Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Creating Memorable Characters (the Cheater Way)

(Or Part Three of the Fanfiction Writing Workshop Series.
If you are just joining us, the series starts here)
One of the biggest benefits to using fanfiction as a writing springboard is the chance to start writing with premade characters. Believable, sympathetic characters must populate your stories. Readers need to feel like they are meeting real people with issues they care about. Unfortunately, doing this is hard. You have to practice characterization in order to avoid things like the info dump and having characters tell their life stories to others.

With fanfiction, you get to play in someone else’s sandbox and use all their toys. Your readers already know these characters and already feel sympathy for them. The challenge then becomes taking a well-known character and putting him/her into a new situation in your fic while keeping that person in character.

For instance, I am a huge fan of the ABC show “Once Upon a Time.” The character Belle has lost her memory at the moment, but her basic personality is still intact. This provides a perfect fanfiction opportunity to have her meet new people and react to new situations but still be the same person.

For instance, what if Hook decided now was a good time to get some revenge on Rumplestiltskin by stealing Belle away from him? How would she react to Hook? Could a writer present these characters in this new situation in such a way that everyone reading would still recognize Belle and Hook? If Belle did not sound and act like Belle in this fic, readers would not hesitate to call her OOC (out of character) in reviews.

A huge subset of fanfiction in any fandom are the AU or Alternate Universe fics. These take our characters and keep them intact while putting them in an alternate reality. For instance, what if the cast of Star Wars all went to high school together in California? Can you imagine Darth Vader as high school principal? Could you make this person still recognizable as Darth Vader to your readers?

Another type of fic that lets writers move characters about is the crossover. Why not throw Sawyer from Lost right in the middle of Game of Thrones? Or how about slipping Ferris Beuller into CSI: New York? The challenge of the crossover is to mix two fandoms while keeping each one intact and recognizable. If Sawyer doesn’t talk and act like Sawyer anymore, then you’ve just appropriated the name and not the essence and your readers will balk.

So your task for the week is to write a short piece that pushes you to improve your characterization skills. It’s not enough to just say in the introduction, “This is Princess Leia.” You’ve got to make everybody reading know that this is her from the ground up and have her react to something new and different in ways only she would react.

More to come next week!


  1. Hmmm - maybe Darth Vader was my principal? And Ferris wouldn't last a day in New York - he's too pretty! Great fan-fic post, Arley!