Disclaimer: I’m not a professional; this is for fun and to track what I think I’ve learned in five years of SYOC forums, applications, and OC-fills. If you learn something, then I applaud you. If you laugh at this, then I applaud with you.
People always wonder about how to create a genuinely “good” character, with a “good” back story and a “not-Mary-Sue” personality. They also wonder if there’s an exact science to creating a “good” character.
Well, I’ve spent enough time creating characters for other people to know that no, you can’t create a genuinely “good” character any more than you can create a genuinely “bad” character. I also know that there is no such thing as the mythical Mary Sue (sorry, guys) or an exact science to creating characters. In all honesty, it’s more of an art than anything. The character is merely a starting point with preset conditions. It’s how the author decides to develop the character and flesh it out that makes it “good” or “bad”.
You’re going to find out that creating a character is a lot of give-and-take. If you decide to OP one part, you’d better tone it down in another part. Continuity is also a huge thing.
1. NO MARY SUES
Ah, the Golden Rule of Writing. Let’s admit it. Someone like Ebony Dark’ness Dementia Raven Way (a.k.a. the infamous main character of My Immoral–sorry, My Immortal—which blew up so big that it merited its own TV Trope page) or Bella Swan or plain old male counterpart Marty Stu just aren’t entirely perfect. Even though their flaws may be superficial or “nonexistent”, by common standards, they are still flawed. Ebony is vampiric, anemic, and rather slutty; Bella is socially awkward, plain, and dependent; poor Marty has a penis the size and length of a baseball bat and can’t keep it in his pants. Even the original Mother Mary herself is nowhere near perfect–cheating on her husband, teenage pregnancy, and reincarnating as a whore. Jesus? Nutter, martyr, and probably bisexual-r. Let’s not get started on our Flawless Christian God.
2. We start with the basics.
Every application, whether it is mental or physical or digital, asks for a name. They also ask for gender or age. They may ask for stereotype (if the author is writing a high school or reality TV themed story) They may ask for sexuality (for those that want to write romance as a plot of subplot), birthdate, nicknames, or nationality/ethnicity.
Names come in a variety of categories, but the easiest way to classify them is in four different ways: simple, extravagant, archaic and foreign. Let’s take the English language for example. A simple name would be something like John Smith or Emma Stone. Extravagant, Robert Forthington-Smythe III or Annabelle Maria Wynona Ducati. Archaic would look like William Blake or Imogen Faith. Foreign names have endless possibilities, from Franz Johannes to Wen-hui Zhang. The categories are not boxes where names will fit perfectly. The categories act more like primary points that blend into each other to create a spectrum of names. An extravagant name could be foreign, like Hanakami Liliuokalana, but a foreign name could be simple, like Aya Sochi. An archaic name could also be extravagant like Clara Maria Anna Sophia Rinalda Esperanza Di Medici, in the case of an also foreign traditional Spanish name.
If your character has an unpronounceable name like Yllych Petrovitch, you should consider nicknames. These will score unconscious brownie points with the writer because then s/he won’t have to deal with the headache of “HOW TO PRONOUNCE PLZ XPLANE.”
Most people expect Male or Female because they look for simple boxes to check. I personally would be fascinated with a Trans* or Gender Queer person as well, but for the application’s sake, put down the sex your character identifies as the most and explain down below in the back story.
The most important part here is to make sure that you stay within the confines of the specified, if there is a specified, age range. I’m not quite sure why an author would need an age range of 14-19, since none of the stories focus around sex and they all act about the same age (forever 16, anyone?), but if the author were to really know his/her shit, s/he’d realize and use the kind of issues that show up, like abuse of power, manipulation, mentors, etc. If you doubt the quality of the author’s writing just put down the median age.
Probably one of my favorite parts of character application forms is the stereotype box. There are literally endless possibilities. The purpose of a stereotype box is not to typify your character, but to let the author get a feel for the character’s initial personality as others will see him or her. So please, leave a little mystery behind your Sports Jock or your Goth Girl. We all know Jock cuts because he’s closeted, and Goth has a soft side for the nerdy, but there’s no need to say Depressed Bullied Gay Sports Jock or Sweet Gothic Comic Book Collecting Girl. The readers will figure it out eventually. Unusual is good, but Extreme is bad.
Like names, there’s a whole spectrum out there. The default is generally heterosexual or straight, but I like to keep my characters’ options open with the bisexual or pansexual options. The rule of thumb tends to be that 98% of writers on any given site linked to fanfiction are female and females gravitate towards romance. Therefore, I would cater to their whims and avoid the “taken” or “asexual” option. It generally bumps your chance of being chosen.
People don’t seem to realize that there is a difference between the two. The author’s not being racist, only ignorant, if s/he puts down Nationality only. What she really means is Ethnicity to get a better feel of what she can or cannot say or do withe the character, as well as the additional nuances it brings.
I don’t even know. Anniversaries?
3. Moving onto appearances now.
The most cursory of applications will just ask you to describe your character. Perhaps they’ll write “details are like cookies–the more the merrier”. The most detailed will go as far as to ask you for blood-type, scars, and tattoos.
Height and Weight:
Most people will ask for these, if only to solidify their head-canon (that is, the image they have in their head, relative to the other characters). If your character is a skinny little twig, it’s okay for him or her to be on the lower end of the weight scale, but if the character is male and 6’5″, 140lbs is not going to cut it. Do your research, and please do not base men’s weight off of a woman’s scale. Men generally have less fat than a woman and will usually weigh more if everything else is the same. Body build, if the author asks for it, should also be in sync with height and weight. A 5’9″ stocky man with huge biceps should not weigh the same as a skinny 5’9″ teenager.
Hair, skin, eyes–they will all go under this category, but might be listed separately on the application. Black or white just won’t cut it, since no one is actually black-black or white-white. We all know what you mean, but if you don’t specify, everyone just looks a generic caramel. Hair can be anything from boring to wild, but if you write “naturally green hair down to her butt”, I will ask you if you are imitating Rosa Del Valle. Normal people should have normal hair colors, unless they’ve dyed it. Same with eyes. Shape, length, and texture are totally up to you to describe, but being able to Google up what you mean is extremely valuable and will earn you brownie points with any author.
Markings and Blemishes:
Do not–for the love of God Almighty–do not write “healed third-degree burns across 75% of her body” because I will call you out on bullshit. I don’t know if other authors will, but they generally prefer small blemishes–appendicitis scars, old bite wounds (no, not vampires, dipshit), freckles, and moles. Tattoos are cool, but watch for age and religious restrictions. Twelve year old children generally do not have sleeve tattoos and neither do devout Catholics.
The clothing should be an extension of who the character is as a person, if only tangentially. A Goth Girl should not be wearing nude make-up and business professional suits. A Consummate Nerd should not (knowingly) be wearing designer Yves Saint Laurent or a Letterman’s jacket that they own. Feel free to play up the stereotype or reference your own wardrobe here. Maybe there will be makeovers later?
4. Now the fun part: Personality.
This is actually where you can start to flesh out your character a little bit. Perhaps your Dumb Jock is not actually dumb, but dyslexic, and is a complete Romantic when it comes to the people he crushes on. Nuance your character and lift him from the stereotype that you boxed him into earlier. Your Comic Book Geek might have a hidden aggressive side that only comes out to play during the night, or when his sister decides to dress him herself. By extension, the personality section might also include likes, dislikes, pet peeves, hobbies, and talents, all of which might include surprising information. Fears, too, give amazing insight to people.
Unless writing a superhero story, your character’s talents and hobbies should not include flying, mind-reading, or anything remotely close to a superpower. These will go under the Application Specific category.
There are two types of fears, in general. Irrational fears, and rational fears. Irrational fears are fearing things like spiders, heights, death, or birds. Rational fears are fearing things that are much more tangible, such as loss of autonomy, overdosing, or not being good enough. Creating a mix of both makes a character much less superficial and more “real”.
Likes and Dislikes:
It’s up to the author on how specific he or she gets, but generally try to make it character specific.
Not all parts of the character will be revealed upon arrival. Things like sexuality and fears take time for people to catch on and/or exploit. Your character’s history is also one of these things. Generally, your character’s history should be specific to him or her and not a carbon copy of yourself. Chances are, you’ll get it wrong anyway, so be my guest if you want to copy your history down. The rule of thumb is, boring people have boring histories and exciting people have exciting histories, and every action is a reaction. So a Sports Jock does not get into sports because his parents pushed him to study chemistry unless he joins football in rebellion or retaliation. A Wallflower does not have the tragic story of an (excuse me, I say this with extreme tongue-in-cheek) Emo Girl. But you never know. Anything goes if you can make a good enough reason. Continuity is key.
6. Where you can start breaking and bending rules: Application specific.
Things like Superhero Alternate Universes or Battle Royale or Pokemon might ask for more specifics. Make sure that you do your research. Again, try to be subtly unique and to imply flaws within the superpower. Do not overload the character, unless you’re prepping for a boss role, like Pokemon Gym Leader, or Arch-villain. Tailor your character to the universe. If you’re an alien in an alien-specific universe, go for the snake-dreads or ice-blue skin and orange-fire eyes. If you’re doing something for a Glee SYOC, pick songs that you know your character will choose to sing. A Drama Queen is very different from a Boyband Member in that the Drama Queen is more likely to choose classic Broadway songs while the Boyband Member will choose songs from ‘NSYNC and Fall-out Boy.
7. Additional brownie points.
The better your grammar and punctuation are, the better chance you have of getting in. Even if they don’t recognize it, excellent grammar and punctuation imply intelligence and deep thought behind the character. There are sure to be flaws, if they aren’t obvious. Maybe your character is a really picky eater, or is allergic to seven different things. Let them know in the Other section if you haven’t already, and be sure to capitalize and be consistent. I like Purdue OWL for any questions.
Now that you’ve been armed with the basics I use, you can try for yourself and see how successful you are. Just remember: Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future. Rules are made to be broken. Give and take. In addition, don’t be afraid to try unique things like a quadriplegic or a drag queen. They might not be accepted, but the seed has been planted, and soon, perhaps, people will catch on.
Happy OC-creating, character-making, and resume-filling!