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Fan Fiction and Original Characters

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So, a few days ago, a friend and I were talking about this sort of idea.  The discussion for this thread, though, is more a case of how many OC characters do you like in your fan fiction before it gets turned off?

In the case of the only fanfiction I have up here, which is that of a Star Trek Online, aside from a few ‘cameos’ here and there, the cast is entirely original characters.  The conversation between us was a discussion about how a lot of people would be turned off by that sort of story, which I do accept and actually kind of agree with (strangely, considering...), but how many OC characters in a fanfiction turn you off?  Would it turn you away from that particular story or does it even matter?

Giving my thoughts on the matter as a writer, I don’t really like using canon characters because I, personally, feel forced into a tiny box to keep them in character.  As a reader, if the canon characters in a fanfiction don’t feel particularly right (given deviations accounted for in regards to whatever the story is being told; ie, sexual stories, I can give leeway in canon characters being different than author portrayed (if this makes sense...).  It’s a major reason why I didn’t include any in the main cast of characters for STA.  That said, as a reader, I do understand why someone could, potentially, be turned away if there are no canonical characters.  (I feel like I’m rambling, so my apologies.)

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My fanfictions are game-based for the most part—Neverwinter Nights and Dragon Age, to be specific. So, in essence, my player character is a form of OC to begin with, since I decide how the PC will respond over the course of the game. It’s not a huge leap to turn that into fanfiction, especially when I think the writers for the game were short-sighted, or narrow-minded.

I do try to keep major canon characters in character, but there are always those less-explored non-player characters who catch my attention, and I won’t promise not to write them a full back story, and drop them into a few twists of my own devising… :lol:

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I think it’s important to do fan fiction your own way. And being that this is really your first official foray into fanfiction that I’m aware of, if you want to ease yourself into canon characters or never really utilize them at all, that’s perfectly valid. It’s your story. It’s your decision. 

That being said, when I was a reader in the Tekken or Star Ocean fandoms, I never read fan fics where the main character or the love interest were OCs. I went into those fandoms for the characters, the universe was only a small part of the appeal. So a story without the canon character would defeat the purpose for me. Of course, it would be a little different if I was looking for fics in game fandoms where the main player character is an OC by design, like neverwinter and DA. With MMORPGs, it would be more about the universe and the cultures. That sounds more fun to write in than read in, for me though, since there wouldn’t be much in the way of established characters to draw me in. But for rich RPGs like DA with a semi OC main, that lies somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. I would probably still kinda avoid OC fics, but would be much more open minded. 

I understand not wanting to limit yourself with canon characters, and that’s perfectly valid. If I go into it expecting to be reading fan fiction, I’d probably have a problem with it, but I go into it expecting original fiction so it doesn’t bug me. 

 

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The answer depends heavily on the fandom. The Star Trek universe is so thoroughly fleshed out that you could write an engaging story without using any canonical characters (CCs); as long as you include familiar alien races, technology, etc, and otherwise follow the “rules” of the Star Trek universe. (But you couldn’t do that with, say, Brooklyn 99, because that show is all about the characters, not the world it’s set in. )

The broader point here is that readers will probably accept a fair number of OCs in a fic as long as they are engaging and fit in with the fandom and its characters. I included several OCs in my Star Vs the Forces of Evil story “Star’s Crossed Lovers,” and readers generally liked them because of the way they interacted with the CCs. 

 

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It depends on the source and your tastes. I generally prefer a majority of characters to be canon, but some settings that really isn’t possible. I attempted writing for the Neverwinter MMO setting, but those plots and characters were so loosey goosey within the setting that, aside from mentioning an event or character in passing my story didn’t even feel much part of that setting. By the time I had created that many OCs to be the entire cast, I realized I wasn’t writing fanfic anymore but an original fiction. I wasn’t attached to the canon-weak characters and events that I didn’t want or need them, I was doing ALL of the work of writing an original story without being able to take credit. It wasn’t hard to file off the original setting. (BW knows that hiatus’d story) MMOs with the generic nature of character interaction and repetition, seem very unlikely to build a gripping foundation for fanfic.  The original Guild Wars had the bones for some gripping sequences, but with the very fluidity of the interative and constantly retconned canon, it’s not stable enough or even accessable years later to refresh the canon.

Now single player games like NWNights and Dragon Age are released in large enough chunks they are stable enough for replay for fun or research as you have a copy of the game you played on disk. Canon characters are far better developed and rich for exploration and use in fiction. Few games have made as good characters. Too many characters mean they aren’t 3D enough to tempt my muse. I had hopes for project eternity game, but the supporting cast was too generic and boring, 

I believe that it is the canon characters (and lesserly- events) who drive my interest in fanfiction. If the significant cast is all original, I know I’m not as interested in reading. Writing about the adventures on the SS Vanguard that has no impact on the world just feels futile. What would be different if this happened instead of canon? Sometimes I’ve read even a single OC who can break the setting completely, the OCs need to play mostly by the setting rules too. (and not outshine canon)  Some settings have so many minor characters that there’s usually an existing character for most any purpose, and these characters are already woven into the setting,

OC’s need more work to get them to fit seamlessly into the setting and existing cast. (A small part of why Rey is a Sue is that her background is basically to be plopped into a saga that deals heavily in lineage and fate. She’s a rehash of early Luke without any real past, brought forth from the brow of the Mouse with less past than the leads of computer games) A good OC needs to be part of the world and have a good significant reason for why the character was offstage during canon.

(wandering away again, sorry) I like using canon characters, and the challenge to keeping them in character but still have them deal with new problems and people. Banter and interaction with OCs is fun. It’s very therapeutic to have someone slap someone who’s being stupid in canon.  But then many good stories can just reshuffle canon, like one where Kirk might have kidnapped Edith Keeler to the future. Few canon characters are that developed that you cannot develop them in a new way... or just better depicted than canon. We can show their thought stream better than video. In practice, my OCs seem to hold below about 25% of the significant cast. Mainly because the canon cast is as much a part of the settings as phasers and mithral.

I find I cannot keep up with stories about the characters I like, and by definition I don't know OCs in OC laden stories. So I move on.

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As one whose first fanfic had a non-canon character, I can’t go against that :)   In the end, I’ve kinda sidelined that non-canon character, making her a refuge for Harry from the wizarding world, good girlfriend (+wife) with benefits.

On the pragmatic side, writing an OC can be a good spot to build confidence to start into full originals too.

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Now THIS is a thread I can get behind! The series i've thrown OC's into is male dominated. While there are female characters, it's few and far between which means plenty of fodder for the yaoi and WAFF tags. 

My first story i feel is fine as she's an OC (succubus) thrown into the series in a plausible manner and she doesn't require a whole lot of backstory. Her motives are clear and it's also clear as to the type of story it's going to result in. 

My worries are integrating other OCs that may border WAFF tags and if that'll generate interest for people to read them at all as I do try to stay true to the original characters and universe they reside in. While they're all giftfics, there is a part of me that still wants to throw those out into the world for some light reading. But i definitely worry they won't be as well recieved as the succubus story.

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If I was an M/F writer in the Saiyuki fandom, yeah I’d have to do the whole OC thing too. The few female characters who make infrequent, repeat appearances, from what I recall (It’s been years since I dipped into my Saiyuki DVD collection) weren’t all that interesting to me. Saiyuki was a great place to write M/M though, lol. 

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On 9/26/2018 at 4:35 PM, CloverReef said:

If I was an M/F writer in the Saiyuki fandom, yeah I’d have to do the whole OC thing too. The few female characters who make infrequent, repeat appearances, from what I recall (It’s been years since I dipped into my Saiyuki DVD collection) weren’t all that interesting to me. Saiyuki was a great place to write M/M though, lol. 

Hahaha Saiyuki has PLENTY of fodder to craft M/M. :lol: oh, the fodder. 

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The reason fan-fiction makes such a great writing exercise for many is that the characters are already done up for you. You know the characters, you know the world, you know the possibilities of both so all you have to do is come up with an interesting arrangement of events.. It’s good practice for when you start doing original works with original characters because believe it or not, once you’ve defined a character you’ll have just as much of a constraint as if you were writing with someone else’s character. that is, there is a limited set of actions that will ‘feel’ right for any character.

Embrace the box.

It’s a common thing , even among pro authors to simply have a character be whatever they need the character to be to make a scene work and this can create some  narrative dissonan ce. Have you ever seen a story where a character just does something that doesn’t fit well with how they’ve been characterized Or their actuions over the course of the book don’t seem to flow from one to the other in any logical pattern? Yeah That’s what hapopenbs when a character is bent to fit the story.

The reall question is. How many OC’s do you need to add to tell an interesting story?  Or to quote a piece of whriting advice. Try to tell the story with as few characters as possible,

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2 hours ago, PenStoryTeller said:

The reason fan-fiction makes such a great writing exercise for many is that the characters are already done up for you. You know the characters, you know the world, you know the possibilities of both so all you have to do is come up with an interesting arrangement of events.. It’s good practice for when you start doing original works with original characters because believe it or not, once you’ve defined a character you’ll have just as much of a constraint as if you were writing with someone else’s character. that is, there is a limited set of actions that will ‘feel’ right for any character.

Embrace the box.

It’s a common thing , even among pro authors to simply have a character be whatever they need the character to be to make a scene work and this can create some  narrative dissonan ce. Have you ever seen a story where a character just does something that doesn’t fit well with how they’ve been characterized Or their actuions over the course of the book don’t seem to flow from one to the other in any logical pattern? Yeah That’s what hapopenbs when a character is bent to fit the story.

The reall question is. How many OC’s do you need to add to tell an interesting story?  Or to quote a piece of whriting advice. Try to tell the story with as few characters as possible,

You have nooo idea how much I love this answer. 

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3 hours ago, PenStoryTeller said:

Embrace the box.

It’s a common thing , even among pro authors to simply have a character be whatever they need the character to be to make a scene work and this can create some  narrative dissonan ce. Have you ever seen a story where a character just does something that doesn’t fit well with how they’ve been characterized Or their actuions over the course of the book don’t seem to flow from one to the other in any logical pattern? Yeah That’s what hapopenbs when a character is bent to fit the story.

The reall question is. How many OC’s do you need to add to tell an interesting story?  Or to quote a piece of whriting advice. Try to tell the story with as few characters as possible,

8

Yeah, I’ve seen too many pro writers who make a well-done character go so far off the rail for clearly meta reasons in books, TV, and games and they thought bending the char is less important than forcing the scene or plot.  That happens in fanfic as well, but I see that as less embarrassing, though still bad. I can be open to redeemed villains if they have to work at it, and tarnished heroes if they break, but the changes from canon need to be rooted in some one or multiple hints in the canon.

Most annoying to me are the ones who take things far darker without any convincing reasons for the character change beyond bending the character. Because the writer hates that box.

I think if you hate the box, why use that character at all?  OCs are better than bending the character and rejecting the box. Characters are made up of voluntary and involuntary boxes. We can tweak or grow out of our self-made boxes, but it just doesn’t happen by magic. (even in worlds with magic, there is the spell or curse that forces a change. The better writers figure a way to adjust the box without rejecting the entire box. [BTW i really like this box metaphor, because it handles OOCness well]

-- about the number of OCs for the story, that is tricky. If there is no existing character to take the story role the writer needs, I don’t see any problem. But I think OCs should be a minority percent of the cast. People read fanfic for new adventures of characters they love. I know I tend to drop from stories where majority OCs carry the story. I started writing from canons of CRPG, so the lead was almost always an OC which colorizes the story told. 

I find the bigger reason for limiting the number of characters is that the story will grow almost virally.  To make interesting characters or get canon ones to be more than tropes, you have to develop them and give them goals and some small arc. That takes a lot of time when you pass a dozen major characters, that’s how my simple Cthulu coming to attack a high fantasy city exploded to become 300k words and I nearly had an ilcer trying to wrangle it to a conclusion. My current crack derived idea is heading for 200k,  (8 POV chars 2 of those OC… 21 major chars, and 5 of those are OC) All those subplots end up detracting from your main story thread. Slices of life are good, but a good story needs a good and meaningful conclusion.

Your cast is a bigger box to treasure.

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1 hour ago, PenStoryTeller said:

You know I just thought of one rather stinging case of where characters get bent out to push the writer’s agenda. Remember when Iceman turned gay?

I had to google, since I’m not an avid movie watcher, as I find it more fun to create than to consume.  However, this reminded me of a criticism I had seen of Star Trek Voyager, how characters would suddenly have this new gift/insight/etc, for one episode only, but if you summed up all the traits, it’s an incredibly overpowered character.    

I know the temptation though, even if it’s through “training”.  Had a point in Dale’s Game, where I wanted to train the main characters up, with their favorite sports team, but the more I thought about it, the less realistic it seemed – eventually I scrapped the training regimen because it’d change who my characters were.  Sure, training a character is much more realistic than, say, having them get gifted a new set of abilities just by eating a box of Wheaties.  However, the training alters the balance, and it was more interesting writing with the constraints of their inabilities too.

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