Author: ZaXo Ken'Ichi PM
This is a quick essay on the difference between a perfect character, and a Mary-Sue; something people often tend to mix together.Rated: Fiction K - English - Words: 1,334 - Reviews: 2 - Favs: 4 - Follows: 1 - Published: 04-23-12 - Status: Complete - id: 3015997
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Hello every-nyan! Here's a little 'essay' I decided to write for my deviantArt Journal. It ended up long enough, that I figured it would be nice to also post it here. Happy Reading :)
*A Deus-Ex Machina is a plot device wherein a character faces seemingly impossible odds, only to overcome them through the use of some previously unknown/nonexistent/unexplained character, ability, or object. In other words, a sudden and unexplained change happens, allowing a character to do the impossible. One example would be *spoiler for Avatar: The Last Airbender* when Aang randomly meets the Lion-Turtle and figures out how to take bending abilities away so that he doesn't have to kill the Firelord... right before the final bout with said Firelord. *spoiler end*
Today while browsing the television channels for something to watch, I stumbled upon a movie that I haven't seen in a while. So I decided to watch a bit of it, as it was right at the beginning. About a half an hour in, something hit me; a revelation. It showed me the perfect example of something many people claim to understand, but often don't really know much about, past their initial interpretations and own opinions. The movie? Hitch, starring Will Smith. The subject?
Now, in case you're asking yourself "Okay... but what's a Mary-Sue?", I have an answer for you! A Mary-Sue is a derogatory stereotype for any (usually) fictional character, of either gender, who seems unable to do anything wrong (NOTE: You will often see male-specific versions of this term such as Gary-Stu/Jerry-Stu). Most people take this to mean the same thing as the word 'perfect', and to be honest, they aren't too far off. As shown above, Mary-Sue characters are always too perfect for their own good. They can get anything done without effort, or situations always just 'happen' to go their way -usually through the use of a Deus-Ex Machina*-. They're attractive, strong, courageous, and usually end up with everything in the end; they're perfect at being absolutely good/evil (NOTE: Most of the time, you won't see Mary-Sue villains, as most writers don't plan on having their villain to win in the end).
The majority of people who aren't just into fluffy, completely unrealistic stuff, won't like such characters. People themselves aren't that perfect, and cannot relate to someone who is. They want to feel a connection with the character, beyond the fact that they usually relate to the wants/needs of the character. They're looking for something deeper than that.
However, this creates a problem. Because Mary-Sue characters are always perfect, the two words become synonymous with each other. But in reality, a character can be perfect to a large extent, and still not be classified as a Mary-Sue; they can still be likeable. However, writing a character like this takes a lot of work, a lot of brains, and a fair bit of trickery.
Look at Hitch for example. In the movie, Will Smith plays a man who is hired to teach other men how to attract a woman. He knows all of the tricks of the trade... and disposes of them all in favor of what women really want; genuine care, attention, and confidence. Smith is good at everything he does for the first half of the movie. He can do anything right, say anything right, and is virtually untouchable, making no real mistakes the entire time. The second half of the movie creates a problem for him, where he finds himself unable to do well when attracting women for himself. But by that point, he has already been established as a confident, intelligent, strong character who won't take any abuse, and is always looking to do the right thing. He can do everything seemingly effortlessly. During the first half of the movie, he does indeed sound like a Mary-Sue, and a character that you wouldn't really like.
But all the same, there's a certain beauty to the character in the first half of the movie. There's something about him that makes you smile and cheer him on. You don't care that he's perfect, because it's awesome. You want him to win. The stunts he pulls excites you, because they're extremely elaborate, and pulled off flawlessly.
As I said before, he can do everything seemingly effortlessly. The key word there is 'seemingly'. If you compare what Smith's character in Hitch does to most genuine Mary-Sues, you'll find one glaring difference; he's written to be such an expert in his field, that it becomes obvious to the viewer that he worked hard to get where he is. That's something everyone can relate to on the deepest of levels.
It doesn't matter that things go downhill in the end. They could have literally written an hour and a half of him pulling his epic 'tricks' to teach people how to attract women (and how not to), and it still would have been enjoyable. The reason is because he doesn't get everything for nothing, and neither do his clients. You can see the depth to the character; you can imagine the hard work he had to do to learn everything that he knows. You can feel that he's so comfortable with his actions, that most everything comes naturally at this point, and he can focus more on the fine details. He is a perfected character, but only through the obvious countless hours that he's put in to being as such. This type of character is extremely similar to the 'old/wise mentor' character. The only difference is that they're the main character, instead of simply being someone who's there to teach the main character, and then be killed off.
That to me proves that a character can be perfect, without being a Mary-Sue. If the writer actually gives the character seemingly insurmountable challenges, and throws tons of stuff at the reader/viewer that they'd never expect, they can still relate the viewer to the amount of hard work the character has put in to make it where he/she is... as long as they don't find an easy way out. Throw an army at the character, and don't give them any shortcuts, and you can indeed write a likeable, perfect character who isn't a Mary-Sue.
I'm obviously not saying that everyone should start writing characters like this. That's a big risk, and takes a bright, truly creative writer. I'm also not saying that I enjoy Mary-Sues. But it's important that people learn to take a complete look at who the character really is, and what they're up against (as well as how they get past it), before they judge them as being one way or another. Realize what a Mary-Sue is before you actually claim a character to be one.
Besides, it seems 'cool' at the moment for most people to write characters that I like to call Debby-Downers, and I don't think that's okay either. A Debby-Downer is a character who's the opposite of a Mary-Sue, and can't do anything right, no matter how simple. Such characters seem to be popular at the moment, so that writers can build them into something absolutely spectacular. But there's a difference between a pathetic waste of space character (Debby-Downer), and one who makes mistakes and has a lot to learn. But that's another story for another day.
So tell me what you think in a review. I'm excited to see whether people agree or disagree. Everything Hitch belongs to it's respectful owners. Hope You Liked :)