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After reading that a Mary-Sue often is a projection of the author, I realized most of my stories are.

Is it a bad thing?

My MC aren't Mary-sues (at least I hope so), they're the opposite of perfect and always succeeding: I focus on flaws and illnesses, making some bad decisions, paying the price and regretting them, running away from their responsabilites, etc.

But most of the time, "how my MC would react to this" or is very close to "how would I react to this". However this is only true for the setting, and character development is quite different.

I've also found a bunch of questions (1) (2) asking how NOT to do it, making me think it's something I should avoid even more.

Is there something inherently wrong with it? Does it make my story less interesting to read?

  • Hi Teleporting Goat. It's your perogative whether to accept an answer, which answer to accept, and when (if at all) to accept an answer. However, I would encourage you to wait at least a day or two before accepting an answer, to allow for people around the world to answer. Questions with accepted answers tend to receive less attention from the community; this could possibly deprive you of even better answers. You can change the accept mark at any time. – a CVn Jan 9 at 21:54
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Self-projection into one's stories is an inevitability. Whose lens affects your outlook on life, and thus the worldbuilding/tone of your novel? That's right, yours. Who is the only person you have direct experience of the thoughts of? Once again, you.

As such, you shouldn't be surprised or beat yourself up over the fact your characters take on some, or even many of your traits. The question is not whether or not you share traits with your characters, but your intent behind it; believe me, it bleeds through.

If you're writing to have an escapist power-trip fantasy with people you think you'd like, then you're writing a mary sue, and it'll be obvious to even a slightly discerning reader (even the ones simple enough to think powerful/skilled characters alone are mary sues).

If you're writing to tell a story with layered, flawed characters to explore a theme through arcs and exploration, well, it'll show. It doesn't matter how incestuous the character soup is, if pretty much every character inherits something from their creator; as long as they are distinct enough to stand out and explore what needs to be explored, then you should be fine.

Mary-sue call-out culture has wracked poor folks like you with fear, and frankly, that isn't cool. I wrote an essay on this topic (it might be a tad rambling in hindsight) that can be found here:

https://storiesfromsekai.com/2018/06/17/critical-essay-the-checklist-effect-how-the-mary-sue-label-killed-creativity/

  • Thanks for your insightful answer and essay! I agree with what you say in the latter, though i don't think it's really about checking boxes. When you learn there's a mistake many beginners make, it's normal to try to avoid doing it, right? There are so many people writing stuff now, you don't want to make something cliché that's been done a million times already. It can be counterproductive if you try too much to avoid common tropes, but it's natural thing. – Teleporting Goat Jan 9 at 15:47
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+1 Matthew. Bottom line is a Mary-Sue is too lucky and too perfect, and that is not what you are writing.

The problem with Mary-Sue is a lack of conflict and thus boredom with the character. Readers turn pages to find out what happens in the next few pages: Not just in the end, but there must be constant conflict. Mary-Sue defuses the conflict because we know she won't fail, she won't disappoint anybody, etc.

I expect writers to produce MC that reflect themselves, the bigger danger is if all your characters are the same reflections of you; and the villains are cardboard cutouts. Too much agreement (especially by the good guys) can also defuse conflict -- you don't want to write a collective Mary-Sue.

Now I do believe in happy-endings, that is what most people want (unhappy endings generate bad word-of-mouth or lack of recommendations that severely depress sales).

But as you have done for your MC, ensure the rest of the cast is also flawed, makes mistakes, sometimes doesn't know what to do, and argues different points-of-view they won't give up easily, even if they are wrong.

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In addition to Matthew Dave's excellent answer..

Whether a character/story is interesting or not is more about the character/story themselves rather than where the inspiration for it comes from.

An author projecting themselves onto a character is not automatically going to be boring, if they are projecting interesting traits and elements onto the character then they are going to be interesting.

Something that gets very tiresome is when every (or at least most) of the characters are variations on the same projection but that doesn't sound like what you are doing. If supposedly different characters all behave/react in the same way that doesn't work.

A "Mary-Sue" can be a problem (depending upon execution) - but that isn't really because it's a projection of the author - they tend to be more idealized projections rather than realistic ones (i.e. they are who the author fantasizes about being in the story) and it's the idealization part rather than the projection that is the problem. A well-known example is everyone's favorite Star Trek chew-toy Wesley Crusher who was seen by many fans as being a Gene Roddenberry playing out his day dreams with a Mary-Sue archetype of himself, complete with insane amounts of contorted Wesley-saves-the-day plots - it's not until Roddenberry took a step back from the show that the character experienced actual development and real adversity (that wasn't just "Those dumb adults don't appreciate his genius")

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