Brandon Cornwell

Blacksmith, Woodsmith, and Wordsmith

On Writing

Terrible Writing Advice: The Mary Sue!

So hey! It’s been a long time. Like, two and a half months. For that, I’m sorry. Between June and September, I pushed out over 100k words, and finished book 2 of the Dynasty of Storms series, Thunderbolt. It’s currently in beta read, which has left me more or less sitting on my hands. I’ve wrapped up a few projects that I’ve been fiddling about with, and now I’m just kinda… waiting. Well, waiting and playing a lot of PS4 and mobile games. I mean, Game of Thrones ended way too fast! Seven episodes in Season Seven! WHAT WAS THAT?!

In any case, I’ve decided to pick back up with the Terrible Writing Advice series I had planned on doing every Friday, and then promptly didn’t. I mean, I have a bunch of time on my hands now, so why not? Terrible Writing Advice is a video series by Joseph Beaubien (Who has multiple social media accounts, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and his very own website!).

This episode is about the Mary Sue. Watch the video below!

Alright that was fun, and that was funny.

So, let’s look at what started the Mary Sue character. describes the Mary Sue as a generally derogative term used to describe a particular type of character found primarily in fan-fiction. Originally a character in a Star Trek fan-fiction parody called A Trekkie’s Tale, Mary Sue actually, ironically enough, lacked several primary Mary Sue traits. I could go on and on, but that’s the gist of it all, with more reading in those pretty blue links up there.

I’ve seen many, many Mary Sue characters over the years. I cut my teeth in storytelling in the roleplaying chatrooms of TalkCity, on Web TV, back in 1996-1997. I was, like, eleven or twelve, and I wanna say my very first character was a heck of a Marty Stu (the male iteration of a Mary Sue). Over the years, I started to get bored with that sort of character, and worked on adding more depth to them than one would find in a parking lot puddle.

I have worried that the main character of the first two books, Elias, is a bit of a Marty Stu. He’s tall, strong, handsome (if rugged in appearance) and generally tends to succeed in what he attempts to do. He’s intelligent and logical, most of the time, matching physical and intellectual strength.

However, I did my best to balance him with several flaws to make him seem a bit more… real. He tends towards a lack of confidence near the beginning of his story, and tends towards brooding. He has a weakness for pretty women, having been shown no real romantic affection for most of his life, and a habit of slipping into a berserker-like rage when engaged in combat, which presents its own difficulties. When he gets emotional, he tends to act rashly, and once he gets over his lack of confidence, the pendulum swings too far to the other end of the spectrum.

In the end, most often, especially in genres like Epic or High Fantasy, we expect the hero to win (but not always… I’M LOOKING AT YOU, GRRM!). We expect them to excel. That’s why they are heroes. However, an unbalanced hero doesn’t leave much to anticipation, and it greatly diminishes the drama of what should be an engaging story.

Give your characters flaws. Real flaws, not just “s/he’s oblivious to the fact of how beautiful/handsome s/he is” or “they’re too humble to take credit for their achievements or stand up for themselves so they become a beautifully tragic doormat.” Even the purest marble pillar casts a shadow. Even the most holy of popes gets angry. Everyone poops, and chances are, it stinks.

That’s no fun. That’s not interesting. And that doesn’t make for the kind of story that really resonates with someone other than the author. Which, if you’re a storyteller and your story only resonates with you, you’re not telling a very good story, are you?

So what did you think? Leave your questions and comments below! And once again, thanks for reading!

Written by Brandon Cornwell in October 10, 2017 / 1782 Views

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