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Author Resource Round Table > Avoiding the Mary Sue

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message 1: by Kay (new)

Kay Botha | 14 comments Excuse me if I'm posting in the wrong place :p So in the near future I plan on writing a realistic YA for normal teenagers. It wont be about romance, or magic, or vampires, but about finding yourself through all the terrifying experiences of growing up. I plan on using some of my own experiences in the novel, so that its as realistic as possible and teenagers can relate, but in doing so I want to avoid turning my protagonist into a carbon copy of myself. Advice?


message 2: by Shomeret (new)

Shomeret | 138 comments The definition of Mary Sue is a protagonist who is an idealized representation of the author who has no flaws. I don't think this will be a problem in the realistic sort of novel that you plan to write.


message 3: by Kay (new)

Kay Botha | 14 comments Thank you. My protagonist will have a handful of flaws. Its what makes characters interesting for me.


message 4: by Dwayne (new)

Dwayne Fry | 349 comments Kay wrote: "...but in doing so I want to avoid turning my protagonist into a carbon copy of myself. Advice? "

To keep a character from being a carbon copy of yourself, you would just write a character that does not resemble you. Make changes in as many ways as you can think. You can make changes in superficial ways, such as hair color and style, skin tone, height, weight, gender, etc. You can also give the character different beliefs and values from your own, such as religious beliefs, political opinions, ethical and moral code. There are probably thousands of things you can do with a character to make him / her not like yourself.

To avoid a Mary Sue character, give the character some flaws. It's really that simple.


message 5: by Yzabel (new)

Yzabel Ginsberg (yzabelginsberg) | 262 comments Give the character some flaws, but REAL ones, not those half-arsed "flaws" too many YA protagonists display. Example: "clumsy". When you think about it twice, you realise it's basically all there's to the so-called flaws, because the girl's still beautiful without acknowledging it, all the boys around still fall in love with her although she's supposed to be "the wallflower nobody ever notices", etc.

So yeah, realistic flaws, that a real person would have. Strong-headed people can quickly turn into too stubborn for their own good; low self-esteem can easily lead to passing up on opportunities because you think you don't deserve them; and so on.

Generally speaking, there'll always be something of yourself in a character or simply in the story as a whole. This isn't the actual problem. (Philip Roth, for instance, writes a lot about people who share traits/experiences with him, like his Nathan Zuckerman character... and it's not a problem.) The important part is for this "something" not to be seen as a self-insert, as if you, the author, were pouring everything into the character because you wished you had had his/her life. That's one of the things that tend to make a protagonist veer into Mary Sue territory.


message 6: by Kay (new)

Kay Botha | 14 comments Yzabel wrote: "Give the character some flaws, but REAL ones, not those half-arsed "flaws" too many YA protagonists display. Example: "clumsy". When you think about it twice, you realise it's basically all there's..."

Totally agree, thank you.


message 7: by Lenita (new)

Lenita Sheridan | 1010 comments A beautiful girl could be a "wallflower" if she's extremely shy. The boys would be too scared to ask her out, afraid she'd say "no."


message 8: by Brenda (new)

Brenda Clough (brendaclough) | 361 comments Also, it becomes a Mary Sue if the tribulations the character faces are not real, or collapse too easily. Ooh, worldwide conflagration? But she resolves it in ten pages, no prob. Well yeah, there is a problem.


message 9: by J.D. (new)

J.D. Kaplan | 140 comments Well, crap. The main character of my next novel was going to be named Mary Sue. Back to the drawing board.


message 10: by Brenda (new)

Brenda Clough (brendaclough) | 361 comments Always -- always! put the name of your main characters into google. You want to know, if someone with your hero's name has just bee indicted for having sex with weasels in Peru. Also, google on every name or term you make up. (Yeah, George Lucas, looking at you. Autocorrect would have gotten you midichlorians from your mitichlorians, and then you woulda learned something.) You cannnot knkow everything. But with a search engine you can come damn close.


message 11: by Kay (new)

Kay Botha | 14 comments Google is my best friend when writing a novel.


message 12: by Janelovering (last edited May 04, 2015 12:09PM) (new)

Janelovering | 52 comments Of course, if you're writing fantasy you have to beware of the Mary Sue type of heroine who always develops THE most FANTASTIC powers, just when they are needed, and who is always the MOST FANTASTICEST OF FANTASTICALLY GIFTED among others with special powers. Your book sounds as though it's too realistic to fall into this trap, but you'd be surprised how many 'ordinary' heroines suddenly discover that they have ALL of the powers, right at the exact moment they need to have them. Without any prior warning, too...


message 13: by Kay (new)

Kay Botha | 14 comments My heroine is a clinically depressed, clingy fifteen year old who has to move in with her no-nonsense aunt, and has a crush on someone who will never look at her twice. It's going to be a cynical comedy without any cliche YA twists, and a realistic, albeit happy ending. I want to write a character that a kid can look at and maybe say, "Hey, there's hope for me."


message 14: by Brandon (last edited May 04, 2015 12:21PM) (new)

Brandon Varnell Avoiding Mary-sueness is actually really easy.

A Mary-Sue is a perfect character, someone who has no flaws, always makes the right choice, and always gets their way even when they shouldn't have. To avoid this, all you need to do is give the character some flaws that keep them from being perfect.

A good example would be making a character extremely headstrong. Perhaps you have a female MC who always thinks she's right, who stubbornly refuses to listen when others tell her that she is wrong. She goes on thinking this way until reality smacks her in the face, forcing her to reevaluate all of her choices up to that point. Stubbornness is always a good flaw for a character to have because a lot of people can be stubborn in real life.

It's also not a fake flaw like someone who is "clumsy" which is often what people give female MC's to make them "seem" flawed, until you realize that the MC's love interest thinks her clumsiness is really cute.


message 15: by Shomeret (new)

Shomeret | 138 comments Re extremely headstrong-- You don't want your protagonist labeled TSTL (Too Stupid To Live). Someone who survives while always making the wrong decisions also isn't believable.


message 16: by Brandon (new)

Brandon Varnell Shomeret wrote: "Re extremely headstrong-- You don't want your protagonist labeled TSTL (Too Stupid To Live). Someone who survives while always making the wrong decisions also isn't believable."

Naturally, but a headstrong character who ends up getting in over their head because they were stubborn and has to be saved by someone else is not only a good way to keep characters from being Mary-Sue, but also allows for good character development. And I consider headstrong and TSTL to be two completely different issues.


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