Murdering Mary Sue (and other annoying stereotypes)

Happy Valentine’s Day, Cyberspace!

I spent over two hours yesterday writing this blog post before finally realizing that today is Valentine’s Day, which means that, like any sane blogger, I should probably do something about Valentine’s Day.

I am not a sane blogger.

So today I’d like to completely disregard that it is Valentine’s day for a few moments and go over something that has been on my mind lately.

Murdering Mary Sue.

And since that sounds like a sentence that could potentially throw me into the slammer, let’s switch over to something a little more legal.

Breaking stereotypes.

We’ve all seen them in stories, and maybe we’ve accidentally incorporated them into our own writing without even realizing it. I know I have. I think that I’ve created an original cast of characters, when suddenly I have a brooding bad boy, a Mary Sue, and the charming, witty best friend who everyone adores.

*insert gag reflex*

Quite frankly it is annoying and extremely hard to fix. Most stories tend to be filled to the brim with stereotypes, and if they’re not careful, writers will fall into the same pit time and time again.

So the question of the hour is, how do we break these stereotypes? How do we create original, realistic characters? How do we murder the Mary Sue and banish the brooding bad boy to the depths of the netherworlds once and for all?

Well, it just so happens that I have a masterfully written list just for you! Aren’t I the greatest?

Of course I am.

How To Murder Mary Sue (and other annoying stereotypes) In Three Easy Steps

Number One– Observe The Human Race

For this, you’re going to have to get your hands dirty and do some field training. Go to your local park, library (in case you’re writing about book nerds, obviously), coffee shop (order butterscotch hot chocolate [trust me]), or basically anywhere you will find the mythical human being in its natural habitat. Sit down, get comfy, and start observing. Watch them. Take note of any quirks they might have, or specific things about the way they talk, accents, hand motions. Anything that makes them, as an individual, unique. See how different people react to different situations. Take notes. Compare reactions.

In short, I am telling you to stalk people. Literally.

And don’t forget to bring a notebook, preferably a discreet one. There is no situation more awkward than having your subject realize that you are studying their every move and jotting it down for character reference; however, chances are this might happen to you. If it does, stare them straight in the eye, slap your notebook closed, jam your pen behind your ear, stand up, and run off the premises screaming the Mission Impossible theme song.

This method works 38% of the time. The other 62% they’ll probably call the cops.

It’s a risk you must take, my friend.

By observing actual humans instead of re-writing characters that already exist–especially stereotypical ones–we are more likely to gain a better understanding of how real humans react to real-life situations.


Number Two– Make Them Relatable

Let’s face it, guys. We are all collectively flawed. We’ve all got something about ourselves that makes us shudder and go,”ew.” We’ve all got something we’d like to hide. We’ve all got something that we’re trying to improve.

Our characters should be no different.

If you have a character who is so perfectly perfect, who everybody loves, and who has a life that seems to be as flawless as her glossy black hair, you’ve got a Mary Sue.

And you must murder her.

Okay, so maybe you shouldn’t kill her, but seriously. Give her something that makes her flawed. Stories don’t just begin with your opening line. They began a long time ago; you’re just choosing to start the story here. Each character should have a past, something that makes them them. Dig deeper into the guts of her essence. Figure out the nitty gritty, terrible flaws that make her relatable.

And no. Being clumsy is not a flaw. And neither is thinking everybody hates you when in all actuality they’re doting over your complete perfection. Unless, of course, you’re trying to give them paranoia. If that is the case, please proceed. You are doing wonderfully.

But for the rest of us, try and go for the deep stuff: insecurity about the future (#graduation, anybody?); a hard, lurking past that seems to follow them wherever they go; a bad attitude that they’re trying so hard to improve; betrayal of a close friend. Give them something that makes them relatable. Something that makes us see a glimpse of ourselves inside of them.

Number Three– Make Them Uniquely Your Own

Now, you may be looking at this step and thinking, “Wow, Kenzie. That’s about the most obvious thing I’ve heard since peanut butter and bagels”. And maybe you’re right.

But think about it. How many times have you read a book and thought, “I wish had written this…” Only to go off and try to write your own book when suddenly you realize that–SURPRISE!–you’re writing Mystery Book A‘s sequel?

Don’t worry. This happens to the best of us. It’s like there’s this chink in our brains that says, “Well, if this worked for them, and they made it on the NY Times Best Seller list, then surely if I write a blatant rip-off to their original work, I’ll become a best-selling novelist, too!!


But is that really how we want to live our lives? Is that story really the story you should be writing? The story you want to be writing? Wouldn’t you rather create something that no one else thought of, with characters that leap off the page with originality?

Today, I urge you to take a minute in your hectic life to ask yourself, “What is my story? What is unique about me?” Because, whether you want it to or not, your uniqueness is going to bleed right through into your story and characters. Maybe it’s your dry sense of humor, or your ability to crack open a walnut with your front teeth. Maybe it’s your love of milkshakes, or that weird twitch in your leg whenever you’re trying to sit still.

Each of us has something that makes us unique. Each of us has a story inside of us that is dying to come out, a story that has never been told before. Sure, there are going to be some similarities between our stories and the stories already floating around out there–there’s no way to escape that–but our stories and characters are going to be uniquely our own, as long as we embrace the uniqueness of the characters we create and the stories that live inside our heads.

Don’t stuff your characters into a stereotypical box. Let them live and breathe and be different, even if you feel like they’ll be considered too different to the outside world. What everyone else thinks doesn’t matter. It might seem like it does, since you’re (hopefully) going to eventually share your story with them, but in all reality, their opinions don’t matter one little bit.

(Well, if they’re your critique partners, you might do well to listen to what they are saying, but that is a discussion for a different day.)

For right now, just be yourself. Don’t get caught up in the same mouse trap as many writers before you. The cheese is never worth it, and always expires long before you get a chance to taste it. Do something different. Be unique.

Break the mold.

This is your story. This is your writing. This is the universe you created. Don’t let stereotypical characters drag it down. Make them relatable, make them original, give them the wings to fly to the beat of a different heart, and maybe–just maybe–you’ll find that someone, someday, is wishing that they wrote your story.

Well, that ended sort of abruptly…

So, what are some of your least favorite stereotypes? What are the clichés that make you cringe and want to rip your hair out? How do you avoid writing stereotypes? Have you ever written a Mary Sue? A brooding bad boy? Let’s talk about ALL the stereotypical things, and cliché things, and also peanut butter on bagels because those are DELICIOUS.




12 thoughts on “Murdering Mary Sue (and other annoying stereotypes)

  1. Okay so I don’t think I have any Mary Sue’s… However. Ahem. The brrodung bad boy???? *whispers* I think I have one! I’m sorry, okay??? I just can’t resist the mysterious rude and surly damaged ones!!! But maybe he’s not quite stereotypical… He’s older than most and has a nice side… ????

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah, yes. The brooding bad boy. *nods expertly* That’s a particular favorite of mine, too. And that doesn’t sound too stereotypical! It sounds like you’ve given him a personality that is unique to him, so I think you have a very nice character there.

      Actually, I tend to write not only Mary Sue’s, but Mary Sue’s AND brooding bad boys, all stockpiled within the same book. Luckily, I think I avoided that in everlost! I seriously cannot wait to read your book! I’m so excited!


      • Glad I’m not alone! Brooding types are just so appealing! I hope he’s not too cliche… Just something I’ll have to keep working on, I guess…


        Liked by 1 person

        • Oh, I’m sure he’s not too cliche. You are not capable of writing a cliche character, haha!

          OH MY GOODNESS, SAME! Except, I am so upset because I caught a flu and haven’t been able to write for an entire FIVE DAYS, and so that’s pushing me back on my schedule, but I am DETERMINED TO FINISH THIS BOOK IF IT KILLS ME. (And believe me, I feel slightly dead right now…)


          • Ha! You flatter me muchly… I guarantee you I can write cliche characters as well as the next person. :)


            Liked by 1 person

            • Nope! Not possible!!!! *shakes head fiercely*

              I am actually feeling quite better now!!! Thanks!!! AND OH MY GOODNESS NO!!! This story…it is killing me. Part of me wants to just scrap the whole thing because it is total rubbish, part of me wants to keep going because this HAS to just be a serious case of Writer’s Doubt, and part of me wants to stuff my face with a donut. Writing is HARD. However, I am adding a new counter to my blog later today, and it is going to be a countdown to when I ACTUALLY FINISH THIS BOOK. I’m rooting for March 23rd.

              (I remember when I was going to finish this book by February first… Ha ha. ha.)


              • Aw. You’re cute. :)

                YOU GOT THIS, KENZIE!!! I believe in you! Writing is super hard, but don’t give up, please! I love this story so much and I know it’s brilliant and amazing and you must finish it so that the world can read your genius words! Okay? Okay. but maybe also eat that donut. For both of us. Because that sounds pretty darn delicious.

                Liked by 1 person

                • Awww!!! This just totally lifted my spirits so much! You know, you are really making me excited again for this story, which is something I never thought would happen, haha! I honestly cannot thank you enough!!!!

                  Sadly, the donuts are now gone, and I never at it… :( I should have eaten the donut, lol!


  2. I accidentally wrote a Mary Sue once…NEVER AGAIN. I was so embarrassed and actually hated the character. #awkward. I don’t think it’s a problem anymore, but most of my characters end up being sassy kick-butts with attitude problems…which wouldn’t be quite so bad if they weren’t all like that. But I think they’re different enough it’ll be fine? Like some are cinnamon rolls, some aren’t, and some will kill you painfully? I’ll worry about it in edits…haha.
    I *do* write the bad boy on occasion, but never romantically. Like, he stays a bad boy and he’s the creepy friend nobody talks about or admits having.
    I always love the characters with the most flaws the best, though, and as I learn more about writing and actually, you know, WRITE more, I think it’s really obvious, because wow. I am so cruel to my characters. They have flaws and bad stuff happens. I’m just saying.
    I think the last book I read with lots of stereotypes was the Balefire omnibus by Cate Tiernan. It was cute, but 1) long lost twins, 2) love triangle in so many directions because identical twins = uh-oh and awkward, 3) bad boy falls in love with the pretty virgin, 4) orphans who know nothing, 5) ONLY YOU CAN SAVE THE WORLD!!! Well, more like you two, but still. I did like it, but I was very happy it was on sale when I got it.
    And YES!!!!!!!! Peanut butter on bagels! Although to be honest, I adore cream cheese more, so I’ll stick with that…Sorry!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, yes, I can DEFINITELY relate to actually hating a character I created! For a long time, all of my main characters were Mary Sue’s, but they were Mary She’s mixed with really rude attitudes, and honestly, I hated them so much. They were COMPLETELY identical, and 100% hateable. Oh my word, I’ve ALWAYS wanted to write a cinnamon roll! I’m not exactly sure where to start, as I haven’t really read many books with cinnamon rolls, but I WANT TO WRITE ONE SO BADLY. And characters who kill you painfully??? Those are some of my favorites haha!

      And might I just say that your bad boy honestly sounds like the best written bad boy ever??? A creepy friend that no one admits to having??? That is just epic, and I love that concept way too much, haha!

      Oh yes, it is WAY too easy to be cruel to our poor, helpless little characters… When all they want is love and affection and we CRUNCH THEM BENEATH OUR MASSIVE WRITERLY BOOTS, MWAHAHAHAHAHAHA–I mean…give them cookies. We give them cookies. Obviously.

      Ooh! That book sounds pretty stereotypical, haha! And oh my goodness BOOK SALE!!!! BOOOOOOOOK SALLLLLLLEEEEE!!!! Books on sale are the BEST! Well, unless their filled with stereotypes, but still, haha!

      Thank you SO much for commenting!!!!


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