Ah… I wanted to put a nice picture up for this, but most pictures I saw on Google made me cringe, so unfortunately (fortunately for our eye sockets) we’ll have to do without.
But today we’re going to dive into the very strange world of Mary Sues. If for some reason you’re not familiar with what a Mary Sue is, I’ll sum it up bluntly.
Mary Sues (or Gary Stus, cuz we all equal around these parts) are basically characters who are perfect, have no flaws, and are pretty much walking wish-fulfillment with the character depth of a dried-up kiddie pool.
Or in other words, something you don’t want to create under any circumstances.
Mary Sues are notorious for getting out of their problems too easily often due to having things practically handed to them, or because they have such universe-shifting powers that bad guys should pretty much not even bother. They’re also notorious for getting the hottest girl or guy *coughcoughBellaSwancough*, and getting pretty much everything that they want.
And this makes for very flat writing because a) none of that happens in real-life and b) there’s rarely any conflict in it whatsoever.
If you’ve ever been accused of making Mary Sues as main characters, don’t fret too much. You can still make tweaks to get your MC back on track. And there are some easy fixes to make sure that you don’t create one.
1.) Don’t Base Your MC Too Much From Yourself/ Your Life
Now I’m not saying that your character can’t share some similarities with you. But part of what makes a Mary Sue or Gary Stu what they are is that they come across as grossly self-indulgent or an extension of an author’s ego. They tend to run rampant
This is because when you put too much of your self into your MC something else tends to kick in: the desire to want to be seen in a good light. Naturally, we don’t want others to think that we’re flawed monsters. Especially not strangers!
As a result, the Mary Sue writer will hesitate to give their characters flaws because that flaw seems “too harsh” or “too bad” or that would make people “judge” the character in a way they don’t like. Which is ironic because if your character has no flaw, they’ll just get judged for that.
But in truth, readers don’t want perfection. In fact, perfection tends to get under our skin because nothing on this earth is perfect. Except for maybe Korean BBQ.
Perfect people just don’t make the dumb decisions that our favorite lovable flawed characters do.
2.) Try To Not Have A “Jack-Of-All-Trades”
Don’t get me wrong. Some people out there really are jack-of-all-trades. But a main character should not be one, unless you have a really, really good reason that is supported by their backstory.
But unless your character has been alive since the beginning of time, it’s unlikely that they have mastered every skill that comes up in their journey.
It’s even more unlikely that they’ve mastered numerous skills that require years of book learning and hands-on experience like surgery and kung foo and making swords. One or two really good skills is usually enough. Others can always be picked up along the way.
One character doesn’t have to do it all, nor should they have to. After all, what are all those other side characters standing around for? Let them help save the day too.
3.) Give The Mary Sue A Flaw. No, I Mean A Real Flaw.
This is probably by far the simplest solution to the Mary Sue/ Gary Stu problem. I’ve probably said this so many times before but know the difference between a real flaw and a disadvantage.
Something like being a minority isn’t a flaw, having two exotic-looking eyes that are different colors isn’t a flaw, being clumsy isn’t a flaw *shifty eyes*, nor are disabilities, or being poor. Those don’t affect the personality (directly anyway). Those are disadvantages at most (well some of them anyway) that masquerade as flaws!
Disadvantages are great in making things harder for your characters too, but the problem with them is that personality flaws are what humanize overly good characters and lead them to make mistakes.
People don’t make flawed decisions because they’re in X demographic. They make flawed decisions because irrational insecurities, biases, fears, and flaws lead them to make flawed assumptions and those assumptions lead to bad decisions.
4.) Give Them A Weakness/Secret That Can Be Exploited
There’s a reason superheroes have them. They’d be too powerful and just steamroll over the plot if they didn’t have one. Superman would never get into trouble. Nor would Wonder Woman or Daredevil or whoever your favorite superhero.
Now this doesn’t mean that you have to have something physical like Kryptonite that literally renders their abilities useless. Sometimes the weakness is family and friends. Or past hurts that they don’t want to confront. Or something that could earn them ridicule and shame. Sometimes the flaw can play a part in their weakness.
5.) Clearly Define The Rules And Limitations Of Their Abilities
There’s nothing quite as ripoffish as a character that just slips out of trouble because of some bullshit power that came up last minute with no precursor or foreshadowing whatsoever.
This is something that even big name authors don’t always do. Hell, I still don’t understand the rules of wands and why some things happen in Harry Potter. But Harry Potter doesn’t have too much to worry about in the way of Mary Sues.
Unless you count Cedric Diggory.
If your character does have all-powerful abilities, make them hard to access. Give them limits. Make it cost something dear to them.
Great power should come with great responsibility. And great responsibilities should come with great consequences if they aren’t kept.
And that is why the flawed man in fiction wins every time.