It's mostly on the down-low, but when I'm not busy with worldly duties or selling "adult only" yaoi doujinshis at anime cons, I'm an avid fanfiction reader, writer, and critique giver—this means that yes, I do read your fanfiction about us, and I must say that many of them are quite superb. Pat yourselves on the back for that one.
But I also read fanfiction from other fandoms that seem to be plagued with the abomination known as the "Mary-Sue." It's quite close to being considered an epidemic, actually, and I honestly believe that the causes of this are inaccurate, ego-boosting reviews and a warped sense of what's "normal" and "acceptable" in the world of fanfiction. We understand that sometimes you want to shed a little light on your own personal characters, but the worst case scenario is your character hogging the spotlight like Austria hogs the bathroom in the mornings.
(Which is a euphemism for "like a diva," if you didn't catch my drift. I sometimes have a habit of not being able to express myself clearly, or so Prussia says. I think a frying pan to the face is clear enough, don't you?)
I'm quite aware that there have been many different guides such as this one, but mine focuses solely on the aspect of character creation, implementation, and proper usage. Nothing ruins a story more than characters that are too perfect, too flawed, too irritating, or too bland, and pretty much nothing will get you flamed faster than a rampant—sometimes even moderately subtle—Mary-Sue.
I'll be approaching the topic like one handles a lover: slowly and tenderly. So to start out with, I'll give you an idea of what a Mary-Sue actually is.
PART 1.1 – MARY-SUE: AN ABRIDGED BIOGRAPHY
A Mary-Sue is a character, usually female, that is created by authors who probably mean well. She typically has a personality, appearance, or talents that are too perfect or too unrealistic for the guidelines of her respective universe. Mary-Sue is beautiful, smart, musically inclined, a guy magnet, and has the coolest name around, despite it being so complicated that only those who can speak fluent Welsh can pronounce it correctly.
All that being said, don't be discouraged because a Mary-Sue litmus test told you your character was an Uber-Sue. Try litmus testing Sephiroth and see how much of a Mary-Sue he is.
The best example of a Mary-Sue in published literature I can give you is Bella Swan from the Twilight saga—she's cute, smart, a dude magnet, the only one whose mind Edward can't read, blah, blah, blah. Basically, her only real flaw is being a tad bit clumsy, but an average Mary-Sue litmus test probably wouldn't give her a very high score.
Take an original character for Death Note, Jiovanni "Jason" Cipriani. According to a non-fandom specific litmus test, he's a Sue because he's a genius, lives in a orphanage for genius children with some of the canon characters, speaks four different languages because of spending time with his friends, and so on and so forth; however, with a Wammy's House specific litmus test, he barely gets any marks against him.
Some of the best authors still manage to create Mary-Sues, whether or not they realize that they are doing so. She tends to creep up when it's least expected, anchoring herself into the inner workings of your plot before violently clawing her way to the surface and usurping the canon characters of their deserved roles. It's messy, overwhelming, and sometimes fuel for the flames, meaning you really need to either keep her chained very, very well, or kill her off while she's still a young thought.
To make it simple for you, here's a list of Mary-Sue's best (read: worst) defining qualities:
Super smart for no justifiable reason
Somehow manages to attract the attention of every guy within a five mile radius
"Unusual" hair or eye colors in a universe that doesn't see that often, if at all
Purple prose like whoa
Close relationship with canon characters for no real justifiable reason/relationship happened too quickly to be believable
Severe changes in the personality of the canon characters
Good singing voice
I'm not saying that you have to avoid all of these to avoid making a Mary-Sue, but I am saying that if you want to try to kick these clichés in the ass, you have to know how to go about it without causing your character to devolve into the species Marius susanna.
PART 1.2 – THEY'RE MORE LIKE GUIDELINES
In my honest opinion, one of the biggest mistakes fanfiction writers make is making an original character that's the son/daughter/sister/brother/long-lost eighth cousin of a canon character with no canonical backing whatsoever. If a character is in their mid-twenties in canon and you introduce their twelve-year-old child, people are going to have a problem.
Obviously, it's not a written rule that you can't make a character that's related to a canon character; in fact, it can be done, but not many people can really pull it off and make it believable. The same goes for being the boyfriend or girlfriend of a canon character—it takes a lot of work and a hell of a lot of planning and plot working to make that work and still seem like it could happen in canon.
One of the biggest subspecies of Marius susanna is the Fulfillamenti fantasius, better known as the Fantasy Fulfillment Sue or Self-Insert Sue. It starts out as a single, festering sexual fantasy that morphs into an original character, that's marvelously similar to the author, having sex with a canon character because the author wants to do the same to said canon character.
The misconception that some people have is as follows:
If a character is an original character, then it is a Mary-Sue.
If a character is a Mary-Sue, then it is a Self-Insert.
Therefore, all original characters are Self-Inserts.
This misconception, of course, couldn't be more inaccurate. A Self-Insert is just that—you, in the story with a different name, appearance, or age, but still the same personality, manner of speaking, or way of behaving. Self-Inserts usually lead to shite like Twilight being published and adored by many, many unaware fans that don't know that the whole damn thing was Meyer's dream recounted in story form with Bella representing an idealized version of herself.
But here's something I bet you didn't know: NOT ALL SELF-INSERTS SUCK. If written correctly, as with any type of possible M. susanna, a Self-Insert can become a fully fleshed out, three-dimensional character of her own.
My best advice for avoiding a Self-Insert is to distance yourself from the character enough to know that they have their own unique personality, but not so much as to leave gaping holes in their inner workings to fill up later, if at all.
Another common form of M. susanna is the Canonus clono, the opposite-gender clone of a pre-existing canon character, usually created under the impression that someone with your exact personality is your perfect match. Obviously, these authors don't know that it's nearly impossible to be on completely friendly terms with someone who reminds you too much of yourself; when you see their flaws, you really see your flaws, and it tends to make you angry.
Some more reasoning for you:
If a character's personality already exists, then the creator intended for it to be that way.
If the creator intended for it to be that way, then there should be only one with that personality.
Therefore, if a character's personality already exists, there should be only one with that personality.
This is the sole reason why Nation/Nyotalia!Nation would never work out, since Nyotalia is the only canon exception to the reasoning above.
The last subspecies I'll be detailing is the Canonus ignorum, the Sue that blatantly ignores the laws of canon or the canon storyline. She usually ends up with either the main character of the series, the character that has the biggest following despite not being a main character, or the character that the author wants to hook up with themselves.
Avoid this like the world avoids England's scones. Don't ask; just avoid it. It pisses people off like no other when they see their favorite series screwed up because one little author wanted to stick her own character into the canon storyline for fun.
PART 1.3 – DIAGNOSIS: IT'S NOT LUPUS
For those of you who hopped on the train to Successville with bags already packed with a few Sues, you'll have to brave the first step to improving your characterization skills and de-Sueing your characters—acceptance. You need to accept that your characters are Sues, and you need to roll with that to find a way to strip them of their dreaded label.
Sometimes well-rounded characters are hidden beneath a pile of apparent Sueisms, so the best thing to do is make an outline of a biography and fill in the important bits.
Personality and Abilities
You don't have to follow this template religiously, as it's just the bare minimum, but something similar will usually do for highlighting the pros and cons of your character and helping you see their Sueisms/lack of Sueisms.
Another thing to try is roleplaying as your character to get a better understanding of their personality and how to go about it in a fanfiction. Get together with a friend and just have a crazy roleplay; try sticking your character into different situations to see how they react to different stimuli.
If blank happened, my character would blank.
Someone tells my character they have a crush on them. My character reacts by blank.
My character was arrested for blank and reacts by blank.
Just these little things can help make your characters better now and for the long run.
PART 1.4 – TO BE [A SUE], OR NOT TO BE [A SUE]
Ultimately, the final judging of an original character is left in the assumed capable hands of readers and critics, but you can damn well try your hardest to cut your characters down to size before publishing and receiving your sentence from the lurkers and hardcore fanfiction fanatics.
There are six things most Sue-hunters look for in a fanfiction, particularly in the first chapter:
—First person point-of-view of the original character
—Full-out description of appearance and clothing in first few paragraphs
—Flowery terms to describe looks (i.e., flowing locks of wheat, endless pools of cerulean, etc.)
—Drastic changes in the personalities of canon characters (i.e., a normally anti-social character going out of his way to greet your character)
—Unforgivable or unjustifiable discrepancies with canon, especially when the story takes place during the canon timeline
—If it starts with, "My name is…" or any variation thereof and is not a diary entry, blog post, recording, or the like
Try to avoid these as much as possible, and it'll be less likely for you to consciously or subconsciously write a Mary-Sue. As with the qualities from an earlier part, it's possible to use one of these and make it work beautifully, but it's a rare occurrence and many don't see it in their lifetime.
It's up to the readers to decide whether or not a character is worthy of being called a Mary-Sue, and only a small handful of fanfictions have won over even the nastiest of Sue-hunters. All it takes is a little thinking and a whole lot of planning, with just a pinch of luck, for you to have a character you can be proud of calling your own.
PART 1.5 – IN CLOSING
We've gone over what a Mary-Sue is, the makings of Marius susanna and a few of her various subtypes, and little ways to stay away from creating one yourself. As long as you really think things through and make it a point to lay your characters out bare and exposed, you'll succeed in creating a likable, well-rounded original character that will please the masses.
Good characters please the masses.
Mary-Sues displease the masses.
You don't want to displease the masses.
Next chapter, we'll be getting into choosing a name, appearance, appropriate personality, and writing a good but non-cliché and Sueish back-story. I hope to see you there!