Skip to main content

Ladies, Brethren, Your Imperfection Is Brilliant (Or, Your View of Perfection Is Warped)

Bam. And she makes an appearance.

You really can't look anywhere without the word Mary Sue plastered on something, or slipping over in its messy trails and into the pool of endless circular arguments. And if you try and take all of the arguments off of the table and ask one of these people what their perception of perfection was, they'd just stop and smile at you. They might be able to tell you someone's name, or something vague like success or like too pretty or something, but the truth is that we all strive for some degree of perfection, whether it be mentally, physically or emotionally, and there are many perceptions of that big word: perfection.

Some may view perfection as an unfaltering sense of humour. Some may view perfection as a cellulite-free hourglass figure of a tanned 20-year-old. Some may view perfection as an ability to see the best in everyone and everything. Some may view perfection as Adam Levine deciding to strut about semi-naked and sing about Mick Jagger (No one like me of course. How absurd. *cough*). But basically, you need to stop throwing around the term Mary Sue.

Usually, it's reviewers and sometimes writers who use the term in order to dismiss a protagonist of some form who they view as too perfect, an insertion of the author or a favourite of the author's. Someone who couldn't be cast in a bad light even at gunpoint. Mary Sues get on everyone's nerves, yes. We just want to punch them in their little straight noses and mar that blemish-less face.

Okay, okay. So maybe instead of turning to our reviewers and readers about this problem, we should just go to the roots. To the writers. Every now and then you see someone talking about how we can avoid making our characters Mary Sues. To this I have a few solutions.

Nobody is perfect until you fall in love with them. Or, maybe, some people are perfect until you fall in love with them. And that's the best part of that trait, should you choose to implement it. You should make your characters as believable as people, and there are many layers to some people that you have to pull aside before you get to their real nature.

Our recent crop of YA heroines, according to some, embody the Madonna in the Madonna-whore double-standard. Some fear that a sexually-active, much less a sexually-liberated, protagonist would be seen in a negative light and don't want to hinder the likeability of their novels with such.

If you've seen True Blood, you know who Jess is. If you've seen True Blood, you know what a female character who has sex is. I personally love Jess, right down to her awkwardness in being the superior in her inter-species relationships, to her joy in freedom from her parents' former control of her life. The fact that she's such a graceless vampire, that anatomically, she's stuck as a perpetual virgin, and that she learns to seize her sexuality and her confidence even though she cries blood, hasn't the faintest idea how to cook eggs and is seriously temperamental. Oh, yeah. She has sex. And I don't care. I love Jess, and I love how she conducts herself.

I would love for some writers to step back from their own protagonists and decide that yeah, I want my girl to not be able to cook but have to bluff her way through working at a restaurant, or that I want my girl to have thick thighs, or I want her to be domineering and neurotic, or tactless, or aggressive.

But how about the boys? Since when can't a guy be douchey, or goofy - why does he have to be Byronic and mysterious and dangerous? Can't he be the type to leave you in stiches? To take the mickey out of himself on a constant occasion? I sure as hell know I'd rather that guy than Mr. Black-Like-My-Soul. Don't make the perfect man for everyone, make the perfect man for someone. Attractive people are attractive to everyone, perhaps not fully, but in a sense, someone's intelligence, or their humour, or their behaviour or their body is going to have a broader appeal.

Alright, so besides looking into your character themselves, try to disagree.

You will manage to put yourself further from your character, and they will probably come across as less perfect, perhaps, if they do things that you might not agree with. Perhaps, like having sex. Some of my best friends do things I definitely do not agree with, but does that make me like them less? No. Everyone lives vicariously through others for the experiences that they will never have. So, how about trying to relate to your reader, your character, in that regard?

Anyway. Some further reading here, here and here. And in closing -

There are characters like Damon Salvatore, Sheldon Cooper, Draco Malfoy, Pam de Beaufort, Moriarty (Sherlock), the Master, Caroline Forbes or even, hell, Daria, who I just look at with all of their quirks and annoyances and mistakes and antagonism toward the protagonists and think:


  1. Ack, don't get me started on my dislike of the typical brooding, Byronic bad boy in YA today. WHEN WILL BOYS BE GOOFY AGAIN!? I totally agree with you, Nina. Imperfection is such an important trait in characters, particularly heroines, because - let's face it - no one wants to read about someone they can't emulate in some way. I always strive to give my characters big ears or the inability to be witty or chronic burping, because it's our imperfections that make us truly unique! Whew. Rant over! :D

    PS. Totes agree on the Adam Levine comment. OmnomnomnomAdamnomnomnom.

  2. Great post, Nina! I loved your GIFs. LOL.

  3. This post is awesome. Imperfections in characters make them easier to relate to, even if it's not an imperfection I may share with them. And ugh, yes, I agree re: the brooding, mysterious love interest. I really would love to see an influx of guys who are just plain fun to be around. There can still be drama! It just doesn't have to revolve around how dark and tormented a guy is.

  4. I need to take a moment to calm down over Adam Levine (I wanted a gif of that!)

    I like character flaws and I like what writers can do to characters to make them less then perfect. I'm getting more and more tempted to read some good old fashioned romance (maybe with vampires and scary stuff) but all the male protagonists seem to be brooding and dark. I actually quite like that in a man but it makes all those books seem like they have no variety.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

"In 900 Years of Time and Space, I've Never Met Anyone Who Wasn't Important Before" (Problem: Boring Lead, Riveting Supporting Cast)

I received an email the other day from a reader (who wanted to remain anonymous in this post - but we'll call her Sarah) who told me that she was having trouble getting into her protagonist, despite this being her most prominent POV.
She is dynamic as many Young Adult characters are, but at the beginning she's anxious and self-doubting because she's in that adolescent phase when you realise everything you know about yourself is completely wrong and you're just starting to discover who you REALLY are. There's not much that makes her like me (or am I kidding myself?) even though I've been in the same position as her. Well maybe not exactly since this is YA SF, but as far as her emotional state goes, I've been through that. But I just feel like she should've developed more by now, and she still feels like a faceless stock character.
Bildungsroman is the nature of YA above all, and that relatable trait for the protagonist is necessary. To some extent, ther…

Your Workspace is All Wrong (And What's Essential to Boost Productivity)

The way we writers work is peculiar, and actually, particular. Though I've found that one method for one novels doesn't always suit another novel. Some of us are fully digitised, others still handwrite half of their work, and many of us are an amalgam in between. 
Me? I like to outline with tangible plot points, create and reshuffle, and I do this with post it notes on cork boards. I can keep track of pacing, interlocked story lines and character frequency. I can sketch landscapes and statues therein. But when it comes to writing, it has to be in Word.
But today, I want to talk about healthy creative environments.

So, at the moment, I'm on the floor in my living room, more from my uncanny ability to sit cross-legged for extended periods of time and the fact that I just spent the better part of a year extricated from my family in HSC mode (and I'm attempting to quash complaints that they never see me despite my nearly always being home). That, and the wifi conks out on…

Don't I Look Darling In Red? (Or, HOLIDAY GIVEAWAY)

This Christmas, I'm celebrating YA in a big way. Despite our differences, YA has brought me some great characters, some great plots, and writing and all-round inspiration. I definitely have some favourites or books I'm dying to read and for the season of giving, I want to share with you. I'll be giving away a book, some are pre-orders, current releases, sequels, from the list below. 
Go on, pick one. Any one.

Truthfully, that list is more like a recommendations list. Really, any book that you want, be it a pre-order, current release, sequel or whatever, I'm willing to hear whatever it is that you're dying to read this holidays.

Now, just some details.
This giveaway is open internationally, as long as Book Depository delivers to you.You must be a follower of this blog.You must comment below with a book you'd like to receive or give away this Christmas.You must be at least 13+ to enter or have your parent email me with permission.One entry per person.Open until m…