How to Write Canon Characters

Okay, so last issue we looked at writing original characters without falling into the various territories that come with the label of Sue/Stu, no matter what the original author’s intent was. It’s here we take a small moment to point out that canon characters can also be Sues or Stus – and some Wanderers will no doubt have at least one character of recent popular fiction come to mind – but it entirely depends on how well the character is developed within their own world and universe that helps to show us whether or not this is an entirely bad thing. It’s all in the skill of the author.

So what, I hear you ask, about canon-focused fan-fiction? Those occasions that the canon characters, as they are called, are not in the hands of their original creator, but rather the hands of a well meaning and enthusiastic fan? Well, okay, those can be difficult times, but do not fear dear Wanderers! If you seek to do such a thing, we here at FW are ready and willing to offer and provide you with help at any time. Hence this little article here, really. So, how do you write a canon character to seem like themselves? Read on, and (hopefully) be enlightened.

  • Familiarise yourself with the original canon – Okay, so this is probably one of those ones that you will roll your eyes at, but it is a tip that bears repeating as often as possible. If you want to know the character you are writing well, then you need to know the material that they come from at least reasonably well; enough to feel like you know the character.
  • Don’t run before you can walk – That might be oddly worded, but allow me to elaborate: if this is your first time writing a fic, it’s probably best that you don’t dive in at the deep end with a multi-part multi-chaptered epic alternate universe that all hangs on changing one little point of the canon just to see what will happen. Start with smaller things, even if you never post these pieces anywhere, and build your skill. Then again, you might have the skill to ignore me and do what you like, so what do I know, right?
  • Remember the context – Harry Potter is a wizard, but you want to write about Harry Potter the up and coming police detective constable in a world where magic doesn’t exist. Well, great, fine, actually that sounds like a brilliant story to read, so someone should write that, please and thank you. (Or link me to it if it’s already written.) But here’s the thing, that IS going to change the canon characters in small but significant ways, and yet allow them to remain the same. Spend some time before the writing actually thinking about these differences, and try to work out what it is exactly you’d like from the piece you want to write.
  • Language! – I know, I know, one word tips aren’t exactly helpful but I am elaborating on each point so hold your breath to cool your porridge while I explain. If the character in question speaks British English, then the way that you write their dialogue should also be in British English. Mum, not Mom, that sort of thing. It’s a little thing really, more of a niggle than point, but it bears being said. This can be relaxed a little if your character speaks a language your audience doesn’t, but you should still pay attention to differences in tone between characters. An aristocrat and a street urchin don’t speak the same way, for example!
  • Remember that the character already has traits – You want to turn Sherlock Holmes into the life and soul of the party, the guy that everyone wants to know? Yeah, sure, that’s fine, but remember, with the type of character Sherlock is, he’d be bored by the whole thing. He’d find the people around him mind-numbingly dull, and probably comment on it as well. Changing the character is fine, but try to remember who the character is. It’s why you liked them in the first place, isn’t it?

Z McAspurren (has written a lot of fanfiction in her time)

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This entry was posted in FW Tips, Issue Twenty-Five and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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