How To Un-Mary-Sue Your Character
a. Chances are as a writer, you want certain things to happen:
1. You want your readers to read your entire story. You want to write a book they will not want to put down to the point where they take it with them to the most ridiculous places, like on a hike, or in the bathroom. You want to write something so captivating, that your reader must rearrange his methods for everything, so that he can effectively multitask while reading your damned story. You want your readers to think 'Curse you, novel! I love you, but I hate you! But I love you, but I hate you!'
2. You want your readers to love your characters as much as you do. So when you talk about how you have this one, old, incredibly awkward scene you cut out involving one character walking in on another naked, your reader will laugh his ass off because to him it feels like you just told him about his best friend screwing up big time.
3. You want readers to compliment you for being smart, clever, and original. Admit it. Because we've all got a creative genius complex buried somewhere deep inside that keeps us motivated enough to sit through the mental torture of writing a book
Unless you're a masochist. In which case, get some help. For the rest of you, writing is hard! But don't let compliments (and sweet, sweet money) be your only driving force.
b. If you're looking to guarantee that none of these things happen, then the solution is quite simple: have your protagonist be a Mary-sue and gtfo. However, if you're one of the smart people who want to avoid mary-sue/gary-stus like that one friend who always seems to be sick, then listen up, maggots!:
i. A very important thing to remember is that you can have the world's best plot for
your book, but if your characters suck, then so will your story. This is a fact.
1. This isn't a movie, people. For some reason, people still try to write their books in the way that sounds as much like a movie as possible. But they forget that there are lots of things that work for movies that don't for books, and vice versa. As far as character development goes, some movies can, sadly, get by simply being cool and showy and having lots of action scenes, and the writers never had to develop characters past their enormous boobs. But this is a book. It's writing. You can't just describe all this actioney shit and ignore the humanness of the characters you're seeing the story through and expect somebody to read through it all. Reading takes work and concentration, and no matter how many giant platypus police robots your story involves, no one will read the entire thing if they don't care about the characters involved. After all, who cares if a fire-breathing dragon attacks some dude in a tunic you care nothing about? You know what the reader thinks? 'Ooh, danger! Who gives a shit?' After which he proceeds to take a dump on your paperback, stuff it in a bag, light it on fire, and leave it on your doorstep. And as you open your front door and take in the stanky smell of rejection, no matter how many tears you shed, you will know deep down that it was all your fault, because you were too much of a lazy ass to make your characters four dimensional. Good job, author.
2. The reason people feel such emotional highs and lows while reading a good story isn't because the publishing company laced the pages with drugs and onions. It's because, when that dragon comes along with its foot-long fangs and poisonous drool, the author made sure he took the time to make you care about their characters. That way, the readers feel as if a friend is in peril, and so they are worried. It's all because the author did his job and made them care. Your goal here is to create a character who's relatable, "human" (even if said character is not human), and likeable enough to warrant the emotional investment of your readers. Get it?
3. Now, as far as villains/antagonists go, you could get away with focusing less on his human characteristics, and more on what makes him inhuman. And sure, we like to give super-villains inhuman characteristics (like being half-robot, or possessed by a demon) because we can't seem to handle the fact that a human being much like ourselves can do such unspeakable acts of horror. But you know what I, personally, like? When an antagonist is completely and unmistakably 100% human, and still performs the nasty deeds that make you love to hate him. But hey, who says we even have to hate the antagonist? We can't we sympathize a little with him too? Don't box yourself in, people! And avoid clichés like the plague (get it? because what I just said was a...never mind).
RELATABILITY and the ROLE MODEL
a. Many people wish to make their character a "role model" for others. All too often, despite their good intentions, they accidentally create a monster who's perfection in her looks, behavior, and morals is virtually unattainable in real life. Humans are imperfect by nature, and unless your character is touched by some god and made to be perfect in every way (in which case, can you say "annoying as hell?"), then chances are your character is as human as everyone else around her, and so should act like it.
b. First and foremost, people who read your story are looking for a character they can relate to in some way. Obviously, perfect people are not relatable...because they don't exist. Readers are looking for a friend in your character, not a role model, and probably not someone to envy. Don't get me wrong, we like characters we can admire, but not characters that are so perfect that no one can hope to wish to be like them.
c. On the same note, if your story involves a message, let the story bring it out naturally. Don't have your character preach all over the place like she's vomiting last night's spoiled leftovers uncontrollably. Come on, we've all had enough lecturing from our parents. We don't need your input, Mr.Author (Because, shit, you don't even know me).
d. So, why avoid making your character perfect? Because your flawless character will piss readers off and make them not give a flying squirrel about her. No, you know what, I bet you that they're eventually going to want her to be eaten by the dragon and have another, more human character step in her place, if only to end their own suffering. Either way, they're not going to finish your story.
1. Okay, I admit that names aren't the biggest deal. But done wrong, they can be a constant annoyance every time it's mentioned in the story. First, character names should coincide with their place of origin. Don't give a German character some crazy-ass South American tribal name unless there's a reason for it.
2. Unless absurdly long names are common in your world, or unless there's a damned good reason for your particular character to have such a long name, then for god's sake, get rid of "Sir Jerimiah Puffcake Apple-Pisser of Urinea" and stick to normal length, (non-annoying) names.
3. The same rule applies to characters with oddly spelled common names, or names that sound like your character's parents were My Little Poniesnames such as Rainbowfart and Flowerbarf. COME. ON.
4. Same goes for names that are already things. Like "Raven" or "Apple" or "Sky" or "CloudPaw." This works alright for animals, but not so much for humans that aren't tribal people, or at least come from a society (often hunter-gatherers, for instance) that is centered around nature, and/or nature is their religion. What I'm saying is, make sure the name fits with the world. For example, do you ever remember seeing a European medieval knight who's name was Giant-Running-Bear? No. Because that name is not badass. It's ridiculousfor a knight in Europe in the medieval times. It's not historically accurate. So don't do this unless you're specific world makes it not weird (like if everyone had names like that, not just your 'special' character)
or if you're writing for 5 year olds, in which case, your readers don't give a crap, and they will probably go home still believing that there's a candy-stealing goblin in the cabinet. So, good luck with that.
5. Why avoid these types of names? Because they generally come off as overly girly, or unprofessional, or they just make your character and your character's parents (and by extension, you) sound like attention whores. Yeah, we all want our characters to be original and memorable, but giving her an absurd name, just to be "different," is a lazy way to make your character stand out (Lazy authors are hung by their fingernails above rabid dogs in the middle of their towns and made an example of. That's
that's just a warning. Thought you might want to know). Sure, your character might be remembered, but it will only be because she makes people laugh at her stupidity. Unless this is your goal, then just stick with a normal name. Really.