Question 29: Avoiding the "Mary Sue"

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Kayla5678go asks: How do you avoid creating a Mary Sue character? I feel like most of my characters are Mary Sues but I have no idea how to tell or how to prevent it.

"Mary Sue" refers to a type of character: A girl who is unrealistically perfect - usually beautiful or exotic-looking, nice to everyone, and is way too skilled at everything she does. She's kind, and smart, and athletic, and popular, and pretty much everyone wants to be her or be with her. She's that girl (or guy) that we all wish we could be.

And sometimes we create such a character out of a secret desire to pretend that we are.

It's okay. We are flawed human beings, all striving or wishing to be better. Don't chastise yourself for creating such a character.

The problem with a Mary Sue character is she's too perfect. She doesn't seem real. As readers, we can't really relate to her, and when we can't relate, we find it difficult to care what happens.

The first step in correcting the problem is recognizing it in the first place. If my description of a Mary Sue seems to fit one of your characters, you can still fix it. How? By removing some of the perfection. If you really want her to be smart and beautiful, then make her clumsy or paranoid. Or if want her to be talented at singing, then make her terrible at math. Or if you want her to be talented at everything, then give her scars or a disability. In other words, offset the perfection by giving her flaws.

Flaws come in all shapes and sizes:

Physical flaws - hair, skin, weight, height, coordination, injuries, etc.

Emotional flaws - self-doubt, depression, difficulty trusting people, angry at parents, etc.

Developmental flaws - lack of manners, can't cook, never learned how to interact with people, etc.

Such flaws give a character extra personality. They have things working against them, just  like we do. And when they succeed in the story despite these setbacks, we like them all the more for it.

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