• Member Since 16th Jul, 2016
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EverfreePony


Life is just a coincidence, that's what Mother Nature and Auntie Evolution taught us.

More Blog Posts30

  • 48 weeks
    Creating Compelling Characters

    Creating a ‘good’ character is an evergreen topic in many groups on this site, so I thought it might be worth a shot to dedicate another miniguide to it. Here I’ll focus primarily on some aspects of a character’s role in a story and the ways in which these aspects affect character creation. The guide might be also a bit messier than usual as putting together these various tidbits of advice would

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    9 comments · 250 views
  • 55 weeks
    Handling Points of View with Grace

    I’m pretty sure that all of you have read more than one story in your life, and I’d bet that most of you noticed that stories can be told from a variety of perspectives. If you prefer a somewhat fancier term, such a perspective can be also called a point of view (POV for short). Types of POVs, their usage, and common pitfalls are what’s this miniguide going to be about. Just like in case of the

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    10 comments · 239 views
  • 68 weeks
    Story Titles, Cover Art, and Descriptions 101

    Imagine this: You wrote a story that you deem great. You may have even shown it to a few folks for beta-reading and might have it edited, so the fact the story ain’t bad is most likely not just your subjective perception. Then you publish the story. Nothing happens. No comments, a modicum of votes, and a few views. Maybe it’s just bad luck. Or maybe the story’s boring and fails to maintain the

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    10 comments · 254 views
  • 70 weeks
    COVID, Floods, Slugs, and Other Joys

    It’s been three months since my last status report, and I feel it’s time for another one. Things definitely haven’t played out as I anticipated them to. For one, I hoped I’d finally get enough free time to make significant headway on all of my pony and non-pony projects. Well, nope.

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    6 comments · 220 views
  • 78 weeks
    How to (Not) Write Story Beginnings

    So you have a story with a good description, fitting cover art, original title, and an appealing premise, yet it seems that the views and votes are not coming in as fast as you‘d like? There might be many reasons behind your lack of success, including, but not limited to, bad luck and bad timing, the title, description and so on not being as perfect as you think, and, lastly, the story itself not

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    10 comments · 330 views
Nov
24th
2020

Creating Compelling Characters · 9:38am Nov 24th, 2020

Creating a ‘good’ character is an evergreen topic in many groups on this site, so I thought it might be worth a shot to dedicate another miniguide to it. Here I’ll focus primarily on some aspects of a character’s role in a story and the ways in which these aspects affect character creation. The guide might be also a bit messier than usual as putting together these various tidbits of advice would require a far longer text to be somewhat coherently connected.

First and foremost, it’s important to emphasise one thing: characters are ultimately just tools. Interesting and very versatile storytelling tools, but still tools. I know that this mindset might be hard to accept, but try to bear with me. Thinking this way will help in two regards. First, you’ll be less likely to get overly emotionally invested in your characters, and second, it might make it easier for you to think of how characters contribute to the creation of a story.

When coming up with a new story, you should try to start with the idea behind the story itself, with its plot and its driving conflict. Once you have a solid idea of what you want to do, you can start refining it by adding the characters, settings, and so on. This is akin to taking up a new craft project—first you think of what you want to create and then you start gathering the necessary tools and materials. If you first pick a few tools and only then start thinking of how to put all of them to good use, then you are quite likely to end up with some abomination of a project. Similarly, if you create a character or two and try to build a story around them, it’s likely not going to end well, especially if you aren’t very experienced.

Now, I admit I’m guilty of exaggerating here a little for the sake of making a point. Characters are an integral part of a story, so don’t assume that you first have to write the whole story and then just fill in the blanks by stuffing in Spitfire and Steven Magnet. No, characters should be added as you develop the story, with their addition affecting the story’s development in turn. In other words, there’s nothing wrong with creating a story and its characters at the same time. It’s creating a character and then the story where problems arise.

This brings us to the traits of a good character that so many folks seek in the forums. You can find a lot of good advice there, most of which is widely applicable, but not universal. The thing is, possibly the only universal trait is that a good character works well when they fit their role and serve their purpose in the grand scheme of the story. I know that’s about as helpful as telling you that pretty much any kind of character can work under a certain set of conditions, but it’s the truth.

Now, a few things in regards to characters assuming a certain role in the story, plus especially one piece of pragmatic advice in terms of writing fanfics. If there’s some canon character that’d fit the role, choose them over an original character. Don’t get me wrong, I love OCs, but truth be told, not everyone in the fandom does, and if people have to choose, they’ll likely favour a story featuring Twilight Sparkle they know and love over a story about some random Sparkly Twinkle. It might seem a bit constraining, but to be fair, being able to reference the source material is one of the greatest strengths of fanfiction. If you find yourself needing a random pony for a very minor role, try turning it into a cameo of some fitting canon character. I’m pretty sure that this spot will make a reader or two comment on it :raritywink:

Of course, if you cannot find a fitting CC, use an OC designed so that they fit the role. That also means that you don’t need to develop the character more than what the story requires. You might flesh them out more than necessary if it helps you think of how they might react to something, but these extra details shouldn’t appear in the story itself. In other words, stating a character’s date of birth or listing off their twenty favourite power metal bands when it’s completely irrelevant to the story shouldn’t happen. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a character making small talk and off-handedly remarking that the smell of lavender reminds them of their grandma. It’s not really a relevant detail, but it fits the situation and adds a touch of realism.

I already mentioned that stories featuring canon characters are a bit more likely to be noticed. However, there’s no sense in trying to cram a canon character into your story just because it’d make it a bit more appealing at first glance. A second glance will likely reveal that the character feels nothing like their show self.

Such a case might be described as a character acting out-of-character (OOC), which is a term that gets thrown around a lot. The problem with this and the other few terms that I’m going to mention below is that it has been overused so much that it’s original meaning has been muddied up a bit, and people oftentimes use it without really knowing what exactly it means. It’s pretty similar to climate change, Einstein’s relativity, and other big words and phrases that have become pretty much hollow with their inconsiderate overuse.

Anyway, back to OOC characters. In general, such a character behaves in a way that doesn’t make sense in context of their known personality, and in the most extreme cases the characters feel nothing like themselves. However, it’s important to note what is not an OOC. If Fluttershy starts hating animals out of the blue, then that’s going to be out-of-character for her. However, if she endures some trauma due to which she now resents animals or if some magical mishap turns her into the polar opposite of her normal personality, then that’s not an OOC. It’s a justified change or character development.

Now, OOC characters are pretty annoying, however, there’s something even worse; and that’s boring characters. Given that a reader is intrigued and hooked as long the story is interesting, using a character that reeks of boredom pretty much kills the story. While this might apply to characters that are inherently boring and uninteresting (see the concept of unnecessary person used in works of Russian realism for some examples), the source of boredom is more often than not the author trying a bit too hard to make the character special.

One such problem pose characters that are overpowered (OP). The lack of interest here stems from the fact that this pretty much abolishes the story’s conflict as the character is usually so strong (including, but not limited to physical strength) that they don’t struggle at all to reach their goal. In addition to being boring, it is also not very relatable or believable. Just imagine Little Red Riding Hood merrily hopping along a forest path with her basket in tow when she suddenly gets jumped by the big bad wolf. She doesn’t wait a second and knocks the wolf out with a well-placed right hook, then continues to her grandma’s cottage for tea and biscuits. That’s not exactly interesting, especially when compared to the lovely original story of how a canine digestive system definitely doesn’t work.

A character being OP can be a stand-alone issue, though it’s often a side effect of another kind of a faulty character, commonly known as Mary Sue (in case of male characters sometimes written as Gary Sue, Gary Stu, Marty Stu and so on) the definition of which is shrouded in many misconceptions.

The original Mary Sue is the protagonist of A Trekkie’s Tale written by Paula Smith as a parody of a bunch of bad fanfiction tropes. If you read through her very short story (you can find it at the end of this post), you’ll notice that Mary Sue is adored by everyone from the get-go, nobody really questions what she does, and she has so many skills and special abilities that she is much more than your average prodigy. These are the traits that many people deem as defining features of a Mary Sue, and some even think that any character that shows a hint of special skills or has some interesting ancestry has to be a Mary Sue. Well, nope.

The traits listed above are indeed common in Mary Sues, but to be fair, these are more like consequences of the main trait that defines any Mary Sue—and that’s the fact that a story with a Mary Sue in it is constructed so that it can glorify and show how great the character is in every sentence or so. That’s also why everyone loves the character and benevolently overlooks their flaws, if they have any. (On a side note, you can also encounter stories where the character is hated by everyone—however, it only serves to illustrate how great they are in comparison to the rest of the world who are then portrayed as useless morons.) There might also be some self-inserts and wish-fulfillment involved, though these aren’t present in all stories featuring Mary Sues.

This brings us back to the beginning where I mentioned that creating a fully fleshed out character before working on the story brings with it a lot of problems. The creation of a Mary Sue or an OOC portrayal of canon characters are just a few of them, though they are possibly the most noticeable.

Please bear in mind that this guide is meant primarily for beginners, and the discussed topic has been simplified for the sake of keeping this somewhat short.

You can find the previous guides in the forum of this group as well as in my blogs.


Here’s the promised story of the original Mary Sue, A Trekkie’s Tale by Paula Smith.

”Gee, golly, gosh, gloriosky," thought Mary Sue as she stepped on the bridge of the Enterprise. "Here I am, the youngest lieutenant in the fleet - only fifteen and a half years old." Captain Kirk came up to her.

"Oh, Lieutenant, I love you madly. Will you come to bed with me?"

"Captain! I am not that kind of girl!"

"You're right, and I respect you for it. Here, take over the ship for a minute while I go get some coffee for us."

Mr. Spock came onto the bridge. "What are you doing in the command seat, Lieutenant?"

"The Captain told me to."

"Flawlessly logical. I admire your mind."

Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy and Mr. Scott beamed down with Lt. Mary Sue to Rigel XXXVII. They were attacked by green androids and thrown into prison. In a moment of weakness Lt. Mary Sue revealed to Mr. Spock that she too was half Vulcan. Recovering quickly, she sprung the lock with her hairpin and they all got away back to the ship.

But back on board, Dr. McCoy and Lt. Mary Sue found out that the men who had beamed down were seriously stricken by the jumping cold robbies, Mary Sue less so. While the four officers languished in Sick Bay, Lt. Mary Sue ran the ship, and ran it so well she received the Nobel Peace Prize, the Vulcan Order of Gallantry and the Tralfamadorian Order of Good Guyhood.

However the disease finally got to her and she fell fatally ill. In the Sick Bay as she breathed her last, she was surrounded by Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy, and Mr. Scott, all weeping unashamedly at the loss of her beautiful youth and youthful beauty, intelligence, capability and all around niceness. Even to this day her birthday is a national holiday of the Enterprise.

This thread has been originally posted in The Writer's Group and Struggling Authors. The links lead to the individual threads, I suggest checking out the discussions below them. Reposting here for safekeeping purposes.

PS: A little short story about how this blog came to be. I had its rough outline prepared for a while, but couldn't get around to finish it. Then, six days ago, I had to take a bus across the country, which was an ideal opportunity for me to write as it makes it far easier for me to focus. So, I started fully drafting and writing this, when some lady decided to suddenly stop her car in the middle of the highway. The bus driver reacted rather swiftly and started braking, but the bus still crashed into the car while going pretty fast. Luckily all two- and four-legged passengers survived (almost) unscathed--though my right arm could fare far better. My tech survived the accident as well, so I could finish typing this while waiting at a gas station for the replacement bus to show up.

Comments ( 9 )

Glad to see you writing blogs. Sorry for the accident behind this one. It's nice seeing you put these into blogs as hunting down your forum threads and posts can be troublesome in locating them again.

Be well to do well.
~ Yr. Pal, Not B

5404046
Thank you. It's good to have these blogs at hand. Makes giving advice far easier when I can just copy-paste some part of this and tweak it slightly.

I thought I had read this before; turns out I have!

5404186
Hehe, indeed. I always post these guides in the forums to reach more people, then store them here after a short while :twilightsmile:

Well, you miiiight not remember me, but I'm glad you're making blogs!:yay:

Hope you're in good health!:heart:

5404398
I actually remember you :pinkiehappy:

Thank you!

Hey Ever,

It is good to see someone holding down the fort of knowledge and wisdom since I've been gone. :rainbowdetermined2:

If there’s some canon character that’d fit the role, choose them over an original character. Don’t get me wrong, I love OCs, but truth be told, not everyone in the fandom does, and if people have to choose, they’ll likely favour a story featuring Twilight Sparkle they know and love over a story about some random Sparkly Twinkle.

:facehoof: I wish I had understood this when I first came here. Having all the writing advice in the world won't help when it comes to fanfic politics. :twilightsmile: Thankfully that story still lives on elsewhere. I hope to do better this go around with actual show characters. :rainbowdetermined2: Here is to round 2 on FiM. May the two sisters have mercy upon my soul.

In other words, stating a character’s date of birth or listing off their twenty favourite power metal bands when it’s completely irrelevant to the story shouldn’t happen.

But Luna-Twi loves her power metal bands. How else am I supposed to convey how edgy and goth she is if I can't insert my... :trollestia: I mean her love for music? I'm just teasing. I saw this and had to make a joke.

A character being OP can be a stand-alone issue, though it’s often a side effect of another kind of a faulty character, commonly known as Mary Sue (in case of male characters sometimes written as Gary Sue, Gary Stu, Marty Stu and so on) the definition of which is shrouded in many misconceptions.

Yeah, I'd agree here too. It is possible for a character to be over-powered as to not to have meaningful struggles and challenges. Of course, people assume OP means being like Superman. That's not how this works. One-Punch Man (Saitama) is a great example of this because he is vastly over-powered physically. However, the story isn't about his ability to defeat enemies. The conflict is him versus his sense of purpose. Enemies tend to be more of a joke than a real fight. Also, Saitama tends to be bad at many things, but it is his desire to fight that fills him with purpose, and not to be able to have a meaningful fight causes his dilemma.

Superman can also be used as a good example since his antagonist, Lex Luthor, is physically opposite to him. Luthor is vastly weaker, but not lacking innovation on putting Superman in a situation where the two can go toe to toe. The key here is finding ways of meaningfully challenging the protagonist.

(On a side note, you can also encounter stories where the character is hated by everyone—however, it only serves to illustrate how great they are in comparison to the rest of the world who are then portrayed as useless morons.)

:eeyup: So true.

A Trekkie’s Tale by Paula Smith

My favorite part is Spock and his "flawless" logic. Talk about characters being OOC, right? :raritywink:

5578600
I appreaciate the compliment. I tried my best to spread some knowledge.

My favorite part is Spock and his "flawless" logic.

Hehe, yes, that one’s great. Flawless, even.

I wish I had understood this when I first came here. Having all the writing advice in the world won't help when it comes to fanfic politics. :twilightsmile:

It’s funny, really. I’d say that knowing how to promote your stories, how to make yourself seen, and how to appeal to the site’s demographic are much more important than the story itself, at least when it comes to chasing after the fabled short-lived horse fame. Then again, no amount of likes and cheery comments can replace the feeling of writing a story that you enjoy. :rainbowdetermined2:

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