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Original characters or OCs, seem to be a fairly popular topic in this fandom as it appears to be fairly simple to insert one's self into Equestria, however as Guildmaster Grovyle pointed out this is not the case, through several detailed blog posts. Rather than reiterate what is inside those posts, I seek to examine why we have to follow these rules in order to create a "good" OC. By "good" I am referring to an OC that can fit cleanly into Equestria while simultaneously remaining a character of interest. I have done this through using the subheadings from Lecture Hall: Building a Better Bronco, in order to keep my points aligned with Guildmaster Grovyle and so reading that lecture is a pre-req.

A Pony EveryPony Should Know and Love

This section is about characterization, and arguably are one of the most important topics of writing. Shakespeare had the most cliché and worn out plots of his time, and still managed to make great writing. Characters are everything to a good story. As someone who is writing/creating a character, someone making an OC has deal with this topic, even if they are not a writer. Here is the trap most new creators fall into, they want to make “good” characters, but they perceive “good” characters as characters who do great things. This is not the case, a “good” character is a character whose actions and motivations are believable based on their background and experiences, and hence a Mary Sue type character cannot sustain itself in good writing. In order to always do the right thing, and be loved by others, Mary Sue has to act entirely contrary in similar situations, for example a bully picking on a nerd would cause Mary Sue to side with the nerd, but if the nerd picked on the (former) bully should Mary Sue side with the nerd or the bully? This is the wrong question people should be asking of their OC. People do not always make the right decisions and so characters should not either. The question writers should be asking is “How does Mary Sue feel about this situation, based on what she knows, and what will she do based on these feelings?” By changing their perspective from the overarching plot to the perspective of a single character they have taken a monumental step forward because they have allowed their character to make short term decisions that might be incorrect in the overarching plot, for example being friends with the nerd may cause her to bully the bully, or her belief that bullying is wrong might cause her to antagonize her friend for bullying. Regardless of her decision there are negative consequences for her to deal with, and failing to deal with these negative consequences is a hallmark of drama, because conflict makes the story, with no internal conflict there is no story. The creator has now permitted the character to exist outside of the plot. One good way to identify and pick apart a potential Mary Sue character is to identify who she argues with. Since she is a character, she will argue her own viewpoints and depending on the situation might be right or wrong. If she is rarely wrong then either the author is favoring her, a hallmark of bad writing if she is a protagonist, or she is a Mary Sue and should be altered. 

How does this train of thought impact making an OC? Well, when making an OC the creator should keep the idea that her character has to have a clear hierarchy of priorities, or else they simply become a flimsy character, with lots of power and no clear characterization as a Mary Sue is. Real characters, “good” characters sometimes do right and sometimes do wrong. Take Celestia for example, her hierarchy of priorities can be defined by descending order of priority as: Sustaining the Kingdom = Doing right > Luna >> Twilight > most other things. Since she has a clear set of priorities she has clear situations where she can fail. In a Canterlot Wedding part 1, she clearly screws up, because her desire to sustain the kingdom through Cadance’s marriage to Shining Armor, causes her to overlook the fact that Cadance is not actually Cadance, and ends up paying for it. Another situation where Celestia might fail is where she overworks herself and ends up failing to look after her own needs in private. While this situation would not be seen in MLP, due to Celestia being seen as a mentor figure, it is a plausible outcome for the decisions Celestia could make as a character. 

Sample OC (patient) hierarchy of priorities

Wisdom > knowledge > peace and quiet > friendship >anything else

Since she prioritizes friendship so low, she is open to failure when dealing with others, perhaps being a little too aloof or a little too uptight, leading to other characters to tell her to relax. She also might be too cautious and is open to failure when events require her to proceed swiftly, or reach out of her comfort zone.

Sample scenario and response: OC doesn’t want to go to gala because it is loud and noisy and nothing productive is done there. OC gets convinced to go to the gala, ends up having fun (or ends up networking), realizing her friends were right (or she did something productive), and that while peace and quiet is not bad, getting out and doing things is sometimes for the best.

This is a fairly easy way to avoid a Mary Sue, by exposing your character to mistakes and incorrect beliefs your character has the opportunity to develop.

Guildmaster Grovyle’s OC (Golden Age) my estimation based on the wiki page

Loyalty > Ocean fascination > Appearance > anything else

Here, Golden Age is used to using her appearance as a tool to benefit herself, and becomes wary when others are unmoved by it, worried that they will see beneath the surface, to her shallow demeanor beneath. Her obsession with the ocean causes her to pursue the depths with abandon, sometimes landing her in trouble. However she is loyal to the people who help her, even if she often keeps such things “professional” if she can help it.

Hopefully you can see that by building such a hierarchy of priorities it becomes easier to plan for what your character will do, allowing your character to exist independent of the plot, while at the same time preventing your character from becoming a Mary Sue as they make tradeoffs based on their hierarchy of priorities and so will be right in some situations but wrong in others.

Another benefit of building such a hierarchy is that it becomes fairly simple to derive a concrete set of skills based on such priorities, Golden Age for example, would likely be familiar with some of the creatures under the sea, or know how to pilot a boat to some degree, she might also be capable of moving through social circles at formal events, while my unnamed OC might be a good planner or a lore master. This concrete set of skills allows the OC to have clear abilities that let them have competencies, but more importantly avoid being too broadly competent, the easiest to find trait of a Mary Sue.

Leave a Like if You Cry Every Time

Guildmaster Grovyle explained it better than I ever could, angst can sometimes be good for drama, but when done poorly, which is easy to do, it is trash and very obviously so, and also keep in mind the setting, there is no long term overt angst in MLP for anything other than comedic effect. It does not have a place in the setting. I think it is better to play it safe as having any character even close to as tragic as Luna deserves a very close review and anything beyond that should be dismissed immediately.

Luna motivations approx.

Duty> Acknowledgement >Teaching others Wisdom > Friendship

Violating her sense of duty when she became nightmare moon, she regretted her actions greatly, which now impacts everything she does though subtly, being more formal than her sister and very dedicated to her duties, she still seeks acknowledgement for the deeds she does, though she is more than willing to hand out wisdom to ponies who need it, as that is a part of her task as the dream warden. However the past is in the past and Luna is careful not to repeat it.

The Pony EveryPony Should Not Know

The back story is the back story, keep it on the back burner, there should be nothing in it that is so dramatic, it overshadows the current plot. The purpose of the back story is to provide an in-universe justification for a character’s hierarchy of priorities, which I am going to keep selling you, because it is a powerful tool. The back story determines a character’s motivations, relationships and is often the hardest thing to put together cohesively if your character is not simple. The thing to keep in mind is that your character’s relationships are also impacted by the hierarchy of priorities, so this can end up as a big ball of wibbly-wobbly stuff if you do not think carefully. However no character is alone, and so hand waving this problem by claiming “my pony has no friends” is lazy, angsty, and all and all bad writing. Everyone has connections, ranging from royalty, to a handful of off duty guards your character plays cards with; to the ponies you are neighbors with, to the pony you buy groceries from. Even the most isolated ponies know 4-5 others personally and likely are passingly familiar with 10-15 more. Your character just might know Granny Smith from back when she was the premier supplier of apples, who your family always bought from, but because of that, you also now have a passing familiarity with the main part of the Smith family, including Applejack, and depending on how far you follow this relationship line to twilight. Regardless, it is very unlikely that your character is more than passingly familiar with the primary princesses, as they are very old, and royalty.

When writing a backstory keeps it simple, the more convoluted and crazy a backstory, the harder it is to follow and the more it detracts from the actual plot. Shounen fighting series do a pretty good job of breaking this law, and as MLP is not shounen, the back story should be fairly normal, but with some interesting events thrown in. Think of your character’s back story as something akin to generation 1 Pokémon, which while a shounen, does a really good job of giving main characters believable backstories, here let me build pony Brock for you.

Brock hierarchy of priorities

Family > adventure > friendship > wisdom

While eager to go on an adventure Brock has to take care of his younger siblings while his father is out working, though while they normally can look after themselves he stays “just in case”. He is eager to meet people and make friends, but he sometimes becomes a little too eager to make mare friends. He often is a quiet voice of reason, but often ignores this reasoning when pursuing an adventure, or a pretty mare.

Keep in mind this characterization has nothing to do with power, power comes secondary to character. Power can detract from a character’s development but it cannot add to it, unless it is used very carefully. Even professional writers have problems with this since a character naturally grows in power over the course of a narrative. I even talked a little bit on twilight’s power creep in a previous blog.

Bad things can happen in a back story, but keep it to a minimum, by the rules of conservation of drama, excess drama in a back story detracts from the drama of today, so pay careful attention to how much angst you put in. Nothing more than a single nasty event (like a ship wreck or balloon crash) is usually acceptable, and don’t even think of making your character “the last surviving member of x” Ponies are more than the events they are a part of, don’t do your OC a disservice and define them entirely by the event that happened to them.

There is Only Power and Those Too Powerful to Seek It

As I said before, power is secondary to character development, having a powerful character just makes it harder to write convincing story about them, the only real conflict for Celestia is a super villain, or her sister, going ham, anything else is a piece of cake. Keep your power levels reasonable. As a good rule, if your character is a primary protagonist keep their overall power level close to the mane 6, if you do choose to make a character stronger put your character in a position where they don’t have impact on a plot. For example Ashwood, an accomplished magician of time magic, hangs out in the Canterlot Library and has no intention of going on an adventure, and will not go, because his presence will break the story. However he can still be involved, but as a strictly supporting character, similar to Celestia is. No one sees Celestia go out for activities with the mane 6 as she has other duties, If you make a character stronger than the mane 6 they will be relegated to the sidelines in any good story, as their mere presence causes power creep. Weaker characters are not limited by this requirement since they can “rise to the occasion” in good writing. One good idea is to take the power level you want, and then reduce it by 25% since this helps reduce bias and room to grow. There are far more things a good writer can do with a weak character than a strong character. Pokémon follows Ash and not Gary for a reason. Even though Gary Oak is our man.

Keep in mind your environment, as per the rules of sustainability and continuity; nothing can be introduced to the environment that does not already exist within it.

By following that logic, guns and weapons are out, though a slingshot is legal, magic cannot introduce new elements that do not exist, hexes and curses are out, transfiguration is limited. Fire magic is limited, water magic is less limited (due to Pegasai), animal magic is fine, plant magic likely is limited, air magic is very limited, metal magic and smithing can be done if done carefully as can time magic, light magic and shadow magic have to be done very, very carefully.

Here is a handy list for active magic; anything to the right of air is not a good idea unless you are careful about it. While any unicorn can do the basics of such magic, specialties in these areas are what I want to draw attention to, since making an elementalist is often a common idea. Notice how earth magic is not present.

Animal = water > space = plant = fire > air = metal > time> shadow = light = dream

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but you should be able to situate your power within this list based on how common it is.

Be careful, any of these categories are open to abuse and it is your duty as a creator to make sure your character has clear limits to their powers. A fire user might be able to light a torch or move fire around but cannot burn down a building. Perhaps they move fire out of a building and into a bucket of water?

  This brings me to my next point, your character must have a clear place in pony society, they have jobs they do, people they talk with and a way to earn their keep. Ashwood, the mage from the start of the section, works in Canterlot Library, preserving books, while also teaching students, a step between Celestia and Cheerilee. Golden Age is a treasure seeker and diver, similar to Daring-Do. Notice how these characters have similar places in society, as a teacher and adventurer respectively, comparable to canon ponies that already exist, but they also bring a slightly different flavor to their job, as Ashwood is more of a scholar and sage than a teacher, while Golden Age is a diver more than an adventurer. By giving your pony a clear place in society, they become more believable, and it becomes easier to understand their motivations, as their relationships are related to their job, which is related to their aspirations, tying them all nicely together in one big fat bow of continuity.

Running With Scissors

Keep everything within universe; do not introduce anything from out of universe, unless it is a direct extension from things in universe. For example a smithy would be fine since the armor for the guards and the plow the Big Mac uses has to come from somewhere, however a weapon smithy would not be fine, as there are no weapons in universe. This applies to magic, which is why I made that list since it is related to how common such magic things are in universe.

Animal = water > space = plant = fire > air = metal > time> shadow = light = dream

Fluttershy = Pegasus rain > teleportation > plunderseeds/Zecora/Earth Pony Magic = dragons > breezies? = smithing > time (magic duel) > Princess or Villain magic.

This Idea of keeping things in universe also applies to design choices, take a look at color schemes of ponies and use that information when you build your own pony, if it is not in universe at a fairly common rate, it likely should not be used without justification.

Again this idea, that if it is not within the universe already, it should not be brought in universe applies to all parts of your character including these categories

Backstory (How are you still alive?)

Motivation (That makes no sense)

Magic Type (Your character can do what?)

Magic Power (This is a load of horse****)

Occupation (How are you employed?)

Coloration and physical design (so your mother looked like what exactly?)

All of these topics should interact with each other, if they don’t mesh with each other, then you have to go back and change it.

Conclusion(TLDR)

Going to surmise this, since I’m sure no one took notes, and unlikely even got this far.

Continuity is god; do not upset it for anything, do not bring things in universe that do not belong.

Define character motivation in a concrete way, so that your character will behave consistently across stories and interactions. Use my Motivation Line X>Y>Z>I>J>K to rank your characters goals, interests and focuses, and refer to it as needed so your character is consistent.

Keep your talent: simple/clear, useful, niche

Keep your magic: simple/clear, in line with your character’s experience/practice

Keep your power: limited by your character’s experience, have a hard cap on it, around the mane 6 if you want to see your OC on an adventure.

Keep your character design similar to designs that already exist

All the previous categories must mesh together to a reasonable extent.

If it isn’t in universe, do not bring it in universe.


Credit to Guildmaster Grovyle for several good blog posts and making a “good” OC, I just felt I could add to the topic so I made this 3400 word monster.