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Thread: Toning down the Gary Stu and Mary Sue

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    Default Toning down the Gary Stu and Mary Sue

    As I was writing my fic, I realised that along the way I'm making my character too Gary Stu-ish. I was already five chapters into my fic, and I was wondering if I could do anything to tone down the Gary Stu-ness.

    What do you think? Do you have problems with your character being too "perfect"? What measures do you take if you realise your character was that way?

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    Depends. Could you describe your character better?

    And really, I just make sure that the characters make an honest effort to get what they want with little to no short cut. Even if they don't have major personality flaws, I can at least show them struggling and as fallible being as the rest of humanity.
    Last edited by matt0044; 22nd December 2012 at 2:51 AM.

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    Ahh yes. you remind me of one of my original characters that I find hard to do. A comical and knowledgeable guy who is just at giving ladies an impression.

    It all a matter on knowing on how xtrovert or introvert your character can become
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    It's hard to tell if your character is becoming Gary-Stu without an example of how he's becoming a Gary-Stu. Why not give some examples for us to take a look at?

    Usually, the big thing is if everyone starts worshiping the character every time he does something, he's perfect both in skill and in looks, never loses a fight, gets the girl without any real issue--to name a few. Giving the characters flaws help, but even then it can feel a little forced. There really isn't anything wrong in having the protagonist be a good person who wants to be perfect, but as a character, he's really bland, and that's why people don't like Mary Sues/Gary Stus. There's really nothing more to them than just being a walking-talking mortal god/goddess. It helps to show how they live life by themselves so we can get a better insight on who this character is when they're not around other characters. And even then, you'll have to show some struggle when he is out in public.

    We're not asking you to torture your characters, but you will have to sometimes just let the characters write themselves naturally. You just write how you normally write, and within time, you'll notice a gradual character development as do the audience. As long as you have given the character some traits and fleshed them out a bit before you started writing, you should be okay. Even then, you are always free to go back and edit chapters where it's needed.
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    Since I have people asking me about how I felt my character was Gary-stu, I'll answer

    - Has a good heart, goes crazy about people mistreating pokemon.
    - I'm planning him to be a psuedo-detective in a filler chapter.
    - Handsome (?) Though the fic wil be told in first person

    Anyways, I know that this isn't enough to make him a Gary Stu / Mary Sue, but if I continue like this, he'll become one. I'm trying to think of ways to let him get some emotional squeeze juice, either a) getting crushed by a guy who mistreats pokemon b) huge struggle in his adventure, trying to bond with stuff and c) emotional struggle.

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    Add a jerk sue rival. That usually makes your character look less sueish as a comparison. It worked for the diamond and pearl series didn't it?

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    Quote Originally Posted by pokemonsquared View Post
    Add a jerk sue rival. That usually makes your character look less sueish as a comparison. It worked for the diamond and pearl series didn't it?
    Well I did add a female jerk rival, but I messed it up by making her lose... for the sake of plot I had planned out. But I'm not sure how things would work if my character won the first time. If Paul from DP lost to Ash at Lake something, the rivalry woul dhave a far different mix to it. Anyways, for the sake of plot, I need to introduce a new rival. But I had two rivals by Jubilife City (one friendly, one was the girl who mistreated pokemon) and I don't want to make it to something like five and they all get terribly shafted. I don't think consecutively beating a jerk rival or consecutively losing to a friendly rival makes it less-stu ish.

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    Quote Originally Posted by OceanicLanturn View Post
    - Has a good heart, goes crazy about people mistreating pokemon.
    - I'm planning him to be a psuedo-detective in a filler chapter.
    - Handsome (?) Though the fic wil be told in first person

    Anyways, I know that this isn't enough to make him a Gary Stu / Mary Sue, but if I continue like this, he'll become one. I'm trying to think of ways to let him get some emotional squeeze juice, either a) getting crushed by a guy who mistreats pokemon b) huge struggle in his adventure, trying to bond with stuff and c) emotional struggle.
    I'd probably watch the psuedo-detective part. If he gets caught up in a small mystery for no reason whatsoever, that'd point him in the direction of Gary Stu-dom. If you're going to bring up a mystery, allude to it some chapters before you get him to start solving a mystery on the side--especially since it's a filler chapter. Heck, if it's just a filler chapter and has nothing to do with the plot whatsoever, it'd be better to just scrap that idea in general.

    So... how old is your character? I can't imagine a young boy being handsome. I'd watch out for that as well. It's not wrong to have him be good-looking, but you have to keep age in check when it comes to physical appearance. If he has something striking about him, that's fine, but it shouldn't be the main focus. Like with Harry Potter, outside of his scar, a striking feature is that he has his mother's green eyes, but it's sparingly alluded to, and it is somewhat relevant to a certain character's development/backstory.

    If you're going to do any of those options you're thinking of, do try not to make it forced, or it's going to be very obvious as it'll stick out like a sore thumb. Him struggling on his adventure is fine, though as that's a more physical, action-filled struggle, do give him an emotional struggle to balance it out.

    Quote Originally Posted by OceanicLanturn View Post
    Well I did add a female jerk rival, but I messed it up by making her lose... for the sake of plot I had planned out. But I'm not sure how things would work if my character won the first time. If Paul from DP lost to Ash at Lake something, the rivalry woul dhave a far different mix to it. Anyways, for the sake of plot, I need to introduce a new rival. But I had two rivals by Jubilife City (one friendly, one was the girl who mistreated pokemon) and I don't want to make it to something like five and they all get terribly shafted. I don't think consecutively beating a jerk rival or consecutively losing to a friendly rival makes it less-stu ish.
    If you're having rival issues, perhaps you should try and have the rival be like your main character in a way. It'd be interesting to see how they would act around each other because they have similar attitudes. If they're arguing with each other, or not getting along because of it, that'd be a clue to your character and the reader that he needs to change something about himself and become a better character. (Though it's only if he catches it the first time, though I would suggest he starts noticing after a few more encounters, or until someone points it out and he denies it a few times.) It all comes down to chemistry. Some characters clash more easily than others, so try and experiment personalities until you find the one you feel fits the rivalry the most.
    Last edited by Kutie Pie; 21st December 2012 at 7:22 PM.
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    Funny, but the original characters I write I tend to think of them almost in terms of their flaws sometimes. I'm not saying that that they're not good people (or at least have good somewhere in them) but I tend to think first of the struggles they face because that's where the delicious psychological complexity is and a lot of the times... that's where the plot is.

    If you want to make sure that your character has flaws, they should be organic ones that fit in with the personality as a whole. You don't want to, as Kutie Pie warned, add flaws that sound forced. You also don't want to give them token flaws that are superficial and don't really matter ("clumsiness" is one that comes to mind). You also ALSO don't want to only give flaws that are just supposed to make everyone admire the character more ("too self-sacrificing" is the usual example).

    ...But that last example kinda gets at my next point. Personality traits can be a complicated matter. Depending on the framing, situation, the technique, and the level of control the character has, strengths can be turned into weaknesses. It's really just about how you explore those traits and what permission you give the character to mess up and be real. Like, lemme take a look at your list and try this...

    - Has a good heart, goes crazy about people mistreating pokemon.
    Yeah, of course this is a positive. But that overflow of passionate fury could wind up being a negative. The character could lose their temper and wind up yelling at someone who didn't deserve it (whether because the character misunderstood the situation or because he's taking it out on someone who's not at fault). It could also cause him to act rashly, when cooler heads could've actually fixed the problem. It would just take the right situation to bring that out.

    - I'm planning him to be a psuedo-detective in a filler chapter.
    And, how good is he at that? I'm assuming pretty damn good because you're listing it with Gary-Stu stuff. But he doesn't have to be good at everything with detective work. To look for those stumbling blocks, I suppose you have to ask what his limitations are in terms of education and experience. Perhaps these are areas in which he lacks that he could be made aware of by his friends/companions chiming in? Sorry, I don't feel like I have enough information here to really comment on this 'trait'

    - Handsome (?) Though the fic wil be told in first person
    ...I have to ask, though this is getting a bit off-track, is there a specific reason for him being handsome? I always wonder when people bring the character's physical attraction up out of nowhere in fics... like they want to make sure that I know I'm reading about a hot person because they think that's important to me? Eh...

    Anyway, if you wanted to invert this in some way toward a flaw... I suppose there's vanity or mere discomfort with his own attractiveness. I don't feel like there's much I can suggest because this already seems like a very, erm, cosmetic trait.

    I don't know. I think the point I was trying to make amongst these ramblings is that thinking about characters in terms of strict "pros" and "cons" on traits denies the personality a lot of complexity--there is overlap between the two. Fleshing out the character more and finding out what makes him interesting should reveal some negatives as long as you make an effort to really get inside that person's head and not worry about letting them mess up.

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    Don't have other characters be there to make your character look good. The bit about having a rival who loses to him and is cruel to her Pokémon while he is kind is more worrying to me than any of the things you actually listed, to be honest; such transparent attempts to preach the virtuousness of the main character tend to be strong indicators of Sueness. (Well, the 'handsome' bit rings some alarm bells just by virtue of the fact you're even bringing it up - the appearance of your character should be very far from relevant to a story about a bond between a trainer and his Pokémon.)

    It's not that there's anything wrong with a character who is kind to Pokémon. They can even be passionate about it, like your character. But Sueness tends to lie not in what the characters do but in how it's written: the problem is when they stop feeling genuinely like people and instead feel like author mouthpieces/power fantasies/overexaggerated perfection/etc. Remember that most trainers care about their Pokémon and your character probably isn't uniquely amazing for it, so don't have the story act like it - don't have all the Pokémon waxing poetic about how great he is for something that's really a matter of common decency, don't have most other trainers cruel and careless towards their Pokémon just so you can show how much better your character is; especially don't make him go around showing other trainers the light about treating Pokémon decently. Don't make the way your character treats his Pokémon so obviously better in every possible fashion that it's implausible anyone would not do it that way.

    Remember to treat other characters as characters. There should be reasons for why they do what they do, why their actions seem right from their point of view, why they think your character is wrong, and they should not exist solely so that your character can teach them a lesson. A rival mistreats her Pokémon? Why is she doing that? Is she hell-bent on winning the League and has a harsh training regime as part of it, not realizing she's hurting the Pokémon? Is she genuinely a psychopath who doesn't care if they suffer (if so, don't just use "psychopath" as a handwaved excuse for her to not care about her Pokémon; actually put effort into shaping her character around the idea she lacks empathy and how she would act differently than other people)? Was she abused and feels like this is normal? She should definitely not be simply your main character's punching bag who appears when you want to remind the reader how nice he is: that's not a character.

    And above all, remember that people are wrong sometimes. Let your character make mistakes - not little insignificant mistakes put in so that you can defend yourself against the accusation of Stuism, but big meaningful mistakes. Don't squeeze them in just to have mistakes, of course; just let them organically happen, as you realize the kinds of things your character would overlook and fail at and don't shy away from letting them happen. When your main character disagrees with other characters, don't make it always turn out your main character is right: have their opinions be genuinely based on who they are and what they would think in this situation. They are not prescient (well, probably).

    Don't make liking or agreeing with your main character be more than vaguely correlated with being a good person in your story's universe. Don't pull a wimpy technical disagreement, either, just to be able to say they don't always agree with him; allow other fundamentally decent characters to disagree passionately with him, find him annoying, complain about his behaviour, etc. and allow the reader to take their side instead of painting everyone who doesn't get along with him as villains. Don't make things happen to be arranged in the most convenient possible way for your main character repeatedly throughout the story, without the roughly equivalent number of inconveniences that would be expected in real life. Don't gloss over things that should be inconveniencing your character because you don't want them to be inconvenienced.

    You may see a running theme here. Characters are people, people are complex, and people have flaws and disagreements and make mistakes; if you honestly write characters like real people, they will organically turn out to have flaws and disagreements and mistakes, without you having to make some special effort to tone anything down. The answer is never cheating by just throwing in some flaw or disagreement or mistake and expecting that to magically fix it; it's thinking about your world and characterization with more depth and realism.
    Last edited by Dragonfree; 22nd December 2012 at 2:46 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dragonfree View Post
    Awesome wall of text
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    Awesome... In awe at the huge walls of text.

    Anyways, I rephrase the handsome part, I actually didn't really describe him well yet, since like I said, it's in first person, but I'll get to that.

    Alright, those ideas have given me a plenthora of flaws, problems he might have.

    He meets this not-so-friendly rival and they're on their way to *insert city*. The main character sees a trapped mon and jumps to release it, but he gets jumped by the hunter. So thne his rival has to go save him from the net. Now the main character thinks about his recklessness and how much danger he would've been in if he had been alone when he is alone in his *insert place to sleep*.

    Well, the main villain of the story is the opposite of N, a world without pokemon. So as he travels through the Sinnoh Region, he might find himself doubting if he was right.Then he has struggles and self-doubts himself for a few chapter, until a chapter shakes him out of it.

    I'm wondering if those two flaws are decent so far:

    a) Recklessness
    b) Self-doubting
    c) Mental-Struggles

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    Everything Dragonfree said++++ (as usual)

    Whether a character is a Gary Stu or not is less about the character than how you, as the author, relate to the character and, in turn, how the rest of the world relates to them. It's not something you can fix by stapling on a couple of flaws here and there. I mean, the list you have there is more or less okay, albeit vague ("mental struggles"?), but if you're writing in such a way that the character is a Stu anyway, it's probably just going to morph them into some hideous kind of wangst Stu rather than whatever they were before. It doesn't matter whether your character is a nice guy, or good looking, or rich, or powerful, or anything--people have written stories about gods and managed to not make them Stus, so it's not as though relative virtue, power level, etc. actually has a ton to do with it.

    The particular scenarios you've presented in your post aren't particularly encouraging. Having the character screw up and learn something from the experience is definitely good, of course. But the way you've described the event it's not really clear what it's going to mean for the development of your story. If your character learns and grows from the experience (and that's important to the rest of the story), then all the better; but if you just have an instance of the character being reckless, then thinking, "Hey, maybe I shouldn't be so reckless anymore!", well, it doesn't really mean anything. It also looks like you're going for a flaw-that-doesn't-matter with the self-doubt thing; having a character question one decision, briefly, then find out that it was okay, he was right all along, isn't really a flaw--if anything, it could just be the narrative validating that the main character is right (as usual).

    Overall it looks as though you're looking for things you can kind of shoehorn into the story to have your character going from being a Stu to a not-Stu, but that's not really how it works. Your character having experience X or Y, or particular trait A or B, isn't really relevant--it's how the story as a whole takes shape that matters. Of course, that means writing a character that's not a Stu isn't that easy, since you have to consider the story as a whole, rather than being able to boil things down to easy rules like "don't make your character win every battle." There are rules of thumb (and that's one of them), but they usually address symptoms rather than the underlying problem, which is usually the author's attitude towards that character. But that's probably why it's so common! If you could stop your character from being a Stu by having them doubt themselves now and again, I'm sure they wouldn't be nearly so common.

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