1 January 2015

The Science of OTPs: An Analysis

Shipping is an extremely common practise in the world of fandoms, but it can be a highly sensitive subject when discussed among fans.

Image via Urban Dictionary.

To paraphrase, Urban Dictionary defines shipping as pairing characters together as part of a platonic (friendship), romantic, and/or sexual relationship. In this post, I'll be discussing romantic relationships.

My preferences regarding OTPs:

  • I prefer OTPs to OT3s because OT3s are much less likely to be canon (see next bullet point). In my opinion, when an OTP evolves into an OT3, the relationships begin to distract from each individual character and, in some horrifying cases, becomes somewhat of a love triangle.
  • In most cases, I prefer canon (official) pairings as opposed to headcanon (unofficial) pairings because there is more material to build off of. With canon pairings, the creator of the characters (that is to say, the author) already provides the reader (that is to say, you) with scenes, dialogue, and interactions between the characters that are used to assist in developing their relationship. Although the author might explore a personal relationship -- not necessarily a romantic one -- between two members of a headcanon pairing, this relationship will be less mature and leaves details to the reader's imagination. (Some readers appreciate this, but because I don't enjoy speculating as much, I generally don't.)
  • One pattern that I recurrently notice in my OTPs is that many of the characters in these pairings began their relationships as friends. That's a very personal preference (this actually tends to appeal to me more in real life as well -- for instance, my current boyfriend and I had a friendship before we started dating) that not everybody shares.
  • I put forth an effort to respect and try to empathise with another reader's OTPs even when they differ from mine, as long as the other reader reciprocates the same respect to me.

For example, here is an excerpt of text taken directly from my Fanfiction.net profile:

Image property of The Book Club.

This is a list of my favourite pairings, in no particular order. My OTPs are listed in bold print.

Here we see some evidence of the trends I described above. All of my OTPs began as friends, and none are OT3s. (Perhaps I haven't encountered the right trio yet?) Not all of my pairings are canon, but most are; some exceptions are Clary/Simon, Katniss/Gale, and Harry/Hermione (although this is under dispute).

I joined FanFiction.net in March of 2013. My username is "gryffinclaw-witch" and I primarily write Harry Potter fanfictions. I have dabbled in Sherlock Holmes and hope to write about Maximum Ride, Doctor Who, and other fandoms in the future. Find me using the link to my FanFiction.net profile, located on the side panel of this blog beneath the heading "Let's Connect!" (You can also find links to my other Internet presences there.)

My preferences when writing fanfiction:
  • I usually write one-shots or stories that have less than five chapters. This is because my fanfiction concepts often come in bits and pieces, and I think of ideas for scenes more easily than I think of extensive plot lines.
  • I almost always include a romantic pairing within my fanfictions -- even if they are only mentioned once, involve minor characters, or are irrelevant to the plot.
  • Two time periods that I often write about: the characters' lives after the story ends, and what happens "behind the scenes" during parts of the story that the author doesn't write about with much detail.

My preferences when reading fanfiction:
  • I usually don't read a story that is longer than 7-8 chapters, especially if I don't find it particularly interesting. A fact that likely contributes to this preference is that I don't write stories that long. However, a special-case scenario is that I may be eager to read a fanfiction that has many chapters if each chapter is a brief scene or one-shot, in and of themselves.
  • My favourite fanfictions, just like my favourite novels, are a combination of genres. I tend to enjoy pieces that include aspects of adventure, action, romance, tragedy or drama, and sometimes crime or mystery.
  • I am hardly biased by Fanfiction.net's "appropriateness" rating system (which rates fanfictions as K, K+, T, or M according to their subject matter). I have read and continue to read fanfictions of all ratings, as long as the plot interests me. Most often, however, I read T-rated stories.
  • I prefer to read stories about Harry Potter above all others, but as I read more novels, I tend to read fanfictions from various fandoms.

On the flip side . . .

Many people enjoy headcanon ships because there are less limits. Whether you ship OTPs or OT3s, any match can include a combination of characters. The more characters an author creates, the more combinations a reader can create. (This sometimes makes for very brilliant or very unsettling pairings.)

Sometimes OT3s may be more efficient than OTPs, whether they are platonic or romantic or sexual, because within an OT3, the relationships between each of the three characters stand out more. Take a look:

Image property of The Book Club.

This graph I created portrays an three-character relationship. The purple ring connecting all three characters shows the OT3, or the relationship that they all share.

Each of the three narrow arrows show individual relationships between two of the three characters. The green arrow shows the personal relationship between Characters #1 and #2. Character #3 is not a part of this personal relationship. In the same way, Character #2 is not a part of the personal relationship between Characters #1 and #3 (orange arrow), and Character #1 is not a part of the relationship between Characters #2 and #3 (blue arrow).

Therefore, we see here that an OT3 can be interpreted as a representation of the interconnection of three relationships between three characters. It isn't automatically a love triangle -- although, as I pointed out before, it can be inclined in that direction.

Because there are three separate relationships involved between three characters, but each character is a member of more than one relationship within the OT3, then all three characters are related (as shown in the purple ring above).

In this way, each of the three-relationships-within-the-relationship are more distinct. Even though they are all members of the same OT3, the relationship between Characters #1 and #2 is distinctly different from the relationship between Characters #2 and #3, because each involves a unique pair and, as we know, every character has his or her own traits. Because the character brings these traits to each of his or her two different relationships within the OT3, this can influence character interactions and can affect the direction of either relationship.

Let's pretend that Character #1 is hostile and quick to draw conclusions; Character #2 is timid and polite; and Character #3 is clever, resourceful, and reserved.

  • The relationship between Character #1 and Character #2 may be problematic because of their contrasting personalities.
  • The relationship between Character #2 and Character #3 would probably be more tolerable because both characters have common introverted traits like timidity and reservation.
  • The relationship between Character #1 and Character #3 can go either way, in my opinion. We would need to know more information about each character.

There is no denying that, because each of these three people possess unique characteristics, each relationship is unique from the other two, even though all three relationships exist within the same OT3.

Some things that writers keep in mind when they consider character relationships -- whether platonic, romantic, or sexual -- is how they might have been affected by the characters' backgrounds, or how they might affect future events in the story. When it comes to characters' relationships, authors need to consider whether they want opposites to attract or whether their characters will bond over their mutual interests and values instead.

Think about it: In real life as well, two people whose traits mean they have different personalities might share a different relationship than two people who have more similar traits (and thus similar personalities).

I could go on with this topic for hours.

Disclaimer: I am not a scientist and this is probably not a science. Please do not take the title of this post too literally.

What are your OTPs? Do you prefer canon or headcanon matches? OTPs or OT3s? Talk it over in the comments!


  1. Ahhh I love Harry and Hermione together and wish that it had actually happened...:( But I'm Team Peeta so I wouldn't agree on the Hunger Games one. This is a topic a lot of book bloggers could probably relate too!

    1. I agree -- Harry and Hermione are pretty well-suited for each other! And you're right in saying that it's a relatable topic! That's certainly true!


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