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Are "Perfect Characters" a bad thing?

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?):

[video=youtube;b4qDChGjhpo]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b4qDChGjhpo[/video]

I've fretted about getting complaints of how she's a Mary Sue but that video there inspired me to not give in to the backlash.

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.
 
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Beth Pavell

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Well, first of all, I think it depends what you mean by "perfect". The video discusses morally perfect characters in the main, and in that sense they are most certainly not a bad thing. Take Samwise Gamgee for example - he's right on the straight and narrow, all the time no matter what happens (Both true in the book and film trilogy). That's what makes him a hero! More to the point, the situation he's in may be fantastical, but he is not. In real life there are ordinary people who have great moral strength despite being given any number of selfish or "rational" reasons not to be. The essential rider to this, of course, is that a character has to face meaningful challenges to his/her moral code to make the quality heroic in the first place.

In terms of perfectly skilled characters, in the main they will be annoying. The best usage of one that I can think of is Lord Hong from Interesting Times. As the villain of the story, the only mistake he ever makes is the fatal one - literally everything else he does, he does perfectly. In this case though, he rarely appears, and is as much a symbol of his culture as anything else. His eventual failure, therefore, is a metaphor for his homeland - sophisticated, a master of many arts, but ultimately doomed to stagnation and then to be rolled over by history
 

Kelleo

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If the character is perfect in every single way possible, then yes, that's a Mary-Sue/Gary Stu. But if the character is simply good at a lot of things and a fast learner and has decent size group of friends, that's okay. It's still realistic. There are real life people who are good at a bunch of things and have several friends, I'm sure.
 

kintsugi

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Quick note, I've never watched MLP (largely because I hardly watch any television at all and less so about the whole MLP-hate-love that seems to be polarizing the internet) and I have (somewhat hypocritically) brushed it off as a kid's show that doesn't really pique my interest because it's about talking ponies and magic and friendship and not my cup of tea and blah blah blah. However, after seeing that analysis of Twilight Sparkle's character growth, I'm almost tempted to start watching but then I'll never update my fic again except to make unicorns and rainbows everywhere

Back on point, however, I whole-heartedly agree with the points from the above video. I will occasionally use the term Mary Sue when reviewing fanfiction (although I've never found a good place to apply it to so-called actual fiction, short of maaaaaybe Paul from Dune), and I'm not particularly adverse to the term in general, but people have taken this distaste against perfect characters and turned it into a crusade against good guys in general. There's been a growing trend in attraction to ambiguously good guys rather than the traditional hero archetype, and I think that part of this rise has attributed to the hate against and overuse of the name perfect characters.

I go to a great school surrounded by great people who are unquestionably far more talented or skilled than me in some way or another. Several of these people are far more talented than I in many ways, and sometimes it feels like some of them are just good at everything. Really talented people exist, but I know from experience that these "perfect" people face just as many problems, if not more, than I do.

I think the key point is that your character, perfect or not, needs to grow. He doesn't need to be the paradigm of human achievement like Twilight Sparkle is, but if he starts off his journey (gonna put this in Pokemon terms for simplicity) with his perfect friends and his perfect eevee/ralts/riolu/charmander and his perfect battling skill and his perfect personality, yeah, that's boring. It's also belittling to the countless number of people who actually worked to get where they are--all of those perfect people I know worked to get where they are, and they work still to maintain it.

I guess my main source of distaste against "perfect characters" comes when authors give their characters all of the bells and whistles right off the bat--the character becomes a manifestation of the person the author wishes to be, rather than a manifestation of how an actual human should be. Becoming a perfect, or even just a good, person takes blood and sweat and tears to get there in the real world, and it should be the same in fiction.
 

AetherX

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To be honest, I get really frustrated when imperfect characters go through a ton of obstacles and deal with three books worth of issues and don't end up a "perfect" or near perfect character.
 

AetherX

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^Yes, but if they were to develop Ash too much (as much as he should be) then they would have to alter the show's format. Whether or not that's a good idea is a totally separate discussion.

Perfect characters can get boring, but only if the story continues focusing on them well after they turn perfect. Alternately, something could come along that un-perfect-izes a character, which can either be refreshing or really stupid and contrived depending on the execution.
 

CrystaI

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You can say that to Tendou Souji of Kamen Rider Kabuto as well.

He is the "perfect guy" in many people's eyes in the plot, and yet "Mary Sue/Gary Stu" in fictional context. Calm and collected, never panic even in the most desperate situation; loved by many females, even his own sister; admired by his subordinates (if Kagami is considered to be his subordinate...); a sister-loving big brother, a super fighter not only skilled in combat, but also many other skills, and a super-great chef. The plot of the show made it as like centered around this guy, and for many desperate situations it just resolved by some sort of "miracles" in general knowledge sense. The only kind of "flaw" he has is that he is a super self-centered jerk.

......But when you watch the whole show from start to end, you'll feel like don't mind about this guy. That is because although he is the protagonist, 80% of the plot is not about him. And also there exist other sub-characters that are also self-centered as he is.

I don't how other people will rate this action drama as a whole, but in my personal rating, it is rather interesting in some sense, though I don't know how to describe it.
 

matt0044

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To be honest, I get really frustrated when imperfect characters go through a ton of obstacles and deal with three books worth of issues and don't end up a "perfect" or near perfect character.

Yeah, it seems like a desperate attempt to avoid any Sue accusations.
 

LightningTopaz

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Can we argue that Han Solo (of Star Wars fame) is a perfect character (as far as skills go) that actually works?
 

Hex Maniac

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The problem isn't whether they're morally perfect or not. There's many characters in fiction who are morally good and always try to do the right thing. They can still be interesting, especially when their need to abide by their moral compass causes problems in the outside world. I don't like Ned Stark (from Game of Thrones) as a character, for example, but his role in the story is interesting because of the way his code of conduct leads to new situations.

A Mary Sue or Gary Stu is usually a character who is usually good at everything. Think someone who is pretty, nice, has all kinds of amazing powers, gets all sorts of good-looking boyfriends and girlfriends... you get the point.
 

Glitchipedia

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There's one more aspect of a Mary Sue that everyone seems to forget about, and it's the fact that the plot bends around them. They are the focal point of their universe. A character can be morally, mentally and physically perfect in every capacity, but if they aren't the center of their world, they're still not a Sue.

This isn't to say that "not technically a Sue" automatically means "good or well-developed character". There still needs to be a legitimate reason for why they're so perfect. If they start out that way "just because", then they're badly-written whether they're a Sue or not.

....well, unless they're some kind of deity or something. That's a whole other discussion, though.
 

Drakon

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Perfect characters are kind of boring to me. That's not to say they can be done well, but generally they come off as wish fulfillment vehicles.
 

Flaze

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I wouldn't say perfect characters are wish fulfillment depending on which type of perfect character you're talking about. I very much agree with @Elysia's point in that a perfect character can be good depending on how it's done. Making a character perfect from the start is something that can cause people to think of them as mary sues and it is true in a sense, but as @Kelleo; pointed out, a character that it's good at a lot of stuff and has a lot of friends and good things happen to him isn't bad either.

Again I think it's just the way each writer portrays their character. I agree that the true definition of a perfect character is one that has been perfected, think of it as turning a piece of hard cold coal into a diamond. It's an ardous task, it can be annoying, you might want to give up but when that diamond shimmers it's all worth it. The same applies to writing, once a character who used to fail at everything works his ass off and is able to achieve "perfection" at the end it still leaves you with a smile on your face.

The subject @AetherX; brought up about dis-perfecting a character is one that I actually found funny since I ended up doing that for my story. But I think that this is mostly cause perfecting a character is never done, as people we're never going to be perfect and no matter how good things are there will always be something to improve on.

But basically I don't think that there's a thing such as a perfect character, rather I think of it more as it being an improved character, the character grows up and keeps growing and falling and growing again....and I'm rambling now it seems.
 

GastlyGibus

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In my opinion? Yes, perfect characters are a bad thing, simply because "perfection" is completely impossible to attain in real life. Perfect characters to me are completely unrealistic and are boring to read because they have no flaws or issues to deal with, and you know exactly what's going to happen because, well, they're perfect.

However there's a difference between "perfect" characters and "morally good" characters. Characters can be morally good and still have imperfections. The video, for example, lists Luke Skywalker as a morally good character, which he is. However, Luke isn't perfect. In the beginning of the movie, he's shown as a whiny, self-entitled, typical teenager who just wants to go off and do his own thing. Throughout the trilogy, he grows more mature and learns from his mistakes, but even at the end he's not perfect. When he confronts Vader in the Emperor's throne room, Vader successfully provokes him to anger and causes Luke to go into a frenzy, nearly turning him to the dark side. Even though he's matured a lot, the fact that he was still able to give in to provocation and taunting shows he's not a perfect character.

He also lists Gandalf as a "perfect" character, but again, that's not true. Gandalf loses his temper too. "Fool of a Took! Throw yourself in next time, and rid us of your stupidity!"

The main reason I dislike perfect characters is basically that such characters do not exist in real life. Even Mr. Rogers, being a genuinely good person in every sense of the word, has done something wrong in his life. Everybody has. There isn't a single person on earth that hasn't done something wrong or that they were ashamed of. When a character is completely devoid of any flaws, he/she is incredibly boring to read and lacks any sort of creativity in my opinion. Why read anything about them when you know they're always going to do the right thing and succeed?

Like I said though, there's a difference between morally good characters and perfect characters. Perfect characters are a rarity in most forms of literature or media, simply because they aren't exciting. Think of the strangely popular 50 Shades of Grey (a book that'll I'll never understand how it became so popular) and the character Christian Grey. One of the main reasons critics panned this book (you know, besides having terrible writing and being extremely repetitive) is because the characters were "unrealistic." Christian Grey is, by definition, a perfect character. He's a Billionaire, speaks fluent French, is a concert-level pianist, a jet pilot, fully athletic, remarkably handsome, and is the best lover on earth with a huge, er... package. Oh, and all of this at the age of 26. The end result is a character that is flat, boring, unbelievable, and just not fun to read about.

In short, perfect characters are unrealistic, and by extension, not fun or exciting.
 

Midorikawa

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Yeah never reading 50 Shades of Grey now.

Anyways, for perfect characters it depends on what you mean. The video made Vash as one, however if you've ever read Trigun then he was not perfect and made mistakes or one...my memory is fuzzy. Morally good characters are okay. I for example in my stories and story ideas have characters who know whats right and wrong, however they are far from perfect, having flaws to deal with such as fears, mental issues, physical issues, etc. Thus they are not perfect. Perfect is a character who does not have room to develop in any aspect at all.

Of course perfect characters are not bad, as long as they are that after a lot of development or if they aren't main characters. When the main character is perfect from the beginning, it makes things boring. Take Yusei from Yu-gi-oh 5Ds for example. I never watched more than nine episodes of that one, but I have heard from quite a few that Yusei was too perfect, and thus it made 5Ds more boring as opposed to the other Yu-gi-oh series. Again taking from Yu-gi-oh is Yami who could also be called perfect, however he was there and made like that for the purpose of helping Yugi grow and become strong.

And on the fact of what Kelleo said about good at things and having friends: Again its really only okay if they can still develop. When I'm reading book series I like characters who I can watch change and grow, like my favorite Black Dagger Brotherhood, the characters are constantly developing, some even after their own books, and they remain far from perfect afterwards too. One of the characters fits Kelleo's popular and good at things, yet the character wasn't perfect because he still had room to develop.

So in conclusion to my long post-perfect characters are not good to have as main characters, but as side characters. And one aspect such as morally good does not make them perfect.
 

Lord Kyuubi

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In my humble opinion, I'd say flaws and quirks are what makes a character interesting. A character needs clear flaws, otherwise, as others have said, they're boring.

That's not to say they can't be strong, of course. The balance is important. In some cases, a character could not show any weaknesses directly until a fair distance into the story, in which case, they're not perfect, but they're just good at covering their flaws. Although if they're a POV character, it is important to show some flaws sooner.

The main problem with perfect characters is that no-one is like that in real life, and therefore, no-one can empathise with them. If they're truly perfect, they won't even seem human at all, which causes definite problems for the story.
 

Warrior of Fire

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Again taking from Yu-gi-oh is Yami who could also be called perfect, however he was there and made like that for the purpose of helping Yugi grow and become strong.

Yami wasn't even close to being a perfect character until the final few episodes of the series. He grew about as much as Yugi did, made plenty of mistakes, and had plenty of character flaws. The earliest example I can think of for a flaw was the duel against Kaiba atop Pegasus's castle during Duelist Kingdom, where he would have caused Kaiba to fall off the castle just to win a duel, and it took Tea AND Yugi to stop him. And of course, there's the duels during the Orichalcos saga against Rafael (the first one, where Yami actually activated the Seal himself) and Weevil (just viciously having his monster attack Weevil even after the duel was done, only stopping thanks to, once again, Tea). Yami got as much growth as Yugi did, since the four main characters of the first series were Yugi, Yami, Joey, and Kaiba (Bakura, too, but that's a different story, since until the Millennium World arc, he was still just a side character in each arc he appeared in to slowly build up to the final showdown).
 

Lugion

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There's also the fact that, in the manga, the Pharaoh was a violent asshole who delighted in killing/torturing/maiming people he judged to be dicks.

To start out with, that is.
 
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