jespah posted the prompt here and I’m in the mood to address the questions, for the questions spoken of are good ones. So, let’s explore them one by one and see where I fall.
- What’s the best setting for an original character? Is it as a lone figure, thrust into a canon ship or situation? In a group of original characters but still in a canon ship, situation or series? Or as a stand-alone crew, group, political party or other agglomeration of individuals?
For many years I stayed away from having my original characters meet and interact significantly with canon characters. When I first began fan fiction, I was a noob. A total, complete, noob. My main character was very much author-avatar but I knew better than to try and force canon characters on the story — at least in any significant way. I didn’t feel ready then to write them at all. It was too easy to fall into the trap of writing a canon character poorly … being ‘one of those’ authors who couldn’t separate their own desires for the canon character for what the character actually was.
I didn’t want to be that new author. So, I set my crew and my ship in a mostly standalone setting. That crew, of course, would be the crew of the USS Pearl. They were my first and, as such, they were all original. The setting they were in was original and that style of writing pretty much became my go-to.
Only recently have I begun experimenting writing original characters with canon characters in a significant way. It’s different in a lot of ways, more difficult in some, but very fulfilling when I get the voices/movements right for the canon character.
- When do original characters and scenarios tip the scale from new spins on familiar works to out and out non-Trek? Is there a bright line between Star Trek and not-Star Trek?
This is a tough one for me. I don’t think there’s been a story I’ve read that exclusively had original characters and an original scenario that went into non-Trek territory. Most of the time I feel that way, original characters are being written with canon characters … and those canon characters are being written just plain wrong and have some sort of fixation on one or more of the original characters.
The divide, I feel, between Star Trek and not-Star Trek isn’t based on scenarios or settings — Trek is grand in that respect, as anyone can go anywhere and do anything in that expansive universe — but rather based on the characters. Like any episode of any Trek series, if the characters are well-written (or at least decently written) then I’ll buy just about any scenario they throw at me. If the characters are poorly written, then I won’t buy it at all — and I’ll likely spend the bulk of the story compiling a mental list of things I dislike about it.
Star Trek is well-written characters. Not-Star Trek is poorly written characters. My simplistic view.
- How can original character love interests be integrated into a more canon scenario? What about original character leaders?
To be honest, I’m not sure. I’ve only just begun to write an original character love interest for a canon character (this month’s challenge entry, I Don’t Want It To End, featuring my OC Paul Bearrian and Seven of Nine). I have seen it done and the way it is done, frankly, is to not make it that special.
What I mean to say is, the author shouldn’t go out of their way to do it. I suppose I violated that thought with my own story but I think it should come about naturally. In defense of myself, neither Paul or Seven go out on dates so going out of my way to set them up wasn’t really so extravagant. But, as a general rule of thumb, I think letting it occur naturally is the way to go.
As for OC leaders being integrated into a canon ship … say, someone trying to take over after Picard leaves the Enterprise … I honestly don’t know. I’ve never tried to have an OC take over a canon ship. It seems wrong on some level, as the canon ship is usually tied to the captain and crew of that ship pretty tightly. I suppose the same rule of thumb applies: let it happen naturally and don’t force it.
- For canon characters who have very little back story or screen (or authorized book) time, what’s the tipping point between when canon converts into what is, for all intents and purposes, an original character?
The tipping point is when the author begins to add to, and flesh out, what limited story is done on the canon character. I tackled this particular thing with Barash, the little grey alien from “Future Imperfect” that was quickly forgotten about after his episode. His species, his life after, his thoughts … I expanded on them all.
‘What about Barash?’ was really one of the driving questions of the Chronicles series. What happened to him? His mother? His species? I took to expanding on Barash and he became a solid supporting player in the Chronicles series, one which I hope to feature more in his own way down the road.
I gave him a story after the episode, I gave him a species name, I gave them backstory … all these things I put into him. I think that’s when a canon characters becomes an OC, when the author puts in the work to expand them into more than just a one-off character or an occasional guest star. When they put in the work to fill in the gaps, to make them a person, that makes that canon character an OC.
To be Original is to be a person in my view.
- For representations of canon characters in fan fiction that are not well-portrayed (e. g. the author misses the mark and does not accurately represent the canon character’s language, ideals, vision, etc.), can the situation be salvaged by rewriting the story with an original character?
I’m going to say, for most cases, no. The reason a canon character was cast in the first place was to bring their established history, mannerisms, and self into the story. To aid the story. If you write the canon character poorly and the story’s wrong, substituting in an OC during the rewrite requires, really, a completely different story.
So if we’re saying that the author is going to substitute out the canon characters and replace it with an OC and try to keep the story the same, more or less, than I’m saying the story still suffers and can’t really be right.
If, however, we’re saying the author does the above but sets out to write a completely new story, one that is going to be different from the first attempt, than I’ll say that the story can be saved. In fact, it’ll probably be better. It depends on which way the author takes it. I would hope they rewrite it without the preconceived notion that it has to be like the first attempt but I don’t know.
- For original settings, what makes them unique? Can an original setting be so extraordinary that it, in a way, almost becomes a nonliving type of Mary Sue?
I feel that, for original settings, what makes them unique is the twists on the common settings that the original inevitably draws from. Everything has been done, we all know this, but it’s the details that make the original settings standout, at least to me.
Examples: For Steff’s Scotty stories, I don’t remember every ship he was on or what his job there was. I don’t remember every time he saved the ship from utter disaster. But I do remember Scotty sailing on the water, on a ship. That was unique, that was memorable to me … that detail. I remember his little penlight. I remember those things.
For kes7’s Tesseract series, I don’t remember what the ship looks like. I always imagine it as kind of a long cube looking thing. I see the quantum slipstream drive and the ability to launch smaller vessels from the larger ship, and I remember those things … but the detail that stands out most about that series is the kind of governing board the captain (whom I’m not a fan of — that’s right, Adele, I’m calling you out over cyberspace. Eat me, Betazoid) has to report to for the major, big decisions. I’ve never seen that done before. QSD, smaller ships launching from big ones, yeah … but a captain having a board of people she has to report to for big decisions was new to me.
May I also point out that the settings in both these two examples are also significantly made better by the wonderful writing of these two. I could probably go on all day, author by author on Ad Astra, but those two are the first to come to mind.
As to the secondary question, I think an original setting can be kinda Mary Sue if it doesn’t grow. Change. Evolve. Mary Sue type characters are always, more or less, perfectly amazing. They have no flaws and are awesome at pretty much everything. A setting can be that if it doesn’t change over time in story. I think.
- Who are some of your favorite original characters that you have created? Do you feel they fulfill their purposes?
My favorite original characters … well, that would probably be just about everyone in the Chronicles series. They were my first. My favorites from those are, without a doubt, Hank and Bethany because both of them have evolved beyond their original (very limited) purposes. Hank was the nice guy captain who was basically an avatar of myself. Bethany was the girl next door designed to be Hank’s (and by extension my) romantic interest.
That was it for them and they’ve become so much more since then. They’ve both evolved and grown, despite me in some cases, and have more than fulfilled their purposes.
- What happens when you take a Mary Sue test?
My characters fail it. Hard. Which I’m proud of. When I first came into fan fiction, I was very weary of the Mary Sue characters. I had read a lot, a lot, of bad fan fiction before I stumbled upon the Omega Sector and Terilynn’s wonderful writing. When I read her stuff, I saw people and I modeled what I was doing after her in a lot of ways.
It can be said that I might give my characters too many flaws and this might be valid, but I feel like I got a pretty decent balance on things.
- What are some of your favorite original settings that you have created? Did they work?
My favorite one, oddly enough, is not related to Chronicles at all. It’s my Paths Not Taken universe, where the Borg have overrun and taken over everything. It’s a very dark, depressing, and sad setting but one that has such atmosphere. Ships are beat up, people are beat up, hope is virtually nonexistent, and there is a group trying to fight back. It’s really a fun setting to explore, both in past and present, and I quite like it.
- Who else’s original characters do you enjoy reading the most, and why?
The Tesseract crew. Love them to death (this is nearly literal, I kid you not). Every one of kes7’s characters have their strengths and weaknesses and all of them feel like they could easily be main characters. Not all of them are, but the fact that I can see each one getting their own main story and I like the idea speaks of how deep they’re written. The dynamics between them all don’t feel forced but rather feel normal, for them anyway, and it’s just fun for me. I like to read it and, when the occasion presents itself, write it (with the author’s permission of course).
- Are there others’ original settings that you like reading the most? What makes those original settings your favorites?
Captain Sarine’s Retribution universe is probably the setting I like to read the most. Sarine has a way of capturing so much about the setting itself, an intricate character in any story, that I’m quite jealous of. If you have the chance, read his stuff and pay special attention to the space battles (which are really more like paintings). The way he describes the things in space (some of them quite living) are brilliant and the setting of the universe itself is one of the most unique you’ll find in some ways.