Things to Avoid in your Writing #2: Mary Sue and, her brother, Gary Stu

Even if you don’t realize it, we’ve all met the siblings Mary Sue and Gary Stu.  See, the reason we don’t realize we’ve met them is because they’re utterly forgettable.  They’re nothing special.  They come in, save the day, and then occasionally die, often times with a singular tear rolling down their face.

Oh wait?  That rang a bell for you?

So you did meet them?

Yeah, it’s a shame.  These two have been going around the writing world in all of their forms, getting in their way of a good story with their recycled and impossbile heroism.

Before this turns into a rant, let me define this trope for you:

A Mary Sue for female characters and Gary Stu or Marty Stu for male characters is an idealized and seemingly perfect fictional character, a young or low-rank person who saves the day through unrealistic abilities. Often this character is recognized as an author insert and/or wish-fulfillment.

This terrible for two reasons:

1. Lazy/Egotistical Writing:

As Wikipedia has explained quite nicely, these characters are yet again, another sign of bad writing.  Or worse, the sign of authors trying to ham handedly cram themselves into a story.

DO.  NOT.  EVER.  DO.  THIS.

Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t inject as much of yourself into a story, because honestly, I feel that’s impossible.  BUT, there are much better ways to do this.  You really do need to do all of this with tact.

Honestly, no character in your story should be an exact copy of you.  Do you know why?

Because unless this is a memoir, or your own autobiography, then that character cannot be you!

Why?

Because your life is not the plot of your book!

We’re all writing the works of fiction here, and sometimes, those characters go above and beyond the bounds of normal human ability and circumstance.  There are so many forces that are seemingly impossible to experience in the real world, that how could an accurate representation of the author be an accurate representation of a person going through the push and pull of the world you created?

It’s bad and lazy writing because all you’re doing is either forcing yourself in because you don’t seem to want to take the time to craft a character, or you’re so egotistical that you think you’re the best character to ever grace the real or fictional world.

If you want to inject certain qualities of your own then do so, but do them that contributes to the characterization of your protagonist and other characters.  Do it in a way that makes them seem relatable.

2. Perfection is boring!

Who ever wants to hear about their perfect friend, droning on about their perfect life?

NO ONE!

No one wants to hear people go on about how everything is wonderful, when you remember all the things wrong with your day-to-day in High Def.

It’s the same for readers.

People read books to be swept up, and taken away to another world.  They want to feel like they’re a part of the story.  They want to look at your protagonist and say, “Man… that guy/girl’s a lot like me.”

If you make ANY character perfect, it’s not only going to alienate your audience from that character, but if you do that to your protagonist no one’s going to enjoy your story.

If they’re perfect, there’s no need to worry about the character.  If they’re perfect, there’s no need for your readers to become personally invested in your story.

It harkens back to those old ’80’s action movies where no matter what happens we always know that Van Damme/Schwarzenegger/Segal are going to get out of it alive and take down the big baddy with a signature move and a one liner.

Now, while those movies are entertaining, that doesn’t fly in fiction.  Watching a movie takes on average two hours, and then people go on with their life.  Reading a book takes MUCH more time than that, especially for people who don’t read quickly.

You want your readers to have as much motivation to read your book front to back as possible.

Perfect characters don’t do this.

Mary Sue and her brother Gary Stu, definitely, don’t do this.

So what do you think?  Agree?  Disagree?  Think I’m nuts?  Whatever you think, please leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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Featured Image: Courtesy of Thomas Hawk, reused under CC BY-SA 2.0 license.  No modifications made

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