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Archive for May, 2010

Avoiding “Mary Sues” and “Gary Stus” in Your Stories

Monday, May 24th, 2010

Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve had a lively discussion in the forums regarding “Mary Sue” or “Gary Stu” characters in your writing.

First, my (unofficial) definition of a Mary Sue character:

A Mary Sue or Gary Stu is a character who is overly favored by the author, often encountering so many improbable events as to break the believability of the story, or having skills so powerful that the character has no need to grow or change throughout the story.  There is often little reason given for the character’s abilities, other than calling the character a “Chosen One” or something similar.

You can read the Wikipedia definition for more.

I’d also like to point out that Mary Sues often occur in first drafts, and they’re not really a problem at that point–you can always fix it in a future draft.  Creating overly simple characters comes with the writing territory–and you can work through the problem.  All it takes is a little time and critical thinking about your story.

There are many characters in popular stories who can be described as Mary Sues (we’ve discussed several in the forum discussion), but simply labeling a character as a Mary Sue is not useful to a writer.  Instead, I’ve compiled a list of questions to help you identify Mary Sues or Gary Stus in your stories:

  • Are the actions of each character believable within the rules of the world and events?
  • What are your character’s weaknesses?  (Hint: If there aren’t any, then you’re at risk of creating a Mary Sue).
    • Do other characters exploit these weaknesses?  How do we know these are real?
  • Does every moment of the story center around what happens to a single character?  In real life, we’re aware that other people in our lives spend time away from us–even in a first person story, other events should be happening to the other characters in the story.  Share some of these moments with your readers.
  • What is hard for your character?  Make sure there’s something the character struggles with.
    • Do they have a hard time talking to people?
    • Are they shy around members of the opposite sex?
    • Do they have superior fighting abilities, but then must use those skills against someone they care about?
  • Does your character solve every problem?  Is there a way another character can help?
  • Does your character get the girl or guy right away?  In real life, there’s usually a courting period.  If your characters fall in love immediately, you might be at risk of hampering believability.  Real relationships go through struggles–your character’s relationships should as well.
  • Is life too easy for your character?

If your characters exhibit some of the traits above, don’t fear–all is not lost.  Think about the story.  What real life events could you toss at your character to help them struggle?

Writing is an art of taking time to find problems and remove them.  Use the questions above to think critically about your story and determine whether there are real problems.  Adding some material to address the issues will help make your story deeper, and may even provide you with better solution to the challenges your characters face in the story.

Reader’s response: What are your thoughts on Mary Sues and Gary Stus?  Share them in the comments!

Writing Thank You Cards — Made Easy!

Monday, May 17th, 2010

With the summer approaching, many people will be writing thank you cards for graduations, weddings, and other special events.  While many consider writing thank-yous antiquated and out of date, I find that it’s a valuable tool for building relationships.

It’s amazing…writing something as short as a thank you card seems to take more time than writing a novel…and it doesn’t need to.

I follow a deceptively simple format when creating a thank you card. It may look a bit like a mad-lib, but it is surprisingly flexible and can be customized or changed in case you’re concerned your recipients will be, ahem, comparing notes.

Dear _________,

I was glad to see you at ___________. It was so good to see all of you–I especially liked it when _____________ did __________.

Thanks also for your gift–I expect to use the _________ for __________. This will _________.

I hope this finds you well, and that I see you again soon!



I often receive compliments on how well-written my thank-you cards are written.  The reason my approach works is that I recognize the giver as a person, not merely someone who gave me a gift.  And again, it’s deceptively easy to do–and you can do it too!

Notice how the thank-you starts with an appeal to the person.  This also shows that you value the giver more than the gift, since you mention it right away.  In my opinion, the giver is more important than the gift–friendship is the greatest gift I could ever receive.

Mentioning a certain event that occurred during the party/celebration will help you to show the giver even more that you appreciate them.  In general, people understand that it’s hard to visit with everyone at the party, though you usually do have time to talk briefly with everyone.  Showing them that you remember they were present helps them feel valued.

Since general templates are easy to find, here’s a few examples for different events.  Watch for some of the subtle customizations that help personalize the message for each situation.


Dear Mr. and Mrs. Caldwell,

I was glad to see you at my graduation party. It was so good to see both of you–I especially liked it when you described the way your cat escaped and jumped into the cake at your son Jack’s party last year.  I laughed…until I saw my own cat sneaking out of my room not five minutes later.  I was quick to shoo her back into my room!

Thanks also for your gift–I expect to use the money towards my college expenses. This will make it much easier for me to survive my first year of college.

I’m looking forward to seeing you again soon!


Suzy Collegebound


Dear Tom, Lisa, and Johnny,

I was glad you were able to share Tim and my wedding day. It was so good to see all of you–I especially liked it when Johnny and Sally were dancing with Tim and I at our first dance.  They looked so cute!  Luckily, the photographer caught several photos of this special moment, so I’ll be sending a copy your way soon!

Thanks also for your gift–I expect to use the toaster for breakfast every morning. We’ll be thinking of you every time we use it.

I hope this finds you well, and that I see you again soon.  I’ll give you a call so we can continue catching up!


Tim and Sue Newlywed

And a special event:

Dear Frank,

I was glad I was able to attend your recent presentation on “How to give a good presentation”.  I especially liked your insight that “Bullet-points are the death of any presentation”!  Now if I could only convince my manager…

Thanks also for choosing my name out of the hat at the end of your presentation. Your book, “Present Well or DIE!” will serve me well as I try to improve my presentation skills.

I hope this finds you well, and that I’m able to attend another one of your sessions soon!


John deAudience

Though all three of these thank-you messages follow the same format, each one appears much different–that’s the power of personalization!  Adapting the template helps you to write thank-yous quickly, without sacrificing the personal side of being grateful.  Being grateful is important, but saying “Thank you” should not need to take a lot of time.

In the spirit of gratitude: thanks for reading.  I hope to hear from you again soon!

If you need help writing an effective thank-you, please feel free to submit a request at our editing service.  One of our editors will gladly help you write thank-yous that sparkle!

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