- Characters can have “traditionally feminine traits” without being a Mary Sue.
- Characters can have dark pasts without being a Mary Sue.
- Characters can be genuinly nice, compassionate people without being a Mary Sue.
- Characters can be powerful without being a Mary Sue.
- Characters can be talented without being a Mary Sue.
Guest Article from Elizabeth: Switching Up a Too-Perfect Character
nothingcanbegained asked: I have a character I roleplay, but I feel lately like every time I roleplay him, that I find that he’s just too… perfect? I mean he’s gentle mannered, polite, shy, honest, helpful, eager to please without being overbearing, easily embarrassed, and quite honestly, I’m finding him boring. How do I make a character more exciting without changing who he is? Should I try and add personality faults that can be directly related to his traits?
As writers, it’s easy to let our characters fall into the dreaded Mary Sue trope. But you’ve already realized the problem with too-perfect characters: they’re boring. They offer little conflict, they’re unrealistic, and they tend to drive everyone a little crazy.
Faults and vices are one of the easiest ways to add depth to your character. They make your character seem more like a person, rather than the stock character or flat character we see lining the edges of fiction stories. Here are some steps you can take to round out your character:
- Look at other characters that fit your description: Peter Pettigrew from Harry Potter, Mary Bennet from Pride & Prejudice, Iris from The Holiday, C3PO from Star Wars, etc.. What makes these characters well-rounded? What makes them interesting? Look at the way their faults build on their more positive attributes.
- Like you already suggested, pick a couple flaws that fit in with his established character. Based on your description, try something like self-doubt, inability to trust, or jealousy. Put him into a situation where the flaw comes into play. Maybe he overhears someone talking about him, or he is faced with a task that’s too much for him to handle. Play with it, and see where he takes you. Regardless of the positive traits he has, test drive your character making the wrong decision—a decision outside of his normal response or even outside of his moral code—in order to create more conflict for him and broaden his development..
- Take one of his attributes and make it “too much.” If he’s honest, does that mean that he’ll always speak his mind to the point that he offends others? Does he say exactly what others don’t want to hear? Take “gentle mannered, polite, and shy” and turn it into ”easily manipulated.” ”Easily embarrassed” could become “ashamed.” There is always a negative slant on a positive characteristic. The possibilities are endless.
- What is he passionate about? Give him something to fight for—maybe it’s a romantic interest, a place, an ideal, or even an opinion. What happens when that thing is threatened?
- Because you’re part of an RP, you have a unique advantage. Talk to your RP partner/group. Have them challenge you by putting your character into situations that are uncomfortable for him. Have them ask tough questions. How does he react to confrontation?
- Characters, like people, should change and grow. There’s no reason why he has to stay the way he is now.
Here are some other resources you can check out:
- Write World: Choosing Virtues and Vices for Your Character
- Write World: Layering Virtues and Vices
- TVTropes: Character Flaw Index
- TVTropes: Avoid Writing A Mary Sue
- WritePop: Character Flaws
- Superhero Nation: How to Make a Boring Character Interesting
- Clay Held: The Trick to Writing Compelling Characters (and How to Avoid Boring Ones)
How to Avoid Mary Sues
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.
PSA: Mary Sues.
So I’ve been seeing a post that’s been going around on my dash lately that refutes the existence of Mary Sues entirely. While it makes a lot of good points, what it should be saying is that the term ‘Mary Sue’ is thrown around so readily that it doesn’t have the same meaning as it’s supposed to, not that Mary Sues do not exist.
Mary Sues exist. That is all there is to it. I will say, yes, the term is thrown around wildly, mainly towards any female character, despite the fact that the male counterpart — commonly known as a Marty Stu or a Gary Stu — does exist. But this isn’t a post about blatant sexism.
To give some background information for those of you who don’t know, the term ‘Mary Sue’ was coined in 1973 by Paula Smith, in her fanfiction “A Trekkie’s Tale”. It actually became quite a huge term and through the 80s and the 90s, female authors would often not include girls in their stories at all out of the fear that their readers would call them a Mary Sue.
‘A Trekkie’s Tale’ was originally satire, but satire has to target something. What is a Mary Sue?
A Mary Sue/Marty Stu is an idealized version of the writer. It is always a self-insert(and yes, it contributes a lot to the hatred of self-inserts), only they are more beautiful and perfect and everyone loves them and they have some sort of deep connection to the protagonist or deuteragonist of a series, whether it be their lover, relative, or apprentice, or whatever else. You can look at some different types here who don’t explicitly fit the definition given right there but are still Sues.
If you would like to encounter a Mary Sue, go ahead and read something like Twilight. And I’m sorry to all Twilight fans, but Bella is a Mary Sue. You could easily get away with reading 50 Shades of Grey to the same effect.
(Sidenote: And for those of you who like Kingdom Hearts, Those Lacking Spines is a fantastic satire fic targeting fanfiction tropes of all kinds, focusing primarily on the prevalence of personalities being completely fucked over and ignored for the sake of ~teh yaoizz~, but there is a portion on Mary Sues and it’s altogether a pretty enjoyable read.)
Mary Sues and Marty Stus are all over the place, but the terms are used so willy-nilly that not a lot of people know one when they see one. I hope this helps you in identifying a Mary Sue.
For examples of characters who aren’t Mary Sues, please look at the vast majority of every single character out there.
(I can name several off the top of my head that have been called Mary Sues! Lots of characters from Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts, I mean. You’ve got Tifa, and Cloud himself, and Kairi. Then Naruto fans like to scream about how Sakura is a Mary Sue just because she likes Sasuke and it’s like honey she ain’t perfect and he don’t like her back so shut yo mouth. I’ve for some reason never seen a Homestuck character described as a Mary Sue, not even Hussie’s self-insert or the Condesce or Bec Noir. There’s a lot more but this tangent is getting too long and I’m sure you get the idea.)
Also, to wrap it up, not all self-inserts are Mary Sues. I, personally and admittedly, am kind of wary of them because I know from experience how many are, but the biggest reason is that I’m just plain not comfortable bringing my roleplay outside of the land of fiction. But… I have seen self-inserts done well, and I do think you should give them a chance or ten before you call it quits.
Same with any other character.
Not everyone is a Mary Sue, though they do exist, and you all are the people who have to know and understand that.
Please be smart with your terminology and don’t throw it around whenever it conveniences you or you don’t like a character. I’ve known so many people who are afraid of making OCs or RPing or writing in general because they don’t want to make a Mary Sue.
And that’s because of people improperly using the term.
Y’all should just fucking relax and have fun I swear to god. That’s all that fucking matters. If you have fun playing a or playing with a Mary Sue, then cool!! You do that! If you like self-inserts, yeah!! You have fun! If you like anything else, just chill the fuck out and have a good time and stop worrying about shit so much!
But if you wrongly accuse people of being Mary Sues, you are part of the problem, and you need to sit the fuck down.
Mary & Sues' Guide to Mary Sues
Benedict Cumberbatch is a God amongst men. He doesn’t walk the earth, he glides effortlessly amongst us mere mortals, his cheekbones clearing his way, gleaming in the sunlight. But he has a flaw. Alone, childless, and incapable of finding a shag, Fanfiction Benedict needs a woman. There’s only one person who can sort him out; her name?
So dally no more, lift your quill and reach for your roll of parchment as we take your hand to guide you through the trials and tribulations of being a Mary Sue. Before you know it, you could be the next Mrs Cumberbatch*.
*On AO3, Fanfiction.net, Tumblr, or anywhere other than in real life.
Locating Your Inner Mary Sue
So, you’re primed to write. Your fingers hover, nervously, shaking over your keyboard. First, you must ask yourself the following questions:
1) Am I petite, yet inwardly strong, with a quirky and memorable name?
2) Do I work in a creative or caring industry?
3) Have I had a traumatic incident in my past which I am hiding under a façade of strength and independence?
4) Am I just accident prone enough for it to be quirky and deeply endearing?
5) Am I fed up with a string of meaningless relationships but I don’t know why? Could the answer be that I need a man who wants to read me poetry and father all the many children I suddenly desire?
If you answer yes to all of the above; Congratulations, you are ready to create your Mary Sue!
Once you’ve located your inner Mary Sue, it’s time to channel her. Where would she be? What would she be doing there? There are many possibilities. Maybe she’s riding the Northern Line, distracted by all the paperwork she has because she is such a strong, independent lady? Perhaps she is walking her dog over the Heath, she probably has mud smeared up her cheek, but she won’t have noticed because, although incredibly beautiful, she doesn’t pay attention to such things? She could even be a renowned makeup artist, about to begin a new job for the BBC*. Whatever it is that she’s doing, be sure to make her completely unaware of the fact her life is about to change for good.
*So long as she doesn’t know what show it will be or who she will be working for.
The Inexplicable Yet Inevitable Meeting
Remember, your Mary Sue is Not. Looking. For. A. Relationship. This is something to keep in the forefront of your mind as she, inevitably, trips into the lap of a talented, available actor who happens to be wherever she has decided to be. He no doubt has a hat on, and he probably comes across as rude initially, but this is only because he doesn’t want to be recognised, struggling as he is with the trials and tribulations of new-found fame.
Your Mary Sue is not only not looking for a relationship, but she is also not impressed by his fame, because she probably doesn’t even know who he is. It doesn’t matter what her job is, or how famous Fanfiction Benedict is when they meet, it doesn’t even matter if she works in film and television. After all, why would he want to date someone with similar interests to him? No. If she shakes her head vacantly as he lists off the biggest films and television series of the decade, this will only make her more attractive to him. If she has never even heard of Sherlock Holmes, he will be salivating within seconds.
Obviously, because she does not need a man, it will be down to our favourite loveable, slightly bumbling, curly haired Fanfiction Benedict to woo the lady. However much you want to flail and fling yourself at his feet, remember, keep your Mary Sue cool. She is busy. She has to work. She has commitments (usually involving an overly protective, bolshy, irritating best friend). She has a life.
And now he must steam roller his way into it. Because, obviously, he has nothing better to do with his time.
How to Woo a Mary Sue
For the love of all things holy do not even for a second think of letting Benedict pay for dinner. He might be rich, but please don’t let him forget that she’s not impressed by that! If he does pay for dinner, don’t forget that your Mary Sue will at least want to cover the cost of drinks. But how did they get to dinner in the first place?
Well, it’s probably been a long and winding path, it will have involved at least two chance meetings, I would have thought, and quite probably the interference of Martin Freeman at least once. If you’re writing it now, you can interchange Martin with Simon Pegg, and if you’re lucky enough to be using the setting of an industry event or a party at the Freeman crib, feel free to use both. For heavens sake don’t forget Martin swears. He might even say cunt. Don’t worry, your Grandma won’t read it. Actually, everyone loves Benedict, so maybe she will. But she won’t know it’s you.
Mary Sue won’t be uncomfortable at such an incredibly star studded event though, not to worry, let’s not forget that she won’t know who anybody is. Although she might be uncomfortable in the dress. The lacy, overly complicated lingerie she is wearing even though she’s not planning on getting naked won’t be a problem, but good lord does she wish she was wearing a sweater over the top of it.
Whatever happens at whatever event, he is, finally, after months of yearning, able to ask your Mary Sue to dinner without fear of heartbreak and rejection. Maybe your Mary Sue finally has butterflies which she has been trying to cover up for some time because (repeat after me): She is not looking for a relationship.
The Long & Winding Road (to Hampstead Heath)
For some reason, Fanfiction Benedict always lives in Hampstead. I don’t know why, it’s a mystery to me. He is also incapable of asking women to go there with him. He is a poor, sex starved creature who bumbles around for so long over even one peck on the cheek that I begin to expect he will remain a virgin until he is at least 65.
But with your Mary Sue it can be different. Maybe, after a month of dating, he can bring himself to touch her on the shoulder. If he’s feeling particularly horny, he can brush a hand over her lower back as they walk through a door. Maybe he will try to give her a friendly kiss goodbye and she will accidentally turn her head.
This will be the inciting incident.
It will escalate quicker than anybody intended, but in the heat of the moment please don’t forget to have them break apart because they know what they are doing is wrong. We don’t know why it is wrong, they aren’t sure entirely why it is wrong, but your Mary Sue will know it is wrong, and so will Fanfiction Benedict. She must not take advantage of his fame, and Fanfiction Benedict doesn’t need sex. He’s gone so long without it that he probably can’t remember how to do it anyway. He probably hides under a comfort blanket every time he gets turned on, and waits for it to pass. He definitely doesn’t wank.
Somewhere here there is to be an incident. Maybe with an ex-boyfriend, but probably involving the press. It will be horrid, but never fear! Fanfiction Benedict will woo your Mary Sue back, even though she never really needed wooing back because it was simply a communication error in the first place. Whatever way it is sorted, it will eventually lead to All The Sex.
All The Sex
Usually this will take place in Benedict’s flat. Often, your Mary Sue won’t be expecting it, even if he has asked her to come alone on Valentine’s Day and he picks her up in a horse and carriage with a bunch of roses to rival the size of the hubble telescope, she will still think there is no chance of sex. He could probably ask her to bring a family size pack of Durex and a dildo, she would still think they are going to watch Zoolander with a bowl of popcorn between them. Never the less, somehow, someway, and usually in the living room whilst 1920s jazz plays on in the background, both your Mary Sue and Fanfiction Benedict will end up with no clothes on.
It can happen in a hotel room, if you’re feeling particularly extravagant, but don’t make the mistake of Fanfiction Benedict only booking one room. He is a True Gentleman and would literally never expect a woman to sleep with him because of his horse face. He must book two rooms, and then if your Mary Sue decides to invite him back to hers, it will be a nice surprise for our good old Fanfiction Benedict.
Wherever it happens, we must now address The Sex.
Let’s get something straight; If Fanfiction Benedict does not recite at least one poem and cry at how beautiful her naked body is at least once, your Mary Sue is doing something wrong.
Five Rules for Fanfiction Sex:
1) There is a lot of kissing. No kind of rampant desperation exists in a room with your Mary Sue and Fanfiction Benedict.
2) However much Fanfiction Benedict might want to pound your Mary Sue into the mattress, he will always - and I mean always - have time to stop and recite Shakespeare. Or Keates. Maybe even The Silence of the Lambs if he can shoehorn in a link.
3) He will not be bothered about taking care of himself, so long as you have had at least three orgasms, that’s fine by him.
4) Fanfiction Benedict is no mortal man. He will certainly not fall asleep after he has come.
5) He will not clean up either, but inexplicably neither he nor your Mary Sue will wake up stuck to the sheets.
Eventually, shagged out and exhausted, they will both fall asleep amongst the used condoms and ripped underwear, to wake the next day refreshed and not smelling at all like spunk.
The Inevitable Morning After The Night Before
Now, your Mary Sue and Fanfiction Benedict have done the dirty deed. Hopefully nobody died, and they probably even enjoyed it once they’d both reconciled with the fact they were stooping so low as to meeting genitalia. The next morning is crucial, and it can go one of two ways.
Your Mary Sue could wake up in the glow of the love she now inevitably feels, if this does happen, you mustn’t neglect to make sure Fanfiction Benedict is already awake and propped up on one elbow, gazing longingly into her eyes. If this doesn’t happen, it’s just plain rude. The only way it would be acceptable otherwise is if your Mary Sue decides to watch the rhythmic rise and fall of his chest as he sleeps on. All this watching each other sleep is, in no way, creepy as fuck.
The next possibility is that all this sex and the glory of the adonis that is Fanfiction Benedict will get too much for your poor, confused Mary Sue. She could make her excuses and leave, no doubt ignoring the hundred or so phone calls which Fanfiction Benedict has enough time to make amongst his little pastime of being an actor. Eventually, he will have to leave the country for a job, and your Mary Sue will probably think this is for the best.
BUT. Fanfiction Benedict will soon realise his heart just isn’t in the film he’s making because he misses his Mary Sue too much. He will arrive on her doorstep, even if he doesn’t know where she lives. Somehow he will find out. This, too, is not creepy as fuck. He might have flowers, he might have plane tickets to Los Angeles to be with him, which she obviously won’t be able to use because she is far too busy. He will understand this, and it will be okay because his director will have suspended the shoot for a week at least so that Fanfiction Benedict can deal with the matters of his heart.
This is, after all, exactly how Hollywood works.
The Happily Ever After and After and After and After
The third round of wooing will work. Your Mary Sue will fall into Fanfiction Benedict’s arms and they will live happily ever after. You might feel this a natural end to the story as a whole, but don’t feel so restricted! Feel free to continue on into the depths of their lives.
Your Mary Sue has not truly done her job unless she has a child. This, in no way, goes against the grain of her strong, feminist ways. She probably works up to the due date, unless she has a scare, and all the while Fanfiction Benedict follows her around with his hands glued to her stomach and tears in his eyes. He might do some work, but it will be hell and he will hate every second of it. This won’t affect his performance at all though, because he is an acting demi-god.
By this time Fanfiction Benedict somehow has his workaholic ways under control, and has enough spare time to not only cook, clean and do the washing, but also to decorate a nursery perfectly. Despite this, he will probably have a last minute panic that he will be a terrible father. Your Mary Sue must remain strong, a pillar of strength and reassurance even if she is about to push a human being out of her vagina. She is sympathetic entirely to Fanfiction Benedict’s fears.
When the time arrives though, he will be ready. He will be calm. He will be prepared. He will cry more tears than there is water in his body.
Your Mary Sue and Fanfiction Benedict will spend much time coming up with a name, if you’re stuck for ideas just remember that it’s much more striking if they use what is, essentially, an adjective.
Now would be a good time to end your story, preferably whilst Fanfiction Benedict watches on proudly as your Mary Sue breastfeeds by dim light in the middle of the night. Because that is what women love when trying to get the hand of the messy process of breast feeding; a bit of an audience. He will probably shed a quick tear as your Mary Sue tries not to fall asleep. If the child is a girl, all the better, because then Fanfiction Benedict will get the chance to ponder over how proud he is “of his girls”.
You Thought I Was Finished Didn’t You?
Your reader was probably just about to close the tab on your fic, but wait! Catch their attention! “Next Chapter?! But it said The End!” you will hear them cry as they continue on. It is always a good idea to stick an epilogue on to the end of your story. Fanfiction Benedict and your Mary Sue will have had at least fourteen children by now, so it’s lucky that you created such a strong, independent woman who will be able to keep the house in order whilst holding down an incredibly stressful job even though they don’t need the money in any way, shape or form.
A quick checklist of things you should get into your epilogue:
1) Children being generally mischievous
2) What number series Sherlock is on.
3) Martin fucking Freeman. Don’t forget he fucking swears.
4) A moment of quiet before the children cause havoc again.
5) A mention of both your Mary Sue and Fanfiction Benedict’s careers.
Eventually you will have exhausted all possibilities of continuing the story. There will be no stone left unturned and your Mary Sue and Fanfiction Benedict will have no possible fuel for any other problems. Not that there should be any problems in your epilogue. But you will have to admit that you have wrung out all avenues for your story, and that now your Mary Sue’s dalliance with Fanfiction Benedict is over. Their marriage now only lives on in your mind. It is time to put down your pen and wait for the comments and kudos to roll in.
Well, until tomorrow, when you decide to write the spin off story to create a series….
Writing Tips #81: So You Wanna Write/Play A Powerful Character That Probably Won't Be Perceived As A Mary Sue?
Many, many, many times I’ve seen people complain that they can’t play powerful characters without these characters being labeled as Mary Sues. I really have only one thing to say to this: it’s probably either because your characters are Mary Sues, or because you’re presenting your character the wrong way. Sure it’s not the former? Okay, then let’s get on to how you can present your character so people proably won’t grab the torches and pitchforks.
This article is largely intended for fan characters, particularly in superhero settings, though most of it applies to other character types as well.
Start by describing what makes your character tick, not what makes xir special.
When you begin your character profile/pitch, leave out your character’s appearances, superpowers, and canon connections as long as you possibly can. Instead, start off with your character’s personality, ambitions, dreams, career, and vulnerabilities. Basically, all the things that drive and motivate your character. In short, if you took away all of your character’s toys and goodies, who would xe be?
If you have a well-developed character, you should be able to describe xir without mentioning xir powers, abilities, or canon connections quite easily. Here’s an example based on one of my own OCs (who is the daughter of two canon characters) - she’s an intelligent, but socially-awkward young woman who works for her father’s company as an accountant. Her current pet project and hobby is a tabletop RPG she’s developing, which most people would probably find frustratingly fussy about.
Remove irrelevant specialness.
I’ve seen way too many “not-Sues” who have special/unique features for pretty much no other reason than the author found it appealing and decided to toss it in there. Something that’s common in far too many characters I’ve seen are strangely-colored eyes or the presence of cat ears and a tail that have pretty much no relevance to anything. At least one OC superhero I’ve seen had cat ears and a tail, the reason given that her abusive father experimented on her as a teenager. The character must have cat powers, right? Nope. Her powers have absolutely nothing to do with cats, and the story of how she acquired her kittybits has absolutely nothing to do with anything at all.
Compare with, for example, the Marvel-verse - if I see a character with an unusual appearance, I can usually trust that there’s a character-defining story attached to it somehow - EG, Doc Samson received his green hair in the incident that gave him the powers that changed the course of his life. Storm has white hair because she is a mutant, a fact which has essentially defined her life since a young teen.
Let your character earn respect.
I Am Sue
I’m not going to define the term ‘Mary Sue’ for you, because that’s been done.
What I want to talk about is why we write characters like this- the psychology behind the Sue, as it were. A Sue is not made by her (I would say his, but for everloving reason, when was the last time you heard a character called out as a ‘Gary Stu’ or whatever watered down variant you want to call it) traits, (someone in our Disqus mentioned someone with naturally white hair with purple eyes and etc.- but I do believe that George RR Martin has a character with that coloring, and he did fine) but rather the feeling that the reader picks up from her. Don’t ever discount your instincts as a reader or your readers’ instincts, because they are what make or break a novel.
What are a ‘reader’s instincts’? It’s your normal instincts, applied to fiction. There are some people that you just don’t like and some characters that you have boundless faith that they are actually good under the baddie persona. In both cases, you are picking up on small signals that give you information about the person, and allowing you to make calls about them.
When the characters aren’t strong enough to hold a reader’s attention, however, they start to analyze the author in the same way, whether they are aware of it or not. Self-insertion, author opinion, etc, are usually frowned upon, simply because we came here to read fiction, dammit, not meet a new real person (if we wanted to do that, all we’d have lifted our head out of the book already).
Sometimes, though, readers don’t mind a strong narrative voice overlapping into that kind of territory (at FYCD, for example, you are all rather tolerant of when the other mods and I show a little personality), because they like the author.
I’ve heard that every disguise is a self portrait. That’s why every character is born from the author, in one way or another. Even the most autonomous character is created from the author looking inwards and then writing about it. Sues tend to not be autonomous. Which is why I normally prefer to just say ‘badly developed character’.
But why do we react so strongly to the portrait known as Sue? Because we all remember, and hate, the person that we were when we wrote Sues. The person that I typically imagine writing about Sue and her wild adventures is someone of roughly middle-school (that’s 11-14ish, ye that have not the hell known as middle school) who is immature, creative, and up to their eyeballs in the angst that is part and parcel of that age group. Think back *harp strumming sound* you’ve all been there.
- You desperately want to be ‘different’, to show your differences on your exterior, because otherwise you are lost to the lowing herd of stupid preteens. But your parents won’t let you or you may not be into the hassle of dying your hair purple and wearing color contacts- and besides, that wouldn’t show that you were born different, it wouldn’t show that you are inherently, genetically separate from these idiots.
- You are not special or particularly good at anything, or at least, you feel that way. From this root, we grow ‘Overly Average Sues,’ or on the other end of the spectrum ‘Massively Talented Sues’, because honestly, after an hour of Spanish class in which tu comprende nada, who wouldn’t want to just learn three languages instantly?
- Everyone else sucks. There are nice people at that age but a lot of people act bitchy. This is a true fact. So that’s why you’re desperate to show that you are ‘not like other girls/boys’ and you’d really rather just be besties with a great big wolf or some other kick ass animal that would follow you around and not judge.
- Your sense of what is ‘romantic’ is underdeveloped. That’s actually it on that point. Shudder.
- You feel powerless. This one more than anything else is what makes a Sue, because Sue is, at heart, a power trip. She’s everything about strength and power that you thought or were taught were important at that age that were most invariably wrong.
Seriously. Go reread a journal or something you have from that time, it’s sickening.
Which is why we react to Sues. They come from an old, visceral place. We can sense the writer’s hand very strongly, and that forms for us a portrait of the writer- a portrait that reminds us of ourselves at a time when we likely did not like ourselves, that still remains in certain ways. I know I used to be like that, in some ways more than others. I freely admit that I was a bit of a bitch in those years, and while my characters weren’t rainbow colored, they lacked maturity. While I have mostly outgrown it, as I hope you have by the time you’re my age, some elements remain, if only as memories of how not to act. I am Sue.
So, rather than rolling with your emotions and using the ready-made label next time you are out critiquing a story, think of where the author is coming from.
It’s not about shaming.
It’s about growing as a writer.
We’ve all been there, so sit back, look at who is probably writing this, and then put your emotions on hold and look at it as objectively as you can.
Try to imagine their writing with a fat helping of maturity, experience, and growth. Now, leave that parts that will be fixed by that alone, mention specifically the parts that are bad and why you feel that, and remember to think about what is good, and mention that as well.
That is all.
I hope that that was helpful or enlightening to you.
Another note on the Mary Sue business...
I was talking with X and he pointed out that just screaming ‘Mary Sue’ when you don’t like a character is the laziest fucking critique you could ever even possibly hope to give someone.
People tend to use it instead of pointing out what’s actually wrong with the character and offering legitimate criticism, and expect the receiver to understand what they mean despite the fact that the term can apply to a broad range of characters.
That’s a huge reason why a Mary Sue will either not improve or react terribly to criticism, because just saying they’re a Mary Sue doesn’t help at all and if you want to help, you’ll give an honest and thorough critique.
And for everyone else out there, critique is not hate. Critique is not hate. Critique is not hate. Calm the fuck down.
Don’t just call people Mary Sues. Tell them what upsets you about their character, and be intelligent and mature about it.
Mary & Sues'Guide to... Fanfiction Benedict vs Real Life Benedict
I know that we have discussed Mr Cumberbatch before now, but I think it’s probably prudent to give him his own post. He likes to see his name in lights, after all, and I think he will have felt a little left out when Mary Sue got top billing. So here, I present to you a little something I like to call;
Real Life Benedict vs Fanfiction Benedict (or Quick, Fetch a Raft; He’s going to Drown in his Own Tears)
You might think that Benedict Cumberbatch is a special enough man as he is. Those lips, those eyes, that rapier wit and vocabulary large enough to sink a ship with. You’d be wrong. Writers the world over have mulled it over. They’ve formed a committee, discussed it all at length over green tea and home baked biscuits. This is what they decreed:
And, lo, we shall take the Benedict, and we shall create a super Benedict. A better Benedict.
A Fanfiction Benedict.
And you know what? I’m feeling generous. I’m going to share their secrets.
36 year old British men? Swearing? Oh CRUMPETS NO.
Benedict has a mouth a sailor would be fucking proud of. Find me a man who doesn’t. Find me a person who doesn’t. Apart from my Dad because he doesn’t like swearing, but I’ll level with you all here and tell you I heard him say ‘fuck’ last Christmas, so I think even he’s fucking lying. You’ve all been to the recordings, you’ve all heard the Cheltenham interview, you’ve all got ears. And brains.
Benedict Cumberbatch likes a good swear.
But don’t fall into the trap; Do not allow your Fanfiction Benedict to stoop so low! He is, after all, the Hugh Grant of 2013 (bar a few differences, namely the number of syllables in the name, types of films he is in, and pretty much everything else). He wouldn’t say ‘shit’, what are you thinking? He’d say “Oh flip-flop, I’ve left my wallet in the dingledonging car! What the fudge cake shall I do now?!”
If your Fanfiction Benedict does swear, don’t worry! There’s a remedy. So long as he covers his mouth, looks suitably abashed, and says “Crumpets!” a bit before apologising profusely, you’ll get away with it. Just make sure you point out to your reader that he is Ashamed Of His Behaviour.
Don’t Do It Kids, It’s Bad For You
Real Life Benedict has probably got shares in Marlboro Lights by now, if we’re being truthful about it, hasn’t he? Well, Fanfiction Benedict doesn’t smoke. It is bad for you and thus, he would never do it. Never. Ever. It would be a chink in the armour so, really, don’t let him smoke. No matter how pretty Real Life Benedict looks with a cigarette between his fingers, inhaling deeply and blowing the smoke up towards the sky as his neck str- Sorry. What was I saying?
Ah yes, Fanfiction Benedict Doesn’t Smoke.
If, however, he does look at you with those puppy dog eyes, stick out that bottom lip, and say “Please?” enough times to woo you over to the dark side, here’s a few things you should remember:
1) Whoever he is with at the time must look slightly disgusted by his habit. They could cough probably, or even tell him that it’s bad for him. Because, being a grown man, he wouldn’t be able to work that out for himself.
2) Fanfiction Benedict must always apologise if he smells like smoke. It is a Disgusting Habit. The smell of cigarette smoke mixed with a leather jacket is in No Way Sexy.
3) He must be contrite, apologetic, adamant that he is going to stop. Ashamed Of His Behaviour.
Real Life Benedict may have admitted to smoking pot. However, this is UNACCEPTABLE to Fanfiction Benedict. So unacceptable that it must simply never be mentioned. I mean, for goodness sake, this is Fanfiction Benedict, he’s so well behaved that he’s never even been given a parking ticket! ‘Pot?’ he would say, eyebrows pulling together in confusion, ‘What’s that?’ before offering you a cup of tea, because the teapot is the only kind of pot he has in the house.
Meanwhile, Real Life Benedict has got the munchies something chronic and is on his third bag of Doritos.
No Job Too Big, Small, or Plain Fucking Impossible.
Real Life Benedict may be a busy guy who admits to being late and forgetful, but this does not matter one jot. Fanfiction Benedict is 100% altruistic and exists purely for the benefit of others. He never does anything inconsiderate or mean, and doesn’t ever complain or accuse people of being unreasonable in their demands. He is Perfect. He will fetch and carry and conjure up anything demanded of him.
He goes above and beyond, routinely. You mention that you like a particular variety of wine? Here’s two tickets to the south of France, to visit a little known vineyard where the owner is inexplicably one of his best friends. That you’ve never met.
You’re having your period when you’re supposed to be going on your first date? Fret not! Fanfiction Benedict will be there with a hot water bottle and a packet of paracetamol that you obviously wouldn’t have considered fetching for yourself had he not turned up. He is, after all, a True Gentleman.
He will also remember, within seconds, what each of your favourite food groups is. If he is on particularly good form, he will be able to guess your exact favourite dish purely based on the way you form your vowels, or sip at your coffee. He will then recreate them, either by his mad cookery skills, or by having it delivered from the exact restaurant you first discovered it in.
Out Of The Frying Pan & Into The Incredibly Posh Restaurant
Real Life Benedict may have outed himself as a regular Joe in the cooking department. He can cobble together a few dishes, and deftly chop an onion. Don’t mention the tomato. He’s probably the world’s fastest tomato chopper now, so scarred was he by his attempts on Something For The Weekend, that he stood for hours on end in his kitchen, practising. But in his own words, he is an outstanding “alright” where food preparation is concerned.
Let this not affect your Fanfiction Benedict one jot, I say! You have two options:
1) Fanfiction Benedict is the finest chef in London, bar none. He doesn’t get much time to practice, but if he turned his mind to it then he’d be the only chef in the world with ten Michelin stars. It’s a wonder he’s allowed to cook, he’s so good. It should be illegal. He will shrug it off with a coy smile and a half shrug of one of those muscular yet slim shoulders, but his food will still taste better than a Faberge egg shat out by a gold swan.
2) Fanfiction Benedict is so outstandingly bad at any form of food related activities that it’s a wonder the door to his kitchen hasn’t been sealed off by a local Health & Safety officer. Soup, you say? I’d love to get you some dear, but I don’t know how to open the tin; do I chew around the top with my teeth? I’m going to need your help! Peel a carrot? Do you really want me to lose a finger or even my whole hand? It’s almost a crippling disability, and so instead Fanfiction Benedict dines exclusively on posh restaurant grub and pastries baked lovingly for him by dear old Mary Sue.
Be quite clear here; There is to be no inbetween.
Hush Little Baby, Don’t You Cry…
Okay, in this department one must admit that Real Life Benedict doesn’t help himself. He may or may not talk about crying quite a lot. However, your Fanfiction Benedict must take this to whole new levels. As far as Fanfiction Benedict is concerned, a day is simply not a day unless he has been forced to bow his head, pinch the bridge of his nose and exclaim “I’m sorry! I don’t know why I’m crying, I just….”
There are a number of reasons Fanfiction Benedict will cry, far too numerous to mention actually, but here is a small selection:
1) The beauty of the person he is in love with.
2) The generosity of his fans.
3) The fact someone has actually decided to have sex with him for the first time in a decade.
4) The fact his wife/partner is pregnant.
5) The fact his wife/partner is pregnant.
6) The fact his wife/partner is pregnant.
7) The fact his wife/partner is pregnant.
8) The arrival of the new baby.
9) The changing of the baby’s first nappy. Poo is emotional.
He does not cry snotty tears though. Good Lord no, not our beautiful Fanfiction Benedict. Misty eyes and a catching of breath is by far enough to be going on with. How can he concentrate on being Perfect if he has to wipe away more than one tear at a time?
He will also be incredibly apologetic about it, much as you’d have thought he’d have got used to being emotional in front of people by now, given how often it seems to happen. Still, he will be Ashamed Of His Behaviour.
Horse Faced, Arse Named & I Don’t Know What You Mean By The Word ‘Talent’.
Real Life Benedict is something of a workaholic who has, on occasion, made it pretty clear that he thinks he’s not a bad actor. Not in a big headed way, but in a way that says he’s competent at his job and doesn’t really want to do anything else. And that he works hard to be as good as he can be. He seems to be a bit of a flirt, and admits his name is a mouthful.
This is not good enough for Fanfiction Benedict. Your Fanfiction Benedict must be a gibbering wreck of uncertainties about himself. He won’t think he is as good as anybody else he works with, he won’t know how he can act, or even if he can act. Why is he famous? Why is his name what it is?
Ignore the fact he chose to go back to using his full name, don’t loiter over this fact for even a second. His name makes him so uncomfortable that he can barely even stand upright under the weight of it. Interviewers might as well be calling him Cockface Cumberwang for the embarrassment that the name Benedict Cumberbatch causes him. Despite this, he will never ask anybody to call him Ben.
And don’t get him started on his face.
Your Fanfiction Benedict is simply not a well rounded enough character unless he talks about his face as if he is the Elephant Man. Fanfiction Benedict would happily walk about for the rest of his days with a Hessian sack over his head so that people won’t gawp at the monstrosity that is his face. Please don’t single out your favourite feature of his, he has a comeback for all possible compliments. He is, after all, hideously ugly and a blight on society. And he obviously can do nothing about this using hair styling, because he hates that too. It’s too curly and too ginger and he has literally no clue how to go about taming it. He talks about his own hair as though it is a wild animal which he has only just had the misfortune to meet.
Mismatched Socks, Are You Fucking Kidding?
Real Life Benedict has had a bit of a reputation in the past for dressing badly. I won’t say it’s an unfair one, because when you conduct interviews in mismatched socks and turn up to film premieres with paint down your jacket, one should expect people to assume you dress in the dark. And let’s not speak of the time he borrowed Olivia’s straighteners and set about his own hair as if were a shirt which needed ironing…
However, Fanfiction Benedict wouldn’t even know what a mismatched pair of socks were. “Odd socks?” He’d say, “And what do you expect me to do with these?” He is a suave beast who will go nowhere without first flinging on a perfectly pressed and starched Westwood suit. Presumably this is to detract from his hideously malformed face. Whatever the reason, you must never dress your Fanfiction Benedict in knackered old tshirts and ripped jeans. It is something which he will not stand for!
If he is feeling particularly lazy, he could be slouching about the house in a pair of loose fitting slacks. Maybe a cashmere cardigan and bare feet.
NEVER A TRACKSUIT.
Wink, Wank, What?
Real Life Benedict is pretty secretive about his private life, as it should be. But he has been kind enough to let us know that he’s a fantastic lover. Thanks for that, dear, I’m pretty sure that kept a few of us going for a while in the bedr- No, wait, I’m getting distracted again. Whatever he lets us know, it’s fairly safe to assume he’s had sex at some point in his life and, maybe, he knows how to do it.
But let us keep in mind that Fanfiction Benedict is crippled by self doubt, a weird face, and the inability to speak to anyone of the opposite gender. He will simply look on from a distance, weeping into his champagne at his private member’s club about the fact all women are too good for him as he tries to resist the urge to go to bed and touch himself.
Fanfiction Benedict takes a lot of cold showers.
Sometimes, Fanfiction Benedict gets over this and manages to convince an unsuspecting woman to sleep with him. The process of this mating dance is more carefully detailed in our first article entitled “Mary & Sues’ Guide to Mary Sues’. There will be a tentative period of ‘Will They, Won’t They’ and during the first couple of times, Fanfiction Benedict will be as knowledgeable in the act of sex as the last living Giant Turtle. However once this passes, Fanfiction Benedict will often, and from nowhere, become a Sex God.
Gone are the nerves and the endless apologising he has been doing of late for simply owning a penis and thinking about using it; it is hello to Sex God Fanfiction Benedict. Fanfiction Benedick, if you will. Sorry. He will go from fumbling idiot to a man who can remove a bra with one flick of his index finger, and whoever the lucky lady is will have had ten orgasms before they’ve even had chance to lie down.
He will probably cry.
Adrenaline Junkie, you say? No thanks, I’ll have a cup of tea please!
Real life Benedict likes nothing more than a bit of adrenaline. Well, I say that, I’ve never spoken to him about the subject, but my gist is this; He rides motorbikes, he sky dives, he snorkels, he windsurfs, he- Well. You get the idea. It makes him horny, too, but let’s save that topic for another day.
Fanfiction Benedict, on the other hand, would never do such things. When he isn’t acting, he potters about random bits of English countryside, eating scones and humming classical music to himself as nobody notices him, because they don’t have televisions in the Cotswolds. If he’s really feeling like taking a risk, he might go rambling in the woods and cross a particularly babbling stream. Maybe his feet will get wet, but don’t worry, he’s probably packed an extra pair of socks as well as his picnic.
While Real Life Benedict flings himself out of planes or climbs a mountain, Fanfiction Benedict will be safe and snug in a cottage, wearing a nice woolly cardigan and reading a book. Maybe he’ll be crying at the latest episode of One Born Every Minute before ringing his Mum and making a cup of Horlicks.
There’s one born every minute, but none of them belong to Ben.
Real Life Benedict - oh. Hang on. No. There is no difference. Poor, poor Benedict just really wants a kid. Maybe two. Whether this is his own paternal instincts, or whether he is just desperate to stop Wanda tutting at him and glaring in a way that says “GRANDCHILDREN”, we may never know. But them’s the facts.
Fanfiction Benedict and Real Life Benedict are in full agreement on this matter.
In a hole in the ground, there lives a Benedict.
Real Life Benedict is something of a social butterfly. Rarely at home, he dallies around London and the globe, partying, dancing, drinking, generally having something of a dandy time. He’s a busy man with many a friend. Fanfiction Benedict? Not so much.
Poor, lonely Fanfiction Benedict sits in his empty flat, or maybe a hotel room should he inexplicably be staying in one in London for absolutely no reason whatsoever given that his house is in the same city. You see, he has a problem. His only two friends are Martin fucking Freeman and Tom Hiddleston, both of whom are wildly successful, charismatic, confident and busy men.
He wraps himself in a throw blanket off the sofa, reclines on his settee and waits for them to stop filming whatever they’re filming. He goes to their houses to be accepted as part of the family, which is nice because otherwise he is alone and lost in the Big Bad World. He has nobody to trust now that his fame has spiralled out of all control, and so making new friends is an entirely Impossible Task for poor old Fanfiction Benedict.
There’s Simon Pegg now, too, of course. But Fanfiction Benedict isn’t quite sure how he feels about him, let’s not forget he was Big Bad Bully on the set of Star Trek and Fanfiction Benedict is in no way, shape or form, capable of sticking up for himself.
But don’t feel too sorry for him, before long Mary Sue will come along and sweep him off his feet, and she’s got lots of friends that I’m sure she’ll be willing to share.
And that’s about it. We’ve pretty much talked about everything our Fanfiction Benedict has to offer, and I’m sure now we’re done, you’ll be able to paint a beautiful portrait of him with words. If you want a brief summary of the situation, here it is:
* He cries.
* He doesn’t wank
Until next time…