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O.C./minor character disinterest - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
O.C./minor character disinterest
You know, sometimes I fantasize about getting the review counts that the Suefics reported by pottersues and deleterius get. And then I remember that quite a few either boil down to "OMGSQUEEEEE!!!!!" or "WTF?" and I stop grinding my teeth. I then usually note that these OCs generally--and often to the annoyance of the Fearless Sue Hunters--are interacting with popular canon characters, so the stories are really operating on the canon character rules rather than the OC rules.

It's just that it sometimes seems like writing a bad OC gets more attention than writing a good one, and yes, I am an attention whore, for those who have not noticed.

When I'm writing major characters, attention-craving is rarely a problem. A Remus-fic finds Remus-fans. Anakin-fic finds Anakin fans. This is the way life works when you're writing fanfic. ([Yoda voice]"This is the way of things... the way of the Fandom!"[/Yoda voice]) Or pro tie-ins, for that matter. People like those characters, they're searching for fics that feature those characters, and if you do a good job writing those characters and are lucky enough to get a few recs or come out at the top of the search, you're going to get readers.

But OCs and minor canon characters? No one is searching for them. You may have a group dedicated to good OCs in general, but no one is going to, on a whim, say, "Hey, I wonder if there's a good Dritali Neral story to keep me busy for a few minutes."

I'll say that, despite what I may sound like, I'm not actually complaining about this. I understand it. When I go searching for fics, I'm generally looking for Anakin-fic or Remus-fic or whatever, too. It's not shocking or wrong that by hit-sorting my stuff at TFN, the top three stories I've been involved with are Skywalker family stories, and the bottom three are OCs or minor characters (with a large drop-off in hits between the lowest Skywalker story and "The Flight to Rison's Deep," though I should point out that the very lowest, "The Sand Fair," is a Skywalker family story; it's just one that happens to be about Shmi, Owen, and Cliegg).

The Potterverse stories aren't quite as obvious, though they've tended to get less feedback. I've also done fewer of them--really the only pure OC stories I've written in the Potterverse are Vega Black and the Forbidden Forest and Moonflowers, the latter of which is tied in with a previously written story and gives the background of a character in close contact with Remus. I've noticed that OC and minor character heavy stories like "Banding Together" and "Kind Eyes" tend to get fewer reviews after their initial run on the new fic lists, but for all of that, the reviews tend to be of the same type as the reviews on other stories--it's not that the stories aren't received well by the people who read them.

I don't know if I have a point (other than cleverly listing all my OC stories while stressing that I love lots o' reviews ;)), but it's an odd feeling, and in some sense it's discouraging, no matter how much I understand it and share the response as a reader. I think we all want to be that special person to whom the rules of pre-existing interest don't apply, because hey--if I can make people interested in Vega Black, James Potter's great-great-grandmother, then maybe I can make them interested in Alitza and Milek, who are quasi-immortals whose mission is messing around with society for the pleasure of a megalomaniac named Vayadin, or with Addie and Livana, who are at present trying to rescue equipment from the crash of a spaceship... in other words, maybe, if I can "sell" my O.C. fanfics (not "sell" in the sense of "make money from, of course), then I have the potential to "sell" my real, total O.C.s.

This carries the unfortunate psychological corrollary, "Oh, no!!! No one's interested in Kerea Morlana or Vertash G'lahter! If I can't even interest people in seeing new folks in universes they know and enjoy, then what hope do I have for creating new universes?!"

That this is stupid and self-defeating is not something that escapes my notice, since people read original fic for different reasons than they read fanfic.

There's also the issue of interest overlap between authors, who are also usually the readers of fanfic. We're each creating our own OCs, and sometimes they're filling exactly the same niche. If I'm spending a lot of time creating an OC to bite Remus, chances are, I'm not the only one doing so. And you start to get that scenario in your head--I don't know about other people, but I can't write a fic without it seeming real to me--and someone else who does an equally good job writing about a totally different character who bit Remus is going to get passed over, because while my brain is saying, "Oo, how interesting, to get a totally different take!" my heart is saying, "Hey! Wait up there, brain! Haven't we been there for the past several weeks?" And that's most inconvenient, because the two people writing the same niche are the ones most likely to be interested in each other's stories.

I guess my point, such as it is, is that I understand both the actual behavior of readers and the frustration of OC writers. I'd love to write off the phenomenon as "too many bad OCs have spoiled things for everyone else," but the truth? I think it's just the nature of the beast. Fanfic is an element of fandom, and its hook is its familiarity to people who love the source material... a chance to see more of the people one loves to hang around with. There's no reason not to write original character stories, but if you're going to, it's probably prudent to have a different standard of expectations for them.

I guess that's a long-winded way of saying, "Waah."
25 comments or Leave a comment
sophonax From: sophonax Date: July 10th, 2005 07:09 am (UTC) (Link)
though I should point out that the very lowest, "The Sand Fair," is a Skywalker family story; it's just one that happens to be about Shmi, Owen, and Cliegg

Oooh, a link? I love the Larses.
angel_gidget From: angel_gidget Date: July 10th, 2005 01:01 pm (UTC) (Link)
murasaki99 From: murasaki99 Date: July 10th, 2005 07:17 am (UTC) (Link)
I dunno, it sounded less like "waah", and more like "hmmm, interesting."

At the moment, all my clever stuff is so embedded in the fanfic that I'm not worrying about pro publishing. I write for a living already (technical writing), so the off-work writing I do is strictly for fun. I don't want to have to worry about finding an agent, marketing, and all that hoo-ha, at least, not right now.

But if you *are* interested in such things, I'd simply recommend you write your original story and not worry about who might or might not review your OCs at ff.n. Do you belong to a writer's workshop? Those can be extremely helpful in providing consistent feedback, finding pesky plot-holes, etc. If you want to write for pro for-pay publication you'll be wanting reviewers that have some decent skill-levels, not those that post "OMG!" or "Squee!" Those are fun, but not terribly informative. :D

I'm sure there's more I should be saying, but it's time for bed and my brain is toes-up at the moment. Do keep writing, your fanfic is excellent, and I've no doubt your original work will be similar in quality.
laureate05 From: laureate05 Date: July 10th, 2005 07:38 am (UTC) (Link)
I think I see what you're saying, and I think my reaction is, "yeah".

Like you say, people want to read different kinds of fiction for different reasons. You want original fiction when you want something new, you want fanfiction when you want more of something. Original ideas imbedded in fanfiction are weird little critters.

To want to read about an original character in fanfiction, you have to be interested in whatever that new character could bring to the fandom, and the problem that I see isn't so much "I already thought of that the way I wanted to think of it", so much as "where do I even start to find that."

For example, I just ran across the Clabbert when poking around HP stuff, and it got me to wondering about the kind of people who use Clabberts as decorative lawn ornament, i.e. magical people in the southern states of America. That's a huge departure into OCness, and it seems almost too hard to find something I'd like to read about it.

Grr, I know I'm trying to say something, but I can't get it across. Like, maybe it's a matter of organization. How can we better oraganize fanfic for weirdoes, maybe?
nomadicwriter From: nomadicwriter Date: July 10th, 2005 08:49 am (UTC) (Link)
True. I mean, there's a particular character recently where I really wanted to look for fanfic that involved his parents or gave him a brother. (He's closed-mouthed about his past, does a highly classified top secret job, and is partially responsible for the tragic death of his own child a few years ago; "family reunion" stuff has the potential to be quite interesting.) But there just isn't any way to search for it. You can plug in a character or a pairing name into a search engine, and if the fandom is reasonably big, you'll probably get something. You can't do the same with "Fic where X has a brother", or "Fic from the POV of Y's curious housekeeper" or "Fic about somebody who observes Team Z on their days off and wonders about them." OC fic generally can't be sought out by people who are specifically looking for it, so it has to wait for somebody who happens to be interested in the setup to trip over it by accident.
laureate05 From: laureate05 Date: July 10th, 2005 09:02 am (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, man, you'd break Google like that. And you can't go to a community specifically for "weird stuff", because they're always about weird stuff and usually get taken over by the fans of a character/situation/fandom you don't care about. It's like trying to find a specific sock in a teenaged boy's room.
sprite6 From: sprite6 Date: July 10th, 2005 02:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
Excellent point. One can always look for fics that way in appropriate forums, like the Help! I'm looking for... forum at FA, but what you get depends on who sees the thread and how common that type of story is.
author_by_night From: author_by_night Date: July 10th, 2005 03:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
Forums are bad for reccing things at, because everything DOES depend on who sees it when.
sprite6 From: sprite6 Date: July 10th, 2005 06:01 pm (UTC) (Link)
I also think you tend to see a lot of the same fics rec'd. That's why I'm so fond of the Nifflers thread at FA - at least I know there's always something new there. Still, I've found some great fics through the other forum, and sometimes doing a search on the old threads can be helpful too.
author_by_night From: author_by_night Date: July 10th, 2005 11:47 am (UTC) (Link)
Fern, you're right; I have a group for OC's here on LJ with maybe five other members, whereas if you write Harry/Draco, just tell daily_snitch and you'll get five hundred members.

The problem is that OC authors are often the ones who are writing OC's because they don't give a grip about fandom. Now, that's a good thing - except it means they're going to give their characters "forbidden features". That's what happened to Tonks - JKR's never seen a Mary Sue Litmus test, so she gave her special powers and made her related to Sirius. The DeSuing lot all went mad, because apparently a character in a book about people with strange powers can't have strange powers. Oh, and they aren't supposed to be related to other canon people, because nobody has family outside of parents in HPverse.

(As far as I'm concerned, Tonks's powers are cool, and until we find out she seducts Order members with them, I will not change my mind).
angel_gidget From: angel_gidget Date: July 10th, 2005 01:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
Frustrating, isn't it? Even I have to be tricked into reading about OC's. They have to be slipped into the story. I can only name 2 OC's to ever truly pique my interest:

Gadell Vessau--Star Wars, post-NJO): Invented by <tenna. He's a young Hapan noble who serves the Queen Mother Tenel Ka. Possessed by evil, he was a rival with Jacen Solo for Tenel Ka's hand in marriage. When he broke the evil's hold on him, he reverted to his true personality, and become a loving brother-figure to the Queen, and a good friend to Jacen.

Diedre--X-men,comic book): Invented by Valerie Jones and Lori McDonald. She's the wife of Michael, the head of the New York thieves guild. When Bobby Drake aka Iceman falls in love with her, he asks Gambit to teach him what it takes to be a thief, so he can get closer to her and find some way of dealing with her husband who abuses her.
odyssea From: odyssea Date: July 10th, 2005 02:33 pm (UTC) (Link)
I do find this phenomena rather weird, because often the same people who have absolute fits about OCs (regardless of how well-written they are or not) are the first to jump on the bandwagon for new canon characters. Take Luna Lovegood or Tonks, for instance: if people found that exact character in a fanfic, they'd probably hate the character on principle; J.K. Rowling writes them into the official canon, and the same people start fangroups about them. I don't really know why that is; I'd have to guess it's some deep-conditioned response to the term "OC" in a fic that automatically inspires bad feelings. I try to be open to fanfiction with new characters and hope for the best.

Of course, speaking of pro tie-ins and OCs, I find it interesting that George Lucas liked a character from the SW comics so much that he put the character into Ep. II.
author_by_night From: author_by_night Date: July 10th, 2005 03:11 pm (UTC) (Link)
J.K. Rowling writes them into the official canon, and the same people start fangroups about them.

Really? I'd always thought it was the opposite. Hmm. But yeah, see I think people figure it's okay in *canon* because it's JKR. However, there's loads who think Tonks was a Sue. And while opinions are fine, it's not fine when it is used to attack JKR or Tonks writers.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: July 10th, 2005 03:56 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, abn's experience is what I've noticed. People who've spent way too much time reading litmus tests and forgetting that the only actual definition of "Mary Sue" is that she disrupts canon and causes people around her to act out of character stomp their feet and yell, "Canon Sue!" when there's no reason at all to think such a thing.
parallactic From: parallactic Date: July 10th, 2005 06:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'd think the reaction would differ depending on how the OC is used. If they're used as support, and to flesh out the world, then I'm fine with them. So if an author wanted to write about young!Remus, OCs would need to be created (who bit him, his parents, any relatives, doctors, friends, etc.). I might read that sort of story if I were interested in Remus as a character. But I wouldn't want to read a story centering on an OC, like a day in the life of a Ravenclaw. (Or not normally.)

I think the interest in new characters, like Luna, is that they see it in JKR's world, and want to know more about her. IMO, fanfic is about exploring the books/show/whatever, and OC-centred fic becomes less about JKR's work and verges on original fic, so less fans are interested in it. Personally, if JKR introduced Luna in OotP, but neglected Hermione, and had Luna start being Harry and Ron's friends, I'd end up resenting Luna because she's occupying a role that's already filled by Hermione. Or if JKR focused on Luna, but neglected the regular cast of characters, I'd end up resenting Luna, because I crack open the books to read about the story and to read about the characters I know. But the role of Ravenclaw/oddball/mystic was empty pre-OotP, so Luna works. The same goes for Tonks and Shacklebolt.

sreya From: sreya Date: July 10th, 2005 03:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
We're each creating our own OCs, and sometimes they're filling exactly the same niche. If I'm spending a lot of time creating an OC to bite Remus, chances are, I'm not the only one doing so.

That definitely IS a problem. I've been avoiding your young Remus story precisely because I have a work in progress addressing the same sort of questions. And while I look forward to reading your take on it someday, I really want to write my own first, without my brain absorbing ideas from your story. I'd feel like I'm plagiarizing if I read yours first, weird as that may sound.

As for how to increase OC readership... My thinking on creating an OC community is that maybe, just maybe, if you have a set of stories that are ONLY OC, that at least the authors who want to promote their stories might be interested in then reading the other OC stories in the same place -- and a canon character story wouldn't be overshadowing the other ones. I really doubt it'd work as well as I'd like, but I'm close to feeling it's at least worth an experiment.

I think it also helps if you have a "concept" group of OC fics. For instance, right now "Order 66" fics are a popular group, and they attract a lot of OC clonetroopers and Jedi. There's no particular character attracting readers, but it's a recognizable concept for a story that people might actually be searching for.
ashtur From: ashtur Date: July 10th, 2005 06:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
I must be the oddity, on a chapter-to chapter basis, I got nearly 2x as many reviews for Bones to Bones as I'm getting for Cry Havoc . Not sure if that has any meaning
usomitai From: usomitai Date: July 11th, 2005 01:54 am (UTC) (Link)
This carries the unfortunate psychological corrollary, "Oh, no!!! No one's interested in Kerea Morlana or Vertash G'lahter! If I can't even interest people in seeing new folks in universes they know and enjoy, then what hope do I have for creating new universes?!"

Speaking as someone who breaks into hives at OCs-- you have to trick me into reading such fic-- I can see how this psychological corrollary works, but I disagree entirely. I'm far more interested in reading a fanficcer's (a fanficcer, that is, whose writing I like) original works than any of their fic with OC. I read fanfic for the characters, I play with original fiction (published or not) for the new universes and characters.

Just a couple of cents to add to the pile.
moonspinner From: moonspinner Date: July 11th, 2005 09:17 am (UTC) (Link)
in other words, maybe, if I can "sell" my O.C. fanfics (not "sell" in the sense of "make money from, of course), then I have the potential to "sell" my real, total O.C.s.

I think you’ve answered your own question. One thing really has nothing to do with the other. There are a lot of reasons why people read fan fic and they’re all variations of the fact that they want to see their favourite characters in different, unexplored scenarios. I’d be interested in the story about how Remus became a werewolf, for example but I won’t be very interested in the story about how the werewolf that bit him became one. Remus is a favourite character. Elizabeth – as real as she might seem in your stories – is not. And no matter how involved I am while reading your Remusfic, there’s always something at the back of my head that’s saying: ‘not canon! Not canon!’

Now original fic is an entirely different ballgame. If you can conjure up a world and characters as compelling and charismatic as JK’s or GL’s or CSL’s… then you’ve got me hooked on your characters and their canon scenarios. Ultimately, that means I’ll be very much interested in the scenarios that fanfic writers of your universe conjure for your original characters.

In other words, a lot of readers and myself are echoing what you already know: make your own world and fill it with your own characters and if your original fic are half as pretty as your fan fic, very soon people will be writing fan fic for you!

From: (Anonymous) Date: April 9th, 2006 11:14 pm (UTC) (Link)
"Not Canon. Not Canon."

You say that like that's a BAD thing.

If you want nothing but Canon, you can quit reading ANY fan fic,
because it is, by definition, NOT CANON. Even if it uses nothing
but Canon characters, having them respond to events not in the
Canon, makes it fanon.

Conversely, having OCs in fanon, is a door to exploring aspects
of the Potterverse that can't be explored any other way.

And as long as the OC isn't a "Mary Sue"/"Gary Stu" who destroys
the whole context of the Potterverse, having a look at the rest
of the thousand students supposedly at Hogwarts, instead of just
the few dozen explored, even slightly, by JKR, some barely named,
most not even named...well, that's NOT A BAD THING.

So if you have this "NOT CANON" thing in your head, just pine
for Book 7 and avoid reading fanon.

Then, after Book 7 you can give up as there will
never be another piece of Canon for you to obsess over.

moonspinner From: moonspinner Date: April 11th, 2006 06:31 am (UTC) (Link)
reply to lj

The definition of an AU fan fic means that the fan fic is based on events that never happened in the canon story. So a story about how Remus was bitten by a vicious werewolf Fenrir (sp?) would be canon, in the fan fiction sense of the word, while a story about how Remus was bitten by a benign werewolf Elizabeth is AU in the fan fiction sense of the word.

To set the record straight - because I see that my earlier statement might be misleading - I have nothing against AU fics. On the contrary, I have written several AU fanfiction.

As a matter of fact, I find Fernwithy's version of Remus's 'turning' is more interesting, more 3-dimensional and more engaging than JKR's. Fernwithy doesn't take the easy way out by making the parent werewolf a 100% bad guy. Instead she tells a story about mistakes, about bad things happening to good people, and good people doing bad things. JKR's version is more simplistic.

Unfortunately, JKR is the 'God' of her universe and her Word is law. A fanfiction writer writing an AU of JKR's canon is forced to ask his/her readers to suspend belief - not once but twice. The first to believe in JKR's make-belief world, and the second to believe in the fanfiction writer's version of JKR's make-belief world. Thus my encouragement to other writers - and in reply to Fern's original question - to use these OCs in a univebrsewhere 'your' word is canon.

fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 11th, 2006 02:21 pm (UTC) (Link)
while a story about how Remus was bitten by a benign werewolf Elizabeth is AU in the fan fiction sense of the word.

No, that would just be me getting it wrong and being Jossed. An AU would be, "What if Fenrir hadn't bitten Remus, and he was therefore never infected?" There's a difference between being AU and being obsolete. ;)

LoD is obsolete, and I don't care that much, since I really enjoy Fenrir (because I'm a sick puppy). My Star Wars fics are obsolete, and I now find myself unable to write in that universe because I interpreted it wrong.
moonspinner From: moonspinner Date: April 11th, 2006 02:57 pm (UTC) (Link)
I don't think you interpreted SW wrong. In fact, as far as I know, you didn't interpret it wrong. Your Vader is still the best characterization I've come across. And so are your Luke and Leia. If not for your Father's Heart stories, I'd still be wondering the whole point of Leia being a Skywalker. And your 'Whatever comes to us' is the definitive proposal story, in my opinion. Why would you think you interpreted the universe wrong?
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 11th, 2006 04:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
'Cause Anakin really did try to hurt his wife. That was the cornerstone of my characterization--that loving her was his salvation rather than his damnation.

Also, the business of her dying of a broken heart because of him really shattered my characterization of her as being stubborn and strong. I could postulate all kinds of scenarios about how it was all a fake and she really did go off to Alderaan, but once I accepted that what happened in canon happened, I realized my characterization was wrong after all.
moonspinner From: moonspinner Date: April 12th, 2006 05:39 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh dear. What about loving her being his damnation *and* salvation? Ultimately, fear was his damnation.

And you could still say Padme was stubborn and strong. Who's to say that she didn't will herself to die just to spite him? I've heard of things like that. (Agatha Christie fan-girl like myself).

Honestly, until a movie/book series is complete, we fans are always playing guess work in the creator's pool. Some ppl made worse guesses in the SW fandom so don't feel too bad about it. You're still one of the best writers in the business.
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