How to Avoid Mary Sues
Mary Sues are the bane of readers and writers alike. They’re perfect characters who are so annoying, they don’t even realize how annoying they are.
The Mary Sue
This is the most perfect of perfect characters. They’re annoying because they’re flawless and have absolutely nothing for the reader to relate to. These are some common traits of one:
- Clumsiness is her only “flaw”. Clumsiness isn’t a flaw. Being selfish is a flaw. Clumsiness is just one of those traits that beginning authors think is a flaw, but it totally isn’t.
- There are multiple boys fawning over her. Sues are very good at having characters fall in love with them. Sometimes, they don’t even notice that there are five dudes willing to take a bullet for her.
- Her name is ridiculous. In a world where everyone’s named Bill and John or Rachel and Liz, the sue has a name like Ebony Dark’ness Dementia Raven Way.
- She’s fantastic at everything she does. It doesn’t matter if she only picked up a sword for the first time five minutes ago, she’s a master and can take down even the most skilled swordsman without even trying.
- Her unnatural hair and eye colors are natural. Blue hair that reaches her ankles but never tangles and eyes that change color (but are normally purple) are sure signs that the character at least looks like a Sue.
- Being as awesome is such a burden. Sometimes, Sues realize how amazing and awesome they are and think it just sucks to be them. And then they complain about it. And it’s annoying.
The anti-sue is actually a different breed of Sue that has only come around recently. They’re basically the exact opposite of the traditional Mary Sue.
- She’s bad at everything. It doesn’t matter if it’s swordplay or walking, an Anti-Sue will screw up everything.
- She’s ugly. Or at least they think they are. (Note: having an ugly character is NOT a bad thing.) Whereas the Mary Sue was beautiful and perfect, the Anti-Sue is not.
- Everything hates her. Whether it’s people or animals or inanimate objects, everything in the entire universe seems to be out for blood when it comes to the Anti-Sue.
- No one will love her. She’s never had a boyfriend or been on a date, and she doesn’t expect to because no one in their right mind would go out with someone as ugly and poorly-coordinated as she is.
So Mary Sues and Anti-Sues are bad, and that’s only the very tip of the iceberg when it comes to them. There are hundreds of traits that Sues commonly have, all I did was pull out the most heinous of the Mary Sue crimes.
How can you keep your character from becoming a Sue?
- Balance. Every character must have a balance of good and bad. Yes, she’s allowed to be an awesome swordswoman, but she’s also got to have a bad trait. Maybe your character isn’t pretty, maybe she’s greedy, maybe she’s a compulsive liar. Whatever you choose, they need to balance each other out.
- Understand the world you’re writing in. If your character is a high school student and your story takes place in a high school, know what average high school students are like. Give her a name and appearance that easily fits into the setting you’ve chosen.
- Make other characters react to her differently. All characters have a different personality, and some will like your character and others won’t. It shouldn’t be 100% love or hate.
- Not everything should come easily for her. Readers love watching characters try, and we love watching them work toward a goal and slowly but surely reach it. If the Holy Grail just falls into your character’s lap, there’s nothing keeping us interested.
Note to the social justice bloggers: I know I only referred to Mary Sues as being female. I know there are also Gary Stus who are just as bad. The reason I did this was for the sake of brevity. I am not trying to be sexist.