Tips For Writing Fanfiction With An OC Protagonist
There's absolutely nothing wrong with writing a fanfiction starring an OC, but there are some common ways that fics starring OCs go wrong. So here's some advice and guidelines to help you avoid these issues.
Table of Contents
- Try to tell a new story.
- Avoid rehashing or retreading canon passages or scenes.
- Avoid eclipsing or derailing the lives of the canon characters.
- Don't make a point of one-upping the canon characters.
- Don't contrive drama by demonizing the canon characters
- And some other odds and ends...
- So in summary:
Try to tell a new story.
If your fanfic boils down to retelling a canon story or storyline with a few minor alterations, you risk boring potential readers because there's little to nothing new to pique their curiosity and hold their interest. Some fairly common ways people go about rehashing a canon story over include:
Retelling the canon story with the addition of an OC. OCs in such stories are inevitably character cruft - the fact that the canon characters did just fine in resolving the plot of the original story on their own means that your OC is most likely going to end up performing redundant functions and/or will end up being fairly irrelevant to the plot. If you try to justify your character's presence by creating a subplot that only your character can resolve, then you're creating plot cruft - bogging down the story with an extra subplot it never needed. (Why not take that subplot and figure out how to work it into a standalone story instead?)
Canon plot recycling. The "same problem, different day" plot - whatever the bad guy/bad guys got up to in the canon material, they're up to again. Perhaps Voldemort was resurrected twenty years later and there's a new chosen one who must stop him; or perhaps fifty years later the Capitol gets pulled back together, puts everyone back into districts, and reinstates the Hunger Games which last up until a spunky young poacher messes everything up; or maybe Pitch Black has escaped and is trying to make the children of the world stop believing again.
Replacing lead characters with OCs. If your OC is sufficiently unique, xe'll be able to carry an original plot without a problem. If your OC can't exist in any plot but the canon plot, then not only do you risk boring people by trying to drag them through a story they've seen before, but your character probably isn't unique enough to generate much interest in the character xirself - a double failure.
Avoid rehashing or retreading canon passages or scenes.
It happens rather often that writers put their characters through something we've seen detailed in canon already. A prime example of this are the many Harry Potter fanfictions that detail an OC's visit to Ollivander's wand shop, where we get to see the OC try out wands and find just the right one. Now, Harry's own visit to Ollivander's wand shop was important to show for two reasons:
- It introduced readers how witches and wizards typically get their wands.
- It established that both Harry's wand and the main villain's wand contained tail feathers from the same phoenix, a fact which would become very important to the plot later.
But with most OCs' trips to Ollivander's, we usually just see a relatively uneventful shopping excursion where nothing new or particularly interesting is established about the character, setting, or plot. As a result, the whole thing is superfluous and unnecessary.
Now, a visit to Ollivander's could be made relevant if Ollivander's was essentially used as a setting for something important to the plot to happen. For example, the wand-choosing itself would be given little detail and instead, the greater focus would be placed on the character's interactions with or observations of a new character who will become relevant to the plot, or what the character hears listening in on someone else's conversation. But in any other case, since we already know from the first book how wand-buying works, we don't need another detailed account of a first year's adventures in finding a wand.
Avoid eclipsing or derailing the lives of the canon characters.
With very few exceptions (and falling in love is not one of them), canon characters should not have to rearrange their entire lives around your character, nor should they have to ignore pre-existing responsibilities, passions, hobbies, dreams, and ambitions to accommodate your character and what xe wants. This is not to say that canon characters can never be helpful or accommodating toward your OC, of course (particularly when it's very in-character for them to do so), but rather that your OC should not dominate their lives and ambitions, nor should they have to make huge concessions or sacrifices for your character.
For example, Tony Stark offering a poor, but clearly gifted young woman a college scholarship and a future job at Stark Industries if she did well would be all right. However, Tony Stark having her move in with him and personally mentoring her would be going overboard.
If you're unsure on how far is too far for your fic, simply ask yourself what the canon characters could do to help your character without making any long-term personal commitments or lifestyle changes, and you should be fairly all right.
(For more advice on handling the canon characters, see Tips To Create & Write Better Non-Protagonist Characters (NPCs) and Tips For Writing & Roleplaying Canon Characters Better.)
Don't make a point of one-upping the canon characters.
It's one thing to simply have a canon character who is talented, attractive, or whatnot. And in and of itself, it's not necessarily bad to have an OC who competes with or even beats a canon character at something. (When being extremely powerful or talented really gets to be a problem is when the OC is so powerful/talented that the other characters are essentially reduced to sidekicks/backup or even become superfluous, or when the OC can do things that other characters worked hard for with minimal effort.)
While simply being able to hold one's own or compete against a canon character isn't a problem, it's another thing to make a point of pitting or comparing your character against a canon character simply to show off how much more talented, badass, pretty, handsome, talented, or whatever your OC is supposed to be. As a result, it makes you and/or your character look like the kind of person who has to be better than everyone - and that's not an attractive or appealing character trait. (And when it comes to fictional characters, talent and attractiveness is not a contest, nor does being more talented or attractive make for a "better" character.)
Similarly, avoid putting canon characters down to make your character look better - EG, "I'm Dean Winchester's daughter, but unlike him I'm actually responsible" or "Unlike my cousin Usagi, I'm not a total airhead." If you do this very much, you risk making your character look spiteful and/or mean-spirited.
(For more on writing characters who are talented and/or attractive, check out So You Want To Have A Powerful Or Talented Character Who Probably Won't Be Perceived As A Mary Sue?, Tips & Ideas To Make Better & More Interesting Powers, and So You Want To Have An Attractive Character?.)
Likewise, don't try to compete with or outdo the canon characters on past tragedies and hardships. The main purpose of tragedy and hardship in your character's backstory should be to explain what kind of a person your character is now, not to make your character seem more deserving of sympathy and coddling than anyone else, or to make your character seem the most badass or resilient for having gone through it. If it simply ends up being worse than another character's backstory, that's one thing - but don't create a tragic backstory for the purpose of being TEH MOAST TRAGIC. (Also, if you make a point of trying to outdo everyone else's tragedies and hardships, you're probably going to end up with a story that's too over the top to be believed.)
(For more information on handling characters with rough backstories, see Basic Tips To Create Better Characters With Tragic & Traumatic Backstories and Basic Tips To Write Better Abuse Victims & Abuse Situations.)
Don't contrive drama by demonizing the canon characters.
Try not to make the canon characters excessively antagonistic or mean toward your OC. First, derailing a canon character or exaggerating that character's bad traits to make an antagonist for your character hurts the credibility of your story, as people will have a harder time believing that the character could really act that way. Secondly, it's likely to put fans of those characters off from reading your story.
If you're considering making a canon character antagonistic toward your character (even if this character is a villain in canon!), stop and look at that character's canon behavior and ask yourself if it really supports the character acting this way. Also pay attention to how the canon character treats different types of people, and ask yourself which of these people your character has the most in common with, and thus which type of treatment your character is really the most likely to get. On top of that, factor in (if applicable) that healthy adults don't automatically view other people of the same gender as competition, and that adults (particularly those who are twenty-five and older) don't usually get up to Mean Girls type shenanigans or engage in sophomoric pranks or hazings.
If your plot requires your character to have an antagonistic figure that the canon characters are actually poor fits for, you'd probably be better off creating another OC to fill the role instead.
(For creating and handling characters who are antagonistic to your character, check out Mindsets & Rationales That Lend Well To Villainy.)
And some other odds and ends...
Check out Exercises To Improve Your Character Writing & Roleplaying Skills, and do them. These will help you write characters who react to things and interact with each other more realistically and naturally.
If your story is going to involve romance (or even just close platonic relationships), check out the articles in Relationships, Romance, & Shipping.
Unless you're writing an AU, keeping the canon parts of the universe consistent with what was depicted in the source material is fairly important to writing a good fanfiction. Check out Telling Story Canon From Personal Bias, Erroneous Memories, & Fanwank to help you sort out what's canon from what might not be.
Many fanfictions suffer from unnecessary passages and natter that bog down the story and put it at risk for boring off potential readers. Check out Stuff You Should Cut From Your Story for a list of things to prune from your fic.
How you describe your OC can be just as important, if not moreso, than the actual traits xe has in terms of making the audience like or dislike your character. See Describing Your Character: Tips & Advice for more.
No matter how good your OC and plot is, people are going to be put off by poor spelling, punctuation, and paragraphing. It's not a matter of snobbery - it's the fact that these things make a story harder to read. Check out A Proper Punctuation Primer, How To Use Paragraphs Properly, and Commonly Misspelled Words & Mangled Phrases if you need help in this department.
If you're writing OOC AU with your OC as the star, you're not writing fanfiction anymore. You're writing a story where most of the cast just happens to have a few superficial details in common with someone else's characters. You might as well change their names and and call it an original fic.
So in summary:
- Try to give people a new story and new experiences, rather than retreading things they've seen before. New material is more likely to keep your audience engaged and interested.
- Make your OC a part of the world, rather than the center of it. Avoid making any canon characters put their lives on hold, reorganize their lives, or give up things they value for your character.
- Having a character who happens to be as or even more attractive, talented, or tragic than a canon character in some regard isn't necessarily a problem - but making a character more attractive/talented/tragic for the sake of of one-upping a canon character is. Also, don't try to make your OC look better by putting down the the canon characters - it mostly just makes you and/or your character look like a jerk.
- Don't have canon characters, even villains, antagonize your OC in ways that don't really fit their canon personalities. If you need someone to antagonize your character a particular way for the sake of plot, you can always create an OC antagonist.
- Check out the links above and below for more help!
More links that might be relevant to your OC and story:
Basic Tips To Improve Your OCs & Fan Characters
Tips To Create Better OC Relatives of Canon Characters
Reasons Your Character Might Be Boring
Things We Need More In Female Characters & Their Stories
Building Better Backstories - Tips & Ideas
On Writing Misfits, Loners, & Malcontents
On Giving Your Characters Flaws & Weaknesses
Writing Better Prompts, Starters, & Beginnings: A Few Pointers
On Plot Structure & Plotting
Plot & Story Development Questions
Reasons Your Story Might Be Stuck - And How To Fix It
Annoying Things In Internet Fiction
Annoying Things In Internet Fiction - Part 2
On Showing vs. Telling
Tips For Writing Reader Protagonist Stories