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!

Understand the universe/s you're creating your OCs for! Far too many OCs end up conflicting with canon in some way, which is both obnoxious and confusing. So make sure you carefully research everything about your OCs - their jobs, cultuires, species, how the tricks and tools they're using are supposed to work (or not work), etc. Also, take a look at Telling Story Canon From Personal Bias, Erroneous Memories, & Fanwank to help you sort out any misassumptions you may have made from actual canon.

Try to maintain as much objectivity and self-awareness as possible. If someone treated your friends, younger siblings, etc. the way your OC treats other characters in the story, how would you feel? If you'd be upset or angry, odds are good that people won't like your OC, either. Likewise, you can check yourself character infatuation (it doesn't have to be romantic) and/or over-identification, Protagonist-Centered Morality: What It Is, And How You Can Avoid It, "Is This My Character's Fault?" - A Flowchart, and Ethical Considerations For Fantastic Situations - Are Your Sci-Fi & Fantasy Heroes Ethical People? to help you gain and hold objectivity on your OCs and their actions.

Know that every set of OCs based on a particular work will end up with their own set of cliches. If you want to make sure your OC stands out from the crowd, you'll probably want to spend a little time looking at other people's OCs to see what everyone is doing. Something else you can do is dismiss the first several ideas you come up with, because odds are good that they were everyone else's first ideas, too.

Avoid making your OCs into clones or carbon copies of the canon characters in some way. This includes having the same skillset as some canon character or other, being the "spitting image" of a canon relative, having a near-identical personality of some canon character or other, or having the same tastes and interests. Give them traits and characteristics that set them apart from the canon characters, even if they are related to them. A good way to go is to make sure that they share no more than a third of their primary traits with the main cast.

Don't make them amalgamations, either. Making your OC a mashup of other characters' traits is no way to go, either, because it's always obvious what you've done. Again, aim to make at least two thirds of your OC's primary characteristics different from those of the main cast.

If you're having trouble figuring out how to set your OCs' traits, interests, and backstories from the canon characters, do not panic! You can check out the Basic Character Premise Generator, the Backstory & Origin Generators, and the Character Detail Generators. You can also take a look at "Help! I Need Ideas For My Story/Setting/Character!" - How To Get Ideas For Yourself!. You can also go to Printable Character Sheets for some random generation tables you can use offline.

Need help coming up with good designs for your OCs? Check out Tips 'N Stuff For Better Character Design.

Don't make their lives revolve around the canon characters, or vice-versa. Give them friends, family, and interests outside of the canon characters. Give them parents, even! Give them their own homes instead of contriving for them to live with the canon characters. Make them reasonably able to solve their own problems and help themselves instead of making them helpless to the point of needing a canon character to hold their hands through everything. Generally, it's a good idea to keep their connections to canon characters to a necessary minimum - you don't need to be friends with the entire bridge crew of the USS Enterprise to date Geordi LaForge.

Don't make the canon characters super-reliant on your OCs. Don't reduce the canon characters to damsels in distress who need your character to bail them out. Don't make them so laughably incompetent around the home that they wouldn't know where their own heads were if your character wasn't there to help them. While your OC can definitely be useful and helpful, the canon characters shouldn't be infantilized to make your OC's help a necessity.

Don't give them impossible or unlikely knowledge about the canon characters. They shouldn't just happen to know things that the canon characters would not be likely to talk about with others (EG, sensitive personal information, the details of a dark and troubled past, etc.), or that no one else saw or witnessed. Limit their levels of knowledge to what is probable and plausible. If they're supposed to know this stuff, make them find it out the same way anyone else would have to find it out.

Don't make universe-hoppers. Don't create OCs who travel from universe to universe and have skills, talents, friends, etc. from each one. If you want to use your OC in multiple universes, make different versions of the OC, with each one tailored for each specific universe. (This is a great way to exercise your creative muscles, too!)

Avoid making the scale and scope of their talents, skills, abilities, etc. vastly exceed the scale and scope of the canon characters'. Take a look at how many talents, skills, and abilities that the canon characters have and what all they can do with them, and try to proportion your characters' own talents, skills, and abilities similarly. 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 shove your OCs into places where there is no canonical room or need for them. For example, if canon says that there are six chosen ones, don't make your OC the forgotten seventh chosen one. If a canon prophecy obviously never included your character, don't make up a "lost" addition. If a group has been able to accomplish its goals just fine with the members it already has, don't have them recruit your character out of the blue. And don't make up an entire AU so you can fit your character into the universe (and particularly into major canon plots); find a way to fit your character into the universe as it already is.

Don't give them duplicates or counterparts to things that are supposed to be one-of-a-kind in canon. Instead, give them their own ways to be awesome. If something is supposed to be rare or incredibly difficult to create rather than unique, avoid using it unless it's absolutely necessary. (And no, using it as a gimmick to build a relationship off of does not count as a necessity)

Avoid giving your OCs excessively strange or unusual traits just for the sake of being different. While you want your original characters to be different from the canon characters, you don't want to get so hung up on being different that you give them traits that make no real sense in context, or that require some contrived explanation. Cat ears are fine on a werecat, but for an elf to be born with them at random is just ridiculous.

Avoid giving your OC contrived or excessively extraordinary backstory elements (per what qualifies as contrived or extraordinary in-universe). If you have to explain your character's presence or existence through something like time travel, being kidnapped as an infant, or having a parent who is a member of an alien species that nobody's ever heard of before, then it's probably contrived. For more on this topic, you might check out How To Avoid Making Your Story And Characters Feel Contrived.

Handle OC/canon relationships with care. If you've really got your heart set on writing an OC/canon romance story, do your best to make the story a solid one. Don't have contrived nonsense such as the characters realizing they're soulmates in fifteen minutes or having love redeeming a longtime villain. Don't demonize or abruptly kill one canon character to render another suddenly single. And be aware that things like teacher/student relationships are always inappropriate, and that it's scientifically proven that age is not just a number. You can also take a look at the articles over in Relationships, Romance, & Shipping.

Don't create OCs whose purpose is to fix a perceived story problem or to deliver vengeance on a character who "deserves" it, or something similar. This kind of thing tends to come off as tacky, and even incredibly arrogant. (If you've really got your heart set on writing this kind of story, it's best to keep it private.)

Do your best to develop their backgrounds, personalities, and goals. Try to give them core drives - these deeply-held attitudes, beliefs, and values can help ensure that your OCs never end up dull or passive. Also, you might take a look at Character Development Questions and Simple Ways To Fill Out & Humanize Your Character, and come up with as many answers as you can. And you can check out Building Better Backstories - Tips & Ideas for more tips on creating interesting and solid backgrounds.

Is your OC meant for a roleplay? Then check out Basic Tips To Make Better & More Appealing Roleplaying Characters.

You might also be interested in:

"Is This A Good Idea For My Story/Setting/Character?" - How To Answer This For Yourself!
Character Creation & Development Theory (Or, How To Make Characters 101!)
Describing Your Character: Tips & Advice
Reasons Your Character Might Be Boring

Tips To Create Better OC Relatives of Canon Characters
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
Tips For Writing Fanfiction With An OC Protagonist
What To Do When You Have A Character, But No Plot

On Giving Your Characters Flaws & Weaknesses
Pointlessly Edgy Tropes To Reconsider Using
Tips For Writing Dark Stories, Settings, & Characters
On Writing & Roleplaying Mysterious Characters
Exercises To Improve Your Character Writing & Roleplaying Skills
How To Write Powerful & Extraordinary Characters Without Being Obnoxious Or Boring
Writing Character Profiles & Bios - Tips & Advice
Backstory Idea Generator

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