These people in our heads to whom we become, as it were, God to: ai, mine must hate me. I can imagine Virginia Shaw, with a fist raised to heaven screaming ‘damn you, Author, I will not die!' And reaching for a chainsaw and coming looking for me.
The ‘Mary Sue' (or Marty Stu, if this bothers you) concept -- wish fulfilment characters with too many of the attributes we wish were ours to be realistic characters -- a thing typical of fanfic particularly (but certainly not exclusively) by adolescents. It's never too late for that happy childhood, and many of us linger on in the terrible twos until the Zimmer frame lurches and deposits our white-haired form in front of the oncoming furniture truck. At this point the Superman / Robin / Wonderwoman written version of ourselves does not whisk us out of the way, and we become one with the tarmac.
It's a comment that pops up sooner or later to every writer. A character 'is a Mary Sue'. A character is an author's pet. There are tests for it. There reams of literary thought written about it. There are accusations of sexism. It's a put-down for women, you know. Women are afraid of writing female characters in case they are accused of writing Mary Sues...
Sigh. It is a real thing, and not just a female one either. At its extreme it is easily pin-pointed. The version of Superman who has the same nickname as the author, who is without flaw and to whom kryptonite is a kind of cheese-spread. To quote Sarah - "to the Mary Sue it all comes easy. People love her/emote with her/cheer her victories, cast down her enemies, etc -- even those who have no reason to."
The Mary Sue version of Superman never gets arrested for getting up to something kinky in the phone-booth (remember phone-booths?). I spent years wondering if Superman had been in less of a hurry not to get arrested if he'd have managed to put his underpants inside his trousers. Or with the mental image of a battered half-dressed Superman fleeing a sweet little white haired lady who is belaboring his head with a parasol... she happened to be occupying said booth when he rushed in to change. Anyway, to wrench myself away from this delightful image: The extremes are obvious. But writing has few absolutes. And the reality is that the gradual shade away from this extreme takes us to something almost every writer has to do. And no, it is not necessarily unpopular. Or bad.
It is necessary that the writer identify and care about a character. If you can't do it, how do you expect your reader to? And duh, logically, if they're your hero/ine, they're going to be front-and-centre to the story a lot. There is no doubt that all my heroines are a wish fulfilment of mine. No, not to be them, or even to admire their chest measurements... but in attitudes. In some way all of them are Barbs, in that they do not give up, and they tend toward the pragmatic, they do not set boundaries on what they can achieve, they are, I suppose, all people who care and give of themselves, usually without counting the cost. I like to imagine, anyway, that I give them different exteriors, different flaws, and different chainsaws. But yes, they are wish-fulfilment of mine. And yes I might be pushing the limit of characteristics in one person, but I believe for every whiny-assed ‘hensopper' in her Manolo Blahniks out there, there is another one of ‘my' people, possibly with the exterior disguise of a plump, harassed mum with two live-bait children and a mortgage in negative equity -- who will take on hell with a fire-bucket, and that I will be just a teeny bit in love with the courage and attitude of.
It's almost inevitable, when you write sf or fantasy, or for that matter murder-mystery or anything but slice-of-life literary novels that there will be a concatenation of the plot and something ‘special' about the heroes. Even if it is only that they're pig-headed battlers and overcoming the odds will require determination and repeat efforts. Or that they're practical jokers with a dislike for authority's dictates, and authority therefore would like them removed. Or that they're little ‘uns and used to having to think their way out of difficulty, because brawn won't do it, and now they face more brawn than the brawniest could ever deal with. Or -- as is more usual -- all of the above and then some. And yes, some will be the finest swordsman outside France too, or the best shot since Annie Oakley, or be able to kill a man in unarmed combat at fifty paces with their bare armpits.
So let's explore just how you avoid the extremes, and look at the success.
For a start the key has to be ‘it's not my Mary Sue -- it's a lot of the readers' wish fulfilment.' I'd like to be a lot more like many of my heroes (no I don't want to do that stuff. Well, not all of it. But I'd like my attitude to be like theirs). And I'd be in love with many of my heroines... but hopefully, if I have it right, so would a lot of people (Ok so this depends on gender and orientation. I really don't care, as the writer -- so long as they appeal to you.)
Secondly, my mum was a teacher at my junior school. It's very hard not be called teacher's pet, when you are small and, I admit, cute (I grew out of it, right) and fairly bright. It took a team effort. For a start my mother was twice as nasty to me as she was in the same circumstances to any other kid. A lot of the other kids were sorry for me -- as they didn't realise this was ‘school-face'. And for a second I was something of a mischievous brat who looked for trouble, rather like my best buddy the Anglican priest's son (as nice a natured lad as you could ever find, who was always in trouble) who also had a similar point to make. Your character will have to do the same thing. You, the author, will have to be bloody horrible to them. And they will have to do stupid things.
Thirdly: flaws. The one thing the extreme of Mary Sue which people battle to like does not have, it's character flaws (circumstances against them: yes. Flaws. No.). Often these are self-inflicted flaws. Doubt - self doubt is a flaw in our hero, but it's also something most of us can identify with. Just be aware that too much of this a VERY BORING THING - unless you are a self-centred late-teenager. Others are hard to write well: Jealousy being one - that if you can do it, can work really well. We've all been there. It's pretty noxious. Immaturity of course is the commonest - but you can flavor and shade that. Often it's dealing with that flaw - or character perceived flaw, that really is the story.
Ok so take it from there: Have you ever been accused of this? Have you taken steps to counter it? Can you?