For many of us, writing is a form of wish fulfillment. For me, this is especially true. If I can’t do something in real life, I write about doing it. If I can’t be something in real life, my characters tend to be manifestations of traits I do not possess or people I cannot be. This is dangerous because it leads me into the territory of the Mary Sues, who are the true villains in fiction.
A Mary Sue character is typically the author’s idealized version of herself. A Mary Sue character can do no wrong because she is perfect. She has no fatal flaws, and nothing truly bad ever happens to her. She is the death of a story.
Creating a Mary Sue is taking the easy way out. Instead of doing the work to create a character different from ourselves, we use ourselves as the model because we know ourselves. We draw only from our own well of experience and don’t bother to explore other options. In a way, a Mary Sue is “write what you know” gone wrong.
To counteract the Mary Sue problem, I put my characters in situations that are not ideal. I give them flaws that are worse than my own. I surround them with conflict. If their lives are too easy, I’m not doing my job as a writer. The essence of a story is conflict, and in the realm of a Mary Sue, with everything all hunky-dory, there’s no room for that.