From OTP to OC’s

How to scrub your favorite fandom couple into original characters

If you’re a fanfiction writer, you probably have at least one OTP (One True Pairing, meaning your favorite fictional romantic couple). You might have written them a beautiful story (or thirty) on AO3.

But at some point, you may want to take your OTP out of fandom and into the world of original fiction. Possibly because it makes your writing accessible to people who aren’t part of your fandom, and possibly (probably) because unlike fanfic, for original fiction, you can actually get paid.

So how on earth do you take other people’s characters and make them your own, without getting rid of the fire that sparks your muse?

In my journey from fanfic to original fic, I started by writing AUs (alternate universes) of my first OTP, Aziraphale and Crowley from Good Omens. In an AU, you are making big changes to the source material, but leaving in most of what your fandom loves about the characters. In a Good Omens AU, Aziraphale and Crowley are often human instead of angel and demon, but the basic enemies-to-lovers trope usually remains, along with the personalities of the characters, and as many similarities to the original story as you can fit in.

Scrubbing (that really is the technical term) fandom all the way to original is the same process, it just goes farther. When you’re done scrubbing, the only things left about your OTP will be the pieces you as a writer can’t live without.

So what are those pieces? Well, it’s entirely subjective. But you can follow these five steps to find them:

1. List your characters’ traits

We’re going to take as example an OTP I am currently scrubbing, which is just as cringy as all of your OTP’s: Link and Sidon from The Legend of Zelda Nintendo games. You don’t need to have any idea who that is to follow this article. But here are their character traits, the good and the flaws:

Link: human (or elf?) male, great hero of legend, very good at fighting, quiet, private, helpful, mischievous, possibly in love with someone he doesn’t remember (Princess Zelda), guilty, and haunted by past failures.

Sidon: 7-foot-tall shark man, gregarious, ridiculously optimistic and complimentary, charming, nerdy, sometimes over-confident, a good fighter, ages slowly compared to humans (or elves), and oh yeah, he’s a prince. 

Note that these don’t have to be the traits the fandom at large assigns to these characters. This is the way you see them.

2. List your ship’s tropes

“Ship” is short for relationship, in this case our romance. So for these dudes, we have: human/nonhuman or human/monster, royal/commoner, long lifespan/short lifespan, and size difference.

3. List your plot’s main points

In the two games that have Sidon (Link’s in all the games), Link has to go to four different places and help four different peoples (leaving Sidon behind), then beat a bad guy in a castle, and save the world.

4. Scrub in

Now we’re ready for the operation. You’re going to go through everything you listed and start throwing things out. As you do, ask yourself this question: Does my heart still race? 

If you take out a piece and your muse is still humming for this OTP, then let it go. But if the absence of that part ruins the whole thing for you, then leave it in. Remember, you don’t want people to recognize this as a certain fandom or ship, so take out everything you possibly can.

So for the Link/Sidon ship, I’m asking myself, Does it matter (to me) that one is royalty? Does it matter that they age differently? Does it matter that one’s two feet taller? Does it matter that one is a monster? Do I still need to have a save-the-world plot? Do I still need them to be separated sometimes during the story? And so on. Again, this is entirely subjective: leave in only what floats your personal boat.

5. Make it weird

You have your list! Congrats! Now it’s time to change every other detail you can, because you want to make your story as different from the original as possible.

Let’s say I decide I really want to keep my monster character (let’s be real). Then it definitely shouldn’t be a shark man like Sidon. So I’m asking myself the same kinds of questions: Does it matter (to me) that he’s seven feet tall? Does it matter that he has sharp teeth? Does it matter that he can breathe underwater? And so on. 

Perhaps the only thing I really care about is my monster’s size. In that case, I need to come up with a large humanoid creature that’s as different from a shark as possible: maybe a centaur, bear shapeshifter, giant alien bird person, or scientist that had an accident in the cloning lab. 

Let character and plot shape each other into a completely new story that you are dying to write—because all your favorite stuff is still there.

Here are two original stories I wrote based on fandom ships:

You Don’t Say: When two fake psychic con men who secretly pine for each other are forced to work together to solve a disappearance, they discover that one of them is actually psychic. But which one? This is Aziraphale and Crowley, with the tropes of enemies-to-lovers, dorkiness, and bickerflirting preserved, along with elements of magic. Turns out those were the only pieces I couldn’t let go, and the resulting story is nothing like Good Omens, but was really fun to write.

Bloom: A shy older man with magical abilities becomes the muse of a beautiful young male artist. This comes from one of my OTPs from the 2018 TV show The Terror: John Bridgens and Henry Peglar, an older man/younger man, teacher/student ship. I left in the age difference (toned down quite a bit), and kept the outgoing/shy trope, but changed the teacher into an artist’s muse with a gift of magic. This story has very little in common with a horror show about Sir John Franklin’s doomed 1840’s arctic expedition—except the few parts I couldn’t live without.

There is one major disadvantage for a fanfic writer moving to original fiction: you will not get nearly as many readers for original fic. But remember, readers in your fandom are there because they love the same character traits and tropes you do, some of which will be preserved in your story. You may not have as many readers, but you will get some fans of your own! And maybe even some sales.


Thanks for reading! Speaking of sales—here’s how I do it: How to publish a short story

Looking for more inspiration? Get some weird writing prompts

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