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    • CommentTimeSep 16th 2010

    There’s this series that I’ve been working on, off and on, for about eleven years now. It was what taught me how to write. The first book in the series was the first story I had ever finished, it was the longest thing I had ever written (about 30,000 words), and was slightly above Gloria Tesch’s caliber of writing. I received criticism, though, and took it, and was also smart enough to not self-publish.

    I wrote and finished nine books in the series, and left another six or seven unfinished, totaling a bit over 500,000 words. I then abandoned the series and moved on to other things, but never quite forgot about it, constantly making notes and adding things to my ideas file, writing scenes that would work well for the series and adding extensive notes to character files, so in a way I never actually stopped working on it. Over the past couple of years, the form for what I would like this series to become has been slowly taking shape in my head: taking the best of what I had already written, along with all the ideas I’d had since then, and crafting an overarching storyline that would be told in the course of between five and seven books.

    None of this is really relevant to my problem, so I’m sorry you had to read through it.

    The story is many things, but one of them is that it’s going to be a subversion of things that I hate in books. The main one is that in the real world, actions have consequences. People don’t get away scot-free just because they’re the Hero, and people’s flaws tend to cause problems for them. I hate characters who have minute “flaws” (like Bella’s clumsiness, as an example) that never really impact their lives in a meaningful way. I hate that Eragon can be a sociopath, a murderer, and an ass, and NO ONE ever calls him on it – and probably never will – because he’s the Hero.

    The problem that I face is that over the first few books in the series, the protagonists resemble Sues. Pretty much everything goes their way, they acquire fame and fortune and life is good. It’s all part of the elaborate house of cards that I build up only to have it crumble over the next few books as pretty much everything goes against them and they lose everything they have acquired – and it’s almost entirely due to their own shortsightedness, human flaws, and mistakes that they’ve made earlier in the series, when everything was going right – but they don’t realize the error of their ways at the time.

    Viewed as a whole, I think the series will work well. I am concerned, though, that the first book or two will turn off readers because of the Sueish nature of the protagonists. There are things that I can and will do to avoid this – the characters will be realistically portrayed as normal, flawed human beings, and I will attempt to make their string of successes as plausible as I can. I’m just concerned that it won’t be enough.

    (I’m well aware that many well-written characters in published fiction could be considered Sues, depending on what criteria is used. And that having a character who is attractive, talented, and likable does not a Sue make, as long as they are well-written. I’m probably just a little hypersensitive about these characters since when I first wrote them they were HORRIBLE Sues that needed to be killed with fire, and I really want to make sure there is none of that left. At the very least it sounded like it would make for an interesting discussion.)



    I’m not convinced it would work as you’ve outlined it. Why do you need multiple books for setup? Why do you need multiple books of the setup unraveling?

    Who is the target audience? People who enjoy the earlier books of Suery won’t like seeing the characters torn down, and people who would like the later books probably wouldn’t be able to stomach the earlier ones.

    The other problem is that, after the initial demolition starts, it just won’t feel that clever after the surprise wears off.

    If you could do it in a single book it might work.


    You’re right, this is an interesting discussion, so much so that I am abandoning biology momentarily to jump in. Hooray.

    Anyway, I honestly can say that I’ve next to no practical experience in writing. I’ve never finished a draft, and I’ve never read yours, for that matter, so I’m not an authority on anything. But in my opinion, Mary Sues/Stus or whatnot are highly relative.

    Success doesn’t define a Mary Sue as much as a lack of consequence for their actions does, like you so rightly pointed out. You’re taking care of that overall, but in the short term, if it’s possible in the framework of your story, it might be interesting to work in what other people think of your protags. As long as they’re not being hailed as gods come to earth and are being portrayed with realistic flaws and gifts, I don’t think that they really sound at all like Sues, except perhaps on a superficial level.

    • CommentTimeSep 16th 2010

    I’m not convinced it would work as you’ve outlined it. Why do you need multiple books for setup? Why do you need multiple books of the setup unraveling?

    I probably should have clarified this more in my OP. It’s not that I would spend multiple books just setting something up. Each book has a storyline that can stand on its own, despite being part of a larger plot arc. As to why I would have it stretch over several books…I have several stories to tell, and that’s the way the pieces fit together in my mind.

    Who is the target audience? People who enjoy the earlier books of Suery won’t like seeing the characters torn down, and people who would like the later books probably wouldn’t be able to stomach the earlier ones.

    Point taken. Target audience is people who enjoy well-written books with complex characters. The books will be different in tone, certainly, but not (I think) to the extent that it would turn readers off from one or the other. The plot of the seventh Harry Potter book was much darker, more adult, and very different in tone from the first Harry Potter book, because things had gotten much worse for the characters.


    Okay then.

    • CommentTimeSep 16th 2010 edited

    I agree that the effects of the characters’ actions cannot only be seen in later books (in other words, they can’t be Sues in the first books and then be affected by their choices). Even if some big effects were left until later books (which could be kind of clever—the characters slowly coming to realize that their poor decisions are coming back to haunt them), there needs to be some evidence of this within each book itself, or the characters just won’t be stomachable at all.

    I guess what I’m saying is, building the characters up as doing no wrong and getting everything their way and then having it all crash down could work… but not if the two parts are split between books. Even if you built them up as near-perfection, for them to avoid being Sues they have to experience some effects. However, you could still leave some poor decisions without any visible effects in the first few books, and then have the effects coming back several books later.

    All in all, I think the basic idea would work out better in one contained book. However, I do think it would be possible to spread it out over a longer series as well, so long as each book still has a character arc in which the characters learn and grow from their actions. It seems like a difficult balance to strike, but I guess it’s possible. Just don’t make the Sues too unlikable at the beginning! :)

    • CommentTimeSep 17th 2010

    I don’t think from a narrative perspective it matters how Sue-ish they appear, as long as, at some point, things go wrong for them proportionately to how well they’ve previously succeeded. If you’re worried about turning readers off, I’d suggest making sure that your other characters are interesting enough that the reader will have other good reasons to carry on with the book. If you have a dark tone, you could make it clear that this character is exceptionally lucky, and have other characters comment on this and possibly hate them for it.