OC characters should have a place in Equestria’s society. If you consider it, everyone has a place in the society, ranging from Derpy, the fool, to Dr. Hooves a scientist, to Twilight a student, and so on. Considering nearly every single pony has a place, it would follow that every OC should have a place as well. Therefore I am creating this blog to discuss places you can, and cannot place your pony, so that they fit into Equestria in a seamless and pleasant manner, becoming “good” or at least “not horrendous” OCs. I am going to go ahead and call this integration “cover”
This is one of the simplest choices but also one that can create a lot of excess work. As the main setting of MLP takes place in Ponyville it would make sense to have your OC live in Ponyville, right? Wrong. As viewers of the show know nearly all the denizens of Ponyville, any additional ponies would immediately stand out. Therefore it becomes a better option to place your pony into a location that the readers are not intimately familiar with, and so will be safely protected by their setting. Ashwood originally was from Fillydelpha before his family moved to Canterlot, where he now works at the library, teaching many years later. Here we see Ashwood’s cover, as he was originally from outside of Canterlot, it makes that he does not know many denizens in the area and only a handful of ponies in Ponyville. It also makes sense within the mind of the reader, why they have not seen him before in other content, he both lives within Canterlot, a setting that we have not explored in great detail within the show, and he works in the Library, a place we have not explored in much detail, though we do know such a building exists because we have been within a handful of times, though we have never seen the entire thing. Even if Twilight knew him, why would she talk about him, he is just another denizen of the library, until he becomes needed by the group. Therefore his cover is well designed, since it takes a minimal amount of effort to believe that he was there all the time and yet never mentioned.
Good cover as it relates to the setting of Ponyville is far more difficult to create, as we have seen very many buildings within the town, and we know that the town is not all that big, therefore where could your OC hide to make their appearance believable? The trick here, is to think of services that Ponies use, but are not explicitly mentioned in the show. Remember the plow that Big Mac used way back in the Ticket Master? Somepony had to make it. Perhaps your OC, or your OC’s father, builds plows. Ta-da instant cover. It is also a nice excuse to give your OC pretty, pretty fire magic, as your OC helps with the forge. Too cliché for you? Here’s another option, have your OC be a fire fighter but moves fire into the water bucket, instead of dumping water on the fire. Other jobs that make good cover, hairdresser/barber, someone running a restaurant or salt bar, gem miners/spelunkers, small shops and general stores. All of these ideas are present in MLP but they are not well defined. Take advantage of them, get creative and build a place for your pony today. Want to make a brew master? Salt bar. Cute waitress? Restaurant or Salt Bar. By building cover that your character flawlessly fits into, no one questions your character’s presence, even if your character does something as exotic as modeling or treasure hunting, or both. You might not even have to build the cover, if it is a building that already exists, part time waitress at a café easy peasy.
This is the part where most people new to world crafting or fanfiction make mistakes, as they want to have their character go on adventures with the mane 6 or at least one of them, and try to shoehorn them into some kind of friendship. If Rainbow Dash is best buds with your OC, then how come she never introduced your OC to the rest of the mane 6, why hasn’t the reader heard of your OC? Here is where cover comes in handy again, by having a believable cover; the Mane 6 can come looking for your character. Applejack finally has enough money for a new plow for Big Mac, goes and buys it from the smithy your OC works, or helps out with. Rarity has to take Opal to the groomers, your character works there, Twilight checks out a book; Ashwood asks her if she found everything she was looking for. Twilight says no, ta-da instant adventure for Ashwood and the mane 6. The trick here is to make the flow as clean as possible, as smooth as possible; your character has to be everything expected of them in such as situation, while not overshadowing the Mane 6, remember MLP is about them, and not the OC, no matter how powerful. Having a comparatively weak OC in raw power, makes it easier to sneak them on adventures, as they don’t unbalance the party as easily. If you integrate your relationships into your cover, it becomes easier for the reader to accept your OC as an actual character.
Power is big in MLP and new writers have a habit of making their characters too powerful. Having powerful characters is actually counterproductive to having good cover, the more powerful characters, the more important tasks they have to do, the less likely they are to have time for the mane 6. As a fairly powerful mage, there is no reason for Ashwood to help twilight build a model of the solar system, in the same way that Princess Celestia would be busy; they have more important things to do. However in the previous checkout example. Ashwood has to help Twilight find the book, because that is one of his duties as a Liberian/Teacher.
Ashwood’s Aspiration list
Celestia > standard duties > teaching > being polite > research > all other things.
Having an aspiration list that fits cleanly within your character’s cover also makes your character more creditable as a well-designed character because it makes perfect sense. To return to the previous situation, if say Twilight said that the Princess wanted her to build a model of the solar system for Luna’s room, Ashwood would immediately help, because Celestia “commissioned it”, and it shall be “glorious and to scale and simply magnificent”, yeah he’s a little over the top. Back to the topic of power, it becomes harder to make good cover for powerful characters, as they have trouble fitting in with normal pony society. It would be difficult to give Ashwood cover within Ponyville as he is such a powerful mage, what exactly is he doing in such as small town? You can sneak around this temporarily with a good task he is doing, such as “Buying fresh apples from the Smiths” or “looking for Dr. Hooves.” This task leans on his cover, every pony needs food, and as a pony from Canterlot, he wants high quality fresh food. As a fellow academic, Ashwood might be looking for Dr. Hooves for all manner of reasons.
Good cover lets your pony temporarily suspend their environment and move though another without drawing undo attention to themselves. However Ashwood wouldn’t join the mane 6 on their adventure because he already has something that needs doing, unless one of the mane 6 let slip that Celestia assigned an important task to them, and they don’t know how to complete it. A character such as Golden Age might lean on her cover by taking a train from Fillydelphia to Las Pegasus and might have a layover day in Ponyville. While her characterization would not cause her to interact with the mane 6 she might be seen at a general store arguing over the “ridiculous” selection of goods, or at the Castle looking for books on her next dive location, or on exotic critters of the deep. Notice how for all these situations a character remains within their cover, as cover is what keeps a character from make the audience suspicious.
As mentioned before, good cover keeps your pony out of reach of the mane 6 until they are needed, while simultaneously giving them their own set of work to do, to create the illusion that they exist while off screen. How good your cover is depends heavily on how well you write your character, but even with mediocre writing these ideas are usually good enough.
Occupational Cover Samples
- Student: simple cover, few ponies know all their classmates
- Gem Miner: Similar to adventurer but more "normal", easy to explain why they haven't been seen before
- Reporter: Easy to explain why they haven't been seen before, easy to justify interaction with the mane 6
- Historian: Same as reporter but with a more passive pursuit, so slightly harder to justify interaction with the 6.
- Liberian: Same as historian but with a niche location, very well hidden, can only be reactive
- Cook or Chef: They are hidden and everyone needs them, hard to justify interaction
- Scribe: Unlike writer, scribes are very common in some environments, easy way to sneak into Canterlot
- Firefighter: Active profession, effectively hand waves location.
- Smith: the tools have to come from somewhere.
Locational Cover Samples
- Canterlot: Keeps the OC close, and allows for interaction across many different social groups.
- Other major cities: Not having to write up why the mane 6 doesn't know your character is always nice, though you still have to justify why they are in Canterlot or Ponyville when they meet the mane 6.
Bad Cover or Cover That Requires Good Writing
In general anything that doesn't make very clear sense risks blowing cover but some occupations are worse than others, though if your writing is very good, then you can sometimes get away with it.
Occupational "bad" cover
- Student: if they know one of the mane 6 then how come the audience doesn't know them?
- Writer: one interesting unwritten rule is that fiction writer characters generally don't exist on screen as that is often "meta" though there are "Creators" of an in-story famous series. Though variations are often acceptable.
- Friend of x: this is not an occupation
- Stranger from a distant land: everyone has a job, or has had a job, this is just lazy writing in 99% of situations
- Adventurer: remember the story is about the mane 6, an adventurer would just detract from that in most cases
- Supermodel: We already have several of these, they don't exactly grow on trees, though B grade models work
- Mage/Wizard: both uncommon and powerful by their very nature, they are very hard to hide and harder to justify
- Solider: they are background ponies through and through, hard to write about
- Famous person: a combo of all the bad things of student, supermodel, and wizard all in one, with a healthy dose of wish fulfillment for good measure.
Locational "bad" cover
- Ponyville: hard to justify, hard to hide
- Canterlot: unless your pony is rich or "useful powerful" or relevant or "mundane useful" this is tricky to justify. take 2/4 to be safe
- Other locations: the only way this can be bungled is if the writing is done poorly as the audience doesn't know enough about the location to make it a problem.
Ashwood's Cover Design
The best cover is like an onion everyone has more to them then meets the eye, similar to a good personality. Most of these layers won't be introduced to a reader during a story but if the reader is astute the consistency of the character's layers would make the reader think "that makes sense" rather than "what, there is no way he could do that" should such a reveal happen. A very astute reader will be able to guess at such a thing and the internal consistency of the character's actions will satisfy the reader's curiosity.
Ashwood's Cover Elements "good"
- Location: in Canterlot, he satisfies the mundane useful (Liberian/teacher) and the useful powerful (mage) elements so it is implied that he is important enough to live in the capital. The location itself keeps him away from the mane 6 but still close enough to be useful and potentially involved.
- Occupation: Liberian/teacher, both of these are rather reactive so it helps counteract the cons of being a wizard, which involves being too involved in a character's problems.
- Onion design: he has two major jobs, he is a librarian to some and yet a mage/teacher to others, primarily upper level students, this two sided cover keeps his magic capabilities hidden and safely kept from driving the plot. If a character wants him to go save the world he "has lessons to teach" or "books to catalog". It also allows him to be present for important events in Canterlot as he does have status by virtue of being a powerful mage but he keeps it on the down low, preferring to appear as a gentleman and/or academic. This flexibility lets him move around without notice, and yet be present for important events.
Ashwood's Cover Elements "bad"
- Powerful: as always having a powerful character risks sidelining others, however by virtue of his professions, he can mitigate some of this by either being unnoticed, or passive. He has things to do, and so might not be able to do much other than offer a few words of advice.
- Magic: as always having a Dues Ex Wizard is a problem, however his passive occupations, and how hard it is to involve him in events, makes it difficult for him to get into a position where he breaks the story, without breaking character.
Cover is essential to any OC or any character for that matter, they need a justification to exist in-universe, or the reader will get suspicious and dislike your character, because they aren’t believable, in the same way a Mary Sue, or a black and red zebra shadow mage hybrid is not believable, this leads me to my last point in the section, coloration and aesthetic is also part of your cover, don’t blow it.