“There’s nothing more boring than a perfect heroine!”
You’ve likely heard of this term before–I’m sure it’s been written about to death, but here’s my take. A Mary Sue is a female fictional character given a plethora of boons without many (or any) flaws. They come off as flat characters without much potential for growth. A Mary Sue (or Gary Stu for the male counterpart) are often author pets, and the plot or other actors may bend around the needs and wants of a Sue. A figure of this caliber is often unrealistic, as most humans are flawed, and this makes relating to a Sue or Stu difficult. It is vital in fiction to create a character relatable to your audience. This draws readers in and generates sympathy and a sense of kinship with a fictional hero. Here is an excellent article on Mary Sue traits.
You can garner interest within a character by giving a flaw or two. It could be a personality shortcoming like a short temper or a technical inability to perform an action. Whatever it is, have your characters struggle with it throughout the plot. Give depth to your characters’ flaws and weave it into their evolution. Don’t overburden your characters with defects. Otherwise, they may come off as incompetent actors who can’t move the plot at all.
Here’s a website for testing a character for Mary Sue traits. There are many other types of tests available, but here’s the first I found on a Google search.
While it’s okay if your character has some of these Sue qualities, try to keep the amount moderate. Some authors believe that Mary Sues can have a role in a story. While this can be true for side characters, your main actors should be the most interesting ones; if a Mary Sue serves a purpose for the protagonists or the plot, then it should be fine as long as it’s done correctly.
Here are some ways to add depth to a character:
- Play against traditional norms. Give your protagonist a unique quality that sets them apart, but doesn’t raise them up on a pedestal.
- Seed secrets within secrets. Utilize thoughts or dreams to evoke intimacy within a reader.
- Even if your characters are incompetent, give them agency. Have them act upon the plot and move mountains, figuratively or literally.
- Switch narratives. Have multiples main characters each with their own perspective. This adds depth to the plot and its actors. It may even sharpen one of your conflicts.
- Have protagonists relate to other characters and build trust gradually. This goes with the above tip, but trust does not happen quickly, sometimes not at all. If you find your protagonist garners a lot of respect and admiration from other actors for little to no reason, you may want to reconsider.
All in all, a Mary Sue can seem subjective to some, but there are hard guidelines to follow that help an author avoid this character pitfall. Be sure to get the opinion of multiple types of readers with different perspectives to ensure your character is as it should be.
Thank you for reading. Love and gratitude to my readers! 🙂
This post may prove nerdier than others, but I feel it is essential to the character creation process.
As in video games, specifically RPGs or tabletops like D&D, a character in a story has a given set of attributes. These parameters define what the actor is good at, what he or she may fail at, and perhaps unique modifiers that make the protagonist unique from others. This system is an excellent method to help a character jump from the page by giving them atypical handicaps that other individuals in a setting take for granted.
Anyway, back to RPGs. First, define what kind of a character, or class, the actor is. Take your stereotypical warrior: they (usually) have high physical prowess and resilience to trauma. Warriors may not specialize in other fields of ability like magic or stealth, but they have their toolbox of skills to make up for it. Characters like this fit a niche in a company of heroes, whereas others party members address their shortcomings. Having one protagonist do all the work often comes off as lazy and boring. Give your character(s) a challenge that pushes them to their limits.
As a character progresses through a story, they level up or gain additional attributes. With games, the hero adds new parameters to their character sheet. In a novel, leveling up is more subtle. The author may demonstrate this as a character acquiring a new artifact/weapon for study, graduating military school, or finishing a spellbook. Regardless of what it is, the development of new experience alters the character’s worldview and the way they handle problems. A rookie fighter may view a few brigands with horror, while a veteran would lean towards courage and confidence. This system of progression enhances characters and leaves a player or reader with a greater sense of appreciation by the end of the story. Typically, characters begin with little to no experience and graduate to seasoned fighters by the end of the plot.
There are exceptions, but player/readers always love to see a no-body rise to greatness. The farmer hero trope is heavily used in fantasy settings, but it still works well. My main OC of Ethereal Seals starts out as a farm girl who trains into a knight by the end of the story, yet she fails at some tasks that others take for granted. There are endless variations to this trope, and putting your own spin on it will only help it stand out.
Thanks for reading. Much love and gratitude to my readers! 🙂
Tarie Beyworth is a secondary protagonist in Ethereal Seals. He is a short blond youth in his early twenties. As an orphan of a church, Tarie is schooled in the ways of the mind and soul, rather than the body. He is a meek and genial person who supports the main heroine, Pepper Slyhart. Other than his timid nature, his greatest obstacle is acknowledging his dark past and his late parents, though he has yet to forgive and forget his sorrow.
Through the contrasting attributes of Pepper, Tarie accrues wisdom and inner strength. Pepper’s emotional and fierce mien challenges Tarie, invoking his faint childhood memories and spurring growth to his character. The two transition from friends to lovers and the stakes rise higher. Tarie weighs his confined life in the abbey against Pepper, now unsure of his traditional complacencies. Friction develops between home and his love, and Tarie arrives at a crossroads, unable to choose both his adopted family and Pepper.
Tarie comes to a startling realization about the main antagonist and his dead family. Like Pepper, he inherits a family artifact, which scales in power relative to his ability to accept and forgive himself. His worldview twists around, and he faces the residue inner demons that plague him. Tarie regards Pepper more than a friend and his lover but like his twin soul, destined to help Atlas recover from its morbid age of decay. After traveling with the redhead, Tarie unexpectedly and uncontrollably parts ways with her, facing his own quest and aiding Pepper from afar. He matures into an independent youth later, with his heart forged and renewed, destined to reunite with his love and end the madness on Atlas.
Thank you for reading this short reflective essay! I hope you enjoyed it. 🙂
Have a comment or question? Leave it in the feedback section below, thanks.
Pepper Slyhart is the main protagonist of my series, Ethereal Seals. She’s a young red-haired woman in her early twenties. With her sheltered lifestyle, Pepper begins as naive and short-tempered. As a farmer’s daughter, Pepper is athletic and physically capable of holding her own. She is a robust and reasonable woman who ventures into a broad world of mystery and danger. Her greatest opponents are her emotions, reflected by her draconic curse.
The warrior-woman story is one less visited. It is different and challenging because it twists the typical narrative of gender roles. I created Tarie Beyworth, her traveling companion, a secondary protagonist, and Pepper’s love interest. Instead of the man driving the story, I reversed the roles. While Pepper is emotional and insecure, Tarie is moderate and self-assured. Their polar opposites complement each other and allow both characters to grow from the other.
As the story progresses, Pepper learns more about the spiritual path from Tarie and her spiritual guides. This is symbolic of both the divine masculine with the divine feminine, going by new age terms. Pepper cultivates humility, patience, love, and gratitude as she grows. She treats her foes differently, gracing them with words of compassion and the steel of her sword if need be.
Tarie also discovers his own inner insights, but that’s an essay for another time. 🙂
As a male author, developing Pepper on this path has been a challenge. I can safely say I know little about it, but I continuously strive to improve her and Tarie, with feedback from both men and women alike. Although I feel I should have been born a female myself, this gives me a chance to have my own children in a fictional sense, with Pepper as my daughter, but I digress.
I hope you enjoyed this short reflective article. Thank you for reading. 🙂