Saturday, April 24, 2010

Fun With Mary Sue

A few years back, I wrote a book. A book I loved. Except for one minor problem.

I hated my main character.

The idea was to take a normal kid, normal in every sense of the term, and put him into extraordinary circumstances against his will. His job was to survive these circumstances with nothing but a little street smarts and truckload of determination. And even though everyone around him was gifted in a way he wasn't, he still managed to conduct a thorough campaign of butt-kicking and census-taking.

But I hated my character. He was like Poochie -- all construct and no substance. Designed to be cool, engineered to be awesome, and utterly lacking in anything resembling a soul.

On the other hand, I love my supporting characters. For the most part, they're absolutely awful human beings; self-absorbed, delusional, neurotic. But hilarious. And they feel like real people, enough so that I actually miss "working" with them since I stuffed my manuscript in the proverbial drawer.

So why is my main character such a tool (literally), when my other characters feel great?

Enter Mary Sue.

Mary Sue is a term for a character that a writer puts into a story for the sole purpose of living out some fictionalized, usually idealized, fantasy life. Mary Sue (or Gary/Larry/Harry Stu for guys) is basically the person the author wants to be. Prettier, faster, smarter, stronger, more lusted-after, but at the core, the very same person.

I think my unfortunate protagonist, Wilson, is a Gary Stu. He's never at a loss, always ready with a quip, iron-willed, resourceful, level-headed, and of course, ultimately victorious. He's the kid I would want to be if I were ever in a situation like his.

And he's about as compelling as wallpaper paste.

A secondary problem, but related, is that Wilson was thrust into his situation not out of choice, not as the result of some action he took, but almost by accident, against his will. He's innocent. A victim of fate.

I don't know that victims are that interesting, story-wise. Or protagonist-wise, at least.

So I've struggled now for years with this story, which has so much stuff I love and one major thing I hate. I debate whether it can be salvaged, or if it just needs to be tossed on the Bonfire of Experience and forgotten.  

In the meantime, I work on other stuff, but lately I find myself more and more preoccupied with that 400-page elephant in my writing room.