There are many points to consider when creating a protagonist. What do they look like? What are they good at? Are they smart, or funny, or kind? But considering all of this, the one thing I believe should be avoided at all costs, is the Mary Sue (or Marty Stu if male).
The Mary Sue character is the ridiculously perfect, perhaps overpowered character, whom you cannot fault in any way. As an author, it is easy to fall into this trap. We love our main characters and want them to be perfect. We want our characters to woo our readers with their brilliance just as they are wooing us within the setting of our minds.
So why is this a bad thing?
Mary Sue is boring. Yes, she may have incredible abilities. Yes, they may be smart, and beautiful, and loving. But, no one wants to read about perfect people, at least not for long.
Such perfect characters are not relatable. No one is faultless in reality, so why should your protagonist be any different. Your readers will not be drawn in and captured by your character unless they have traits that make them human. So brainstorm. Do they have a physical illness or disability? Are they easily angered, paranoid, or selfish? Perhaps they are inhibited by their environment, such as their socioeconomic status? There are many ways in which you can FLAW your protagonist and in doing so, will instantly make them a more relatable and a more interesting person to read about. You will give your protagonist areas to learn and develop as a character, and hence will hold the attention of your readers who will now want to watch them grow.
So, when creating characters for your stories (not just your protagonist), give them issues. Scar that shiny image you have in your imagination. Your stories will be all the better for a bit of roughing up!
Scarlett Van Dijk
Night’s reign is timeless and spaceless.
Novalis, Hyms to Night.
For the last five years or so I have been a Visiting Research Fellow with the Adelaide University School of Medicine researching ancient human fossil anatomy and brain evolution - which sounds all very impressive. When I joined the faculty, however, I had rarely felt myself to be such an interloper, like I didn’t belong and was kind of, well let’s be honest, a bit of a fraud. I felt I was there under false pretences. With no background in the sciences, much of the high level stats others juggled with such consummate ease seemed way beyond me. Those clever and adept scientists I shared office space with seemed to be operating in a completely different conceptual universe than I was used to, employing some kind of obscure and intimidating dark art that I only slowly – very slowly – began to decipher.
My doctoral research was in the humanities, so such feelings were understandable. More specifically it was in English Literature, looking at the influence of ecological thought and anthropology on Australian poets such as Judith Wright, Roland Robinson, John Kinsella and Les Murray. Yet I always had an interest in science, some of which, as a kind restless and intellectually omnivorous dilettante, I incorporated into the thesis. Lacking sufficient concentration to focus on academic miniature for sustained periods, my mind naturally wandered across disciplines, instinctively averting the ghettoization of knowledge into discrete areas of specialisation that afflicts much of contemporary intellectual life. Then as now I wanted to understand poetry from a scientific point of view – yet I also yearned for a science that was sensitive to the poetic dimensions of life. In some sense moving into the sciences was a way of coming to terms with, and potentially reconciling, these two seemingly incompatible domains of knowledge – both within myself and our broader culture. So after finishing the thesis, and spending a few years of fruitful uncertainty moping around in an intellectual no man’s land, I decided I would write a book that would hopefully achieve such a synthesis – which thankfully is nearing completion.
One of the things that inspired me to move into the sciences with any kind of seriousness, was reading Steven Jay Gould’s 2002 masterpiece The Structure of Evolutionary Theory. What fascinated me about Gould’s book was his discussion of Goethe’s writing on anatomy and botany. I had long had a special relationship with Goethe’s Faust – this was one of those special works of literature that open up previously unknown depths of aesthetic experience of the kind that can change and transform lives. When we realise somewhat surprised and with increased and deepened awareness – this is what poetry is about. But Goethe was not only a masterful explorer of the hidden depths of the human soul. He also made significant contributions to science that have only recently been confirmed, after over two centuries of neglect, by evolutionary developmental biologists – what has become known as Evo-Devo, a burgeoning field that integrates developmental and molecular genetics with evolutionary theory.
I get asked this question more often that you probably think. Why did I choose this genre, this style as opposed to serious romance or even thrillers? My answer is always the same – why not?
That may sound simple, but there is actually some very solid reasons behind it. Chick Lit has dominated the sales charts for decades. Other genres have also seen increases and then plateaued, but overall, good old romance in the form of Chick Lit has held steady. Anyway, who doesn’t love a good Bridget Jones or Love Actually story? Some Chick Lit has led to the biggest grossing movies of all time and series franchises like Sex and The City, and were all secretly hoping for an outcome like that!
I didn’t start off writing Chick Lit, in fact I began (but failed miserably) writing a psychological thriller. It was a great concept, but the characters were really unlikeable and the plot had as many holes as a slice of Swiss cheese. I struggled with it for well over two years before a very wise mentor told me to ditch it and go with something I knew well. I contemplated this for a while, quite sure my life was far too boring to ever write about, but in a group workshop I was recounting stories of my experience as a wedding and funeral celebrant and I had the entire class in stitches. That’s when I made the jump. I went home from that class absolutely invigorated and full of ideas. I wrote my first book, Confetti Confidential: They Do, I Don’t in three months.
‘They Do, I Don’t’ is a romantic comedy about a marriage celebrant who gives up on love when her own life falls apart, but with 10 weddings (and a funeral) still to get through before she can give up being a celebrant, there are plenty of laughs and family drama. Within six months of deciding to switch to Chick Lit I had an offer from Harper Collins Australia for this story.
Timing was definitely a factor, Harper Collins were on the hunt for that type of story, but writing something I knew about intimately and had great insight into meant that it was a story I could write easily and tell really well. Once book 1 was off and running I turned my attention to book 2 and had so much fun taking my characters on another hilarious journey. My family was definitely living in fear at that point given that many of the characters in my first book (especially the sisters) resembled them. They started to throw in ‘this isn’t allowed to go in the next book’ every time they said anything to or around me.
Book 2 in the series: Confetti Confidential: Annabel’s Wedding was released on November 1st last year and pretty much picks up a year after where the characters from They Do, I Don’t left off. Of course there’s lots of hilarious moments and emotional turmoil just like the first and so far feedback and reviews for both have been amazing.
It’s certainly been a learning curve having two books released in 1 year and all of the whirlwind and crazy that comes along with that, but I think that’s really the only way to learn. I wish I could say I was now confident with how to market myself and reach an audience, but the reality is that with every book you put out you just have to wait and see.
Right now I’m almost finished writing my third book, again a Chick Lit set in Hawaii, but after that I’m going to branch out a little. Chick Lit will always be my favourite genre and I don’t think I’ll ever move too far from it, but I’ve teamed up with a fabulous kids author recently to write a really fun adventure story aimed at middle grade readers and I’ve also begun research and notes on what I’d call an ‘epic’ love story which is based on my grandparents and a box full of old war-time letters my Mum found when clearing out their house.
There’s definitely exciting times ahead, but one of the best things that I have found about this whole thing is the people I have met. Chick Lit is a genre that welcomes you with open arms. The community is supportive and helpful and reciprocal in lifting you when you reach out and lift others. Oh, and did I mention that they’re cool? Yep, we’re all pretty cool!
About Susan Murphy
Susan Murphy is an author, mum to three fabulous kids, wife, marriage and funeral celebrant, university student, teacher, and self-confessed chocolate addict. When not writing she can be found standing on the edge of a cliff, on a P&O cruise ship or even getting blown away on a beach somewhere while officiating wedding ceremonies. You might also find her at the SA Writers Centre where she is currently a member and previously the Writer in Residence.
Video trailer for Book 1
Harper Collins: http://www.harpercollins.com.au/search-results/?search-term=Susan+Murphy
I have been writing since 2003, and every year since I started, I have been in some form of online writing community. When used well by the members, they are invaluable. Here are my top pros and cons for writing communities…
Positive Reasons to Join an Online Writing Community
1 Grow and Manage Your Professional and Personal Writers Network (and make New Friends)
One of the strongest ways a newly published author can grow awareness of their book is through their professional and personal network. If they’ve done their preparations right, they will have started growing this whilst still in the first draft stage of their book’s production cycle. Once you know other authors and writers, there are several ways they can help you grow awareness of your book(s).
2 Open the Doors to Cross Promotion
One of the things knowing other authors and writers can result in is cross promotion across their readers/followers and yours. The guys at Sterling and Stone do this very well with their podcast, as they often invite others onto their show to share experience for writers. By doing this, you and your friend can grow awareness of your own projects to a larger group of people. Ways of cross promotion include guest posting (like I am here), being on podcasts, promoting each others’ books to email lists, sponsorship and sharing valuable content of others.
3 Discover Valuable Resources (with Less Work)
Ever had to scroll through several pages of Google for the most recent answer to a question? Me too. Often participants of a writing community will share links to online resources that can help other members of the group.
4 Get your Questions Answered
When people get stuck, they are more likely to ask someone they know than a stranger for help. This happens in online writing communities - members have the ability to ask others (that they can then check out to see if they know what they’re talking about) for answers to their questions or difficulties.
A Writer's Tale
Scarlett Van Dijk
Writer of young adult, fantasy series, the Sky Stone series, poetry and short stories.
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