|Photo credit: Graham Blackall on Flickr|
Ok, so maybe not quite, but Mary Sue is a conniving little character that likes to slip into the unsuspecting writer's work, and if you aren't careful, you may fall victim to her sneaky ways as well.
For those of you who don't know, according to Wikipedia (who had the best definition I could find), Mary Sue is "a fictional character with overly idealized and hackneyed mannerisms, lacking noteworthy flaws, and primarily functioning as a wish-fulfillment fantasy for the author or reader. It is generally accepted as a character whose positive aspects overwhelm their other traits until they become one-dimensional." As I've already posted in the past about character flaws and mistakes, I'm going to focus on the wish-fulfillment/self-insertion bit.
As new writers often haven't developed their Mary Sue radar yet, they tend to find Mary Sues cropping up in their writing most often. And it's not difficult to understand why it's so easy to accidentally write a Mary Sue into your work—as writers, we spend a lot of time trying to create new characters and get to know them, and sometimes as we get to know them, we start to realize that they remind us of...well...ourselves. What's worse, sometimes writers don't realize they've created a Mary Sue until halfway through the first draft (or even after the first draft is completed).
Good news is there are warning signs that can tip you off to the possibility of a Mary Sue hiding in your writing that are relatively easy to recognize so that you can stop the invasion before it's too late.
The Warning Signs:
- You agree with everything your MC says, thinks and does. Always agreeing with your protagonist is a HUGE red flag. That's not to say that you shouldn't be able to justify their actions (you should), but if you don't disagree with your protagonist every once in a while, chances are you've been writing a character that's a tad too reminiscent of you.
- You share the same strengths and flaws. Writing is often about balance, and there's nothing wrong with a writer sharing a couple strengths or flaws with their characters—that's natural, even. But if you're a perfectionist and a compulsive liar with a sharp tongue and quick wit and your protagonist is a quick-witted compulsive liar who also happens to be a perfectionist, then I hate to break it to you, but you may have just written yourself into your novel.
- You share the same strengths and your protagonist doesn't have any flaws. Please see point two and this post.
My point is this: as writers we spend a lot of time in our character's heads—we live and breathe our stories until our characters feel as real as our family members and closest friends, but we are not our characters. The moment you start to suspect that you may have fictionalized yourself, chances are you probably have.
If you're a writer, have you ever written a Mary Sue or Gary Stu into your writing? What steps did you take to fix it?