Basic Tips To Improve Your OCs & Fan Characters
- Make sure you understand how the universe you're writing for works. For example, I see Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon fans create Sailor Universes, even though Sailor Cosmos is the senshi of the universe, or create gemstone senshi even though it's made explicitly clear that all senshi are associated with a celestial object of some kind. Likewise, there are scads of people creating Homestuck fantrolls without apparently ever realizing that trolls have biology and a society very different from that of humans. Insofar as determining how the universe you're creating for works and doesn't work, Telling Story Canon From Personal Bias, Erroneous Memories, & Fanwank has some tips for this.
- Don't create characters whose main function is to directly help the main characters in their grand epic quests. Similarly, don't create characters whose main function is to insult or beat up a character you don't like.
- Your character should have a life that doesn't revolve around the canon characters - EG, friends, acquaintances, interests, and long-term plans that the canon characters do not share. It's fine for your OC to know Harry Potter and the gang at Hogwarts, but Potter & Pals shouldn't be the only characters who matter in your character's life.
- Avoid creating "housebums" - IE, characters who live with the main characters for no particularly good reason (often explained in-story as the canon characters taking in the OC out of the goodness of their hearts at some point) or spend so much time at the home/homes of the canon characters that they might as well live with them.
- Avoid creating characters who know intimate or sensitive personal details about canon characters for no good in-universe reason. Remember, people don't generally go divulging secrets and sensitive personal information about themselves or about they care about unless they're the type of people who can't keep their mouths shut about anything.
- Put yourself into the shoes of the canon characters your character meets and ask yourself how you'd really feel and react if you encountered your character knowing no more about xir than the canon characters do. For example, if someone you barely knew started following you around everywhere claiming to want to bring you out of your shell, you'd probably be annoyed at best and severely creeped out at worst. Remember, you can't sense when a complete stranger who acts like a jerk or weirdo is really a kind-hearted softie or a harmless eccentric inside, and unless the other character explicitly has some kind of mind-reading or soul-sensing powers, neither can xe.
- Avoid creating "buildclones" - IE, characters who use all of the same skills, tools, techniques, and tricks as a character in the original work. It's one thing to create a genius character who works in a similar field as a canon genius and has to work with the canon genius on a project for awhile; it's another thing to create a genius character who is so similar to the canon genius that the original story could play out the same exact way if you switched them out. If you're having trouble thinking of a skill to set your character apart from the canon characters, try the random skill generator and/or the character buildinator.
- Don't try to shoehorn your OC into places where there's a canon character cap or where your character really isn't necessary. For example, if canon says that there are six chosen ones, don't make your character the forgotten seventh chosen one. If a group has been able to accomplish its goals with its current members up until now, don't have them recruit your character out of the blue.
- Likewise, don't shoehorn your character into a canon prophecy that very obviously never included your character. (This includes making up "lost" additions to the canon prophecy.)
- If something is supposed to be one-of-a-kind or impossible to duplicate in canon, don't give it or a duplicate/counterpart of it to your character. If it's simply really difficult to duplicate or recreate, don't give it or a counterpart to your character unless you have a really good reason for it (EG, the plot simply couldn't work any other way).
- Avoid giving your character remarkably strange or unusual traits for the sole purpose of making your character special. Cat ears and a tail are adorable on Sailor Luna, but are just annoying on an Asgardian palace servant.
- Same as with OC relatives, avoid creating characters who require convoluted and/or excessively extraordinary explanations (per what might be considered excessively extraordinary per that universe's rules) just to fit into the universe, IE, time-travel shenanigans, being kidnapped as an infant, or having a parent who is a member of an alien race that doesn't get out much or that no one's ever heard of before in canon.
- "Alternate universes" that are alternate only in that your character exists in them (EG, was around to take part in events depicted in canon material) are generally frowned upon. Do not rewrite the universe to accommodate your character; fit your character into the universe as-is.
- If your OC is created to be used in a roleplay, try not to attach a specific end goal to your OC - EG, "fall in love with (insert hawt canon character)" or "become best friends/teammates with (insert cool canon character here). Letting whatever happens to your OC come as a natural consequence of the roleplay tends to create better and more believable results. In all of my experience, the OCs that were created by players who weren't strongly attached to the idea of their OC ending up hobnobbing with the canon characters tended to become better friends with the canon characters than the ones who were - the reason being that their relationships were allowed to develop naturally and organically, rather than by force.
- There's nothing inherently wrong with making an OC the main character of a story. Where it becomes a problem is when pre-existing characters are essentially reduced to accessories, backup, or sidekicks to the OC, or when they're used as pedestals for your character to stand upon and show off xir awesomeness or moral superiority.
- Take a look at the Character Development Questions and try to answer as many of them as possible.
- Also for roleplaying OCs - take a look at Common Problems In Roleplaying Characters for a more in-depth look at frequent problematic elements in RP characters.
- When it comes to actually writing your OC's profile, take note of the tips and advice on Common, Yet Terrible Character Descriptors - And How To Fix Them (And Write Better Descriptions In General) and put them into practice.
- For your character's overall design and appearance, Tips 'N Stuff For Better Character Design has a lot of information that's relevant to designing OCs.
You might also be interested in:
Tips To Create Better OC Relatives of Canon Characters
Tips For Making Better Harry Potter OCs
Tips For Making Avengers (And Other MCU/Marvel Earth-199999) OCs
Tips For Making Asgardian OCs (And OCs From Other Realms, Too) For Earth-199999
Tips For Writing & Roleplaying Canon Characters Better
On Giving Your Characters Flaws & Weaknesses
Exercises To Improve Your Character Writing & Roleplaying Skills
So You Want To Have A Powerful Or Talented Character Who Probably Won't Be Perceived As A Mary Sue?
Writing Character Profiles & Bios - Tips & Advice
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