Oh my, where to begin on this subject? I suppose a simple, "Don't do it!" won't suffice? No? Well, hell. Alright, *rolls up sleeves* let's get to it then.
Mary Sue - Much like the term "Jane Doe", Mary Sue is a faceless, indistinct creature that is suffering an identity crisis.
Oh fine, I'll give you a real definition.
Mary Sue- A writing term used to describe a character (often the heroine) who has no distinct features, personality, or character traits. The character is flawless, unrealistic, and one in which readers can not identify with.
I read manuscripts, a lot. Readers read books, a lot. What do we have in common? We're both more likely to read the entire thing if we see a character that really clicks with us. What makes your hero/ine so different, so unique, so unlike everyone else's?
The trait that defines your character can be emotional, physical, or an ability. In Wings of Obsidian, a work I'm currently writing; Lisandra (my heroine) has a scar running down her cheek. She's suffered from rape and abuse, which has left a nasty chip on her shoulder. She hates dragons with a passion, yet she's the best dang mother you'll ever meet...to her half-dragon daughter.
Why yes, that does create a world of conflict. That's why it has a strong basis for a story. Now I'm not saying everyone should be this extreme, but for the love of all, give us a character that isn't just like that one person in that one book/movie/TV show.
And for god's sakes, give him or her a flaw (because Mary Sue can be a man too, ya know)! Even Superman had his Kryptonite. In Sail My Oceans, Lucy Verr has orange and yellow hair with vivid orange eyes. Now granted, she's only half human, but her physical features allowed her to stand out in the galaxy of Emerald Solis and probably in the minds of my readers. Colten from Maybe Baby is almost 40 years old and has graying temples and a scar on his thigh. He's been in the military for years, he's not going to look perfect. In Midnight Masquerade, Anya is a powerful witch, but even she can't see the details of her own potential love life. Her power is limited.
Here's a check list I'm throwing out from the top of my head:
Is your character living off money trees? (Aka-Do they not have a job but they can spend as much as they want to do whatever they want? Double points if they are a billionaire.)
Is your character physically flawless? (Double points if they have a physical ailment but it in no way affects their lifestyle.)
Is your character so powerful that no one can defeat them?
Can your character suddenly defend themselves during a fight with an item, creature, or ability that was never previously mentioned?
Has your character ever experienced anything emotionally traumatic? (Double points if they have and didn't even bat an eyelash.) (Note: It drives me crazy when "normal" people are introduced to a paranormal creature/society/etc and they just accept it.)
Does he/she have traits that are unrealistic to her realm or species? (Aka- Modern society, completely human, but has purple eyes.)
Does your character have an unusual name compared to their background? (A human raised in a Catholic family is not likely to be named Azreal or Lucy Verr.)
If you answered yes to most of those, you might be in trouble. It would be best if you investigate further by taking an official test here: The Original Fiction Mary Sue Litmus Test.
That concludes the lesson for today! Questions? Comments? ~ D. F. Krieger