Too Good to be Stu

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.

PETER PERFECT 2We 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.**

Richard Rahl from Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series. He’s basically a mouthpiece for his creator’s Objectivist philosophy. Oh – and Magic Sword. TING!!!**

So waddya think?  Have you encountered the Stu?  Have you WRITTEN one?  Go on, we are all friends here…


  • I agree that most Stus appear in children’s fiction. Julian from the Famous Five books by Enid Blyton is a classic case, even when he was patiently explaining to Anne that she couldn’t do the exciting stuff because she’s a girl, he was still perfect.

  • You know exactly how I feel about this hon. Stus = book thrown at wall/put down as would rather clean house.

    People’s imperfections are what make me interested in them. Not their good points.

    AS FOR THE PERFECT BODIES…. well – you’ve known just how much I’ve hated that since ye olde fandome days.

  • My fantasies require physical appeal and some degree of smarts and sensitivity — I figure I’ve put up with enough losers to have earned that preference — but I don’t like perfection. Perfection is dull.

  • Well, there’s always Captain Carrot, but we get to see how completely irritating he can be from Angua’s POV, so he isn’t actually cloying.

    I try to write basically decent people, but I hope I haven’t created any perfect little monsters.

    • Oh, but the whole Carrot/Angua thing is a play on ‘Due South’. And he’s not exactly perfect, if you look beneath the surface. I think it was Pratchett writing fan-fic/parody in disguise- the perfect one true pairing- a boy and his dog… sort of (:

      Gary Stues/Mary Sues give me hairballs. Unless it’s children’s lit. But kids aren’t supposed to be as messed up as adults are (:

  • Mmm, what about Lord Peter Wimsey? He starts off as upper-class twit of the year, weak chin, foolish face and all, and by Murder Must Advertise he’s a total sex-god and master spy!
    Not that I was complaining when I read it, of course! *g*

  • I wrote a Stu in one of my first ever fanfics, for the show Highlander. Good god, he was terrifyingly awful! 😀 Fabulously good looking, great swordman, on-again, off-again boyfriend of Methos. He lost his head at the end of the story. I suspect any reader who’d made it that far would have cheered at that point. 😀 But I think he’s the only full-on one I’ve done, thank god! And so far I’ve avoided his sister, Mary Sue, I hope! I don’t say I haven’t sailed close to the wind a few times.
    What bugs me with those characters is how everything is too easy for them. There’s no question that they’ll overcome the obstacles in their path, because they’re just that great. And they never make mistakes. They have exceptions to the rules made for them, because hey, they’re just that great! I prefer the character who I call a “teabag”. You don’t know how strong they are till you get them in hot water. They don’t start out kick-ass. If they subsequently learn that hell, yes, if they really try hard enough, they can climb Mt Doom/destroy a Terminator/defeat the alien, whatever, we’re cheering them on because we wonder if maybe we have that kind of undiscovered inner strength in us too.
    Anyway, I’m wittering. Let me add a trivial one, naturally well built Stu. He’s got a great bod, six pack, great arms, great definition, but we never see him go to the gym or have some weights at home or something. Do people think there’s a muscle-fairy that flies around at night bulking up the good boys while they sleep?

    • Do people think there’s a muscle-fairy that flies around at night bulking up the good boys while they sleep?

      Oh yes – didn’t you know! Sixpacks make perfect sense – no matter the era! Especially if they are tutors/landowners/scholars/librarians and all those other well known highly active professions.

  • I’m guessing that there’s some connection between the Perfect Hero tendency and the tendency ingrained in many girls from early on not to create conflict. Many of us (perhaps over a certain age–I’d like to think girls are raised to be more empowered these days) have to force ourselves to create conflict in our storytelling.

    And, given the way beauty is commoditized in our culture, even a physical “blemish” of some sort feels like a conflict, a difficulty to overcome.

    I couldn’t agree more that a flawed and human hero, who not only sees less than perfection in the mirror, but actually has something to LEARN in life (preferably from the events and other characters in the story) is a good thing. But I can sure see where the tendency comes from to fantasize a hero who has no problems at all.

  • Lancelot du Lac is the first recorded Stu, inserted by Norman conquerers into the Saxon legends of Arthur so they could have a hero too. Good, virtuous, pious, so faithful he can raise the dead. Until Guenivere gets him.

    I have a few that have Stu elements, but they tend to be badly damaged Stus and no, no one picks them up and seX0rs them all better.

  • Well, I’ve certainly never met one in real life. LOL I noticed that the ones you pointed out are all YA or children’s books and the mass appeal seems to be to 12-14 year olds (except my daughter who would gladly pull a Buffy and stake Edward). I know, I know, many grown women would take Edward to their bed but it seems the target audience for these particular men is tween/teens. I know when I was 13 I wanted Prince Charming, it seems to be a common phase girls go through (not all obviously but more than enough based on the merchandising).

    Now that I’m older, I don’t want perfect because I’m not perfect. How stressful to be involved in a relationship with a perfect individual. Everytime I have a pissy day, work annoys me and I come home snapping and toss a frozen dinner on the table Mr. Perfect would be kind to me, never take offense, cook me a gourmet meal and massage my hands (not my feet, I have feet issues). The guilt would kill me. Now I’m not saying I go for the totally flawed hero, I don’t want a psych case or someone with anger issues, but someone who responds normally to life and stresses and that exhibits the some of the same flaws and foibles that I have would make me feel more normal and equal.

    So I can’t think off hand of any characters I’ve read where I wanted to wretch up rainbows and cotton candy (I stole that from someone here) but I’ve recently noticed that I really find the appeal of heros who seem rather clumsy or unlucky (superficially). They’re real, they’re approachable, perfect people are not approachable because I’m not myself. I can admit that at my advancing age. 🙂


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Erastes is an author of gay historical fiction. Her novels cover many time periods and locations. She lives in Norfolk UK with demanding cats and never seems to have enough time to serve them.
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