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The Mary Sue with the Dragon Tattoo
Colleen Lindsay
Posted: Wednesday, March 16, 2011 3:18 AM
Joined: 2/27/2011
Posts: 356


Ah, the bane of every agent and editor's existence: the dreaded "Mary Sue" (or Gary Stu, depending upon the gender of the writer).

If you're unfamiliar with the term, a Mary Sue happens when a writer inserts an idealized version of him or herself into a manuscript as a lead character. To an agent or editor, a Mary Sue in a manuscript is always a red flag, something that indicates that the writer needs to spend a lot more time working on his or her craft.

Weirdly, while most genre editors are familiar with the Mary Sue, it seems that a lot of literary or mainstream fiction editors don't seem to know they exist, and thus they don't always get edited out the way they probably should.

Case in point: Stieg Larsson's Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and its sequels. I only had to read about the first third of Dragon to realize that Mikael Blomkvist was an idealized Mary Sue version of Stieg Larsson himself. I have to wonder: if these books had been edited by an editor more familiar with genre tropes and conventions, would they have been better books?

What say you?

And have you ever been guilty of a Mary Sue yourself?

Michael R Underwood
Posted: Wednesday, March 16, 2011 2:36 PM
Joined: 3/3/2011
Posts: 74


As a life-long tabletop role-playing gamer, I'm very familiar with the Mary Sue/Gary Stu. Many tabletop games are run with the specific intent of letting players create idealized version of themselves. However, private storytelling for friends and writing for a popular audience are very different things.

I think one of the main tricks for avoiding Mary Sues is making characters that aren't perfect, and have more than a token character flaw. A heroine who is utterly perfect, adorable, and talented, but is a bit clumsy can still be a Sue. A heroine who is adorable and talented but has a foul temper over certain issues and is throughly inept in some notable way can be worthy MC material.

This also speaks to what seems to be a growing trend in literary/commercial fiction, where genre material finds its way into mainstream literature to interesting effect. Writers then can be praised for their originality in the literary community while people in genre literature wonder what the fuss is about. This might be worth its own topic, however.
MarieDees
Posted: Wednesday, March 16, 2011 8:01 PM
Joined: 3/11/2011
Posts: 157


And have you ever been guilty of a Mary Sue yourself?

Sure, throughout most of my teens about all I did was work out my angst in Tolkien-inspired wannabe trilogies scribbled in spiral notebooks. I think I eventually outgrew both, except for a brief flirtation with Legolas when the LOTR movies came out.

Now, it's one thing to tackle a Mary Sue problem with an adult writer who has a novel going through editing. But I think I too often see fantasy writers jumping on the anti-Mary Sue bandwagon without thinking that many of their aspiring writers are probably still in their teens. And the last thing an angsty 15yo needs is to find the character they created to escape their angst being picked on. Then again, there might be some adults who need that escapism. So, I'm careful about destroying someone's Mary Sue dreams.

Unless that manuscript really is ready to hit the big time and be published.

Alexander Hollins
Posted: Thursday, March 17, 2011 11:20 AM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 416


Early in junior high, i created a gary stu character inside the Heinlein "world as myth" mythos. Think of Quantum leap, only not replacing people, and leaping into random fictional worlds. It let me use the EXACT same character in any fan fic or personal fantasy I desired. (I plan on using him as cameo a lot. Not actually DOING anything, just window dressing, like stan lee in comic book movies)

That said, there are some pretty decent Mary Sue ish books out there. The Anita blake novels come to mind. A lot of Robert Ludlum's mains seem to be a bit Mary sue as well.
Robert C Roman
Posted: Friday, March 18, 2011 3:15 PM
Joined: 3/12/2011
Posts: 383


Riffing on Michael's comment - I've been a tabletop roleplaying gamer for *mumblemumble* decades. 'nuff said that it's easier measured in decades, I think. Anyhow, I think that hobby can be both a boon and a curse for an aspiring writer.

From the aspect of 'boon', it can really help with characterization, setting, plot (if you're running a game), and even dialogue. Also, as the group you're with matures as players or includes some mature players to begin with, it can actually work out a lot of the Mary Sue tendencies. When I refer to 'mature' roleplayers, I'm not talking about 'R rated' gaming, I'm talking about gamers who have got beyond the idea of playing 'Me, only better' and have moved into trying to play characters different to themselves.

When it comes to the 'curse' part, the two major aspects are oversimplification and stagnation. The 'oversimplification' mainly happens in terms of plotting, where 'plot coupons' become a way of life, and not knowing the difference between a character and a character sheet. I'm actually running an ongoing writing workshop at my high school, and a couple of the students are gamers. It's taken months to get them to the point where they realize that one line (Personality) on their 'character sheet' is what an author *really* needs to know about their character. The 'stagnation' can be worse, though. If a player never gets past the 'me, only better' point, they can become stuck in Mary Sue land.

I personally think portions of the 'mainstream' may be *looking* for Mary Sue characters. They want an escape that they can put themselves in, and an escape an author put themselves in might fit them as well.

OK, as the man says, that sentence ought to be taken out and shot, but I stand behind the idea.

Is putting part of yourself into your characters inherently Mary Sue? If so, I do it. I don't (or try not to) idealize my characters, but in order to really get them on the page, I need to give them some of my headspace to play in. If not, they wind up flat. Thing is, they sometimes wind up with a certain 'me-ness', even if I'm the only one that recognizes it. Of course, there *are* times when they do things I wouldn't, and times when I'm shouting at them to stop being stupid, so I'm supposing they're not *entirely* me, at least.
Thothguard
Posted: Friday, March 18, 2011 7:56 PM
Joined: 3/17/2011
Posts: 18


I have to admit, that a few of my close friends who have read a few of my stories think I am the MC in them, or that they are one of the characters.

They are wrong.

While my MC may have the same weaknesses and vulnerabilities that I have, they are so much more interesting than me. Why would I want to write about someone who is boring???

Still, I think every writer uses what they know, what they observe, and to some extent, who they are to form characters. They might go 100% in the opposite direction of their beliefs, or they might include their beliefs as their characters beliefs. Nothing wrong in that so long as they are not preaching those beliefs in the story.

Lately, I have to wonder about the writer copying Twilight. Do they see themselves as the heroine or lead vampire/werewolf?
Colleen Lindsay
Posted: Friday, March 18, 2011 10:24 PM
Joined: 2/27/2011
Posts: 356


Thothguard -

That is exactly what a Mary Sue is., though - a more interesting version of yourself! It might be worth taking another look at your main characters again.
Kevin Haggerty
Posted: Saturday, March 19, 2011 4:32 AM
Joined: 3/17/2011
Posts: 90


Looking back at my work, I gotta say I don't see any Mary Sue's. I've written a couple of intensely autobiographical characters, but if anything, they were less well off than I. There've been some pretty pivotal moments in my life when I've gotten extraordinary help which I desperately needed at the time. I've been variously haunted by what might have happened to me, if I hadn't been so fortunate. So I write a character that is something like: me without therapy or the crucial insights that preceded it.

@ Colleen (Hi!), I gotta say: I never saw Mikael Blomkvist as a classic Mary Sue, because, from what I've gathered, Mr. Larsson himself was every bit as fascinating. Granted, the character is obviously hugely autobiographical, but aside from him being a solid citizen and very good at his job (qualities I gather he shared with his creator), I don't detect anything too out of the ordinary. Well, there's is the military training (many coolness points there)but that seems par for the course for a modern sleuth-about-town dealing with international conspiracies, y'know? It served the plot.

Now, I've defended Mr. Larsson before, so I know a lot of Americans have big problems with what they see as his idealized sex life, but, in my experience, there simply are a lot of Scandinavian men like that. It's a different culture. And I think Mr. Larsson did a good job of putting Blomkvist's sexual adventures in perspective. Ultimately, the guy's kinda shallow, and the women in his life either accept that or they're quite capable of holding it against him.

And from a narrative/thematic standpoint, in a book originally entitled "Men Who Hate Women," Blomkvist has to stand in for decent men who love and respect women. He's like Harvey Keitel's Sheriff in Thelma and Louise thataway. Not a superman, just a highly competent and decent man, who in the context of all the ugliness around him, takes on the aura of a white knight.

-Kevin
Monday
Posted: Sunday, March 20, 2011 10:57 PM
Joined: 3/10/2011
Posts: 21


Guilty, guilty, guilty! How can all of us not be guilty at some point or another? Especially when people always tell young writers to "write what you know". If we write what we know, we write ourselves.

I've found that a lot of situations that start my ideas come from my own experiences, but I have two people who read for me. One of the questions I always ask is, "Does this sound too much like me?" If they say yes, I ask them to point out a few major places where that happened, and rework them. That's been the best way to beat it out of me. Also, I think "what would Monday do?" and make sure my character does not do that.
DawnEmbers
Posted: Wednesday, March 23, 2011 9:36 PM
Joined: 3/9/2011
Posts: 16


I tried to have a mary sue character before I knew about the term and that people don't like it. I say tried because in the end the characters developed their own personalities far away from me and the friends they had been modeled after. I just couldn't do it.

Then again, I have a slight aversion to writing about myself. I really don't like it at all. In high school, when told to do a personal essay about myself for sophomore English, I wrote about the education system instead. Still got an A but didn't really follow the assignment. And even during the creative non-fiction class I took in college, I preferred to not write about myself whenever possible, which made that class one I didn't care for in the end.

I will settle for writing about other (imaginary) people. It's better that way.
KD Sarge
Posted: Thursday, March 24, 2011 4:55 AM
Joined: 3/11/2011
Posts: 16


On the flip side, I was in a forum once where the conversation started at "oh, that [book character] is such a Mary Sue, look at this, this, and this" and moved quickly to listing about fifty strong female characters as Mary Sues, with the only qualifier seeming to be "strong female character."

My character Eve Marcori scores highly on every Mary Sue test I've tried, despite her being a very angry, emotionally distant person who nearly gets people she loves killed through her inability to talk to them.

@Kevin--if the character is that much like Stieg Larsson, then it's a self-insert (which is a fandom term that sounds much dirtier than it is.
Kevin Haggerty
Posted: Thursday, March 24, 2011 10:23 PM
Joined: 3/17/2011
Posts: 90


@KD, to be honest my frame of reference isn't really genre fiction, per se. I've read tons of it, mostly classics, but plenty of straight off-the-shelf purchases as well. I never knew there were so many do's and don't's until discussing it online.

So, I find a lot of what folk say in these kinds of discussions fascinating and new. Judging from some of the remarks in this thread, though I've seen it elsewhere, there seems to be a real stigma against autobiographical elements in genre fiction. Like it's a no-no. Like there's a lot of surreptitious looks and nodding going on amongst the cognoscenti, but I don't understand the prohibition. Even so, there seems to be an important difference between a merely autobiographical character and a Mary Sue.

Me, I take the autobiographical currents and under-currents of all fiction for granted. The artist needs to tap into something pretty darn personal or it's not gonna be something readers take to heart and cherish. Some writers write more close to their own experiences than others. I can't imagine that fact alone making them categorically better or worse than writers who keep things at a greater remove.

Autobiography requires a ton of self intimacy, skill and humility to pull off well--that's for sure--in a way that just spinning a yarn doesn't, but I've seen it done. Philip K. Dick was so autobiographical and so utterly unself-regarding while he was at it, some of his stuff is hard for me to read because it's just so freakin' intimate, y'know? I start feeling bad for the guy and imagine putting the book down and calling him up to say, "Man, are you doing okay???" But he was obviously a genius and his work endures. Some writers can pull it off and some writers can't.

Memoir is huge these days, both as non-fiction and as a fictional form. So it seems like the tropes at least of autobiography are alive and well in genre fiction.

Thanks for listening.

-Kevin
Quinn
Posted: Saturday, March 26, 2011 4:04 AM
Joined: 3/15/2011
Posts: 14


When I was young, I made a lot of superhero comics, and they were loaded with Mary Sues. I didn't make any bones about it - all of my major heroes had my name as their alter ego and they were unabashed fantasy versions of myself.

I remember having a conversation with my uncle about one of my superheroes in which he asked how much getting shot with a bullet would hurt him. Not at all, I replied - he had super strength. My uncle didn't buy it. "It's got to at least feel like getting slapped really hard, right? I mean, he needs to have some reaction." I didn't understand what he was getting at until much later; a character is much more interesting when they're getting hurt then when they're feeling good. And since a Mary Sue character is a perfected version of you, it's very hard to dish out serious pain to them. Once I was willing to do that, though, I started writing real characters, and his words made a lot more sense to me.
LisaMarie
Posted: Thursday, March 31, 2011 3:40 AM
Joined: 3/16/2011
Posts: 216


"And have you ever been guilty of a Mary Sue yourself?"


My first creative writing class, I studied with a student of Ray Carver -- published author. I turned in some juvenile tripe that could have been subheaded, "My Live As I'd Like It To Be." I was what, twenty years old?

It got shredded. The author basically told me that the only thing good about my short story was that I could write sentences using proper spelling and punctuation. The content itself was garbage, because I'd basically written Mary Sue, and it was boring.

Then he sent me home with awesome literature -- Calvino, (Angela) Carter and some of his own short stories. Oh, and Carver. Never wrote Mary Sue again.

Like Monday, I always ask myself, "What would I do if I were in my character's situation?" And then I have the character do anything but.
OrlaH
Posted: Friday, April 1, 2011 9:28 AM
Joined: 3/30/2011
Posts: 9


Larsson had both a Gary Stu and a Mary Sue in his books. Every woman wanted to sleep with Blomkvist and anyone who helped Salander would do so to the death (and was therefore good), while anyone who opposed her was instantly revealed as the epitome of evil. Salander was a Mary Sue more in the strict sense of even a character flaw being a bonus, it's the type I (and many others, from reading this) recognise from poor character creation in RPGs.

Another glaring Gary Stu was Robert Langdon in Dan Brown's books, I keep peering at photos of Brown to see if I can see that darned over-written-about Mickey Mouse watch on his wrist.

I remember reading an interview with A.M. Homes where she talked about teaching creative writing - and she said she didn't want her students to write what they know (because, really, who cares) but rather to "lie, and lie well". I think that's a pretty good tip. Fiction is about using your imagination and creativity, the Mary Sue / Gary Stu tropes arise from people who are disinclined to exercise those creative muscles as much as they should.

I think some of that comes from an assumption that people will think the MC of someone's book is a version of the writer themselves - sure, some readers will do that (but they'd do it anyway), but most won't make that mistake, and being afraid of people drawing a parallel between you and your work (in any way) will only serve to stifle you, and make the work suffer.

I'm so paranoid about Mary-Sue-ism creeping into my work that I use a bunch of online tests to make sure each character I create evades that particular doom.

And yes, the first novel I finished (and binned immediately) was chock full o'Mary Sue - thinking about it now makes me grind my teeth, but hopefully I got all of it out of my system in one fell swoop.
Robert C Roman
Posted: Tuesday, April 5, 2011 11:44 AM
Joined: 3/12/2011
Posts: 383


@Kevin - there is more than just 'autobiography' to a proper Mary Sue. Orlah nails a lot of it.

- A proper Mary Sue is *always* right. If she appears to be wrong, it will later be revealed that she was right all along.
- Anyone who opposes her either converts after receiving appropriate chastisement, or meets with a Bad End.
- All Good people Love the Mary Sue, because she is Good.
- Everyone, Good or Evil, lust after the Mary Sue. If she is pure, she doesn't realize it. If she isn't pure, she can sleep with all of them and none of them will be jealous.

The list goes on, but basically the *problem* with Mary Sue isn't the self-insertion or autobiography per se; it's the fact that you have a central character who is unchanging, perfect, and, well... boring.

Now that I think about it, I did a self-insertion in a book that's about to be published. I don't think anyone noticed. I was writing a scene in a real-life place I once worked, and I needed an employee to unlock a door for the main characters. I got lazy and mostly wrote what I remembered from the mirror that morning.
Kevin Haggerty
Posted: Tuesday, April 5, 2011 5:54 PM
Joined: 3/17/2011
Posts: 90


@Robert,

Hey. I think your point about a true Mary Sue being boring is key. But that also makes any final decisions about what is or is not a Mary Sue, pretty subjective and, I'd say, culturally based. Also there's the issue of market. We can bitch and moan about Dan Brown till we're blue in our faces--and many of us have--but it doesn't change anything. The difference between a completely tired cliche and the latest cash-cow is simple: will people buy what you're selling in droves?

I never found the two main characters in Larsson's books boring. I didn't see Blomkvist's "luck with the ladies" boring or particularly enviable. I think American culture is kinda hung up on sex, particularly what we still prudishly refer to as "promiscuity." We judge it and we envy it. Some other cultures just don't have that issue. And sheesh, to say Salander's problems aren't huge, devastating handicaps is to ignore her as a human being entirely.

Seems to me, another criterion for a true Mary Sue is an element of the absurd: the character seems to walk in an idealized dream of reality created just for her and all doors open to her. The character is perfectly this or perfectly that, when we all know real humans are perfectly nothing. But this is also subjective and there are exceptions. Superman is arguably a towering example of a Sue, and yet folk have been obsessed with this character for over half a century. James Bond, James T. Kirk--don't get me started! And yet, they are beloved institutions.

It seems genre writers in particular are stuck between two irreconcilable values: we're enjoined to avoid cliches and yet so much of what constitutes a genre is definitively cliche. There are cliches the culture wants, and wants badly, and there are cliches the culture is truly tired of. And therefore, hard and fast rules about what is and is not permissible tend to look screwy from one angle or another.

Genre fiction naturally focuses on the exceptional, the heroic, the larger-than-life and none of these qualities are safe from accusations of Sueism. And when it comes to character development and setting, cliches, or what I'd more generously term, examples of narrative short-hand, abound. My tastes in genre tend toward the off-beat, the anti-heroic, the surreality where genre and naturalism meet, but that's just me. I am no kind of demographic publishers are gonna be catering to any time soon. I'm an outlier and I know it.

-Kevin
LilySea
Posted: Friday, May 20, 2011 1:23 AM
Joined: 5/12/2011
Posts: 241


I don't write idealized versions of myself, but I do write idealized versions of people I desire. That is, I USED to do that, before, you know, I became a perfect writer.

What broke me of the habit was using a certain song to base a story and characters on in the last novel I finished. None of the people in the song were all good or all bad and the most desirable ones were still a little morally questionable.

Writing about those people was so much more fun than writing about perfect people.

Now I am working on a story in which the two main characters are very desirable, but are also both right and both wrong and entirely at odds with each other. Much more complex. It's been a useful exercise so far.
LilySea
Posted: Friday, May 20, 2011 1:24 AM
Joined: 5/12/2011
Posts: 241


P.S. I'm with Colleen on Larsson. Personally, I can't read the books, but enjoy the films anyway.
Trailer Bride
Posted: Friday, May 20, 2011 4:07 PM
Joined: 5/8/2011
Posts: 31


I'm just wondering how the Salander books could be better? Other than from an aesthetic point of view?

They've been a commercial and cultural phenomenon. 30 million Lisbeth fans can't be wrong

Also, they were only really considered for publishing after his death. So failing a Zombie Apocalypse ...

Oh, and I disagee with the assertion that Salander is a "Mary Sue". She's more likely to have been Larsson's sexual fantasy rather than his transgendered alter-ego.


LilySea
Posted: Saturday, May 21, 2011 3:56 PM
Joined: 5/12/2011
Posts: 241


Not Salander, the magazine dude, what's-his-name. He's obviously an idealized autobiographical character.

Fans aren't "wrong." People like what they like. I just personally like a different kind of writing. Stuff like the Mary Sue thing bugs me and distracts me from what's fun about the story. Other folks are less bothered by those kinds of things or maybe don't notice them at all and that's fine. It's just not me.
Trailer Bride
Posted: Saturday, May 21, 2011 10:03 PM
Joined: 5/8/2011
Posts: 31


Yeah, I know ... about Blomkvist

I was replying to this ... "Larsson had both a Gary Stu and a Mary Sue in his books" but I haven't seen a way of quoting a previous post and I forgot to make it clear. That doesn't bode well for me!
LilySea
Posted: Saturday, May 21, 2011 11:11 PM
Joined: 5/12/2011
Posts: 241


Blomkvist...right. Crazy Swedes and their...Swedish names!

Sinnie Ellis
Posted: Saturday, January 21, 2012 1:43 PM
Joined: 4/3/2011
Posts: 67


Have I created a more perfect version of myself and put it in a book?
I write in first person, but none of the characters are me. I'm not a bestselling author with a self absorbed husband and imaginary dwarf that I send to torture him, no not at all. I'm also not a sufferer of multiple personality disorder. At least that's what the voices tell me.
I can't be a character in one of my books, my life is far too exciting for that.



Alexandria Brim
Posted: Sunday, January 22, 2012 5:19 AM
Joined: 10/20/2011
Posts: 353


Have I ever written a Mary Sue? Yes, but I deleted the proof!

@Kyoko: " I admit that whenever I get published, my main character for my novel will be called a Mary Sue. I don't care. Mostly because I don't see myself when I write Jordan. "

If you don't see yourself as your main character, then the reader won't see it.

The problem is the fact that I feel some writers forget that readers aren't going to automatically like their main character just because, well, they are the main character. They have to get us to like them. And if we suspect through the writing that the main character is just the author hiding behind a prettier/grittier/sassier facade, then we are going to look for more aspects to declare it a Mary Sue.

Because one thing doesn't make a character a Mary Sue--writing a character that's based on you doesn't automatically do so. It's a whole collection of things that prove the point: someone upthread listed them and I apologize that I forgot who it was.

From my years writing fanfiction, I keep this little tool in my back pocket: It's the Mary Sue litmus test. Now you don't have to avoid everything on the list, but it helps you take a look at your character and your decisions.

http://www.springhole.net/writing/marysue.htm
Nevena Georgieva
Posted: Monday, April 23, 2012 4:09 PM
Joined: 2/9/2012
Posts: 438


Ha, interesting discussion!

I wonder if in the particular case of the Millennium Trilogy things would have been different if the books hadn’t been published posthumously. They were discovered and published after Larsson’s death in 2005. So I guess he never benefited from the insight of a good genre editor.

I admit that M. Blomkvist is most
certainly a Mary Sue, what with his sexual prowess and intellectual superiority. I really liked Robert’s point from a while back about stagnation. That’s probably the worst part of pulling a Mary Sue, as the character becomes monochromatic and doesn’t develop, which makes him/her boring. 


All in all, I think there are two reasons why the Mary Sue didn’t detract from the quality of the Millennium books. First, the fact that Larsson wrote about investigative journalism, something he was an expert in, makes for compelling and action-packed fiction. Second, ultimately, I consider Lisbeth the MC of the series, and I find her far more intriguing than sex god Blomkvist.



Philip Tucker
Posted: Saturday, April 28, 2012 12:05 AM
Joined: 4/26/2011
Posts: 77


Maybe I'm a boy named Sue.

I just finished re-reading Larsson.  And I lived in Sweden for three years, and I speak pretty good Swedish.

I'm sorry to tell you guys that one aspect of Blomkvist which strikes me as completely plausible is his sex life.  Sweden actually is better in that regard, at least in my experience.

Blomkvist is no Lothario.  He's no sex god.   Remember that his sexual relationship with Lisbet is over in the first book.  Blomkvist just has several lovers.  Not everybody in the books is like that, but some are.  Most people are in monogamous pair-bonded relationships, or single.

But which sort of character do you really want to read about?


Colleen Lindsay
Posted: Thursday, June 14, 2012 2:46 PM
Joined: 2/27/2011
Posts: 356


Bumping up!

Elizabeth Moon
Posted: Friday, June 15, 2012 8:04 PM
Joined: 6/14/2012
Posts: 195


Did I ever write Mary Sues?  Of course--I started writing fiction as a child, and my stories were full of myself and heroic collies and noble horses and lots of adventure in which I (naturally) was brave, smart, generous, etc.  After all, when I read books, I put myself into them, imaging myself as the child hero.   That's what I read; that's what I wrote, tweaking it to be my story, not someone else's. 

Not ashamed of it; I learned a lot that way...just writing so much taught me about handling language.  Junior high and high school became adolescent self-indulgent angsty stuff (more in poetry than in prose) and then shifted to SF and fantasy with other characters (still some Mary Sue but less.) 

Though shallow Mary Sue/Gary Stu makes for less than stellar published books,  getting to more mature character generation is a process...one that I'll bet all writers who start young go through. 


Margaret Melchior
Posted: Wednesday, January 8, 2014 7:41 AM
Joined: 1/7/2014
Posts: 8


I kinda love the Mary Sue discussions. Always have.

 

And I believe there are two types of writers: Those who have written a Mary Sue/Gary Stu at least once in their life; and liars.

 

Come on, most of us have started writing when we were - as someone mentioned - angsty teenagers.

 

I wrote my first real story when I was 14 or 15 years old and when I go back to reading that now, I CRINGE because the main character is probably the most terrible Mary Sue I have ever ever EVER seen! She was horribly flawless and perfect and wanted to save the world and everyone loved her and... oh God even writing about it now hurts. That's why I don't get rid of the evidence, but keep it, so I can always go back and remind myself what not to do ever again. My mother still loves the story, but she'd my mother, she has to love it, that's her job. 

 

It's not about not writing a Mary Sue. I think everyone has to write one at least once, realize the mistake and learn from it. The problem I see with a lot of literature published these days is that the authors don't seem to learn from it. When I look into popular books, mostly for young adults, all I see is Mary Sues, filling book series after book series. It makes me wonder if they just didn't get proper feedback to notice the Mary Sue, or if they just ignored the feedback? Seriously, if my characters are Mary Sue, I want my reviewers to tell me, no sugar coating! 

 

It's also not about not writing strong female characters. Female characters can be strong, that doesn't mean their flawless. I have made the habit of creating my characters and once I have the basic concept, I pick one 'deadly sin' and then decide how to turn that into a severe character flaw, a weakness, something the character will always trip over and that he or she will always struggle to overcome - maybe they will eventually, but it will always be a test and it will be something other characters will notice, it will be something that will have people dislike them.

In Germany we have the term 'Schweinehund' (Um... swinedog?), that is an internal weakness of character a person has to overcome over and over again (metaphorically jump over the inner Schweinehund) and I think if a character does not have a Schweinehund - or have something that is supposed to be one but is overcome without any struggle or challenge - they are just simply not great characters.

 

... pretty sure I wanted to add something else, but can't remember right now, might add once it comes back to me.


 

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