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…


  • Bagaos in ‘The Persian Boy’ by Mary Renault is pretty much a Stu, too – even though I love that book and I love him as a character (at least he’s an unreliable Stu).

    I tend to categorise Gary-Stus as either bad writing (author hasn’t learned her craft ) or self-insert for a particular reason, usually revealed by events in the plot (revenge on bullies, gets the hot guy, etc). I think most authors self-insert to some degree, but the good ones conceal it! That’s why I don’t usually like reading author blogs unless I’m looking for specific information about a book – it makes me feel weird if I happen to see an author posting about, IDK, her mum dying of cancer and then in her next book there’s a mother dying of cancer but then due to the healing power of WTF the Mary-Sue/Gary-Stu heals her. I’m all for using fiction as a way of working out emotions, but when it obviously mirrors the real life of the author but with added ***sparkles***, it makes me uncomfortable.
    Er, seem to have got off the point a bit. Gary Stu doesn’t always =/= therapy fiction but sometimes it gets close. And sometimes it’s just duff writing!

  • Mr. Perfect should be paired up with Mr. Too-Stupid-To-Live.

    Mr. Too-Stupid-To-Live is a character who trips over his own feet while being chased by the bad guy, and get the vapors when posed with any situation even slightly complicated. Mr. Too-Stupid-To-Live has no opinion of his own, cannot open a jar because of his puny, if beautiful, biceps, and falls in love with every man who looks vaguely in his direction.

    Methinks the authors who write such characters do so because stereotypes are so easy to write, whereas flawed characters are not, not necessarily because anyone enjoys reading them.

  • Another attempt (I think my first one was eaten whole by gremlins).

    ““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 think Wimsey is directly related to the Scarlet Pimpernel and Zorro. Looks and pretends to be less than he is.”

    A fellow Dorothy Sayers fan *big smile*

    Personally I can just about put up with Lord Peter Wimsey being an expert bellringer – no doubt his mother roped him in to do his duty in the ducal chapel from an early age, but nothing but the “Zorro Syndrome” explains that sleek jump from the fountain in Murder Must Advertise, which is really a little OTT for me.

    “Sayers does most certainly fall in love with him as she goes along — which is how we get that gorgeous scene on the river in Gaudy Night (when Harriet, too finally falls for Peter).”

    My favourite book ever, for a number of reasons. There are another couple of gorgeous and (surprisingly?) passionate scenes in Busman’s Honeymoon.

    Harriet Vane/Dorothy Sayers/Mary Sue: they all seem to share a peculiar sense of fashion :(.

    Finally: I LOVE the Dowager Duchess, aka Lord Peter Wimsey’s mother. She also reminds me strongly of Adrien’s mother.

  • Now I know what a Stu is. Some of us work so hard to write realistic characters, engaging plots, etc., etc., yet stuff like this gets published?

    I don’t get it.

  • “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 think Wimsey is directly related to the Scarlet Pimpernel and Zorro. Looks and pretends to be less than he is. He does suffer horribly from his nerves, although he gets better through the series, and he does have a sometimes paralyzing guilt complex. And he verges on stalker with Harriet at a couple of points.

    Sayers does most certainly fall in love with him as she goes along — which is how we get that gorgeous scene on the river in Gaudy Night (when Harriet, too finally falls for Peter).

    But it’s possible that Wimsey’s flaws fall into that flaws-that-are-actually-virtues category. We see a lot of this in romance. The supposed flaws that a protag or love interest has are really maybe just too much of a good thing, so they’re not really flaws so much as the protag needs to relax and take a few days off. Example: he’s a workaholic. But we all prefer the workaholic to the lame ass do-nothing, right? Or, in Wimsey’s case, he’s got that over-developed guilt complex — which is surely better than the under-developed guilt complex of the villains he pursues. Very rarely is a flaw just…a flaw.

    If there is a flaw it tends to be grandscale. He’s promiscuous or an alcoholic or closeted or a hit man on the run. Very rarely is he just cheap or absentminded or bad tempered.

    Granted, it’s romance, so there’s a balance required.

    It’s nice seeing characters who are human. A little awkward, ugly sometimes, indecisive and occasionally insecure. It doesn’t have to be drama, it just has to be real. Humans are complex. It’s a good thing.

  • ‘People’s imperfections are what make me interested in them.’

    Chris Smith the Creepy (self-titled, lol) hit the nail on the head. Mr Imperfect is far more interesting. I suppose that works the other way when inserting oneself *meep* just so long as the ‘woe is me’ doesn’t strangle the reader…

  • Quote from a friend: “The Bridges of Madison County was the first book I read that starred an honest to God, genuine male Mary Sue”.

    Which is one reason I never read the book.

  • In my early C.A.M.P. series, which were spoofs of the spy genre, Jackie Holmes was a kind of super-hero, and one of the running jokes was that anything you could name, he could do better than anybody else; running, bullfighting, drag, whatever. The other side of the gag was, he never quite did anything right, he was always tripping over his own two feet, walking blindly into all kinds of trouble. So, it was funny rather than annoying (or at least I hope so.) Since then, of course, I’ve always presented flawed heroes, which are far more satisfying to both writer and reader. And sometimes I steer quite clear of the handsome he-man and hung image too. Terry in Lola Dances is little and effeminate, and Stanley in my Deadly Mysteries is a bit of a muchness, and Harvey in Angel Land is both homely and goofy.



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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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