighter", defeating all those that stand in her way, etc etc... you know, typical video game.

    I know I should throw in some personal conflicts here and there to make her more "relateable", but I'm having a hard time. This is what I've got so far:

    While she's trying to fight her way to the top (ie follow video game's storyline), she's also struggling with her self-identity, unsure of who she really is whether she made the right choice in running away and leaving behind her old life. With help from the canon characters she befriends along the way (mirrors the characters the player befriends in the game), she begins to try to figure out her place in the world and come to "find" herself, and also try to resolve the whole family conflict (you know, possessive conservative mother, etc).

    Now, another thing bothering me... is the "bad guy" part to the game/storyline.

    In the game, you as the main player help overthrow the bad dudes and whatever, and eventually they come to see reason like "wow our resolve was pure fail, okay we're gonna back out now", etc etc...

    How can I tie something like that in with the fanfic itself, yet not make Eddie seem like the whole Mary Sue of "YAY! SHE SAVED THE WORLD FROM AN EVIL ORGANIZATION!!", and whatever?

    Also, keep in mind in-game, ALL THE CHARACTERS LIKE YOU. Every single character likes you (except the bad guys, but they don't count)!! How the hell can I work around that? I want some people to dislike her like a normal person, etc etc... I can't have everyone bowing at her feet and all smiles at her.

    Of course, like in the game it's not a case of, poof!, now you're the winner and toughest of all, since you still gotta train, etc etc. to advance and become stronger (yet somehow you do speed up and become strong at lightning-speed). But how can I tie that in with my story without making it seem like "aha! overnight, with just a bit of practice and not as much as everyone, I have become the best!" and still add in plot elements of my own creation (like I did with her background story)? I want her to have flaws, which the player character obviously lacks (and I can't think of how to add flaws and keep to the original storyline), and I don't want her to be a "natural" at what she does. How can one write about someone growing stronger and stronger little by little instead of just being naturally good?

    WHOO, that was long. XD

    Anyway, sorry about the long post, but I'm seriously dedicated on making my character not a Mary Sue.

    Thanks in advance.
     
  2. tcol4417
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    tcol4417 Member

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    Firstly: Fan-fiction. I guess as far as stretching your wings goes it's okay to use a pre-prepared setting but it's something you'll want to wean yourself off in the future. Part of good writing is being able to establish your own setting without having to rely on another person's foundations.

    ANYWAY

    Don't sweat the litmus test - there's even a disclaimer on the site saying that not only is it inaccurate but certain settings and styles are able to make a Mary Sue work quite well (Take a look at Wilbur Smith's books - all of his protagonists are God's Gift to Africa).

    That being said, you do seem to be on the wrong side of cliche here. I'm expecting the obligatory template post from certain senior members any second now (not mentioning any names =P) but the standard "it depends on how you write it" response might not quite cut the mustard here.

    YES, this is workable. The story you're proposing sounds a lot like what a lot of other game plots and a limited number of written plots do, but the problem is that they are intentionally written the way they are because they're generally unimaginative pieces aimed at unimaginative people - it's unfortunate, but it's true.
    - e.g. Riviera: The Promised Land, Halo (the first one was cliche, I liked 2 but not 3), Megaman Battle Network (I refuse to call it NT Warrior) and pretty much everything by SquareSoft/Enix

    If you want this to stand out as a creative piece then you'll need a serious shake-up of the core concepts - your MC's unconditional popularity being the easiest target. The only reason everyone in a game likes you is because genuine conflicts of personality with every NPC would take too much time and probably fall flat anyway (see the Elder Scrolls and Fallout series, pack of robotic mannequins that they are). Because you're doing a written piece then it's easy to have your MC estranged from the more distrusting of the townsfolk, forcing them to do something that could take any length of time to gain their trust.

    The gender conflict is also predictable, but only because it's a response to enforced gender stereotypes. One of those "Conforming to non-conformism" things. That particular field has gotten too convoluted for me to bother having an opinion, so you're welcome to work with what you have.

    The bad guys could do with some serious work. I like to think that a lot of writers are past the idea of a bunch of baby-eating genocidists as the bad guys, so a little work into your villains motivations and personal conflicts wouldn't hurt. This of course would have to be done by outsider speculation regarding their origins and actual dialogue between them and the MCs at a deeper level than

    "BWAHAHAHA - U KANT STOP ME"
    "IMA STAB U WIV MA SPORK"
    "AGH! I EM DED!!!!111one =("

    Of course all of these suggestions almost definitely require the uprooting of canon, which brings me back to my starting point:

    Rename all the characters, change some of the paraphernalia and POOF! You've created your own "original" universe that you're free to do whatever you want with! Something that you can take full credit for and - this is the important part - something that you have full control over.

    Just don't take the audience's knowledge of the setting for granted, avoid cookie-cut scenarios and remember to flesh out your characters well - you should be fine.

    FANFICTION IS AN INFERIOR EXERCISE IN CREATIVITY
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    To start with, forget labels like "Mary Sue." They warp your thinking. What you are struggling with is just plain old character creation and development. Instead of thinking of a character as a collection of attributes, relate each character to people you have known.

    I'm not saying you should model Jason after Zack who hangs out in the skateboard park, but make each character an amalgam of people you find somehow interesting. Maybe it's just someone you saw joking with his friends in a pizza place, who kind of reminded you of a couple oter people you know, etc.

    An important part of this is deliberate peoplewatching. Most of us don't spend much time just watching strangers, or even our friends, to take note of nuances of behavior and speech patterns. But for writing, peoplewatching is your google for character development.

    If you pay attention, you'll start to see the little conflicts that take place even between people who really like each other. These are far more convincing than making up "oil and water" differences between characters foir them to squabble over.
     
  4. Aidura
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    Aidura Member

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    Wait, what? I really don't get the last one. Granted, Squenix does churn out games like DQ: Slime and stuff but other games have pretty good stories. FF is a definite duh, Valkyrie Profile, Kingdom Hearts (minus the Disney worlds), Chrono Trigger and Cross are good examples.

    There are various spin-offs that actually expanded on their stories, be it novel or animation. I personally love the manga series for KH because it gives you an in-depth perspective about the game without shoving it down your throat.

    I'll stop rambling about this (though from what I've read, I'm left to wondering whether tcol4417 is actually an avid gamer :D)


    I think you should just scrap the idea of doing a fan-fic. I mean, if you change her character to something you (and probably the rest of the world) prefer, you'd be taking out the whole point of the fan-fic. It might be forgiven if she's a secondary charrie but she's the main character!

    The whole story revolves around her.

    Use the game for developing ideas. Keep asking yourself why that particular thing is happening at that particular time, and expand it.

    I think it's great that you basically know what you want but from my point of view, it seems as if you don't even like you MC :eek:

    About her flaws and people just loving her, you could make her someone who learns from mistakes. That can be the reason why people love her-because she went through a huge character development.

    If you're worried about 'party members' sticking with her, you could always make them forced to stick around because of [insert reason here].

    I hope this helps and all the best to you :D
     
  5. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    I opened this thread wondering, "Who is this 'Mary Sue'?"

    I started reading. Apparently, this is some sort of expression?

    I googled. I started reading a little...then I remembered this.

    May be ignorance is bliss. May be I'm better off not knowing what a "Mary Sue" is. So I decided to stop reading.

    Still, I think I must be missing something. Am I the only one who never heard of this "Mary Sue" thing?

    Charlie
     
  6. tcol4417
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    tcol4417 Member

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    It's true that the term "Mary Sue" can cause people to become distracted with trying to make their character as non-boilerplate as possible, but I wouldn't forgo knowledge of the concept entirely because it exists for a reason.

    The fact is that a lot of novice writers fall into the trap of writing Mary Sue (ie. sickeningly picture perfect) protagonists and if my completely made up math is correct, for every paranoid post from someone worried they've made a Mary Sue, we're saving ourselves a hundred posts from people thinking they've just given birth to the Chosen One, forcing us into a long and arduous argument regarding their cardboard cutout with caramel smeared all over it.
     
  7. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    Okay, I took a quick glance... a picture-perfect protagonist without flaws, is that right?

    None of my characters fit that bill...I love building flaws into my characters, and making them complex.

    Question: Are Superman and Wonder Woman "Mary Sues"?

    I love them as characters, but, apart from Kryptonite...no real flaws there.

    James Bond is pretty cool, too, but is he a male "Mary Sue"?
     
  8. tcol4417
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    tcol4417 Member

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    Kind of - depending on which canon you're talking about.

    Later iterations of the three characters - Red Son and Casino Royale for example - have tried to develop them more as characters but their older identities really were Mary Sues [/opinion]

    Kryptonite isn't so much a flaw as a plot device. Real character flaws would be the modern Clarke Kent's social awkwardness (his earlier attempts at this were offset by his chiseled jaw and massive pecs) and James Bond's lack of character perception (the old bond knew everything all the time and saw back-stabs coming from miles away)

    I think Superman and MacGuyver are the worst offenders.

    Superman has every power. Let's not kid around, if the writer feels like it, he can do whatever he wants. Let's give him radar farts - it doesn't have to make sense, he's SUPERMAN.
    Likewise, MacGuyver can defuse a bomb with a tennis racket while playing six chess games over a walkie-talkie he made with his toes while asleep.
    Oh and KIRK. Good LORD, Kirk. Notice how the Kirk in Star Trek 9 actually gets snubbed quite badly? I like to think that's the screenwriters paying the character back - god knows it was owed to him.
     
  9. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    You find out soon enough anyway, when you try building a story around the character. My point is that knowingwhat a Mary Sue is doesn't really solve the problem. New writers solve it by tacking on "flaws", instead of taking a good look at diversity and behavioral details of real people. It isn't about perfection, exactly. It's about flat characters. The predictably gruff, narrowminded manager is just as trite as the Mary Sue who turns the office back on track.

    Look around you, and you will find people who really are Mary Sues to a first approximation. You could write them successfully into a story, but you'd have to get to know them well enough to get past the overachieving and their current success and 'social aptitude. You wouldn't have to find the skeletons in the closet, just the interesting character points that make him or her unique - a unique manner of speech, a hobby he or she spends a lot of time on, a strong political or religious stance. It doesn't have to be a flaw.

    Now if he or she is breezing through the storyline without resistance, that can as easily be a plotting problem as a failure to put cracks in the character.
     
  10. tcol4417
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    tcol4417 Member

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    Mm, good point. I hadn't thought of it like that.
     
  11. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    I see Cognito's point about flat characters, and this can be true of a villain as well, when he's too perfectly evil. (James Patterson's villains are all like that: all predictably evil, predictably cruel, not a sympathetic bone in their body, and no real depth.)

    I agree that characters should have depth. You can't take a "perfect" character and slap a scar on his or her cheek and call it a flaw either. The flaws must come from the depth of the character's hearts.

    I personally love Superman, from the old comic books to the Smallville incarnation. I don't see him as flat.

    Perhaps his "weakness" or "flaw" (besides kryptonite and a few other devices--magic, the red sun, etc.) is his naivety, innocence and compassion. The Smallville version, for example, spent many seasons innocently defending his friend Lex Luthor, not wanting to believe anything but the best in him.

    But, you know, if Superman is a 'Mary Sue,' well frankly, I wouldn't mind creating a 'Mary Sue' then, at least, not one like Superman. Superman is one of the most successful fictional characters in the history of fiction, right up there with Tarzan, Sherlock Holmes, Mickey Mouse and a few other icons that is known virtually world-round by virtually everyone. If one of my characters has one-tenth of one percent of the fame and popularity as Superman, I'd be a great success. Certainly, there's something people like about him.

    Charlie
     
  12. Dubby
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    Dubby New Member

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    Thanks for all the replies guys! I totally took the entire Mary Sue approach way too... Uh, I lack a proper word to fit here, but you get the point.

    And you're right, I did hate my MC. She frustreated me too much, I wanted to run a knife through her.

    I took the advice on fleshing out the villians' motives and stuff, and man did I have fun with that. It went by real smoothly~

    ANYWHO, thanks everyone for all the replies (even if it got offtopic midway through, haha, but not that I mind, I still learned loads from the Superman example).

    Cheers, and thanks again.
     

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