We'll be looking at characters again in other chapters: how to describe them properly and what makes them likeable but right now I thought I'd jump on the Mary Sue bandwagon. My Stance on Mary Sue

James Bond is a Mary Sue or very close to it. I love James Bond movies (and sometimes the books). They do exactly what they need to do. When I get out of the theatres I want to do leParker on the walls and drive in that sleek silver car. I want the gadgets; I want cute people of the opposite sex not to be able to stop eating me with their eyeballs. I want to say all the right lines and have teh bod. So all in all I like some Mary Sues from time to time.

I get annoyed when people make sweeping generalisations about how they're all poorly written, cliché and wish fulfilment. Of course they're wish fulfilment. Stories are about escapism as much as anything else. I love 1984 (Orwell, 1949) but I'd slit my wrists if I read things like that all the time. But there are two legitimate points here:

Wish fulfilment could get in the way of a good story. There's no point spending a paragraph lovingly detailing what your character is wearing (or worst, what your character plus all the supporting characters are wearing as they enter the room) if you haven't told me their purpose or their personality bar they like to dress nice. If I wanted what you're offering me I'd look at a David Jones catalogue. The worst displays of this I've seen are in describing lingerie (how can you make foreplay boring, I've no idea). The only way I'll let this slide if it's Inspector Gadget's trench coat (because it's so plot significant the audience needs to know its inner workings) or if the clothing will get destroyed in some dramatic/comedic fashion later on.

What might be the Author's wish fulfilment may not be the Audience's. Having a character start a Punk/Emo band in high school will probably pick up a good few readers but it will also cut off many more. The more specific you get the less readers share your view. More on this in the Don'ts section.

The most important thing about Wish Fulfilment is overindulgence. If you make 90% of the story Wish Fulfilment then there's only about 10% plot. Getting the cutest boyfriend and some of the best friends in the world is a fine story. Getting the perfect dress, the perfect powers, the perfect baby, the perfect powers for your best friends, the perfect lovers for your best friends, the perfect baby for your best friends so that their baby and your baby can get married and you can have the perfect grandbaby and then having one of your perfect gang be perfect enough to create/find a youth potion so none of you actually have to look like grandparents (add foibles and characters acting stupid but then coming around again at the most heart warming moments where applicable) is a pretty enjoyable story to write.

But not to read. After the first thirty pages the reader is pretty sure of what's going to happen next. There's no tension, no need to feel worried for the characters because we know nothing will seriously hurt them or set them back or anything, no emotional changes to go through bar some easily fixed misunderstandings. So really, no reason to care. The characters become little dolls that the Author takes from room to room. 'And now they all go out to the market,' you can almost hear the Author say. And that's all they'll do. One of them will find the perfect present for their perfect spouse and they'll hug and kiss and make up.

What makes a character interesting is not how much stuff or powers or clothes or titles they get or how much someone loves them (though the actions that person will go through because of that love certainly is). What makes a character interesting is their evolution. The difference between a character pre-story and post-story can either be shocking or subtle but it must be mutually justifiable against the story. If everything comes easily to your character and they only have a few token flaws but are practically prefect in every way then the story is pointless and will be skimmed.

What makes James Bond exciting is that he has villains who aren't easy to beat (mostly, with such a long life, some movies will suck). Yes, he always does beat them but we still flinch when Blofield fires his gun don't we? We sweat when the spider crawls up James' bed sheets in the night. And so does he. He's coated in it. How long did he have to wait before he could throw the sheet off?

Young people flexing their literary wings write most of the Mary Sues seen. Let me just say that and get on with it. Most Mary Sues aren't high art, but art doesn't need to be high to be enjoyed.

A poorly written novel is the most offensive thing an Author can give to their Audience. There's no excusing the typos, the bad grammar, the befuddlement at who the hell's talking or the stilted dialogue. However this is not the genre's fault. This may not even be the Author's fault. This is the new Author's first steps in writing and they are going to fall on their arse (sometimes with a full, badly attached nappy) now and then. But ask this person to write another Mary Sue in seven years or even three and you might be pleasantly surprised.

I think the biggest complaint really is that most Sue Authors aren't aware of what they're writing. They think theirs is the first character with lavender eyes. Yes, that's a pain sometimes. But these same Authors are constantly growing. We might be in for a few surprises.

That said:

Fan fiction Mary Sues: because a hallmark of a Mary Sue is that they're better then other characters (by a little or a lot) and things come easier to them, they belittle the struggle of characters we came to fan fiction to read more about. How unimpressing it is that instead of using your own imagination you put your character into someone else's work and use the exact same plot except that you're showing how *your* character can do it better. And that creates its own problems: because you're following the plot anything your Mary Sue does is meaningless because the plot goes in the same direction regardless of what characters do. Your Mary Sue is meaningless because we've read the book and know that your Mary Sue's little pep talk about self-esteem is meaningless because she's either taken it right out of an original character's mouth or because we've read the book and know that the character she's giving the pep talk to overcomes their issues with or without her and it's better done without. In the most poorly done Fan Fic Mary Sues the main advantage of your character over the original characters is that the Mary Sue Writer (MSW) has lent their character the book to have a peek and never let their readers forget it. Congrads for blatantly cheating. A lot of what's been said here doesn't apply to what happens before or after the original story and I find that Mary Sues set after the end are a *lot* less grating.

Some Other Really Grating Characters that Writers think Readers care about

The Ezra Jennings: Let me illustrate how much I hate this character by telling you that the only reason I'm writing this section is to justify putting this character in. Now I have to do more work and actually think of other character types to put in. Fuck you Ezra. Ezra Jennings is a character from William Collins' book The Moonstone (1868). At 434 pages long (Wordsworth Edition) this book's pretty thick but standard for the time in which it was written. That said, the removal of Ezra could have shaved 50 or more pages and if you count less just understand how long those 50 pages were.

Ezra Jennings is a step up from that girl you knew in school who would shriek 'omg don't take a picture of me!' and then get into a huff if you didn't take at least 15. He's the character with the mysterious past who the writer assures you is the most mysterious, tragic, action filled past that was ever written while the character assures you that you'll never find out about it. Both are bullshit. Most grating is when the character is as coy as the writer. Of course we're going to know. And of course you want us to. If you didn't you wouldn't have gone on for pages and pages hinting at it and justifying it while simultaneously saying what an evil person you are. The worst part about the original Ezra was two fold:

We never got to hear his back-story: this is of course unlike the stereotype but here's the thing: we were still expected to tweeze out any hair fragment of information about him and hold it lovingly as if he was actually a character to be cared about. He's not: he's the wallflower at every party that you feel bad enough about to go talk to and find out why they're not enjoying themselves. After wasting forty-five minutes of your life you find out that they've made the correct decision: they shouldn't dance with happy people but they shouldn't be at the party at all.

It didn't fucking matter that we never heard his back story: it had *nothing* to do with the main plot. That's right: all that fine tooth combing for nothing so why'd Collins even bother to include him? Instead of adding a sense of mystery to the world Collins had created, he shrunk it. Here in a mystery novel Collins created a dead end that no one could piece together, even if they wanted to. And he seemed very proud of it. Congrads?

Implying a back-story and letting the reader's imagination run wild can be very effective in the right story, as can having an open ending for the reader to wonder what will happen next.

One of the worst things that Ezra did was that he was constantly talking to us: teasing us with the above but just talking to us. We had no one and no thing to confirm his back story and that's the thing with mysterious characters: it's one thing to say 'I've killed in the past' and not bring it up again. It's safe: he's bad-arse but we don't have to think of him as cruel because we haven't seen the body. We only have people (usually only him) talk about it and he comes off so whiny and repentant that he's undone everything the writer was trying to set up. If you're going toy with our imaginations make sure the reveal meets our expectations. Give us more then your mysterious figure's word that he was evil. After all he was mysterious, how can we trust him?

No: he's a killer? I want to see the body. He's committed many sins? Don't give me that vague crap, give me a police record. He's only ever loved one person? Just let me look him up at the Births, Deaths and Marriages' office and give me his mobile phone for three days. There's only so much mystery you can give without giving us cold hard information and that information better not be a cop out.

So remember: it's all good to have a mysterious character and in fact he's a staple of some genres. But he needs to be done well.

The Remus Lupin/The Dursleys: This is the character that represents some marginalised group and is supposed to achieve despite the odds and prove the group's worth yet secretly doesn't. Remus Lupin was a werewolf in the Harry Potter series (just incase you've been living under a rock) and may or may not represent a homosexual with aids. However in his universe werewolves suffer very real persecution and Remus was supposed to stand up and show us that werewolves are people too. In Remus' case I believe J. K. R. was trying to make him a flawed character with depth as well as someone from a minority. Unfortunately for Remus she chose the wrong flaw. Remus Lupin started off with becoming the male prefect for his House. He himself admits that he didn't handle this responsibility or carry out his duties. James Potter becomes Head Boy. Now this is either a mistake on the author's part (she's fleshed out a world that probably could have filled another seven books with just little stories about secondary characters and the society they live in) or Remus Lupin was so bad at his prefect duties that Dumbledore let James Potter jump the que and get his reward for saving Snape (I'm guessing that's why anyway). Still, from what I understand of James Potter he would have much rathered Quidditch Captain or a new broom. And considering he was one of the boys Remus was supposed to hold in order it seems doubly weird. Feel free to fan wank about Dumbledore's bias for his old House that he didn't make a Ravenclaw head boy but doesn't that say something about just how Remus was?

But let's excuse children for being children. Remus grew up. To fail at other responsibilities. Excuse me if I've missed anything but Remus also: did not tell appropriate people, namely everyone that both Peter Pettigrew and Sirius Black were capable of transforming into animals, information that would have come in handy when Sirius Black, at the time a certainly guilty murderer, was running around a school of innocent students and evading all the teachers. Nor he think it was prudent that when he and Harry were discussing seeing Pettigrew on their magic map (a character presumed dead and therefore dangerous) to say 'Holy shit Harry, let's get your arse up to the Headmaster's office and avoid any big rats like they're carrying the plague! Oh my, that means Sirius might be innocent… Come on, I'll explain as I get you to safety!'

No, instead he kept everything to himself, including the fact that he was a werewolf and instead of keeping Harry safe he forgot to take his wolfsbane potion (supposed to make a werewolf less dangerous) much less learn how to make it (yeah maybe potions wasn't your best subject but couldn't you make an exception for this instead of relying on someone who clearly hates your guts and is just waiting for an excuse to get you fired?) which caused loads of plot I must admit. His character was finished off by an unnamed bad guy in Book Six after a prolonged love affair (which he did not want and neither did I) in which he married a girl he did not love, forgot to use a condom and left the girl pregnant (with what he admits might be a werewolf, making her life ten times more difficult then if he'd just left her up the duff without a lover to support her just as war's about to break) and forcing a seventeen year old boy with the weight of the world already on his shoulders to be the adult in that situation and knock some sense into him.

To sum it up: Remus Lupin has failed at every responsibility anyone has ever thrust upon him. And don't say he was working for the Order: he tried to get the werewolves on Dumbledore's side and failed and made a few messages on the Wizard Wireless while that seventeen year old kid I mentioned earlier was taking down bad guys and rescuing captives.

Which would be fine except one of those responsibilities was to take a potion that would stop you being a dangerous lunatic. Maybe werewolves could be citizens with the same rights as normal people and should be if they can competently take a potion that was brewed for them once a month. If so we should have a character that illustrates that point. Remus Lupin just proves the anti-werewolf faction right: werewolves are irresponsible and they need to be registered in the same way sex offenders are: neither should be around children.

Because this might be a little controversial I'm using the Durselys from the same series: true, because we're 'muggles' so we don't need the author to tell us that we're okay. But when we're reading Harry Potter aren't we secretly all witches and wizards? For all that crap that 'muggles are people too and we should respect them do we ever meet a nice one? The Dursleys and extended family are fat, ugly and stupid, the teachers at Harry's primary school never did anything about Harry's bully problem (though it could be argued that Dumbledore stopped them from doing anything about Harry's obvious signs of neglect so that Harry could stay with people who were at least protecting him through blood magic), Snape's father (and arguably Riddle's, though I'd run out of there too, it wasn't his fault that he conceived under a potion that took away his rationality) and Hermoine's parents who were only really considered in Book Six and otherwise had no say in her staying with the Weaselys for the few months that she wasn't at school or would come to Hogwarts after a big adventure just to make sure she was okay. No, the Grangers were props more then characters without a single line of dialogue that I can remember and the rest of the muggles we meet are creeps. The only semi-nice one we meet is actually a squib living as a muggle and therefore really a witch. But despite everything you've read in the Harry Potter universe just remember that muggles are people too.

The Bianca Castafiore: Bianca is a character from the Tin Tin comics. In latter chapters I'm going to discuss I'm going to discuss the difference between quirks and flaws, right now though we're just going to discuss quirks. A quirk is something that gives characters a little originality and can be explored to flesh out the character or just used as a clue as to who they are, how they talk etc. Many characters start off as nothing more then the embodiment of a quirk but can become more depending on what the writer wants to do with them. Even as just a quirk they can be interesting as long as the work is sort or they're not the main character. However not all quirks are created equal.

The defining quirk of Bianca Castafiore is that she's partly deaf and mixing up people's names and mishearing conversations. This wasn't interesting for five seconds to anyone except the author. At one time he centred a whole story around her and had her make an 'amusing' mistake that took minutes to clear up every

Single

Time

She

Opened

Her

Mouth. One of the most grating quirks imaginable is deafness or some other communication difficulty because unlike other quirks like say, a love of sweet things which can be dropped if there's no sweet things in the vicinity, the writer *has* to use it any time the character is included in a conversation whether it's appropriate to the tone, pacing or other characters' temperament. The character can't overcome deafness like a lolly eater can overcome sweets so the readers know, immediately, that this is *never* going to go away. This was one reason people hate Jar Jar (one reason I said): because you know that he'll never loose that grating voice. Remember not to let the Quirk overtake the character or the story and remember too to think carefully about what quirks are sweet and what quirks are beyond irritation. Annoying quirks don't even work on characters we're *supposed* to hate. We can't hate all the evil things they did because too much off our energy is taken up hating something which isn't really the character's fault. It's yours.

A/N: If you have a certain character type failing you hate, give me a yell in the reviews section and I'll add them here. That said, I hate the Lizzy McQuire character. I do. But she has her own demographic where other people love her. The reason I included Ezra is because his bark doesn't match his bite but the Mysterious Man also has his own demographic. I'm illustrating how not to fuck up the character types, not bashing the types themselves.

Thanks for your reviews!

Killer Theremin: First off, I amended my first post to discuss chapter length since mine was too short in itself. I think you're right that there are definitely dullards out there who only review to say something without really anything to say so S&G's an easy target. But I look at the stories that these kinds of reviews were left on. Usually they are also pretty bloody dull, not always in the sense that the writer's bad but that the story has been written so many times by so many people that I think the reviewer knows exactly what's going to happen, exactly what the product is with no uncertainties because they've swallowed it a million times before; they're just making sure the packaging shines. If you want them to say something you've got to give them more to talk about then S&G.

However you're right. I didn't think about that class of people who do it because they want to say more because they don't want to be criticised in turn. That really is on the reviewer and only them. I'm really thinking hard on a way to weed out S&G only reviewers because it would definitely be useful to this essay.

You're also right in that this won't make a huge impact. I justify myself in the fact that I was planning to write a story about someone who was the best archer in the world and my friend pointed out to me this man's essay discussing something else but in a few throw-away paragraphs he summed up almost everything wrong with the idea. So I honestly think that this essay will head off some bad writing. And as you said *I* need to do this and I feel myself growing a bit as I examine exactly what annoys me about some bad writing.

SnuffSnuff: I'm definitely thinking of doing a supernatural fiction post but I think it will be kinder then you expect since people obviously want to read that genre and those writers will be getting a lot of feed back as it is. That said, I am going examine everything that's wrong with the main hero of Twilight and why people still like him.