One of my favorite characters has been called a "Mary Sue", so that brings to question what is a Mary Sue and how can we avoid the pitfalls of Mary Sue-dom.
Wikipedia gives a decent idea of what a Mary Sue character is.
Wikipedia Entry on Mary Sue wrote:
Mary Sue [..] is a pejorative term for a fictional character who is portrayed in an idealized way and who is generally lacking in any truly noteworthy flaws (or having her flaws romanticized [..]). Characters labeled Mary Sues, as well as the stories they appear in, are generally seen as wish fulfillment fantasies on the part of the author.
Now having read this basic defination I had to think about what is an idealized character so I went to websters dictionary and looked it up.
Idealize: 1 a : to give an ideal form or value to b : to attribute ideal characteristics to
Okay, didn't help me out much, so I looked up Ideal next: 3 a : of, relating to, or embodying an ideal
This defination of ideal sends the message very clearly. A perfect character.
We all know that no one is perfect and a character that is a Mary Sue tends to give you the sense that they are perfect. I will give the people who called one of my favorite characters credit here as they did pigeon hole the character into this category. And as I sit and think about the character I find it difficult to find any noteworthy flaws that aren't being romantized by the author.
So I guess the question begging to be asked is how do you avoid this character type?
It's a wonderful thing the internet, type avoiding mary sue into Google and you find exactly what you are looking for in many different places.
The Mary Sue Manual - I'm reading though this as I write this article/post so please bear with me as I might flounder a while.
I'm looking back on my won characters I've written in the past and the very first character is a Mary Sue, she has no flaws that I can think of, she's perfect in every way. I'm not sure there is any thing I can do to redeam this character with out rewriting the story, which I plan to do but that's not the point right now. Back on topic. My own personal favorite character that I've written is from a role playing site and she's been in existance for some time in some form or another.
Sitting back and analyzing the character as a creation I see that she may fit into the Mary Sue pigeon hole.
In the Mary Sue manual there are sub-categories of Mary Sue. The first being "The Pity-Beggar Mary Sue".
The pity-beggar Mary Sue is a common one, often leading a painful life with hateful parents, perfect siblings/friends or no friends at all, no boyfriend, no guys hitting on her, and possibly, in the worst crime able to be committed in a fanfic, pointless rape. In the WORST of these cases, the raped character will have little to no reaction to the injustice, an injustice in itself to all who HAVE been through such a horrid experience.
Okay my character falls very much into this category, maybe?
As I look at the How to avoid section it reminds us that there are good things in life. Thinking back to creation of the character, is there good in her life. Sure, she's got a fond hobby of watching sword practice, learning the art of herb lore. She's a tough life, but I don't think she quite fits in this pigeon hole. Other's may disagree, I'm sure.
The next subcategory is The God-modding Mary Sue. This is probably the one thing I tried not to write into this particular character, tho I do see it in some of my very first characters.
The Plot-stealer Mary Sue. Again something I try to avoid. Characters who want to be someone else don't make for good writing.
The Man-Hunter Mary Sue. I can't say as I've placed showers in a medieval time period but I have fallen into this trap. Even my favorite creation falls into this particular trap. Can she get out of it?
People don’t exist for love. Add reality to the character by giving them objectives and super-objectives. The Super-objective is what they want out of the situation, and the objectives are minor steps to getting the super-objective, each one pertaining to a new situation within the super-objective. If your character’s super-objective is to win the love of Person X, then there’s not much depth in that character. Depth is reality, reality is originality.
Does she exist for love? Nope, love has always been something that happened and she wasn't looking for it. It's not the end all and be all of her existance, even sex isn't just sex when she has it (most of the time), there is always a motive behind it.
The Perfect Mary Sue is the last subcategory. I don't think this needs much explanation.
But how does all this help us to avoid writing a Mary Sue? The Mary Sue Mannual suggests:
There are four parts to a character that when above normal, make a Mary Sue: Skills, Luck/Coordination, Romance, and Looks. When you create a character, designate which specific skills he or she will have, whether good or bad, and give them a number for how skilled they are in each, 1 being worst, 9 being best. Any number below 6 is a negative (1-5) and all other numbers (6-9) are positives. The same goes for how lucky the character is, how successful they are romantically, and how good-looking they are. Combine the numbers together when all are completed, adding the positives, taking away the negatives. Try to keep the number under 15 and over 10.
To analaize my favorite creation let's see how she fares in this scheme.
Sword play +8
I can't think of anymore qualities that define the character. That totals up to 13, not too bad of a character then.
I have found another test The Mary Sue Limitus Test. Let's see how the same character fares?
After taking the long test she comes out with a 54. She's a Mary Sue! It says she's redemable, but how? Where do you begin with character creation to avoid the Mary Sue Syndrom?