I needed to take a break from Shadows Rise (yeah, I know; shocking), so I decided to write a little something of writing advice. Sort of. Kind of.
Initially, I wasn’t going to go into the topic of Mary Sues because… I have a review series planned for 2017 that’s going to have me ranting about Mary Sueness non-stop.
However, I decided I wanted to go into this particular topic just a little bit now because… A lot of new writers feel that having their character called a “Mary Sue” or “Gary Stu” is the worst possible thing that can happen to them. And so they try to avoid Sue/Stuness like a plague. And in doing so, end up making their characters into that very thing they were trying to avoid.
Why does that happen?
First of all, a lot of people answer the question of what a Sue is with “oh it’s a character that always wins and never has anything bad happen to them” and as a result, we get plenty of Sues out there who attract tragedy like they’re some living breathing angst magnet. This is not the way, guys.
The reason I think Mary Sue tests are so inaccurate is that it isn’t about a particular trait or set of traits. Violet eyes were listed as a trait in one test I took. Can you honestly determine whether a character is a one-dimensional twat by their eye color, though? Nope. No, you can’t. If that was the case, Ess would be an automatic Sue regardless of how well-written she is and that’d be horribly unfair to Wifey.
So if you can’t narrow it down to individual traits or a set of individual traits, how do you avoid making you character a Sue?
In my opinion, it’s very simple and it boils down to some little things which I’ll list right now.
1) The Center of The Universe
Think of the reason why a lot of people judge characters that fall under the Chosen One trope as Sues, when in reality that trope alone doesn’t necessarily amount to Sue. Let’s look at Harry Potter, for instance. HP was a Chosen One story, but it had a multitude of characters that were just as vital to the story and just as developed as Harry himself was, it didn’t feel like Harry was the only relevant part of the story, in fact, a lot of questions are constantly raised around characters such as Dumbledore, Snape, Tom Riddle, and many others…
Then you have things like Twilight where you have a protagonist not only narrating the story but with her head shoved so deep into her own ass that… no wonder she never sees the sun in fucking Forks.
Okay, that was mean, lol.
The point stands, though. And if you look; if you really look, the supporting cast of that book is actually pretty good (compared to Bella at least), but they’re given no purpose other than just playing second fiddle to the all powerful Queen of Bland that is Bella Swan.
If the sole purpose of every other character in your story is to shine a bigger light on your Main Character… That’s a HUGE warning sign.
2) The Personality Bubble
Speaking of Bella Swan… Let’s look at this guy in her school; Mike (I think), who has a crush on Bella and ask ourselves: why?
If Bella is an average looking girl and she’s been nothing but an absolute bitch to Mike the whole book (which yeah; she is), why does he keep crushing on her? It’s not like she’s this super attractive super popular girl; in fact, Twilight goes to great lengths in order to paint Bella as the most unremarkable little thing you can imagine. And don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I think being a total bitch to people is excusable if you’re attractive, but teenagers are generally shallow and dumb about some things, so a kid that age ignoring a shitty personality due to looks is somewhat excusable from a writing standpoint. Especially since this guy is a minor character. However, this is not the case.
And Bella is always complaining about all these people who immediately like her for no reason at all, seeing as she’s just incapable of being nice to anyone really. It doesn’t matter how awkward and clumsy and ‘dorky’ you say your character is if to the eyes of everyone around her she’s the bestest thing ever.
In a nutshell, a Mary Sue character exists inside this little protective bubble where having a crappy attitude yields no reactions from the people around them. And this is very important in my opinion. You need be able to differentiate between how a character sees themselves and their own actions and how their actions and attitude will come across to others.
Take someone like, say, Jake.
Not from Twilight… My Jake. 😛
It’s a common name. >.>
Anyway, let’s take Jake, for an example. There are several characters who don’t like Jake in the Shadows Series for what I consider to be completely legitimate reasons. Luckas thinks he’s a hypocrite for calling him a menace despite some of the things he himself has done and still does. He and Evin are just never going to get along because they’re both stubborn asses with very conflicting points of view on some things. Sometimes he’s just an outright asshole to people (even people he cares about) just because he’s stressed out or aggravated. He doesn’t want to be; he doesn’t mean to be, but his temper gets the better of him in some moments.
The thing about giving a good-natured character personality flaws like this is that some people are more forgiving of them than others. So, while Jake is regarded as a nice guy for the most part… If you ask around there’ll also be a good share of people who’ll say he’s an unlikable asshole.
The point I’m trying to make with this is that the impression a person makes on the people around them is not universal, or a character trait for that matter. It’s strongly dependent on who the other people are and what part of your character’s personality is more prominent while dealing with them. Their disposition and biases towards certain types of people will influence their behavior. This is why character interactions are so goddamn hard. It’s not just the main character’s personality that matters, it’s the personality of every single character involved and how they play off one another.
But if your entire Universe exists solely around that one character, then no one else will have enough of a personality to draw their own conclusion of them. Resulting in the author simply dictating how the world feels towards their character regardless of how they behave. Because somehow everyone still sees what kind of person they are inside… Or something… -.-
If your character’s flaws are only there so you can tell yourself they’re not perfect and/or only become prominent sometimes when it’s more convenient. You need to take a good hard look at what you’re doing.
For instance, you want to give your character a troubled past? Okay, but how does that past affect them now? And, I can’t stress this enough, when I say ‘affect’ I don’t mean ‘give your character PTSD’, I mean how does the character’s past shape the person they are today? Post-Traumatic Stress is one way to indicate someone coping with trauma; sure, but it’s not a personality trait. It’s something your character has to go through, and not something the character is.
Let’s go back to Jake again. He watched his sister get murdered when he was ten and, for the longest time he was furious with himself for not being able to save her. This was a ten-year-old against a gang of thieves we’re talking about; he was NEVER going to be able to save her, but logic doesn’t help how someone feels in a situation like this. So Jake grew up to be a guy with an uncontrollable need to single-handedly protect everyone he loves in his life. And him acting this way has posed, and will always continue to pose, serious problems. It’s something he is aware of and tries to control to the best of his ability, but it’s not something that is ever going to disappear.
Circumstances will obviously change a character’s perspective on life and affect how they act on certain urges and instincts, but it won’t make them go away. For instance, Jake has to now lead a raid on one of the Order’s bases of operations. Even though the Ravens asked Crys’ group to assist, the best course of action is to not have Crys directly involved in any way. Because otherwise he would inevitably prioritize her well-being over the mission. He can know this, and prevent this, but in the event of Crys having to be there odds are something would go to shit at some point due to Jake not being able to keep his head.
Bottom line: whatever character flaws you give your character, they need to actually have an impact on how their mind works; how they react to situations, how they make decisions. It needs be a part of them always and not just when you want to insert an obstacle or have a dramatic moment.
4) Zero Consequences!
Okay, so, let me say right off the bat that I only read the first Twilight book (that’ll unfortunately change at some point in the near future; yeeeah >.>), but one thing I remember very clearly from the New Moon movie… Bella going fucking insane and outright suicidal after her sparkly boyfriend ditches her and somehow not getting killed or assaulted by some creepy bikers… And, you know, being a suicidal underage kid, whose father is the worst cop in the history of ever, she also somehow didn’t end up in a psych ward somewhere for being a danger to herself. I mean, if that was my kid doing that shit I’d lock her up if it meant her not jumping off any more GODDAMN CLIFFS!
Mary Sues have this impenetrable plot armor though and only suffer hardship when it means drawing them more sympathy and never as a direct consequence of their own stupid actions.
My characters decide to jump off a fucking cliff because stupidity? They’re going to at least break a shit ton of bones. That if I decide to let them live. Simple as that.
Actions = Consequences. Always. No exceptions.
So that’s it, guys; some things to look out for when developing your characters. I hope this helps some people out there struggling with character development.
And yeah, if you haven’t guessed I will be doing reviews on the Twilight series next year, these were acutally commissioned by a friend of mine, because apparently my suffering is worth that much to her. More on that some other time, though.