If he looks too good to be true, he probably is.
I was reading a book – that shall not be named, but it’s no-one who is likely to be reading this, so don’t get paranoid- recently, and the hero was just appalling.
Actually the whole book was appalling, but that’s another story, but the hero would have been enough to severely mark the book down for me, without any of the other problems.
The thing is that he was Peter Perfect.
We are all used to our heroes being beautiful, most m/m books pander to this ideal. We–in general, although I personally like a few imperfections in looks–prefer our guys to be tall, built and hung. This guy was beautiful. In fact he was so damned beautiful everyone who met him fell instantly in love with him. Older men, young men, women young and old, sheep. (Ok, maybe not sheep) And I can just about stand that, although it grates me because where’s the conflict?, but I can gloss over it.
But the author of this particular book wasn’t just satisfied with a handsome hero, he had to make his hero IMPOSSIBLY perfect that after only a few short chapters I had out the metaphorical shovel and I was longing to smash him over his perfect cranium with it.
Here’s some of the things Mr Perfect could do. Bear in mind, please that he was an under-gardener in his early 20s, in 1918. If he was educated at all (not automatically) it would only have been until he was around 14, before going to work at the Great House.
–he can play chess
–he can read, so well in fact that he knows the classics and reads poetry
–he knows geometry
–he can fix cars brilliantly
I could go on, but because he’s Peter Perfect the list is pretty exhaustive. Let me just say that there’s nothing this guy can’t do.
This makes not only for a protagonist that’s in danger of a good hard shovelling, but for a very dull book. Make your hero too marvellous and you’ll get readers turning off in droves because they are too busy vomiting from the over-saccharine.
This complex is well-known in fandom, as Mary-Sue syndrome, and I have found it many, many many LOTS times in m/f romance. I used to call it (before I’d heard of Mary Sue) “Woman of Substance-itis” because that particular book was a classic example of ignorant peasant can do anything including make clothes, run a great house, understand time and motion, run any business you can name, own HARRODS! for the WIN!
But because women are the target audience, they loved this kind of thing, mostly. Empowering, I suppose. For me, not so much. Shovel please.
So I hadn’t seen so much of it in m/m fiction. In fact I can’t actually think of any m/m book (remember my reading is pretty limited in the genre to historicals) I’d read where the hero was perfect. In fact, writers are generally so busy throwing caltrops in the heroes’ path, and making him tortured (sometimes overly so) that I’ve never seen a Peter Perfect before.
So what causes it?
Well, part of it is self-insertion. The author projects a perfect image of himself, the person they’d like to be, onto the page. He’s them, but he’s fitter, slimmer, handsomer, cleverer, wittier, has pulling power, can shag for England.
The only other character I’ve seen with the syndrome was in a m/m/f book was a woman, Phyllida in “Phyllida and the Brotherhood of Philander.” There’s nothing she can’t do, and no-one, no matter HOW homosexual, she can’t convert to bisexuality. But the writer, at least, was honest about it, Phyllida she said, was a confessed self insert.
Part of it is loving the character too much.
Even if the character isn’t a self insert, the writer can get so attached to the character and want nothing but the best for him, that they simply can’t give him any flaws. They can’t bear anything but good things to happen to him. Everyone must love him, because the author does.
My characters worry about this kind of thing. “Hang on. I’m rich, I’m gorgeous. Oh shit. I’m so in trouble.”
Famous Stus : The two marked by ** were contributions by Gehayi.
Edward from Twilight. Impossibly handsome, noble (“Lips that touch Ichor shall never touch mine…”) Lives as part of the blood-sucking Brady Bunch. Irritatingly sparkly.
Harry Potter. Yes, I know bad things happen to him, but there’s nothing he can’t do, including coming back from the dead, which has been told all through the series that its impossible, Messianic powers being a typical Stu ability.
Eragon from Christopher Paolini’s series of the same name–blatant self-insert, is constantly praised by the immediate universe (even when he’s doing serious damage to others, this is considered good). He also gets marvelous toys, has wisdom bestowed on him for just being him, is the Chosen One of Destiny–you get the idea.**
So waddya think? Have you encountered the Stu? Have you WRITTEN one? Go on, we are all friends here…