Constructing a Believable/Vulnerable/Flawed and likable Main Character over some Mary Sue/Gary Stu - Your Thoughts

Zanneck

HAIL NEO ARCADIA!
Okay... Has anyone else other than me heard of this guy and his graphic novels/comics, let alone is one interested in checking them out? At all?? Just wondering, since he's always shilling them in his vids. I'm sure they're great and he's doing well with his business for giving people what they want, don't get me wrong.

Unfortunately, he is also that one guy I remember dissing on a great current running CN effort like Craig of the Creek for rather empty reasons, so I don't know if his word is worth taking seriously at first.

Despite all that noise and how wrong he is (just IMHO, BTW.), he defintiely otherwise knows his stuff and then some quite well, including knowing what the people want that Comics/Graphic novels are currently lacking in nowadays, which is likable, relatable and believable protagonists.

Admittedly, this video from him about separating Mary Sues/Gary Stus from actually likeable and engaging main characters did catch my interest, hence why I'm providing it here alongside the discussion I'm otherwise encouraging in the title of my thread...


Now, if I gotta be honest, however, while this man in question sounds like he has the right idea, I admit I'm concerned about the novel/comic he's shilling throughout this vid, which at first comes off kinda annoying (again, at least IMHO - well, he is still running a business of his own that involves creating good entertainment that he is proud of and wants people to like as much as he did making it, so I won't fault him for that, ever!), despite how well he does otherwise get his point across on what he's discussing.

This is why I created this thread. I'd like to hear from more people like yourselves on the difference between writing an actually engaging & likable main character (MC) over a Mary Sue/Gary Stu, more than anything.

I'm willingly doing this as something to give this video a little more mileage, as well as the discussion I feel it more than encourages, as in is he right or is he wrong? What are your thoughts (whether the video or the subject of writing I'm opening up to discussion on.)??
 

Mostezli

Not 4 Everyone & That's OK
Is there a truncated overview of what he said because spending almost 2 hours to explain this difference seems tedious?

A Mary Sue/Gary Stu archetype is the one capable of doing anything/everything including adapting to any scenario with little effort and may even be seen by other characters to be the best one ever. In modern animation, you may also notice a trend of who the main moralizing paragon of the show is; showcasing why others are wrong in what they believe or do. When it comes to displaying negative emotion, it's more often than not out of external circumstance where they will be allowed to express sorrow or anger. Internal reflection must be shallow at best to get this character back on the path to their goal as soon as possible. The purpose for the consumer is to experience a power fantasy through the lens of someone who is always right.

One Punch Man is a parody of such and his personality and life winds up being so dry due to being the most powerful being in the universe. Yet even as a joke, the flaws are what make this work. Outside of his close circle of friends, the rest of the universe is as oblivious to his presence as he is to almost everything. He's the every man archetype.
Other characters are credited for his heroics and other characters constantly vying for that Mary Sue/Gary Stu status.

In animation, most of the believable/vulnerable/flawed/likable characters tend toward that average person / underdog / unlikely hero archetype.
 

Fone Bone

Hindsight 2020!
I don't even know why people are trying so desperately not to create Mary Sues. That just limits the types of stories a person can tell. I think the the alt-right and incels have entirely too much power over fandom. If it's a good story and a good character, it doesn't matter if some of the heroes fall into a magical taboo that has been overblown by terrible people. Don't let internet cranks guide your story. If you believe in it and it's good, the story will be worth being told.
 

Daikun

Long Live the Fighter!
Staff member
Moderator
I don't really have a problem with characters just being archetypes. Since these characters are so simple, it gives the author a lot of breathing room to do whatever they want with the character--it makes them flexible and adaptable.

The problem is if ALL the characters are archetypes--your story would become rote. Include some complex characters into the mix to provide balance to your story and its world.

EDIT: Also, before I forget...

There are three types of character arcs: Positive (character changes for the better), negative (character changes for the worse), and flat (character doesn't change). Archetypes tend to fill the flat arc, and thus they serve a crucial function in the story: To influence the other characters one way or the other. Even if the archetypes never change (or change very little), they can drive the character development for much of the cast.
 
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Fone Bone

Hindsight 2020!
Can I also just say I resent and disagree with the notion that in order to have value heroes have to be realistic or have noticeable flaws? That strikes me as an incredibly narcissistic demand to always be able to recognize yourself in every piece of fiction. For the record, there is nothing wrong with portraying heroes that are capable at their jobs, emotionally healthy, and know what they're doing. There is something wrong with a segment of fandom who believes there is.
 

The Overlord

Well-Known Member
Can I also just say I resent and disagree with the notion that in order to have value heroes have to be realistic or have noticeable flaws? That strikes me as an incredibly narcissistic demand to always be able to recognize yourself in every piece of fiction. For the record, there is nothing wrong with portraying heroes that are capable at their jobs, emotionally healthy, and know what they're doing. There is something wrong with a segment of fandom who believes there is.

I think it goes back to Stan Lee's ''feet of clay'' approach to writing superheroes from the 1960s, which is what made Spider-Man an appealing character, if Spidey wasn't a bit of a screw-up, he wouldn't be Spidey anymore. In the comics, Peter Parker made mistakes, had girl problems, was often poor and the villains would hand him defeats before he could claim victory and most good animated adaptions of Spider-Man take that into account.

Ultimately there is a balance between having a perfect hero who is boring and having a hero so overwhelmed by flaws they are unlikable.

Most 80s cartoon protagonists are perfect, they are just good, always make the right choice, almost never seem to make a mistake and never really suffer a defeat, its why the villains in 80s cartoons are more entertaining than the heroes, they were allowed to be flawed and make mistakes and be goofy and thus given more to do.

The opposite extreme is making a hero so flawed, that they are unlikeable and you have no reason to root for them. You seem to think that rebooted Ben Tennyson fits that mold.

The balance is making the hero likable and competent and still giving them enough flaws to be a little relatable. Reboot She-Ra seems like a good balance, she is generally competent but can make mistakes due to her upbringing, emotional ties to toxic people like Catra and just being surprised by things she could not possibly have known.
 
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Mostezli

Not 4 Everyone & That's OK
The opposite extreme is making a hero so flawed, that they are unlikeable and you have no reason to root for them. You seem to think that rebooted Ben Tennyson fits that mold.
That opposite extreme happens to be the basis for plenty of sitcoms or in general satirical fiction, which is no longer really a difference between kid's or adult animation.

Where the issue stems from Mary Sue/Gary Stu characterization seems to be the unironic coddling by the narrative.
It's also no wonder those 80's cartoons were criticized for being preachy.
 

TheMisterManGuy

Well-Known Member
I don't even know why people are trying so desperately not to create Mary Sues. That just limits the types of stories a person can tell. I think the the alt-right and incels have entirely too much power over fandom. If it's a good story and a good character, it doesn't matter if some of the heroes fall into a magical taboo that has been overblown by terrible people. Don't let internet cranks guide your story. If you believe in it and it's good, the story will be worth being told.

Unless you're writing a parody or deconstruction, nobody likes to read about perfect people doing perfect things all the time. That's not interesting, or even believable. Human beings have flaws, they have motivations, limitations, likes, dislikes, and weaknesses. Humanizing your characters with these traits is just character writing 101. Even Superman, the most powerful being in all of fiction, still has human flaws, and needed to work to earn his reputation.

When people call a character a Mary-Sue, they mean that the character has all these abilities, and good reputation under their belt that they never earned in the audience's eyes. There's no character growth, no overcoming any obstacles, no payoff for the character having to earn those things. Good characters make a good story yes, but great characters need some level of humanity for people to root for, or at least care about. Making them too perfect makes them un-relatable, and to most people, quite boring.

Obviously, you don't want to make you're characters completely reprehensible either. But, there's nothing wrong with a heavily flawed character, so long as they're at the very least interesting. Duckman and Bojack for instance, are terrible people, but are great characters, because their motivations, goals, and struggles are compelling to watch.
 
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Fone Bone

Hindsight 2020!
Unless you're writing a parody or deconstruction, nobody likes to read about perfect people doing perfect things all the time.
Perfection and being awesome are two different things.
That's not interesting, or even believable.
I think believability is very overrated in fiction.
Human beings have flaws, they have motivations, limitations, likes, dislikes, and weaknesses. Humanizing your characters with these traits is just character writing 101. Even Superman, the most powerful being in all of fiction, still has human flaws, and needed to work to earn his reputation.
Okay, maybe I overstated the idea that characters don't need noticeable flaws. But I don't think that's true for every hero, or at least I don't think those flaws need to be anything worse than a jerkish personality. But I don't actually consider a jerkish personality a flaw necessarily. It's just a variation on a character type. A character can be a jerk and still be moral and virtuous.
When people call a character a Mary-Sue, they mean that the character has all these abilities, and good reputation under their belt that they never earned in the audience's eyes. There's no character growth, no overcoming any obstacles, no payoff for the character having to earn those things. Good characters make a good story yes, but great characters need some level of humanity for people to root for, or at least care about. Making them too perfect makes them un-relatable, and to most people, quite boring.
I don't feel the need to relate to a character to like them. I do not relate to either Batman or the Doctor in any way whatsoever but I think both characters are awesome.
I think it goes back to Stan Lee's ''feet of clay'' approach to writing superheroes from the 1960s, which is what made Spider-Man an appealing character, if Spidey wasn't a bit of a screw-up, he wouldn't be Spidey anymore. In the comics, Peter Parker made mistakes, had girl problems, was often poor and the villains would hand him defeats before he could claim victory and most good animated adaptions of Spider-Man take that into account.

Ultimately there is a balance between having a perfect hero who is boring and having a hero so overwhelmed by flaws they are unlikable.
Generally speaking, I DON'T like Spider-Man. I've seen good interpretations of the character, but not many, and I don't much like him in general. While it is true that I don't need to relate to a character to like them, if the writers go too far in the opposite direction, it's also a turn-off. Spider-Man has so many unrealistic problems that nobody else has to go through that I find the pathos of the character ridiculous instead of relatable. I am very much alone in my disdain for the character so don't bother arguing against this portion of my post. I am aware I am not going to change anyone else's mind and no-one is going to change mine either.
The opposite extreme is making a hero so flawed, that they are unlikeable and you have no reason to root for them. You seem to think that rebooted Ben Tennyson fits that mold.
I do think that. Somebody's been paying attention to my posts. ;)
The balance is making the hero likable and competent and still giving them enough flaws to be a little relatable. Reboot She-Ra seems like a good balance, she is generally competent but can make mistakes due to her upbringing, emotional ties to toxic people like Catra and just being surprised by things she could not possibly have known.
I don't really find She-Ra all that flawed. She's real, which is different to me. Everyone makes mistakes. I find a character making them normal, not an actual flaw.
 

The Overlord

Well-Known Member
That opposite extreme happens to be the basis for plenty of sitcoms or in general satirical fiction, which is no longer really a difference between kid's or adult animation.

Where the issue stems from Mary Sue/Gary Stu characterization seems to be the unironic coddling by the narrative.
It's also no wonder those 80's cartoons were criticized for being preachy.

There is an interesting short video comparing modern She-Ra to 80s She-Ra, where 80s He-Man and She-Ra were more or less perfect to enforce the proper messages and values to kids at the time vs. the modern She-Ra who is allowed to screw up now and again but still be an awesome hero.


Generally speaking, I DON'T like Spider-Man. I've seen good interpretations of the character, but not many, and I don't much like him in general. While it is true that I don't need to relate to a character to like them, if the writers go too far in the opposite direction, it's also a turn-off. Spider-Man has so many unrealistic problems that nobody else has to go through that I find the pathos of the character ridiculous instead of relatable. I am very much alone in my disdain for the character so don't bother arguing against this portion of my post. I am aware I am not going to change anyone else's mind and no-one is going to change mine either.

That's fair, everyone is entitled to their own likes and dislikes. Spider-Man was my favorite hero when I was a kid. A lot of kids like Spidey due to the fact that he is relatable and having his problems be a combination of the mundane and the fantastic is interesting to a lot of people.

But most of Marvel's creations fall into the same feet of clay typewriting: Iron Man, Wolverine, and the Hulk are very flawed, even the Fantastic Four are flawed, Reed Richards ignores his wife to focus on his work, the Thing and Human Torch bicker with each other, etc. Really only Captain America is not writing with feet of clay, mainly because he was created earlier and added into the main Marvel universe later.

Traditionally DC heroes were the inspiring archetypical characters and Marvel had the relatable feet of clay characters. Which ones you like better is a matter of taste, when I was a kid I liked Marvel far better than DC, but now I like them both and appreciate their differences. I like Superman and Spider-Man at this point.

The Real Ghostbusters adapted Peter Venkman and toned him down a bit, got rid of most of the lechery from the films, but still made him a greedy jerk, but still had him act compassionately at certain times and I like that type of character, a jerk who is secretly good at the right time.

I do think that. Somebody's been paying attention to my posts. ;)I don't really find She-Ra all that flawed. She's real, which is different to me. Everyone makes mistakes. I find a character making them normal, not an actual flaw.

I have been paying attention to your posts, it's interesting because I have not seen the new Ben 10 reboot, so I am taking your word for it. I have no real interest in it.

This is a good short video, that described the difference between the almost perfect 80s She-Ra to modern She-Ra, who is allowed to make mistakes.


Modern She-Ra is better than 80s She-Ra because she can make mistakes and face real adversity that she overcomes, which 80s She-Ra does not really have.
 

TheMisterManGuy

Well-Known Member
I think believability is very overrated in fiction.

It doesn't have to be grounded in reality. But an important thing when writing characters is making sure they obey the rules of the universe you set up. Sure, when writing fantasy, you don't need to follow real world science or, history. But it's very important that the characters, even the most powerful ones, obey the rules that you establish. There's nothing immersion breaking than seeing a character suddenly doing amazing feats that completely break previously established world-building, just for the sake of looking cooler than everybody. A problem far too common with Mary-Sues. The characters, need to bend to the rules of the world you've writing, not vice-versa.

Okay, maybe I overstated the idea that characters don't need noticeable flaws. But I don't think that's true for every hero, or at least I don't think those flaws need to be anything worse than a jerkish personality. But I don't actually consider a jerkish personality a flaw necessarily. It's just a variation on a character type. A character can be a jerk and still be moral and virtuous.

Nobody wants to write completely heinous protagonists, unless you're writing villain protagonists that is. You're correct that not every hero needs to be a jerk, but they still should have some sort of significant weakness or flaw that can create conflict and help them grow. And regarding Jerk characters, you need to like them to enjoy watching them. You just need to understand, and be entertained by them. Again, I point to Duckman and Bojack Horseman, two characters which likable, would be the last thing anybody would say about them, but they're still enjoyable characters because their motivations and reasons for being A-holes are understandable, and there's some redeeming qualities to them to help give them some human qualities. I don't necessarily agree that even jerk protagonists need to be moral and virtuous. But at the very least, they need to feel believable in the context of the story.

I mean, if you're writing a hero, it's natural to assume there's a moral consc
I don't feel the need to relate to a character to like them. I do not relate to either Batman or the Doctor in any way whatsoever but I think both characters are awesome.

Obviously, none of us have been a multi-billionaire vigilante in a bat-suit, or space traveling time lord before. But, most people can still relate to the loss of a loved one and the emotional scars that leaves on people like Bruce Wayne, or learning about different cultures and meeting new people and places like the Doctor. Point is, there's still an element of the human condition we can relate to with characters like those.
 

Dantheman

Well-Known Member
Even Superman, the most powerful being in all of fiction, still has human flaws, and needed to work to earn his reputation.

I remember the Superman:TAS episode "The Late Mr. Kent" reflecting this really well, where Superman chafes at the notion of having to give up being Clark Kent and being Superman 24/7, because he feels having a job at the Daily Planet and friendships with Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane ground him and completes him as a person.
 

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