Basic Tips To Improve Your OCs & Fan Characters

Not sure how to make a good OC? Do you suspect an OC you already have might need a bit of work, but you're not exactly sure where? Having a lot of trouble getting people to like your OC in general? Here are some tips for you!

  • Every step of the way - from creating to writing or playing your OC - watch yourself to make sure you don't end up with a case of character infatuation (it doesn't have to be romantic) and/or over-identification with your character. This the absolute worst trap to fall into as a writer.
  • Make sure you understand how the universe you're writing for works! Far too many OCs end up conflicting with canon in some way due to their creators having incorrect or insufficient knowledge about the settings they're creating their characters for. Insofar as determining how the universe you're creating for works and doesn't work, Telling Story Canon From Personal Bias, Erroneous Memories, & Fanwank has some tips for this.
  • Every set of OCs based on a particular work will invariably end up with their own set of cliches. If you want your OC to stand out from the crowd, you might take some time to do research into other people's OCs to find out what's commonly done so you know what to change and avoid. Something else you might do is dismiss the first few to several ideas you come up with - because odds are, they were everyone else's first ideas, too.
  • If you find yourself getting stuck for new and fresh ideas, you might take a look at "Help! I Need Ideas For My Story/Setting/Character!" - How To Get Ideas For Yourself!. You might also try out the Basic Character Premise Generator, the Backstory & Origin Generators, and the Character Detail Generators.
  • Give your character no more close connection to the canon characters than is absolutely necessary. If you can take canon connections or involvement out of your character's story or history and have it play out the same with only a few minor alterations, then do so. You don't need to be Ginny Weasley's BFF to fall in love with Parvati Patil.
  • Your character should have a life that doesn't completely revolve around the canon characters - EG, friends, acquaintances, interests, and long-term plans that the canon characters do not share. It's fine for your OC to know Harry Potter and the gang at Hogwarts, but Potter & Pals shouldn't be the only characters who matter in your character's life. Spend some time developing your character's life and relationships outside of the canons.
  • Don't create "universe hoppers" - IE, characters who visit and interact with multiple universes. You can refit your OC with a universe-specific backstory and skillset for every universe you want xir to appear in, but other than that, keep it to one universe per character.
  • Don't create characters whose main function is to directly help the main characters throughout their grand epic quests. Don't create characters who replace a major character. And don't create characters whose main function is to insult or beat up a character you don't like.
  • Avoid having your characters live with the main characters for no particularly good reason (often explained in-story as the canon characters taking in the OC out of the goodness of their hearts at some point) or spend so much time at the home/homes of the canon characters that they might as well live with them. Nine times out of ten, it would make so much more sense for an OC to live or stay somewhere else.
  • Don't create characters who know intimate or sensitive personal details about canon characters for no good in-universe reason. Remember, people don't generally go divulging secrets and sensitive personal information about themselves or about those they care about unless they're the type of people who can't keep their mouths shut about anything. Limit your characters' levels of knowledge to what's actually probable and plausible.
  • Take a moment to put yourself into the shoes of the canon characters that your OC meets. Ask yourself how you would feel and react if your OC treated you or your friends the way your OC treats the canon characters, especially if you had no more knowledge about your OC than the canon characters do. For example, if someone you barely knew came along and started following you around everywhere claiming to "just want to bring you out of your shell," you'd probably be annoyed at best and severely creeped out at worst. Remember, you can't sense when an apparent jerk or weirdo is really a kind-hearted softie inside, and unless the canon characters explicitly have some kind of mind-reading or soul-sensing powers, neither can they.
  • Avoid creating characters who use all of the same skills, tools, techniques, and tricks as a character in the original work. It's one thing to create a genius character who works in a similar field as a canon genius and has to work with the canon genius on a project for awhile, but it's another thing to create a genius character who is so similar to the canon genius that the original story could play out the same exact way if you switched them out. If you're having trouble thinking of a skill to set your character apart from the canon characters, try the random skill generator and/or the character buildinator.
  • When it comes to your OC's talents, skills, abilities, etc., try not to vastly exceed the scale and scope of the canon characters' talents/skills/abilities. Take stock of how many talents/skills/abilities each character has, and how far they extend in terms of what they can accomplish, and try to aim for something similar. So for example, if it takes a canon character several minutes of concentrated effort to cast a spell that creates a perfect cake, your character probably should not be able to just magically poof several fine dresses into existence with a snap of the fingers. In a setting where the canon characters specialize in one or two skills apiece, your character should not be loaded down with as many skills as you think are nifty - keep it to one or two, like the rest of the characters.
  • Don't try to shoehorn your OC into places where there's a canon character cap or where your character really isn't necessary. For example, if canon says that there are six chosen ones, don't make your character the forgotten seventh chosen one. If a group has been able to accomplish its goals with its current members up until now, don't have them recruit your character out of the blue.
  • Likewise, don't shoehorn your character into a canon prophecy that very obviously never included your character. (This includes making up "lost" additions to the canon prophecy.) Find another way to work your character into the story; plenty of alternatives usually exist.
  • If something is supposed to be one-of-a-kind or impossible to duplicate in canon, don't give it or a duplicate/counterpart of it to your character. If it's simply really difficult to duplicate or recreate, don't give it or a counterpart to your character unless you have a really good reason for it (EG, the plot simply couldn't work any other way).
  • Avoid giving your character remarkably strange or unusual traits for the sole purpose of making your character special or unique. Cat ears and a tail are adorable on Sailor Luna and work for her because she actually really is a cat, but are just ridiculous on an Asgardian palace servant.
  • Same as with OC relatives, avoid creating characters who require convoluted and/or excessively extraordinary explanations (per what might be considered excessively extraordinary per that universe's rules) just to fit into the universe, IE, time-travel shenanigans, being kidnapped as an infant, or having a parent who is a member of an alien race that doesn't get out much or that no one's ever heard of before in canon.
  • "Alternate universes" that are alternate only in that your character exists in them (EG, was around to take part in events depicted in canon material) are generally frowned upon. Do not rewrite the universe to accommodate your character; design your character to fit the universe as-is.
  • There's nothing inherently wrong with making an OC the main character of a story. Where it becomes a problem is when pre-existing characters are essentially reduced to accessories, backup, or sidekicks to the OC, or when they're used as pedestals for your character to stand upon and show off xir awesomeness or moral superiority, or when they behave uncharacteristically in some way to make the story happen. Try to avoid this if you're going to make your OC the star of a story.
  • Is your OC supposed to be perceived at least mostly good and sympathetic? Then get clear on what your OC is and isn't at fault for, and own it. "Is This My Character's Fault?" - A Flowchart can help you do this. Nothing annoys people like characters who are treated as innocent for things they were definitely responsible for! Also, take a look at Ethical Considerations For Fantastic Situations - Are Your Sci-Fi & Fantasy Heroes Ethical People?
  • If you want or hope to ship your OC with a canon character, the Relationships, Romance, & Shipping section has a lot of advice to help you write a believable romance and avoid many of the common pitfalls writers fall into.
  • Take a look at Character Development Questions and try to answer as many of them as possible. Also look at Simple Ways To Fill Out & Humanize Your Character and do as many of them as you can. This will help you avoid ending up with bland, flat characters.
  • Don't forget the core drives! These deeply-held attitudes, beliefs, and values can help ensure that your characters never end up dull or passive.
  • Instead of shoving your characters' parents out of the picture by killing them off or making them so horrible that your character won't have anything to do with them, consider developing them as people instead. Parents are a great way to add complexity and realism to your OCs' lives and make them feel more like real, living people. Check out Tips To Create & Write Better Parents & Parental Figures for more advice here.
  • For your character's overall design and appearance, Tips 'N Stuff For Better Character Design has a lot of information that's relevant to designing OCs.
  • If your OC is intended for a roleplay, check out Basic Tips To Make Better & More Appealing Roleplaying Characters.

You might also be interested in:

"Is This A Good Idea For My Story/Setting/Character?" - How To Answer This For Yourself!
Character Creation & Development Theory (Or, How To Make Characters 101!)
Building Better Backstories - Tips & Ideas
Describing Your Character: Tips & Advice
Reasons Your Character Might Be Boring

Tips To Create Better OC Relatives of Canon Characters
Tips For Making Better Harry Potter OCs
Tips For Making Avengers (And Other MCU/Marvel Earth-199999) OCs
Tips For Making Asgardian OCs (And OCs From Other Realms, Too) For Earth-199999
Tips For Writing & Roleplaying Canon Characters Better
Tips For Writing Fanfiction With An OC Protagonist
What To Do When You Have A Character, But No Plot

On Giving Your Characters Flaws & Weaknesses
Pointlessly Edgy Tropes To Reconsider Using
Tips For Writing Dark Stories, Settings, & Characters
On Writing & Roleplaying Mysterious Characters
Exercises To Improve Your Character Writing & Roleplaying Skills
So You Want To Have A Powerful Or Talented Character Who Probably Won't Be Perceived As A Mary Sue?
Writing Character Profiles & Bios - Tips & Advice
Backstory Idea Generator

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