My introduction to fiction-writing fandom came through the Dragonriders of Pern novels. I loved Pern, thought the dragons were neat, and when I discovered that there were clubs you could join, in which you could create your own characters and have them live on Pern, I was hooked. I stayed in Pern fandom for a good 20 years because I loved it.
Pern fan fiction writing always had a cardinal rule, though. No use of Anne McCaffrey's characters was permitted, and even the locations of Benden Weyr, Ruatha Hold, and the Harperhall were off-limits to fandom. Apparently, way back in the early days of the fandom, there was some kerfluffle over which club could 'be Benden,' with all of the supposed prestige that entailed, so McCaffrey put a stop to it by cordoning off the place. It was no big deal to me; I created a plethora of dragonriders, harpers, healers, and holders, and loved every minute of it.
However, even a good thing like Pern fandom gets old after twenty-odd years, so I dropped out of the fandom and discovered a new enthrallment--Harry Potter fandom. Potter fandom is game-driven rather than story-driven. Instead of writing stories and getting approval from the creators of the other characters after the story is complete, Potter fandom relies more on interactive fiction. I am ambivalent about this. Interactive writing is fun, but I think, in general, it lowers the quality.
Potter fandom differs from Pern fandom most particularly in the degree of license the two authors allow the fan writers. J. K. Rowling, unlike McCaffrey, allows her fans full freedom to use her characters in any way they see fit. Rowling's fans see fit to use her characters in ways that would probably give McCaffrey horsefits if they were doing such things with her characters.
This difference in the two authors' permissions for fan use has created writing fandoms which are different in interesting ways. No Pern fan would ever dream of using Lessa, for example, in a Pern story. Why? Because it has been drilled into us for over three decades that that is not polite, that if we want to play in McCaffrey's world, we must use our own imaginations and create our own characters instead of using McCaffrey's.
I gather that Rowling was unfamiliar with the phenomenon of fan fiction and fan role-playing games when she started writing her books, and by the time she discovered it, she considered it too far gone to rein in. She decided to applaud the fact that her fans were taking the trouble to write fiction based on her works and to basically look on the bright side.
So now, we have these two vastly different fandoms, one in which use of canon characters is forbidden, and one in which their use is permitted with no limitations. The difference in attitudes between the two fandoms intrigues me. It is particularly evident to me in the ads I see for Potter role-playing games.
"Rowling gave us plenty of canon characters to play with, many of whom have not been developed beyond their name and House. So use them; do not create original ones," reads the ad for one RPG I looked at.
"Original characters/Mary Sues are not welcome in this game," reads an ad from a different RPG--in fact, several others I looked at said pretty much the same thing in slightly different language. I got the distinct impression that, to many Potter RPG moderators, 'original character' equates inherently to 'Mary Sue.'
I'm bemused at this attitude; it's so different from what I grew up with. Now, I'm sure there are elements of Mary Sue in my own original Potter characters. One of them (Paul), was pretty powerful when it came to his skills. He was also highly intelligent, and not bad-looking. However, he had reasons for being very highly skilled, and I could explain those reasons. It was also essential that he be intelligent, or he could not have possessed the moral capacity and depth that I needed him to have.
When I began writing him in a different story/game with a different background, he lost some of his skills because he no longer needed them. I think I could have played/written him better, but I at least understood why I was giving him particular skills, and my liking for the character had nothing to do with how powerful he was. It has to do with how moral he is.
I suppose there is an element of Mary Sue in all original characters and, dare I say it, in all fannishly-written canon characters. The mantle of canonicity in no way saves a character from being a Mary Sue--ie, brilliant at everything, THE person to save the day, beautiful, poised, faultless, and Severus Snape's love-child, etc.
But seriously--I have yet to encounter an RPG moderator team that would allow a canon character player to get away with such things, so why should they fear them from the player of an original character? Just because one person's character is named Seth Graves, and someone else's character is named Susan Bones, why should one character pose a greater threat to a game than the other? Moderators are supposed to be the ones in control. It's their job to tell a player, "X is going too far; get rid of it or give us a VERY good reason why your character needs it. If you don't, we won't let you play him/her."
I would love to see more welcome for original characters in Potterverse role-plying games. Why MUST we populate our imaginary Hogwartses with only Rowling's characters? What threat do they pose? Do we fear that they might steal the show? We shouldn't. In a role-playing game, the greatest attention goes to those characters which are written consistently and well and whose plots move events in the game forward, whoever they might be. I have seen Potter RP's in which Harry Potter's player was so weak and/or inactive that the game essentially ignored that character. Was that the faul of the original characters in that game? No, it was the fault of the person playing Harry, period.
Despite all of my cheering for original characters, the best character I've ever seen in a Potter RP was canon. shusu's Millicent Bulstrode was brilliantly written, complex, and deeply layered. Sometimes, I could not follow Millicent's leaps of reasoning, but her writer always could, and she kept Millicent rock-solid as a character. To me, she is THE Millicent.
What really matters is the writing, not a character's canonical status. If you are a game moderator, look first for good writers, whoever their characters might be.