How to Mary Sue Proof Your Characters

Last week I wrote a post about Mary Sues and why people write them. Today, I want to give you some unsolicited pointers on how to avoid writing a Mary Sue, or even a Gary Stu (the male equivalent).

Enjoy!

Start with a real person. While it may not be a good idea to base a character’s entire identity around one person, it can be a helpful place to begin. If you’re like me you have had at least some exposure to interesting people. Think about what makes them so compelling. Is it their sense of humor? Do they have a hair-trigger temper? Think of a person you know who might fit well within the universe you have created. Then take interesting elements from other people’s lives and add them to the mix. Voila! You have a person.

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Consider the small things. This is the part where you need to start studying people. Just about everyone has body language that is unique to them. What do your friends do when they’re frustrated? Do they puff out their cheeks like a chipmunk and blow out air? Do they drum their fingers on the table? Do they pace? Do they play with their hair? Including these tiny details can really bring your character to life.

Nix the Chosen One premise. I would be incorrect if I said this trope is never well-done or can’t work. However, it’s problematic to use with reckless abandon because you come dangerously close to spreading the dreaded The-Main-Character-Is-Special-Cuz-Reasons virus. Once it enters the atmosphere, it will cause every other character to speak in cryptic phrases regarding the protagonist’s destiny. Perhaps you should just make the main character stand-apart by having them actually do something.

Have them fail at least once. Which is more interesting? The tail of the Underdog that overcame insurmountable odds and repeated failures to eventually reach victory, or the story about the person that wins every single time? One Punch man doesn’t count.

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Give them interests and hobbies. This seems like an obvious one, but it’s something that’s often overlooked. You can tell quite a bit about a person by what activities they engage in during their free time. Perhaps your person likes medieval reenactments, or beekeeping. The sky is the limit. Just find a way to make them stand out.

FLAWWWWWWS! Every character needs flaws because that is what makes us human. It’s how you can tell a real person from a fictional person and the reader needs to believe they are reading about a real-fictional person. If you aren’t sure where to start with this, I highly recommend The Negative Trait Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Flaws by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. It’s a very detailed book that not only defines negative traits but also gives you possible causes for them, shows you how they could manifest in the character’s everyday life, and even how a character can overcome these flaws.

I hope this was helpful. Good luck with your writing projects!

The Short Guide to World-Building for Noobs

For some people creating new worlds is easy. For others it’s a bit more difficult. Here are a few things I’ve learned from experience:

Write more information about this world than you will use in the story. 

Get out a notebook and write down as much about this world as you can: the landscapes, the history, the language, the climate, the people, everything you can think of. However, keep in mind that most of what you are creating will not make it into the finished product. People don’t like being bogged down by too much information. Nonetheless, it’s important that you have this background information so that it feels more organic. You don’t want the reader to feel as if you’re making it up as you go along.

Remember where you live affects who you are as a person. 

Regardless of how you may dislike where you live or the customs you grew up with, it’s undeniable that where you are born affects your view of the world. The same should be said of your characters. For instance, people who live in less forgiving climates tend to be tougher than people that don’t. Think about your character and how their environment shaped their personality. Did it embolden them? Make them fearful? What side of the mountain they came from can make a difference in their development.

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Travel. 

Exploring new lands, tasting new food, and mingling with strangers is the best way to get your creative energies flowing. This is especially true when it comes to world-building. Traveling can broaden your horizons and inspire you to create new worlds that may nor may not resemble this one. You can look up photographs on the internet about certain landmarks, but it’s no substitute for being there yourself.

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Read about other cultures. 

This doesn’t mean you should directly or disrespectfully rip off of other cultures and their beliefs. However, exposure to new ideas (or at least ideas that are new to you) can inspire you to create your own. Study different religions and sciences. Read short story collections from other countries. Do as much research as you can about different environments.

Good luck!

How to Write Women: a Guide for Men

Hello, men.

I am a woman.

Today I am going to give you some tips on how to write female characters. Keep in mind that women are human beings and no woman is exactly the same as another. However, I’m hoping to give you at least a general idea of how to pull off a convincing female.

Don’t go for the Pretty Princess or Mighty Warrior archetypes. 

I appreciate male writers who are attempting to rebel against the Disney princess paradigm of women from yester year, but giving a chick an AK and no personality is not helping the feminist cause. That isn’t us either.

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Very few of us can be compartmentalized as either girly girl or tom boy. Most of us are an amalgamation of both. For instance, some of us like to go out hunting one day and then shoe shopping the next. Others might be really into sports like rowing and have a bedroom chock full of stuffed animals. Some of us may be into tattoos and video games and also enjoy coloring books. Shut up. They’re therapeutic.  The point is, we don’t often completely give ourselves over to one stereotype or another.

Give them a weakness. 

This goes back to the fallacious concept of the man-in-skirt that is many action hero women. Your character is a person, therefore, they have a weakness. Maybe they suffered some horrible trauma at a young age. Maybe they have a disability or perhaps they are unsure if their cause is just.

You aren’t sexist because your female character has some sort of fault. Unless their fault is hopelessly whining and being kidnapped all the time. Then it’s a bit sexist. Moving on.

Remember relationships are important to women. 

And no, I don’t mean just the romantic kind. I mean relationships in general. Women tend to value friendships, family, and romantic entanglements above most things. That’s not to say women can’t be career-driven, or that they are dreamy-eyed dopes that doodle their crushes names into their notebooks.

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However, if you are writing a female character odds are they have at least one confidant, whether it’s their mother, their sister, or their best friend. Most women (keyword: most) aren’t complete loners. Even if they feel like an outsider, they will usually try to attach themselves to a person or a group in order to feel balanced. Think of it like a wolf belonging to a pack. It just feels natural and safe to do this.

Some female characters need more motivation to take risks. 

Admittedly, this depends on what your MC’s personality is like. But in most cases women are less likely than men to throw themselves into the fray unless something serious is at stake. We tend to be less prone to “Dude, hold my beer” moments, but not necessarily immune. Especially if there is actual beer involved. The voice in the back of our heads that tells us that we’re about to do is stupid tends to be louder and has more sway over our actions.

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Don’t give your character bitchiness in leu of actual competence and confidence. 

Just because a character shouts at people and orders them around, that doesn’t mean they are a “strong female character.” I’ve seen this done by male writers (and even some female writers) many times. More often than not these characters look tough on the outside to prove they “aren’t that type of girl”, but when it comes to actually doing something, they usually wind up getting themselves into more trouble rather than helping anyone get out of it. If they were bitchy and competent, I would have less to complain about.

The easy way to overcome this is to simply show us how awesome this girl is rather than having her tell us how badass she is. Unless the very point is to make her look like a jerk.

Women tend to be more sensitive. 

This doesn’t mean all of us are weepy or completely at the mercy of our feelings. It just means we tend to have stronger spidey-senses than men when it comes to certain things. Comedians often joke about how women can tell a million things about a person simply by how they drank their tea, but there is an element of truth to this. Our gut feelings are often what drive us to follow leads others might overlook. While we are often a cautious bunch in general, most of us trust our intuition when it says something is not right, and we’re willing to put ourselves at risk if it’s in the name of helping someone else.

Remember this: not all women are the same.

However, my hope is that I have assisted you in getting into the proper mindset.

Good luck with your projects!