Tuesday, October 26, 2010


I haven't posted in a while, but this was suggested to me recently and I thought it might be helpful to other writers out there.

No, this isn't a post on how to identify Mary-Sue or Gary Stu.  If you don't know what a Mary-Sue is, then read up on them and come back.

This is a post to list the tips I use to keep my OCs from becoming Mary Sues/Gary Stus:

1. For every positive, there's got to be a negative.
ex: He/She is a good fighter, but bad at socializing.
ex: He/She is smart, but unsanitary.
ex: He/She is hard working, but UuuuUuuuUgly.
An OC without a weakness is a Superman without Kryptonite.

2.  For every negative, there should be a positive.
Rewind to #1, flip it around, and replay.  A character that only knows tragedy tends to be a whiny little twit and few people have the patience to read such a thing.  Don't get me wrong--Anti-heroes can be fun.  However, an Anti-Hero who never tasted the love of a happy family or doesn't have the capacity to save an orphan... Or a guy who can only weep and moan about his screw-ups.... That's just a psychopath Mary Sue/Gary Stu.  All characters should have a redeeming quality.  Even real life criminals and villains have a good side.

3. Physical features aren't a character profile.
If you've ever drawn your character and listed it's eye color, hair color, and height-- It's probably a Sue/Stu.  You need to know more.  Get inside your character's head and don't be afraid to really put yourself in their shoes.  A lot of the time, I've found my writer's block stems from this--I don't know where the story is going because my character doesn't have its own personality.  However, once a character does have a personality, writing flows easily because their reactions and the ways they handle conflict are already determined.  LOL  My-oh-my, how much easier it'd be if hair color could tell me how a character would react to being smacked in the face, though!

4. Know your character's background--but don't tell it to the reader. You should always know more about your character than the reader. Where they came from, how they were raised, what their income is... But... If you take the time away from the plot to tell the reader the character's background, then it's probably a Sue/Stu. If you have to write it out to start off, then do it.  That's fine.  Just be sure to delete it after you've gotten in your character's shoes!  In that way, the solution really falls in with #3.  Show your character's personality; don't tell us where they got it unless it's necessary to move the story forward.

5. Don't pair them off without a purpose. Pairing two characters is fine...for your personal records. But, if you want to be known for more than porn, you better have a good reason that's more than 'I'm unleashing my fantasies'.  PLOT COMES FIRST!

6. Most importantly in my book, know that all writers start with Mary Sues/Gary Stus.  It's not until you've written your '1 million words of garbage' that you've got a good grasp of plot and characterization. (They actually go hand-in-hand.) How can you tell when that happens? Watch a preview of a movie--any movie--at random. If you can't envision the entire movie from the 30s-3m clip, then you still need more practice.

7.  Let your character fail.  Even geniuses have off-days and there's no fun in a story unless there's a chance of failure.  If you let your character succeed with everything on the first try, they'll be deemed a Mary Sue/Gary Stu on the first try, too.  Struggle is what makes a good story.  Why do you think most video games require you to use a 'cheat-code' to get God-Mode?  It's because it makes things too easy and, therefore, too shallow to be interesting.

8.  Your character is not you.  Believe it or not, I'm not saying that you shouldn't self-insert.  In my honest opinion, every character is --in some way-- a piece of the author.  I say this because an author writes what they know.  Does that mean J.K. Rowling was once a boy wizard?  Of course not.  Does a small piece of Harry Potter exist in J.K. Rowling?  I bet he does, even if it's nothing more than her wish to have a vault of gold hidden away somewhere.  However, an author must accept that the character isn't a 100% reflection of the author or the author will be (1) be too controlling of the character or (2) be too free with a character.

An author becomes controlling when they're too afraid to let a character do something they'd never personally do--almost as if they were besmirching themselves in reality.  However, sometimes, an author becomes too free with their character--pushing them down paths that the character itself would never realistically travel.  There must be a balance, lest the character be sent to one extreme or the other (both of which pushes them into Sue/Stu world). 

Anyway, I hope someone out there finds this helpful.

1 comment:

Kay said...

Good information about other characters. I wasn't conscious of these "rules" but will add to my knowledge bank. :-)