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How Not To Write A Mary Sue

So, what is a Mary Sue? It is used as a form of criticism in literature and refers to an idealised and somewhat "perfect" character that appears to have no flaws or if they do they are so limited that all the "perfect" characteristics overwhelm them making the character "flat." Mary sue often refers to a young female protagonist and male "Mary Sues" are often called "Larry Stu".

From my experience most Mary Sues are written in non-published works usually by young writers especially in fan-fiction. However there are a few Mary Sue writers who are actually published (sadly). It shows a deep lacking to create perfect characters unless it's done for satirical purposes.

So why should you avoid writing Mary Sues? Simple, perfect is boring!

We don't like perfect, we don't want perfect! Ask anyone in a relationship to list the positives traits, charms and idiosyncrasies of their partner and I guarantee at least one will be something that is weird, annoying, bizarre etc. Whether it's a crooked smile, the gurgling laugh, the snoring, the clumsiness or what, there will be something in the list that has been seen as a charm that others may see as a negative characteristic.

Next, nobody IS good at everything! There are not wonder people who are smart, funny, sexy, charismatic, nuclear physicist who speak 18 languages 4 of them dead and can read minds, hot wire a car, hack a computer, fly every type of aviation vehicle ever made all while playing Beethoven's 5th blindfolded with spoons!

It is crap and it reads like crap! So why do people write them?

I am sure there are 100s of reasons, one that I have seen is that the writer has an esteem issue and would love to be able to do all those things so throws them all into one or two characters. Result – snoozefest.

By giving a character all these great skills and charms and talents they become under developed as a character. After all, people evolve, grow, change and adapt, if you make a character perfect there is nowhere for them to go.

So how do you stop from writing this? Firstly do NOT make the character you. A writer puts themselves into almost every character they write. Develop your skill by not putting too much of yourself into characters – they are not you. They can be extensions of yourself, exaggerations of a part of your psyche but they should not be you.

Second plan your character in pieces. The pieces are Physical, Emotional, Mental, Skill/Talent and Knowledge. Take each one of these pieces and decide about the character. Think about them now and what they will develop into. If you write a character over several books or over a long story, they will need to develop.

If your character is young such as child or teenager you could write their physical looks realistically. After all children are often awkward in their bodies, as they grow their limbs can look almost gangly, there can be what is referred to as "puppy fat", they can get spots etc. Their faces and bodies will show a little of what they will be but their features will change as they age. Rarely do you get youngsters who never show any of these and are crowning beauties right from infant to adult. So don't write that!

Emotional and mental are two pieces that change with both age and experience. Characters can become embittered or enlightened. They can be abused and so end up with trust issues and emotional scars. They can experience acts of mercy and redemption that may turn a darkening belief in the world into something positive. The gender of the characters also needs to be considered when dealing with these two pieces (though be aware you don't automatically stereotype your characters emotional and mental reactions).

With skill and talent whether it's re-building a computer from scratch or flying a helicopter – give your characters the skills and talents they require for their character. E.g. if your character is a fighter pilot then being able to fly is obviously necessary, you can even have them as the best fighter pilot but think about developing that – maybe they are arrogant because of their ability, which isolates them from other characters or maybe they try and hide their abilities because they are worried they WILL be isolated etc. This allows you to link skills to emotional/mentality.

Also, give your character scope to develop. Their skills, talents and knowledge should change – whether this is to increase or decrease. Don't get into the expected mindset that states all these need to increase. Imagine a sharp shooter character – excellent ability, what happens in his life – maybe he loses his daughter, turns to drink or drugs or maybe just can't stop seeing images of her wherever he is, now he's losing his ability, unable to focus – this is a change, a development to the character. If a character has great skill, you could take it off them or dull it down.

How about giving your character a vice (please note this should not be your ONLY negative trait for a character, one single vice amid a lot of super-great abilities/looks will still read bad! But a vice or two can be developed and will help you find new conflicts to overcome etc) There are many vices and some things may not seem to be vices such as pride, trust – these in extremes can be considered vices and affect a character.

By thinking about your characters, their histories, experiences, mentalities and plots can help you develop them into something more than a perfect yet one-dimensional character that people will find dull to read.
One of the requests I got was to write a tutorial on how NOT to write a Mary Sue.

All my writing tutorials are listed on this journal entry [here] along with pending tutorials.

EDIT: A few people have mentioned how this tutorial seems lacking compared to my others. I did not feel there was much that needed to be said in this, after all the basic premise is Mary Sue characters are perfect, perfect is boring, don't do it! :)

This tutorial is a simple guide to ways I feel you could help to keep you from writing a Mary Sue - after all, many people don't realise they've created such a character.

I also have another Character tutorial here that covers other notes about writing characters.

As always ALL my tutorials are just my personal opinions on ways and methods to write. They are merely guides to help you (if possible) on looking at your writing style/content/characters etc in a different way.


NOTICE TO ALL WRITERS
My writing blog is now up and running, it will be filled with more tutorials, hints, tips, tricks and general writer ramblings as well as features and competitions. Please visit at [link]
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:iconlozgamer316:
LoZGamer316 Featured By Owner Jan 13, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
I laughed a little too hard when the impossible list or Mary's abilities was presented.
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:iconimpious-imp:
Impious-Imp Featured By Owner Dec 29, 2014
This didn't teach me how to write a Mary Sue at all.
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:iconglowingradiance:
GlowingRadiance Featured By Owner Jun 5, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
This is very helpful for a beginner like me. 
I always question myself whether I should be writing about myself or not, cause most people do that.
And most readers don't quite like cocky, arrogant writers either. 
Thanks for writing this. 
I'll be sure to read more insyaAllah. 

:)
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:iconbekadavis:
BekaDavis Featured By Owner Dec 23, 2013  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Very helpful - thank you! Despite all the thought I have put into my characters, this helped me get to know them even better.
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:icondarkdelusion:
DarkDelusion Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2014
Thank you, I am glad you found it useful :)

Please note all my tutorials (existing and new) will be uploaded to my writers blog.
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:iconrhythmfanart:
rhythmfanart Featured By Owner Aug 22, 2013
Um, just thought I'd say this, but, it is possible to not make a Mary Sue but still make your character you. If you pick out your real strengths and your real weaknesses instead of just idealizing yourself, then your character will be actually believable. Not all "you" characters are Mary Sues.
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:icondarkdelusion:
DarkDelusion Featured By Owner Aug 26, 2013
If a person analyses themselves clearly then yes they could write a "you" character. However Mary Sue or not, my personal preference is to stay away from "you" characters. I believe a fiction should be just that, fiction. I find it more fun to create and better to read, characters that are created rather than slotting "you" characters into stories.

Again though, this is just my opinion and I am sure many writers prefer their own selves as characters.
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:iconastrikos:
Astrikos Featured By Owner Jul 2, 2013   General Artist
Featured your helpful deviation here. :love:
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:icondarkdelusion:
DarkDelusion Featured By Owner Jul 6, 2013
Thank you kindly for featuring some of my writing tutorials, that is much appreciated! ^-^
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:iconastrikos:
Astrikos Featured By Owner Jul 6, 2013   General Artist
:huggle: Your tutorials rock! 
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:icondarkdelusion:
DarkDelusion Featured By Owner Jul 15, 2013
Aw you are soo sweet!! :D Thank you. I love all the kind comments I get about my tutorials. It is lovely to know so many people find them so useful. I never thought so many people would like them!

So what do you write, what is your genre of choice?

=^.^=
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:iconastrikos:
Astrikos Featured By Owner Jul 16, 2013   General Artist
:hug: :heart: 
They are so well written! They deserve the love!
I write realistic/fantasy fiction sometimes! 
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:icondarkdelusion:
DarkDelusion Featured By Owner Jul 20, 2013
Do you hope to be published or just doing it as a hobby?
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:iconastrikos:
Astrikos Featured By Owner Jul 20, 2013   General Artist
Hobby for now. :giggle: 
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:iconendlessvoidofdispair:
endlessvoidofdispair Featured By Owner Mar 2, 2013
This was helpful, I wonder if people make Mary sue for silly purposes.
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:icondarkdelusion:
DarkDelusion Featured By Owner Jun 19, 2013
Hi, thanks for the comment. I am pleased you found this helpful.

I think there may be some writers who create Mary Sue characters in a satirical purpose. But when it comes to budding writers I think most Mary Sues are created without realisation. It can be so easy to want to cram all the best parts into one character.
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:iconhushaby-monster:
hushaby-monster Featured By Owner Jul 25, 2012   Artist
Glad I stumbled upon this. :XD: I'll be reading more of your tutorials now! ^.^ I like that the way you wrote this was easy to understand and flowed well.... I'm usually too lazy to actually read tutorials (on anything... including painting. :XD: )
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:icondarkdelusion:
DarkDelusion Featured By Owner Jul 28, 2012
Hi

Thank you kindly for your comment, apologies for the delay - I am technically on a mini hiatus right now.

It is always a pleasure hearing that people found my writing tutorials useful and enjoyable to read. Personally, I am just the same, I rarely read tutorials so when I started to write these I did attempt to make them hold a better "voice" so that people would find them easy to read and not to stodgy.

I hope you enjoy the rest of my tutorials, I have a list of pending tutorials (see my main journal, writing tutorials link). If you have any suggestions on what you would like to see a tutorial on (that I haven't covered and that isn't pending) please do leave me a note/comment and I will see what I can do.
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:iconhushaby-monster:
hushaby-monster Featured By Owner Jul 31, 2012   Artist
You're welcome. ^.^ And I noticed that when I looked at your profile, so no worries. ^.^

And I think you succeeded. ^.^ I have a couple books on how to write better stories, and they can't even hope to hold my attention. :XD:

And ok. ^.^ thanks.
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:iconmegaheroes16:
MegaHeroes16 Featured By Owner Oct 28, 2011  Hobbyist Writer
I know a Mary Sue is a worse thing to do as an aspiring writer, but what will the results be if people are too anxious to make their character 'a little bit overly-awesome or cool' or if they are dependent on litmus tests?

Result: the Anti-Sue or one of those 'whiny Wemo characters' such as Shinji Ikari from NGE or Emil Castagnier, Cloud Strife, or Sora from Kingdom Hearts (I'm not that harsh on them, but many others are). The readers are never happy. You either make a character that's too plain or boring OR you make a character that's too annoying or irritating (whether or not they are balanced characters).

Of course, I try my best to give each of my characters depths and flaws...

For example (1):

In one of the stories there's a character (blatantly based of me - at least I am honest about ;) ) who like all the other characters in the fantasy world is able to use magic, but he isn't close with many people (doesn't have many friends), he can be quite cynical or idealistic which make most people irritated or won't take him seriously and he can't One on One. However, through the story he grows into a confident person that can be a help to his team members and friends and who has accepted its flaws.

Another Example (2):

In the same story, the leader of the group is a national 'magic knight' champion that can pilot a Mecha with ease (of course all the others get a Mecha as well but many of them have to get used to it) and apparently transform its sword into a light sabre which requires the person to be either Mr. Badass or person that needs the will / power to protect (guess with one he is?). Sounds like a Mary Sue, doesn't it.
Errmm... He might be the member, he has trouble to get along with everyone (especially the Self-Insert Character (see example 1)) because he's actually afraid to break the law to save the world. He doesn't want to get trouble with the authorities, but he doesn't want to disappoint his group of aspiring heroes as well. Eventually he becomes a person that is willing to ignore the authorities and lead his group into heated battles when it's needed. Unfortunately, he dies in the middle of the story. His death will inspire the best friend of #1 and #2 to become the group's leader and lead the group to its path of hope and world-saving.


In a certain way, example 1 is similar to Neville Longbottom from HP and example 2 is a mix between Kamina and Simon from Gurren Lagann (I except you haven't heard about the show, but Kamina is the Master McBadAss + flaws that make him quite three-dimensional).

My question is to you: are they both Marty Stus or not?
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:icondarkdelusion:
DarkDelusion Featured By Owner Oct 29, 2011
These don't sound like Marty Stus. The best way to recognise a Mary Sue/Marty Stu is in the lack of growth. A character should change and develop (whether good or bad). The characters you described had some flaws and you stated how they developed in the story.

As with any story, your ideas will grow beyond how you first see them - it is the nature of writing.

A character who is perfectly skilled, has the best personality, who gets on with everyone etc is often seen as a Mary Sue/Marty Stu. A character can develop to be brilliant, they can be brillant and lose it etc.

The concept is growth - developing either up or down. Your character should change, situations will bring experience, wisdom, mistakes, fears, regrets... this is what is usually lacking in a Mary Sue/Marty Stu character. I think from your examples you have not written 2D characters.

Does this help? :)
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:iconmegaheroes16:
MegaHeroes16 Featured By Owner Oct 30, 2011  Hobbyist Writer
Helps a lot, thank you :)
Mind you that one of those two is still a self-insertion. It's quite a challenge of course, considering how many people view self-inserts as Mary Sues / Mary Stus, but as long as a writer can know the good and the bad of itself and show both sides - then it's not so bad, I suppose.
Sure it's a bit self-indulgence / wish fulfilment , but it's also my way of figuring out how life would be if I, for example, lived in a multi-species society full of magic and giant robots - I'd still suck at stuff to be honest XD - Never mind the fact that it'd be quite boring if I were to become some invincible hero that steals the show all the time and kicks demon ass.

Yeah, it's about growth - and balance ;)
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:icondarkdelusion:
DarkDelusion Featured By Owner Oct 31, 2011
You often find most people add themselves into a story, however many find as the story grows the character becomes less and less like them and more as a stand-alone character.

The issue with inserting a "self-like" character appearing as a Mary Sue/Marty Stu is often done because the writer overdoes their own character wanting them to do / have everything. If you as the writer know to add faults as well as skills, allow for growth even if it takes the character further away from you there shouldn't be any problem. :)
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:iconjessiejordan:
JessieJordan Featured By Owner Sep 18, 2011  Student General Artist
This is so true! I have a friend who needs to read this tutorial. She has a character who is good at martial arts, intelligent, intuitive, creative, beautiful, super multi-tasker, compassionate, caring, balanced in her emotions, and she can even "sleep work" and not injure herself or others. The bad traits? She is every once in a while possessive.....thats it.... I've kinda forced her to make her have more flaws but I still think shes got too many strengths. (this is a Role play character) It bugs me. I dont know how to talk to her about it.
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:icondarkdelusion:
DarkDelusion Featured By Owner Sep 19, 2011
Maybe explain to your friend that her character is undevelop-able and consequently boring! :) Okay maybe don't say boring, but point out that a character should evolve and if they have already got everything they can't build up - though they could go down and get worse but most Mary-Sue writers don't think like that.

I can appreciate how it is, hopefully your friend will realise on her own when the roleplay becomes stagnant around her character. PS: wow that is a lot of "good" abilities, definitely comes across as boring as a character
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:iconjessiejordan:
JessieJordan Featured By Owner Sep 19, 2011  Student General Artist
I think her excuse is that it's a rp about the future and super human abilities, but so what?? just because it's superhuman, doesn't mean it has to be totally unrealistic. I think I'll definatly reffer her to this tutorial and tell her to keep Tori in mind.
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:icongrimv:
GrimV Featured By Owner Aug 25, 2011  Student General Artist
"Next, nobody IS good at everything! There are not wonder people who are smart, funny, sexy, charismatic, nuclear physicist who speak 18 languages 4 of them dead and can read minds, hot wire a car, hack a computer, fly every type of aviation vehicle ever made all while playing Beethoven's 5th blindfolded with spoons!"

Best. Paragraph. Ever.
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:iconlozgamer316:
LoZGamer316 Featured By Owner May 5, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
Is she being blindfolded with the spoons or is she playing Beethoven's Fifth on the spoons?
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:iconwraith-shade:
Wraith-Shade Featured By Owner Feb 13, 2012  Student General Artist
Agreed.
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:icondarkdelusion:
DarkDelusion Featured By Owner Aug 26, 2011
:D Thanks, I appreciate that! ^-^
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:icongrimv:
GrimV Featured By Owner Aug 26, 2011  Student General Artist
^^ no prob!
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:icongoblinprincess:
GoblinPrincess Featured By Owner Aug 25, 2011
I'm afraid I agree with HatedLove6 - it is worse that your other works, I could have almost imagined that it wasn't your own idea to wrote it. There are lots of Mary Sue related tutorials already (and all of them, obviously, are a 'how to make a good character), so I don't think you needed one of your own.

I also have a little thing to comment: I really liked the "Firstly do NOT make the character you. [etc., etc.]" paragraph, there are lots of people who don't seem to understand it. But I do not agree that the fact that a character is entirely based on yourself makes it a 'Mary Sue/Gary Stu' for sure - not if you're honest with yourself. Also, not if he/she is not the main character: making a cameo in your own story as a secondary or even less important character can be even funny. The problem with Mary Sues and so, as you said, is that they're not based on real people, but on the writer's unbelievable desires.
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:icondarkdelusion:
DarkDelusion Featured By Owner Aug 25, 2011
I was a little confused by your comment - you said "I could have almost imagined that it wasn't your idea to wrote it." As I mentioned, it WASNT'T my idea to write it - I wrote it because I was asked to write it. This isn't something I would normally write because I don't write Mary Sue characters. Most of my tutorials come from either personal experience throughout my development as a writer, or things that I see in other works.

Personally I find the idea of a Mary Sue very basic, it doesn't need much hence why it isn't as detailed as my others and my other tutorial on characters gives details so this was my basic thoughts on the topic I was asked to write. If you don't write Mary Sues, then you won't need to look at the tutorial.

Writing yourself as a character doesn't make it a Mary Sue, however it can develop that way so my opinion was that you don't do it. As a writer I feel characters based around the writer usually read pretty badly - again, that's my opinion. Some people prefer to do it that way. In the end, these are tutorials that you can either use or not. They aren't written in stone, they are my thoughts on writing and they won't always match up with other peoples thoughts.
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:icongoblinprincess:
GoblinPrincess Featured By Owner Aug 26, 2011
I meant that I could imagine it BEFORE I read that it actually wasn't your idea. Somehow, it looks more... let's say, 'rushed', like: 'the points are this, this, and that. Goodbye'. It reminded me of some kind of homework :giggle: Your other tutorials have more passion.

And I just wanted to let you know that the Author Sue rule can be skipped more easily if it is not the main character because your tutorial din't say anything like that. I just wanted to help and widen the subject, that's all.
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:icondarkdelusion:
DarkDelusion Featured By Owner Aug 26, 2011
It is lacking in passion because this isn't a subject I would have written myself. It may feel rushed because there isn't really much to say on the subject that goes beyond what I feel I have already written in my Characters Tutorial.

I don't think of it as an Author Sue "Rule", after all there are no real rules in writing as everyone does it differently. Some published authors write in ways I never would and I personally think are awful that doesn't mean there is a rule that they or I am following.

As I said, I don't think writing yourself as a character, even a minor one is a good idea. This is just my opinion. Though I am sure your comments will be helpful to other writers who might prefer to write themselves in but could be worried it would create a Mary Sue.

Appreciate your thoughts.
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:iconorion-m-42:
Orion-M-42 Featured By Owner Aug 24, 2011  Hobbyist Digital Artist
is that who she is!? i've always wondered about her. :O_o:

great guide by the way, reinforces why i usually like those underdog characters or those with the crazy bad traits that seem to hold them back regardless of how well they fight, think, etc. :)
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:icondarkdelusion:
DarkDelusion Featured By Owner Aug 25, 2011
Me too, when I was asked to write this I had to look up what a "Mary Sue" was. I suppose I'm not surprised they have a name for this type of writing. Though thankfully most published authors don't write these kinds of characters (with the exception of Karen Miller and Empress, I think her main character was a Mary Sue type with a bad attitude!) :)
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:iconhatedlove6:
HatedLove6 Featured By Owner Aug 23, 2011  Hobbyist Writer
It wasn't bad, but I found it all extremely vague, as if this could have been an introduction to something more detailed.
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:icondarkdelusion:
DarkDelusion Featured By Owner Aug 23, 2011
Sorry you feel it wasn't detailed enough however the concept itself is pretty basic so, in my opinion doesn't require much detail.

A Mary sue is bland and perfect character, the tutorial was merely a guide to point out a few aspects to keep people from writing a Mary Sue characters and thinking beyond the typical. Most people who do write Mary Sue characters don't usually mean to do it, some don't even realise they have written their characters like that.
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