Characters: Original

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Characters: Original
by CarolinaC

Picture this: You have a fantastic idea for a story. You know your fandom inside out. You're excited about trying to capture the voice of the canon characters. The blank screen or page awaits. Your fingers, trembling with anticipation, are poised to begin – but you aren't ready. Not yet. That plot you're thinking of? The one where Sherlock Holmes' younger half-sister solves the murder and marries Inspector Lestrade? Yeah, there's one problem with that. Sherlock Holmes never had a half-sister- you're going to have to make her up yourself, as an original character, an OC. And a badly written OC can get you into trouble, quickly (1) .

So, how do you write a compelling original character in fanfiction? The same way you write any other compelling character, of course. The only real difference is that you've got to pay a lot of attention to how your character fits into someone else's world. It isn't difficult to do, but if you mess it up, your readers will notice, even if its only a subconscious twinge. So, how do you ensure you've paid enough attention to the story world when creating your characters? Let's take it one step at a time . . .

1. Don't get me wrong; there are great OCs out there. Shakespeare wrote more than a few; the story in the Gesta Danorum that Shakespeare retold as Hamlet doesn't have a Horatio, let alone a Rosencantz or a Guildenstern. Virgil wrote OCs on an epic scale - In the Aeneid, he gave Aeneas a whole host of friends, enemies, and family members - even household gods - who never existed in the Illiad. Unfortunately, you and I aren't Shakespeare or Virgil.


With OCs, even the basics can be challenging. Think about names, for instance. Let's go back to our example above, where Sherlock Holmes has a younger half-sister. Say I've been watching a lot of anime lately, and have fallen in love with the name Sakura. "Sakura Holmes" sounds pretty good – so I'm done, right? Nope. Not even close.

Last I checked, Sherlock Holmes lives in London (1) and speaks English. The name Sakura, on the other hand, is very definitely Japanese. Sakura sounds out of place in a Victorian, English-speaking setting. We need to find a name that will be a better fit for the society. If our story is set in 1890, and the half-sister is 20, she must have been born in 1870. If I look up the most popular English girls' names in 1870, I find that the number one name for girls was Mary, and the number two name, Elizabeth (2). Mary's out, since there's already a Mary in canon, Watson's wife. That means our OC's name should be "Elizabeth Holmes," right? Again, no.

This character's older brothers are named "Sherlock" and "Mycroft". These are both unusual names and definitely not in the top 10 names for 1870. Elizabeth sounds too commonplace to fit in with the Holmes family! Both the Holmes' boys names are used as surnames (3), so a surname would work well. Think of one that makes a good girl's name (4), and run with it. A place name might also sound good - Fenchurch, maybe (5). Victorians felt there was a lot to learn from history; they're the people who gave 'mediaevalism' its name. So a name that makes a classical reference – "Tacita" – or a reference to the Middle Ages – "Heloise" - might work too. Does this mean that you should name your OC "Tacita Fenchurch Heloise Holmes"? Again, probably not. Unless you have a story-related reason to list middle names, leave them out. Pick your one favourite name, and stick with it.

Most of us are comfortable picking names for a real-life culture that uses a familiar language; if nothing else, you can Google popular names in the country or time period. Naming in fantasy societies can be more challenging. Once again, the key is to make sure you know the world you're using well enough to pick a name that will fit in. Don't name your Tolkien-inspired elf "Slothrat", or your Lovecraftian eldritch horror "Benevolentia". Getting the right name may require a little research. What if you don't have time to do much research? A quick-and-dirty solution is to recombine parts of different names in the source material and/or a related real life culture (6). For instance, to get a quick name for that Tolkien-inspired elf, think of two elves from the books/films. You could take the first part of "Elrond" and the second part of "Glorfindel" to come up with "Elfindel" - not the prettiest name, but at least it doesn't stand out like a sore thumb (7).

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