Aug 05 2008

Manuscript Killers: Mary Sues

Mary Sues are characters that are overpowerful, self-insertions of the author. This article will help you identify and fix some of the biggest problems with Mary Sues.

1. Mary Sues are overpowerful.

Dramatic characters face threats.  Will the hero overcome the obstacle?  Whether he does or not, that’s interesting.  But Mary Sues are so powerful that they rarely face threatening situations.  The author never lets the character get beaten.  He just sort of breezes through the story, which is neither impressive nor fun.

Mary Sues are also boring because their authors rarely explore the negative consequences of their actions. A Mary Sue’s plans never backfire. If she gets punished for something, it’s not because she goofed up but because her parents and bosses are nasty (and possibly jealous). As an author, you should give your character chances to fail.  It will make his journey more complex and satisfying.  It will also make the hero look more impressive.  Whenever your hero fails, that will give you an opportunity to show us how tenaciously and cleverly he tries to fix his mistake.

2. They’re insufferably perfect.

If you build a character that is marvelous and widely adored, your readers will probably despise him. Perfect heroes generally come off as unbelievable and obnoxious. One sign that you’re writing a perfect character is that your story doesn’t allow anyone to disagree with the hero without coming off as a jerk or jackass. Additionally, a Mary Sue hero will generally lack any notable flaws. If he has any, it’s probably that he’s “too virtuous.” For example, Superman’s main “flaw” is that he’s too virtuous to kill anyone. Ick.

Another warning sign of insufferable perfection is that the hero may have political or religious beliefs similar to the author’s. Two-bit sermonizing usually follows.

3. They’re like cooler versions of the author.

Mary Sues are usually like super-powered, idealized versions of the author.  The character’s background typically combines two traits: awesomeness and normality.  The character will be “awesome” because he’s a half-dragon or a badass cyborg, etc.  The character will be normal because he was an innocent farmboy until he was called to greatness or whatever.  I’ve read seven or eight manuscripts or writing class submissions where an unassuming teenager finds out that he’s a half-dragon. Reptilian carnage, elven chicks and angry readers usually follow. Additionally, it’s rarely wise to make your protagonist an author or poet of any sort.  Publishers want authors they can work with, but they might conclude you would resist their revisions more if it seems like you’ve written yourself as the main character.

How to save a Mary Sue story

You need to build distance between yourself and the character. Give him some traits that you find genuinely unappealing. Let him make some mistakes that you wouldn’t. Have other characters call out his flaws in a well-intentioned way.  The character doesn’t have to be perfect.  He shouldn’t be.  Readers typically prefer characters that overcome flaws than ones that are perfect.  Flaws give them personality.

You may also find it useful to rethink the character’s motivations. Usually, Mary Sues go through half-assed revenge plots (“the bad guys killed my parents!”). I’ve read some good revenge stories, but most are hackneyed crap that fail to develop the character in any meaningful way. If you are a beginning author, I’d recommend avoiding revenge as a dominant motivation because it may be hard for an inexperienced author to determine whether his story is too cliched to sell. Also, using a different motivation will probably encourage you to better develop your characters.

Yeah.  It isn’t any less cliche when it comes from a mutant alligator.

If you’re not sure whether your character is a Mary Sue, please take this test.

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94 responses so far

94 Responses to “Manuscript Killers: Mary Sues”

  1. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 17 Oct 2008 at 6:24 pm

    I recommend this Mary Sue test:

    I use it for all my characters to test them.

  2. B. Macon 17 Oct 2008 at 7:38 pm

    I love that test, Retardised Whovian. The part on the characters’ clothes was absolutely hilarious. When I was testing Agent Orange, the clothes questions made me burst into laughter. “Does your character wear… sunglasses? Leather? A trenchcoat?” Wait a second, that sounds familiar.

    Agent Black also got Mary Sue points for his clothes because he wears black, which is a color badly associated with badass-wannabes. But he’s an IRS agent! Even though he wears black, it’s hard to imagine anyone less badass than that.

    In total, Agent Black ended up being slightly more of a Mary Sue because he shares more demographic traits with me than the mutant alligator did. (Go figure). In actuality, I think that Agent Orange is far more of a Mary Sue hazard than the wholly uncool and unexotic Agent Black.

  3. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 18 Oct 2008 at 5:28 am

    I guess black is associated with badasses because they can sneak around the shadows and be less likely to be spotted. But only real men wear pink.

  4. B. Macon 18 Oct 2008 at 10:33 am

    And Kawasaki green!

  5. B. Macon 18 Oct 2008 at 10:43 am

    But on a more serious level, I think that comic-book designers are a bit afraid that using any color besides black or brown in their costume will make their hero “kiddy.” No! In real life, no one thinks of firefighters as goofy or childish even though they wear bright, crazy yellow. It works for firefighters because their uniforms are very functional– they need to be visible in smoke-filled environments. Their uniforms also avoid needless ornamentation.

  6. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 20 Oct 2008 at 3:22 am

    That’s an awesome car.

  7. Ragged Boyon 27 Oct 2008 at 3:50 pm

    I was thinking primary colors on black, but the colors would definitely pop for Aadrello even though he has purple skin

  8. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 10 Nov 2008 at 11:19 pm

    Oh, this test is very good, too. It’s purely for original characters, so the questions are relevant. I like the list of superpowers most, but Isaac only has three of them, telekinesis, flight and super-strength. Super-strength not so much, he’s stronger than your average teen but can’t pick up a bus. (I wasn’t sure what his mental blasts came under, so I ticked telekinesis)

  9. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 10 Nov 2008 at 11:29 pm

    Ah, damn it! I posted a comment that didn’t appear here! Oh well, here it is again.

    I found a good Mary Sue test.

    It’s for original fiction. Isaac got 27, but that’s in the middle of the borderline sue category, so he’s quite safe.

  10. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 11 Nov 2008 at 1:46 am

    I already tried posting this, but it didn’t appear. Sorry if this shows up as a double (or triple!) post.

    I found another Mary Sue test.

    Isaac and Tristram got 27, Requiem got 28 and Sentry got 13. I’m not worried about Sue/Stuness for any of them, seeing as even though Isaac, Requiem and Tristram are borderline, they’re in the middle of the borderline category and can be executed well enough (I hope).

  11. Bretton 21 Nov 2008 at 11:24 am

    Technically not a Mary Sue question.

    I used an anagram of my name, not as the name of my character, but as my pseudonym. Is this okay? Or is it too clever?

    Your thoughts?

  12. B. Macon 21 Nov 2008 at 12:53 pm

    Brett, I don’t think that it’s inherently problematic to do so, but it really depends on how effective the anagram is. For example, I could have rearranged most of the letters of my name into Ken McBrazen, but I think that’s a bit cheesy.

  13. Tamaron 22 Jan 2009 at 6:26 am

    Hmmm… s’cuse me for the random and verbose first comment. =P

    There are several definitions of a sue, and while one is a self-insertion character, another is simply a character who is too perfect or too special. A lot of characters are sure-fire sues who have nothing in common with the author at all.

    And then things get really sticky when you start getting into the sues who don’t display any of the obvious sue traits – they don’t have magical birthmarks, secret powers, or naturally sparkly purple hair, but there’s still something grating about them that’s distinctly sue-like.

    From what I’ve seen, there’s one common denominator between sues – the story’s world and all it’s characters are built mostly just to accommodate them.

    For instance: There’s an ancient prophecy, no one has mastered this skill for 5,000 years, the country is suddenly threatened, and so on and so forth – not because these things naturally grow out of the history of the world, but solely so this character can step up and be seven different kinds of special.

    There are lots of bullies, there’s severe racial prejudice against her, daddy beats her, and her puppy got hit by a car – not because anyone had any motivation, but just because the author thinks that the character suffering like crazy will make her more endearing. Yet despite all this trauma in her formative years, she never acts like someone who has actually gone through said traumas would.

    If she believes something, it’s true. If anyone disagrees with her, they’re wrong. If anyone dislikes her, they’re evil. If anyone’s indifferent to her… well, actually, NOBODY is indifferent to her. If they act like they are, it’s because they’re “jealous”.

    So I think the real problem is an issue of how the character relates to the rest of the story. The world is not a real place with a real population, and this real person plunked down in the middle of it all – it’s a big shiny display case for your big shiny hero. That’s more what defines a mary-sue, I think.

    In terms of tests, a human reader will always be better at identifying sues, but here’s two tests that are pretty good:
    A “Universal” test – has sections for fanfiction, original fiction, and RPG characters. Very, very thorough. (Read: Long. You might wanna plan on doing that one over two or three sessions.)
    Much shorter and provides a good overview, but may be a bit too lenient whereas the previous one may be a bit too harsh. I’d recommend taking both to get a well-rounded sense of how your character is doing.

  14. Alice2on 22 Jan 2009 at 10:21 am has a good Mary Sue test.

    My main character is, in fact, an unpublished author, but it’s mentioned once or twice that his work tends to be one cliche after the other.

    I gave him some interests and traits similar to mine because early on I couldn’t relate to him, but I didn’t want to change his entire character. Especially because I’m a girl, and I’ve spent a lot of time trying to make a believable, older teenage boy.

  15. B. Macon 22 Jan 2009 at 12:18 pm

    As long as he doesn’t spend all of his time brooding about how attractive he is, I think that sounds good. Heh heh. I think it could be really funny that his work tends to be hackneyed. Just be careful; the character that corrects his writing the most could come off as a Mary Sue himself.

  16. Wingson 27 Apr 2009 at 4:21 pm

    I just took this test for all of the Specials:

    Meg: 92.5%
    Ian: 97.5%
    Pierce: 87.5%
    Connor: 92.5%
    Jazz: 92.5% (wow, that’s a lot of 92.5s)
    Darren: 92.5%

    Pierce had the lowest score simply because of his past (traumatic) and the way he dresses (Pierce is badass). Ian’s was the highest because he’s a rather flawed character.

    – Wings

  17. Lunajamniaon 27 Apr 2009 at 5:53 pm

    I’m not even 20 pages into The Realm but I kinda have it planned out so (springhole Mary Sue test thing):

    Chloe: 18
    Amanda: 14
    Jareth (oh noes the super tough guy he’s gonna get bashed, I bet): …. 25 LOL I KNEW it. It’s cause he’s Viempr.

    He’s SUPPOSED to be attractive, and a (this is the one time I’m gonna swear) badass fighter it’s the way his kind are … :/ eh well. And it’s a threat because well, it’s scary. Like vampires. Which is also why he is despised … everyone is (and for good reason) afraid of him (and all his kind).

  18. Lunajamniaon 27 Apr 2009 at 5:53 pm


  19. B. Macon 12 May 2009 at 4:17 pm

    And what are some mistakes this character would make that you wouldn’t?

  20. B. Macon 12 May 2009 at 4:23 pm

    Also, I don’t think that autism feels kind of tacked on here. It doesn’t seem to fit in all that well with being the most mature, intelligent person on the team.

  21. B. Macon 12 May 2009 at 4:38 pm

    Hmm. I feel that this character has a lot of potential for Mary Sue problems. It sounds like you share a lot in common with him (the autism, the atheism, etc). I’d recommend taking him in a direction that you’d feel a bit uncomfortable with, to help distinguish him from you. I think that the climactic execution is a good start.

  22. B. Macon 12 May 2009 at 5:44 pm

    I get the impression that he is, in a few important ways, like a cooler version of you. Self-insert characters– or characters that seem like self-inserts– are generally hard to publish.

    I think that authorial distance might be a problem for this character. In particular, the autism raises that possibility. Umm, as a rule, I recommend that a fiction author not draw on a mental illness or condition he has.

    It seems like you have a goal to deliver “one massive poke in the eye to every single negative stereotype I’ve ever countered [about autism].” Ok. Will readers want your opinions about autism stereotypes? It might be a tough sell (both to publishers and readers). How will taking on autism stereotypes fit into the rest of the book? (Specifically, what does autism have to do with coming to grips with an abusive childhood? That’s the protagonist’s main goal, right?)

    If the character is kind of conservative and you’re not, one way you could help build authorial distance is to make something conservative about him one of his defining traits. For example, maybe he starts the book with a nagging suspicion that rehabilitating criminals is a mostly fruitless endeavor. That’s sort of political, but probably not so political that you have to be a Cameron supporter to sympathize with the character. (How’s that for UK localization?)

  23. B. Macon 13 May 2009 at 2:06 am

    “My way of delivering a poke in the eye is to create a character who has such a condition and is non-stereotypical. I have quite a few stereotypes that I’m poking in the eye, from albinism to the general behaviour of a rottweiler. I like to do so, it’s my general *thing*.”

    Do you think you could accomplish a similar goal with a different condition? That might enhance the level of authorial distance. I think that authorial distance is usually regarded as an asset because identifying too closely with a character can lead to strawman villains, Mary Sues, a lack of obstacles and setbacks for the character, a failure to evaluate the negative repercussions of the character’s actions and a variety of other problems with plotting.

    Also, authorial insertion might bring the author’s flexibility into question. All other things being equal, I think an acquisitions editor would rather deal with someone that appears open to the possibility that the publisher might want to remove a minor and potentially problematic element. Then again, I’ve never been an AE, so that’s just my intuition…

    “That’s actually a very easy sell to many, many, MANY readers and many, many, MANY publishers. ‘To thy own self be true.’ ”

    If “be yourself” means doing something anodyne and uncontroversial, I agree. However, I’d be a bit more cautious about evaluating the mass-appeal for a book that deals (even secondarily) with child abuse, autism and homosexuality. For better or worse, I think this clearly isn’t just another “be yourself” book. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it can’t work, but I think that publishers will worry more about the size of the target audience for your book than a Disney-like, banal “be yourself” story.

  24. B. Macon 13 May 2009 at 2:19 am

    I said originally…

    If the character is kind of conservative and you’re not, one way you could help build authorial distance is to make something conservative about him one of his defining traits.

    You responded…

    I actually have an old article I wrote on character building on my livejournal, in which I put forth the concept that a single defining trait is a bad idea. It creates a certain level of archetype and stereotype…

    I don’t think I suggested giving him a single defining trait. The phrase I used was “one of his defining traits.” As a rule, if the hero is just another member of a fairly large main cast, I’d probably recommend giving him two main assets and one defining flaw. If you want to develop 3+ characters to a roughly equal degree, time/space and audience-focus will probably limit your ability to add more facets to each character.

  25. Davidon 13 May 2009 at 5:23 am

    wow so meny big posts i can’t keep up

  26. Marissaon 13 May 2009 at 12:27 pm

    In my personal opinion, if this character does not become a Mary Sue, I’ll be extremely surprised and impressed. Half because he’s really exhibiting Mary Sue traits, and half because of how defensive you’re getting of him, even when someone as reliable as B. Mac advises against it.

  27. Marissaon 13 May 2009 at 2:43 pm

    Alright, if you insist.

    I just know that few people outside of those who’ve experienced it firsthand would care to read a story that hammers down a point on Autism. Jane Austin’s feminism spoke to every single female who read her stories. How many autistic folks are going to read your story?

    I, as a reader, hate to be told what to think or believe by a book I picked up to read for fun. I know that most other readers are the same.

    For the record, this website gets a thousand viewers daily. If B. Mac weren’t right the vast majority of the time, would people keep coming? And he has something like thirty people who consistently e-mail him for help, as well as some random and occasional others.

    And one final point: It’s generally considered ‘bad form’ to post your ideas on a website devoted to help and advice, then argue and tear down everyone who says your ideas aren’t an instant bestseller. ;D

  28. B. Macon 13 May 2009 at 2:49 pm

    “And my defensiveness towards my work is simply because I don’t really like to change aspects which are particularly and personally important to me.”

    Have you thought about self-publishing? Normally, I wouldn’t recommend it for a first-time author, but I think that you would really, really not enjoy working with an editor. The editor’s ass is on the line if the book sells poorly, so the editor really has to make the book sell. I get the impression that you care about the art/message much more than sales, so I think it would be a very unhappy relationship. Also, a new author has very little leverage against an editor… if your editor feels strongly about something, it’s his call more than yours.

    Self-publishing will probably not make you much money– in fact, it might even cost you money if sales are poor. But self-publishing is one way to guarantee 100% editorial control over the book’s content.

  29. B. Macon 13 May 2009 at 2:54 pm

    “Half because he’s really exhibiting Mary Sue traits, and half because of how defensive you’re getting of him, even when someone as reliable as B. Mac advises against it.”

    I appreciate the vote of confidence, but I think it’s important to evaluate how my advice (or anyone else’s) applies to your work. For example, most of my advice is meant for authors that want to publish professionally and maximize sales. I think it’s pretty good advice in that regard (150,000 readers and counting!), but not everyone cares about sales or getting published.

  30. Marissaon 13 May 2009 at 3:04 pm

    Alright, perhaps I misinterpreted. I never thought he was forcing ‘radical’ beliefs down our throats, I just thought it was along the same lines as how Christians have a tendency to put awkward-feeling spiritual references in their novels. Sure, what he’s saying about autistic folks is totally true, but most people pick up a superhero book to read about superheroes, not a self-inserted character with the main purpose of educating readers.

    However, the second point is totally valid. If he’s not intending to publish this, none of my advice really stands anymore, so I suppose I’ll leave this discussion where it lies. 🙂

  31. Marissaon 13 May 2009 at 3:05 pm

    That was to Mr. Brit, but the second part applies to your post too, B. Mac.

  32. Jacobon 13 May 2009 at 3:25 pm

    Holliequ: “On an utterly random note, judging by your political beliefs you seem to be a male me with high-functioning autism. Are you perhaps communicating from an alternate universe?”

    Superhero Nation isn’t just a superhero writing advice… it’s also apparently a dating site for European socialists.

  33. Tomon 13 May 2009 at 3:35 pm

    There’s an American flag in the banner?

    lol, in all seriousness, I only really registered recently the flag in the background. It simply didn’t occur to me at first.

  34. B. Macon 13 May 2009 at 3:51 pm

    I figured that the flag was iconic and public-domain. It also helps advertise that I have a better handle on publishing inside the US than outside. US publishers differ in at least a few important ways from publishers in the UK, Canada, Australia, et cetera, so I think that being upfront about my perspective helps readers evaluate and apply my advice.

  35. B. Macon 13 May 2009 at 4:41 pm

    Hmm. Except for a few conservative blogs, I can’t think of any sites that use a US flag prominently. Even GI Joe doesn’t use a flag above the fold! (They do have a modified version halfway down the page, but it looks more like France’s than ours).

  36. B. Macon 14 May 2009 at 3:42 am

    Why is it that whenever I post anywhere, I mean *anywhere*, I wind up causing controversy and causing some massive philosophical debate. Just insert coins to add yet another layer of controversy.

    Umm, please understand that I mean this in a well-meaning way, but you do seem unusually argumentative. And sometimes you seem very attached to opinions that are empirically questionable. When people disagree with you, you often present it as them overlooking something or making a mistake. When people without Asperger’s communicate, they usually find it more polite to express criticisms as a matter of personal opinion or a question like “what would you think about adding X?” or “why not include X?” rather than “You’re missing X.”

    I think that all is especially important in this situation because, umm, I don’t get the impression that you follow comic books all that much. Focusing on Shakespearean literature more than comic books is entirely respectable, but it does sort of limit your ability to provide credible advice to comic book writers.

  37. Marissaon 14 May 2009 at 6:17 pm

    Certified genius, eh? Join the club. I know of at least two others here, myself included, and I don’t see the rest of us causing problems. Even geniuses are wrong sometimes. A lot of the time, actually. Perhaps you should consider that the fact that only one person out of an entire website is agreeing with your arguments might just mean you’re mistaken this one time?

    Sorry, I knew I said I’d stay out of this, but… I just really don’t like that you use the fact that you’re a genius to back up your superiority complex. And I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt that you genuinely are, even though 75% of people who claim to be geniuses over the internet actually have a completely average IQ. Not that IQ is everything, of course.

  38. B. Macon 14 May 2009 at 7:37 pm

    Ok… if you feel that you’re a bit arrogant, it might help to tone it down a bit. Arrogance is off-putting for anyone, but especially rookies. Everyone makes mistakes, but an arrogant person that makes mistakes will probably come off like Emma Czikai from Britain’s Got Talent. (There’s that UK localization again!)

    In contrast, Susan Boyle is a genuine superstar that let her talent speak for itself. I think that audiences were very impressed by her graceful and cheerful approach to a hostile panel and audience.

    In general, I think that audiences and publishers tend to appreciate self-confidence but not arrogance.

    I don’t think IQ matters to a writer. Ahem… it’s not a test of writing talent. I think that the people that focus on intelligence tend to underplay the hard work and sweat and emotional strength that are required to do extraordinary things.

  39. B. Macon 14 May 2009 at 8:38 pm

    “I didn’t actually come here for the advice, but to actually try giving some out on some level.”

    Have you thought about blogging? If readers are interested in your advice, that could help you develop an audience. I can assure you that superhero writing advice with a literary twist is a completely empty niche.

    I think blogging might be more effective for you than posting on other people’s blogs. For one, you have a very particular, literary approach to superhero stories that probably isn’t well-tailored to the teen writers that dominate our audience. There are probably a few readers interested in a literary take on superhero stories*, but I doubt you’ll find them here.

    *Although probably not many. The superhero niche is not very high-brow, and I doubt there’s a lot of overlap between literary readers and superhero fans.

  40. Davidon 15 May 2009 at 7:10 am

    I actually wrote more sword/sorcery style fantasy, much of which is abandoned and lost to the recesses time)

    I’ll have you know I’m wrighting a sword/sorcery story, people still love them.

    Trust me there not lost there alive and well if you care to look.

  41. Ragged Boyon 15 May 2009 at 8:18 am

    “I’m still working on a big epic and pretty damn ambitious fantasy series.”

    Please, I beg of you, make the action interesting. I’m currently reading works by Raymond Feist and the action is so dry. I can hardly tell when an action scene is action scene. I suspect this won’t be a problem for you, but a reminder never hurt. In my opinion, too many fantasy stories get so bogged down with backstory and locations that they skimp on the action. I’m not saying that the story has to me totally action-centric, but if I’m going to read about how the army of X did all these things at Y and Z, at least make it worth my time.

  42. Holliequon 15 May 2009 at 10:13 am

    Hmm. I think that’s a matter of opinion, RB. Do you mean that we’re seeing the tactics behind a war? Personally, I would much rather read that than a battle. It depends if you like action stories or not. I’m not sure if Feist’s books are action-orientated (or supposed to be), but I know that my mum loves them and she is typically not an action fan.

  43. Marissaon 15 May 2009 at 11:56 am

    (-facepalm- And here I thought I’d finally convinced myself to pick my battles.)

  44. B. Macon 15 May 2009 at 2:24 pm

    I don’t really have an interest in literary superhero stories, so I doubt that I could offer quality advice about how to write one. However, it sounds like you do have an interest in literary superhero stories, and you want to provide advice as well. If there is a market for a literary take on superhero advice, you have a better shot at it than I do.

    My impression is that having a target audience really, really matters. Most comic book and novel publishers explicitly require that the author’s proposal describe the target audience. A well-done target audience section can show that an author has realistic notions about selling and marketing his work.

    If an author says his target audience is “everyone,” that’s pretty much an instant rejection. That’s not realistic. A publisher would love to deal with the next Harry Potter, but the cold fact is that 99.999% of published works aren’t universal hits. A work that is written for “everyone” is more likely to appeal to no one.

    For example, the submissions page for Image Comics says:

    Tell us what sets it apart from other comics and who the target audience is (“Everyone” is NOT realistic — there’s no single book on the market today that everybody buys).

  45. Anonymouson 15 May 2009 at 5:57 pm

    “Hmm. I think that’s a matter of opinion, RB. Do you mean that we’re seeing the tactics behind a war?”

    No, the tactics are important, too. I’m talking about the actual action, though. Maybe it is just me, but it feels dry to me. For example in The Transall Saga the action felt well-paced and well… interesting.

  46. B. Macon 17 May 2009 at 8:47 pm

    Hmm. Of the four, I think the one that feels the most potentially problematic is the political beliefs. If a super-intelligent guy has your political beliefs (or similar political beliefs), it’s not very hard to pick up a subtextual message that “intelligent people think like I do.” For example, the atheist elves of Eragon came off as Mary Sues because it looked like they were meant to make the author’s views about religion seem intelligent and refined.

    It might help to play the character in a direction you disagree with. I hate referring to my own work when I don’t think that the reader is familiar with it, but Agent Orange is a pretty good example of a character that shares some of the author’s political beliefs without becoming a spokesman for them.

  47. B. Macon 17 May 2009 at 9:17 pm

    Here are a few more Mary Sue issues that could possibly apply to either character.

    Dr. Prole
    –Is there anything we’re meant to find unlikable about him? One thing I’d be careful about here is that a traumatic backstory is often used to justify traits that would otherwise be unlikable. If the author tries to justify a trait, it’s probably not meant to come off as unlikable.
    –Political/religious conversions. Does he ever convert another character? Do you ever use him to sway the reader in a more socialistic direction? Is the reader ever meant to disagree with his political beliefs?
    –He has a particularly traumatic backstory. Yeah, torture gets counted twice. 😉
    –Is there any way he’s meant to come off as less impressive than a typical human? (For example, Batman’s social skills are seriously questionable and Spiderman has a really hard time holding down a job as a pizza-boy).
    –Are we ever meant to question the wisdom or intelligence of one of his actions or decisions? (For example, Reed Richards is supersmart but not very wise. Sometimes he misses really basic things).

    White Rose
    –is she a rebellious member of a high-class family? (Ahem… going into the military is sort of an unusual move for a countess, right?).
    –political conversion? It sounds like you’re trying to use her military background to deliver an author tract about women in the military and sexual equality in general.
    –does she ever make an unintelligent or unwise decision?
    –are we ever meant to disagree with her?
    –does she have authority problems with her family or the military?
    –is she less impressive than the typical human in any way?
    –is there anything about her readers are meant to find unlikable?

    PS: I think that a magical sword does not fit really well with a scientific supersoldier origin. It might help to make the sword a marvel of military technology instead.

  48. Tomon 18 May 2009 at 1:59 am

    I’d reccomend renaming Dr. Proletariat as Dr. Prole, or at least have him referred to as that most of the time, since Dr. Proletariat is a very long-winded name. Kinda like how Ultra-Humanite is usually shortened to… what was it shortened to again?

  49. Danielon 18 May 2009 at 6:19 am

    ‘I’d reccomend renaming Dr. Proletariat as Dr. Prole, or at least have him referred to as that most of the time, since Dr. Proletariat is a very long-winded name.’

    He’s typically referred to by his real name, actually. That’s provisionally James Watt; after the Scottish inventor/engineer of the same name, though I’m working on trying to find an engineer that isn’t called Alexander or Graham for the sake of avoiding the use of my own middle name (well, my first name is hyphenated, and James is the second half… maybe… my family suffers a bit of confusion on that issue). Much harder than you’d expect, as James is a very common name in Bonnie Scotland; and I exist partially as proof!

    Most of my characters tend to use their real names, as a note, when they’re not on duty. White Rose is usually Liz, Silverstar is usually Emily, etc.

  50. notsohottopicon 24 May 2009 at 9:12 pm

    Hm, it’s possible to write a Mary Sue, if the author can write brilliantly. Take Dream from the Sandman series by Neil Gaiman, for example. I took the test for the character, and he scored under 40%. Despite those results, the Sandman series are considered one of the best comicbooks out there. Mary Sues are possible to write about, but not everyone can write as brilliantly as Neil Gaiman. 😉

    Question: How can I incorporate unethical experimentation on a character without making it seem too…angsty?(Unethical experimentation is another common angsty backstory excuse for Mary Sues, alongside rape, torture, and abuse).

    I just realized today after trying to add subplots to my concept story that experimentation might be intersting. I know it’s been overdone(Cloak and Dagger from Spiderman, Bionic Woman, Cat from Confidential Assassination Troop), but most experimentation backstories give characters powers or reasons to b*tch about anything.

    It occurred to me that my character Kir is a tabula rasa. She is a parasite that invaded a human host’s brain, and took over the host’s conciousness. Parasite Kir is the protagonist of the story, and her main objective is to fully understand human nature in order to adapt to the host’s surroundings. I have a better description of her in the List of Superpowers article, and I don’t feel like repeating it to the fullest extent…

    She is a tabula rasa because she has no concept of morality, and she cannot recognize or distinguish between good or evil. Tabula rasa experiments are almost impossible to conduct, since most people were taught ethics since babyhood. Feral children are usually subjected to these kinds of experiments. What makes parasite Kir a valuable candidate is that she is a tabula rasa and not a feral child. She knows linguistics from the host’s residual memory, which are essential for the tester to communicate with the subject in the experiments.

    Notes(this is just a subplot, just to remind people):
    -While there are other parasites in the host, Kir is the dominant parasite since she had infected the brain, therefore being able to control the whole body. Most parasites reside in bodily fluids, such as blood.
    -Kir has the ability to restructure her DNA. She can instruct parasites in the body to mutate the host’s DNA for desirable traits(heightened senses, strength, different facial structure). The parasites can also be instructed to speed up the host’s mitosis levels to restructure injured body parts, aka regeneration.
    -If parasites are expelled out of the body in fluids(e.g. blood), the blood will start moving rapidly since beserk parasites prioritize in finding another host. Will usually infect hosts by entering an open wound.
    -In order to control parasite populations in the host, Kir infects her enemies with blood. If her enemies happen to draw blood from Kir, her blood will start moving rapidly into an enemy’s wound.
    -After infecting so many enemies, the parasites were eventually discovered and documented scientifically.
    -Kir is hunted down afterwards, scientists initially try to find out if the parasites can be used to speed up regeneration in people. Eventually, they find out that parasite Kir is a tabula rasa, and the experiment’s objective changes into redesigning morality to infected people.

    The only type of testing I’ve thought up so far is the Clockwork Orange style. Strapping down Kir onto a chair, making her watch video clips of people doing evil and good acts. She is subjected to videos of how people emotionally react to certain events as well, since parasite Kir hasn’t adapted to emotions previously.

  51. Ragged Boyon 24 May 2009 at 10:49 pm

    “Take Dream from the Sandman series by Neil Gaiman, for example.”

    Hmm, I must disagree. Dream is most definitely not a Mary Sue. He’s nowhere near perfect (he sent his lover to Hell for dumping him). His actions and personality do have consequences, which ultimately, lead to his own death because of his stubborness. He suffers alot through his series and doesn’t always make the best choices. I agree that Neil Gaiman is an amazing writer, but I don’t think Dream counts as a Mary Sue, despite some of his perks.

  52. Mr. Briton 25 May 2009 at 2:59 am

    I wouldn’t say any of the Endless were Mary Sues. They’re incredibly complex and deeply flawed. Incidently, which one was your favourite? I always liked Desire.

  53. notsohottopicon 25 May 2009 at 4:52 am

    They are deeply flawed, but Dream had a lot of Mary Sue symptoms, like…

    Multiple names/nicknames? Dream aka Morpheus aka Oneiros, aka…he had a lot of them.

    Unusual eye colour? He had jewels/stars for eyes.

    There were other attributes, but you’re right, he’s very flawed in a sense. Like I said, Mary Sues can be done, as long as the writer can write well.

    Hm, Delirium was my favorite of the Endless. But I did like how the artist and author stylistically drew and characterized Satan from the part where Dream had to go to Hell…

  54. Ragged Boyon 25 May 2009 at 5:32 am

    Definitely Death. I love the idea of a little goth girl coming to collect my soul. She was hot, too, at least in book one she was.

    I too liked Satan, I also like the portrayal of Hell.

  55. Ragged Boyon 25 May 2009 at 7:10 am

    On the Mary Sue test Adrian scored 85%, I’d say that’s pretty good for a character whose mostly a self-insert. I think scarves are badass, so I answered yes for that question. And Adrian and I do want the same job. And when it asked me if he changes species, I answered yes because he becomes alien. I don’t think this a part-time dragon, though. He has to change in order to use his powers like the Hulk, he will only rely on the water control armlets for a short time. And the human’s ability to turn into aliens is a major plot point.

  56. Husheron 08 Jul 2009 at 2:19 pm

    Hi. I have this idea going on in the back of my head for a fantasy novel– I’m not going to get to work on it just yet because I’m occupied with something else, but I’m wondering about it.

    I have few details yet, but one thing I’m concerned about is the main character. She’s part of a magical nation (it’s complicated) that are basically psychologists taken to the logical extreme- they magically remove all the bad emotions and the pain and dispel it safely. However, the problem arises because they are too pacifistic. When an enemy army attacks, they have literally no idea of how to react, and within a matter of a few days or weeks, some are dead, most are enslaved, and a tiny portion escaped the city. She’s one of the escapees, and ends up growing up on the streets with a group of street kids and escaped slaves.

    My problem is this: her characterization. I don’t want her to come over as overly virtuous and perfect, yet her background would suggest she should be exactly that way.

    I’m considering the idea that her time on the streets has jaded her and made her more unsympathetic to other people, but another idea would be that she, just as her people, is too pacifistic and doesn’t stand up for herself.

    Any thoughts?

  57. B. Macon 08 Jul 2009 at 2:48 pm

    Hello, Husher. Here are a few things you could consider.

    –She’s probably skillful at many things– I imagine she’s well-educated, for one thing. But I suspect that she will be less than competent at living on the street. I’m kind of interested to see how someone that is very smart but not particularly tough survives in a situation that is very physical and rough.

    –Perhaps she overreacts to the war and becomes overly macho and/or paranoid and/or aggressive. Some people that are bullied later become bullies. Even if the war doesn’t do that to her, I am pretty sure that she will become tough when she has to live on the street. I kind of like the fish-out-of-water idea better, though.

    –One way you can keep her society from coming across as a Mary Sue-topia (an overly idealized utopia) is to show that they were not merely pacifistic but irrationally pacifistic. They ignored the many signs that their neighbors were about to attack, they had many chances to arm themselves and were overly confident in their own ability to convince the aggressor to back down. Now they’re all paying for their mistakes.

  58. HUsheron 09 Jul 2009 at 12:13 am

    Yes, your third point is the one that I wanted to come across as the main part of the society. They don’t even actually have an army, and when they were attacked, they believed it could all be sorted out by talking it through. I suppose a point of the story would be to show that extremes don’t work and the idea of a perfect pacifistic society is nice, but won’t work out in all situations.
    I like the idea of a fish out of water, but after seven years on the street (she’d be ten when the war erupts, seventeen when the story starts properly) is it really feasible? I think I’d like her to develop throughout the story and start standing up for herself and taking more of an active role.
    And yes, I imagine she’d be very well educated. Maybe the education she’s been given is good, but not practical.

  59. HUsheron 09 Jul 2009 at 12:14 am

    Oh- and thank you. ^_^

  60. B. Macon 09 Jul 2009 at 12:34 am

    Hmm. Ten years would give her quite a lot of time to adjust. What would you think about shortening that by making her get driven out of town when she’s a bit older? I think that would give you more leeway to show both aspects of her life (the educated, comfortable side vs. the tough, hellish one).

  61. HUsheron 09 Jul 2009 at 10:48 am

    Hm, maybe. I’m figuring that most of the story will be focused on the aftermath of the war. Maybe if she were twelve, or in her early teens? (thinking) The important thing is, she’s been a runaway for so long that when she meets up with a boy she knew before the war, they don’t recognize each other for a while.

  62. Wingson 24 Aug 2009 at 6:58 pm

    And so begins that Darkstar Mary Sue Test Program:

    The PonyLandPress Test ( 16 (11-20 points: The Non-Sue. Your character is a well-developed, balanced person, and is almost certainly not a Mary Sue. Congratulations!) (Yay.)

    The Universal Mary-Sue Litmus Test ( 5 (0-16 Points
    Most likely Not-Sue. Characters at this level could probably take a little spicing up without hurting them any.) (How can this be…)

    More later-got to go.

    – Wings

  63. Mike Alexanderon 09 Apr 2010 at 10:13 am

    so how about a self-insert who is only a minor character, and is an intentional exploration of the idea of “the god in the machine”? My universe does consist of a multiverse (1 superhero, 1 magic, 1 psionic), but only a few characters are repeated, and primarily to show the difference in perspectives about what choices to make.

    My “deus in machina” only shows up as a background character, either as a messenger or a “retconning comic book editor”. Pulse is aware of his status as a minor fictional character, and resents not being left to his own devices. He’s used sparingly, and comments on things the other characters are not privy to. Pulse, as an instrument of metafiction, is working against those forces who would undo the fabric of the universe, who are major villains showcased later on.

    Is this hubris? a wildly stupid idea? (probably, but I’m doing it anyway)

    Ultimately, isn’t every character in fiction (no matter what genre) a Betty Sue? Even the person most different from your core identity is a reflection of some part of your personality- you couldn’t write it down if it were legitimately alien from your viewpoint. I think I’m just giving that inner monologue that won’t shut up a few lines on paper. I don’t know what it feels like to be a teenager in St Louis with fire/ice powers (ColdStar). Never been a gang member in southern california. I certainly don’t know about being a woman in chicago with power of a star (Novanna). But how they respond to things, I can imagine, because humans only react a certain number of ways. We’ve all been through the same feelings. It’s what they do with the resources on hand that disguises how much of a Betty Sue that character is.

  64. Wingson 09 May 2010 at 1:38 pm

    Not trying to muscle in on B. Mac’s territory here, but could anyone check the piece below out and tell me if it’s helpful?

    I was bored on the weekend, so…I wrote this. Is it any good?

    – Wings

  65. B. Macon 09 May 2010 at 8:20 pm

    Good stuff, Wings! I would have reviewed it on Fictionpress, but I don’t have an account. So…

    “Say your character’s defining negative characteristic is that he can’t play the xylophone. Unless your story is centered around a xylophone competition which your character has to win, or his tribe has a coming of age ritual involving playing the xylophone, this is not a good flaw.” Haha, I like that.

    “The guy who wears sunglasses at night or at other times where they wouldn’t be necessary?” Hey, perhaps he’s a desperately badass alligator or something. Emphasis on the desperate. 😉

    I’m looking forward to reading more of your advice.

  66. Wingson 09 May 2010 at 10:21 pm

    I’m actually quite surprised at the feedback I’ve gotten for my Sane Writer’s Guide…I mean, Fanfiction.Net was a real pain to put up with between the single-diget IQs, that one less-than-civil mod who didn’t like me that much, and the fact that no one ever reviewed…Then again, Fictionpress isn’t Fanfiction.Net. XD

    Still, I felt incredibly elated after reading the reviews I got. Oh, and for the future…Would it be possible to use Superhero Nation’s articles as a source in the guide as I used TV Tropes and Wikipedia? It’d be useful to have another source, since Wikipedia leans toward the dense-and-formal, harder to understand side of the scale, while TV Tropes is the opposite…But SN fits perfectly!

    – Wings

  67. B. Macon 10 May 2010 at 5:44 am

    Sure, go for it.

  68. Steton 10 May 2010 at 7:07 am

    There’s a nonfiction how-to-write book in here, somewhere. (‘Here’ being this blog, not this thread.)

    I make a living as a novelist, and I know a bunch of other working novelists, mostly my age: not young. And we’re familiar with all the writing techniques and jargon and tips … or so we think. But there’s a whole new generation of this stuff that’s grown up since we started writing, written mostly I guess by young whippersnappers, that v. interesting possibly even helpful.

    Plot coupons and Mary Sues and, um … are there more of these things? Because seriously, someone’s gonna sell a proposal to Writer’s Digest Book with a title like: “Writing 2.0: 21st Century Techniques for 21st Century Writers” or “The New Novelist: Ten Mistakes the Online Generation Avoids … and You Can’t Even Name.” Or something.

  69. Luna Jamniaon 10 May 2010 at 8:13 am

    Wings, that was awesome.

  70. B. Macon 10 May 2010 at 8:49 am

    I got “plot coupons” from the Turkey City Lexicon, which was compiled by authors/editors that strike me as extremely experienced. So the exciting stuff isn’t just happening with us young’uns. 😉

    Some other ones that come up a lot here (but that you might already know) include idiot plot, info-dumping, chosen ones (protagonists that are chosen by fate/luck rather than their own actions), show-don’t-tell, etc.

    PS: I have been trying to sell a how-to-write book based on my advice here. I think the main obstacle to getting it published is my lack of experience, but I have a few months’ experience as an assistant editor and I think I could easily sell the book with 1-2 years of experience. (I’m leaving my position, though, so getting 1-2 years of experience might actually take me 2-3 years).

  71. Wingson 10 May 2010 at 10:24 am

    Really? I feel…so gratified right now…

    I’m working on a guide for titles right now, so I might borrow a few quotes from the articles here.

    Still, considering that this Sane Writer’s Guide has gotten more attention than most of my older writings combined, I’m ecstatic. I mean, I was dancing in my bathroom last night (For some incomprehensible reason, it has the best Internet connection. Go figure).

    I started doing this whole guide thing because (1) When I was just starting out, I;d have loved to find a site like TV Tropes or Superhero Nation…so I figured that I might as well make it easier for a newbie writer to find information, and (2) I was bored again. I really didn’t think it would turn out as well as it did, so, yay.

    – Wings

  72. Ragged Boyon 10 May 2010 at 12:03 pm

    I had to see what the hype was about so I read your article, Wings. Great job! I wish I was skills at organizing my ideas (or organization, in general). If I were to attempt the same thing it would probably sound like a rambling session than an advice piece. Haha.

    I like that you want to help up-and-comers, that’s commendable. I’d recommend including information that first-time writers often have no knowledge of. So many writers suffer from initial naivety so it would be nice to have more domains to help them out.

  73. Wingson 10 May 2010 at 4:53 pm

    Heh…Almost all of the characters from my first works were self inserts and extremely sueish, so I’m writing a second chapter on that. God, those ideas were awful. I even had a Wesley at one point…

    I’m looking forward to writing the Archetypes installment though…I get to look over the tried-and-true character types and help to reinterpret them!

    – Wings

  74. Steton 10 May 2010 at 5:05 pm

    Well, the alternative to experience is a co-author; or in your case, maybe an artist. I don’t know if you work in comic book publishing or book publishing–in the latter, it’s pretty much impossible to Bring Your Own Artist. But if you’re willing to share writing credit, and can find someone with some level of microfame and a willingness to illustrate for part of the (meagre) booty …

  75. Wingson 10 May 2010 at 9:58 pm

    I do have someone in mind whom I’d be intetested in collaborating with, so that’s workable.

    I actually just posted another chapter, this time for self inserts. I don’t think it came out as well as the first, but it was passable.

    – Wings

  76. Steton 13 May 2010 at 8:27 am

    What’re some half-dragon books? I wasn’t aware that any existed. (And had a dragon-related idea …) Any recommendations?

  77. Wingson 13 May 2010 at 5:45 pm

    I wrote one in the past…But as it’s an Old Shame for me now, I’d rather pretend it never happened.

    I’m not familiar with any published ones, though. I have vague memories of a comic book character with that as his origin… Firebreather or something?

    – Wings

  78. Steton 14 May 2010 at 11:53 am

    Huh. A quick-and-incompetent search doesn’t show any novels of note. I love the idea that an idea is completely tired–seven half-dragon submissions–but none (or very few) have broken through to the marketplace.

  79. B. Macon 15 May 2010 at 12:33 am

    I don’t think it’s that the concept (a protagonist that’s half-human) is flawed. Hell, if you can handle the relatability concerns, I don’t even think it would be terribly difficult. I think that the manuscripts and workshop pieces I’ve seen in this area have fallen flat because they tended to handle the revelation in a bland, expository way. Usually, the protagonist learned the truth in a long-winded info-dump from the mother (or adopted parents). Sometimes the info-dump comes from a mentor/teacher.

    I’m getting very tired at this late hour, but some disorganized thoughts that come to mind are…
    –If the character’s discovery of his hidden origin is supposed to be dramatic, it might help to have him actually discover it rather than passively receive an exposition. For example, as the half-dragon (or half-orc or half-Smurf or whatever) grows up, maybe he gradually picks up clues that his parents are lying to him about something big and pieces it together on his own.
    –Perhaps the kid knows early on about his ancestry and the conflict is something other than him/her coming to grips with a shocking secret. For example, maybe the kid is caught in the middle of a messy divorce that leads to something like shared custody, where the kid lives as a human half the year and as a dragon the other half.
    –Personal preference: the character isn’t the best of both worlds. For example, maybe (s)he picks up traits and behaviors that get him/her into trouble. Depending on how the kid was raised, (s)he might pick up behaviors from members of one species that rub the other species the wrong way. (IE: a half-elf raised by humans might inadvertently horrify elven-raised elves by using a wood-burning stove that upsets nature spirits). Physical characteristics, too. Instead of being as magically adept and physically powerful like dragons and sociable as a human, maybe he is embarrassingly bad at magic and with all the prickly nature of a dragon.

    It might just have been the qualities of those (few) manuscripts and workshop pieces. For one thing, the authors tended to reveal the information about the protagonist’s lineage to the protagonist in the same way: a melodramatic monologue from the kid’s guardian (a mother or adopted parent, usually). If the character’s half-dragon (or half-elven or half-orcish or whatever) nature is hidden from him, maybe he could learn about it in a way that doesn’t entail as much exposition/info-dumping. Or maybe the kid knows about his lineage early and is involved in some other sort of drama (like a messy divorce giving way to something like shared custody, where the kid lives as a dragon half of the year and human the other half).

  80. Steton 16 May 2010 at 7:42 pm

    Oh, gotcha. Just strikes me as odd that these are apparently prevalent in submissions/workshops but haven’t hit the shelves yet. Maybe dragons will be the new dragons.

    (Have you written about ‘what makes a superhero story a superhero story?’ Does Koontz’s Odd Thomas series count? Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books? Something like the Dresden Files is definitely–obviously–urban fantasy, but … why isn’t it superhero? Because there’s -only- magic?)

  81. B. Macon 17 May 2010 at 6:05 am

    Well, Sailor Moon and American Dragon have only magic, and I would consider them both superhero stories.

    1) For one thing, they both use dual (secret) identities, like most superhero stories do. Even superhero stories that don’t have secret identities tend to give the characters some distinction between the supernatural and normal characteristics. (For example, the Fantastic Four had normal lives before they became the Fantastic Four, even though their names didn’t change–also, I’d argue that Ben Grimm’s identity did change substantially and a lot of his story arc revolves around getting back to his old, human self).

    As for Dresden, was there ever a time he had a nonmagical identity? I’ve only read the first book, but I didn’t get that impression. (All of my comments about Dresden should be taken with appropriate skepticism– I haven’t read the Reacher or Odd Thomas books either, so I can’t talk about those).

    2) Dresden has no origin story. In 90%+ of superhero stories, the origin story explains how a relatively normal person gets extraordinary powers and why (s)he uses those powers to fight crime. For example, Jake Long is a random teen who discovers that he’s secretly a part-time dragon whose family obligations include fighting evil. In contrast, Dresden is never a relatively normal (nonmagical) person and doesn’t talk about why he (sort of) works for the police force. The character’s motivation is usually central (or at least important) to a superhero story. For example, the Punisher and Batman and Spiderman reveal their moral motivations in how they react to the murder of family members. The origin stories of Superman, Captain America, and my Agent Orange justify their quests in terms of defending explicitly American values. (At least, that’s how they were created… the American way has since been retconned out of Superman and Captain America sounds more like a MSNBC commentator nowadays).

  82. Steton 17 May 2010 at 9:02 am

    Huh. That’s interesting about the primacy of origin stories. I’m trying to think of a popular superhero without one, and not having much luck.

    Most mutants, except that ‘mutant’ is I guess the origin story. But Cyclops and Jean Gray and Wolverine didn’t really come with origin stories, at least back in the yellow-tights days when I read ’em.

    I actually only read the first half of the first Dresden, myself! Odd Thomas I’ve read more of; he sees ghosts, basically. But he saves the day, nobody knows his powers …

    I like the idea about a distinction between the normal and supernormal characteristics. Puts an emphasis on *costumed* crime-fighter that probably belongs. The novel I’m shopping is costume-free, and my agent is struggling, I think, with genre. Where should it be shelved? SF? There’s no magic or future tech, and it’s not in the future or another world. Thrillers? Yeah, but the characters have supernormal powers. Horror? There’s no supernatural element.

  83. B. Macon 17 May 2010 at 10:19 am

    In X-Men, I think the origin story also includes the reason the character signed up with Professor X (rather than the Brotherhood or another group). That makes it easier to give the character moral motivation.

    As for genre, I think a lot of bookstores have a shelf for action or action/adventure. Would you feel comfortable with it in that category?

    “Thrillers? Yeah, but the characters have supernormal powers. Horror? There’s no supernatural element.” If scaring the audience is a major goal of the story, it wouldn’t matter whether there is a supernatural element or not. (See The Cask of Amontillado, for example). Plus, I would consider supernormal powers to be supernatural, anyway.

    While superheroes often wear a distinctive costume, I don’t think that the costume or lack thereof would affect shelf/genre placement, particularly with novels. (I think it’d affect the target audience and mood of the book, though–I’d be leery about selling a cape-and-tights hero to adult readers unless I was doing it for comedic effect or commentary).

  84. Steton 17 May 2010 at 1:27 pm

    That’s ‘Action and Adventure’ in YA. If you click here (sorry, I don’t know how to embed a link), you’ll find the following categories:

    Fiction Books & Literature
    Graphic Novels
    Mystery & Crime
    Romance Books
    Science Fiction & Fantasy

    Actually, just writing about this helps a great deal, because it’s pretty clearly gotta go in SF. Thriller readers I’m not sure would accept superpowers. But SF readers? Sure. They’re promiscuous.

    That’s a good point about horror not necessarily involving the supernatural. But I think most supernormal powers aren’t what I think of as supernatural: that is, ‘occult.’ On the other hand, there’s Hellboy and Ghost Rider and Spawn and such.

    Another good point about ‘which faction does the character join’ being central to the origin story.

    The only cape-and-tights novel for adults that I’m aware of is Soon I Will Be Invincible. Which did pretty well, I think, despite its flaws. (Unlike my book, which of *course* is completely flawless …) But as you say, that was pretty tongue-in-cheek.

  85. Herojockon 18 Jun 2010 at 6:56 am

    A friend of mine is claiming my character might be a Mary Sue of me. I wasn’t offended but was surprised and wanted to know why. She said he seems like an imagined version of me. What?! So looking over his traits, background and everything I’m struggling to see how. All the Sue tests score the character very anti-sue. What do you think?

    His a spiritualist/I’m an atheist
    His multicultural/I’m black
    His born in the North of England/I’m born in the South of England
    His emotionally dishonest/I’m emotionally too honest
    His a jealous type/I don’t see myself as a jealous type and no one has described me as one.
    His usually dissatisfied/I’m usually satisfied
    His into Rugby/I hate Rugby and love football and tennis.
    His interested in astrology and science/I’m the total opposite and love world affairs and politics.
    He went to a private school/I went to a typical inner city school
    He has a cold relationship with his mum/I’m a mummies boy
    He prefers rock and classical music/I prefer dance, RnB and Pop music
    His straight/I’m gay
    His clothes consist of jack wills (its like Britain’s Abercrombie & Fitch)/I wouldn’t catch myself dead wearing these clothes at University. Dead.
    His attending a University with advance futuristic technology in London/I’m attending a very good University not in London.
    Politically his centre-right wing and I’m centre left-wing (this contributes to him rounding up virus infected people and locking them in a modern day London dungeon. Naughty Naughty)

    So what do you think? Surely my friend is talking crap or have I just committed the first sin of Mary sue-ism? offended by the criticism of my character 😛

  86. B. Macon 18 Jun 2010 at 9:45 am

    Leaving aside the tastes of the character for a second, I think the defining trait of a Mary Sue is a lack of challenging flaws and/or being overpowered relative to the obstacles he faces.

    Most of the things you’ve mentioned don’t seem to me like they’d really affect the challenge level for him, although they might. For example, how does being jealous make it harder for him to achieve his goal? (Maybe he makes paranoid mistakes or gets in a plagiarism scandal or something). Why does it matter that he’s a rugby fan rather than soccer or something else? (Maybe it represents something unusual about his personality–at a school for advanced science students, maybe the student body would look down upon somebody that’s into “brutish” sports like that). Why does it matter that he’s right-wing rather than anything else? (Maybe leftists accuse him acting “white-wing” or “not really black” or “acting white” or whatever, or maybe his ideology presents some obstacle to his own effectiveness). Also, umm, what does him being right-wing have to do with him locking up people in a dungeon?

  87. Herojockon 18 Jun 2010 at 11:47 am

    Oh well I could have gone into greater detail explaining why I’ve picked those traits and its relative consequences to my story. But I assumed that would be unnecessary and create a tsunami of text.

    ‘lack of challenging flaws’ Fair enough, however I am only beginning to flesh out his character. Jealousy, emotional dishonesty and dissatisfaction I thought were a good start.

    ‘overpowered relative to the obstacles he faces’ I very conscious of this and have spent ages looking over how his abilities can be exploited and used against him. For example his super hearing presents him a problem in my world, due to the riot police having sound cannons as weapons. Obviously like guns in our days, these cannons are also illegally used by some criminals.

    ”being jealous make it harder for him to achieve his goal? (Maybe he makes paranoid mistakes or gets in a plagiarism scandal or something)” Did I say jealous I mean’t to use envious. Those two words are some times wrongly used interchangeably. This causes trouble in all areas. His friend has a power that will be his best chance of achieving his goal, but his envious trait has lost him a friend. This goal will lead to him getting his powers. His also willing to lie to achieve an end result he believes is good. The mixture of envy and willingness to lie (beneficial lies he reasons) to his friend to achieve his goal grants him his powers. But also his own enemy.

    ”Why does it matter that he’s a rugby fan rather than soccer or something else?” only an American would say that! haha. Rugby fans tend to be from a different social-economic status. It is a sport that doesn’t have much grass roots support and is very popular in private schools. It definitely represents his personality, his head strong and compared to the average student at his school his more physical. Come on his attending a school where there are robot duels instead of fist fights. This is one way he has to try to fit in.

    I think everyone has a political ideology and it invades our thoughts and minds both consciously and subconsciously. Stating he is centre-right wing was a cheap and quick way of summing up his attitude to how he handles certain obstacles. His mate has a different opinion on issues and their friendly struggle will be dialectical in nature.

    Regarding his skin colour. To be honest, I didn’t want him to have my skin colour or be white. His friend is of middle eastern origin, so he became a ‘happy’ medium. How bad is that? very.

  88. Herojockon 18 Jun 2010 at 11:58 am

    Right-wing and dungeon. Ok this was a big leap I admit without much explanation, but the reality is even superheroes have a political mindset. Where a moral black/white aka captain boring Superman would be shown to slap a criminal silly and dump him in jail. A more liberal superhero like Green Arrow would at least question the motives behind his crime. Maybe even go after the causes of the crime. Quick story short, convicted criminals with powers and the government picks one solution. He decides to work with them and also this is where his friend disagrees bla bla. Anyway yeah a new London dungeon is born 😛

    Too crazy? I’d like peoples opinions.

  89. Herojockon 18 Jun 2010 at 12:09 pm

    p.s the London dungeon is a nickname given by those in my story, who have been captured and contained. Its a ploy on the actual famous and now turned tourist attraction in London. I’m sure a lot of Americans know of it, but then most barely get out of their own country 😛 (runs away)

  90. B. Macon 18 Jun 2010 at 1:01 pm

    “Oh well I could have gone into greater detail explaining why I’ve picked those traits and its relative consequences to my story. But I assumed that would be unnecessary and create a tsunami of text.” I think it’s probably relevant to determining whether the character is adequately challenged. Paraphrasing Retardised Whovian, even total ineptitude at the didgeridoo might be sufficient as a flaw if the character belongs to a tribe where the main coming-of-age rite is a didgeridoo test. However, if we only knew about the character is that he’s really bad at the didgeridoo without knowing about the tribal test, the main reaction would probably be “WTF” rather than “I wonder how he’s going to make it!”

    “His friend has a power that will be his best chance of achieving his goal, but his envious trait has lost him a friend. This goal will lead to him getting his powers. His also willing to lie to achieve an end result he believes is good.” That sounds interesting.

    ”Why does it matter that he’s a rugby fan rather than soccer or something else?” Only an American would say that! Haha. Rugby fans tend to be from a different social-economic status.” Ah, that makes sense. In the US, I think there’s something similar going on with soccer. One of its main fan-bases is Caucasians that care about looking cosmopolitan. Don’t probe too deep into what they (don’t) know about the game because you’ll make them feel bad. (Personally, I enjoy more traditionally friendly-and-violent American sports that involve more violence on the field than off it).

    “I’m sure a lot of Americans know of it, but then most barely get out of their own country 😛 (runs away)” Ehh, domestic tourism is cheaper, doesn’t require a passport, faster/closer, fewer language barriers, better weather most of the year, safe drinking water, etc. The average American needs to go unusually far to another 1st world country (e.g. 800 miles average to Toronto), which is much further than in (say) Western Europe. Also, if you’re into, say, first-world places that are warm year-round, worldwide I think the main options are Florida, Hawaii, southern California, Okinawa and Singapore. I love Japan and Singapore, but unless you have an employer paying for it, they’re a hell of a lot more expensive for Americans than Florida/Hawaii/California. Also, if you do travel to Japan/Singapore from the U.S., 30+ hours of your trip will be on a plane or in an airport, which basically rules out people taking short trips and creates major logistical issues for everybody (especially people with young kids).

  91. Red Fernon 04 Aug 2015 at 5:49 pm

    Thanks for helping me identify and correct my Mary sue character. In my first book (still yet to be published) ‘Uncommon valor’ To check out some of my other stories see;

  92. Skyon 13 May 2017 at 8:31 am

    Sky scored a 1 on the springhole test. Good or bad?

  93. B. McKenzieon 17 May 2017 at 3:14 am

    “Sky scored a 1 on the springhole test. Good or bad?” I don’t think it’s an issue of “good” or “bad” — just “less challenging to work with” or “more challenging”.

    E.g. serial killer protagonists have worked before, but it’s certainly more of a challenge than more typical alternatives.

  94. James Dakotaon 29 Jul 2017 at 8:07 pm

    I did the Springhole test for James, and holy crap.
    Through some still as-yet unexplained random phenomenon, James got a freaking NEGATIVE SIX!! (and by the way I promise it’s not because I clicked every de-sueifier in existence).

    I mean, I never really thought of him as a Gary, but the creator of the test didn’t even write about negatives at the bottom of the page. Though honestly I’m not surprised.
    James is, in my opinion though not necessarily anyone else’s, funny and likable. He’s basically the kindest, sweetest, youngest hitman on the planet that works for Rocon, an international antiterrorism agency and he goes around killing the guys who plan school shootings and he still has to get to school in the morning. The backstory for his ability to handle guns is that his sister Lily, and Afghanistan veteran, taught him how to use guns when he was a kid. She was also recruited by Rocon because she was special forces.
    James is very flawed–he can be stupid, used, cowardly, selfish and unreasonably cruel in certain situations. He is physically attractive (hopefully), but not drop dead gorgeous – although he does have one of those intensive boring-into-your-brain started. He’s got enough skill to be respected by even the jaded ex CIA assassins, but he doesn’t have proper experience to use his skill wisely. And he’s not experienced enough period. He ended up almost getting his girlfriend killed because he was stupid enough to reveal their relationship and also where she lived in public. He’s gotten his butt whipped on multiple occasions, usually to the verge of death, but most of the “ruthless villains” actually don’t kill him because he’s got a sister who’s bigger and badder and probably has plenty of Ransom money stashed somewhere.
    But yeah. Negative six. You rock, James (not me)!

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