- "Say, is this fandom also full of people who care too much about characters' powers?"
- — User:Kiadony
Among other things, perhaps.
This is Grovyle again, and—in light of my latest theory's disappointing turnout—I bid you welcome to the third blog in my Lecture Hall series, though this blog is fundamentally an expansion of the previous lecture. I am here to talk about the original character whose occasional Alicornhood I condemned.
Today, however, the scope is broader.
Alicornhood is the epitome of everything that can go wrong with an OC, yet there are other unfortunate temptations that may befall OC artists, and I ought to give them their due attention. There is more than one way to fail. In fact, there are countless ways to fail. Nevertheless, I now endeavor to explain the problems concerning a few of the more common methods.
According to thy works thou shalt be judged!
[Taken from prior blog]
When creating a character, one ought to recognize this fundamental truth: "Your OC will be judged, and so will you." One cannot force others to adore one's creation, nor can one silence those who scorn it. One must realize that criticism happens. There are some folks that do nitpick for the sake of being cutesy or simply irksome, but sincere criticism exists nonetheless. We all receive it, whether we like it or not.
An original character is a form of personal expression, but this does NOT make it immune to criticism.
We live in an era of sacred feelings. Too often we are told that wounding someone else's feelings is pure evil. Thus, let me make this clear: one's feelings for one's work do not improve its quality in the slightest.
Your feelings are in your head, not in your art. They will not stop anyone from identifying lousy art and calling it out as such. And if you are entitled to personal expression, then so are your critics.
A pony everypony should know (and love)
One of the most common pitfalls is the one that invariably accompanies the archetypal "Mary Sue"—universal acclaim. By this, I mean that the character is exempt from any kind of criticism even in-universe. All of the other good guys are yes-men, so the only ones with anything bad to say about the character are the bad guys who are obviously in the wrong.
In a world like Equestria, this one is especially dangerous.
Consider how easy it is to take a villain like Tirek and turn him into the ultimate bad guy. With him being so mean-spirited, the friendly citizens of Equestria are seemingly free to be supportive toward the character. It's no challenge to forget that these citizens have interests and ideals of their own.
More importantly, reactions to any character should be appropriate in light of their behavior. If the character is good at something, then someone should be envious. If the character is bad at something, then someone should be critical. If the character breaks a promise, then others should have their trust in the character shaken. Forgiveness should not be instantaneous either.
I struggled with this problem for a while—in my own writings, I formerly depicted a character as a pointlessly pretentious sneak who managed to maintain a close circle of followers anyway, and I eventually came to the realization that honesty had no stable place in this relationship. Whatever the character's relationships are founded upon, remember that someone should be willing to call the character out when there is a breach of conduct.
Oh, and another thing. The character cannot be right about everything and still succeed as a focus for storytelling.
Leave a like if you cry every time
In the arms of the angel... fly away from here—
Oh, does that sound familiar? That's what it sounds like when the exact opposite of the above happens. When a character is so relentlessly opposed by everything in the world, the work itself becomes equivalent to those heartrending ASPCA commercials that make everyone change the channel. It's unpleasant.
It's also boring too because it becomes predictable. The audience knows everything is going backfire. Suspense becomes a thing of the past. If the character's life is so miserable that she cries herself to sleep every night, then how can anything interesting come from it? Either things have to get better, which would mean—perish the thought—developing the character without a daily baptism in tears, or the character remains stuck in the tedium of unrelenting strife.
Also, be aware that misery absolutely does not make the audience sympathetic towards the character. It only makes the audience disgusted with the artist for putting the character through such torture.
The pony everypony should NOT know?!
Good grief, the character must have a past. It is such a fundamental and defining feature of every individual alive, yet somehow there are many characters that have none at all, or else it is known only to them. It as though the entire world turned a blind eye for the entirety of the character's young life.
One: It's unrealistic.
Two: It's lazy.
If you are going to make a character, then at least put forth enough effort to concoct a coherent backstory. Some parts can be omitted until later, but the audience should always be able to have some grasp on the character's identity. Remember this, folks: "It's a mystery" is not a history. The less the audience knows about a character, the less they should care about him or her.
And on that note, the past should not be super-weepy either. If you want a tragedy, write a full-blown tragedy like Oedipus Rex. Do not make the bad things happen in the before-story. It makes the main story look like a mere epilogue.
Back by unanimous demand
Alicorns. Let's just get that out of the way.
There is only power and those too powerful to seek it
Power, power, power. It's powerful stuff.
Too bad it's not an excusable substitution for personality and development.
In a fandom full of self-inserts, it can be extraordinarily tempting to give an OC nifty powers. However, while one writes on and on about the use, functionality, origin, and rules of these powers, one also loses opportunity for personal growth and conflict. My Little Pony Friendship is Magic already has its own mythos and magic. Do not complicate it at the expense of the character's development.
One might make the character alone very gifted. But what antagonist can possibly oppose an OC with power enough to move mountains? Too much power to one character makes the story boring.
Conversely, one might make other characters extraordinarily gifted too. But as the saying goes, when everyone is super, no one is. This also makes for a very boring story... or rather one that would be better told without such awesome power.
Running with scissors
Appearances certainly are important, but too often artists focus on making their characters look cool above all else. Many Alicorn OCs exist for this very reason. Like cool powers, cool looks heighten the character's appeal to the artist's ego but to no one else. Consider the following features:
- Saturated zebra stripes
- Black and X color scheme
- Dragon wings
- Slit-pupil eyes
- Extra horns
- Ridiculously angry or stubbornly forlorn disposition
- Resemblance to other franchises' anti-heroes.
None of the above features ever sync well. Go with what the franchise would suggest, not what General Zoi's Pony Creator would offer. There are no red-and-black Pegasus zebras in My Little Pony. Do not make your special snowflake of an OC into such because you believe it reflects your thoughtful and edgy personality. Instead of that, it will only suggest that you are conceited and painfully shallow.
Oh, and if your character wears a fedora, then you deserve a kick to the head.
And the dangerous edge does not end here. It extends to behavior and background as well. Recall that the subject is My Little Pony, wherein Equestria is ruled by two princesses and aimed towards children. The character should not be full of baloney that does not belong in this setting. This includes...
- Religious or demonological references
- Latin names and phrases
- Affinity for firearms
- A "dark side"
- A misrepresented psychological condition
- A resurrection or other miracle at any point
- Bouts of "randomness"
- A bond with an infernal power
- Ability to silence anyone without difficulty (See the love section again)
These do not belong in MLP. They kill the atmosphere and charm of Equestria in exchange for the dark-'n-edginess of whatever angst-driven fantasy occupies the artist's daydreams. They also imply that the artist is using the character as an outlet for some deep-seated frustration that the pony-loving audience has no reason to care about. Edgy characters with these features are meant to entertain the daydreamer, not an actual audience.
So... If your character is a purple zebra tiefling who curses the demon that killed his cardboard squeeze in the sloppy Latin he learned from Google-Translate, you ought to start over.
Likable characters come from good storytelling, not unintelligent venting.
I realize that I have said much about what one should not do, but I mean it constructively. The above problems, being failures in some regard, shed a light on the meaning of success. So, here are the things I would recommend for an artist eager to make an engaging character.
- A background with enduring relationships; no one materializes fully developed out of thin air
- Relationships in which the two parties can disagree and mount intelligent arguments against each other; real friends talk and state their opinions
- A history that mixes the pleasant and the unpleasant; after all, it is the story of someone's life
- No more super-powers than the average citizen has; there are more realistic and more poignant ways to be special
- Features that are in accordance with the nature of Equestria; we're talking about fanfiction, not one's own intellectual property
Is that too much to ask?