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Whats the difference between an Unlikable character, and a Mary sue?

Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Yariel, May 18, 2017 at 3:25 AM.

  1. Phil Mitchell

    Phil Mitchell Contributing Member Contributor

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    The perspective of the narrative is what matters when judging these traits. Eragon isn't considered in-universe to be flawed. Eragon has super strength, super speed, super endurance, super hearing, super vision, super magic, super mind, super learning, waking dreams, elven yet rugged face, super agility, immortality, expert hand to hand fighter, master poet, master swordsman, master of the Al, is a rider, eloquent orator, ambassador, deeply in love, a rider, an expert magical illustrator, a master bowman, has the rights of any king and queen, has the best sword the best smith ever made with additional flame gimmick, has Eldunari watching over him the whole time and guiding his decisions. To the point where Arya says this crap:

    " Arya was quiet for a while. “It ought to be, but it isn’t. . . . I am ashamed to be instructed in morality by one with so much less experience. Perhaps I have been too certain, too confident of my own choices"

    and

    You should be proud of what you have accomplished,” she murmured. “The child is sound and well formed. Not even our most skilled enchanters could improve on your gramarye.

    Eragon says this:
    " Pity and guilt welled up inside of Eragon; it gave him no pleasureto see Sloan reduced to such a low state. He was a broken man, stripped of everything he valued in life, including his self-delusions, and Eragon was the one who had broken him. The accomplishment left Eragon feeling soiled, as if he had done something shameful. "
    Despite having said this:
    "And while Eragon was reluctant to admit it, he enjoyed having control over a man who had often made trouble for him and also tormented him with gibes, insulting both him and his family. "
     
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  2. rktho

    rktho Active Member

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    The stormtroopers aren't clones. Clones became obsolete after Order 66 because they were too expensive. Few of any stormtroopers in the original trilogy are clones.
     
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  3. jannert

    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    No, I would not. However, the principle behind the term might well come up. I can understand why people might not like the term, but the principle - creating a character who is too talented, beautiful and skilled (and maybe entitled) to be believable - is one that writers should certainly be aware of.
     
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  4. jannert

    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Have you read the stories? I staggered through the first two. Yikes. That guy could do anything without half trying and he was 'beautiful' to look at as well. Even the goddesses couldn't resist his charms. And he had such an unfortunate childhood, which pluck and luck got him through. He became very irritating.
     
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  5. rktho

    rktho Active Member

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    The member who started this thread has been banned…
     
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  6. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll Something Wicked this Way Comes. Contributor

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    Where cushions are comfy, and straps hold firm.
    That happens every once and awhile. (It was aliens from that place...you know that place right...?) :p
     
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  7. rktho

    rktho Active Member

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    No...?
     
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  8. KaTrian

    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Right, so it can be used as an insult, but it's also a trope. Which is what I wrote in my post except more long-windedly.
     
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  9. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll Something Wicked this Way Comes. Contributor

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    Area 51 10/3 silly. Surely everyone knows about the double secrete
    government installation where they really keep the aliens.

    "The Truth is Out There." :supergrin:
     
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  10. Phil Mitchell

    Phil Mitchell Contributing Member Contributor

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    What's the difference between calling a character a Mary Sue and calling a character a piece of crap?

    Mary Sue = vaguely too good to be believable. (which almost always comes up with female leads only)
    Piece of crap = vaguely so bad it sucks.

    What is "believable"? What is "sucks"? Depends on the critic. Both terms are offensive.

    Writers should not be especially aware of those things because they are not high crimes against stories. They should just be aware that conflict is what makes stories exciting. Any ability can be written around. Targeting a specific character for a problem that if it exists, exists on a level of overall storytelling, makes no sense at all. Batman is too everything to be believable and he works fine because the other story elements all work and there's enough struggle, drama and conflict.
     
    Last edited: May 20, 2017 at 1:03 AM
  11. Oscar Leigh

    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member Contributor

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    Feels a lot like "talented character still has flaws". Also I think you might be exaggerating his talents. Especially since early on he's a total scrub.
     
  12. Phil Mitchell

    Phil Mitchell Contributing Member Contributor

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    Is he now.

    “‘It is rare for anyone to discover magic on his own,’ he inclined his head toward Eragon,… ‘It may please you to know that no Rider your age ever used magic the way you did yesterday” Eragon, (p.144-145)

    "Then in the evening, he trained against Brom with fake swords".

    "Their clashes lasted longer as he learned to fend off Brom. Now when they went to sleep, Eragon was not the only one with bruises." Eragon, (p.150)

    "I'm going to take the next week and teach you how to read" Eragon, (p 208)

    "The days passed and soon a week had gone by. Eragon's skills were rudimentary, but he could now read whole pages without asking for Brom's help". Eragon (p 211)

    "Brom shook his head, I can teach you nothing more of the sword. Of all the fighters I have met, only three could have defeated me like that, and I doubt any of them could have done it with their left hand." He smiled ruefully "I may not be as young as I used to be, but I can tell that you are indeed a talented and rare swordsman." Eragon, (page 240 something)
    Early on a total scrub? :superconfused:How early on are we talking about? Since he's introduced he's portrayed as the only one courageous enough to go hunting in the spine.
     
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  13. Oscar Leigh

    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member Contributor

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    The bit with the bruises just means he got at least one hit. Doesn't mean he every won. I don't rememver how long it takes to learn reading but a page isn't that hard to learn, is it? If you already know the verbal words I imagine it's easier than when your a child and don't know half the words. The "talented and rare swordsman" bit is laying it on a bit thick but it's not ludicrous. It's not like they aren't people with degrees of natural aptitude. Overall he wasn't the most interesting or neccessarily realistic character but some of the other characters are quite interesting and the world design and bits of political stuff make it a decent series.
     
  14. Phil Mitchell

    Phil Mitchell Contributing Member Contributor

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    They said pages as in plural. Not a page. And no, Eragon helped fill out shipping records very soon after. Children learn much faster than adults and children take a few years. But this is fantasy, so lets assume it's a thing in this setting.

    It still ruins the internal logic of the series. If learning in a week is a thing in this universe, Roran not learning at all despite being told he needs to, is problematic.

    You do realise Brom is over a century old and has defeated Morzan?
     
  15. jannert

    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I think if you re-read my last couple of posts you would find that at no point did I ever say "crap" regarding somebody's character. Or that they 'suck.' (Those are actually your words here, not mine.) Nor would I. We're all writers and are hoping our characters will live well out in the world, once we let them go. I would never knowingly insult somebody's efforts here on the forum.

    And I also said I would never call a fellow writer's character a Mary Sue while doing any kind of critique. It appears the term has connotations beyond what I realised at the start of the thread, and I don't want to insult anybody, ever. But then again, some people don't want honest criticism or offers of reader perspective, but just want praise, and be told that everything they've written is fantastic except for a few forgiveable spelling mistakes made during the edit. Fair enough. However, if we can't point out what we feel doesn't work well in somebody's story for fear of insulting them—ie your character seems too good to be true, and that's not working for me—then what's the point of workshops?

    For the record, I suspect one of my own characters is a Mary Sue—he ticks a number of Mary Sue boxes—and he's a guy. I've had to work hard to mitigate that effect, because I don't want him to come across as too good—or rather too talented and gorgeous—to be true. My story is supposed to be believable, as in 'could have actually happened.' None of my betas has ever called him a Mary Sue, but now that I'm aware of the concept, I see where I stray into that territory at times. If somebody ever calls him a Mary Sue, I'll certainly not go storming off in an offended huff. The concept is important.

    Batman is a comic book character, and, as such, is already not believable. Nobody actually believes Batman exists or could exist ...do they? Batman doesn't have to be realistic, only fun (and maybe thought-provoking.) Batman is a modern day myth, and works fine as one—even if he might be seen by some as a Mary Sue. (Not me in particular, by the way.)

    Mary Sue-ness has to do with a character's abilities to solve story problems without turning a hair. If your story is make-believe in every sense, fair enough. Create the hero who uses his considerable charms, supernatural powers and amazing skill set to solve major problems that nobody else can solve. The whole world falls at his feet. He lives happily ever after. But if you want your readers to think—hey, I know exactly how that guy feels, and omigod, what's going to happen to him now?—then you need to watch the tendency to create too much fairy-tale wish-fulfillment in your characters.

    If black/white fairy-tale wish fulfilment is what you or your readers want, fair enough, though. Those kinds of stories have been around a long time, come from many different cultures, and personally I have a bookshelf full of them and read them fairly often. But if realism is important to you or your readers, it's a good idea not to make your characters into Disney-esque wunderkinds. And it helps if you can recognise the difference.
     
    Last edited: May 20, 2017 at 10:11 AM
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  16. Phil Mitchell

    Phil Mitchell Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm asking if Mary Sue is a legit trope, why isn't piece of crap also a legit trope? I'm making this comparison because we already agree that Mary Sue is insulting to the point where neither of us would use it.

    Placing emphasis on people's beloved characters with such blunt critique does carry a higher risk of being insulting. And it's a shallow critique to make. If they remove one character without the underlying issues of writing without holding tension, excitement, and conflict at a priority, than another character is just going to take it's place or the first character will just be amended superficially. Superficial critique results in superficial change. I remember the first and only time when I first started out, one of my characters was called a Mary Sue in one of my story's now defunct formats, and like many writers I superficially justified it.

    You might find it takes alot for male characters to be called Mary Sue. Hyper-competence is expected from male leads. The concept behind Mary Sue applies across genres and levels of realism. The concept of staying realistic in a realistic story is important, but the character is not the issue. Again, if you removed that particular character, does that mean you no longer have to work hard to mitigate? Why is the Mary Sue labelled, and not all the other characters who enable it?

    The Batman is a multimedia character who is believable within the DC universe. As is Superman and Wonder Woman when they're written right.

    No it isn't. It's to do with the universe not reacting to that appropriately and realistically. I'd only consider it Mary Sue if the writer didn't allow that reaction, if it screwed up the internal logic, if it's really egregious, and if the writer was stubborn and didn't listen to criticism, showing the deep personal attachment and wish fulfillment.
     
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  17. Phil Mitchell

    Phil Mitchell Contributing Member Contributor

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    If the character itself is the problem, that doesn't explain how a writer who prioritizes excitement, tension, and conflict will write a character with the exact same traits as you listed, markedly different from a writer who does not.
     
  18. jannert

    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I've kind of said my piece, and there isn't any point in repeating it over and over. I maintain it's perfectly okay to point out that a character seems too good to be true and is consequently not believable, as a critique point. As long as I remain courteous and avoid using words like 'crap' and 'suck' then I feel I'm on the okay side of this 'insult' border.

    Your tension and conflict and excitement isn't going to amount to much if your character overcomes all problems in a easy-peasy-breezy fashion, is it? That's the issue I'm trying to focus on here.
     
    Last edited: May 20, 2017 at 12:39 PM
  19. Phil Mitchell

    Phil Mitchell Contributing Member Contributor

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    Using the word Mary Sue is offensive and if you used it on me I would ignore you. Saying the character is just too good to be true and not believable is Mary Sue in different words, which I would dismiss as the weak and negative criticism it is unless it was super egregious. The better critique is to be positive with the other characters, raising their voice and presence in order to readdress the balance. What makes the writer excited about the other characters? After which the so called Mary Sue will automatically be de-suefied.

    A character that overcomes all their problems in an easy peasy fashion can easily result in tension and excitement. Such a character could be the cause of whole factions fighting for control over this person. It could be the cause of people seeking to minimize their influence, or the instigation of a quest to find out the cause of this mysterious ability. Using the person as a catalyst instead of the focus is all about how the rest of the cast reacts and is treated. You have a very gamey idea of storytelling from the sounds of it. Like you're writing an RPG where everyone needs to be balanced.

    Mary Sues are only created to begin with because the rest of the cast lack voice and presence and so enable it. Remove the Sue and you still leave the barren ground which created it.

     
    Last edited: May 20, 2017 at 3:32 PM
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  20. KaTrian

    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    This may be true if the only Mary Sue-ish traits in the character are that s/he's adored and envied by everyone or surrounded by incompetent jackasses. But as we have discussed, there are other attributes to this trope that the writer can tack on regardless the rest of the cast, like good looks.
     
  21. NoGoodNobu

    NoGoodNobu Contributing Member

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    I think our main contention is that everyone is coming at this discussion with individual variations of the definition of what constitutes a "Mary Sue"

    And because we are slightly askew or significantly distant from one another's understanding of the term/trope, everyone is going to talk in circles around each other.

    For instance, I can see similarities in both jannert's and Phil Mitchell's definitions and my own, but I also see other areas without overlap where we dissent.

    So the problem is we haven't agreed on a single definition or unalterable set of attributes that ultimately make a Mary Sue.

    And it's easy to understand why there are so many variations & individual ideas—it's all from a single character in a single story, and the comparisons that followed.

    Mary Sue was the name of an actual character that served as an author insert wish fulfillment in a Star Trek fanfiction where the character is perfect & irresistible & wonderful—at the expense of internal logic & pre-existing characterizations of "supporting" (original) cast. {Heavily biased by my interpretation—summation likely to differ with interpretations}

    How you use this Mary Sue as a measure against other characters can differ based on how you viewed or interpreted the underlying flaws of the original Mary Sue & said story.
     
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  22. Phil Mitchell

    Phil Mitchell Contributing Member Contributor

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    Add in good looks, doesn't matter. A strong cast won't be swayed and manipulated by the Sue's good looks so easily. Give me any character, any traits, and I can come up with a way to do it that's not Mary Sue. What about the judeochristian god itself. Easy. A story about God trying to discover just where his knowledge came from. If he always existed, that means he didn't think the knowledge up. In addition to that exploring the contradictions in a being that supposedly knows everything in fact does not know what it directly, physically feels like to snort coke off a hooker's ass, the devil could say how can you judge without truly experiencing the darkside and the story keeps going. That's just 5 minutes of brainstorming a concept. If I can do that for god, anyone can think up a story or amend their story for any character without needing to change a thing about the so called Sue's traits. It just takes some creativity.
     
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  23. KaTrian

    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    This is a little humorous, but there is actually a Mary Sue litmus test. :rofl:

    But yes, there's no one definition and it has expanded from its original meaning, and the term seems to be more commonly used in fan fiction and RPG circles in any case, although of course examining the psychological plausibility and general realism of one's characters in any type of fiction is useful, imo.
     
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  24. jannert

    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, I took that test for one of my characters. I passed it, but only just!
     
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  25. jannert

    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I was going to reply to this, then I decided ...whatever. I'll go research Role Playing Games, which, to date, I've never even played let alone written. Who knows? It might be a gamey new career for me, once I decide to write balanced characters and give up trying to write believable ones. :)
     
    Last edited: May 20, 2017 at 6:34 PM
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