How to Use Original Characters to the Best Effect

OCs can add new dimensions to an already fantastic story. | © elysart | © elysart

The presence of original characters in a fanfiction can alarm some readers, often those who have had bad experiences with poorly written ones before. It’s understandable to be wary, but OCs shouldn’t be immediately written off. With a writer who knows what they’re doing, a well-written OC can add new dimensions to an already fantastic story.

Start with Something (or Someone) Familiar

A lot of people are put off by the unfamiliar, especially in fanfiction. So, the last thing to do is to surprise them with a new character. Start out with things that the reader is familiar with like canon characters. Explore them and their perspectives in an already established world, building the stage for the story and the OC. Don’t rush their relationship with the OC and make sure they react like they would any other character.

Ease into It

Don’t rush the rest of the story to get to the fun parts. If you have to, write the parts you’re most interested in first then set them aside. That way, you can give the set up the attention it deserves. Readers can often tell when it seems like every other part but those involving the OC are neglected.

Remember What Pulls Readers In

When people read fanfic, they are usually in it for the canon characters. Show respect to the canon characters and avoid pushing them down to prop an OC up. Let your OC stand on his or her own merit and don’t bash characters to make the OC, or anyone else for that matter, look good. Don’t let your OC pull characters away from their established friends. Don’t pointlessly vilify other characters just to make readers sympathize with yours.

Treat Every Character as an Actor with a Important Role

While it is important to respect canon characters (or at least not openly disrespect them), you should also try to treat all characters as important parts needed to tell the story. Whether canon or original, it shouldn’t matter what your characters are so long as they’re pulling their own weight. Characters should not be competing for the spotlight; they should be working together as a team. If a character is not doing anything for a scene, you should ask yourself why he or she is there in the first place. A character may not be needed now, but maybe in a later scene, their presence is vital to move the story along in some way.

Remember There Are Many Ways to Use an Original Character

There are a lot of ways that OCs can be utilized in a fanfic, often for plot or world building purposes. A lot of fics use OCs in minor roles, or in some cases they’ll use an OC Stand-in, a fleshed-out background character who is only given an appearance, a name, or a few details. Examples of these types of characters include the younger students that were sorted during Harry’s years at Hogwarts, winners of the past Hunger Games, or the minor citizens of Ponyville and Canterlot.

An OC Stand-in allows you to build a character and personality, while still having them be technically tied to the world. They are a great starting point to practice building your own characters, if you don’t yet feel comfortable creating a character on your own.

An OC can be used to explore a minor character’s backstory and earlier life. An OC can also be used to show an outsider perspective. For example, what a main character might be like to someone who doesn’t know them the way the audience does. They can be used along with a new setting to plop canon characters into new situations to see how they react.

Sometimes an OC can be used to challenge and flesh out a canon character. For example, making them face a younger, more immature version of themselves or someone who is a worthy adversary in a way that isn’t explored by an existing character.

They can be used to explore the world itself: What is the wizarding world like after Voldemort’s defeat? What is the world like for a girl living in the Capitol during the rebellion in The Hunger Games? In some ways, OCs are necessary if you want to set your story long before (or after) the original story happened—especially if you want to delve deep into historical events that occurred in canon.

You can even come up with a new story within the same world!

There are a lot of ways to use OCs, and they’re no less valid than crossovers and alternate universes. The best thing about writing is that you can do just about anything as long as you know how to pull it off.

About Danielle Gray (1 Article)
Danielle grew up on the East Coast of the United States. At the age of ten, she started writing fan sequels to her childhood favorites after discovering a fanfiction archive for The Secret of NIMH.

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