Creating a Well-developed OC
Hello! Welcome to my guide on the creation of a balanced, believable original character! Whether this is your first time creating a character and you want some advice on where to start, or you need to tweak your character, because you're unsatisfied with it, then you've come to the right place. In this guide you'll find details on the importance of every aspect of an OC, from something seemingly insignificant as the name to the powers of a character.
This guide can be applied to original characters of any fandom or purely of your creation for your own story! If your setting doesn't include some parts, like having abilities, you can simply skip over that section. Likewise, if I'm going into details on some specifics that don't apply to your character, feel free to skip over that as well.
Before I get into breaking down a character, let me first start off by asking you to do one thing. Get the term "Mary Sue" out of your head right now before reading this. This will be the only time you'll see the phrase used. Why you ask? I'm not here to judge your OC and label them as being one of those; that's not the reason for my creating this. I personally dislike the term, because half the time people use it without understanding the entirety of what it means. If a person sees one aspect that is considered that, they automatically label the OC as such, which isn't very encouraging. It puts a damper on creativity and is just a negative, ugly term.
In place of that, I'll be using terms such as "undeveloped," "poorly developed," "overpowering," "unrealistic," "unbalanced," etc. (And the "M" word.)
Without further ado, let's begin!
Your Character's Name
You might be wondering if this should really even be on this list, but actually, the name is a very important aspect of your character! It's almost like what the first person sees, and first impressions are pretty important. Some advice:
1. Don't name the character after you. In fact, try your hardest not to basically create an OC version of yourself. This is what people refer to as a "self-insert" and oftentimes relate it to the "M" word. The reason I am against basing a character off you is because it's not very original and even slightly boring. (And then of course there are those assumptions that you're just inserting yourself into the story to live out your fantasy or be with your dream character.)
2. Try not to make up a name. If you suddenly pull a name out of your head like, "Phonesca," it will definitely raise some red flags from critics. There are some exceptions of course, like if a story takes place in the future and everyone has unique names, then it's fine.
3. Keep the fandom/settings in mind. Let's take anime for an example. A majority of them are set in Japan, so more than likely you should think of naming your character a Japanese name. Again, there are always exceptions, but ask yourself if they make sense. Like if the character were visiting from another country, then having a non-Japanese would be fine. However, if your character is fully Japanese and has a name like "Emily," then that wouldn't be very realistic. It's pretty common for people to name their Japanese characters American names.
4. Meanings are important, but let's not take it too far. If your character is cold-hearted and loves the night, be careful about naming them something like "Raven." Let's face it, though your parents know a lot about you, they probably couldn't tell what you would be like when they first named you so keep that in mind. If the meaning is something general (such as "beauty" or "faith"), then that's fine. Don't try to search names for their meaning to match your character that's not how it works in the real world.
5. Multiple names ? A bit iffy. That's like if the name was something like, "Marianne Elizabeth-Hudson Lockheart." Kinda crazy to have so many names, and a little unnecessary? Again, being realistic, some Spanish names have more than one last name, and if your character is married and hyphenated their last name, then that's okay. So long as we're being realistic, you don't have to worry about it.
Was that too bad ? Didn't think there was so much to a name, did you? Now onto the looks!
Your Character's Appearance
Another biggie some people use to throw around the "M" word. I'm trying to make this guide general enough to apply to both male and female characters, so bear with me in this section!
1. Modesty, let's not go overboard now. And this is calling for some modesty on your part. When describing your OC, try not to use biased descriptive words, like actually calling your character "beautiful, sexy, gorgeous, handsome, etc." People get a bit iffy when you're very attached to your character; let the people decide for themselves if the character is beautiful or not! Likewise, in the canon world, be careful of having every single character fawn over your OC. If the canon character naturally ogles, then that's okay. And if every other character is jealous over how good looking your OC is, then that's also a problem. You don't want to exude them as being too much in any category.
However! It's absolutely okay to make your OC beautiful! And by that, applying to females, you don't have to feel obligated to make her flat chested in worriment over what critics will say. I find that very silly. It's a little strange to see that people feel the need to make "average" characters, if we're truly being realistic; there are tons of good-looking people in this world. But like I said before, modesty. We're modest people here. (Now, that doesn't mean your OC has to be. But we'll go onto personality later.)
2. Don't stand out for the sake of standing out. Be careful on making some unique feature for your character. For example, pink hair is rarely natural; so mention your character dying it at some point. And purple eyes, if you really want them to have that, say they have colored contacts. Yes, there are some fandoms where that's natural, and if that's the case, don't worry about it. Also I wouldn't be so hasty on giving a natural tattoo that the person was born it that holds some special meaning it's a little overdone.
3. OMG BOOBS. Sorry, I have to specifically go into females now! Breasts. I have nothing against large breasts, but if you're only making your character have them to score some points with male fans, then I think that's a very shallow reason right there. And please, please, don't use the excuse that anime creators make female characters with horrendously large breasts, they have NO idea what it's like. My friend is actually getting breast reduction surgery because the size of her breasts are causing her back problems it's not so great when you think of it that way now, is it?
4. Your character should have a natural style of dress. I don't have much to say about this one, except can I say that their wardrobe should correlate with the character's personality? If your female OC wears a mini skirt and super tight shirt, but is very innocent and shy, does that really work together well ? Not really. However, sometimes things like that can be pretty interesting, like a guy has a lot of tattoo and piercings and looks completely frightening, but he's actually a sweetheart.
Your Character's Past
Unless your OC is a baby, he/she should have a past, most definitely. It sets the stage up for the rest of the story and it's actually helpful to you. Yes, you have to take your time in creating it, but if you're writing a story or even in an RP, you can pull elements from that to thicken the plot and add more depth. Notice how I said, "take your time" because I mean it. A past thrown together in five minutes is pretty half-assed; excuse my language.
1. Oh woe is me! One of the biggest reasons people use the "M" word is when they see a character with a ridiculously tragic past, and I actually agree with this. To me, it completely throws a character off-balance. You don't have to try and garner tons of sympathy for your character to make people like them. That's not the best way to go about doing that. So let's list some tragic events people often put:
- Abused in some other way
- Experiencing a parent's divorce
- Losing someone (or witnessing their death)
- Amnesia (poor excuse to not create a past)
- Having the life of nobility (and despising it)
Now, ask yourself this, "Do people really go through all of this?" The first one is my absolute "NO NO." Unless you do extensive research on the effect it has on rape victims, then I suggest you not use it at all. This is a very touchy topic and if you put it in some fluffy, teenage way, then you're basically slapping anyone who's had to suffer through it across the face with such a poor representation. So don't do it.
I honestly don't completely understand why people feel the need to dump so much tragedy on their character, it's almost as if you hate them! If you want to add some slight tragedy, elaborate on it and make it seem more realistic. For example, if the person lost their mother (a huge cliché, but we'll still use it), let's be reasonable: that person will not angst over that loss every second of the day. If you lost someone and told someone about it, and that person says "sorry," you're not going to burst into tears about it unless it happened recently.
So with all that in mind, remember that all characters have good and bad things in their past, and unless their life just sucked, the majority of it should be relatively decent.
Your Character's Powers
Not all characters are going to have this, so if this doesn't apply to your OC then you can just go on to the next section. However, more often than not, your OC is going to be involved in some original storyline or fandom in which powers play a key role. Personally, I'm not very fond of this part of the character-making process; so pardon me if this section seems less than adequate.
1. Your character is not God. In an RP the term would be "godmodding." A character that is ridiculously strong and overpowering is simply one people don't want to roleplay with. And for fanfiction, how boring is it if your OC already has every power imaginable and can defeat anyone with ease? This a balanced character does not make. So tone it down a little and come up with some weaknesses so that people know your OC isn't the most perfect thing in the universe.
2. All-in-one? I don't think so. Think carefully about creating a hybrid OC in mixing two or more races, or creating an entirely new one when ones already exist in the fandom. I prefer to stay true to canon, but you don't necessarily have to.
Yeah, that section was short. Now we get on to my favorite!
Your Character's Personality
To me, it's this part that makes or break a character, and so many fall short when it comes to describing their character's personality.
1. Traits, you gotta have the good and the bad. When creating a character, you can't just slap on two or three characteristics and call it a day. Do you think you could describe a real person using only, "nice, smart, funny?" What about stubborn? Impatient? Happy go-lucky? Easily angered? You're obviously going to be missing something. But let's take it the other way, you can't just pile on traits that don't even flow together, like, "he's really rebellious, yet still respects his elders." Wait what? That doesn't make sense at all. Some paradoxes can work, but not many do.
And you have to remember that for every good trait you give your OC, there should be a bad one as well. And I wouldn't necessarily count "shy" as being a good or bad trait, to me it could go either way or is neutral. If you're really struggling to find some flaws for your character's personality, here's some websites that should help: cte.jhu.edu/techacademy/web/20… www.gurusoftware.com/GuruNet/P…
2. Show a little quirkiness. One of the things I personally like to know about a character is their likes and dislikes, what they do for fun, what kind of food do they like, what are their dreams, etc. I especially find it unique to put something unusual in, like just some strange hobby that makes you go, "Huh? Well, that's different." But in a good way! I believe putting these things in makes the character seem more human and easier to relate to, like you can imagine sitting next to that person.
Your Character in Love
This part mostly has to do with if you've paired your OC up with a canon character of a fandom, but it can also work for OC x OC couples.
1. Are we turning this into a teen chick flick? What I mean by this is, how corny is it? Are you using every cliché in the book? We don't want your love story to be the typical cookie cutter romance do we? It's uninteresting and unoriginal. Your relationship to you is unique and special, but you have to convince others of that by giving them something they haven't seen before. Originality. Uniqueness. The unexpected within reason of course. Here are some clichés I'd try and stay clear of:
- Love at first sight (very unrealistic and uncommon, it's also more interesting when you actually show the development of the relationship and some problems before the two characters actually get together)
- Love triangles (this sets some people off especially if it's canon x OC x canon. The "M" word is used here, because they assume your OC is special and wonderful enough to attract the love of more than one person)
- Not doing justice to the canon character (if the canon character or OC love interest is someone cold-hearted or not one to typically be interested in love, you have to work very hard to make the relationship develop naturally)
- Sex after a short amount of time (It's tacky)
- Dying for the other person
Your Character and the Plot
This means both the plot of your fanfic/original story or the plot of an RP that is ongoing.
1. Keep check on the hero complex. Your character will probably be the focus of the plot, however, you want to make sure that you're not surging them through every obstacle effortlessly. Yes, they will triumph, but with time, hard work, and impediments along the way. After all, nothing comes easy. Everyone shouldn't automatically befriend your character, because it's more interesting when there's some conflict between characters. However, I'd suggest not making your character hate the character you personally despise again with the self-insert concept mentioned earlier. Your character is not you, or at least it shouldn't be. To create a well-balanced character, it almost has to have a mind of its own. That means its thoughts are different from your own, so that it can stand on its own. Also, when you create a character that is unlike you, you won't be so emotionally attached to it. And that brings us to our final topic:
Your Character and Criticism
Yes, it's awful when your character is called an "M" word. That's why if you base it off yourself and someone insults or criticizes it, you take it as a personal attack, because your OC basically is a version of yourself. So don't do that.
My suggestion to you is to be open to criticism and not immediately lash out on the person giving it. And yes, be able to tell the different between a harsh criticism and someone who just wants to be mean (a "flamer"), because there is a difference. A person that points out something they don't find quite right isn't necessarily trying to bash you, but may genuinely find a detail unrealistic or feel that it doesn't make sense.
Now, that doesn't mean you'll never come across someone that doesn't just hate your character's guts. It may be out of jealousy or for whatever reason, don't let it get to you. Stray from the negative side and instead divert your attention to the positive feedback you receive, and I can almost guarantee you that the good outweighs the bad. It's okay if not every person in the universe doesn't like your character, not everyone can be pleased.
And if when you're creating your OC you try to make it so that ever person will find your character "adorable," "sexy," or "badass," then you might as well just stop right there. Just stop. There's no need to continue making your character, because it's not even yours anymore. It belongs to all those people you're trying to make happy, all the people you want to like your OC. You're not doing any justice to your creativity and abilities. Don't make a character to please others, make an OC that you are happy with. Who cares what others think? In the end, it's only your satisfaction that matters.
So long as you put your heart into what you create, that will always be good enough.