We’ve all me her before.
Lurking in the darkest alleys of YA Lit, grinning at us with her perfect smile, tossing her wavy brown hair that’s “too coarse and untameable to be pretty.” Her eyes are unrealistically cool. She thinks she’s ugly. But we all know she’s not, as Mr. Jock or Mr. Cute and Sensitive are forever flirting with her.
Her name? Mary Sue.
Mary Sue is the scourge of all storytellers, the bane of becoming an author, the perpetual pest of prose. Mary Sue is the character with a tragic back story and a quiet personality who has all the looks and charm to be a popular girl but acts as insecure as that one person we all follow on Instagram. (You know, the ridiculously photogenic one who’s always posting perfect selfies with emo stuff about how insecure she is? You know the one I’m talking about.)
Mary Sue has her place. Mary Sue is the perfect tragic side character, that charrie you put in purposely because she’s annoying and flat, just to get a rise out of your readers. Mary Sue is really only Mary Sue when she’s meant to be loved. You can write in a Mary Sue-esque character as an annoying friend or member of the supporting cast. For example, pretty much every girlfriend of my character Severin is a Mary Sue. But they’re not meant to be liked. They were put in purposely to attract negative attention.
What I’m talking about here is the cliched MC from half the YA novels nowadays. We all know how it works.
First person narrative.
Thinks she’s something new and different.
Irritatingly insecure about everything.
“The smooth swing hung on the lowest branch of the willow tree; it felt familiar beneath me as I swung high and felt the wind on my face, making a mess of my already too-messy blonde hair. I could smell the sweet scent of the spring wind as it rushed past me, and I couldn’t help be reminded of Todd, and the way we had kissed for the first time right under this tree last April. Now, I doubted he even remembered me. I felt myself blush as I thought about him, turning my face up to the cool breeze and closing my eyes, longing to lose myself in the quiet.”
Sound familiar? It should. Though I wrote this opening myself, it’s pretty similar to most YA romance and a lot of general YA lit openings.
The point I’m trying to make: we’re authors! We have the ability to bring to life characters of the most unique and marvelous varieties. So my questions to you is this: why do something that’s already been done before?
I could give you plenty of tips on how to avoid writing Mary Sues or Gary Stews, (Mary Sue’s male counterpart,) but the best tip of all is just to write the characters you want to write. Not based on another character in a story. Not conforming to the kind of person you think your readers want to hear about. Just the sort of person you want to write about.
Any thoughts on the immortal Mary Sue or breaking stereotypes? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Comment below!
BONUS: Why do the love interests always have 4-letter names? I mean, Todd, Jack, Alex, Cody, Josh, Zack, Cory, Noah, Drew, Chad, Eric, Adam, Luke… the list goes on and on. But how come we never see an Ivan? Or an Earl?