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Oct
21st
2014

OCs. An acronym that sends a cold shudder down the spine of so many long-time FimFiction readers, and not without good reason. Nary a day goes by without the ‘New Stories’ box being graced with a story wherein some new pony wanders into town and befriends our beloved cast. And for the most part, these stories are... less than good. Which is a shame, really, because a good OC can open a ton of doors for an author to take their stories in directions that just aren’t possible if they restrict themselves to the canon personalities of established characters. And since I’ve been turning over questions about when and where they’re properly applied this evening, I figured I might as well share (read: inflict) some of my wisdom (read: bullshit-laden ramblings) onto all my adoring fans (read: people who sneezed mid-click and accidentally ended up here) while I try to hash out the things I’ve done right and wrong in the past. Some of the conclusions I’ve reached are common sense, while others are a bit counter-intuitive. And like all ‘Rules for Writing,’ the best stories are often ones that know when and where to break them.

DO: Make sure your OC has a life and identity of their own

Nothing makes a world start to feel claustrophobic like a network of characters who all share some pre-existing connection. The mare who just happened to be Twilight’s classmate back in Canterlot. The stallion who became a champion lasso-tosser after he just happened to watch Applejack win some tournament. It’s cheap and lazy characterization, and it defines your new character only in relation to another one. Imagine meeting a real-life celebrity on par with the Mane Six. Sure, they expect that you’ve heard of them, but going on and on about how you went to kindergarten together and you still have a scrap of the blankie they drooled on during naptime and omigosh isn’t it just kismet that we’re meeting again like this is a great way to get a complimentary escort out the back door by a large, burly man wearing a three-piece suit and an earpiece.

Bottom line: Your character should be able to carry a story that never intersects with the canon cast at all, at least in theory. If you do need to break this rule, try to do it retroactively. See Cheese Sandwich and the events of Cutie Mark Chronicles for reference. The connections are already existed, but the characters would be interesting even if they didn’t. It’s the gravy rather than the meat, is what I’m saying.

DON’T: Clone an Existing Character

‘My OC Tabula Rasa is a total nerd and bookworm! She’s usually pretty level-headed, but she can get totally crazy when she thinks she might disappoint her mentor, Brincess Belestia.’

Yeah, we already have that character. If you’re using an archetype that’s easily filled by an existing character, an OC might not be the right tool for the job. The exception is when your OC can serve as a shadow archetype to an existing character, a ‘there but for the grace of God go I’ warning who differs from the established character in only minor ways but ended up going in a totally different direction. A Sunset Shimmer to your Twilight, or an Algae Bloom to your Cloud Kicker. These sorts make great antagonists or anti heroes, generally.

DO: Beat the Shit Out of Them

Want your audience to like your original character? Make them suffer. Not randomly, mind, but as a direct consequence of one of their own screw ups (corollary: make sure your OC screws up from time to time). It’s a bit of a balancing act; an OC sentenced to death for littering is only going prompt eye rolling from your readers, but when in doubt harsher is better. Actually, I’d suggest making all your characters suffer as a general rule. Letting your universe knock them over and then kick them when they’re down only for them to learn a lesson and get back up again stronger than before is pretty much always compelling. Who doesn't love rooting for an underdog? It can be tough to follow through on this, especially since you probably like this character and want to coddle them. Fight that impulse. If you fudge the die rolls for them, so to speak, your readers will pick up on it. Do you want a Mary Sue? Because arranging events so that they always work out in your OC’s favor for no good reason is how you get a Mary Sue.

DON’T: Tell Me I Should Like Them

What makes readers think a character is awesome? That character does awesome things. That’s it.

Obvious, right? But a lot of people put the cart before the horse and just expect readers to like their OC because they give them attributes that they think are cool and expect it to rub off. If any of the following phrases appear when you’re describing your character...

‘Invented a groundbreaking device that gives him the power to...’

‘Received numerous awards for...’

‘Super-genius’

‘The best [whatever] that [authority figure] has ever seen’

‘Alicorn’

And so on and so forth

...then odds are I probably won’t give a damn . Nobody cares who your OC is going into the story. What they actually do on the page is a thousand times more impactful. Really, it’s just the old ‘Show, Don’t Tell’ advice gussied up in a new outfit. And don’t think you can slip these sorts of things past readers as long as you give your OC flaws to ‘balance them out.’ This isn’t some sort of point-buy RPG system, it’s a story. Give them core traits and beliefs, sure, but those things can lead to positive or negative characteristics. It’s actually better when strengths and weaknesses both feel like outgrowths of the same attributes.

DO: Buy a Slow Cooker and Learn How to Use It

This one has nothing to do with writing, I just really love my Crock-Pot. You can convince a truly absurd number of people you’re some kind of cooking savant when the limit of your ability is actually ‘chop stuff up, toss in pot, set to LOW for 10 hours.’


Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments.

Eakin · 1,392 views · Edited 5w, 3d ago · Report

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#322 · 1w, 5d ago · · ·

>>1516562

I knew you weren't referring directly to aptitude; I was just stating that to write on the level that users like yourself do, understanding the finer aspects of writing is a must; I personally don't understand anything beyond the "basics", which makes me a figurative castaway.

I would love nothing more than to be able to write a deep, thought-provoking story, but my lack of being able to comprehend the information is my downfall. I was using the fact of me being an automotive mechanic as a comparison to those (like yourself) who have careers in something that is a far more complex field of study. That, and I really am intellectually deficient. I know it's not an excuse, but I was diagnosed with a severe learning disability in high school.

#321 · 1w, 5d ago · · ·

>>1516433

That isn't what I meant at all! I wasn't really commenting about aptitude, but rather what sort of activities you find stimulating. In this case, enjoying reading new ideas, thinking them through, and distilling them into a written work (whether that's a paper or a story) is a skill that serves you well in higher education and is encouraged there.

College doesn't somehow turn stupid people smart, believe me. There are plenty of idiots on every college campus. And it boggles the mind that being an auto mechanic somehow implies that you're 'mentally deficient' or incapable of writing. I was writing way before I went to college, and some of what I came up with managed to not completely suck. If you want to be a great writer, the only things you need to do are practice writing and maybe go read things that challenge you and expose you to new ideas or new ways of expressing old ones. You don't need college for that, especially in the age of the internet where finding writing courses or communities of other authors who you can talk about this stuff with is easier than ever.

#320 · 1w, 6d ago · · ·

>>1516407

I had a feeling I was right.

Probably because as a pursuit it favors the more intellectually inclined.

Well, that seals it for me. I'm intellectually deficient  (I'm an automotive mechanic), so even thinking I could write was a huge mistake on my part. I just needed confirmation on it, and I thank you for that.

#319 · 1w, 6d ago · · ·

>>1516254

You would win that bet. I majored in Poli Sci, actually, and I think you're right that more experienced and talented authors have at least some undergraduate education. Probably because as a pursuit it favors the more intellectually inclined.

#318 · 1w, 6d ago · · ·

I'm willing to bet that you have a college degree; that's my theory on why the popular writers (and their stories) are so popular and "great".

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