Oh my gosh, me, a famous fanfiction writer? I’m really not, but I’m super flattered that you think I am!
I’m actually not too great at writing existing canonical characters — I mostly write OC fanfiction for purely self-indulgent purposes, and avoid writing canon characters as much as possible.
That being said, now that I’m writing a fanfiction with no OCs in sight, I have a few strategies to help me when I’m struggling!
This definitely turned into more of an advice post than a Storyteller Saturday ask, whoops!
Re-engage in the source material
Obviously, one of the easiest ways to get a refresher on the character is to re-engage in the source material. Rewatch that TV show/movie, reread the book, replay that game, etc.
I find that it’s helpful to actively engage in the source material, rather than passively. Instead of just enjoying it, engage in it in Writer Mode. Really look at the character and how they interact with their surroundings and the people around them. Take note of their habits, their speech patterns, and how they move. How do they act around people they like, around people they don’t like, around stranger? Examine the important points in their character development arc, and dissect it. What worked? What didn’t work? Why did it have such a large impact on that character? Try to figure them out as if they were your own original character, back when you were still piecing them together.
Make a character cheat sheet
Some larger fandoms have really great resources, like massive, detailed wikia pages with every single detail about everything that’s ever happened. Other fandoms are smaller, or are just not as wikia-oriented as some others so information online might be sparse.
Regardless of the availability of information is available in that fandom, I find it really helpful to make my own personal cheat sheet full of information that is important to me.
Here are some things that I include in my cheat sheets:
- A general timeline of their life, with quotes and page numbers/time stamps when appropriate
- An inventory of general items that they carry around that has been mentioned in the source material
- A list of physical character traits that have been mentioned/shown in the source material, including common articles of clothing
- Quotes from the character that they say a lot, or I feel really captures the way they speak, or who they are
- Excerpts of scenes that I feel are really important to look back on
- Other details from the source material that I think are important
Practice writing them in the source material
When I say this, I mean actually go through the source material, pick a scene with that character and write it out in your own words.
If it’s a TV show, movie, video game, or some other visual medium, transcribe that scene into words. Write it out like you would in a novel; add their inner monologue, describe their quirks, add dialogue tags to whatever they say.
It’s a little bit trickier if the source material is a book since the prose is already there. When the source material is a book, I swap perspectives. If the perspective in the original story is from the character you’re practicing with, I write the scene from another character’s perspective. If the perspective is from someone else, I rewrite that scene from the perspective of the character I’m practicing with.
This is a really good way to practice getting the canonical character in your own words, because you’re using actual canon to practice — they literally cannot be out of character here.
Read other fanfictions with that character
Everyone has a different interpretation of existing canonical characters, and that’s really cool! It’s totally okay to have your own version too.
If you’re feeling stuck on how to write a character, try reading some other fanfictions for that fandom and see how other writers portray that character. Their character interpretation might be different from yours, but it can definitely help open you up to new possibilities! At best, it might make a light bulb go off in your head. At worst, it can help diversify your idea of that character, and maybe make your idea of them a little bit more flexible.
Also I find reading other fanfictions in that fandom can really inspire me in general, so bonus points for that.
Practice, practice, practice!
Write drabbles about them, even if it might not end up in your fanfiction! Put them in a completely different AU. Have them interact with your own original characters. Find some prompts you like and write them with that character. Explore them like you would explore your own original character! The more you write them, the more you’ll be able to make them your own. Sometimes, all it takes it a lot of practice until they ‘click’.
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