Know Your Character

As I’ve said before, I’m working on my own personal project at the moment.

I’ve been thinking about this story for almost 4 years now, the characters, the milieu and the main plot. I’ve done well in writing, coming up to about 25,000 words in 3 weeks when quite suddenly, I hit a standstill. I reread some of my chapters and realized that the character had responded all wrong. Also, it had pushed an interaction with another character that I didn’t want, and cut out the importance of the character that I actually needed the main role to be.

This was all very well and exciting at first but then I realized the reason this had happened was because I didn’t have the character act in the situation as she rightfully should’ve. I went out of character and had her become something her set (and needed) personality wouldn’t allow. This was why I got stuck.

Couple of months ago (ee gad, more than a year), I spoke about how it is very important to make sure that your character isn’t a Mary-Sue and I’d like to expand on that idea by saying that you have to make sure who your character is. This week, I read a post from Kim Harrison which briefly mentioned the myers/briggs personality test and, on impulse, I went and googled it.

It’s opened up a whole new world of character development for me and, as I had submitted my characters to the Mary-Sue test, I’m now going to submit them all to this test I found on the web so that I can correctly judge their course of action and behavior. (I took it myself and the result was very interesting!)

The thing is that the best stories’ characters are believable and I think that my most disappointing moments in books happened when a character did something which I felt was completely (and I mean completely) out of character. It crushes the reader and makes it less believable.

And to me, writing a story that is believable – with real emotions and responses, is the most important focus.

So, I’d suggest that you take these tests and spend some time developing not only your main characters, but your side characters as well and try to understand how they would interact with each other.

So far, it’s working for me.


The Dreaded Mary-Sue…

Also known in the male form as Billy-Bob or Gary-Stue…

I thought that I’d explore this topic today thanks to a question posed by Fyrefly.

Mary-Sues and Billy-Bobs have been amongst us most probably as long as Fan Fiction has or even literature, because they are not just bound to the ff genre. They are over idealized characters, with no noteworthy flaws which included physical characteristics that an author favours too highly. This is usually because authors and readers alike use Mary-Sues to fulfil their own wishes and fantasy. They are, the way I’ve read them and encountered them, over dramatised, over active and over sensitive. Its comes in with this whole ‘too much of a good thing’ concept. I was never very aware of this until I encountered an article about them by accident along with the Universal Litmus test for Mary-Sue characters. As I read through the pages, I found myself submitting most of my characters that I used then to it and realized that they call came up frightfully short, or rather, frightfully Mary-Sue.

You can read this test here:

You can also read a very good explanation on what a Mary-Sue is here at Wikipedia, who as always explains it a lot better than I do:

Having a Mary-Sue is not necessarily a bad thing, and it also depends on how you write and for who you write. Some people like them, some people don’t. I’ve discovered that fandoms can be very critical on Mary-Sues if they are original characters thrown into very popular fan fiction. Personally, I try to avoid them as best I can, because I don’t like to think that my characters have the same ‘recipe’ as millions of other characters. I like them to be unique, unruly, difficult, flawed. Mary-Sues are not flawed, and I have to say, lol, they loose consciousness a lot and falls in love too easily.
But, they have their place in fiction, and I won’t lie when I say that I’ve abandoned all of my Mary-Sues. They just won’t necessarily come out to play in public.

What it comes down to once again is the whole reason of why you write. Writing must be enjoyed, it must be loved. Writing is an escape from lives that we can’t cope with, and if we find that we can cope in other worlds better than our own, why not go there in any manner that we see fit?

It’s good to submit your characters to the litmus test every now and again, to make sure that you keep a tab on your writing and make sure that you don’t fall into the habit of ‘same song, different tune,’ mentality. But, this is only if you wish for other people to read your stories in things like fan fiction.
And, also – ultimately, we are all unique and our writing is unique. And, I have to say – some authors have published Mary-Sues as well and became quite famous for them (Tamora Price’s Song of the Loiness for one). We take from fiction that we read what we want, we give to fiction what we need.

So, don’t despair if you do the litmus test and realize that your characters lean towards being the Dreaded Mary-Sue. As the author of the test said, it’s symptoms, not a disease. And, they can be fun to read and write.

Ultimately, you should enjoy what you do – that’s all that matters.