Tips For Writing Fanfiction With An OC Protagonist

If you want to write a fanfiction starring an OC, you absolutely should! There's nothing wrong with it, and it can be a fun way to explore and interact with a universe you like. That said, a lot of these stories end up making pretty similar pitfalls, so the aim of this article is to help you avoid these issues, and write a fun, engaging narrative with your OC!

Last updated: March 4, 2022

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Remember that your OC is in a story, not in a contest.

Characters are narrative tools, not people. A good character is one that is well-designed for the role they're meant to fill, whether that role is a star superhero, a disgustingly immoral villain, a quirky alien, an ordinary person, or just whatever you want. Making your character more powerful, skilled, accomplished, kind, or whatever does not inherently make them "better" than any other character, and writers who fail to realize this are completely missing the point of storytelling. Storytelling is not about establishing which character is the "best," but rather it's about presenting a narrative in which various elements interact in ways that change the status quo and move things toward an endpoint of the author's choosing. Also worth noting, many fans of canon characters love them because of their flaws and vices, not despite them. So the idea that a character will be seen as "better" because they lack discernible flaws or because they have more power or skill is very misguided.

If you want to go and write a straight-up power fantasy for the heck of it, then go right ahead. But if that's not your intention, then it's important to understand that a story's characters aren't really supposed to be in a contest with each other. They're supposed to be in concert. Even if the narrative positions them as sworn enemies who'd happily set each other on fire and push each other off a cliff, they're still being used together to create a larger narrative and move it forward. And this is true of all characters, no matter what their role. Terrible people make great villains, and people who are too skilled or virtuous can make bad protagonists because they don't really struggle in ways the audience might find interesting or relatable, or they might just end up terminating the narrative too quickly.

So while it's fine and good if your OC is in conflict some canon character or another, and it's fine if they totally kick their ass, it doesn't mean that they're an objectively "better" character. It just means that you chose to write a narrative featuring one character kicking another character's ass. If you choose to do this, hopefully you're making both of them great characters, with each one of them representing and playing out their role in an engaging and interesting way.

Likewise, if you're thinking about writing about an OC who joins a badass or elite group and gains a bunch of prestige, it's important to keep in mind that fictional organizations, groups, academies, etc. are narrative devices, not things that actually can bestow any kind of intrinsic value on your character. (Quick aside, it's worth noting that in the real world, "elite" organizations and such tend to be full of corruption and don't take "the best of the best" quite so much as they take people with money and connections. So even in the real world, it doesn't actually mean as much as many people think.)

And of course, these same principles apply to characters who have suffered abuse, loss, or any trauma in general. Your character doesn't become inherently more worthy of the audience's attention, nor even their sympathy just because they've suffered more than everyone else. Like sure, generally speaking giving your character some form of trauma will tug on the audience's heartstrings, but trying to treat trauma like a contest your character has to win not only misses the point of storytelling, but it's an absolutely abhorrent attitude to have about trauma, period. Trauma should never be treated as a contest, because all it does is pit people against each other instead of helping them move toward healing.

Now of course, if the original work treated a relatively privileged character as if they'd suffered the worst fate imaginable when in reality they were just a little inconvenienced, it's absolutely not wrong to write a narrative that challenges the absurdity of this framing by creating a character who has actually suffered in a way that a lot of people in this world probably have suffered, and basically call the original story out on its nonsense.

Also, don't be afraid to use your OC for jokes or make them look undignified now and then. No decent person is going to look down on your OC if they aren't composed and dignified all the time. Anybody who thinks that your character is "bad" because just they're a little bit of a doofus sometimes really needs to come to terms with the fact that the human condition is inherently a little ridiculous. You don't have to play your OC for comedic purposes, but know that you are allowed to.

So whatever you choose do to in your story, remember that the characters are not real people, but narrative tools. You don't have to make your OC "better" than any other character, and you really shouldn't try. Instead, just try to characterize them in a way that fits the role you want them to play in your story's narrative, whatever that narrative might be.

Give the canon characters room to breathe and be themselves.

When you're writing a fic about an OC, it's super easy to get caught up in the excitement of meeting all the canon characters and doing cool things with them. And it's sometimes easy to forget that these characters are (at least in most cases) created to be people with busy, complicated lives; with opinions, feelings, and wants of their own - and would therefore have plenty of reasons not to totally rearrange their lives around your OC.

This doesn't mean your OC can't hang out with them, nor that they can't be helpful. But it does mean that letting them have some boundaries is probably a good idea. I mean, if writing a story where your favorite character lavishes attention on your OC is something that gets you through these trying times, then go forth. But generally, it's still a good idea to try and keep the canon characters' own personal responsibilities, passions, hobbies, dreams, and ambitions in mind, and let them have continue to have those things. Consider that you probably wouldn't want to just give up on everything you like or feel passionate about for another person, so why would it really make sense that all these other characters should?

If your OC literally just doesn't have anything better to do than hang out with the canon characters all the time, then maybe change that. Fill out their life in with things like family, friends, personal plans and commitments, and whatnot. Remember that in real life, even people who are very close don't usually have completely overlapping lives. They usually end up having their own things going on to some extent that simply just don't cross over with each other. Like for example, you probably aren't in all of the same internet communities as all of your online friends, and they probably aren't in all of the same communities as you. You might even have friends in very different spaces.

Again, I know it's easy to get swept away by how cool the canon characters seem, but I think it's also worth keeping in mind that once you're around anyone for awhile, no matter how amazing they seemed at first, you kinda start to notice that they're basically just ordinary people, even if they can do incredibly cool things. And once you start developing your own skills, you begin to realize that what you saw as nigh godlike skill is actually a lot more common than you thought. Sometimes you can even see where they didn't really do all that great of a job, or where they were actually struggling.

The same kind of thing applies to fictional characters, too. Like, a lot of young adults who watch the 2010 Thor film see Loki as this amazing liar. But to me, as someone who's a bit older, he just seems like an incredibly mediocre liar, while everyone around him looks like a bunch of dinguses for actually buying it. And I'm not saying this to disparage the character; it's just to highlight how experience and insight can change your perception of someone.

So yeah, try annd give the canon characters space to be themselves and just be regular people. Let your OC's life branch out a bit - let them associate with other people and have pursuits apart from the canon characters. I know the canon characters and their business can seem amazingly cool, but you can easily make up more stuff that's just as interesting and worthwhile.

Don't demonize the canon characters.

Your OC certainly doesn't have to get along with all of the canon characters all the time, and it's certainly not a problem if they end up in conflict or competition with some of them. But preferably, this should built out of the characteristics these characters are actually established to have, rather than ones you've imposed on them. First of all, imposing or projecting flaws onto canon characters is just lazy. Instead of genuinely paying attention to the canon characters to get a sense of what they're actually like and where conflict with them might naturally arise, you're basically just imposing a two-dimensional persona onto them to force the situation.

Secondly... there's the misogyny. This kind of thing disproportionately hits female characters who are perceived as romantic rivals. They end up portrayed as selfish, shallow, vindictive demons; or basically, the most two-dimensional caricature of a bad girlfriend you can imagine. Their own perceived flaws and shortcomings are often extensively highlighted and exaggerated, even when they've done nothing worse than what any number of male characters have done. If anything, these characters are often treated as absolute monsters for doing anything that happened to bother a male character. And don't get me wrong, there is a lot of fiction where female characters do genuinely behave in awful ways that are treated as something to just accept in a relationship, but nonetheless there's still a lot of massive double standards. And most of the OCs who are supposed to be "better" matches for the canon characters really aren't actually better people than the canon love interests were in the actual story.

Meanwhile in the real world, there are lots of reasons that people can break up that have nothing to do with one partner being a terrible person. And this whole idea that you're either a perfect, ideal partner for someone or else you're just a total failure and probably a bad person is so unhealthy, because it's predicated on basically impossible standards.

Even in situations that don't involve a romantic rivalry, female canon characters are disproportionately turned shallow, jealous, and mean out of a misguided assumption that the OC has to prove herself better than the other girl to be seen as valuable and worthy by the men. Make no mistake, if men won't respect you unless you can prove yourself better than the other gals, they're misogynists, and you shouldn't be looking for their approval. Earning the "respect" of a misogynist is nothing to feel proud about; all it means is that they think you won't challenge them in any meaningful way, and that if anything, you're going to help them uphold patriarchy.

Sometimes this kind of thing just seems to come out of a general belief that other women must be competition of some kind, and therefore they must must be jealous, mean monsters out to get you rather than potential friends or allies. There also seem to be a lot of people who just don't see where women are being needlessly pitted against each other for someone else's gain, and would therefore be better off teaming up and taking on whoever's trying to make them fight than trying to fight each other.

Now of course, this is all stuff that can apply to male characters as well, and it's not really any better when it happens there. It's bad, lazy writing no matter what kind of characters are involved. I simply bring up female characters in particular because it disproportionately affects them. And it's pretty revealing of our culture's overall misogyny when people are easily able to imagine that male characters can be more than the sum of their flaws, but can't see female characters as anything but flaws.

The final issue here is that just because someone is a worse person than you, doesn't mean you're actually good. Sure, maybe you're not as bad, but it doesn't justify or excuse what you're doing. When you try and do this in your writing, you're not actually establishing your own character as a good person. You're just setting the standards so low that you're pretty much burying them in the ground, and therefore making them meaningless. If you can't make your character look good without making other characters look absolutely terrible, then you're just not a good writer.

If you really need a character to be a certain kind of antagonist toward your OC, and none of the canon characters actually fit, then make up your own antagonist. Like I said earlier, your OC's life doesn't have to completely enmesh with the canon characters' all the time, and you can get a lot of creative mileage out of expanding your OC's existence beyond what explicitly exists in canon.

Make an effort to tell a new story.

Of course it's absolutely loads of fun to ask yourself how your favorite story might play out if your awesome character was there, and I'm not saying you should never do that. If that's what you really feel inspired to do, then go right ahead!

However, I would suggest taking a little time and asking yourself if it might be more interesting and fun to explore other routes. Keep in mind, readers are already familiar with most of what's going to play out, so they'll already know most of what's coming, which can make for a relatively dull experience compared to what they might get from an all-new story.

The trouble with adding your OC in among the canon characters is that there's a pretty big chance that your OC will either just fill a redundant role, end up becoming irrelevant to the main plot, or just make the story feel too busy. They are, after all, basically just being tacked onto a story that was never really structured to accommodate more than the characters it already had. If the idea of your character interacting with canon characters is what appeals to you, consider that you can write them interacting in other contexts. Most stories focus only on a very short time period in its characters' lives, after all. If it's not the interactions that are the main draw, then remember that there's much more to the world than what you see in the original story, and that realistically there's a lot of interesting people and things out there, and a lot of problems that matter.

If you're straight-up replacing a canon character with your OC, then once again, your story is pretty much just a copy of something that people already know. Now, if putting your character into the story had such a profound effect that it changed its whole tone or prompted other characters to react in very different ways, then it could potentially be very engaging or entertaining in its own right. But otherwise, I think it's worth asking yourself whether a fully original plot might be a better choice. Again, the more new material you have, the more you have to hold the audience's curiosity.

Also, a problem with some of these fics is that they're just straight-up plagiarism. Their writers just straight up copy the original text. Sure, all fanfic is based on someone else's work, but most of it's at least all-original prose, and therefore gives us a fresh look at the world through the fanfic author's point of view.

So yeah, aim to write an original narrative, and try to give your OC their own adventures instead of trying to piggyback off the adventures of the canon characters. If you really want to stick your OC into the canon story there's no reason you can't, but just be aware that it might not be the best choice, depending on your goals.

Don't rehash canon scenes or passages.

Of course it generally makes sense for canon events to inform what happened to your character, at least to a certain degree. Most stories show us things that would be common or standard enough (at least within certain contexts) that it would make sense if your character experienced them, too. However, writers sometimes fall into the trap of assuming that they need to show or detail these exact same things happening to their OCs, when that really might not be the case.

This often happens with scenes and passages that depict things like arrivals, initiations, obtaining important items or powers, and suchlike. For example, let's say the canon story shows a wizard initiation ceremony in which an apprentice wizard is given their first spellbook and a few other wizard necessities. We also see one of the wizards scowling, signaling their disapproval. And we find out that the wizard's shiny new crystal ball is made of an unusual material.

Such a scene serves three purposes. First, it shows us how new wizards enter wizarddom, at least within this specific wizard institution. Secondly, it introduces an antagonist. Third, it clues us in that the initiate wizard's crystal ball is probably going to do something unusual later in the story.

If you just show your OC going through a perfectly normal ceremony with nothing of any real pertinence or interest happening, then there's no reason for the passage to be in your story. You'd just be going through the motions, and that makes for dull, unengaging storytelling. If you want to include that kind of scene, you should ask yourself what it's doing for your story. Who or what is being introduced? What are we learning about the plot and the characters? Is there something unusual about the event, or is the event perfectly normal but your character has thoughts or feelings about it that are pertinent to the larger narrative?

This kind of thing can also happen through generally failing to recognize that there are many ways something could happen to a character. Let's say, for example, that the source material is a vampire story, in which the main character begins as a human, becomes friendly with a coven of vampires, and is turned by their vampire lover who wants them to live forever. Rather than consider that this might simply be one of many ways a character could become a vampire, the author pretty much just clones the story and uses it as a template, maybe changing a few details like names, times, and places.

Now to be fair, there's probably no reason this kind of thing couldn't happen to another character. Few people's experiences are ever truly unique, and this is the kind of thing that we could probably expect to happen many times over. But from a storytelling perspective, it can make the work feel formulaic and uninspired because you're following what's already been done instead of exploring another possibility. I would say that if you are going to take some cues from the original story, I'd suggest changing things up enough that it doesn't look like you just swapped out a few superficial details.

In closing...

There is no reason why you shouldn't write a fanfiction starring an OC. Just try to keep in mind that the goal should be to create a narrative in which all of the characters involved are playing a role, not pitting characters them against each other in order to prove that your OC is somehow "better" or something. It's not bad if canon characters are sometimes antagonistic toward your OC, or if your OC kicks their butt, but it's important to understand that this is just a thing you chose to make happen, and it doesn't make your character "better," nor does it mean that we should like them better than any other character. Also, don't be afraid to make your character look silly and use them for comedic purposes, because no decent person is going to hold that against them.

It's also generally a good idea to give the canon characters room to keep on being themselves, rather than forcing their lives and identities to derail by completely enmeshing them with your OC's life and goals. You can involve additional OCs in your main OC's narrative so that the canon characters aren't always required to be available and do everything for them. Sure, the canon characters and their lives might be incredibly interesting, but so is the stuff that you make up, if you choose to make it that way. While you generally do want to work with the established worldbuilding and internal logic of the setting, it's important to remember that canon usually only shows you the tip of the iceberg of what's actually going on in it, even if the original author wasn't really thinking about any of it.

And while the canon story can and probably should give you some idea of what your character might experience, keep in mind that your story probably shouldn't follow the same exact plot beats as the original, but should rather follow beats that fit your own narrative needs. And keep in mind that while you technically can just insert your character into the canon story, doing so means that you're missing out on the opportunity to build a new narrative with surprises and discoveries of its own. And even if you are adding material of your own to the original story, the rest of it can feel like a slog in comparison, because the audience has already been here and seen it.

I hope you found this article helpful, and if you enjoyed it please consider sharing it with your friends and on your social media, and please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thank you for reading, and I hope you have a great day!

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

What To Do When You Have A Character, But No Plot
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
How To Convert Fanfiction Into Original Fiction

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