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Are "Perfect Characters" a bad thing?

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Old October 21st, 2013 (8:08 AM). Edited October 21st, 2013 by matt0044.
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This video here got me thinking about something that I felt similarly on but hardly had the words for (Note: it relates to My Little Pony Friendship is Magic so if it ain't your cup of joe, try to bear with it, okay?):

I've fretted about getting complaints of how my character's a Mary Sue but that video there inspired me to not give in to the backlash. Don't get me wrong. Flawed characters are good and nobody's perfect but not every character has to be an anti-hero or morally questionable.

So what are your thoughts? Can "perfect characters" be a good thing depending on the writing? And try not to get off topic with what the video also showed. Please stay on topic.
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Old October 21st, 2013 (9:26 AM).
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In my opinion, it depends on the character. One thing I specialize in, though, is the whole "fall from Grace" scenario, in which a character who had everything going for him/her suddenly found him/herself fallen on hard times because of events that happened right before the story begun. Generally, I work from a climbing their way back up angle to give the story better context and strengthen the importance of the backstory.

Another thing to consider is what really makes a character perfect. In my stories, my main antagonists are actually dieties that are essentially infallable (they can do whatever they want and mortals like humans or Pokemon can't do a thing about it). Additionally, their servants in the series are essentially invulnerable due to their religious worship of the gods. Coincidentally, these same characters are flawed personality-wise because they've severed contact with all but a few mortals and only seek to destroy anything that opposes them. However, that's just a crude description of what I'm writing...

In a realistic scenario, a person isn't going to have prestine morals. That doesn't mean they're going to be a total jerk to everyone; however, people aren't always nice to others. Generally, I try to incorporate both good and bad parts of a character's personality rather than making them totally good or totally mean.
Old October 21st, 2013 (9:48 AM).
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I think you're taking the video's opinions on "perfect" characters in the wrong way.

As far as I can tell, the person speaking in the video isn't saying that characters who are perfect should be more popular. It's that perfection is, assuming we're supposed to grow attached to the character in question, the goal of the individual even if they don't know it yet. Character development in a positive sense, essentially, meaning that the character becomes more successful in his endeavors as they overcome their weaknesses. It means that we see them struggle over their negative points, growing into a superior individual. Unless the character is designed to be unlikable, such as a villain figure, many of the best characters are developed over the course of the story.

He even uses Twilight Sparkle as an example. While she started off as a quiet, unsociable type she eventually grew into a more sociable, friendly individual. While she may be closer to Mary-Sue material now she did not start off as one. As simplistic as the cartoon is her character's personality still changed over the course of the show.

Also, just because a character isn't perfect doesn't have to make them morally questionable/anti-heroes. Everyone has different opinions on how things should be run and how situations should be dealt with, and while some can be viewed as generally negative or generally positive the majority of them are quite neutral. If I write a story focusing on a very vain character, a trait considered generally negative, that doesn't make my character "morally questionable". It just means that they value their appearance/skills more than they should.

It means that this character is imperfect. They have a flaw. While this example only shows one the character as a whole would likely have several. He might have a fear of heights, do poorly in mathematics and be blind in one eye. All of these put him at a disadvantage compared to those who don't have these flaws, however small that disadvantage might be. Imperfection means that they will act differently to other characters according to the situation and have different limitations in their skills. It is the sum of mental and social imperfections that builds up a personality with physical imperfections often having a smaller impact.

Without imperfections you come across the Mary-Sue-esque character who has a solution to everything, is never wrong and will always come out on top. It's just plain boring.
Old October 21st, 2013 (12:55 PM).
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I personally find anyone who breaks out the term "Mary Sue" to be laughably incorrect 98% of the time. You actually have to endeavor to be writing a "Mary Sue" character to pull one off. But this is a favorite tactic of pseudo-critics and know-nothings who didn't like how a story ended.

So, I oftentimes don't see any constructive criticism coming from the term, it's rather derogatory and generally non-descriptive of writing flaws. That being said, sometimes you don't want your character to struggle. Sometimes you may be emphasizing some other facet of your character or plot. I see no flaw in that technique itself, just in it's overuse. If that's really a problem in the story you're reading, then why not say that? If you feel like the author has missed something, you often contribute more to their work by telling them what they missed rather than deriding their character or it's development.

If you're trying to critique something, think long and hard about it. Don't critique something you wouldn't finish, just move on. If you had that much distaste for what was written, or story being told, then don't be a jerk about it. Everyone has their own tastes. If you feel obligated to "Help" someone aspiring to be a writer, definitely don't break out the name calling. It's hard for anyone to not take insults to something they created personally. You'd be better off by telling them how you think they could improve it.
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Old October 21st, 2013 (3:33 PM).
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The definition of a 'Mary Sue' as most literary Internet denizens know it is something like this: "A character with no apparent flaws or difficulties during their adventure, and if they do run into conflict, they are able to breeze through it with no actual concern, on the part of the readers, whether they will make it or not." As far as I can tell, it has nothing to do with having a character who is morally perfect.

Okay, so take a 'perfect' character in the sense that they always do good in every situation. This is not necessarily bad! It's why Superman lasted so long in the olden days, before they introduced his whole World of Cardboard stance and other things to make him more appealing compared to, say, Batman (the poster child of Dark Superhero). It doesn't matter if their morals are always clear. What matters is if there is something, anything, in their personality that can provide a major flaw.

Now, people read stories for two basic reasons: to learn to like the protagonist, and to see if the protagonist succeeds.

Say, for example, your fledgeling Trainer character has strong moral values... but is absolutely horrible at Pokémon battling. Now, just because a person is completely good morally does not mean that they can't have a boring personality. Let's say that your Trainer is very funny, and he genuinely makes the readers like him. Ta-da! There's step one to making a good character. Here we have a guy who is perfectly moral, but is still fun to read about, because the reader base genuinely likes him. On the other hand, most Mary-Sues do not have a well defined and likable personality -- they have one or the other. Either A, their personality is generally nice and pleasant but has no depth to it; or B, they have a very distinct personality but it's not one that readers like.

Now! Just because the character does good in every situation does not mean that they will succeed! Our Justice Trainer will have problems fighting against the evil team or other villain of the story, because as we mentioned, he is very bad at Pokémon battling. It will not be clear if he succeeds or not, because his lacking skills in Pokémon might mean that he could actually lose this one, or the next one, or the one after that. Again, most Mary Sues do not have the readers asking that question: "Will he succeed?" If Justice Trainer were a Mary Sue, we would be told in the beginning of the story that he has no skill with Pokémon battling, but he defeats every villain he comes across with ease. That, to readers, is boring. There's no reason to keep watching him if we know he's going to win every time.

So there you have it. It's perfectly possible to have a character who is morally perfect and not a Mary Sue, as long as you make them enjoyable to read about, and give them other character traits besides their moral greatness that creates challenges for them to overcome.

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Old October 21st, 2013 (9:28 PM).
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I can't watch the video because of my internet, but I'll still try to supply some (hopefully) relevant feedback.

I think that morals are just one way to make a character interesting. Like what people have said before me, all because the morals are perfect, doesn't mean the character itself is perfect. I'll admit it, I've probably thrown out the mary/gary sue label before when it probably didn't apply. I'm way more cautious about it now, so hopefully I've improved on that.

As far as characters go, there has to be a flaw somewhere. Whether it be a physical or emotional handicap, it has to appear. If a character is perfect in every way, shape, and form, that's when it becomes a mary/gary sue. Flaws are where the conflict develops and thickens, or in other words, it makes the story interesting. I'm not going to really elaborate on that because I feel like I would just be restating what the people above me have so beautifully pointed out.

I guess the main point I'm trying to get to is that it's okay to have a morally perfect character, but there has to be a flaw somewhere. Otherwise, the story will get boring, fast.
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Old November 16th, 2013 (12:50 PM).
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I generally disagree with the examples used in that video (i.e. Twilight is a Mary Sue in my book, hooves down) but I do agree with many of the points he made. You should also keep in mind that he's making a distinction between "good" characters and "flawless" characters. You can have morally good characters who are limited in power and are otherwise reasonable. Countless fictional and real-world examples exist of this. It's the archetypal protagonist. One thing you have to keep in mind here, however, is that being morally good is pretty much never easy. I think we all know that doing the right thing can be really hard sometimes. I think it's good to show this in your writing.

Perfect characters, on the other hand, never really face any true challenges because their success has been predictably predetermined by their perfection (woo alliteration). They don't grow as characters because they don't have a better version of themselves to grow into (getting a pair of wings doesn't count).

In that same vein, "mostly perfect" or "generally perfect" characters can be just as if not more boring to read, because the author has clearly tried to shove in some flaws but those flaws never actually hinder the character. Using Twilight as an example, she royally screws things up with magic on more than one occasion. The consequences she faces for this are never worse than a no-no from Celestia after the princess steps in and fixes everything for her. Eventually she is even rewarded with becoming a princess in the same episode that she practically destroys Ponyville with a poor spellcasting decision. This is presented as "growth," except Twilight never has to actually struggle or deal with any consequences for her actions.

It would be far better to show Twilight genuinely not succeeding at something, or having to make reparations for her mistakes. That's more realistic, and much more relate-able. It's also a quality of a good character to make amends with people they've wronged, or at least do their best to.

In summary: morally good is fine. Characteristically perfect or something close to it is typically not.
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Old February 3rd, 2014 (5:56 AM). Edited February 3rd, 2014 by Fernbutter.
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In my honest opinion, I would prefer the character to be as normal and as relatable as possible to help the readers connect more with the story because of how familiar it might sound or to give them a hope that it might also happen to them some day hopefully, I wouldn't really mind reading a story with a Mary/Gary Sue because it also gives me a chance to be able to live-out a life of a perfect character even in my imagination, but in an overall as long as the story is good and it doesn't sound to far'fetched then I really wouldn't mind how any of it goes.

I think that the main thing the author should focus more on is how it all fits together, I mean as much as a story or novel is interesting on its own, I like those stories where in the beginning it gives you fragments from different characters and then eventually as the story progresses you'll see how these characters are connected to each other. This works with just one person too exept the story is fragmented in the beginning.

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Old February 3rd, 2014 (8:54 AM).
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Originally Posted by Fernbutter
Last edited by Fernbutter; Today at 05:58 AM. Reason: oh god pls have mercy i forgot to check the date of the last post it wont happen again
You posted over the month limit, not send death threats. What's the worst I'm going to do, ban you? Well, actually...

Just be more careful in the future, okay?
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