A Guide To Original Characters
(No, Seriously, A Real Writing Guide I)
Quick note: Any and all questions can be stated in reviews, or, if personal in-depth questions about characters, etc., in a PM. If you flame or anything of that sort, I will report you. This is a guide that is meant to help the quality of fanfiction on this site and to better it for all users. It is to be used for the benefit of writing.
Okay, you guys, time to face the facts: nobody really wants to read about Rosemarie Twinklestar Heather Alexis who's the secret daughter of all of the Olympians and is the object of the greatest prophecy of all time. "But why?" you cry, distraught. After all, she's devastatingly beautiful too!
And here's where I'm going to stop you.
I understand that you just want to create a good original character. (Or you're being incredibly lazy and just doing a self-insert. If this is, in fact, the case, please: seek help. No, really. You are not in the book. Get over it.) Original characters do not spring out of the ground. Say you plant an apple tree. Or an orange tree. Or whatever. Some kind of tree that you like. So you do…what? Just stick it in the ground and leave it to fend for itself?
No. No, you don't, and if you didn't know that promise me that you'll stay away from plants.
So what do you do to get your little tree to grow? You care for it. You nurture it, you water it, you make sure it's got nutrients and light and air. You let it get bigger on its own, because if you care for it properly that's what it will do.
Your OC is that tree.
See, you can't just yank an OC out of the air, slap a name across their foreheads, and then stick them in the middle of a story. You need back story. Are they orphaned? Do they come from a huge family with twenty kids like that composer had? What's their deal?
So you ask "Why?" You go on a journey to discover just who this person is. "How would so-and-so react in this instance?" "What would so-and-so say?"
…Okay, y'know what? We're gonna make this easy.
We're gonna make an OC.
Quick List for OC Creation:
1.) Gender (Male/Female. NO SHIMS, PEOPLE.)
2.) Name (We're not looking for Aurora Glitter Sprinkles, here. Everyday name. Think "Annabeth.")
3.) Appearance Including Styles (And here's where the pain begins. For me, anyway, as a reader.)
a. Do not – and I reiterate, DO NOT – make you character a flawless supermodel. Even if they're a daughter of Aphrodite, they're not perfect. Any of you ever read The Princess Bride by William Goldman? Buttercup, the heroine, was the most beautiful woman in the world – but she still had faults. Nobody wants to read about somebody who's perfect.
b. Don't stereotype by hearsay. If you have a punk character, be sure you have a firm understanding of punk first. I've read fics in which Thalia – most decidedly a punk character – acted emo. For a definitive categorizing of stereotypes…note me or something. I'm too lazy to put it here.
c. Don't overcomplicate things. KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid. If you give your character five thousand belts and trinkets and crap, he/she will probably not be able to get out of his clothes quickly enough to pee. That is not good for your character. Not to mention that, hey, guess what, metal trinkets make noise. As in, that thing you don't want to do when you're sneaking up on ancient Greek monsters with attitude problems.
a. What is there history? Where do they come from? How does this affect them? This is a very important step.
a. This and step four can be done in each other's place or whatever. Switch 'em around if you feel like it. I prefer to cement the personality after I do the backstory, because that means that I have something to build on. For example, if the character is poor, she's not going to be elegant, refined, and snooty. One of my favorite character personalities is dry and sarcastic. (For you who watch Scrubs: I adore Dr. Cox.)
b. Remember: your character should be fluid. This means that their moods change just like any other person's. They're not constantly upbeat and perky, or always sad. They're not always ready to take on lions and dinosaurs, and they're not always insecure couch potatoes. Mediation between these two states – the two extremes of the "mood spectrum," as it were – is an incredibly important skill in writing character personalities.
Important Notes: Mary Sues, Gary Stus, and Self-Inserts
Alright, kiddies. Time to introduce you to the bane of the OC-creator: the Mary Sue/Gary Stu.
For those of you who are new to the ball game, a Mary Sue/Gary Stu (from here on out referred to as MS/GS) is a character who is flawless and perfect in every way. This does not mean that they are an amazing character. They are horrible characters, unless you're doing a satire. If you're actually trying to write a real, good story, a MS/GS is insanely detrimental to your goal.
For example, a Mary Sue can arrive at Camp Half Blood and within days have every boy falling for her and Mr. D eating out of the palm of her hand. She is, of course, amazingly beautiful and intelligent, and she most certainly is the object of a prophecy bigger than Percy's. Not only is she pretty and smart, she can also kill monsters with a single blow from her amazing magical sword given to her by (insert parent's name here). She is unstoppable.
She is a crappy character.
For those of you guilty of creating these monstrosities, I will not soften the blow for you. You have not created a good character. No self-respecting writer wants to create a MS/GS. They are the scourge of the writing world, and should probably be directed into the nearest entrance to Hell. MS/GSs make babies cry, and they kill puppies.
In real life, no one knows exactly what to say. In real life, there are no easy answers. In real life, kids with learning disabilities get picked on and harassed. In real life, people cry and they don't look amazingly beautiful. They drool in their sleep, at one point they picked their nose and probably ate their findings, and they are not perfect. One person cannot possibly be liked by every single person out there.
People screw up. They trip and fall on stage. Brides break heels and tear wedding trains. Guys are sometimes insensitive. Your OCs are only human; they are doomed, the same as we are, to make mistakes and wake up looking disgusting and have horrible breath sometimes. They burn breakfast, they get sick and puke in the toilet, they laugh at awkward moments…they live.
Perfect people? They don't. That's why they don't exist.
As for self-inserts?
I understand that these books are absolutely amazing to you. You love the world the author created; you fell deeply in with the characters; you're sympathetic to their plights and worries. But that gives you no right to put yourself in there.
Because that's what some people do. They look at a story and say, "I wanna be here," so they assign themselves a god parent, strike up a fake name, and set off on a quest.
Not only is this just another way of MS/GS-ing. This is also disrespectful to the author, as self-inserts tend to go on a trampling rampage over all that is good and canon in that universe that he worked so hard to create. In their eagerness to be one with the book, self-inserts shove aside trivial things like "plot" and "characters" to make way for themselves. Ignore the fact that a half-blood child has never been known to live on Olympus. Ignore the fact that Percy is not, in fact, a total asshole. If you say it shall be so, so it shall be!
Self-inserts are a sign of a distinct lack of imagination. You're writing, for crap's sake, you have to have some kind of creative spark up in that brain of yours! Use it! Make a character that isn't you – they're better, braver, stronger – but they have your weaknesses. They have faults and flaws that make them utterly human, and very, very real.
Take an OC of mine, an assassin named Cadmus. Cadmus is brash, brave, and bold; he is outspoken, wild, and completely insane. He loves to run and have fun, and to party until he literally can't keep his eyes open. He is also strong and true to his friend; he's fiercely loyal to those he loves. But he's afraid of losing those whom he loves so much. His temper flares easily. He drinks too much. He has a foul mouth. He's terrified to love again. He's afraid of really talking about himself to other people. He's afraid of being sensitive, because he doesn't want to be hurt.
That vulnerability? That's me. That is totally, completely me.
Creativity, passion, writing – they're all tied together. If you have one without the others, it's…not the same. True writing – real, amazing writing – comes from that deep place inside of you where everything is a little bit wild. That burning fire that you feel when something just seizes you up and makes you feel energized…that's passion. Use that. Use the ideas that come into your head when you're lying awake at night. Discover pieces of yourself that you never knew you had and develop them through your character.
Make them your children. Make them little pieces of yourself, and you'll be amazed as you watch them grow. They'll talk to you and laugh with you. You'll know exactly what they'll say or do in a certain situation, because they have that little bit of you inside of them. They will become people in their own right, and then – all of a sudden – holy crap. I have an original character.