perfect character

Convincing Characters: The Trouble with Mary Sues

Hey, people, and thanks for reading this Tween Fiction Girl post!  As we writers [and maybe a few readers] know, the plot of a story doesn’t just happen.  It doesn’t just magically manifest itself.  You need characters within the plot to carry out the action that makes the story happen.  The thing is, writing said characters is often a whole lot more difficult than it seems.

One mistake that’s made often occurs when the plot is planned out before the characters.  If you already know what’s going to happen in the story and you develop your characters later, your characters can end up as meaningless tools that carry out whatever actions are necessary for the plot to go on.

This just doesn’t work.  As with in real life, the circumstances are made by the person, not vice versa.  His or her own actions need to further the plot.  That’s a good start to giving each character their own unique personality – if you make it so they only do what they do to keep the plot going, they’ll seem like gears and pulleys in a machine:  you pull the strings, they pull the weight.  This’ll make every character seem the exact same, and they’ll all be equally boring.

On the other hand, it’s possible to get too into the development of a character.  You may have heard the term Mary Sue before.  A Mary Sue is a character that’s too perfect.  The author liked him or her too much, so they turned them into the most annoyingly immaculate person ever.

They’re flawlessly attractive, have an amazing personality, and everyone loves them; except for the villain, who’s almost always featured in said Mary Sue’s traumatic backstory, who hates him or her with a burning passion.  There are several different breeds of Mary Sues:  the charismatic, innocent charmer; the tough, brave, noble, honorable warrior; the tragic, likely orphaned/abandoned hero, and many more.  If you want to protect your characters from Mary-Sue-hood, try running them through this Mary Sue test I discovered on NaNoWriMo last year.

The problem with Mary Sues is, they’re hard to connect with.  You may love the impeccable character you made, but no one else can identify with them.  No one is that perfect.

Why is it so important that your characters follow these guidelines, you ask?  It’s certainly easier to write characters that you love, or make your plot easier to write.  The truth is, readers will hate them.  People like characters that they can understand; characters they can truly identify with.  If your characters are lifeless puppets that are only used to give your plot the push it needs, they aren’t understandable.  If we don’t know enough about them, it’s like trying to get to know a block of wood.

Alternatively, no one can really relate to a character without flaws.  Real people aren’t gods – we all have problems.  It’s what makes us human.  On the other hand, a Mary Sue will seem inhuman, unreachable, too good for this world.  We just can’t sympathize with someone so unrealistic.

The truly perfect character isn’t “perfect” in the Mary Sue sense of the word.  A perfectly written character is realistic.  He or she seems human.  They have problems, but they mean well [some of them, at least].  They have real, varied personalities; every one is different, and they all seem believable.  Follow these steps, and you’re well on your way to writing a book full of the greatest characters imaginable!

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Thanks for reading!  I hope this was helpful!

Summer T