Basic Tips To Improve Your OCs & Fan Characters
Not sure how to make a good OC? Do you suspect an OC you already have might need a bit of work, but you're not exactly sure where? Having a lot of trouble getting people to like your OC in general? Here are some tips for you!
- 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.
- Every set of OCs based on a particular work will invariably end up with their own set of cliches. If you want your OC to stand out from the crowd, take some time to do research into other people's OCs to find out what's commonly done so you know what to change and avoid.
- Give your character no more close connection to the canon characters than is absolutely necessary. If you can take canon connections or involvement out of your character's story or history and have it play out the same with only a few minor alterations, then do so. You don't need to be Ginny Weasley's BFF to fall in love with Parvati Patil.
- Don't create "universe hoppers" - IE, characters who visit and interact with multiple universes. You can refit your OC with a universe-specific backstory and skillset for every universe you want xir to appear in, but other than that, keep it to one universe per character.
- Don't create characters whose main function is to directly help the main characters in their grand epic quests. Don't create characters who replace a major character. And 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.
- Don't create 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 those 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.
- When it comes to your OC's talents, skills, abilities, etc., try not to vastly exceed the scale and scope of the canon characters' talents/skills/abilities. Take stock of how many talents/skills/abilities each character has, and how far they extend in terms of what they can accomplish, and try to aim for something similar. So for example, if it takes a canon character several minutes of concentrated effort to cast a spell that creates a perfect cake, your character probably should not be able to just magically poof several fine dresses into existence with a snap of the fingers. In a setting where the canon characters specialize in one or two skills apiece, your character should not be loaded down with as many skills as you think are nifty - keep it to one or two, like the rest of the characters.
- 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; design your character to fit the universe as-is.
- 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, or when they behave uncharacteristically in some way to make the story happen.
- Get clear on what your OC is and isn't at fault for doing, and own it. There's nothing that turns people off a character quite like the creator insisting that the character isn't at fault for something that, well, xe is very much at fault for. Check out "Is This My Character's Fault?" - A Flowchart for more.
- If you want or hope to ship your OC with a canon character, go check out Romantic Couple Development Questions and answer as many questions as you possibly can, preferably all of them. Also, take a look at Basic Tips To Write Healthy Relationships, Tips to Write & Roleplay Believable Successful Long-Term Relationships, So You Want To Have An Attractive Character?, and What Romantic Chemistry Looks Like.
- Take a look at Character Development Questions and try to answer as many of them as possible. Also look at Simple Ways To Fill Out & Humanize Your Character and do as many of them as you can.
- 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.
- If your OC is intended for a roleplay, check out Basic Tips To Make Better & More Appealing Roleplaying Characters.
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