Fix 11: Character Derailment

Today’s fix is brought to you by Neil Gaiman, if only because somehow reading hi TVTropes page gives me energy, and there’s a good chance of me talking a lot about Good Omens. So, let’s get to it.


Frankly, this topic’s more likely to apply to Fanfiction than anything else, but if you listen up you can probably learn a few things for your normal writing anyway. Character Derailment can affect your own characters in roleplays or in your own writing. Please keep this in mind.


Now, Character Derailment is when you have a character that suddenly starts acting differently to what has been previously shown to be their character, and I do mean suddenly. In fanfiction this pretty common in BL (or Boy Love, Shonen-ai, whatever you feel like calling it) where one character suddenly has to be the girl. Character Derailment is a common trait of a Mary-Sue story (for the sullen love interest suddenly turning ‘good’ because of the Sue) or even of the Mary-Sue (see Cannon-Sue). If the character suddenly starts acting in a way that it is not like them then you have a problem.


I’m currently in a Yu Yu Hakusho RP with one of my closest friends. I’m playing Hiei for her (and I always play Hiei, I’ve just never been very good at it, since me and Hiei have never really been on the best terms). It ends up this way because my OC is Kurama love interest/torturer (It’s complicated). She was originally Hiei’s love interest who was supposed to hate Kurama, and then she rebelled and I couldn’t stop her. Either way I am not having a good time with Hiei because I see him as literally being asexual aside from Mukuro. Getting him to be interested in a High School girl has been… interesting. The good thing about RPs (or this one especially) is that we said from the outset that Mary-Sues are okay as long as it’s fun. We’ve now branched out into side characters, so it seems like it’s going pretty well.


My problems with Hiei have worked out because I’m not trying to write him for a fanfiction. I’ve been writing a couple of Karasu fanfictions. For reasons I can’t explain even to myself I’ve been in love with the bomb nut since I first saw him. I’m starting to get the idea that it’s because I have an attraction to serial killer characters… as characters but not as real people. In any case I’m having the worst time with him because the version in my head has folded off his arms and decided to go one way that seems contrary to his in cannon personality. My only goal going into writing him was that I wanted to write a non-Kurama based Karasu fic that wasn’t just straight angst and rape (since that’s all his stories seem to be, and I’m sick of it). I’ll admit to my own character derailment, mostly due to the misfortune of my characters running off however they want once I give them free reign, and as I already have two OC characters based of Karasu it was pretty damn easy for him to go insane in my brain.


(Side not: yes, I do talk about my characters like they’re real people. I know other writers who do this, but it’s a little bit like having split personalities, except that you know they aren’t real and only live in your mind and they never control you… on the other hand you can’t control them much. You only think that you have control. No, this is not an excuse to simply write whatever, saying your characters did it, but we’ll get to that later.)


Character Derailment doesn’t have to be bad per say, that is if you’re going an AU story. I knew someone who wrote a Beyblade/Harry Potter crossover where “Ron” was a Death Eater, and the real Ron was actually Tala. Don’t ask how it worked, but it was interesting. For Ron, yes there was huge Character Derailment, but the writer was spot on for Tala, which made the whole thing actually work when it otherwise shouldn’t have worked at all.


I mentioned earlier that BL stories are bad for Character Derailment. This is part of why I think they’re boring. Frankly a gay couple doesn’t need a ‘boy’ and a ‘girl’. There are those that probably fit that stereotype, but sometimes there are two girly-girls, and sometimes you have two strong men. The problem with BL is that to ‘make it work’ the writer has to change the personality of one of the characters.  It doesn’t have to be this way.


A couple of weekends ago after finishing Good Omens and secretly wishing I’d created Crowley so I could write him forever I went looking through the fandom. In one weekend I was reminded why I no longer read BL nor PWP… because it’s damn boring (the PWP) or they don’t stick to the character (both). If I have to find one more thing where Aziraphale is pathetic I’ll start banging my head against a table.


I’m currently working on a short writing experiment (after having discovered that me and my friends basically created an Aziraphale and Crowley about four years ago) with the problem that instead of having a weak Aziraphale I have a weak Crowley (or weaker). I’m working on it, but I’m also keenly aware of it.


A lot of the problem with Character Derailment is that the writer gets in their head their version of a character and end up unable to write anything else. I’m more able to read such things because I can understand “oh, this is well written and understandable for X’s version of this character.” Sometimes I just get tired of having to explain things for the writer. No, not everyone will get the character they’re writing about. I know someone who understands Seto Kaiba really well, but he’s written that character for about six years. It takes time to come into any character, especially someone else’s character.


So, what can be done?


Honestly, the biggest thing you can do is discuss and practice. The reason why your teachers make you write papers is because in doing so you organize your thoughts, make clear statements, and will probably defend that idea a lot stronger after you’ve spent all that time finding proof for your theory. You’ll also remember it better. I spent a weekend discussing Karasu with a couple of people who write the character really well (if very different from how I do). It was good for me because it forced me to find my own version and interpretation. It also made me realize that with a character with so little known about them it’s easier to come up with varying ideas about them. On the other hand you can have varying ideas about a main character depending on what you choose to accentuate from their character. As long as you don’t forget (or can’t properly explain why you’re ignoring) a part of the character’s specific background and personality just about any interpretation is valid.


If you want to get good at a character you should discuss them with other people, and you should practice writing as them. You should do both of these a lot. You also shouldn’t be afraid to give them an OC to bounce off of, as long as it makes sense. For Karasu I let him bounce off of OCs, but only if they end up dead in the end. The thing you have to remember about fanfiction is that what people want is to read more about their favorite characters, that what they can read or see simply isn’t enough. They haven’t been completely satisfied yet. There are theories that fanfiction is a female reaction to a mostly male dominated media, sense there are higher rate of fanfiction for shows that don’t have a stronger female audience (see the difference between the number of Bones fanfics vs Grey’s Anatomy). But what the reader really wants to see is characters they like interacting.


There’s really not much wrong with writing your own version of a character, but honestly you go into reading a fanfiction to read about the cannon characters, don’t you? You have to remember your readers. The biggest and best way to get over Character Derailment is to focus on your audience and remember why they’ll want to read your story. Audience is everything, at least in this case that should be your mantra.


Okay, that’s enough for my sleep deprived brain to spit out for a while. Night all!


Fix 2: Sue/Cannon

Hello my lovelies! Today’s lesson is on pairing your Sue with a cannon character!

A lot of Mary-Sue fanfiction comes from the writer wanting to pair someone (other than the cannon love interest) with a cannon character. Often they want to pair themselves with said cannon character. This is something I have a lot of experience with because 1) This is still a very fun type of RPing as long as I have a partner who’s willing to play along and is about on my writing level and 2) this is how I started writing fanfiction.

I think my first fanfiction was actually one about (Yugioh reference) Joey winning over Kaiba. My Sue didn’t show up until fic two. She’d been plaguing my RPs with very decent people before hand… to the point that I seriously wonder why in the world those people were willing to play the other characters for my philandering Sue (who was affectionate with Joey and in love with Kaiba… I was in middle school), but she finally showed up in fanfiction form. Luckily she didn’t show up a lot… I think all of one… maybe two more times after that.

Now, while the fic is now deleted, I once had a fic with an original character paired with a cannon character get added to a C2 (it’s a Community where you can find stories of a same type. It ended up in a ‘best’ list). This fic, when I was deleting it, was not good. By my standards it was wince worthy… by most fanfics, it was good. The reason why the fic got added was because 1) it was a 2nd generation fic that paired my OC with someone who’s a child in story and 2) it was super plot centered, and based on a serious plot hole the author still hasn’t addressed in all the sequel’s she’s written.

OC/Cannon can be good, but they honestly need to be about five times more original than a normal Cannon/Cannon fic, and needs to be about ten times better written. I have stumbled across a very good Draco/OC fanfiction. What I love about it is that: The girl is a muggle. She never finds out he’s a wizard. Draco is the center of the story. Draco is in character throughout the whole story. They break-up at the end, thereby allowing it to slip seamlessly into the cannon timeline.

The last three are the most important. The Cannon character is the focus of the story, not simply a way to describe the OC. The Cannon character is in character the whole time. The OC doesn’t interfere with timeline.

BUT MARYSUEFIXER… Harry is with Ginny in the end of the books. I don’t want him to end up with her, but with my OC!

To this I say: Do you want him to be with your character or with you?

BUT MARYSUEFIXER… The Cannon character and his love interest have nothing in common!

To this I say: Really? Not every relationship has to be built on being exactly alike or exactly opposite. Your best friend doesn’t have to like the same TV shows/music/books/movies/furniture/food you do in order to be your best friend. Your boyfriend doesn’t have to have the same interests or job as you to be loving and supportive.

BUT MARYSUEFIXER… My OC is better for the Cannon character!

To this I say: Again, Really? Okay sometimes this may be true. I have a couple of original characters who are married, but their relationships can be at best described as toxic or mutually destructive. But you know what? They don’t fit with anyone else, and it’s way more interesting that way. If your OC breaks up the bad relationship then a lot of the interesting parts of the plot go out the window. On the other hand, if the Cannon character has a perfectly good love interest then there’s no reason for you to even be thinking this.

I am a huge proponent of sticking to Cannon as much as possible. I’m not saying you have to not pair your OC with a character who’s already paired… but I’m seriously against it. I suppose you can break up the cannon relationship if you must, but for the love of Bob, don’t just write the real love interest as a bitch. It’s a huge cop-out, and often just makes your story bad. If you have to pervert a cannon character’s personality so you can get rid of them then you have a problem.

So, a few things you can do. 1) Pick a character who the author hasn’t paired off. 2) If you do pick a character who gets paired off, then do something really interesting with it. 3) Always focus on the Cannon character. 4) Don’t ignore the Word of God (what the author says, or is in the text).

Now, here’s an example of a fic where OC is paired with a Cannon character. I’m going to run with Draco/OC because it’s popular, and I mention it earlier. In the standard Draco/OC fic he meets the OC/Sue in Hogwarts and falls in love with her. End of story. But Rowling said that Draco Malfoy marries Astoria Greengrass. This poses a big problem to Draco/OC’s happily ever after.

So, there are a couple of options. The first (and most obvious) is to get rid of Astoria (divorce/death) in favor of your OC. This is a possibility, but not the most original. If you have to do it, you should focus on Draco dealing with his loss, and how he starts to love again. Essentially it’s a hurt/comfort fic (which I generally do not like).

Now, for the more original idea: Draco and the OC have a fling before/during his marriage to Astoria and has a child with Draco (preferably younger than Scorpius as to not interfere with Cannon). Astoria is (rightfully) crushed. She tries to work it out with Draco, but eventually leaves, taking Scorpius with her. Draco moves back to the OC and his other child, though the OC always wonders if maybe he’ll cheat on her too. Draco has limited visitation rights with Scorpius, but is allowed to escort him to Hogwarts for his first day of school.

This is a scenario I like because the Cannon character receive the most focus, the OC is a driving part of the plot without being the plot, there’s a lot of unresolved feelings all around, and it fits in with the cannon time line. It also sets up for Scorpius starting to date Rose Weasley just to anger his father (which is a pairing I like for no real reason). Please feel free to steal my idea. If you write it just please 1) link it to me! 2) do the sequel with Scorpius and Rose, at least a short one-shot. I just love the complication it all adds.

So, we’ve now established that you can make OC/Cannon work, as long as the plot is interesting. Now it’s time for me to give you things to do. First off, for whatever character you want to pair with your OC, please consider what the most obvious way to get them together is. The only way this will work for you is if you write very well, good enough to be an English Major. I don’t suggest even trying this way. Instead, think of every possible alternative. If you know they end up with one character at the end think about ways around that in a way that doesn’t mess up the timeline. A summer tryst when the main couple is broken up, a divorce, a death, an affair.

If you have to break up an established couple, remember to not make the love interest a complete bitch. It will almost universally make your story terrible. Instead, focus on bringing out the good and bad traits in both the Cannon character and his original love interest. A love triangle is much more interesting when you can like all three characters. If you’re having trouble with the original love interest I suggest making a list of their good and bad traits, and be honest. If, like Astoria Greengrass, the eventual love interest has no description or screentime, you get to write then from your own mind. Treat them like another OC. Write them not as bad/evil, but simply as the one who doesn’t even up with the Cannon character.

If you want a good example of the good-but-the-loser, look at the second season of Friends. Ross has to chose between Rachel who he’s always loved or Julie who is smart, beautiful, and kind. There’s nothing wrong with Julie, she’s just not Rachel. The audience roots for Rachel, but there’s a lot of tension because Julie’s a good choice too, better in some ways. There’s a more recent example from the TV show Bones. Booth must choose between Brennan who he’s been in love with for a while, or Hannah who is equally amazing. The line “and she’s no consolation prize” makes you love the lead guy, but heart break for the lead girl. Having the good-but-loser character makes much better writing.

Now, if you chose to pair your OC with a Cannon who has no love interest you have a whole other set of issues. Normally they are the loner, and therefore the object of affection for the majority of the fanbase. If you write these stories you will probably not be popular. Actually, if you’re writing any OC you’ll probably not be popular. But you need to consider the Cannon character just as much. A guy friend of mine writes amazing Kaiba fics because he focuses on an aspect of Kaiba a lot of people seem to somehow ignore: his role as a parent. My friend pointed out that if (big if) Kaiba found someone, it would need to be someone who would fill a mother-like role for him; someone he could unload his troubles and worries on, someone who can be strict by loving with it. Essentially he needs Molly Weasley.

I have never seen any interpretation like this before, which makes it interesting, but also means that if anyone wrote a Molly-like character for said above Stoic it would mean that the author is probably very focused on Kaiba’s reaction and growth versus how pretty her Sue is. Always focus on the canon character, always. People read fanfiction not for your OC, but to see characters they love doing new things.

In focusing on the Cannon and what they like and don’t like (to do this well, you need to have a really good understanding of the Cannon, and some really well thought out theories, hence why this is so hard) you can create a character that will help the Cannon to mature. Your character will be less a generic love interest that way. If you’re having trouble with this, think about if the Cannon character was your character. What character would you create for their love interest?

Now, let’s say that you’ve picked a character who isn’t paired off, and isn’t all that popular. A friend of mine loves Kido from Yu Yu Hakusho. Don’t know him? Don’t know him and seen the show? If you saw the beginning of the Sensui arc, he’s the blonde punk who holds Yusuke captive by standing on his shadow. He shows up barely and all and he’s my friend’s favorite from the series. If she wrote a story pairing him with someone would you read it? I would because it’s so random, but not a lot of people will.

The biggest problem with OC/not-popular-Cannon is that it is way harder to make anyone care enough to read about it. Yes, if the not-popular-Cannon doesn’t show up much or at all (see Astoria Greengrass) you can basically write them as your own character. It can make the story easier to write, but you still need to be careful. You have to make your audience care about this unpopular character, and you have to make them care about your OC. In some ways you have to work twice as hard as someone who writes an OC for someone who already has a love interest. You have to focus on the cannon, not mess with the timeline, and make both the OC and Cannon interesting.

If you’ve gotten anything from this, it’s that it’s really hard to write an OC paired with a cannon character, write it well, and make people care. When I figure out how to do the publicity bit better maybe I can help you with that. But for now, I’m just your beloved MarysueFixer.

If you’re wondering what Draco/OC fic I was originally talking about: