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So how do you write a book where the main charecter isn't a Mary Sue?


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#1 Crazydog7

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Posted 12 September 2008 - 11:51 PM

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Sue for those of you that don't know the reference.

I remember the first time I heard the reference in relation to Wes Crusher anyway its something that came to me while I was trying (and failing) to get into the story of one of the Hornblower books.

Good description but the main character is a know it all jerk to a certain extent. Strange when I started to think about how many books contained characters over the years that were totally perfect and could do no wrong. Feel free to add some of yours

Honor Harrington by David Weber
The Deathlands series by James Axler (and various ghost writers)
That annoying asshole in sword of truth (the main annoying asshole not all the secondary ones)
Don't even get me started on Wheel of Time or S.M Stirling
Any main charecter of Bernard Cornwell's take your pick
Richard Sharp,
Nathaniel Starbuck,
Derfel Cadon
Utred Utredson
Even my own personal favorite right now Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden is not without his moments
I would even add Ford Prefect and Harry Flashmen but they are more or less a parody

I mean don't get me wrong I understand no one would pay for a book where the good guys never won and everyone was a flawed character but sometimes it gets annoying the amount the author will stack the deck in favor of their creation.

But on the other hand isn't that what artists or authors are supposed to do? Now that I've started to really think about witting I realize how hard it is to actually write something that other people want to read.


As for myself most of the time if a story is good I close one eye and pretend not to notice how about the rest of you.

#2 Peadar

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Posted 13 September 2008 - 03:04 AM

As for myself most of the time if a story is good I close one eye and pretend not to notice how about the rest of you.


I close two eyes. Thank goodness for audio-books!

#3 Ran

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Posted 13 September 2008 - 03:19 AM

If you're putting Harry Flashman into the Mary Sue category, your category is way too broad. Personally, for something to be a Mary Sue, an important factor has to be that author is either unaware of it or is aware of it, but is unable or unwilling to deconstruct it.

Edited by Ran, 13 September 2008 - 03:31 AM.


#4 Eloisa

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Posted 13 September 2008 - 05:07 AM

Both Bellis Coldwine and Isaac dan der Grimnebulin score very low marks on the Mary-Sue Litmus Test. Bellis's score is above five due solely to her ability with languages, which I feel is kind of a cop-out. The MSLT's language requirement is intended to show up characters who can just speak practically every language in the world because they're So! Cool!, whereas Bellis is a professional linguist. Isaac, from what I can tell, stays well below five.

Isaac and Bellis are two of the most compelling SFF protagonists I remember reading about over the past few years.

It is, though, a frequent problem in SFF, and I admire Mieville's avoidance of it simply because of the effect of the tropes of the genre. A lot of SFF deals with the movers and shakers of significant events within the world in which they are set. The challenge is to create a character who is, for instance, plausibly charismatic enough to lead an army or a guerilla rebellion without raising the bar in other areas too.

#5 Jerol

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Posted 13 September 2008 - 03:38 PM

Laurell K Hamilton's Anita Blake = Mary Sue
Dan Brown's Robert Langdon = Gary Stu

To avoid this. Give your main character some flaws and faults. Have them make mistakes and not be all-knowing, all-powerful, practically omnipotent beings. It is important that your protagonist does not cause every other desirable character to immediately and irrevocably fall in lust/love/lust with your alter ego. You might not make as much money as Dan Brown but you'll be able to say that you don't suck.

#6 Bellis

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Posted 13 September 2008 - 05:15 PM

That test is brutal. Tyrion Lannister gets over 40 points I think. I'm realizing that I may need to rename one of the characters in my WiP - I didn't consciously pick it that way, but the name sounds a bit like an anagram of mine. Which, although I don't think of her as a Mary Sue, might, combined with her superficial appearance, be enough to turn off a reader as an author stand-in.

#7 Ser Warpechowski

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Posted 13 September 2008 - 06:38 PM

Most of the mainstream books (and there are even fantasy mainstream books) follow the same patterns, and perfect main characters is one of those.

Fortunaly there are some good books where the characters and paterns arent the same, but those are much less know because they are not mainstream material.

Also, we usually get to read books about "perfect" characters because they are the ones that have stories worth of rememberance. If your main character sucked he would die before his story could be developed. Just imagine all the characters that die in the books and how you really wouldnt be able to tell stories about them.

#8 TakLoufer

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Posted 13 September 2008 - 06:59 PM

Ninja Jesus Kellhus got a 116 on the test.

#9 Zap Rowsdower

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Posted 13 September 2008 - 07:17 PM

Ninja Jesus Kellhus got a 116 on the test.


How would Jesus himself score?

#10 Eloisa

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Posted 13 September 2008 - 07:20 PM

Jesus scores very, very highly. (My sister put him through it a while ago.) I haven't actually tried Dany through it yet; I wonder if she scores higher than Jesus?

#11 Gigei

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Posted 13 September 2008 - 08:11 PM

It is important that your protagonist does not cause every other desirable character to immediately and irrevocably fall in lust/love/lust with your alter ego.


This is the one thing I must insist on when I am reading. I don't care how beautiful the character is, it's still annoying when every single person falls in love with her/him (even including the gay characters!). Guy Gabriev Kay, I'm looking at you.

#12 L'Sana

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Posted 13 September 2008 - 11:27 PM

There are two things I can think of which would help prevent the Mary Sue virus from infecting your characters:

1. Giving your character some flaws is good, but not enough. To quote the Hero roleplaying system: "A LIMITATION WHICH DOESN'T ACTUALLY LIMIT YOUR HERO IS NOT A LIMITATION." In other words, an inability to play the banjo is not a handicap unless banjo music plays a major part in your story. If your character can't walk, this isn't a limitation if he can fly. The old, "He's too loyal to his friends" is not a flaw unless serious and usually tragic consequences come out of this.

2. Your secondary characters need to have lives and motivations that do not relate to your hero. Random townsperson #6 is not going to do whatever your hero wants just because he says so. His friends might drop everything to come to his aid, but even they don't exist just to serve him. This can be tricky, since obviously your story is about your hero and most of the interactions with the other characters will be related to his quest, but you have to convince the readers that these secondary characters do have lives and interests and don't just sit around saying, "Wow, Ace Rimmer! What a guy!"

#13 TakLoufer

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Posted 13 September 2008 - 11:32 PM

Smoke me a kipper, I'll be back for breakfast.

#14 Knight of the Wineskin

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Posted 14 September 2008 - 12:09 AM

I mean don't get me wrong I understand no one would pay for a book where the good guys never won and everyone was a flawed character but sometimes it gets annoying the amount the author will stack the deck in favor of their creation.


Didn't Feast for Crows make the top 10 bestseller list? Even Tyrion, who's kind of an author favorite, suffers plenty and is wrong fairly often.

#15 Crazydog7

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Posted 14 September 2008 - 12:38 AM

Laurell K Hamilton's Anita Blake = Mary Sue
Dan Brown's Robert Langdon = Gary Stu


Holy shit I had totally forgotten about Anita Blake.

#16 lockesnow

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Posted 14 September 2008 - 02:26 AM

to answer the thread topic question: Don't write what you know.

:D

#17 Korr

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Posted 14 September 2008 - 02:41 AM

What I like to do in my books is to construct characters that are either diametric opposites of me, doing and saying things that I wouldn't in a million years, or extreme exaggerations of certain qualities which -- in them -- turn into both motivations and flaws.

I'd say that Paul Atreides is another character that would rank pretty high on the test without deserving it.

Regards,
Ryan

#18 Eloisa

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Posted 14 September 2008 - 05:09 AM

I know I pimped the MSLT, but it isn't the be-all and end-all. Treatment counts for a lot. I just put a couple of my characters through it - the one who "feels" like a Mary-Sue to my beta reader got 12, and the one who doesn't "feel" like one got 30 after I'd unticked a couple of boxes in the "languages" question (because practically everyone where she comes from is trilingual) and taken off the APD one (because of some concern about APD's cultural relevance).

Even when dealing with movers and shakers, who tend to score highly by nature, simple flaws aren't sufficient for the MSLT or the story. A "flaw", whether trivial or deep-seated, should lead to some serious trouble, e.g. Ned Stark's honesty.

(Assuming R+L=J and Dany=PWWP, Jon gets 34, Dany gets 55 and Jesus gets 67... all those extra points for resurrection really bite, and I still don't know whether I should have put the three dragons down as one cool pet or three.)

#19 Bastard of Godsgrace

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Posted 14 September 2008 - 07:16 AM

Well, I got 54 for friggin' Thomas Covenant which does seem to imply this test is dumb. ;)

#20 Prince Lotor

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Posted 14 September 2008 - 07:31 AM

(Assuming R+L=J and Dany=PWWP, Jon gets 34, Dany gets 55 and Jesus gets 67... all those extra points for resurrection really bite, and I still don't know whether I should have put the three dragons down as one cool pet or three.)


Either I was being overly cynical or maybe I should have just stuck to the Gospels/Acts (or both or . . .), but when I ran Jesus through the MSLT it rang up a score of 128!