Welcome! This is just a quickie that I typed up to help you all create better OCs. I have simply read too many fics recently with Mary Sues or overdone stereotypes, so hopefully this is fresh and interesting! I mean no offense in any sarcasm or generalization. I am simply speaking my mind and if you can't handle it, too bad.
Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter or anything else you recognize in this guide. This is to help you, so you may take whatever you wish, except Vanessa Reese, who is used as an example and is a character in one of my stories.
"Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self."- Cyril Connolly
The Dos and Don'ts of Writing a Realistic OC
A Guide by PottedLilies
In Harry Potter Fanfiction, there are many OCs, and quite a few of them are excellent. Most, however, fall into the category of 'Mary Sue'. This guide will, hopefully, help writers avoid that stereotype and create realistic, interesting characters.
A Mary Sue, in short, is a perfect character. She (or he, though this is referred to as a Gary Stu) is brilliant and beautiful with no personal effort, often has a tragic past, falls in love with the main character (usually Harry, Draco, or Sirius), and is more or less the main character in the fanfiction. He/she often has some sort of heroic destiny that trumps even Harry's, or he/she takes on Harry's destiny for him. He/she is usually hated by Snape and Voldemort because he/she is the child of one of these two, or Harry's twin. This character has virtually no flaws (except of course that they are short tempered with all of the boys or girls that are constantly after them, and they eat like a pig (though of course they never gain weight).).
When naming a character, remember that their name should not be the thing that makes them stand out to the readers (that should be their personality, see section four). A girl does not need to be called Ryder or Everleigh, or Sparrow. These names are an automatic turnoff to the reader, because extremely out-of-the-ordinary names are a dead-giveaway of a Mary Sue (kind of ironic, isn't it?).
Keep all of your characters' names on the same level. If you are writing in the Marauder's Era, Canon characters most likely include Lily, Alice, Marlene, Mary, Dorcas, and Emmeline. If you're writing the Hogwarts Years, think Hermione, Ginny, Lavender, Alicia, Angelina, Katie, Luna, Susan, and Hannah. These names are old-fashioned, so to name a character something that's popular or trendy now is a bad decision. A lot of these names are not particularly attractive, either (who wants to be called Dorcas?), but keep that tradition if possible. Try names that are simply average, neither bad nor good, but that are also old-fashioned. Good choices include Carla, Rebecca, Beth, Kara, Annette, Ella, Sophie, Sarah, Jill, Haley, Kayla (truly! Haha), Martha, Belle, Edith (Edie), and Violet. Be careful if you search names on Google or a name website, because often what they consider 'old-fashioned' are just names that sound too out-there to be normal right now. Simple is your best option.
For boys, you're most likely looking at James, Sirius (try to only use constellations if you're creating a new Black relative), Remus, Peter, Frank, Edgar, Benjy, Caradoc, Harry, Ron, Neville, Fred, George, Dean, Seamus, Michael, Colin, Justin, Anthony, Lee, and Ernie. It's the same as the girls. You want their names to be old-fashioned, but simple. Try Byron, Darius, Clark, Julian, Edmund, Warren, Phil, Abe, Henry, Lance, Elliot, Liam, or Eric.
The same goes with their last names. Don't make it extremely complicated. One or two syllables would be preferable.
OC1 was a beautiful girl, with lustrous, raven colored hair, succulent red lips, and a perfect figure. Her looks were the envy of most of the school's female population, and there were so many boys after her that she was growing quite tired of the attention.
Think with me for a moment. Hermione has bushy hair and buck teeth; Luna has eerily large eyes; Tonks can make her nose look like a pig snout when she choose too; Pansy looks like a pug. The only girl actually described as 'beautiful' is Fleur, and she had to have Veela blood to earn such praise.
Now, you don't have to make your characters downright ugly, obviously, but give them something that makes them human. HUMANS HAVE FLAWS. I will probably be saying that a lot. Get used to it.
Think about yourself for a moment. Does your hair lay perfectly flat without you doing a thing to it? Do you never get zits? Do you have to wear glasses? Are your teeth perfectly straight? Maybe you answered yes (or no, if glasses) to one of those questions, but if you answered yes to all of them, you are probably delusional. No offense.
So if you are creating characters, think of what could be wrong with them, or even what could simply make them normal. Possible appearance flaws/normalities can be: lanky arms and legs, frizzy or too-thin hair, broad shoulders, no waist, a flat chest, too-big hands and feet, wide-set eyes, an upturned nose, thick eyebrows, shapeless legs, too-small facial features, extra curvy body, etc.
And unless your character is as out of it as Luna, they are going to notice their flaws and be insecure about them. They are going to do something about them, such as go on a diet, search for hair-taming charms (it's more interesting if none of them work), or even stuff their bra. But don't just say once 'she went on a diet and three weeks later she was skinny and perfect.' Make it a struggle for the character to overcome.
OC2 was tall and muscular (no doubt due to his constant Quidditch training). He had tan skin, dark, intriguing eyes, and hair that fell perfectly into place. He had a broad chest, strong arms, and a dazzling smile that melted the hearts of all the girls in the school.
Clearly, I have read far too many pieces of bad fanfiction.
Though, sadly enough, this is often how you see James or Sirius described (but that is another thing all together).
Harry is skinny and pale with glasses; Ron is lanky, pale, and freckled, with bright red hair and too-short robes; Neville is rounder and thicker, with big teeth; the twins are shorter and stocky; Peter (who WAS NOT ALL BAD AT FIRST, though again, that's another story), has small watery eyes and pointed features, Snape has greasy hair and a hook nose. Bill is described as 'cool,' though he has hair long enough to be put into a ponytail and eventually has his looks destroyed by Fenrir Greyback. Sirius is the only one that is actually dubbed 'handsome,' and that is only when he was younger, since his looks were stolen by years in Azkaban.
First of all, think of the age that these boys are. Fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, most likely. They're hardly grown up. They are not going to have perfect, muscular bodies. End of story.
Most boys at that age are still growing, so they are in an awkward, skinny phase for the most part. Some of them will have muscle, sure, but not without effort. And honestly, unless they play Beater, Quidditch is not going to do a whole lot for them.
Boys don't normally care about their hair (save for James), so it won't always look perfect. Maybe they have perpetual bed-head, or they wear a hat all the time and have hat-hair. We know that Draco slicks his hair back (though most writers conveniently forget to mention this) so perhaps other boys also did that at the time as well.
NOT ALL BOYS ARE TALL. That's just a fact of life. And it's not just the evil characters with no potential love interest that should be dealt this card. Many perfectly nice boys have girlfriends that are taller than they are.
Other flaws can include: a weak jaw, a slight figure, a more feminine face, too-big ears, gangly limbs, no abs (GASP!), a bulbous nose, premature grey hair, glasses (James and Harry have them people, no use trying to deny it!), crooked teeth, or knobby knees.
Harry. Sirius. Remus. Neville. Luna. Andromeda. These are the characters INTRODUCED as tragedies (not including Voldemort, Bellatrix, or the characters we later come to find out are just as tragic, such as Snape and Dumbledore). Six, in a whole slew of characters. Sure some of the others don't have perfect pasts, but they aren't orphaned, disinherited, brought up on lies (debatable, when looking at the children of Death Eaters), or bitten by werewolves.
Don't give your characters a tragic or mysterious past. I'm sorry, but that is just overdone and completely uninteresting. Instead, give them a normal life (especially if your story focuses on one of the wars), because then there is room for that tragedy to occur. It is much more intriguing to watch a character deal with hardships as they come, rather than only knowing that they happened sometime in the past.
Harry does not have a twin sister. Snape does not have a daughter, you know, 'cause he only ever loved Lily and all that, and they certainly had no children together. Voldemort MOST DEFINITELY has no siblings (seeing as he killed his father and his mother died in childbirth) and he has no children, since the whole point of his character is that he is unable to love (or feel anything really, which I'm sure put a damper on the idea of sex). Dumbledore was gay. It's a sad fact, but there are no mini Albuses running around (save for Al Potter, but that's completely different).
Also, it's HARRY's prophecy. Not your OC's. I don't care how cool you think it would be to have Voldemort have a personal vendetta against your character. It's not cool. It's overused and irrelevant.
And your character should not have done something in their past that angered Voldemort and the Death Eaters. The character is a teenager. What could they possibly have done? (That's rhetorical. I know you're just loaded with ideas).
So give them a simple background, and make their personality (next section) reflect that background. If they are Pureblood, what type of family is it? Are they more like the Malfoys and Blacks or the Weasleys? Or are they Muggleborn? Do they know nothing of magic? What are their parents' jobs? Does the character have some extra experience in that field because of their parents, or do they hate anything to do with what their parents like?
And actually give them a mom, a dad, siblings perhaps. Because the fact of the matter is that Harry Potter is a story of tragedy, but for that to be the case, the characters must first have something to lose.
Here, I must speak mostly of OCs in Marauder Era fics, since that is what I know. And while it may relate mostly to James and Lily's friends, enemies, etc., most things are still relevant to every era.
First, let me get the 'don'ts' out of the way.
It is typical in Marauder stories for the two main OCs to be Lily's best friends. They are destined to end up with Sirius and Remus, and their personalities are exactly like their respective boys'.
I don't have a problem with creating two OCs for Lily's friends, but that last sentence there is what bothers me. Would you want to fall in love with someone exactly like you? Probably not. The adventure is in your differences.
Let's start with OC1. This is (more than likely) the author's favorite character in the story. She is the one described above as beautiful, perfect, etc. She often times is best friends with Sirius or hates him with a passion. Note two crucial factors: First, Sirius' best friend is JAMES, followed closely by Remus and Peter. No girls allowed. Second, if Sirius and OC1 hate each other, fight, call names, prank, and whatnot, only to eventually fall madly in love, why even have Lily and James in the story at all?
Be ORIGINAL when creating characters. The best advice I can possibly give to you is this: They say 'write what you know.' I say write who you are.
Now, this does not mean that you should create a character that is exactly like you. Absolutely not. But look at yourself. What drives you? What motivates you? What do you believe in? Take those things and work them into your character. Maybe you are only truly motivated when you're under pressure. You understand that feeling, it's a part of you, so maybe your character becomes a procrastinator that does everything moments before it needs to be complete.
Also, think of your friends, look at the people around you. One my best friends snaps his fingers constantly when he's antsy, and so that became a part of Fred in my story, Secondhand Wings. Characters can be a patchwork of imperfect people—the good, the bad, and the ugly.
The major thing you must first ask yourself when creating a character is what is his/her ultimate goal? Maybe they've always wanted nothing more than to play Keeper for the Wimbourne Wasps, so everything that character does is centered on becoming the best Quidditch player they can be. Injury would be disastrous, grades would fall into the background of their lives, they would only read books and magazines about techniques or current League standings. They would be a wealth of information about all things Quidditch, but were you to ask them for the Charms homework, they would not have a clue. Perhaps they are late everywhere because they are trying to squeeze in a few minutes practice whenever they can, and they often grab an apple for dinner and head out onto the pitch.
Once you determine their goal, you can figure out their entire personality.
Back to OC1. If she is going to fall in love with Sirius, then in order to create her, you first have to figure out what Sirius Black would fall in love with. He's a prankster with a tricky background, and has quite enough on his plate as it is. Maybe she isn't loud and boisterous at all. Instead, perhaps she quiet and secluded with wild ideas about how the government should really be run. She's weird and anti-social, but she can see straight through the walls that Sirius has built up to protect himself. She's intriguing, and only speaks when she has something of value to say, and Sirius is drawn to her because she fascinates him. Obviously, her story must end in some kind of tragedy. But maybe she doesn't die some heroic death (shocking, I know), perhaps she's had an incurable disease throughout the entire story, and maybe Sirius even knew about it but chose to love her even though her time was limited. (This goes along with Sirius' problem with commitment, tactless, yes, but true). Or maybe she is just another casualty of war. She gets an Avada Kedavra to the back while walking down the street. Nothing daring, nothing bold, perhaps she's just another statistic.
Moving on to OC2. This is the girl that is destined to fall in love with Remus Lupin. She is often more plain looking than OC1, and she is usually bookish and studious.
Remus was a Marauder, a werewolf, a Prefect, a Phoenix, and eventually, a fantastic teacher. But the most important of these is Marauder. Do you honestly think that he did not have some kind of wild side? Maybe this girl shows him a more exciting side of life. Maybe she teaches him something about living to the fullest, regardless of what hand you're dealt. What if she doesn't fall in love with him until after she learns that he's a werewolf? Maybe she always had a crush on Sirius or James, but once she learns of his condition, she sees just how strong and brave he has to be and loves him for it in the end.
Now, those are specific ideas pertaining to two very distinct types of OCs. Here are some broader ideas.
HUMANS HAVE FLAWS. So give some to your characters. Clumsiness is not a flaw. I'm sorry, but if it can be dubbed 'cute,' then it doesn't truly count. Besides, Bella Swan ruined that one anyway.
Real flaws of character cause a problem for that person or for the people around them.
Hubris (extreme pride), is a good one, and has often been used as a fatal flaw in literature. Think of Draco and his arrogance about his heritage, or Cormac's surety of his Quidditch skills.
Selfishness. These people are mostly teenagers, and therefore, are bound to act selfishly. But that's the beauty of it in the end. If Lily was a saint all along, then protecting Harry isn't all that special, because she would have done it no matter what. But if she was selfish, it makes it all the more meaningful for her to give up her life for his. It shows her act as one of sacrifice rather than duty.
Physical Insecurity. Every story has a beautiful, skinny girl (usually OC1) that eats like a pig but still maintains her perfect figure. Yeah right. Some people can do that, but isn't it ten times more interesting if you have a girl struggling with an eating disorder? Also, make this insecurity a founded one. Don't say 'she hated her hair and the color of her eyes, but she didn't need to, she was gorgeous. She just didn't know it.' Give her an actual physical flaw for her to be insecure about. That's real, and that's life.
Sarcasm. Not the funny, all-in-good-fun kind. The witty, cutting, hurtful kind of sarcasm that can truly break friendships. Maybe the character can't help it. Maybe they always speak before they think, and they end up regretting it in the end.
A girl that is too tomboyish. Always considered 'one of the guys,' and hates it, but she can't change who she is. Perhaps she never gets to be with her crush because he only sees her as a friend. This does not have to include belching, other bodily sounds, spitting, etc. It could simply mean that she wears no make-up, leaves her hair in a tangled mess, wears baggy or not-form fitting clothes, is overly tough (think Toph from ATLA or Clarisse from PJaTO), and has a bit too much interest in Quidditch. And again, she's not 'beautiful even though she wore no make-up.' She's completely average looking.
Too-introverted. Maybe he/she can't open up to people, just because the character prefers to keep to themselves. They aren't mistrustful of others, they would just rather be alone.
Genuinely unintelligent. Perhaps the character needs to be tutored in almost every subject, and barely passes their classes. They might be threatened to be expelled, and will never have the job they really want.
Alcoholic. Not in the fun let's-get-sloshed kind of way, but in the true, must-have-it-or-goes-into-withdrawal kind of way.
Only In it for the chase. This one is a bit more complicated, but it's a person that is only romantically interested in people that aren't interested in them. They do everything to get said-person to like them, but as soon as this happens, they lose interest and move on.
These are some ideas for flaws and quirks that aren't quite so heavy, but should not stand alone as a character's only imperfection.
Talks too much when nervous or upset; chews fingernails/lip; drums fingers on every available surface; stutters; can't put a book down once they start reading it; refuses to eat vegetables of any kind; has to sleep with a light on; crunches every leaf in their path; only wears one specific shade of lipstick and when she runs out, she won't go out in public until she gets more; drinks nothing but water; sweats profusely when nervous; overly curious, nosy, or immature; unable to say no when people ask them for favors; etc., etc.
Flaws/Quirks that are overdone: clumsy, hyper, ADD, gullible, ditsy, slutty, prankster (except for Marauders/Fred & George), the list goes on.
Speaking of slutty characters, why is it that it's okay for OC1 to be a total whore because she's pretty and friends with Lily/in love with Sirius, but it's completely unacceptable when it's a Slytherin? Think about it. If characters are going to be sluts, they should all be looked down upon or not looked down upon. Who you are doesn't make what you do right or wrong.
Now that we've talked about the bad things, let's move on to some of the good qualities in characters.
BUT FIRST, know this: If you are going to say that a character is something, make sure that you also show them being that. Saying and doing are two different things, but the doing is the one that really matters.
A Quick List of Good Traits:
Generous, loyal, kind, intelligent, determined, hard-working, courageous (as in able to overcome or work in spite of fears), selfless, trusting, naïve (can be good or bad, depending), witty, funny, life-of-the-party, artistic, bubbly (but not too-much so, then it's just annoying), friendly to everyone, genuine/sincere, dependable, animated, ambitious, independent, charismatic, hopeful, capable, eloquent, encouraging, charming, easy-going, confident (to a certain extent), etc.
Just remember that no one is all of these things, and you HAVE to balance out the good with the bad.
Also, be realistic about who your character is friends with. If you've created a 'Might is Right' activist, they are not going to be buddy-buddy with Lily or Hermione. If the character is a bookworm that studies constantly, he/she is probably not going to hang out with the Marauders or Fred and George. There has to be a reason that people are friends with each other. Maybe they are a Harry and Ron situation—coming from different backgrounds but brought together because they had no one else. Or maybe they are Ron and Hermione and it takes battling a mountain troll for them to be on civil terms. You must figure out what brought the characters together.
5. Some Example OC Profiles
Name: Vanessa Reese (this is a character from my story Of Raindrops, Flowers, & Wishing Wells, but this is from the improved version that I am working on right now. In the current version, she's a Sue to an extent).
Appearance: Tan skin that gets paler in the winter, brown hair and eyes, tall, somewhat athletic, sharp features, pink lips, dark eyebrows, large expressive hands. Chooses comfort over fashion when it comes to clothes.
Background: Half-blood. Wizard father, Muggle mother. Both are ecologists, so Vanessa spends a lot of her summer outside, and comes back to school with dirt on her clothes and under her fingernails (this gives her an advantage in Herbology and Care of Magical Creatures). She has two younger brothers (Owen, Muggle, and Claude, undetermined, only eight years old), that she gets along with only half the time, as they enjoy pranking her.
She is friends with Lily Evans and Alice Hinton, though she did not join their group until the middle of their fourth year, and only did so at first because she caught her previous best friend sneaking around with her boyfriend, Caradoc Dearborn (but that's another story in itself).
Personality: Vanessa is the type of girl who knows what she wants and goes after it, whatever the cost. She excels in Herbology and Care of Magical Creatures, but her true passion is in Magical Law. She sees flaws in the system and does the best she can to change them. However, she is the type of person to hold a grudge, and does so until people have to prove to her that they are sorry or that they will change their ways, and even then she has a hard time forgiving. She is quick to judge based on reputation, and that often leads to unfounded grudges, especially when it comes to Slytherins. This can be the downfall of friendships for Vanessa.
Her eventual love interest is Remus Lupin, and he inspires her (unintentionally) to fight for werewolf rights, and that becomes her major project. She focuses more on the corruption in the government than on the war with Voldemort, but that leads to just as much trouble.
GOAL: She wants to work in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement in order to (hopefully) amend some of the government's corruption and provide rights to werewolves and half-breeds.
Characters that I am making up on the spot (you may use them if you ask):
Name: Liam Baxter
Appearance: Average height, pale, freckled skin, straw-colored hair, stocky build, honey-brown eyes, crooked nose (broken), upturned lips, square jaw.
Background: Muggleborn. His dad is a writer, his mother an artist, and he has four other siblings—an older brother (Hank), and three younger sisters (Becca, Janet, and Mary). He is in fifth year, Hank is in seventh (Hufflepuff), and Becca is in second (Gryffindor), but Janet and Mary are too young to know whether or not they have magical abilities. The entire family is very artistically inclined, both in writing and in art.
He is two years above Harry, Ron, and Hermione in school, and never paid them much attention, but he would come back for the Battle of Hogwarts, along with Becca.
His best friend is a girl by the name of Claire MacEntire (also Hufflepuff). They met in third year when he told her that she was the most aggravating person he had ever met and she punched him so hard she broke a knuckle and his nose. They were friends ever since. She had dated a Kenneth Towler for two years before Liam realized that he was in love with her, but he did not tell her so, and she would go on to marry Kenneth.
Personality: He keeps to himself, for the most part, because he likes to paint in solitude. He is not overly interested in Quidditch, but he attends the matches because Claire and Becca always beg him to go. He speaks his mind, and is often hurtfully blunt. The only time he ever kept quiet was in his feelings for Claire. When he has no words to express himself, he paints a picture instead, so he has an entire box-full of paintings of Claire. He is artistically-minded and believes that the beauty in his work is not because he is talented, but because the subjects of his paintings are they themselves beautiful.
GOAL: To write a column for the Daily Prophet and still continue his art on the side. He wants to live in an apartment with a studio and make enough money to help out his sisters if need-be and still get along comfortably for himself.
Name: Krista Baker
Appearance: Tall, with straight blonde-bronze hair that falls just past her shoulders, pale skin, pink cheeks. Angular face with a sharp nose, slightly arched eyebrows, full lower lip, upturned eyes the color of grass. No curves to speak of, athletically built, rather muscular. Fingernails chewed to stubs, always has a few bruises from Quidditch training.
Background: Krista grew up in a Pureblood family that never took a side in the war. Her father works for Gringotts and her mother is his secretary, which is how they met. Both of her parents are career-minded, so Krista usually was left to entertain herself (she has no siblings). She started playing Quidditch at a young age with Caradoc Dearborn, who lived down the street, and she loved the game immediately. When he went to Hogwarts two years before she did, she continued to practice on her own and became quite good. Her favorite position is Keeper, but she also can play Chaser when necessary.
She met Lily Evans on the train ride to Hogwarts in their first year, but the two did not become fast friends. Krista had never dealt with children who did not come from magical families, and Lily knew hardly anything of the magical world. But the two of them were brought together by circumstance (Lily and Sev had to sit in her compartment after they left the one containing the Marauders) so they formed a bond nonetheless. She never liked Severus, since she grew up being taught that Slytherins were no good, but she put up with him for Lily's sake.
Krista joined the Gryffindor Quidditch team in her third year as the reserve Keeper, the same year that James became Chaser. She knew that he and Lily did not get along, but she chose to remain unbiased for the sake of the team. She got to play full-time in her fourth year when Caradoc became Captain, and this was the year that she developed more-than-friendly feelings for her lifelong friend.
Personality: Because her parents spend so much time at work, Krista is very independent, and has been since an early age. She has only a few close friends (namely Lily and Caradoc), and has no desire for others. She is friendly enough with everyone, but prefers to practice Quidditch or hang out with Caradoc than spend time with a large group of people. She is uncomfortable and awkward if ever she has a boyfriend, because she feels strange having another person to depend on, and finds herself avoiding said boyfriend instead of wanting to be around him, which always leads to problems. She has the Gryffindor fearlessness and arrogance, on and off the pitch, and is extremely loyal to the few people that she chooses.
GOAL: To play for the Tornados team once she leaves school. She wants to move out of the house as soon as possible and get her own little place and make it on her own. She doesn't care if that means waiting tables night and day, she just wants to support herself.
I certainly hope that this helped you create more realistic characters! If you have any questions, feel free to ask me. You can contact me through a review, a PM, or on my tumblr: ourtimeawayfromhogwarts . tumblr . com
Thanks for reading!
Also, this might become a series of guides, so let me know what kind of 'Dos and Don'ts' You would like to see. (:
No offense was meant by any generalizations. Even my own story, Of Raindrops, Flowers, & Wishing Wells currently contains Mary Sues, but I am re-writing the story to fix them.