Mary Sue! I choose you!

14 May , 2011,
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Drizzt Do'urden - Gary Stu much?

It’s been awhile since I wrote an actual article focused on storytelling and narration, but after being exposed to so much bad fanfiction (and horrible writing in general, including the work of a local comic artist) in the past couple months, I thought it prudent to think long and hard about a new piece.

And this one’s dedicated to Mary Sue.

Who, you might ask, is this individual? She’s no less than the quintessential girl of destiny (her male counterpart’s called Gary Stu), and the macro cosmos practically revolves around her (or her becoming a part of the macro cosmos, or her being chosen by something beyond the macro cosmos, or something to that effect).

She’s the character that can do no wrong, who gets all the guys (and beds the hunkiest guys), who can snuff out vampires, zombies, aliens, robots, dinosaurs and what have you with the flick of a finger, and puts the villains to shame with her nobility and charisma and sheer awesome (it’s likely she beds the villain too, if he’s male and hunky).

Simply put, Mary Sue is the bane of good writing – a collection of hackneyed, overrated character tropes and plot devices thrown together into someone (or something) that’s either blonde, blue eyed and busty, waif-like, gothic and tattooed, or short, moe and presumably deadly.

But what’s wrong with hackeyed tropes and plot devices, you might ask? Afterall, anime, manga and videogames is rife with generic heroes of the spiky haired, sword wielding variety and effeminate villains with snowy locks to die for.

The problem, at least locally, arises from one simple fact – that Singaporean comic and fiction writers are imitators and not innovators, and that rather than focusing on developing characters that are unique to the setting, they tend to imagine that all they need to do is to pull a genre mash-ups, toss in the odd detail, and somehow, they’ve got a winner.

In any traditional story, however, the hero is more than the sum of his parts. (In the case of Mary Sue, however many other non-Human parts she might be too).

It’s irksome to see a character show lackluster characterization, excel at every single thing the plot tosses her way, save the world (usually a few times), become Master of the Past and Present, and more often than not, a thinly veiled attempt by the author to live judiciously through his character (it’s called author insertion, folks).

So how might you avoid becoming the creator of something so manifestly terrifying? Well, for one, be daring, and above all, be idiosyncratic.

There are plenty of trope-worthy heroes out there with tragic pasts, heterochromatic eyes, ridiculously gravity defying hair, some funky talent that they suddenly become aware of, a cute pet/mascot that’s also probably the LORD OF DARKNESS, and to take the cake, memory loss. You don’t need to contribute to this already large pool.

That is not to say that you can’t use tropes in your writing. In fact, tropes help mainstream audiences identify with a character, and encourage them to draw comparisons with material they might already be familiar with. Used in moderation, and in new and unusual combinations, it can make for a truly memorable creation. Used in excess, however, you tend to sink into Sue territory.

If you’re already starting to see the signs, and you think that you might be culpable of literary homicide, fret not.

You can always run your character through the Universal Mary-Sue Litmus Test for a quick diagnosis.

Until next time, cheerio!