Is he a Mary Sue?

2 years ago | TheAdamBo (Member)

I've been thinking about one of my older characters lately, and I can't help but wonder if I accidentally created a Mary Sue. It's too late to do anything about it since the book's already out, but maybe I can improve things for the sequel (which I'm writing now) And I'm not sure if I, as the author, can really be objective about it. So, based on just his basic characteristics, what do you guys think?

He's a 19 year old genius, working on an invention that even the world's greatest inventor (who he's studying under) is impressed by. I tried to use his intelligence all through the story, like when he learns to fight he views the battle as a puzzle where using the right moves and attacks and predicting what his enemy would do would "solve" the puzzle and he'd win. He only trains for about a month, but because of his creativity and the powers he acquires, he's able to take on whole crowds of people and, while not win, he can at least hold them off until he can escape. Though, in his defense, he was also trained by someone with superstrength, so he either had to learn fast or get walloped repeatedly. He also figures things out that other people can't, and in the end is the one who solves the mystery. Again though, in his defense he's not all powerful. He needs superpowered partner/mentor because even though he's a genius and a skilled fighter, there are still somethings that are completely out of his league.

What do you think?

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Page: 12


  1. Tartra (Member)

    Posted 2 years ago

    Is he boring?

    Because you brought up a lot of points that say to me, "This character sounds very much like a Mary Sue," and utterly none for, "This is a bad thing."

    Tony Stark's a Mary Sue. Batman is a darker Mary Sue. Hell, Starlord and Luke Skywalker and Hermione Granger and Sarah Kerrigan and Iildan and every single character you play in a FPS or some RP is a Mary Sue. They always ultimately win, they stack the odds so heavily in their favour for every scenario by being either inexplicably prepared or inexplicably talented, they end up getting whatever they want OR ever-so-conveniently changing what they wanted in the first place so it looks like they never suffered a defeat (Of course we weren't going to hook up! She's my sister (now)! That'd be gross!), and they're always the only one able to be trusted with a certain power or responsibility even when at times it looks like they really shouldn't be (but hey, it just so turns out that the impulsive, alcoholic billionaire really IS the safest choice for these robot death-suits).

    So if you're asking, you're nervous that someone's going to call you out for the guy being a Mary Sue, and you're only nervous because you don't trust yourself to say, "So what?" So - is it 'cause your guy's boring? Is he breaking the rules so much that it's breaking your plot? Is being a Mary Sue at all detrimental to the entertainment of your story? Because if it's not, then even if your character IS a Mary Sue, why would you change what's working?

    And if it's not working, then you need to change it anyway, Mary Sue-ness be damned.

    The Other Kind of Roommate — Like Fight Club meets X-Men meets The Matrix meets Superbad.
  2. ubersoft (Member)

    Posted 2 years ago

    The last time Mary Sue was brought up in this forum someone (and I don't remember who, I wish I did so I could provide proper attribution) made the point that Mary Sues aren't Mary Sues because they're always awesome - it's because their victories don't feel earned.

    Tony Stark isn't a Mary Sue because he's a colossal screwup - we love how he screws up because he's so entertaining when he does it, but he makes lots of bad decisions that he has to work through. Rey (from The Force Awakens) was accused of being a Mary Sue on the grounds that she could apparently do everything - use the force, shoot, fix and fly the Millennium Falcon - but knowing all that stuff didn't make life easy for her, it just gave her the tools she needed to handle the situations she was in. I was a little aggravated by the breadth of her competence from time to time, but I never felt she was phoning in her attempts to survive.

    So my suggestion, for what it's worth, is to look at it in terms of how much effort the protagonist has to put into winning overall. If he wins spectacularly all the time but he has to put his back into it then if there's a problem, I don't think it's Mary Sue.

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  3. Walter (Member)

    Posted 2 years ago

    'Is he a Mary Sue' is not a useful question. "Face or Heel" is what it is getting at. Will the audience root for, or against him? The audience wants Picard to succeed, Wesley Crusher to fail.

    Readers are twitchy, bucking, halting creatures. They want to root for underdogs, and if your MC is so powerful/skillful/graceful/whatever that the enemy are the underdogs then you'll have this problem.

  4. Tartra (Member)

    Posted 2 years ago

    Mary Sues are also subjective. Tony Stark's victories by and large don't feel earned to me, but one person's Mary Sue is another's totally normal character. It's not a hard and fast line. And like I said, it doesn't necessarily mean they're bad.

    I know the specific term 'Mary Sue' is for poorly executed world-bends-around-me characters, but there are good examples of those exact traits and backstories and unearned victories that have a great execution within their story - because they serve it in some other, positive way.

    So again, I don't think it should come down to yes-or-no Mary Sue-ness. Does this character work for your story? Do they encourage readers to keep reading? Do they support the overall entertainment or message? If they don't, change THAT. That's a core problem. Just tweaking a few things to be able to say, "Okay, he trained for two years instead of a month, he doesn't count as a Mary Sue anymore" might not change the inordinate amount of time spent on this character or the plot inconsistencies they create or the pacing problems they put in. Those are the bigger issues. The actual Mary Sue-ness is all cosmetic.

    The Other Kind of Roommate — Like Fight Club meets X-Men meets The Matrix meets Superbad.
  5. Dary (Member)

    Posted 2 years ago

    What are his flaws?

  6. Alexander.Hollins (Member)

    Posted 2 years ago

    First off, Walter, many of us wanted Crusher to succeed. He paid his dues, he earned his lumps, and his only sin was to be right as a child around adults who couldnt stand to be wrong. (Also, i may be wrong, but your view of Wesley tells me that you are either younger than 30 or older than 40. yes no?)

    Ahem. sorry.

    Adam, you're pointing out a lot of points where the character failed, learned, and grew. that right there generally invalidates a mary sue. mary sues spontaneously exhibit new powers and abilities as needed to get the job done without earning them. Youre good.

  7. BGHilton (Member)

    Posted 2 years ago

    I'm going to agree with the others. The term Mary Sue originally referred to self-indulgent wish-fulfillment characters. Huge swathes of fiction is about wish fulfillment, and there's not necessarily anything wrong with that. The problem is, some authors make their characters all into avatars through which they can live out their dreams without thinking enough about whether this is interesting for the reader. I think that's the important thing.

  8. Psycho Gecko (Member)

    Posted 2 years ago

    This is an area I've thought about from time to time, and there are certainly some great points made here. I will note that the term Mary Sue has been perhaps overused, since I can take a Mary Sue test about a real life character and have them declared a Mary Sue. Abraham Lincoln was totally the chosen one.

    If I could add anything useful, it's to expand on what Dary has said as well. Include the flaws. There's got to be a downside. Great athletes suffer all kinds of injuries that sideline them, require attention to diet, and wear down quickly. There tend to be social problems, even disorders, associated with people of extremely high intelligence. In my case, a crazy awesome omnicidal maniac doesn't often evoke a lot of trust from people, even if he was doing the right thing this time.

    One of my favorite game series is Tropico. For awhile, they had traits and flaws. You had to take as many flaws as you did traits, then they went and combined the system so that traits have a downside in addition to the benefit. If you were installed in a democratic revolution, citizens will have much higher democratic expectations and you'll lose more respect for not fulfilling a campaign promise. Your background as a Farmer might cause problems with the Intellectuals respecting you. Your president has Tourette's Syndrome? You lose respect from a random faction every year, but you get a little extra money from PPV buys of your speeches. Gambler? You can randomly lose or make money every year, but you lose the respect of the religious faction.

    So that's something to think about.

  9. Dary (Member)

    Posted 2 years ago

    What I'm noticing about all those "flaws", though, is that they're external repercussions of a positive trait, so, really, they're more like disadvantages.

    A flaw would be something internal, a negative personality trait or personal belief. In this example: he's a teen prodigy, so maybe he has issues with pride? He's not all powerful so needs help - then what if his arrogance prevents him from asking for it? And what if the price for becoming a genius had seem him neglect his emotional intelligence? Maybe he can't read others, or expects them to act like the predictable formulae he works with?

    If the only downsides are on other people's shoulders, then yes, you're pushing into idealised avatar territory.

  10. LadyAnder (Member)

    Posted 2 years ago

    As mentioned the term Mary-Sue is subjective and I really do hate the term because of that. So from this point on, I'm not even going to mention it in this post.

    To me, your character sounds as if they can do too much. I've not read the story so my opinion is limited to the information you provided me so everything following this statement is generalized. The thing with overpowered character, you can suspend your disbelief only so much. When that happens, the character starts to be unrelatable because they never have meaningful struggle. And what few times they do, it doesn't seem to matter. Having your character needed to depend on someone else doesn't really offset this unless you made it matter and has some impact. If this sounds like your character, then you have an issue.

    And I will state, there is nothing bad about being a skilled character. You don't need to strip them down of everything. You just want something that holding them back that has signifigance. One way to do that is giving a character a character flaw. And to be honest, it doesn't have to be grand and it doesn't have to be multiple flaws. A single good character flaw can go a long way.

    However, since this is an established character and story, you don't want to shoehorn anything in that wasn't present before, then look at the conflict you are writing. With a character like this, provide them a conflict that tests their skills or their skills aren't effective. However, you don't want to do it in the way of they need to gain more power without consequence and no impact.

    Now if all of that really doesn't help you, then you can own it and have fun with it.

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  11. Walter (Member)

    Posted 2 years ago

    Another way to put this are writing a web serial.

    You don't get paid. It doesn't matter if people stop reading.

    Write what you want, if the character is almighty in your mind then go with that.

  12. TheAdamBo (Member)

    Posted 2 years ago

    Thanks for the feedback, guys! To those of you who are asking what his flaws are... that's a little hard to answer. I have a hard time giving my characters flaws without them feeling forced. Mostly, I plan out the plot, what the characters need to do in it, where they fit into the world, and then go from there. Sure, I could say, "He has an irrational fear of clowns," but I'd have a hard time working it into the plot without it feeling forced. I tend to let the plot itself shape the characters. Such as, he starts out weak, shy, uncoordinated, and doesn't give a crap about the mission his partner wants him to go on. Over the course of the story, he grows as a character and leaves all that behind. Could those be called character flaws, or are they just run of the mill character development?

    In my new story (which I'll be releasing as soon as my artist finishes the cover *grumble grumble*) the MC's flaws are a bit easier to define. He's an outlaw, a bad person, and he knows it. He intentionally antagonizes people who praise him because it conflicts with his "I'm a monster" mentality. Even when his wife tells him she still loves him, he ties her to a chair and abandons her because he feels like he has to punish himself for what he's done, and he doesn't deserve her.

    But the MC in the story I'm working on now is a little harder. He's a good guy, never hurt anybody in his life, and there just aren't many places I could give him an obvious flaw without it being glaringly, obviously forced. You know what I mean?

    My Fiction is Fantastic, Fabulous, Freaky, and FREE! Check it out on BolanderBooks:
  13. Psycho Gecko (Member)

    Posted 2 years ago

    I guess I don't understand why an athlete being more prone to injury doesn't count. It's what happens as a natural consequence of their lifestyle. The thing they do that makes them better than other people also includes drawbacks that can cripple them at a later stage of their life. The NFL's problems with chronic traumatic encephalopathy are now infamous. The social disorder thing with some people is often not an external thing. I'm talking Asperger's and other disorders, actual things people get diagnosed with. Or OCD, especially if you like the show Scrubs and Dr. Casy, the doc with OCD who makes everyone mad by being so much better than them, but is stuck washing his hands two hours after his last surgery.

    And there's a deep stigma attached to mental disorders even when the person isn't a homicidal maniac. It follows people throughout their lives, and they are more likely to be victims of violent crime for one reason or another. I can imagine that if someone's word is suspect, someone's more likely to do things to them due to a perceived lack of repercussions. Who are you going to believe, them or the person who had to be committed? If not committed, then someone who has to take medicine because something's off with their brain. And if not medicated, then someone who has something wrong with them but isn't even taking anything for it.

    And humans are social animals. We live in a user-friendly civilization now, but social repercussions are still quite horrible and can be a death sentence. Literally, in the case of Leon Trotsky. Manipulating people is a powerful ability, and it too has inherent flaws based on what kind of a person is willing to to use people.

  14. Dary (Member)

    Posted 2 years ago

    I'm not sure what being "a good guy" has to do with "not having any flaws". Everyone has flaws. They don't make you a bad person, they make you human.

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