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Fanfiction Writing Tips - Keeping Your Characters in Character

Fanfiction Writing Tips: Keeping Your Characters In Character

I’ve been writing fanficiton for a few years now and one of the best compliments I can get from a reviewer is being told that my characters stayed in character in my story. It just makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

The truth is I work hard to make my characters like they are in canon. Whether it’s a movie, tv show or book, I usually want my story to fold itself seamlessly into the original storyline. Occasionally I will do something that is purposely AU* , but even then it’s usually only the storyline itself that is not canon, not the characters themselves.

With that in mind, I thought I’d write some tips to keep your fanfiction characters in character.

Watch the show, read the book, etc.

Okay yeah, that may sound obvious but it still needs to be said. You can’t expect to write really good, in character fanfiction based on only reading other people’s fanfiction stories or maybe catching half of an episode here and there. You don’t necessarily need to have seen the entire series, but you need to have seen at least seen some. This will help you hear the characters’ “voices” in your head.

Get a beta* who knows the show

Beta readers are wonderful people. They give us their time expecting nothing in return except for heart-felt thanks and maybe a dedication line in a story once in a while. Yet they can be one of your best resources. Find someone who really knows the show (or movie, book, etc) by reading their beta reader profile (fanfiction.net provides these, a very useful tool), reading some of their fanfiction stories and most of all by dropping them a line and finding out more about them. Some betas only proofread for spelling errors, etc, so be sure you find one who gives editorial advice as well.

Write up bios for characters

This is a little tip that my writing coach gave me when I was working on my first novel. Up till then I had everything I knew about my characters stored in my head. Not a great place for all that info, since sometimes it’s not as easily accessible as you would think. This works for original characters, but it also works for fanfiction characters as well. Start writing down what you know about the characters you’ve chosen to write about, using resources like the show’s official website, fansites, etc. Write down anything you want to remember, especially if it will be relevant to your story, and keep it on hand. Then as you write your fanfiction story, refer to your notes to make sure you’re not putting in dialogue, plot points, etc that are incorrect.

Listen to your reviews

Getting a review that says “I think [insert character name] was a little OOC* in that last chapter” is harsh, but it can also be really helpful. I myself got just such a note on a story I wrote last summer. Yeah sure, at first I pouted a little bit, but then I decided to get more info. So I sent the reviewer a message and asked just exactly what it was that made her feel that way. The result was a very nice message giving me some more details that were very helpful in understanding how this particular person felt about the character. I didn’t necessarily agree with all of it but I definitely kept it in mind as I continued the story. Because if one person felt that way, there were likely to be others who did as well.

Overall I’m not saying that you can’t write AU storylines and take characters OOC, but just be sure that is what you intend and you warn your readers that is where the story is headed. But if your intention is to write a fanfic that stays within canon, then I hope these tips were helpful for you.

As always, I love hearing from you guys as well so if anyone wants to share their own tips for keeping characters in character, feel free to let us all know with a comment.

*See Glossary


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  • http://www.fanfiction.net/u/1897872/KindleLyn KindleLyn

    You seem to have been quite busy on this blog lately! The glossary is fantastic – I learned some terms that I didn’t know about, and the origination of some of the more curious ones that I already knew! Very helpful!

    These tips are great! Although number 1 should be obvious, it had to be said, and it can’t be underestimated. If I’m having trouble with writing characters “in character” for a particular situation, I often try to think of similar situations that have actually happened in the show. Then I go re-watch that for more inspiration and insight.

    Another tip I would add is journaling about the characters … which is similar to making bios for them, but also different. When I journal to get into a character more, I focus on the “Whys” behind what they do. The shows give us what the characters do, but rarely a clear or definitive “why.” As a fanfic writer, I think one of the best things you can do to help your characters be in character is to get clear on why you think they act the way they do.

  • snail

    “Beta- and maybe a dedication line in a story once in a while.”
    ^_^;; lol

    good tips… ^_^

  • Mokibobolink

    Thanks KindleLyn, I’m so glad the glossary was useful to you.

    That’s a great idea about watching an episode with a similar situation and watching what the characters did in it for more insight. I’m sure I’ll be borrowing that one.

    Journailing sounds very interesting too. I never thought of that. I take it you write it in first person? Very cool idea. I’ll have to try that one too. :)

    Thanks Snail, glad you liked the tips. Also thanks for being a great beta. ;)

  • Steph (aka Secretchild)

    I’ll echo KindleLyn – awesome work on this so far, especially the glossary! :)

    I love all the tips you gave, and I would just expand a little on the first one, where you mention the character’s “voice”. I kind of take that literally, especially when I’m stuck on a scene. If I can’t close my eyes and hear it, and see it, it doesn’t go in.

    And same as you, hearing from someone that I kept them in character makes me all bouncy. :-) It’s honestly the nicest thing someone could say about a story, to me at least.

  • Steph (aka Secretchild)

    Argh, posted too quickly! Re: the voice – where I was going with that is that if I’m having trouble with a scene, a lot of times it ends up being because I was getting out of character and didn’t realize it. So trying to hear it in my head or picture it can help me see where it’s getting off track.

  • Mokibobolink

    Thanks Steph. Once again, I’m so happy to hear that you guys are liking the site and finding it useful. That was my goal so it’s making me giddy to hear that it’s working. :)

    I totally got what you meant about the “voice” and you put it very well. I think that’s a great idea too – to play the scene in your head and try to hear the characters and picture them doing the actions.

    Thanks for the input guys! :)

  • http://lucentdusk.com Gargantua

    Greetings! It often amazes me how people tend to assume that anything goes in fanfiction. All one has to do is peruse the bulk of most fanfiction archives to find really bad fiction. And then there are those of us who take writing fanfic as seriously as we do original fic. We believe that characters should act in ways that mimic canon, that plot is important, and constructive criticism is beneficial. I was glad to find this article and completely agree with your points. Even better, I am glad to find this site and make your acquaintance.

  • Mokibobolink

    Hello Gargantua, I’m glad to make your acquaintance as well. It is always nice to find other like-minded souls when it comes to writing good fanfic.

  • AZGirl

    Thanks for the advice, Moki! Staying in character is definitely one of the most difficult things to do when writing fic…

    Another difficulty is that different people see the characters in different ways. For example, on NCIS, some see a father/son relationship between Gibbs and Tony and others don’t. Others may see slash or incestuous relationships between characters on other shows….

    My point is, do you think IN character versus OUT of character can subjective? Or, is IN character more of staying within canon to the point of what a character says and how they say it is how they say it on the show? And, should writer’s speculate about a character’s life if the source material hasn’t delved into it or only made vague references to it? I’m not sure I’m making any sense here….

  • Mokibobolink

    Good questions AZGirl.

    First off I think that what people believe is happening under the surface and/or behind the scenes doesn’t necessarily have to do with keeping them in character. For instance, I’ve read some slash stories with Tony/Gibbs where they were perfectly in character. They were still the same Tony and Gibbs, just portrayed in a relationship. Some people might call the relationship itself out of character though and I can understand that. So yes, I think that opinions on what makes a characterization true to canon can be a bit subjective.

    As for writers speculating about a character’s life, well I think that this can be subjective too. Some people for instance may see two characters on a show and assume that they could have had a romantic relationship together. They could see the way the characters talk to each other to mean that there was romance there, even if it was never shown on screen. While others may not see it at all and assume the characters have never been anything other than friends.

    That is part of the challenge of doing fanfic, keeping the balance between writting stories that we invent outselves and by definition are not canon, while still keeping to the source material from the show.

    There’s my two cents… ;)

  • AZGirl

    Thanks for the two cents though it’s likely worth much more!

    I think I get what you’re saying now about IC vs OOC vs canon, etc….

  • Mokibobolink

    Whew, I’m glad I made some sort of sense. LOL.

  • jesus4eva

    This is really good. Will have to try and formulate bios for my characters. Any tips on what to include? Thanks for the awesome post. :D :D

  • Mokibobolink

    Hi there and sorry for the delay in reply! As I said in our PM conversation on ff.net, I’ve been crazy busy renovating and moving in to a new place.

    Okay so just off the top of my head, here are some things I’d include in a character bio

    Name
    Sex
    Age
    Basic physical description (height, weight, hair color, eye color, etc)
    Names of siblings, other family members (especially if they will make an appearance or simply be mentioned in the story)
    Description of character qualities, for instance would you describe them as “tough”, “shy”, “silly”, etc?
    Any relevant situations that have happened in their life (previous accidents, traumatic memories, etc).

    That’s all I can think of for now but this question has made me realize I should probably do an entire post on this so thanks for the suggestion.

  • http://yemi-hikari.livejournal.com/ Yemi Hikari

    I just want to say, thanks, as I have talked to quite a few people and have found that they have problems with understanding why it isn’t good to make characters OoC.

  • Mokibobolink

    You’re very welcome! Glad it was helpful. :)

  • Matt

    While I see your point in the keeping of cannon personalities dosen’t the the term fanfiction imply that as authors we should be able to decide how our characters act. Take the story, Perfection: Naruto the Chimera http://m.fanfiction.net/s/5549441/1/, where pre-canon events cause a massive change in personality by the time any canon events come into play. And even with it being as such the story still follows canon events just with the main character having a different outlook o the whole situation. I know you may have different opinions on the subject but please don’t tell others that something is bad just because you do not like said ideas. Let other people make the decision themselves based on their own experiences. Thank you if you read all the way through this.

  • Mokibobolink

    Hey Matt, thanks for your input. I’m always happy to hear another point of view on the subject and I’m sorry if you took this as a personal affront. Believe me I do understand that fanfiction is all about authors making their own decisions about their characters. I guess for me though, the point of fanfiction is that it is based on canon so at least some part of the story should stay that way, otherwise isn’t it just fiction at that point? If the characters aren’t the same but just have the same names, PLUS the story is different, how would a fan recognize it?

    I’m not opposed to OOC, but I did want to offer advice to those who choose to keep their characters to the original canon. I also think if you read through my article, you’ll see that I did actually say exactly that so again, I’m sorry if you mis-read it. :)

  • http://www.winx-writers-anonymous.blogspot.com Kikurukina Bal Des’cagel

    I believe that writing up bios for your characters is rather useful, but I often see writers post those bios on the first chapter of their story, which becomes a major turn-off for me. I want to explore the characters through the development of the story, not their bios. (Personae dramatis I don’t mind, especially when there is a large amount of characters.)

    You have a great blog, by the way.

  • Mokibobolink

    Oh dear, people post their character bios? Wow, I haven’t seen that. I agree, that would be pretty off-putting for me too. Like you, I’d much rather find out about a character from the writer’s story.

    Thanks for commenting, glad you enjoyed the post! :o)

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Aki-Chipeco/1290162341 Aki Chipeco

    Gotta agree with this. Hey, I love your blog. You bring light to fanfiction, in a way, and it’s great help for those who need tips on fanfic writing. I think writing fanfics is more than just what some people think, fulfilling fantasies that don’t happen in the series and all that. I think it’s more than that. For these tips, they’re all great tips. I especially think that writing up bios for characters is essential and is a great help.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks! I’m so glad you are enjoying the blog. I believe like you do that fanfiction is much more than fulfilling fantasies and it’s always great to hear from others who share my love of all things fanfiction. Thanks for reading and commenting!



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