Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Yariel, May 18, 2017.
I find this concept very hard to understand. Please help me.
There are many species of unlikable characters. A Mary Sue is just one of them. Which part are you having trouble with?
Unlikable characters can be unlikable for many reasons. It may be because of a character flaw (like if they are a snob who thinks anyone who is different is inherently wrong/stupid). This character flaw can be intentionally created by the writer or it can be unintentional and require the author to do some revising.
But there is a special kind of character flaw that occurs when a writer is so concerned with making their character likable that they take away any potential for offense and make them too perfect. Perfect = bland. Real people aren't perfect and we view characters who come across as such with irritation and suspicion. This is a Mary Sue.
I'm deliberately writing one of my three MC's as 'unlikable' at the beginning. But I wouldn't call her a Mary-Sue. She lashes out at everyone and they don't like her because of that (except for the one guy, but he's codependent). But her story is learning to accept the hardship she's gone through and stop letting it define her and make her be like that. So yes, I would say there is a difference.
My understanding of a Mary Sue is that it's a character for whom everything is too easy. They are unusually beautiful, have special powers, everybody loves them, they are more talented than anybody else around, they usually have some trauma in their past which can give them 'strength' (and big-eyed puppy appeal.) They are beloved by animals and children, and every person of the opposite sex is attracted to them, and the only other characters who don't love them are simply jealous of them.
The person might not be inherently unlikeable (if it were real life,) but that kind of character depiction annoys some readers. (Other readers love this sort of character.) The character Kvothe, created by Patrick Rothfuss, is one of these characters. I found him ultimately irritating, and stopped reading the series after Kingkiller Chronicles Book 2 and Kvothe's impossible-to-swallow successes. Mary Sue? Kvothe fulfills the stereotype well indeed.
At the same time, and the other side of the coin, there is the inherently 'bad' character who might also have special powers (and might even be good-looking), but nobody likes them. They might also have a trauma in their past, but it makes them behave in an atrocious manner, or gets them fixed on revenge. Animals and children can't stand these characters, people of the opposite sex are usually repelled by them, and most folks are afraid of them or don't want them around.
These kinds of characters—the Mary Sues and their direct opposites—do make good stories IF the writer is able to make these distinctions in a subtle way. It's true that most people are drawn to a character with a difficult past who strives to overcome it, who is physically attractive (within reason) and maybe even talented. Kindness to others (which makes the animals and children love them) is also an attractive quality. So don't assume these characters aren't story-worthy. However, try to avoid making them have things too easy in your story. Give them problems they can't actually overcome, for example. Or take away their talent or their ability to use their talent. Or destroy their physical attractiveness (to some extent at least.)
Just an example of an author who turns stereotype on its head is Joe Abercrombie. He makes Jezal, who is young, good-looking and confident—and who would normally be portrayed as the story's hero—into a bit of a self-satisfied plonker who comes to understand himself better by the end of the story—without ever actually becoming a 'hero.'
Abercrombie also created one of the most memorable fictional characters I've ever encountered, Sand dan Glokta. Glockta USED to be the best swordsman around, and was also charismatic, powerful, kind and attractive to women ...and then, as a result of one mistake, he loses all of that and becomes ugly, unpleasant, painfully crippled and fearsome. We first meet Glokta in one of his least attractive phases, yet grow to understand him and his backstory as the tale progresses. Glockta IS actually a hero of the story, and one you certainly end up rooting for. (And, if you're anything like me, punching the air in glee near the end, when he receives an unexpected reward.)
If you use stereotypes but play against them, you can become what I always admire ...an author whose stories are unpredictible, but satisfying.
Oh! Oh you have to watch Overly Sarcastic Production's dissection of the Mary Sue on YouTube, I think that explains it perfectly.
Otherwise, jannert, above, wrote a perfect summary.
This isn't a character in a book, but I watched a YouTube video a while ago dissecting Rey from The Force Awakens. The critic pointed out that the main reason he thinks she's a Mary Sue is due to her ability to learn skills at the drop of a hat and apparently she even outdoes masters. Like she had never flown a spaceship but knew how to handle the Millenium Falcon.
I think this is one trait that many Mary Sues have, and it can be oh-so frustrating to read if the reader happens to master that craft... And has worked their ass off to get there.
Interestingly, the youtuber also criticized the writers of Rey of misogyny because in his opinion her portrayal makes women look like the best women are only as good as the worst men because there are scenes where a male character acts like a bumbling fool, for whatever reason, and she then puts him in place and saves the day. While this could happen once with a character that's established as an all-around f*ck-up, in Han Solo's case it indeed seemed a little strange.
But I haven't watched The Force Awakens, so there could be redeeming qualities to this character, my only point was that this particular trait - learning difficult skills in a second and even outdoing professionals - is Mary Sueish.
Yes, Rey did that. I suppose it could all be explained by The Force, but Luke Skywalker still had to work HARD at learning to use The Force. Rey just seemed to manage to conjure it up without any practice at all. Once or twice I could have bought it. But she did it far too often. It made the storytelling seem too simplistic, and there was no real sense of jeopardy or effort. I am not terribly motivated to see the next film in the series, because I found that one so disappointing. It just seemed to jump from one set-piece to another. Pity.
Some people claim that Luke Skywalker is a Mary Sue, but I totally disagree. He's a great character because he has to fight hard to succeed or even be noticed, doesn't know he will succeed, and everything doesn't just drop into his lap. Even his two mentors, Obi Wan and Yoda have doubts about him. (And the other guy gets the girl!) Luke is a nice guy with a gentle personality, but nice guys do exist. That doesn't make him a Mary Sue.
Exactly. I really don't mind reading about competent characters, but I appreciate the struggle they go through to obtain those skills. In fact, a lot of the books I read feature a skilled hero who accomplishes great deeds, but their dedication to those skills is key. If this is never mentioned, not even in passing, I feel a little cheated and start thinking, hm what a Mary Sue/Gary Stu. Even if it's fantasy and the author's defense is "well, it's fantasy, anything's possible!!"
But now you make it sound like a most interesting character!
Thank you for your post. I always thought a Mary Sue was a self-portrayal of the author, since the first time I heard people describing a certain character (in a book that I've read) as one. Now I see that the mentioned character was neither a Mary Sue nor a self-portrayed author.
If all the character has to do is walk into a room and people cringe and dogs run away, how is that different from walking into a room and people automatically fall in love and dogs jump into their laps? As a character portrayal, it's not terribly realistic ...if it stops there. Nor does it hold out much hope for a story that's going to be any more than just black versus white.
It's nuance and unpredictibility that nails a story, at least for me. At least in chess the black has as much chance of winning as the white. In these kinds of Mary Sue versus the polar opposite stories, however, it's almost guaranteed that Mary Sue will win—without having to work at it much.
I get what people are saying about the Mary Sue character, but its counterpart that you're describing, isn't that called the "evil villain" or the black-and-white villain? Maybe some other term? Honest question here. I see what you're describing but I don't know how you call it technically. (I've always called it a bidimensional villain.)
I have no idea what to call that kind of character. Stock villain, maybe?
I'm gonna be brief, (for once.)
Mary Sue = Too good to be true.
Put like that, I think the difference becomes apparent. Just because a character is a Mary Sue doesn't necessarily mean they aren't likeable, it just means they are not a convincing character.
Plus Mary Sues don't get their hands chopped off or fall in love with their sisters.
"Hey Mary-Sue, can you fly," asked Bombshell Betsy.
"Well no, not that I know of," Mary-Sue replied nervously.
Bombshell Betsy grabbed little miss perfect and hurled
her off the cliff. She hurtled with increasing velocity to
the canyon floor a couple of miles blow. Bombshell Betsy
watched with a side gaze, cupping her ear as Mary-Sue
plummeted. And a few moments later, the dull echo
of her body thudded on the jagged rocks below.
"Damn that bitch was annoying," Bombshell Betsy remarked,
" Think she was so sweet, that my teeth hurt."
Bombshell Betsy got back in her car and drove off into the
sunset, wearing the mask of disturbing satisfaction.
A true Mary Sue is identified by a combination of things:
-Hogs the screen/pagetime.
-Other characters have no interest in anything but the character.
-Won't put anyone over. ie Will not make a villain look like a threat, or an ally look good, at any given time. Will not share spotlight.
-Ruins the dramatic tension by anticipating everything or having the answer to everything.
-The morality of the universe is based on the character's beliefs.
-Meaning people the character doesn't like are wrong and evil full stop, and people who the char does like and the char themselves, are always good and right.
-Characters that criticize the character in story, often legitimately, are punished with a severity out of all proportion.
-The character overpowers opponents so easily, the need for action sequences are removed.
- All good characters adore the sue. Most bad characters secretly adore the sue. Those who don't are killed and humiliated unceremoniously.
Oh and the gender of the character is usually the difference. Male = Unlikeable, Female = Mary Sue.
On the Luke front, the argument is focused on the fact that Rey only has one movie's worth of character development, while Luke has three. But if you narrow it down to just the first film, they're pretty similar. Luke:
Manages to block blaster bolts after a few tries with the training droid (that would be similar to Rey's mind trick, which takes a couple tries).
Fights professional soldiers pretty well for a farm boy.
Gets put in a leadership position during the Death Star run, over people who'd been with the rebellion far longer.
Speaking of the Death Star, shooting down and/or outflying some of the Empire's best pilots despite only having flown an air speeder and shot wamp rats in a noncombat situation.
Uses the force to guide a torpedo at the perfect angle into the thermal exhaust port. That's a pretty exceptional act on scale and distance, especially for an untrained force user.
Almost all of Luke's challenges and conflicts come in in the next two movies, so people writing Rey off as a Mary Sue is a little premature. Let's see how she develops.
On a side note, with the Falcon thing from TFA, the novel adaptation and other materials in the canon EU show that she salvaged a flight simulator from some wreck on Jakku. I really wish they'd included that in the film, since it along with the Force being stated to passively enhance reflexes would've neatly explained Rey's skills.
I'm not sure how later challenges will remedy a Mary Sue? I mean, if her learning crazy things super fast and outdoing professionals or experienced & skilled individuals already comes across unrealistic/aggravating/fantastical, the writer has messed up. And if there's another similar character in existence, that doesn't really negate the Mary Sue/Gary Stu traits in another character...
This is not to say such a character couldn't be enjoyable. Luke and Rey have their fans (I've only seen the first 3 Star Wars movies, and I don't like Luke at all and I'm not a fan of the franchise), and there's a slew of similar characters in fiction, movies and books, and they have their fans. But clearly there are also readers and viewers who do take issue with such writing. My friend just recently recommended me a fantasy book with a Gary Stu protagonist, but she said the story was so good she didn't care even though she did notice it.
Well, I suppose you're right in some ways. BUT...not only did Luke 'have' The Force (which was recognised not only by ObiWan but also by Darth Vader himself) but he had ObiWan instructing him in everything as well. Obi Wan was at Luke's side, training him to use the training droid, and teaching him to 'feel the force,' which Luke didn't understand at first. And those professional soldiers he fights are clones, who, apparently, can't hit the broad side of a barn. They hardly ever kill anybody they shoot at. I do agree that his leadership position came rather handy, but I suspect Princess Leia had something to do with that, as he and Han had rescued her and she knew they were good at what they did. Don't forget, Luke's original dream was to become a pilot for The Rebellion (like his father), and the only reason he wasn't is because his Uncle wouldn't let him. I suspect he practiced a lot, and also had his experience on the Falcon to help him with his shooting. As far as the torpedo into the thermal exhaust port, he had the voice of Obi Wan guiding him at the time. So I think that while he did very well, I don't think he Mary Sue'd it. He needed a lot of help from others to get where he was.
Rey, on the other hand, seemed to do it all herself, without having a clue what she was doing. I can almost buy it, and I might give the next one in the series a bit of a go. But considering the Death Star SHE escaped from (quite easily, it turned out) was supposed to be more impregnable than the first one had been, I found the whole escape pretty unconvincing. If Han Solo hadn't been killed, it would have seemed like a bit of a skoosh, compared to Luke, Han and Leia's escape from the original Death Star. Actually it wasn't just the Mary Sue aspect of Rey's character that bothered me, it was the easy/coincidental way everything seemed to happen in that movie, and the character development that happened far too quickly in all the newbie's cases. It felt to me like nothing more than a remake of the original movie in many ways. I expected more inventiveness and less repetition.
I didn't see the recent spinoff movie (the prequel—can't remember the name of it) but I understand that it was better, in some ways. Mainly because the characters, for the most part, weren't connected to the original series, and it played out less predictibly for each of them.
In some ways I don't actually mind a Mary Sue character. If you think about it, it's the basis for many a folk tale, isn't it? If the rest of the story isn't predictible and story problems aren't resolved too easily, I can certainly go with a certain degree of Mary Sue in a character. As, I suspect, can a lot of people.
She doesn't really learn things super fast, though. Her talents other than Force usage were learned earlier, even if the movie does a poor job of showing it (like omitting the flight simulator). As for why later developments can remedy apparent Sueness, there can be explanation for things that seem a stretch. There are theories, with considerable backing, that Rey had received some amount of Jedi training before being dumped on Jakku, and that she had some sort of mental block that Kylo inadvertently tore down during his mind probe. It's interesting to note that Rey only uses the Force after this point, and her usage of it is mostly confined to testing stories she'd heard about the Jedi.
True, but the trip to Alderaan was a few hours or days (hyperspace travel times are super hazy). Not much time at all to learn more than a few things.
The stormtroopers aren't clones; most of those were discharged shortly after Ep. 3 due to their accelerated aging. This matter partly hits on plot armor: they have no problem shredding nameless rebel soldiers and some of the Ewoks, but run into difficulties with the main cast. Part of the time they're under orders to let them go or capture them, but there are other points where they aren't.
I was more talking about Red Leader deciding to put him in charge of what was left of the squadron if something happened to him. That was a battlefield decision he made on his own, passing over Wedge in the process, despite Wedge having been with the Rebellion for years by that point.
Luke's dream was about going to an Imperial Academy (sources point towards an equivalent to the Merchant Marine or the like). He seems to have just wanted to get off the planet, and wasn't really concerned with combat. His aunt and uncle did tell him Anakin had worked on a spice freighter, after all.
I'll agree that the escape from Starkiller was rather weak until near its end; I certainly hope we don't see another planet killer super weapon again. It was already stale with the Death Star 2.
In my opinion, Rogue One is the best Star Wars movie, in large part due to showing the price the Rebellion paid. The characters not being protected by canon, and the lack of Jedi, helped as well. Over all, the film felt very grounded.
Trying to bring the thread back full circle, I don't think any of the main characters in all three Star Wars trilogies hit Mary Sue status, although Anakin, Luke, and Rey all come close in their first movies. Defining canon Mary Sues, as opposed to fan fiction ones, is difficult. The author gets to make the world's limits, after all. One can forgive the skill or power factor if they eventually face threats that can match them. For example, Superman should be confronting cosmic scale threats, not the common bank robber. Those threats should win occasionally too. They don't have to be major or permanent victories, but they do need to happen. Rey gets captured, and is losing for most of the duel with Kylo Ren, to give a few examples where the character in question still eventually comes out on top.
I'd say the most conclusive trait of a Mary Sue, and the most annoying, is whether the universe basically revolves around them or not. If their perceptions match reality 100% of the time, if everyone who is pleasant and agreeable to them is good and everyone who challenges them is evil, you're probably dealing with a Mary Sue.
You know, I think what exactly makes a Mary-Sue might be a person-by-person basis. I remember reading a book my sister recommended, and the protag was a Mary-Sue and it drove me nuts. She, however, enjoyed it.
If it turns out that Rey had Jedi training before, which explains all her abilities, then I am interested again. It's just that Luke had to train hard in order to do what she seems to do effortlessly. He didn't use The Force at all in the first movie, except for when Obi Wan was coaching him (before and after Obi Wan had died.) And in the second, Luke had quite a time partly learning to use it when he was with Yoda. His expertise didn't come easy. Rey, on the other hand, was able to free herself from the prison chair, using The Force, and then she was able to defeat Kylo Ren as well. So, unless she does have some prior training, I'd say that's all a bit unbelievable, within the Star Wars universe.
Rogue One is the movie I couldn't remember the name of. I'll probably get it on DVD, just to see it. It does sound interesting.
Edited: just ordered it on DVD.
Nobody calls kid Anakin a mary sue yet he:
- Destroys a control ship by accident and gets past the shields that were said to be impossible, that none of the professional pilots could get past.
- Survives the onslaughts of hundreds of star fighter battle droids in during the battle. And survives by.."I'll try spinning! That's a good trick!"
- Bullds C3p0, a droid that happens to be identical to factory made protocol droids. That either knows 6 million languages out the gate or has the compatibility to be upgraded with such.
- And he built his own podracer. A championship winning podracer at that.
-He wins the championship despite sabotage, despite stalling for ages at the start. If you stalled like that at NASCAR or F1 you'd lose immediately.
- He is able to calmly self diagnose and fix the pod mid race while dodging obstacles.
- He is considered so important by Qui Gon, that he brings the kid to an active warzone.
- He was able to get the images on the Jedis telepathic test all correct.
- He has higher midichlorians than Yoda.
- Oh and he achieved or has all this at age 6. And did it as a slave.
If one takes Ep 1 into consideration alone, the way people have with Force Awakens and judge kid Anakin by the same standards Rey is judged, imagine Rey accomplishing all that by then, scratch that, imagine Rey accomplishing most of it before she even leaves Jakku. Imagine the trollarity of a millions of manchildren crying out in terror, then suddenly silenced.
Separate names with a comma.