I am the most sporadic writer on the planet, but I promise to do my best to keep writing for whoever decides to follow me. I have books with prompts. If nothing else, you'll get random little stories. Consider this part of my New Years Resolutions, six months later.

Friday, October 5, 2012

On Mary Sue: Exceptional Talents

I mean, I can't miss. ... I'm on a team with super-humans. And one god, in case you've forgotten. Even you...well, you climb walls really well. ... I gave up a lot for this life. I could have been happy with Mockingbir-- Bobbi. We could have had a good, simple life. But I wanted to play with the big boys. And if I miss it means I'm just another dude with a bow. It means I've been fooling myself this whole time. And that's why I never miss.
--Clint Barton (Earth-616) 
If you're a fan of the Marval comic books or the movies, you know who Clint Barton is, he's Hawkeye, the world's greatest marksman and he never misses.

Not every character can be Hawkeye though. I'm not saying that they can't be the best at their job, I'm just saying that Hawkeye was unique because of his talent. Whatever else Clint Barton might have been, he was known for his skill as an archer.

I feel obligated to point out that Hawkeye works because his universe worked for him. Therefore, it is not that you can't have a character who is best at a talent, but that they have to exist in a world where them being the best works.

Most issues with Mary Sues are that they are perfect at something in a world where that perfection is a dissonance. In a world where mutants exist, a guy who's talent is perfect body memory isn't out of place, but in mundania, the talent would be more distinctive and unusual, if not completely impossible.

People need to learn, and to practice. We say that things are 'just like riding a bicycle', you never forget. That's not entirely true. Take archery, for instance.

An archer needs a specific set of muscles to do his job well, and he needs constant practice to be able to use those muscles well. Setting aside his bow and arrows for months will leave him out of shape when he picks the bow up again. He'll have to retrain his muscles to draw said bow, and to improve his aim. It takes time to be good at archery, and having been good once, it takes time to become good again when you take the skill back up.

Almost all physical activity is like that, and I only say almost because I'm sure that someone, somewhere, will point to something I don't think of. Unless you're a mutant, and in the appropriate universe to be a mutant, you don't just learn in a single lesson. You practice, you learn, and you get better.

Point in fact, training gives you plenty of oppertunities to write about your characters, you can do character development or even plot develepment. Or you can just write about training as a way to insert a laugh.

Conversly, unless your character is the aforementioned mutant, be aware of physical limitations. Body types, agility, stamana, all of these have a play in your character's activities. Bringing up Hawkeye, in fanfiction, I've read stories where Hawkeye spends hours, or even days at the shooting range and coming out just fine. This is not a realistic consequence. After a while, your muscles give out, your body will collapse, your mind will shut down. This is scientific fact and you cannot escape it.

What about other talents of the non physical manner?

Let's start with art.

Some people are natural artists. When you see their work, you know you are seeing something created by a person with talent.

Conversly, one can study and practice and produce art with the same level of talent. Guess which of these is more prevalent?

Take me, for instance. I can put together pictures in interesting collages, and I can trace with the best of them, but as soon as it becomes freehand, I tend to have more in common with Picasso than with da Vinci.


Not everybody can be Mozart or Beethoven. Not everybody is so dedicated that they'll cut the legs off a piano and compose by how the piano vibrates on the floor.

Musicians practice every day. Have you ever studied a musical instrument? I have.

I studied piano and clarinet. Now when faced with a piano, I could pick out 'Mary Had A Little Lamb' and 'Chopsticks' by memory but that's about it, and I haven't picked up a clarinet in fifteen years. I probably would make the kind of squeals that used to make my dog howl as opposed to actual music.


Again, people have natural talent, but to properly use that talent, it takes training and practice. There's learning to read music, learning to breath properly, tone and pitch. That doesn't all come naturally.

There are people with perfect pitch, but think about it. How often would that talent be a good thing? I know one novel that plays perfect pitch for the laugh and does it well. Consider yourself challenged.


Yes, it was going to come back to this. If you dare me too, I will find an original iteration of a story I wrote in  high school and send it (mistakes and all), just to prove how much my writing has improved in ten years.

Writing is a talent, story telling, non-fiction, it's a talent. You have to keep writing to get better at it, and you will make mistakes.

Please note that I have never said that perfection is impossible, it is simply impossible in mundania, and unless the universe lends itself to the character's perfection (RE Hawkeye plus Cap) then you've written a Mary Sue. Also, remember that it takes time and practice to master any skill, and it takes practice to improve and maintain that skill.

Also, remember the phrase 'jack of all trades, master of none'. Mastery takes a lifetime, but you can learn to be competent in many talents. Just know where your character is strong and where they are weak. Above all, have fun with the characters. Otherwise, what's the point.

See here, example of training for fun:

As the target presented itself, I shot my stinger. "Dammit Deke," Jessie howled, "will you stop?"
"I'm trying to help," I protested, unable to hide my grin.
Jessie yelped and turned back to Gabe, "I swear, I'm going to kill you." She rubbed her hip.
Target presented again, I fired a second time.
"Dammit Deke," Jessie said, "shoot me somewhere else!" And with a stamp of her foot, she vanished with a pop.

Next we will look in to Mary Sue's personality.


I do not own Hawkeye, he is copyright by Marvel Comics.  Quote is from the Marvel wiki, linked via the attribution line and here: 

No comments:

Post a Comment