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By : FernWithy

Creating and using original characters in fan fiction

Maybe you want to create a padawan for Mara Jade, or an honorable Imperial officer who is trying to change things from within. Maybe Lando Calrissian could use a love interest, or Qui-Gon Jinn needs help finding his wayward padawan on a strange world. Maybe you just want to see what the Star Wars galaxy looks like to boy in an Imperial boarding school, or to a scholar of Jedi history.

In any of these cases, you need to create original characters for your fan fiction. They'll need their own personalities and their own histories and cultures. You'll need to name them (see Naming Characters In Star Wars Fan Fiction), and give them their relationship to the rest of the galaxy.

Creating an original character is an important skill in writing, maybe the most important skill. Creating one for fan fiction requires all the elements necessary for general fiction -- there are many books written on this subject, including the wonderful Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card and Dynamic Characters by Nancy Kress -- plus elements specific to writing in an established universe, like the relationship to the various known characters and concepts. Is your character strong in the Force, and if so, how does he or she relate to it? Is he or she known to the main characters, and in what way? What part of the Star Wars universe is your character involved in?

Original characters vs. obscure established characters

Star Wars is filled with minor characters. Why introduce a new character to fill your plot when someone like Bib Fortuna or Luke's friend Fixer would fit the role perfectly well?

There's an argument for using these minor characters instead of creating new ones. They're part of the weave of the universe, and have the automatic connection to the story line. You don't have to go through the introduction to show their connections. These characters have familiar names, but not a lot of canon back story. They're a good bet for telling a story outside the common Star Wars stomping ground.

But there are drawbacks as well.

First of all, an obscure character may not be as obscure as you think, particularly in the fan fiction community. Amidala's handmaidens, Imperial officers, and X-Wing pilots have large followings. Stories will already exist about them. You may not mind that your Sabé is different from someone else's Sabé, or your Kitster from someone else's Kitster, but if it does bother you, using an original character avoids the issue altogether.

Also, the established characters inhabit an established milieu. What if you want to go someplace entirely new? A school, or a restaurant, or a temple? No character is established in such a place, and even if you want to send an established character there, he or she will need to be surrounded by original characters to create the new place.

Fanfic's Most Wanted: Mary Sue/Gary Stu

What of the dreaded "Mary Sue" (or her twin brother Gary Stu), the original character who stands in for the author and is just too good to be true? She's the bane of creators of original characters. She always saves the day, wins the heart of the hero (and maybe the villain as well), and can do anything and everything the plot could possibly require. Her obscure branch of knowledge -- usually related to the author's hobbies -- is the only thing that can save the galaxy from certain doom. No one could possibly stand against her, and the heroes and heroines gladly step aside to let her shine. If she is not the love of the hero's life, she will certainly turn out to be his daughter or sister.

Mary Sue is never going to win a popularity contest among fan fiction readers, and there are some who quite gleefully aim darts to deflate an oversized character. There's good reason for the dislike -- an invincible character makes plotting ridiculous, and one who shows up the heroes at every turn makes the heroes look silly. Since most readers are more invested in the heroes than in Mary Sue, that's a major failing.

But is there good in Mary Sue? Can we bring her back... to the good side?

As the perfect, perky, and totally invulnerable comic book superhero, no. She's hopeless. But is every character who has the author's pet hobby equally hopeless? Or every character created to fall in love with the hero? Or any character who saves the day?

Every character you write, including the established characters (in the manner in which you write them), is going to be part of you, and things that you're interested in are going to show up. Taken to extremes, this is Mary Sue-ism, but in moderation, it can provide interesting and unique traits to a character. By the same token, of course a romance is going to require a second party, and that party will have to have some attributes that are attractive to the hero -- that's a plot requirement for the story type, not something to be avoided at all costs. And sometimes, a hero needs to be saved by some device he hadn't expected. The problem with Mary Sue isn't that her individual attributes are wrong; it's that when too many of them appear in the same place, she becomes a parody of the genre.

Which, of course, also has its place.

All Original Character Stories

So, what if you want to skip the established characters altogether? Why not write a story that takes place away from the time frame of the movies or the Expanded Universe? Why not write about the first Sith Uprising, and create a whole platoon of Sith Lords? Why not go far into the future and see how the events of the Civil War between the Republic and Empire play out in galactic history? Why not go to the far side of the galaxy and see the Star Wars universe through the eyes of someone outside of the known groups?

Well, why not?

All of those could make wonderfully interesting stories -- and have -- and they have the automatic advantage of being stories no one else has tried to tell. You won't be writing your own version of Anakin's fall, which most fans have already thought about in one way or another -- you'll be saying something totally new, and the chances of someone else having said exactly the same thing are low. Create away! Nothing makes the familiar new again like new eyes to see it through.

But how can it be Star Wars if there's not a Kenobi, a Skywalker, or a Solo in sight? Or if it doesn't take place on a planet we know, or interact with the civil war in some way? The galaxy is a wide place, and it should certainly contain people who simply don't see the same things that Our Handsome Heroes do.

But at what point does it stop being a Star Wars story? What about a story that includes no established characters, no reference to any known SW planet, no reference to SW plot lines, and no SW concepts (eg, the Force)? There are no spice smugglers, no familiar aliens, no Senate... At that point, isn't it just an original science fiction story?

It's not always an easy call. The author may well know exactly how his or her characters fit into the grand SW scheme, and be quite emphatic that it's a Star Wars story. However, that should be made clear in the text, to avoid confusion. Then again, it could simply stand as an original story, and could be treated as such.

The two major drawbacks to all-original character stories are that they often take longer to find a readership than established character stories, and that they frequently need to be longer than comparably in-depth stories about established characters.

On the first point, many people both read and write fan fiction because they want to get new and different views of the characters they know, to see how other people see them. That's a legitimate reason to read fanfic; one of the wonderful things about tie-in writing is the chance to explore the meaning of shared cultural icons, and writing established characters well is as difficult and praiseworthy as writing original characters. Stories that don't feature known characters won't have an automatic appeal to this group of readers, and they may never achieve the same sort of popularity.

The second point is less obvious. Using established characters, you have a lot of footwork already done. You know that Vader is Leia's father, even though neither of them knows it, and you can use that tension immediately in any story that involves both of them. With original character stories, on the other hand, you need to set up and establish the basic scenario before you can get to the same point. That's respectable work and there's nothing wrong with it, but it will generally require more length to achieve the same effect. If that's not problematic to you as a writer, then it's not a drawback at all.

Original characters are a great contribution of fan fiction, and the TFN Fan Fiction archive welcomes them.

Article Rating

Current Rating is 7.75 in 36 total ratings.

Reader Comments

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Author: Rori Firehawk  (signed)
Date posted: 1/19/2002 10:08:54 PM
Rori Firehawk's Comments:

I'm definitely glad I read this article- my stories tend to focus much more on original chars; I rarely if ever involve any of the canon chars. Probably stems from my RPing background, hehe.

Author: Viari Skywalker  (signed)
Date posted: 6/5/2002 5:52:10 PM
Viari Skywalker's Comments:

Thanks for the great article! I am currently writing a fic where most of the characters are originals. So the advice is appreciated! Thanks again!

Author: Atrox  (signed)
Date posted: 2/28/2003 6:30:45 PM
Atrox's Comments:

Like, Rori, I've been playing SW for a loong time; I actually have half a dozen original characters I could start writing about, only one of whom has had any contact with a major canon character, and that was Ackbar giving him a medal.
Remember, it's a big galaxy; the heroes can't be everywhere. But the Empire is, and so must the Rebellion be.

Author: Jóhan Herlon  (signed)
Date posted: 3/20/2004 7:51:49 AM
Jóhan Herlon's Comments:

I have to admit that it was a little hard at first to read this article, as I began to fear that the original characters that I'm currently developing might be like "Mary Sue"; fortunately, there is always the chance of changing a story before it is presented to the reviewers.
Thank you for this article. It definetely served my purposes and original characters.

Author: Lavinia
Date posted: 1/16/2016 2:47:11 AM
Lavinia's Comments:

Great stffu, you helped me out so much!

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Comments to FernWithy or post it in the Jedi Council Fanfic Forum.
Uploaded: Monday, October 8, 2001

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