How to pull a Mary Sue and how not to.
| Vanessa easily drew across the brush, stepping back to admire her work. Not bad for a newbie. The painting was a work of art. In fact, everything about Vanessa was a work of art. She was average height, slender, with shaped eyebrows, a quizzical smile, straight teeth, black, lustrous hair, sweet brown eyes, and caramel skin. She cheered for her high school team, had straight A’s, and was adored by teachers, parents, and students alike, except for some of the punks and nerds.
This character has already been completely and utterly screwed over. If you’ve taken the Mary Sue test, you know exactly what I mean. The number one thing you never do to your characters is make them flat and static like this. EVERYONE in the real world has flaws. NOBODY is perfect and the one thing you don’t want your character to be is static. I’m going to give some hints on how to avoid messing up a character the way Vanessa was messed up.
For one, always make sure your character has flaws and weaknesses. In the real world, every single person has weaknesses. If you design your character to have no flaws, that in itself is a carnal sin. If your character has no weaknesses, she or he has no life. In every story the main character overcomes something, so what’s the point if the character has nothing to overcome?
Next, keep you character dynamic. No person goes through life without changing or learning. Make sure your character moves on throughout the story, learning as he or she goes AND MAKE SURE THEY”RE ABLE TO MESS SOMETHING UP BADLY! There’s nothing worse than a character that never makes major mistakes, particularly in adventure novels. Always make sure that when he or she makes a mistake, he or she learns from it, unless your main character is supposed to be a stubborn idiot and takes forever to finally register that learning the first time is better than continually messing up and making themselves look like idiots.
Next, make sure they have a personality, but with bad traits as well as good. For instance, I wouldn’t describe myself as a girl with a playful personality, honey-blonde, long hair, sea green eyes, and a bright smile. No, I have to add in the bad as well. I’m a playful girl that can sometimes get annoying with light brown hair, sea-green eyes, a crooked smile, slightly crooked teeth, contacts, and a little acne. Now, which sounds more believable? The latter description, correct? You have to make your character REAL. If you only put in good details your readers will only get half-a-view.
Unless your character is supposed to be an outcast, make sure they aren’t too different from everyone else. Have them have some traits that are like everyone else’s in your story. Make sure they can give into peer pressure from time to time, even if there is tremendous risk they know about, as long as it isn’t the end-of-the-world-type-risk. It’s okay if they don’t dress like everyone else or act like everyone else, most characters are different from everyone else. I know I’m different from everyone else easily.
It’s okay if they run away from fear. It’s even okay if they never go back to whatever scared them. Everyone has moments when they’re cowed. I know I have. Everyone is scared at some point in their life and it would make the character, no offense, pretty stupid if they were never scared. If you’re working with a brave character, go for overcoming that fear! Conquer it! But, if you’re working with someone who is actually supposed to be a coward, it would make sense if they never went back.
By my advice, if you have a character like Vanessa the Cheerleader up there, kill it. Immediately. I’m sorry if I offend, but you can always go back and fix it. Unless your Vanessa the Cheerleader is the antagonist. Then, it’s okay…sort of. Sometimes antagonists can be really cool, which makes it really hard to eventually kill them. For instance, I had two villains with good hearts, in archetypal terms, who were lovers. I had to kill both of them in the end. That’s what hurts the most, but sometimes you have to kill characters. It’s perfectly fine to pull off a Romeo-and-Juliet move, though, like I did, making the girl sacrifice herself to save the main character, the girl who she took under her wing. The boy, the main bad guy, showed them how to get home before turning around to kill himself to be with the girl. I wouldn’t always to recommend that, though. It’s a little unoriginal.
So there’s your list in how to completely ruin a character. I hope you don’t pull a Mary Sue!