Monday, September 22, 2014

Monday writing: Mary Sue litmus tests

Characters are extremely important to me in any story.  I would definitely say they are most important to me, in fact.  If I don't like the characters, an amazing plot won't be enough for me to like the overall story.

For that reason, I prefer stories that are character-centered, character-driven, full of internal conflicts that make you really care about what the characters are going through.  Characters can be difficult to create, though.  It is especially common for amateur writers to make their characters unbelievable, and probably the worst and most annoying type of character is the Mary Sue.

It can be difficult to explain what a Mary Sue is, but basically, it is a character who is given special treatment ranging from beyond gorgeous looks, an amazing personality, incredible talent, being pursued romantically or relentlessly by other characters, and always being right to being the angsty victim of a terrible plight or being treated poorly by an evil character even though she did nothing to deserve it.  Mary sue is often able to do whatever she wants whenever she wants because she is just that amazing, or she is severely reprimanded for whatever she does because she is just that pitiable.  There are many different kinds of Sues, but they all have one thing in common: they are the most awesome characters ever and have very few flaws or else flaws that actually end up making them more attractive or awesome in some way.

(A more thorough description can be found here.)

As a writer myself, I have created a few Mary Sues when I was just starting out, but as I came to be more interested in character-driven plots, I found that realistic characters made for far better stories than the Mary Sues.  Any time I write a story now, after I have sufficiently developed my characters, I enjoy taking Mary Sue litmus tests to see if I've accidentally created Mary Sues.  A Mary Sue litmus test asks you questions about your character and then tells you how much of a Mary Sue your character is based on your answers.  I do not take the tests too literally; that is, I do not automatically assume that it is correct in judging my character.  If I get a high score, I do not necessarily assume that my character is a Mary Sue right away nor do I assume that my character is not a Mary Sue if I get a low score.  Such tests are just meant to give perspective, ideas as to how you can possibly improve your characters.

The following links are the litmus tests I like to use as I find them to be quite thorough.  In addition to be useful tools, they're quite fun!  I actually really enjoy taking the test for my characters.  :)

http://www.springhole.net/writing/marysue.htm
http://www.katfeete.net/writing/marysue.php
http://www.unc.edu/~jemarti/marysuetest/

And finally, yes, Mary Sues can certainly be male.  The male version is sometimes called Gary Stu, but I just prefer to call them all Mary Sues.