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Mystic Muse
2009-07-31, 11:37 AM
okay. I'm currently writing a book and I need some help. I want to make sure the main character isn't a complete "Marty Stu" or a "life replacement character" or whatever. considering the intelligence of the playground is rather high I though all of you could help.

I can't tell you the plot because it would violate forum rules unfortunately.

I'll give you guys credit for helping me.

13_CBS
2009-07-31, 11:46 AM
This may give you a head start on understanding what a Mary Sue is (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MarySue). And once you understand what it is, you can (probably) avoid it.

Jade_Tarem
2009-07-31, 12:00 PM
I'm not a professional writer, and character design is just a hobby for me, but it seems to me that the best way to go about this would be to give your main character the following:

Flaws - and not just goofy little quirks (although he/she could have those too), but actual personality flaws that will hinder him in some way. The seven deadly sins could give you inspiration, but really there are hundreds of things to choose from. I wouldn't give him sloth, though, because that makes for a pretty boring book.

Limits - the more like a superhero your main character is, the more likely it is that he's a marty stu. If your hero has special powers, then those powers need to come with a price. Iron Man and Green Lantern run out of power. Cyclops can't shut his power off. You get the idea. If your character doesn't have special powers, then his limits will be more mundane. He'll get tired, hungry, etc., and injuries will be pretty debilitating. Keep that in mind.

Vulnerability - while your main character can be more awesome than the average joe, one of the differences between an epic hero and a superhero is what it takes to kill them. A superhero can only be killed by their kryptonite. An epic hero can be killed by greater amounts of whatever it takes to kill an average person in your setting.

Personal Motivation - whatever your character is doing shouldn't be motivated solely by "because he's the hero." Maybe he's out for revenge, love, or money. Really, there are as many motivations as characters, but the mark of a Mary Sue is that he or she is the good guy because they're the good guy, and they approach every problem with only the purest of intentions and beliefs. IF the situation is exteme enough, then a character may do something like save the world for the express purpose of saving the world, since most people will acknowledge that doing so is worthwhile for its own sake.

Fears - everyone's afraid of something, but a wacky phobia ("Why did it have to be beetles?") doesn't count. Again, there are many things to be afraid of, and they don't have to be rational or reasonable.

Friends - most heroes have friends, and if you don't want your character to be a Mary Sue, then most of those friends should be better than the hero at something. I don't know what kind of book you're writing, but what the friends can be better at can be almost anything. Maybe one of his friends has better people skills. Another one can be a doctor. A third can be well connected. Take your pick. Superheroes have fans that they have to rescue constantly (Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane, I'm looking at you), regular heroes have friends that they can call on for support.


Like I said, I'm not a professional writer, and you're proabably tired of reading this post where I act like I know what I'm talking about, but I hope this helps.

If you want further assistance, Rich Burlew has put up on this very site the Villain Workshop - and while you're working on a hero, the Villian Workshop can be reinterpreted (with a little imagination) to make virtually any character. You might want to check that out.

valadil
2009-07-31, 12:09 PM
Make a list of what is wrong with your main character. You can do it on these boards or in your notes. Make sure that each of these failings impedes the character in an important way at least once. Depending on the nature of the failing, once per chapter may work better. ie, somebody overly shy will be impeded in every social situation they encounter. Somebody with a fear of dogs will probably only encounter dogs once or twice* throughout the course of your book.

*twice is actually better. You need to set the precedent in an inconsequential manner. Then you need to screw them with it. If there's a third encounter, that's where the character can start to get over or find a way around the problem.

Mystic Muse
2009-07-31, 12:10 PM
well he has most of those things.
flaws, friends, fears, personal motivation, limits, vulnerability. I mean after all he's only human.

or at least mostly human.:smallamused:

Lord Seth
2009-07-31, 12:11 PM
okay. I'm currently writing a book and I need some help. I want to make sure the main character isn't a complete "Marty Stu" or a "life replacement character" or whatever. considering the intelligence of the playground is rather high I though all of you could help.

I can't tell you the plot because it would violate forum rules unfortunately.

I'll give you guys credit for helping me.Ahem. One, two, three...GO!

Gary Stu:
I am the very model of a modern major Gary Stu.
No matter what the situation is I know just what to do.
I have a lot of powers that I can pull straight out of a hat.
They do not even have to make sense at all, I can tell you that.
I'm very good at being right, I'm probably part elvish too,
But even as a human I am simply far too great for you.
I share the same name as the author in a blatant self-insert.
No matter what damage I take I always end up quite unhurt.

Chorus:
No matter what damage he takes he always ends up quite unhurt!
No matter what damage he takes he always ends up quite unhurt!
No matter what damage he takes he always ends up quite un quite unhurt!

Gary Stu:
I'm stronger than the rest of them, the other characters are wimps.
It's like I'm Superman and they all must walk with some quite bad limps.
In other words, please don't use me, I urge you to be wary too.
I am the very model of a modern major Gary Stu.

Chorus:
In other words, please don't use him, he urged you to be wary too.
He is the very model of a modern major Gary Stu.

Gary Stu:
The author wishes he was me and ignores my flaws completely.
I'll kill in cold blood but he says it was done heroically.
In fan fiction I'm quite a plague but I can be in other works.
The other heroes love us but we Gary Stus are often jerks.
If someone likes me they are good if someone hates me they are bad.
The writer is incompetent but somehow thinks that they're quite rad.
I'm better at what I do than others who have trained their whole lives.
Quite able to fend off strong enemies with a few kitchen knives.

Chorus:
Quite able to fend off strong enemies with a few kitchen knives!
Quite able to fend off strong enemies with a few kitchen knives!
Quite able to fend off strong enemies with a few kitchen kitchen knives!

Gary Stu:
My actions are exactly what the author has wanted to do.
Expect a lot of wish fulfillment just for them but not for you.
In other words, please don't use me, I urge you to be wary too.
I am the very model of a modern major Gary Stu.

Chorus:
In other words, please don't use him, he urged you to be wary too.
He is the very model of a modern major Gary Stu.

Gary Stu:
I learn skills in mere minutes that others have taken years to know.
The second that I pick one up I know how to fire a bow.
In fan fiction expect me to be some kind of long-lost brother.
Many of us are like that but someone always adds another.
My morals contradict, it's true, I'm vegan but I kill people.
I can't think of a rhyme here so I will just say the word steeple.
While characters with opposing views have nothing but bad passion,
Expect me to preach the author's views in an obvious fashion.

Chorus:
Expect him to preach the author's views in an obvious fashion!
Expect him to preach the author's views in an obvious fashion!
Expect him to preach the author's views in an obvious 'vious fashion!

Gary Stu:
I'm always some kind of chosen one and no one else ever is,
I tend to score a lot of points on a Mary Sue litmus quiz.
I think my point has been made well, remember to be wary too.
I am the very model of a modern major Gary Stu.

Chorus:
He thinks his point has been made well, remember to be wary too.
He is the very model of a modern major Gary Stu.

Does that help?

13_CBS
2009-07-31, 12:11 PM
I'm not a professional writer either, but remember that piling on flaws, vulnerabilties, and such isn't an end but a means to an end, the end being creating a human being (or a simulation thereof) through words.

Jalor
2009-07-31, 12:13 PM
I can't tell you the plot because it would violate forum rules unfortunately.

Does it involve explicit sex, real-world politics, or real-world religion? If it does not, feel free to post it.

Or at least describe the character, maybe post an excerpt of his description from the book.

Mystic Muse
2009-07-31, 12:13 PM
Make a list of what is wrong with your main character. You can do it on these boards or in your notes. Make sure that each of these failings impedes the character in an important way at least once. Depending on the nature of the failing, once per chapter may work better. ie, somebody overly shy will be impeded in every social situation they encounter. Somebody with a fear of dogs will probably only encounter dogs once or twice* throughout the course of your book.

*twice is actually better. You need to set the precedent in an inconsequential manner. Then you need to screw them with it. If there's a third encounter, that's where the character can start to get over or find a way around the problem.

he doesn't trust people very well, he has a fear of being mentally controlled by his dad (makes more sense in the context of the story) doesn't get angry easily but when he does you better hope you're not the one he's angry at, he hates humanity, he hates being told what to do but does it anyway.

that enough or do I need more fears and flaws?

13_CBS
2009-07-31, 12:14 PM
that enough or do I need more fears and flaws?

It's not the number of fears and flaws in a character, but what you do with them. You could easily take just one of the fears and flaws you mentioned and expand upon it, and create an excellent character.

Edit: Or, if you think you can handle it, perhaps you could make a character with 1000000 flaws, and have his greatest one be that, well, he just sucks. Or maybe give him 1000000 flaws and have his greatest one be that he doesn't work to overcome his imperfections, and instead submits to them.

Mystic Muse
2009-07-31, 12:16 PM
Does it involve explicit sex, real-world politics, or real-world religion? If it does not, feel free to post it.

Or at least describe the character, maybe post an excerpt of his description from the book.

real world religion. and possibly real world politics. also one bad sex scene but there's a reason for it. okay. I don't think kids are going to be reading this book any time soon.

he has the ability to look however he wants as long as he remains male. this is because of what he looks like if he doesn't use that ability.

demon like horns used for goring on the top of his head. a face with no features except for eyes and he has a third eye. a pretty normal human looking upper body except he has wings, claws for hands and feet, blades coming out of his elbows and knees, a dragon's tail. I think that's everything. (also makes much more sense in the context of the story.) oh yeah and there are other beings like this although their descriptions vary a lot.

Ozymandias
2009-07-31, 12:20 PM
Much more important than worrying about your character meeting some external standard, is determining whether he/she is interesting and engaging in the work itself.

The "Marty Stu" problem in one sense is a major issue in works where visceral conflict is important and that character diffuses that tension - if Jay Gatsby were an invincible swordsman, it would not meaningfully affect the plot of that work.

The other factor is that "Mary Sue" characters are simply not interesting - development seems forced and hollow, and the author clearly feels that character is better and wiser than everyone else. This usually comes off as preachy and boring.

Mystic Muse
2009-07-31, 12:21 PM
ah. sounds like a good thing to avoid although I would have done that anyway. (avoided it that is.)

Telonius
2009-07-31, 12:33 PM
Since the story does involve some fantasy, you do have a little bit of wiggle room. As long as you can portray his strengths in a way that doesn't break suspension of disbelief, it's fine. The biggest trick is to get into the character's head. Given the qualities you've ascribed to him, and the situation he finds himself in, how would that character really act?

Yeah, the qualities and situations can be pretty far out there. Superman, for example. Last son of Krypton, nearly godlike powers, finds himself adopted by a family of farmers out in the heartland, then goes to work in Metropolis at a major news paper, where none of the photo editors notice that he looks an awful lot like the dude that's constantly on the newspaper cover. We all know that it's way too far out there to be "real," and a lot of criticism is (fairly) leveled against the character because of it. Unless the writer is extraordinarily careful, Superman can easily turn into the biggest Gary Stu of them all. But when the depiction is at its best, it works - because we can see that he and the rest of the characters involved are experiencing the same sorts of emotions that the rest of us have. And even Superman has his limits. He doesn't just snap his fingers and fix the world's problems, because even he can't do that. (Despite being an awful movie otherwise, Superman 4 explored this theme).

valadil
2009-07-31, 12:35 PM
he doesn't trust people very well, he has a fear of being mentally controlled by his dad (makes more sense in the context of the story) doesn't get angry easily but when he does you better hope you're not the one he's angry at, he hates humanity, he hates being told what to do but does it anyway.

that enough or do I need more fears and flaws?

Probably but it depends on what happens in the story. If you put this character in The Old Man and the Sea, the flaws would never matter. If you have side characters beyond a large fish for your character to interact with, you're probably fine.

AstralFire
2009-07-31, 12:49 PM
No one cares if you're a Mary Sue.

Kinda.

A lot of popular literature is all about the Benjamins. And Mary Sues, or at least by their common definitions. I've run so many of 'em through 'Mary Sue tests' and watched 'em fail it isn't funny.

Worry first and foremost that the character is likeable for other people. If you have trouble doing this, humor helps - try and be as humorously denigrating about the character as you can. If this still sounds like someone you'd want to watch the life of, you're in decent shape.

warty goblin
2009-07-31, 05:00 PM
Ask yourself one simple question- does the universe revolve around the main (or any) character?

Now the story obviously does, and it is reasonably likely that the main character is a reasonably important individual within the world, but is he the only person capable of solving most problems that occur? Do people like, obey and treat him with an amount of respect not particularly commesurate with his actions? Do things happen to him for the sole purpose of being 'cool?' Is he impossibly handsome, and are absolute pages spend describing how pants-ignitingly good looking he is? Does he ever change the world through 'the power of love?'

None of these guarentee that your character is, or is not a Mary Sue since that is a pretty subjective criteria. Answering no to most of those will mean I'm more likely to actually be interested in them however.

Mystic Muse
2009-07-31, 06:44 PM
Ask yourself one simple question- does the universe revolve around the main (or any) character?

Now the story obviously does, and it is reasonably likely that the main character is a reasonably important individual within the world, 1. but is he the only person capable of solving most problems that occur? 2. Do people like, obey and treat him with an amount of respect not particularly commesurate with his actions? 3.Do things happen to him for the sole purpose of being 'cool?' 4. Is he impossibly handsome, and are absolute pages spend describing how pants-ignitingly good looking he is? 5. Does he ever change the world through 'the power of love?'

None of these guarentee that your character is, or is not a Mary Sue since that is a pretty subjective criteria. Answering no to most of those will mean I'm more likely to actually be interested in them however.

1. eh sort of. he's a brilliant tactician and powerful but he's really bad at normal everyday encounters. he doesn't really know how to act around people.
2. to an extent. only his friends though. this is sort of the way real friends are though.
3. no not at all.
4. no he's actually pretty average looking.
5. no no no no and NO

as for the revolves around him thing. I'm not sure yet. I'm still debating between writing it so it's like you're seeing the world through his eyes or more of a narrator's eyes. if I write it so it's a first person account it may come off that way.

Dervag
2009-07-31, 07:39 PM
okay. I'm currently writing a book and I need some help. I want to make sure the main character isn't a complete "Marty Stu" or a "life replacement character" or whatever. considering the intelligence of the playground is rather high I though all of you could help.I submit that this test (http://www.springhole.net/quizzes/marysue.htm) is a good place to start.

If you have plenty of time to think all this over, then I would point you to Limyaael's fantasy rants (http://www.forresterlabs.com/limyaael/). Most of them reference fantasy novels, but a lot of the lessons drawn from there can be applied to other genres. Limyaael is pursuing an advanced degree in literature. Her ability to analyze the fantasy genre and address some of its more poisonous tropes is pretty impressive.
_______


Limits - the more like a superhero your main character is, the more likely it is that he's a marty stu. If your hero has special powers, then those powers need to come with a price. Iron Man and Green Lantern run out of power. Cyclops can't shut his power off. You get the idea. If your character doesn't have special powers, then his limits will be more mundane. He'll get tired, hungry, etc., and injuries will be pretty debilitating. Keep that in mind.One way to help keep this going is to pay attention to logistics. How long have your characters gone without food or sleep? Where are they getting money or supplies from, if they are engaged in some kind of activity that uses up resources? What happens if (when) equipment breaks due to poor maintenance, sabotage, or simple bad luck?
______


Personal Motivation - whatever your character is doing shouldn't be motivated solely by "because he's the hero." Maybe he's out for revenge, love, or money. Really, there are as many motivations as characters, but the mark of a Mary Sue is that he or she is the good guy because they're the good guy, and they approach every problem with only the purest of intentions and beliefs. IF the situation is exteme enough, then a character may do something like save the world for the express purpose of saving the world, since most people will acknowledge that doing so is worthwhile for its own sake.To clarify: any sane person will want to save the world, IF they believe the world is actually in danger. Therefore, a hero may try to save the world even if they would normally never leave their hometown, once they've been convinced of the threat.

But for smaller things, they will weigh the importance of doing whatever the Good Deed of the Day is against whatever they're already doing. That goes double if they're already involved in something of extreme importance to them: if I am driving from point A to B in the process of stopping a nuclear holocaust scheduled to happen sometime next Thursday, I am probably not going to stop to help someone change a flat tire along the way.
______


he doesn't trust people very well, he has a fear of being mentally controlled by his dad (makes more sense in the context of the story) doesn't get angry easily but when he does you better hope you're not the one he's angry at, he hates humanity, he hates being told what to do but does it anyway.

that enough or do I need more fears and flaws?Adding fears isn't really the goal, as others point out. You can make a damn good character who is good to average in most ways and has only one substantial flaw, as long as it's an important flaw. Like a thirst for revenge, or being bad at a specific kind of task that's plot-important.
______


Yeah, the qualities and situations can be pretty far out there. Superman, for example. Last son of Krypton, nearly godlike powers, finds himself adopted by a family of farmers out in the heartland, then goes to work in Metropolis at a major news paper, where none of the photo editors notice that he looks an awful lot like the dude that's constantly on the newspaper cover. We all know that it's way too far out there to be "real," and a lot of criticism is (fairly) leveled against the character because of it.Right. And his flaws sound pretty minor, when you think about it: there's this one kind of exotic rock that neutralizes his powers, outright magic can swat him around to some degree, and he's got a really rigid code of honor. That's about it.


Unless the writer is extraordinarily careful, Superman can easily turn into the biggest Gary Stu of them all.This happened during the "Silver Age" of comics, as I understand it. For business reasons, DC Comics didn't go in for character development much, and Superman's powers got more and more inflated until it was almost impossible to imagine any situation he couldn't cope with, or any real growth he might experience as a person.

warty goblin
2009-08-01, 12:08 AM
1. eh sort of. he's a brilliant tactician and powerful but he's really bad at normal everyday encounters. he doesn't really know how to act around people.

Honestly this souds either interesting or really boring. It could be interesting if you make his not being good around people an actual flaw he needs to compensate for. On the other hand it could be boring because in the end I read novels for character, and one of the best ways to show character is social interactions. It is by no means the only way, but if being bad around people is used as an excuse to focus the novel on anything but characters (and it's understandable to try this, characters are hard to write well), it's probably a bad sign. If I want tactics I'll read military history, they'll probably be better executed there anyways.


2. to an extent. only his friends though. this is sort of the way real friends are though.
Not really, I think my friends tend to respect me pretty much as much as I deserve. I treat them fairly well, they treat me fairly well, we enjoy spending time together so we spend time together. Having people wanting to be around you when you're an *******, or generally not pleasant to be around means they are fans or followers, not friends.

3. no not at all.
4. no he's actually pretty average looking.
5. no no no no and NO
Good.



as for the revolves around him thing. I'm not sure yet. I'm still debating between writing it so it's like you're seeing the world through his eyes or more of a narrator's eyes. if I write it so it's a first person account it may come off that way.
An easy way to make sure the universe doesn't seen to revolve around the main character is to simply have some people not care about him. Not hate, love, adore or anything like that, just not give a damn. Maybe it's because they are rude to everybody (and not just the protagonist, that's caring about them in particular), maybe it's because what the protagonist is good at and takes pride in doesn't really matter to them all that much, and so on.

Another way to make the universe not revolve around the main character is to have them be seriously inconvenienced (or even benefit) from the fallout of events that were clearly not aimed at them. In short when something happens, present a reason for it rooted in something beyond 'the plot demands it.*'

* I include in this catagory anything that relies on previously unknown pieces of magic (or technology that functions like magic), unexpected and unmotivated changes of conscience on the part of villians (or heroes), and similar melarchy. The reason for events should readily be understandable from the opening conditions and the in-character actions of the characters as much as humanly possible.

Tiger Duck
2009-08-01, 01:57 AM
other people have different ideas how to stop the "nuclear holocaust"

Mystic Muse
2009-08-01, 04:12 AM
Honestly this souds either interesting or really boring. It could be interesting if you make his not being good around people an actual flaw he needs to compensate for. On the other hand it could be boring because in the end I read novels for character, and one of the best ways to show character is social interactions. It is by no means the only way, but if being bad around people is used as an excuse to focus the novel on anything but characters (and it's understandable to try this, characters are hard to write well), it's probably a bad sign. If I want tactics I'll read military history, they'll probably be better executed there anyways.

yeah, it's intended to be an actual flaw he needs to compensate for. if it doesn't work out I intend to find something else.


Not really, I think my friends tend to respect me pretty much as much as I deserve. I treat them fairly well, they treat me fairly well, we enjoy spending time together so we spend time together. Having people wanting to be around you when you're an *******, or generally not pleasant to be around means they are fans or followers, not friends.

unfortunately our opinions differ on this. I know I'd hang out with somebody like this if they were my friend. sometimes people are jerks because they're going through a rough time. it happens.



An easy way to make sure the universe doesn't seen to revolve around the main character is to simply have some people not care about him. Not hate, love, adore or anything like that, just not give a damn. Maybe it's because they are rude to everybody (and not just the protagonist, that's caring about them in particular), maybe it's because what the protagonist is good at and takes pride in doesn't really matter to them all that much, and so on.

hmm. the only problem is I kind of want the readers to care about the character. at least enough to not want him to be run over by a train and the story to just end with his death right then and there.


Another way to make the universe not revolve around the main character is to have them be seriously inconvenienced (or even benefit) from the fallout of events that were clearly not aimed at them. In short when something happens, present a reason for it rooted in something beyond 'the plot demands it.*'

* I include in this catagory anything that relies on previously unknown pieces of magic (or technology that functions like magic), unexpected and unmotivated changes of conscience on the part of villians (or heroes), and similar melarchy. The reason for events should readily be understandable from the opening conditions and the in-character actions of the characters as much as humanly possible.

so no sudden surprises on what the characters do? the only problem I can see with this is if it's a first person account there would be a lot of these since the person telling the story wouldn't know at that time what was going on.

FoE
2009-08-01, 05:23 AM
Yar.

Kyuubi, do the characters of your story focus every minute of their existence to thinking about the protagonist? If you've managed to create a protagonist that exists as part of a fictional universe without being the centre of it, you've avoided one of the first hallmarks of Mary Suedom.

Is your protagonist an idealized version of yourself or what you wish you to be? Are you unwilling to let him/her fail or be criticized? Then it's a Mary Sue.

Does the protagonist develop new powers as the plot demands without any set-up? Does the protagonist succeed despite the fact that a fourth-grader could come up with better plans?

And, Kyuubi, you've already failed miserably at this book if you're trying to insert flaws into a character like they were feats for a D&D character. You can't just say "Hey, I've got this character concept that I like, but I worry other people might say he's too perfect. Better give him a fear of clownfish to flesh him out." CHARACTERIZATION DOES NOT WORK THAT WAY.

Naturally you want the reader to care about the characters in the story. But if they don't care, then don't try to force them.

AstralFire
2009-08-01, 09:38 AM
Is your protagonist an idealized version of yourself or what you wish you to be? Are you unwilling to let him/her fail or be criticized? Then it's a Mary Sue.

The bolded part isn't necessarily an issue, but it can be a warning side.


And, Kyuubi, you've already failed miserably at this book if you're trying to insert flaws into a character like they were feats for a D&D character.

Harsh, but more well put than I was going for when I rushed in with the "DON'T WORRY ABOUT MARY SUE TESTS." People spend most of their time ranting about Mary Sues' flawlessness so new writers will try to throw in flaws like they were kryptonite (as a Superman fan, that crap is stupid) to alleviate things and it doesn't work.

warty goblin
2009-08-01, 10:13 AM
yeah, it's intended to be an actual flaw he needs to compensate for. if it doesn't work out I intend to find something else.


Good.


unfortunately our opinions differ on this. I know I'd hang out with somebody like this if they were my friend. sometimes people are jerks because they're going through a rough time. it happens.
How do they get to be your friend? I'm not saying I won't give a friend the benefit of the doubt if they're going through a rough patch, but that is a very different thing than showing unreasonable levels of devotion.


hmm. the only problem is I kind of want the readers to care about the character. at least enough to not want him to be run over by a train and the story to just end with his death right then and there.
Clarification, have people in the book not care about the character, or emphasize different things about the character than he himself does. If your great tactician wins a key battle, have somebody not care, or be visibly adversly effected by the victory. Maybe an old monk who considers the whole war a travesty and each death a crime who feels disappointed in the protagonist, maybe a woman who lost her son or husband, something like that. The point being that having a variety of opinion and action around the character.

Slight addenum to the above paragraph, those who dislike the main character cannot always be bad guys. Nor is there anything wrong with having some characters like the protagonist, the only thing to avoid is having all of them worship him or else despise him. Neither is realistic or even interesting.



so no sudden surprises on what the characters do? the only problem I can see with this is if it's a first person account there would be a lot of these since the person telling the story wouldn't know at that time what was going on.

OK, it isn't that characters can't do surprising things. There simply must be believable motivations for them to do so. Of course in order for there to be suspense there must be good reasons for them not to do it as well.

For example in a story I'm writing, one of the main characters is a trying to survive in the ruins of a city that has been heavily bombed by the alien invaders. Unable to deal with the scope of the disaster, the human government contracts the rather more friendly species of alien living on the planet to provide aid (the aliens escaped the worst of bombardment through basically good luck, not any alliance with the attackers).

The human government was already not overly popular, and this percieved failure to defend and provide for its own people combined with an upswing in anti-alien sentiment and the violent displacement of millions of people leads to a lot of people being angry at pretty much anything not human. They see the alien delivered aid as insulting, and at the same time despise the weakness of the human government. Thus the city is rapidly descending into petty crime and anarchy, and already there are hardliners formenting actual revolution.

The main character had to evacuate her home, and is now living in a hut made of rubble. She works long, souless hours at the food distribution center, and like many feels somewhere between apathetic and hostile towards the human government. On the other hand she's friends with a family who still has faith that the human government is doing all they can to rebuild their lives, and views the more anarchical movements with fear and disgust. Recently several members of an anti-government movement have contacted her, trying to recruit her to their cause.

Hopefully I've created enough conflicting motivations that it would be believable whichever way she went, and thus there is some suspense about which way she does go. It might even be a surprise, but it's not actually unexpected.

JonestheSpy
2009-08-01, 08:56 PM
Hey there, I have a little bit of advice - might sound like a cheat, but I promise it can be a big help:

Base your character on someone else you know in real life. Not religously, trying to be 100% accurate about said person would do with X powers in Y situation, but enough that you can have a feel for personal habits, style of speech, the way they might react to things. Instead of trying to think of appropriate flaws to saddle the character with, just think of what your real life aquaintance does that annoys you, and what might cause them to act that way.

That last part is important - a bit of distance between yourself and your character when trying to figure out his emotions, motivations, and inner life is crucial, I think. And by looking at someone in the everyday world, you can see how your character would be living if NOT thrust into the middle of a big adventure.

Oh, and btw, WHY does your character 'hate humanity', anyway?

and lastly:


he's a brilliant tactician and powerful but he's really bad at normal everyday encounters. he doesn't really know how to act around people.

Isn't that the stereotype of like every geeky gamer out there?

Jimor
2009-08-01, 10:23 PM
Keep in mind that people will call "Mary Sue!" on a lot of characters who aren't even close, the best local example being O-Chul in Order of the Stick.

And AstralFire brings up a good point, there are a lot of writers who toss in flaws just because it's what they heard you should do. It's really hard to judge when it's gone too far, but I think there are two ways to add them that will generally work.

First is if it really is part of your original vision of the character. In this case, it's simply a part of who they are in your mind, so you're much more likely to write about that flaw and how it affects them and the story in a natural way.

Second is if it grows out of the plot and story. If you come to a scene where the character has to swim across a river, well maybe having some fear of water will work here. You can't make a new flaw every time you come upon something like this (unless that's the whole idea), but when you do create one, you know it will be a part of the story. You can then perhaps plant earlier clues during the rewrite, and it might help create some directions to go later in the work as well.

Dervag
2009-08-01, 10:39 PM
unfortunately our opinions differ on this. I know I'd hang out with somebody like this if they were my friend. sometimes people are jerks because they're going through a rough time. it happens.Yeah, but if they're a jerk all the time, it means that either it's just because they're a jerk by nature, or because they have so many issues that any sane person would be well advised to walk away.

If the guy's a jerk to his friends and they comment on how he's being a jerk and how he didn't used to be like this, and if he tries to keep it under control out of courtesy to them... not Sueish. If the guy's a jerk to his friends and they just suck it up because of his "personal magnetism" or whatever, and he doesn't seem to be making any serious effort to deserve their friendship... Sueish.

Moreover, make sure that things like "magnetic personality" and "tactical genius" are shown, not told. Saying that people want to follow him even though he doesn't really understand how to deal with people is going to ring hollow. In real life, the people who maintain a core of friends are the ones who are either good with people, or at least benevolent and generous: "Yeah, he's a little rough around the edges, but when you really need his help, he's always there, even when he knows it's going to cost him..."


so no sudden surprises on what the characters do? the only problem I can see with this is if it's a first person account there would be a lot of these since the person telling the story wouldn't know at that time what was going on.Events should always make sense to a reader who pays attention. Something may not make sense until the context is filled in later on, but it should make sense by the last page.

Berserk Monk
2009-08-01, 10:42 PM
Well, you could do what Dan Brown does and just rewrite a better book.

rubakhin
2009-08-01, 11:22 PM
Honestly, the best advice I can give you is not to worry about it much. Everybody writes regrettable characters when they're young and it's best if you don't get too hung up on whether or not you're going to suck and just start putting in the man-hours that are going to make you a better writer. You're probably not going to get it published or anything and even if you show it around to your friends they're not going to quit respecting you or anything if you ended up writing a character less than great.

I guess the best way to avoid it, like others have said, is to make sure the world doesn't revolve around your character and make sure they're not the best at everything. Like, look at Harry Potter, he's the Chosen One and naturally gifted at Quidditch and they bend the rules for him and everything, but his character works (well, YMMV) because there's stuff going on that would go on regardless of his existence. There's dating and politics and personal trauma and a world history that doesn't have much to do with him at all, and all of the characters are fleshed out and have their own backstories, personalities, and interests which aren't impacted much by the presence of Harry. (They also have an effect on the characters that doesn't have anything to do with Harry - have you ever read a fanfic where some character's parents died or whatever and all it does is cause him to act weird around a Relationship Sue, and then finally he confesses his Sekrit Past to her just so they can do the hurt/comfort thing and fall into each other's arms? The character's backstory just exists to impact that Sue, so in the end it's all about her anyway. If you find yourself thinking, "Okay, so [Character No. 32] had [Horrible Thing] happen to her, which is why she acts [this way] towards [Your Character]" and can't come up with any other way that it's impacted her that doesn't boil down to how she is with your character, ixnay.) Harry's interactions with people are also pretty naturalistic, they treat him in all kinds of different ways depending on the context, how he's acting at the moment, and who the characters are and how they're feeling, and most don't really regard him as anything special. He's also pretty much oblivious and not the best student; a bad book learner. In the end he's not the greatest thing since sliced bread and by and large people don't really go out of their way for him. He doesn't warp the entire universe and people's personalities and lives around him like some kind of walking black hole.

But it's a hard thing to engineer, all of this is organic. And really the idea of a Mary Sue is kind of nebulous ... Sometimes characters will just ping my Suedar for no reason, they're just badly written. Aside from flaws, you need depth. A lot of paper-thin one-dimensional characters will just feel like Sues because they're not written well. Your characters will be better when you're a better writer and the best way to become a better writer is to get all the crap out of your system in a hurry, if it's not out already. Don't be timid, just write.

Hawriel
2009-08-02, 12:10 AM
{Scrubbed}

Dervag
2009-08-02, 12:56 AM
{Scrubbed}The Internet is a good place to look for writing advice if your writing skills are average. If you're better than average and looking for that last little upward kick you need to go professional, the Internet won't do it, but most people will need a lot of advice even to reach that level. They can profit from Internet advice, because that advice helps them reach the level where professionals will take them seriously.

Notice how when the original poster hears some of what we say, he thinks it's actually smart or interesting? That's because he hadn't already thought of all of it before that way. Which is a sign that he's going to (one of) the right place(s).

After getting advice from us, I agree, he should probably go ask some other people who are more professional. But he can start a thread here with a very small investment of time and labor, so it actually makes sense.
_____

It's not an unusual concept: if you've got some problem, the logical first step is often to ask your friends for any quick, easy advice. They may not know how to fix your sink... but then again, they might. And if they do, it would be a huge waste of money to go bother a plumber. Likewise, they may know how to fix your novel's protagonist.

Jimor
2009-08-02, 02:03 AM
Honestly, the best advice I can give you is not to worry about it much. Everybody writes regrettable characters when they're young and it's best if you don't get too hung up on whether or not you're going to suck and just start putting in the man-hours that are going to make you a better writer. You're probably not going to get it published or anything and even if you show it around to your friends they're not going to quit respecting you or anything if you ended up writing a character less than great.
[...]
Don't be timid, just write.

Yeah, I meant to add something like this. It's impossible to make a mistake in a first draft. Write it all out how you feel it should go and how the character feels to you. When you're finished, you'll have a better idea of what works, what doesn't, and then you can see what techniques are out there to fix it.

Or, you may find that a better option is to take all the lessons you learned while writing this story, and apply them to the NEXT story.

A lot of people worry way too much about getting things like worldbuilding or character details perfect before they start writing. Sometimes you do need research to know what's possible before you can decide on a plot direction, but it's absolutely fine to write little notes to yourself throughout the manuscript that you can come back to later.


{scrubbed}


Very few writers who get published actually know any other writers or editors until afterward. Lit and English professors won't necessarily know much about the practical side of writing fiction for publication. Workshops are hit and miss. Magazines are ok, but it may be months before they write a column that actually applies to what you want to learn.

While asking the board here may also be hit and miss, reading the comic itself is practically a graduate course on good storytelling.

I don't disagree on what you said about the overreliance on TVTropes, a lot of elements get used a lot because they work, and that should be the ONLY prerequisite to using it in one's own story: Does It Work?

But in general, when people ask for writing advice here, the answers have usually been pretty good, with enough different perspectives to give the person some options on what to do. Learning to weed through options, whether it's all stuff you've come up with yourself on where to go with a story, or sorting through widely disparate advice, is a useful skill to obtain.

Mystic Muse
2009-08-02, 10:20 PM
okay I'm going to answer a few questions that were posed. possibly write another post a bit later.

@Jonesthespy. he hates humanity because most humans are utter morons in his opinion and yes that is a stereotype of every nerd ever. the reason isn't because he's a nerd though it's because he was raised to fight and win.

@ astralfire. I'm not going to lie. I wish I had his abilities. however be him? not a chance.

@Jimor. from the first story I wrote I learned I'm better at writing first person narrations.

@Hawriel. I'm not a great writer. I'm only sixteen years old and I barely have any money. I'm probably not going to be able to use any of that. on the other hand there's an entire forum of completely intelligent people here who are much better at the distinction between good and bad literature than I am who can help me for free.

which seems to be the more logical choice in this case?:smallconfused:

and I'm not going to publish this yet. I'm going to do self publishing if at all because I don't want to sell out my creation. so for now the only people who are going to be reading this are family members. I come from a rather conservative Religious family though so I'll have to edit out some parts. >_<