Almost the entirety of my thought process for planning for my Edge of the Empire game has been:
What I want to happen > What I think will actually happen > What way the players will inevitably come up with that completely circumnavigates the thing that I wanted or thought would happen.
Being a writer is hard, especially if you’re ever going to have a significant audience. People are going to hate on you for your plot, shame you for your conflict, and call you lazy for your characters. I generally make a point of ignoring the particularly vitriolic feedback because it’s rarely very helpful, but more legitimate criticism will still make you think. Did I do this wrong? Is this character a Mary Sue?
I can’t quell your fears about the entirety of the story, but I’m going to do my best to quell your fears about your possibly Mary Sue character, and give you the tools and direction to make your character less Sue-like if character fails the test.
The negative connotation comes from this “wish-fulfillment” implication: the “Mary Sue” is judged as a poorly developed character, too perfect and lacking in realism to be interesting.
We’re going to ignore the “wish-fulfillment” part because what part of writing isn’t wish-fulfillment?
So, the definition of a Mary Sue I’m going to be using here is A character of any gender that is unrealistically perfect or ideal, thus poorly developed.
Now, the test. It’s going to be pretty simple.
Is your character:
- Unrealistically attractive, smart, envied, loved, fortunate, selfless, righteous, powerful, or otherwise perfect for the world and situation in which they’ve been put?
Does your character:
- Stay the same throughout the story, never developing or growing?
- Always succeed?
Is it impossible to recall:
- A significant flaw that your character has?
- A time your character has said, done, thought the wrong thing?
If you answered yes to all of these things, your character is a Mary Sue. Don’t freak out.
If you answered yes to some of these things, your character might still be a Mary Sue. Don’t freak out.
If you answered no to all of these things, you’re off the hook. Your character is realistic, developed, and flawed. Character is not a Mary Sue. Feel free to put your time and energy into worrying about something else.
Basically, if you answered yes to some/all of those questions, all you have to do is tweak your story so that your character is more realistic/developed/flawed. I said that’s “all you have to do” like it’s no big task, but I know it can be a big task. It can hurt and take time and be frustrating to rewrite a character, especially when you feel like this is your character and that’s just who s/he is. But it’s really important. And you’ll be glad you did it. You’ll be glad you did it.
If you’re already published and your Mary Sue is out there for the world to see, forever stuck in his/her Sue-ness, don’t make excuses for yourself. You messed up. Just promise to do better next time and to learn from your mistakes. It’s okay.
The first face, you show to the world. The second face, you show to your close friends, and your family.
The third face, you never show anyone. It is the truest reflection of who you are.