Mary-Sues: Part 6

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How to Review Character Sheets

Everyone has there own way of making character sheets, whether you include them in stories, or just keep them as personal references.  Some deem the looks more of a top priority than the skills or hobbies.  Most include the “Likes and Dislikes” tab while others forgo it altogether.  For describing how to analyze character sheets, I will be using my own personal template as an example.

Character sheets aren’t needed.  If you include it, it’s usually the first sign of underdevelopment.

That’s not necessarily true.  Lots of people make character sheets whether if it’s as simple as the name, age, and looks, and others make it more complex, but they’re used to help the author keep the facts straight while writing the story.  It’s when people post the character sheets online that people make a big deal over it.  When people put up the character sheet in the first page, what usually happens is that the author doesn’t take the time to introduce or describe the character, especially when there’s a picture in the biography.  The authors end up thinking that the character sheet is a substitute for description.  However, if you make a character sheet and take the time to introduce and describe the character as needed, there isn’t a problem with having a character sheet published (there are some sites like Fiction Press and that explicitly state that character sheets aren’t allowed though).  Some people like looking at them, and some don’t.  For those that don’t like seeing them, just skip it—don’t automatically assume that the story is going to be poorly written.

Below is the kind of character sheet I use along with what each tab means.  I write all of the information as if the storyline hasn't been started yet because things can change at any time while writing it, and the only use for a character sheet is to keep the basic facts about the character straight. I also don’t write what’s going to happen in the story because there are some things that can be told, more accurately, through the story telling.  Character sheets aren’t accurate indicators of Mary-Sueism because you also need to read the actual story for the plot, and need to view the writing style itself.  It’s not all about the characters, but they are good to view to see if the creator has plans for development for the character, and whether or not the character fits into the universe.  This can work for the main characters, supporting characters and the minor characters if one wishes to.

Character Sheet Template

“The Title of the Story” (If you don’t have a permanent title, than either put whatever you have, or ‘Untitled.’)

Universe: If fanfiction, what series? Is it an alternate universe or a crossover?  If Original or alternate universe, which of these universes is it:

I) The Real-World: a story based on strictly of the real-world universe.  It can take place in the past, present, or future provided there is thorough research on technology, politics, economy, etc.  Having odd hair, eye and skin color are not allowed here, unless there are dyes and colored contacts.

(II) The Real-World Plus: a story based on the Real-World universe, but contains supernatural forces, like the existence of aliens, vampires, ghosts, or faeries, etc., or the available use of magic.  Having odd hair, eye and skin color are not allowed here, unless there are dyes and colored contacts.

(III)  Alternate:  while all or most of the physics laws remain unbroken, it’s not the Real-World universe.  This would include worlds like from The Lord of the Rings, by Tolkien, or Ender’s Game, by Scott Card.  The use of magic or the existence of otherworldly creatures can apply here.  Naturally odd hair, eye, and skin color can also be applied here.

(IV)  Complete Fiction: stuff that is mostly or completely implausible, compared to the Real-Life universe, but makes for a good story.  This includes most cartoons or anime like Bleach, by Kobe or Demon Diary, by Lee Yun Hee, but it’s only the more far-fetched or extreme plots.  Some anime and manga would belong to the other universes.  Storm Hawks would belong here too.  Naturally odd hair, eye and skin color can be applied here.

Describe a little of the setting: time period, what’s the main news (war, famine, etc.), is it the normal Real-World universe? What's different from the normal Real-World universe, if there’s a difference?  

Names plus Aliases: This is a given, but it should look something like, John "Jo" Doe. I don't list why I chose the name, because most of the time I don't have a reason; I choose it by random within reasonable boundaries.  The aliases can have some information attached to it, like if it’s a superhero name or something of more importance than just a nickname.

Species or Nationality: This is pretty much a given. If the person is a human, list the nationality. If the person is not a human, put down what his species is. This goes well with shinigami, vampires, etc. If the vampire, shinigami, or any human-like creature has a nationality, you can put that in.  If I decide that a human becomes a vampire, I don’t put that down because it’s part of the actual story telling.  Character sheets are about the universe and the character, not the plot.

Age: List the exact age.  If the character is immortal, tell the age range the character looks like.

Height: Feet, inches, centimeters, meters, just whatever measurement under a mile (unless the character is over a mile tall).

Weight: Whatever measurement that works well. You can use pounds, kilograms, etc.

Skin: The Fitzpatrick Skin Tone Scale would be great if people knew of it, but people can use the roman numerals, and describe the color of skin.  If the character isn’t exactly human, therefore has a bizarre skin tone, than you can just say what color the skin is.

Hair: Is it curly, wavy, or straight? What is the color? What is the length? In addition, what style is it usually in?

Eyes: What are the color, and whether or not the character needs corrective lenses?  If the character needs corrective lenses, what kind of glasses does the character have?  Is it thick, thin, for reading, or everyday vision problems.  Is the character near or far sighted?

Clothes: What kinds of clothes does the character have and likes? If the character is some sort of superhero or villain, what is the outfit?

Family: Who's deceased, who's alive, and who of their blood relatives is the character living with or often visits?

Friends: What's the name, and how long has the character known them. If the character doesn't have any friends, that is an option too.

Intended Partner:  You don’t have to answer this, especially if you don’t want to give anything away.  This is optional. If the story is within a fanfiction, and the intended partner is a canon character, then all that is needed is a name unless the fanfiction is an alternate universe. If the story is original or an alternate universe, then just put down the character’s name along with how the character would come to know him or her during the story. If there's going to be a love triangle, square, etc. and the author doesn't want to give away anything, list the characters as you would if it's fanfiction or original/alternate universe.  Keep note, if the intended partner is just one character, it can still change during the writing process—a creator’s mind is often filled with different paths.

Weapons: I'm referring to physical weapons like knives or bombs, not magic, psychic powers or martial art styles. This one is not always needed especially in the normal universe, so it is optional. If the character doesn't have any weapons, just put “None”.

Hobbies: On the character's spare time, what does he or she do?  It doesn’t necessarily have to be anything he or she is passionate about or is good at, it’s just what the character does when they have time.

Skills:  Does the character have any unusual talents? Alternatively, can do something that hardly anyone else in the world can do? This is where the magic and psychic stuff can come in, but it doesn't have to be that extreme. This is also, where the author can describe fighting style, strengths and the conditions under how their powers or skills wouldn't work—in other words, their weaknesses.

Goals: The character's own goals and you as the author's goals for the character. What lesson do you want this character to learn?  This shows that you do have some form of development in mind, but whether the character follows their own goals, or the authors, can only be told through the story.  It should look something like:
*For the character:  To get vengeance.
*For the author:  For him/her to learn how to trust others.

History: The basic and quick run through on the history of the character up to the start of the story. We don't need to know every place the character's been. If the character is immortal, what's one thing that changed the character's immortal life?  As I mentioned before, I write down anything, stopping at the beginning of the story, so you can write out the character’s life until that point where the story starts.  It can be several paragraphs long or just one paragraph—it’s up to the creator.

Additional Notes:  This is for anything else the author feels is important to add on to the character’s profile. Is there more information on the universe? Is there anything to add on the intended partner situation? What is the culture like?  What is considered “beautiful” or “healthy” in that culture?  Explain that you do have more information and thoughts, but didn’t want to reveal the story.  Anything.

What to Keep Note Of

The universe is one of the biggest things to keep in mind.  Some things may be acceptable in one world and be utterly impossible for the other.  Not everything is going to be 100 percent realistic, especially if the universe is going to be in the Complete Fiction where cats can talk, and people can float from their own will.  In the culture, maybe females that are more sought have a flat-chest than the bigger breasted.  Maybe they state a similar culture by name, and you don’t know what it’s like; in order for you to accurately critique the character sheet, you must look up whatever you don’t know.  They did enough naming the similar culture rather than describing all of it.

If you know me and my opinion of Mary-Sues well enough, you know that looks aren’t a big factor.  This includes the name, age, height, weight, skin, eyes, and clothes.  The main things you need to look at are if any of these doesn’t fit the culture or the universe.  If the character has expensive looking clothes, but is dirt poor, that should raise some red flags, but other than that it’s not a big deal really.  If it all fits, then check it off and move on.

The family, friends and intended partner are things that can only be described through story-telling, so it’s not a factor at all in Mary-Sueism, but it’s just good to know them.

Weapons, hobbies, and skills are also big aspects to look at.  Not every character will have a weapon, but all should have hobbies and skills.  If the weapon fits with the culture, or the character has a big interest in another culture’s weapons, then it fits, and it’s not a big deal.  Like I said in hobbies, it doesn’t necessarily have to be something the character is good at or is passionate about, but it still shows what the character likes doing when they have spare time.  Of the three, it’s skills that have to be looked at on a deeper level.  It shows both the talents/strengths and weaknesses.  If you’ve read “How Much Power is Too Much Power?” then you already know what to look for, but I’ll summarize it.

It’s easier to list strengths than weaknesses, and that is particularly why some people think that character sheets are underdeveloped; however there are those who know the weaknesses, but don’t want to list them and leave it to the story-telling to do that.  In the skills section, you need to be able to learn how to read between the lines a bit.  For example, for my character Blithe “Zusanna” Sutcliff, intended for a Black Butler fan fiction, I put:

“She’s able to hear bells (described more in detail under History), use magic, perform divination, and can speak and write in over 150 languages so she can obsess over her books and research.  She is more comfortable in a long to medium range fights.”  

A lot of the critique is going to be asking questions and assuming, which is about all you can do when you don‘t have the actual story in front of you.  From what I wrote under Blithe’s skills section, the only form of ‘weakness’ that is shown is in the last sentence.  That means if someone gets within a closer range of fighting, she might not have control of the situation.  While it wasn’t in a more direct phrase, stating her exact weakness, the reader can still assume she wouldn’t be alright in hand-to-hand.  I also didn’t put in what kind of magic she is able to use, because I meant it in general.  She has knowledge about all forms of magic, and can use a little of everything, but of course there are weaknesses for all forms of magic—she wouldn’t be able to use talismans or charms if they aren’t within reach, or if her concentration is broken somehow she wouldn’t be able to accurately perform spells and such.  There is another form of weakness, though not in the form of fighting with.  “Obsess over her books and research” can be just that—an obsession that consumes her life so much that she has no sympathy for another being, thus no skill in human interaction.

The vaguer it is, the more for a call of questions and assumptions should be in the critique.

For the history of the character there is just one thing that needs to be looked at, which is length.  If it’s a long history, then there will be a lot of explanation and would be important in explaining all the aspects in the character sheet, thus is very important to note.  It shows only a fraction of the writing style, and it shows the character’s personality.  If the history is short, it generally means that either nothing super important happened, or will be explained more clearly in the actual story-telling and didn‘t want to spoil what happened.

The goals are semi-important, though brief, because it shows two planes of thought, the character him or herself, and the author.  What the author wants may not be what the character wants, and thus shows that the author has plans for the character to change and develop.  It shows that the author has thought or is thinking about development.  No character sheet that I have seen has this, so if the character sheet you’re critiquing doesn’t have this, ask the author what the character wants and what lesson the author wants the character to learn.

The additional note, depending whether it’s filled out or not, can be important.  Whatever it is, it needs to be included in the overall thought of the character.  It could be an addition to any of the above sections.

The last thing you must keep in mind during all of this is that the character isn’t a story.  Even if the character seems Mary-Sueish just by looking at the sheet, the plot and the writing style can change that for the better.  There are just some things that only writing the story can describe.  

The Critiquing

First, read everything before you start your critique.  Writing as you go will probably not work.

Most of the critiquing will be based on asking questions and assuming.  Character sheets don’t mean anything, they are just made for the creator’s fun, and if the viewers want to know more about the character on one page.  The creator is going to assume you’ve been reading, or are going to be reading whatever they create, thus will find out the details and the needed explanation.  

The first assumption is to take everything literally.  “Beating post” can be assumed as someone getting physically beat up every day, which is what you’ll comment on, even if the creator meant more on an emotional or mental kind of abuse in the story.  By commenting on the physical abuse, it shows the creator that they weren‘t clear enough in the character sheet.  

Take note of where there might be flaws and praise it.  Even if the creator didn’t mean it that way, it shows that, as the viewer, you like where it’s going and to keep it up.  If all there is are flaws though, then you have to point out all the strengths and positives in the character.  Explain how a character can’t be all bad and weak just as a character can’t have strengths without weaknesses.

Finally, highlight the conclusion, Is the character headed for Mary-Sueism?  It shouldn’t be a direct yes or no, especially because this isn’t the story where more things are explained and developed.  Point out if the character sheet had vague phrasing, a lack of information, or if there doesn’t seem to be a plan for development.  Then, state what is liked about the character (depth, amusing, fits with the universe, etc.).  Lastly, if the character was written in a story (you make up a random mini-plot) as is from what you’ve interpreted, state if the character would seem like a Mary-Sue, not by name, but through description.  If the person wants to know if the character is a Mary-Sue, you can be blunter about it, but if they don’t want to hear the term “Mary-Sue” then don’t use it, just continue with the phrases “lack/good development”, “good balance between flaws and strengths”, “over exaggerated phrases” and other such tips.

Here are a couple of examples from =chocolateangel97’s “Which is the Sue? Redone” (…).  This piece is a parody, and was meant as a test.  She was looking to see if people would think the characters were Sues or not.  It would be best if you read the bios before looking back here, or find my comment.

Yuki Harshi

1.  Yuki: Aside from the family name (which could be just a harmless typo) there are more. There is a lack of proper description with her bloodline technique; does she have to touch them, or just get close enough for her chakra to reach them? And while it's a unique ability to think about, I think it would be better if she had to touch a certain point of a person's body in order for her to gain the knowledge of her opponent's weakness. In addition, even if she knew the weakness, she still would have to read up on the chemicals and train in order to utilize her advantage. I don't think "it came naturally" would be an available option for her; however, considering that most families with a bloodline technique are usually extreme with their private training, that could just be a comparison between her and her family. Like I said, there is a lack of explanation here (which would be best explained within the actual story).</i>

I immediately start off with her skills and how there isn’t enough explanation of how her bloodline works.  Between asking questions about the technique, I inserted some suggestions, but they were just that.  Harmless suggestions based on what limited description she gave.  I pointed out the many options “it came naturally” could have meant, either comparing the character with other students, or the character with her family, and then repeated that there is a lack of explanation, in addition to admit that it would be better explained in the actual story.

People calling her a bully because she states what she 'sees' (mixed up from touching to seeing?) could be a good indicator of a flaw, especially if the technique isn't understood. It also gives it a good start of where she needs to change. Just because a person has a certain chemical, doesn't mean they can't change. Or maybe she had a family or close friend who had certain chemicals and ended up being a crazy serial killer, betraying her trust? And that chemical just so happens to be common in all people, but it depends on how much, so she worries and doesn't want to get close?

The lazy and undedicated part is gold, however the 'No one understands her because she's the best' is over the top. You could have stated that they didn't understand how she could be strong, and yet appear lazy and undedicated. And wanting to show people that she does care is a good indication that she wants to change, and that the writer has plans for character development.

Here, I praised the flaws and the mention of development of the character wanting to change, while I also point out the odd sentence “No one understands her because she’s the best” as over the top.  It was an obvious exaggeration.  If you refer back to my guide “How Not to Write Like One” you’ll see that exaggerations and euphemisms are a bad thing in character sheets, and this is precisely why.    

I think you kept Neji in character even though it was one sentence. Before his epiphany, he would probably let people bully her, and probably bully her himself. After that event, however, I can't really imagine him discouraging every person he sees putting down Yuki, so it's good you kept him in character even though you didn't state whether or not he found out his father wasn't murdered against his will.

If it’s in fan fiction, and there is a mention of a canon character in action, state whether the character was in character or not, along with why.  Here, I also questioned when such and such happened because Neji did change almost drastically when he found out his father wasn’t blatantly betrayed.

I understand killing people in order to keep the family secret, but a baby is an exaggeration, right? The baby wouldn't remember anyway, so there would be no need to kill it.

Here, I called on the exaggeration, and that killing babies really weren’t needed, especially if she’s a native to the peaceful village of Konoha.

Conclusion: Yuki is a Mary-Sue but only due to a minimal lack of explanation in her bloodline technique, and for some over exaggerated phrases; however has good depth and already shows potential for character development if it were written in the story as is.

Finally, as the conclusion, I did state that Yuki is a Mary-Sue, but explained why it wasn’t directly the character itself.  It was the phrases and lack of explanation that did the character in.  I also stated the potential the character has in a story if it was written as is.

For the next example, the character took on another angle of what could be found in a lack of explanation and development.

Kogata Takaminjo

2.  Kogata: Since her gold eye color, purple hair, and dark skin are common in her village, the odd coloring wouldn't count, especially so since the Naruto universe is generally colorful. On the other hand, for being overweight for her short stature and having a "juicy sought after curves that are great for child birth"; however in some cultures, being pudgy is considered healthy, so curves (as in rolls) and great for child birth (as in seemingly healthy) could still apply without Mary-Sueism. The village itself and the cultural standing needs to be described if you want to continue to use that phrase though. I won't even comment on the D breasts since Tsunade has bigger boobs and weighs less.</i>

I commented on the odd coloration and looks because I saw some other comment on them in a slightly more negative way.  For this, you have to keep in mind that this was the Naruto universe, so people could be even slightly fat, and still weigh less than the average normal-weight person.  I also quoted the curves part because sometimes in a culture it is sought after, but I also stated that the culture of the village was never described.

Since character sheets are usually taken literally, "beating post" may indicate physical harm. Some mothers do result to this, and some fathers may let them, but it's always better to indicate it clearly since it can be taken as her just being the "scapegoat" which also happens in families. As a result of this kind of abuse, she may think that she still loves them because she was made to feel that way; "because they are her family she has to love them no matter what" kind of way. Because it's the female doing most of the abusing, despite the "beating post" statement I'm going to assume that most of it is emotional and mental instead of physical, which would reinforce the previous sentence of Kogata being forced to feel love for her abusers.

I already explained about the “beating post” statement earlier in this guide, so I won’t explain again.

Since I don't recognize who The Killer Bee and Omoi are, I can't comment on this; however her fantasizing about being rescued or being the rescuer is common.

I admit when I don’t know about something, and know I can’t go into depth with it.

Conclusion: Kogata remains undetermined until some phrases and the culture of the village are cleared up; however if it were to stay like this, she would be a Mary-sue with no plan for character development. Basically the only goal the character has is to be rescued.

As the conclusion, I rated Kogata as undetermined because it’s good overall; it’s just the problem of lack of information and no indication of her going to develop.  Between Yuki and Kogata, I think a lack of information is better than over exaggerated phrases.

The way these critiques are done, is basically starting up conversations.  By asking questions, you’re compelling the creator to want to answer them, either through directly answering the questioner, or through the story.  

Once the critique is submitted, accept that there is nothing more you can do.  It’s the creator’s choice whether or not to follow your suggestions or critiques, so don‘t take it to heart whether you check up later and see that there are no changes to the character sheet, story, or other forms of art.
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Griffonmender's avatar
Thank you for writing these. They help me to make my characters better over all. (Although I haven't posted any of them on here yet...^^;) I Fav.