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Writing a Character - Avoiding Mary Sue


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Death To Mary Sue!

Creating a balanced character profile, and avoiding the King and Queen of Perfection.


Mary Sue and Gary Stu.. the absolute nightmare of any Forum RPG administrator. They come in many forms. Students, adults, animals, aliens - even kitchen cupboards, given the right sort of RPG. They're hiding in your bathroom. They're knocking on your door. They're going to make you cringe in later life, because you know you invited them to your door... but let's backtrack a little.


You'll see what I mean. First, I'll explain a bit.


1. Who Are Mary Sue and Gary Stu?

Mary Sue is the friend of all the girls, chased after by all the boys. She is beautiful, and kind despite her often tragic past. She probably has a lot of money, always knows what to do in every situation and excels at everything she does. She's the girl you find taming the horse no one could ride, the one who's parents were both killed by ravenous hippos or something equally horrifying. She may have lived with an Aunt who hated her, or a kind old grandmother who ensured she had all the creature comforts of life... but you can be sure that nothing ever got her down until those few moments where it seems a teary breakdown is called for. She's so sweet it makes you sick, and so perfect she makes Barbie look like a hag.


Gary Stu, well... he's much the same. The most handsome boy around, he gets along with everyone and all the girls have got secret crushes on him. He's incredibly good at sports, even if he didn't have a father to play ball with him, or a mother who made sure he ate his bread crusts. Like Mary, his parents (or entire family, in some cases) are probably dead... but again, he takes it all in his stride and maintains that wonderful air of amazing calm that keeps him in place as leader of any group. He'll always do the right thing in any situation, he has no vices, and he always gets the girl.


2. Right... So Why Is This Bad?

Strictly speaking, it's not. Mary Sue and Gary Stu are characters in their own right. And if you're playing an RPG set in Impossible Land, I'm sure they would be happily accepted there. However, the bottom line is - that unless the RPG is set somewhere similar to Impossible Land - there is no case where any character should be that perfect.


True. Characters are fictional. They aren't bound by the limitations of say, you and I in the real world. But at the same time, they should be just as affected by character flaws and history as we are. Keeping your character to a realistic balance of talent and troubles will make your character more believable, more easy to play, and a lot more complex than Mary and her boyfriend up there.


Also - most people have already written a Mary or a Gary. I won't lie and say I never did - more often than not, a person's first character possesses all the goodness in the world, I went through quite a few Mary's before someone pointed out to me that my characters didn't have enough flaws.


3. Need More Convincing?

Here's the list of problems with having a Mary or a Gary, in short form.


- They're the most overdone characters, ever. Can you imagine a board full? Yuck. It's been done.

- Nobody's perfect, so why should they be?

- They're boring to play, and boring to play with.


4. Right! So, How To Avoid Them?

Easy. When planning a character, think very carefully about their history. Think carefully about their mannerisms, how they respond to others, and what their pet peeves are.


Below I've put a few things to consider. As I mostly write human characters, the examples are for that species - but keep in mind that the same principles apply to any species/race/whatever!



As odd as it sounds, this is usually one of the first things that screams MARY SUE! Unless you're in a fantasy RP where it is appropriate, try and steer away from odd, or Elvish sounding names. Likewise, Moonstar Rainbowshine tends to make people vomit - and not in the good way. Try and pick something that's not overdone, unsusual in it's own way - but not over the top.



Another interesting factor. Many characters are purposefully designed to be roughly the same age as characters of the opposite gender on the boards. The reasons for this are quite obvious, and while that's okay - don't ever be afraid to play the old grandmother, or even the eleven year old child.



Whether it's a requirement of the character sheet or not, always consider this carefully. What you decide to be your character's personality from the start should have an impact on how you play your character to the end. Things you should think about include:


- How does my character act generally? How do they view life?

- How does my character act in bad situations? What makes them angry?

- How does my character act in good situations? What makes them happy?

- How does my character respond to unusual situations?

- What upsets my character?


Important Notes: Never. Ever. State what other characters feel about your character. Unless it has been predecided, your application should be about your character, not how others see them. While you can say that your character is 'difficult to hate', you cannot outright say 'no one hates my character'.



Another important topic. As with anyone, what has happened in your characters past will have an impact on how they see life in the future. Often it helps to write your history before the personality, to get some idea of how your character might have turned out. Also remember that a character without a history is an incredibly boring one, the more you put here the better you will understand your character from the beginning.


Things to avoid:

- Dead families/parents.

Orphans are so overdone. The occasional one, yes - I'll give you that, they exist and so should be represented in the RP world. But, there is such thing as going overboard...

- Overly tragic events that conflict with personality.


Fair enough if you're writing a tragic past. But remember that whatever you write, has to be reflected in how your character manages day to day situations. You can't have a tragic past simply for sympathy calls every time you feel like writing something sad... it has to be there every time, always in the back of your mind when writing your character.



Ye gods. The RP world is swamped with supermodels and iron men! If you haven't got the gist of this guide by now, here it is: Characters. Are. Not. Perfect! Not every girl can be Barbie, and not every guy can be Ken. So write that. You'll find eventually that playing a character who is physically perfect is just as boring as playing a character who is perfect in personality.


Some things to consider when writing appearance:


- What weight is my character? (Hint: Overweight is FUN!)

- How tall is my character (Be unusual.. or average. Do not be cliche and put 6 foot 2, eyes of blue...)

- How pretty/handsome is my character? (Zomg! I'd LOVE to see plain Jane! Or someone really ugly..)

- Crooked/discolored teeth are awesome.

- Eyes that are not green/blue or some unusual shade are excellent.

- Scars that don't mean anything... wonderful. Accident scars... brilliant.


.. Let your imagination for personal defects run wild!


5. So, What Did We Learn?

Just the golden rule of RP:

Nobody's perfect - so why should your characters be?


This documentation written by Mousie of RPG-D. It rocks your socks.


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