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Discussion The Mary Sue - what they are and why we should avoid them

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction and Writing Resource' started by Kurisan, Mar 20, 2017.

  1. Ewok Poet

    Ewok Poet Force Ghost star 6

    Jul 31, 2014
    I guess I need to check if flaw translates to what we call mana here now. I've managed to confuse everybody AND myself. [face_blush]
  2. Mistress_Renata

    Mistress_Renata Manager Emeritus star 5 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

    Sep 9, 2000
    A weakness, something that holds them back, something they need to over come. Something that could prevent them from fulfilling whatever it is that the storyline requires of them. One of my characters had a flaw in that he wasn't comfortable speaking up to confront his fiance about what he wanted out of their relationship (doesn't sound like much on the surface, but in the context of the story, it was pretty important). Another character didn't have a lot of self-esteem and wasn't comfortable making decisions by herself, which became critical when she turned out to be the only person who could carry out a mission and had to do it alone.

    It doesn't need to be a FATAL flaw, of course. Luke's flaw is his inexperience. Han's is possibly his overconfidence. But yes, characters need to make mistakes, and sometimes they should fail. Flat out fail, because then they can come back and be truly heroic.
  3. brodiew

    brodiew Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Oct 11, 2005
    Or, it could simply be a physical or external flaw, i.e. amputee or alcoholic/drug addiction. Flaws (reading the word no so many time makes the word sound weird) are exactyl what @Mistress_Renata said, a weakness or hindrance to the character fulfilling their purpose in the story.
  4. Xamak

    Xamak Jedi Youngling

    Apr 12, 2018
    At the risk of possibly repeating what others have said in this thread, I would like to inject my limited experience into this important conversation. In regards to flaws, it is important to include a deep seeded personality trait or aspect as the root cause/motivation that leads to a critical mistake which your character can learn from and eventually grow beyond. Just having them fail at a task or make a mistake is not enough. The object is to create "real" people that the reader can relate to by portraying their imperfections. A great example of this type of flaw is portrayed in Anakin/Vader. His fear & ambition caused one of the greatest downfalls in fiction, although the onscreen execution doesn't fully invoke the literary potential..

    In fiction, it is far too easy to create characters with surface flaws that are easily exposed and overcome, without really drawing on the deeper aspects of human nature. Emotion is one of the best tools for connecting with readers because it is a universal language. To truly create flawed characters, writers should look into their characters' souls and objectively evaluate them to draw upon those core emotions that make the character more human.
  5. Ewok Poet

    Ewok Poet Force Ghost star 6

    Jul 31, 2014
    I tested my real self as Mary Sue last night, ignoring RPG questions and using "important people" in place of "canon characters". I got 138 points. Some of them were on the grounds of being multilingual. Bwahahahahaha! [face_rofl] This can take a weird direction sometimes.

    @Xamak, I've been wanting to reply to you for quite a while now, because you have touched on a very, very specific subject that I wanted to throw out here earlier this week, but there was no time.

    Disclaimer - I apologise for talking about my character, my universe and the way I went about creating a pretty disturbing individual. If you don't like this, read the tl;dr and then skip. If it's a problem, I can remove it.

    tl;dr: In specific cases, people may outright thing you're trolling them with otherwise realistic characters. It might not be what they *like* to read. We look to fiction in order to see idealistic stuff, it's a form of escapism. Some prefer violence and wars and it's their subconscious mind at work. But otherwise?

    If it cannot be romanticised, "cool" or whatever, it's not going to work.

    Long version...and I apologise for my dilettante mind at work. My background in theory of literature at the university resulted in a single exam passed the second time round with the lowest acceptable grade. After that, I've mostly idolised my beloved man Anton Pavlovich, my granny Virginia and my uncle Erich Maria. :p So, yeah, you're dealing with a wannabe intellectual who is, in fact, legally uneducated. [face_relieved][face_blush]

    I went to the Mary Sue page on TVTropes for the first time in about a year when this discussion was revived and at first, I was concerned about Wish Fulfillment, Self-Inserts and Jerk Sues. And I felt ashamed. I thought I failed.

    But it was something else - the real is unreal. Reality comes across as unrealistic.

    I started out a joke fic with a pretty lame plot in 2015 to deal with personal frustrations and a weird dream I had in 1995 involving a short-term childhood platonic crush and my two closest friends & me. And weird stuff took place.

    First, the childhood platonic crush needed a romantic interest, because it would've been cruel not to give him one. I then created him a badass girlfriend who is, unlike the main character, kind of awesome, has a cool style and whatnot. My character still seemed pretty horrible, basically, a random jerk with no traits of any kind who will suddenly go on an unexpected adventure.

    Then I did a fairly dumb thing - decided to deliberately mock myself through my OC.

    I first went for mocking my own physical traits and the way I saw some of them at her age.

    I noticed that I speak pretty flatly and that my eyes are derpy, Now she was that way, too!

    I noticed that I used to dress like a complete crazy bagman until I started university (and frankly, it was not much better for years after), so I gave her that too, complete with plain long straight hair. I only decided that her hair should be somewhat thick and nice and a couple of shades darker and I did not want to give her a ponytail. I wouldn't wish my hair to anybody - thin, volumeless on a sensitive scalp, impossible to colour, impossible to style.

    I remembered how much I hated my body shape and considered myself fat - because my dad used to say so - while, in reality, I'm a hourglass and I was extremely thin as a teenager with a pathetic amount of muscle mass. So, that was her new obsession.

    But she was still meh. So I thought I would go for hostility towards pretty much everybody, crying fits, odd behaviour, extreme sensitivity that comes out as outright selfishness, jerk behaviour et cetera. At the same time, I decided to give her everything I ever wanted, more or less, in various stages of life and then play with it, make it horrible, destroy it, turn it into a ballast for her, torture her emotional self in the be-careful-what-you-wish-for way. Build it up, tear it down, build it up again. There was a liberating aspect thereto - I forgave somebody after many years and I realised that I desperately needed to go somewhere.

    And here comes the "but..." because there is always "but..."

    But...some of her traits, while 100% real and plausible to me, hint to the kind of people stereotyped as serial killers (???), crazy "psycho" exes, the whiny brats who do things for attention. People DON'T like that. People DON'T think such characters are real and believable. Such characters are not story protagonists in fiction, they are not heroes either and if they're central characters, they get overshadowed by whoever is more "relatable" or "evil" (think Wynona Ryder's Susanna and Angelina Jolie's Lisa in Girl, Interrupted!). And that's the good option, because they're otherwise villains. If they're exceptionally well-written, like Anakin and Kylo, people still see them the same way one would see Jack the Ripper. Their behaviour cannot be excused - I am not defending them - but there's a huge spectrum and a fundamental difference.

    I did a thing involving her recently that was impromptu and I...I think I confused the heck out of everybody who read it. She was extremely negative in her approach to some characters, but at the bottom of it was the idea that she really meant all she said, while I, the writer, did not. I did not use her to say things that I wanted to say myself - I used my own maladaptive behavioural patterns to get into her head. Same when a friend and I role-played and staged a chat between two characters - my OC's meltdown kind of came out of nowhere.

    No matter how much I write a Strange Day-ish experience of broadcasting own thoughts and feelings from own head into a different, arguably better world and how I honed that to the point where I can create such mental patterns without causing myself emotional pain...

    ...the world will always see Alex from Fatal Attraction (despite the fact that she's a mix'and' match of, well, many things) as the alpha and omega of such characters. Or the creep from Misery.

    I guess my OC is then a JerkassWoobie seen as a JerkSue...?!

    I could build you an altar. I am not even kidding. Anakin is 100% real to us in this household, even his awkward courting is so. I could go on and on and on and on about it. Same for Kylo.

    Plus, they're dudes. Take that, world. :vader::kylo:
    Last edited: Apr 14, 2018
  6. Vek Talis

    Vek Talis Jedi Knight star 2

    Oct 12, 2018
    Mary/Marty. This is complicated.

    To me, a character who is the most beautiful/handsome in all the land is a sign of a poorly developed character, not necessarily a Mary/Marty.

    Someone, a long while back on this thread said something about self insertion being not something to strive for. I disagree. To each their own, and if whoever doesn't like that, it's cool with me, but my own opinion is that it's not necessarily a good/bad thing. When I create an OC, I take a trait or two of myself (not always, but often) and mix it with different traits of people I know well. They say 'write what you know'. I know my friends, family, close associates. You can mix up a bunch of traits of theirs, plus traits of people of different cultures you might not know so well, so what you do know helps balance out what you don't.

    And what is beauty, anyway? One of the reasons I think it's a poorly developed character, but not necessarily a Mary/Marty, is because most people have a desire to seem attractive (inside as well as outside) to other people. So, that can slip through the cracks and become part of a poorly constructed character.

    Is Tom Cruise handsome? A lot of women think so. A lot of women also think he's not. Personally, growing up, I heard guys telling me how 'hot' Pamela Anderson, and then Angelina Jolie were, I was like: "Really?" I think Gillian Anderson (X-Files) is one of the most (on the surface, focusing only on the 'most beautiful' appearance aspect of characters) beautiful women on the planet. A lot of guys vehemently disagree with me. To each their own.

    So, beauty, as they say, is in the eye of the beholder. Poorly constructed characters are beautiful to everyone.

    Now, if your character is not only stunningly attractive to everyone AND can leap tall buildings in a single bound, and is the smartest, best at everything, never even broke a nail in their lifespan, THEN, you might be approaching Mary/Marty territory. One trait, however, doth not a Mary/Marty make, in my humble opinion.

    One thing that sends the heebie jeebies down my spine, and makes a character seem to me like a Mary/Marty is the following:


    DISCLAIMER: This is going to get political, not because I want to get political, but as an example only. I may or may not agree with the things I'm going to say, just as an example. If the mods deem this going too far, I have graciously marked off the point where they may cut out what I'm saying.

    Please don't take offense, as I mean none, I'm only trying to make a point about Mary/Marty for discussion purposes.

    Ok, one thing that makes me roll my eyes and think I'm reading a Mary/Marty is if they are completely polarized by one 'side' of the political spectrum or the other. If they're ALL extreme lefty or ALL extreme righty, I get the feeling the author has a very blatant agenda and is using writing to not just slap the reader with the agenda, but drop a piano on the readers' heads with the 'agenda'.

    A character who, for example, (again, see disclaimer) agrees with abortion but also agrees with gun rights, isn't encroaching on Mary/Marty territory in my eyes, because they are showing a full spectrum of political ideas. A character who wants all Bothans to go home, is obsessed with Coruscant coming after all their blasters, wants the Republic to become minimalist in nature, etc, is a political agenda by the author, or taking a bunch of things from the other extreme side.

    Again, all in my opinion, to maybe spark some debate to this thread. Not looking for a fight, but if the mods wish to clip, I've helpfully divided my post so you can clip it all out as one big chunk. :)


    In conclusion, I believe Mary/Marty does exist in fiction, but I don't think it's always terrible. I think some characters are given the label but don't deserve it, or are simply poorly created characters, which isn't the same thing, in my book, as a Mary/Marty.

    You can have your beautiful characters, just try to make them realistic enough that not every other character thinks they're stunning. You can have your character who pretty much waltzes through life like it's easy, just try and throw them a few bumps in the road once in a while - it's what makes a story interesting to read.

    The journey, to me, matter far more than the destination. Along those lines, the journey matters a bit more to me than creating perfect characters (and by 'perfect' in this instance I mean rounded enough that they aren't perfect and seem like real people). Basically, to me, it's what happens to the characters and how they react that has the most bearing on whether I'm enjoying the story or not.

    Oh, and plot too, but that's for a different thread. :p

    I told you at the top it would be complicated. You never listen. :rolleyes:
    Findswoman and GregMcP like this.
  7. Kurisan

    Kurisan Jedi Master star 4

    Apr 26, 2016
    Hi Vek and thank you for those thoughts. I am amazed this thread is still going. I broadly agree and would add that the "beautiful" thing should also not equate to automatic Sue/Stu territory. A lot of stories involve characters being attracted to each other. If they are attractive to the reader, this makes things much more believable. This goes double for movies, in my opinion.

    There are attractive people in the world. This is not a terrible thing for a character to be.

    I think the trick, as you hint at, is not to TELL the reader that Mary is very beautiful. Instead describe him/her in neutral terms that give an idea of physical attributes, then just let the reader decide.

    I would suggest the political agenda thing is an unrelated matter. A character that is an obvious mouthpiece for the writer's political or social agenda is a problem in its own right, but I don't think that's about Sueism, though it can be self-insert.

    Personally, I can find it entertaining. Heinlein can't help himself. Every book I read of his will not fail to have some character lecture me on the moral imperative of nudism! Stranger in a Strange Land advocates very strongly for "free guns for all" if you consider Valentine's assertion that all evil ended in Martian society once they could psychically make anything they didn't like "disappear". Everyone HAD to be nice to each other then. :p

    Thanks again and nice to meet you. See you round.

  8. Ewok Poet

    Ewok Poet Force Ghost star 6

    Jul 31, 2014
    This, basically. But if it's overdone, it leads back to the same dangerous zone. Plus, I don't want to know what I don't need. I'm there for the story, not every single detail about a character's bum or what they wear on a random day for a visit to their great aunt's sabacc night with the protocol droids.

    Wait. The above would make a good, good crack!fic.

    While its aim might or not might be to spread beliefs or indoctrinate us, it's unimaginative and boring if people only stick to their personal beliefs when writing and when all characters follow the same moral code as them.

    Give me prudes, but also give me philanderers.

    Give me trigger-happy blaster enthusiasts, but also give me pacifists.

    Give me politicians who stand with their people, but also give me those willing to eradicate their own race to advance in some major Galaxy-wide dictator's grand scheme.

    Give me traditional weddings, but also give me bizarre alien polygamy.

    I want it all.

    The SW universe is endless. We can do anything.
    Last edited: Dec 4, 2018
    gizkaspice, brodiew and Vek Talis like this.
  9. Vek Talis

    Vek Talis Jedi Knight star 2

    Oct 12, 2018

    Hear, hear!! =D= My sentiments exactly.
    Ewok Poet likes this.