I don’t really mind OCs in fanfiction. Even if a writer uses an OC as a main character, I’m cool with it—as long as the character in question isn’t a Mary Sue.
Now, I understand that Mary Sue is a somewhat subjective term. If you ask ten different people what it means, you’ll get ten different answers:
A Mary Sue is the author’s wish fulfillment.
A Mary Sue is a character whose name and physical traits overcompensate for her lack of personality.
A Mary Sue pushes suspension of disbelief to the limit.
A Mary Sue is a badly written character.
Whatever your definition, one thing’s for sure: Mary Sues are hated in every fandom.
And fanfics aren’t the only ones with Sues. Some would argue that certain canon characters—like Batman, for example—would be considered Mary Sues if their genders were flipped. But that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms.
For now, we’ll focus on fanfic Sues.
One of the most common Sues is an OC created as a love interest for a popular (male) character. She’s often portrayed as beautiful, powerful, and equal in every respect to her love. Other times, she’s the exact opposite of all of these, but it’s clear that the author meant her to be liked by everyone who mattered. In both cases, the characters who adore her are rewarded within the narrative, while the characters who hate her aren’t.
To be fair, she’s not always a love interest. But she’s still portrayed as strong enough to keep up with the most powerful canon characters and may even end up upstaging them in the end.
What all of these have in common is this: The entire narrative favors the Sue and the Sue alone.
Unfortunately, many OCs end up as Mary Sues which is why people often stay away from OC-centric fics. It’s much easier to do this than to give the benefit of the doubt that not all OCs are Mary Sues and not all Mary Sues are OCs.
Now, it’s perfectly okay to write a strong, beautiful OC. It’s also perfectly okay to have her liked by the canon characters in the universe she’s dropped into. These traits only become an issue when they’re written at the expense of other characters.
For example, in cellostargalactica‘s The Hobbit fanfic “The Toymaker and the Widow,” Rikke is clearly meant to be the love interest of Bofur, one of the dwarves in the Company of Thorin Oakenshield. But since Rikke’s character is well-developed, without taking anything away from the canonical Company, she still feels like an organic part of Tolkien’s universe. Characters and story go hand in hand, after all.
So, even if you love your OC to bits, don’t forget about the other characters. Think carefully about their canon traits and whether it would make sense for them to act a certain way toward your character. After all, the canon characters (and universe) are what drew your readers to your fanfic in the first place.
Respect the canon of the fandom you’re writing for, and that fandom will respect you too.
(P.S. Cellostargalactica has a fantastic writing style. Go read her works, if you haven’t already! And if you know of any fics with well-written OCs, please share them with us!)
Recommended Fanfic: The Toymaker and the Widow by cellostargalactica
(T, 120,420 words) “He whittles for the widow and her child; his sweet, sad widow,” said Bombur smugly. “How is she his widow if he’s still alive?” Bilbo wondered. “Because she’s not my widow,” Bofur cut in. “She’s a widow. I have no claim to her, or anyone.”