Let me air some of my grievance, and bring up a few pointers that people might find useful.
Part 1: Introduction
More often than not, I bump into comments around how awful fics featuring original characters are, in particular if the original cast is part of the leading roles. Considering that every story I write is done with an original lead sharing screentime with the fan favourites, that stings a little.
I’m proud of Sadja and I’m absolutely in love with Zofia, and writing them has taught me a great deal. And I like how their influence has rubbed off on both Redfield and Crane, growing them beyond what canon restricted them to. Which is one of the reasons why I prefer OC centric stories (or AUs): Introducing an outside element and shaking up the status quo.
Original Characters aren’t for everyone, and that’s fine. But they aren’t inherently bad.
A lot of people come to Fanfiction to read exclusively about their favourites. Some go in search of the smutty oneshots, others chase the high school AUs and whatnot, but they all have something in common: it’s the execution that matters. The same applies to pieces featuring original characters, whether we’re talking about a straightforward self insert, or an outsider added to the equation.
To be fair, in my experience stories with badly written original characters don’t fall solely because of the OC. If the OC’s characterisation is shoddy, then the canon cast isn’t off any better. The difference is that we’re more likely to give those a pass because we’re projecting our own expectations on them, and glossing over flaws in the narrative from the author. We’re aware of the character’s weaknesses from the source material. Know about their pitfalls and their highlights. So if a fic doesn’t play on any of those details, that’s not a big deal. It doesn’t need to. But if the OC doesn’t display any, and comes across as unnecessarily flawless or otherwise flat, then oh boy here are the pitchforks.
So, how do we work on that? I’ve got a few ideas.
Part 2: Defining your OC (and the canon cast)
Characterization is characterization, is characterization.
It doesn’t matter if you’re designing your OC, or using an established character. You still need to get to know them, and that can be a challenge if there isn’t a lot of background to use as a template. Or none whatsoever. But it doesn’t stop at figuring them out. Consistency is equally important, and how displaying character development is made possible. How else will a shift in behaviour be meaningful unless there’s a previous pattern established that can be broken?
So, here are a few tricks I use, interchangeably for my original characters and the canon cast leads. And I’m sure Redfield won’t mind being the subject to this exercise.
The easiest, and most methodical step to get to know your characters is one of the many different questionnaires available out there. They tend to start with the basics (physical description, age, how they’ve grown up, family, etc…) and depending on which one you pick, they go all the way down to the last detail of What socks do they wear, and what do they carry in their pockets? [Example]
But the questions in there that are the most important to me, are ones like:
Would he run for the bus if he’s close to missing it? No, no I don’t think so. Rather I’d expect a mellow smile and a fumble for a pack of cigarettes, because there’ll be another bus, no need to rush.
What birthday present would you get them? Or even better: What would they get for someone else? Are they practical about it? Sentimental? Do they even bother?
How is he on the phone with Piers? Or how does his demeanor change with his sister, Claire, on the other end of the line? Mildly enthusiastic ranging to very attentive and patient being the short answer.
While none of these are particularly important weighed against battling B.O.Ws, there’s still a purposes to them. It’s the sum of these details that define him. The character, the person, can be found somewhere between whether or not he turns the cups upside down when he’s done washing them, and what influences his decisions in a firefight.
Shit they say.
I have a few pages each dedicated to the leads in my stories, original or otherwise. For established characters, this is a matter of picking up their speech patterns from the source material and documenting phrases and words that they often use. Do they Uhm a lot before a sentence? Are they a potty mouth (Hi, Crane.) or will dropping a curse word actually mean something?
For an OC, this will give them a unique voice. For the canon cast, this will help you get them ‘right’.
A character soundtrack
My absolute favourite, hands down. I’ve got a playlist dedicated to each, with two or three general theme tracks that help me connect before writing. Considering I’m alternating between writing Chris Redfield and Kyle Crane every other week, this really helps. Wouldn’t want to get those two gents too mixed up.
I also use these soundtracks to document their character development. There’s an obvious tonal shift in Chris’ list as he works through the immediate aftermath of Edonia in the first half of Valiant Remedy. Almost uplifting, really.
But most importantly: What song has he put on there? Admittedly, this isn’t much more than a guilty pleasure of mine, and I don’t think I’ll ever get enough of picking tunes that the characters would enjoy. Or which one would make them turn the dial on the radio.
So what if there’s no music wherever you’ve taken the character from. There’s none like ours where Sadja is from either, but that didn’t stop me from letting her discover all things rock and adding to Chris’ headache in the process.