‘Sue Me

Hey everyone. Just so you all know, I’m now going to be posting on Wednesdays, and Rie is going to post on Saturdays. It just works better for us this way. This will be my last Saturday post (because I already had it half-finished by the time that decision was made).

NOTE: When I refer to Mary Sues as female, it’s just because it’s easier. You can easily apply this to Gary Stus.

When you talk about Mary Sues, you tend to think of the typical “I’m good at everything and have no flaws” Mary Sue. The tall, blonde beauty who is top of her class without trying, head of every single school club (except for the “stupid” or “lame” ones), is Prom Queen, and is liked by everyone (anyone who dislikes her is automatically Evil). Her only problem is that she’s so beautiful everyone either wants to have sex with her or they hate her because she’s more beautiful than they are. Doesn’t life suck? (sarcasm)

This isn’t the only type of Mary Sue out there. Another ‘Sue I’ve seen cropping up more and more frequently is sort of like an anti-Sue. She’s unpopular (what is usually called antisocial or misunderstood), dark, moody, angsty, a “rebel,” and glorifies all the things that are, in reality, BAD (like smoking; excessive drinking; excessive, unprotected, often impractical or physically impossible sex; vandalism; theft; arson; etc.). However, the Anti-Sue has some things in common with the typical Mary Sue. She is always gorgeous (though tends to dress in gothic, punk, or sloppy clothes, rather than “popular” or normal clothes). She is extremely intelligent (supposedly; I find they are really just as dumb as every other Sue). She is talented at everything. Both Mary Sue and Anti-Sue turn every social group not their own into the token Evil group. In addition to all this, neither Sue suffers any consequences for their actions.

These are the two types of Mary Sues that I’m referring to when I write this post: Mary Sue and Anti Sue.

Taken as is, these characters deserve nothing less than to have the paper they were written on burned and the ashes set adrift in space. However, with some work, they can be salvaged. Let’s look again at some Sue traits.

  • Beautiful
  • Intelligent
  • Talented
  • Popular (Mary)
  • Antisocial/Misunderstood/Unpopular (Anti)
  • Rebellious (Anti)
  • Moody/Angsty (usually Anti, but can be Mary)

Are these traits necessarily bad? No. Not at all. There is nothing wrong with using these traits. If we avoided them at all costs, then all our stories would be filled with plain, mediocre characters who simply blend into the background; they would become forgettable. Being beautiful, intelligent, or talented are things that add to who your characters are. The important thing is for your characters to exist apart from the qualities that define them. There is far more to a character than just being beautiful and just being talented.

Take a look at Harry Potter. He was talented, fairly popular, went through his antisocial periods, and was angsting throughout the whole fifth book. Does this make him a Gary Stu? No. Why? Because he was more than those things; he also had balance. He was talented, but he couldn’t do everything. He was popular, but not always and not with everyone. He angsted and made mistakes, and he suffered consequences for it. He had balance.

It follows, then, that a Mary Sue could be rewritten and de-Sued. Here are some tips that can help you steer in the right direction if you find yourself writing a Sue.

  • Beautiful – Don’t over-emphasize this; it’s not usually important. And don’t throw it in other characters’ faces. It is a passing quality. (It usually helps, too, if she’s not the most gorgeous woman in the world; give her flaws, but don’t agonize over them. Just make her at least a little normal.)
  • Intelligent – Your character is not all-knowing. Give her a good general knowledge and a more specialized knowledge in one (maybe two) areas. DO NOT let your character magically know everything about everything.
  • Talented – Same as Intelligence. Have one or two areas of expertise, but your character is NOT magically good at everything. It’s not possible for a master seamstress to have the time or inclination to become a master swordswoman, and vice versa.
  • Popular – Popularity is not inherently bad. Your characters can be popular. just remember that not everyone will like them. And not liking your character does NOT make those other characters evil. The people who aren’t particularly fond of you aren’t bad people. Understand all your characters, not just your main characters.
  • Unpopular – Being unpopular and antisocial is not something that you should glorify overly much. You CAN have an unpopular main character, but you shouldn’t be demonizing all of the characters who aren’t in your clique of unpopular kids. As above, understand all your characters, not just the main character.
  • Rebellious – A little rebellion is good. It’s boring if your character just does what she’s told. So, allow her to think for herself, to break some rules when she feels it’s necessary, but give her some common sense. Do you break rules just for the sake of breaking rules? No. Neither should your character. (What would have happened if Katniss had simply followed all the rules in District 12 in The Hunger Games? She and her family would be dead.) It’s just as annoying for your character to break ALL the rules as it is for her to break no rules at all, though.
  • Moody/Angsty – Now, I definitely am not a fan of this one. I hate angsty characters with a passion (yes, I hated Angsty Harry too). But there are people who don’t mind a little angst, especially if it’s justified. If your character has some outside force that triggers the angst (such as having her entire family killed in front of her…or having all her friends call her names and make fun of her for the next month or two), then we’ll sympathize and not mind the angsting. It’s important to give your character a reason to angst, and also to make sure that the reason is something that will make the reader sympathize. If your character bemoans her existence and cuts herself because her fatally injured sister is getting more attention than she is…we’ll want to kill her. ._.

There are, of course, far more kinds of Mary Sues than just these two, and there are more specific qualities to fix and temper. Hopefully, this is going to help you be more aware of any borderline Sues in your writing and give you hope that your precious charrie can be saved.

Happy writing, all. I’ll see you on Wednesday. 🙂

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