Saturday, May 1, 2010

Don't call me your Mary Sue

The definition of a Mary Sue, as written in Wikipedia (since Wikipedia is never wrong) is:

A fictional female character with overly idealized and hackneyed mannerisms, lacking noteworthy flaws, and primarily functioning as a wish-fulfillment fantasy for the author or reader.

Let's face it, nobody is perfect. Yes, sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but everyone has flaws (even if that flaw is believing you're perfect) and humanistic behaviour. And when trying to create a character the writer must think of such flaws to help create a realistic and believable character.

So, how do humans behave?
  • Humans are curious:
    Last night at work out the front looked like a crime scene (seriously with police tape that blocked half of our outside seating, about a dozen cops, security and ambulance, even forensic guys wearing masks and taking pictures), and we still had to continue working... surprisingly we were really busy during this time, mainly from people ordering one drink and having their eyes fixed on the action unfolding behind us. Everytime I walked past someone they grabbed my arm, litterally, whether I was carrying a heavy stack of plates or not, they asked what had happened. When I couldn't answer them they said they would ask the cops (you know, the ones doing their job).

    Humans just have a "need to know" attitude, the can't help themselves. And, don't worry, no one died... it turned out to be a fight.

  • Humans are liars:
    I hear you say, I don't lie. Well then, answer me this, is someone says "does my bum look big in this?" or "how does my new hideous hair cut look?" or even "how are you?", you can't tell me that you don't tell exactly what they want to hear. That, in my dictionary, is still called lying even if it is for a good cause.

  • Humans need a feeling of self-importance:
    Everyone needs a purpose, they need to feel like what they're doing is important. Count how many times you use the word "I" in your day. Every time we think, it's mainly about ourselves, even if it's helping others "I'm going to help with...", "Do you want me to..."  This is all in effort of making ourselves feel more important. And, that ego inflates as soon as someone acknowledges it.

  • Humans laugh at pain:
    Ever heard of the Gladiators who were in fierce battles while people looked on and cheered, especially if they were being slaughtered, that hasn't changed (well, except for the slaughtered part). Football games, car races, etc, people go to cheer on their teams don't they? But, you can't tell me that people would rather a clean game where they just played with little contact, or one where there were fierce tackles, big crashes in car races and a lot of blood.

    Sometimes they even laugh at their own pain... well, I do. The other day I slipped on the stairs and slid (more like crashed) to the bottom. I got up, looks of horror from my brother and mother who were looking on, and my first reaction was geez, that hurt. Then, after about five seconds I burst out laughing (don't ask me why... seeing as I was in pain). I have seen people get back up and laugh at themselves after a fall. I still don't have a rational excuse as to why they do, I guess it's just another mystery in human behaviour.

  • Humans don't like to lose:
    Nobody does. If you lose, there's mixed emotions of hurt, anger and rejection. But, do you give up? If an obstacle appears, most people will find a way to knock it down and triumph over adversity, even if that means being constantly hit in the face until that one solemn chance comes along to win.
 So, why do writers write characters that appear perfect? Is it a secret desire of being that character? But, it's not that simple. How can any reader really relate to that character when there's no identifiable trait? I love characters who are underdogs or the ones whose flaws are really getting in the way of accomplishing their task. I love writing those sort of characters as well. Where's the fun of writing a character who is always winning or can defeat any challenge and is picture perfect?

How do you handle your characters flaws? And, do you like reading Mary Sue stories?


sarahjayne smythe said...

I loathe Mary Sue/Marty Stu characters. They're flat and one dimensional and beyond annoying. It's hard to connect to cutout, cardboard characters. I like mine to have flaws and be messy.

Unknown said...

Messy characters are always fun to write. They will always turn out unpredictable and different.

Deb Salisbury, Magic Seeker and Mantua-Maker said...

Mary Sues are enough to make me toss any book. :rolleyes:

Great post! I'm linking back to you.

Unknown said...

Thanks Deb, I really hate them aswell. Nobody's perfect so why write a character that is?

Unknown said...

Exactly! They actually have a test for that- where the more points you get, the closer your character is to a Mary Sue. My male protagonist got a -7.

I wonder if that means I'm being too cruel to him...

Unknown said...

I also sometimes wonder if I'm being too cruel to my character, but if I wasn't there wouldn't be any story.

Zoe C. Courtman said...

What a great post. I loved your list - it helps to remember some of them, i.e. that we're curious. That we're liars. Flawed, eccentric, bad-tempered, foul-mouthed, laughing-at-pain -- it all equals one INTERESTING character. Thanks for sharing! said...

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