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11 August 2005 @ 04:24 pm
Discussion: Characterization and Avoiding the "Perfect Character" Syndrome  
We've all done it in our writing. We've all read a book or ten that did it as well.

The Perfect Character. Beautiful, flawless, never makes a mistake. In some extreme cases, the character is the fairy tale perfect reflection of the writer - the "Mary Sue" so lamented in fanfiction and pbems.

Physical description is often the first area this happens. The character is usually beautiful (or handsome), far beyond any other character in the book, particularly rivals. Sexuality is usually tied to the physical description.

If female, the character frequently has red hair, violet eyes, a figure to make a Playboy model die from envy, and soon has every male character swooning at her feet. Her physical characteristics are emphasized over and over, especially their effects on the opposite (and sometimes same) sex.

If male, he is the ultimate protector. Gorgeous and tall - either dark and brooding or blond and shining. All the women flip their skirts up the second he approaches, and he skillfully seduces them all with his dashing good looks. If the tale ventures into actual sex scenes, his physical endowments have to be described in detail, and are generally above average.

Granted, physical characteristics and character sexuality are just part of the overall characterization, but it's a very large slice than can often turn a reader away from having any sympathy or liking for that character.

So folks... got any characters who are guilty of being so utterly perfect they give you cavities? Any violet eyed redheads or tall dark and handsomes lurking about?

Which fictional characters drive you batty? Which ones seem so real you wish they were yours?

(Public Post, by the way)
wonderjunkie on August 13th, 2005 03:52 pm (UTC)
What does annoy me more than "perfect" characters alone, is authors who are dismissive of characters who *aren't* perfect. For example, some writers will happily assume (or allow their heroes or heroines to assume) that any woman who happens to be plain must also be stupid or dull.

Reading about a supposedly sympathetic character sniggering at how some poor soul is to be pitied for their looks is the fastest way to make me close a book. I'm not saying that characters shouldn't act like this, but don't expect the reader to like them if they do. *g*

George R. R. Martin's fantasy novels are good for characters who recommend themselves more by their personality or abilities than their looks - in fact, the good-looking ones are usually either incompetent or villainous!

Another irritating characteristic of the "Mary Sue" is that he/she will often have mastered some talent at a ridiculously young age. There are a couple of books around which focus on older characters - the first ones which come to mind are Lois McMaster Bujold's "Curse of Chalion" and "Paladin of Souls" - who are a hundred times more interesting than any child prodigy.
Barbarabarbaraa on August 16th, 2005 05:36 pm (UTC)
Wonderjunkie has a point. I used to like my characters to be young (both written and read). As I get older, the older the protagonist, the better.

What characters drive me batty? Anita Blake from LKH's novels. I liked her to start, but she'd now the dreaded Mary Sue.

I like the characters created by Jim Butcher in his Harry Dresden series. You can pick out the flaws. They make mistakes. They are from a wide age range. Some are cute, gorgeous, and some aren't. I don't know if you'd say they were real, but I'd like to write characters that are interesting to a wide range of reader.

I hope I've stayed away from a Mary Sue character, at least for my main character.

Quarlaquarla on August 18th, 2005 10:46 pm (UTC)
I've had some pretty strange characters in my time. I don't think I ever really did the Mary Sue's once I got past like.. junior high level.

I am guilty of having a red-headed character as my main character in my novel, but.. I have redhair iRL and she's basically an exagerated version of me so.. that's why, doesn't really have to do with anything else aside from that. (Thankfully she doesn't have violet eyes, just really green ones but that's pretty cliche as well). While she is cute, she's a complete outcast and everyone (save like 4 characters) in the entire book can't stand her. Anyway..

I am rather happy that most of the characters in my book that are handsome are complete morons or appear to be something they really aren't and then are found out at some point or another.

As for other authors that I've read that have characters that kinda make me wanna roll my eyes out. Well... I think as I re-read Anne McCaffrey's books or read some of her newer ones all her characters seem pretty boring to me. I'm not sure if it's because they're flawless--some of them I think are, I absolutely hated The White Dragon on a side note--but just because a) it's the same story over and over again from book to book, and the characters just aren't all that interesting to me anymore. I think the only reason I liked her so much is because there are dragons in the book.

I'm really bad at recalling most characters in a book unless I really really like it. I just have a terrible memory for that sort of thing. And I think I got a little offtrack with this but oh well.. ^-^;

- Quarla
boldly_goboldly_go on August 22nd, 2005 12:08 am (UTC)
I can't cozy up to a perfect character, but I also can't stomach it when every single character has this super complex set of issues. A friend and I were discussing this in relation to shows not that long ago. We noticed that in every Jerry Bruckheimer show (well maybe not every just at least four or five of them) the female characters all have major life complicating issues. We got to discussing whether having psychological and physical trauma in the background is required to make up for weak plots.

Some of my characters tread the line of being too perfect. Sedgewick Trader narrowly misses that distinction because of his general lack of people skills/how people perceive him. Toren from some of my musemugger pieces is probably the most perfect so far. I have to add some depth to him, but I'll need to write more to pull that off.