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.

636206370165002514-707932019_gif (4).gif

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.

maxresdefault

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!

Why Do People Write Mary Sues?

For those of you who aren’t familiar with what a Mary Sue is, it’s essentially a female character that is too perfect. A character that is always morally correct no matter what, has all the male protagonists drooling themselves over her even though she would describe herself as plain, and is special without having to try.

In other words, she’s boring.

So why do so many writers write Mary Sues? Even ones that claim they hate them?

I have a few theories:

The writer is trying to live vicariously through their character. Most of us want to be special. Unfortunately, a lot of us lack the bravery or skill required to become a compelling protagonist. In order for us to be unique, something supernatural in nature would have to occur like a radioactive spider biting us. Many of us have problems with ourselves so we’re tempted to fix them when we create an ink-and-paper twin. However, flaws are essentially what makes a person a person so by removing them writers create a character that is as flat as cardboard.

They want readers to like their character. If the reader despises the main protagonist, it is likely they will stop reading the story. Sadly, many writers think that the best way of avoiding this is by creating a character that has zero flaws other than superficial ones like clumsiness or being “too nice.” Truth is, a person’s foibles can make them more endearing and relatable.

It’s easier than coming up with a real person. Creating a person from scratch is hard. Especially if that person doesn’t share the same background, race, or religion that you do. It’s easy to become intimidated at the prospect of being inside the head of such a person and dictating all that they do and say. It’s even more daunting granted how delicate some peoples’ sensibilities are these days and how eager they are to take offense by any perceived misrepresentation. The writer doesn’t want to step on people’s toes and so they stick to what they know, with a few choice alterations, of course.

Or, in some cases, it’s just laziness. They don’t want to have to go through the pains of creating someone more three-dimensional because it’s time consuming and requires a lot of planning.

So how does a writer avoid writing Mary Sues?

Fear not, fledgling writers.

I have a few suggestions.

Find out in the next blog post.

dw-to-be-continued-01-o.gif

 

Why You Should Love Unloveable Characters

I hear readers complain time and time again that they cannot get into a story because the character is a “bad person.”Now I can understand not wanting to read something because the character is unbelievable or underdeveloped, but a bad person?

I say “bad people” make some of the best characters. Why? Three reasons:

1. They’re more like us than we want to admit. 

As much as many of us would like to think that our thoughts are squeaky clean and we would never wish death on the person that cut us off in traffic, that’s very rarely the case. What makes unlikeable characters great is that they give a voice to the inner demons that exist inside all of us.

4wck0cd

I get a lot of wish-fulfillment out of watching these characters go about their lives. It’s liberating to see someone who isn’t afraid to let their hair down and screw around with society’s expectations.

2.They’re more complex (and therefore more interesting). 

The writer can’t rely on their MC spewing political correctness in order for the audience to feel sympathy for them. To pen a good character who is also unlikeable, an author has to bestow upon his progeny traits that make up for their lack of niceness. If anything, a writer has to work even harder to write a compelling nasty character than they do a nice vanilla one.

tumblr_inline_nqrzomsnmz1qat4u3_500

That’s why behind every unlikeable protagonist is a damn good backstory. I have a great deal of respect for people that chose these types of people to push their story along. You may think it’s difficult to write a good “good” character, but it’s even more difficult to write a good “bad” character.

3.They’re unpredictable. 

If a character is a good one, it’s unavoidable they will screw up and do something morally ambiguous at some point. However, it’s pretty obvious they won’t fall too far, otherwise they won’t be a good guy anymore. This is one of the reasons why whenever a benevolent character is faced with a moral dilemma, I find myself looking at my watch. I already know they’re going to not kill that person, or pick the “easy” choice that might result in harming others.

tumblr_mjgd6g9xtr1s4bsrdo1_500

But when it comes to an unlikeable character, all bets are off. You have no idea what these people are capable of. You think you know them, then, all of the sudden, WHAM!!

They keep you on the edge of your seat every step of the way.

Which is great if you’re a seasoned reader who has become jaded towards formulaic writing.

A.k.a me.

tumblr_inline_o75d0fUhSO1r7gm7l_500.gif

Don’t worry. Liking bad characters does not make you a bad person.

It just means you’re more in touch with your devious side.

giphy-5.gif