Friday, December 04, 2009

Is your Special Character TOO Special?

Is your Special Character

Are you indulging in a few too many "special traits"? Is your story really an excuse to show off your Super Special Character? Is your story really an excuse to BE a Super Special Character?

Are you committing a MARY-SUE/GARY STUE?!
Dead give-away: Your favorite character is YOU only BETTER!

Who is Mary Sue/Gary Stue?

According to
“Mary Sue / Gary Stue is any original or deeply altered character who represents a slice of their creator's own ego; they are treasured by their creator but only rarely by anyone else. A Mary Sue/Gary Stue is a primadonna (usually, but not always badly-written,) who saps life and realism out of every other character around, taking over the plot and bending canon to serve their selfish purposes.”
-- For more details:

The Mary Sue/Gary Stue “Self-Insertion” in Fan-fiction:
According to
“The Mary Sue [Gary Stue], as someone said, is the highest form of fannish devotion to a series. You like it so much you want to come play in it yourself. Most fan writers are content to do this by sneaking in under cover of one of the canon characters.

Slipping on my Hakkai mask, I jump in the jeep and set out for the west with Sanzou and the guyz, pretending all along that it's Hakkai telling the story I'm writing and not me at all.

Havers. *Of course* it's me and not Hakkai…”
-- For more details:····ndex.htm

Too many Special traits spoil the Character
While not every "super-special!!!" character is actually a Mary-Sue/Gary Stue, they fall under the same rules because when one makes a "larger than life" character, they tend to be unbalanced and quite frankly, no fun to read. Think Superman without Kryptonite. When you have a character that never loses, you might as well write:

• Hero meets bad-guy.
• They fight.
• Hero wins. The end.

Where’s the fun in that? Where’s the challenge? Where’s the surprise? Where’s the suffering?

This is also known as Godmoding.

According to Burning Dumpster:
Godmoding: “Take the Mary Poppins slogan "Practically Perfect in Every Way" and remove the 'practically'. They're perfect little characters with no real flaws that can do whatever the hell they like. No one can contradict them or oppose them because they're always right. In fan-fiction, they're boring. In PBEM, they are a royal pain in the ass. Also known as an ‘avatar’.”
-- For more details:

How many ‘special’ traits does YOUR pet character have?
Let’s find out!

Take this test:····sue.html

Despite all this, God-mode Mary Sue/Gary Stue characters AREN’T necessarily a bad thing. In fact, Mary Sue/Gary Stue is an excellent way for a beginning writer to experiment with story-telling. In fact, it’s the most common way a writer begins writing anything at all.

Key word: Begin -- not End.

God-mode, Mary Sue/Gary Stue (especially under the thin veneer of a favorite Manga character) only becomes a problem when one posts them on the Fan-Fiction sites where Readers can see them and Flame them for being too unbelievably perfect to identify with and/or too Out of Character (OOC).

So what do you do to keep your characters from falling into the black hole of Mary Sue/Gary Stue-ism?

Exercise your experience - but don’t fall in!
A Story is nothing without good strong characters, but if you can’t use yourself, how do you write about the feelings of someone else? You Empathize -- you recall how you felt under similar circumstances -- but you don’t BECOME that character.


The Lost Boys:
Michael is watching the girl of his dreams climb onto another guy’s motorcycle. She doesn't look happy about it, but she does it anyway.

The other guy, David turns to Michael and invites him to come along.

Michel’s motorcycle is only a dirt bike. There’s no way in hell his bike can surpass David’s.

David smiles. "You don't have to beat me. You just have to keep up."
What is Michael feeling through all this?

The Matrix:
Neo has just received a Fed Ex package with a cell phone in it. He's looking at it when it starts to ring in his hand. He answers it.

"Neo, this is Morpheus. You have to get out of there. Now."
What is Neo feeling through all this?

Michael has had one hell of a day. There was a shooting at the train station, and crap at his hospital job, and then when he goes home, he finds a really beautiful and incredibly strong girl who immediately tries to strangle him in his apartment.

Moments later, he's running for his life from things galloping after him on the walls and ceiling. He escapes into an elevator and the door closes. Then it opens.

A guy he's never seen before in his life smiles and says: "Hello Michael." Suddenly, bullets rip into the guy right in front of him. The guy falls forward onto Michel and bites him.

Out of nowhere, the strong girl comes back and drags the weird guy off of him.

The weird guy bursts into laughter.
What is Michael feeling through all this?

Making the Characters work WITH the Plot.

There are roughly three essential characters in every story:

• A Protagonist with character traits designed to work AGAINST the plot.
• A Sidekick to add complications and make matters worse.
• A Villain that the hero absolutely Cannot beat when the hero first enters the fray.

The hero and the villain should change and develop as the story progresses to allow the hero a toe-hold chance, and no more, to win. The rest of the cast may or may not have personal growth, but the hero and the villain must. This is where dramatic tension is generated.

Changing takes suffering. Both the hero and the villain should suffer emotionally and physically to allow for their personal changes. Think about how hard it is for YOU to change your mind about something important to you. That's the level of suffering you need.

If this seems a little formulaic, remember, it’s not what you HAVE it’s what you DO with it.

Let’s look at two different movies:

The Matrix -- Urban Fantasy
A Protagonist with character traits designed to work AGAINST the plot.
Neo is a quiet computer hacker. He deals in facts, not fantasy. He's not an action kind of guy, but everyone thinks he's supposed to save the world. He thinks they're wrong.

A sidekick to add complications and make matters worse.
Both Morpheus and Trinity believe in him, to the point that they keep risking their lives so he has to keep saving them.

A Villain that the hero absolutely Cannot beat when the hero first enters the fray.
The Matrix is a sentient mega-verse. Mr. Smith is a replicating Virus. Both are bound and determined to keep all of humanity deaf, dumb, and blind to what’s being done to them.

The Lost Boys – Vampire
A Protagonist with character traits designed to work AGAINST the plot.
Michael desperately wants to fit in with a motorcycle gang that rules the entire town because he likes the girl that hangs with them. Michael does not believe in Vampires.

• A sidekick to add complications and make matters worse.
Michael has a nosy younger brother who is terrified of vampires.

• A Villain that the hero absolutely Cannot beat when the hero first enters the fray.
Michael absolutely positively cannot defeat an entire gang of Vampires.

In Conclusion…
Make your Characters part of your story, not the Excuse for your story. Give them pain, give them heartache, and make them face their fears. Anything less cheats the reader out of some good healthy angst!


Morgan Hawke

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the post.
    Another helpful one.
    The online test is also great.
    At least my first character passed the test with flying colors. Lots of Angst and Mom hates him.
    Three posts in a month and nothing for months before.
    Does this mean we can expect to see another morgan Hawke book out soon?
    Hpe so.
    Read all the others. LOL