Fanfic Tips

Here’s a list of some of the common fanfic irritants. Opinions expressed here are mostly my own. Feel free to disagree. (The original author, Firefly on the Twilight Lexicon, has graciously compiled this information and allowed it to me reposted here.)

Please note that this is general advice and can apply to almost any fandom, but concrete example are given using the Twilight Universe.

Fanfic Pet Peeves:

1. Abuse of the English Language, i.e., misspelling and improper use (or lack) of grammar and punctuation.

a. “alot” is not a word. “Allot” is, but it has a very different meaning from “a lot”
b. There are differences between “their”, “there” and “they’re”; “your” and “you’re”; “to” and “too” (and “two”); “affect” and “effect”; “then” and “than”; etc. This site is useful for a quick overview of some of the more common mistakes.
c. There are free online dictionaries (and thesauri). Use them.
d. Spell check. Use it.

2. Not knowing the character’s name. If you can’t spell the character’s name correctly, why should I have any confidence you’ll get anything else right?

3. Incomplete stories. Or stories with no thought out plan to the end. Do not ask readers to plot your story for you.

4a. Bashing of characters. Your dislike of Jacob doesn’t mean that Bella suddenly hates him too.
4b. Bashing of characters to break up pairings. Your dislike of Edward is no reason to turn him into a horrible boyfriend so Bella can be with Mike forever and ever. Find a way to break them up, if that’s what you’re going to do, without destroying the character.

5. Large sections of text with no breaks. It makes eyes bleed. White space, people. White space. And lots of it.

6. Poor summaries. If you can write a story, surely you can write a few more sentences about it. If you’re unsure what a good summary is, go look at other people’s and study the ones that make you want to read their stories. At the very least include the characters, fandom (if necessary), pairings and some sort of general overview (first kiss, first date, break up, AU, pregnancy, etc), as well as any content warnings (het, slash, gen, language, adult, crack!fic, etc).

7a. C-A-N-O-N. Jack Sparrow has a cannon; Bella does not.
7b. It is canon in the Whedonverse that vampires have fangs and “vamp out”. It is canon in Supernatural that vampires have retractable fangs. Neither are canon in the Meyerverse: Edward et al. do not have fangs. If you stray from canon so much that your story has completely different “rules” from the universe of its origin… why, exactly, are you writing in said ‘verse?

8a. Mary Sues. Just say “no”. Do not make readers fear your Original Characters (OC). Wikipedia has a definition; I also like the definition that a “Mary Sue” is a character that cannot be laughed at.
b. Resist writing yourself into the story. Unless you do so in a way that is amusing and not integral to the story, like Joss Whedon as Numfar.

9. Inaccuracies or mistakes of fact or verisimilitude. Know what you write. Do research. Fact-check. It’s good training for school and life.

10a. Out-of-character (OOC) characters. Goes along with #9. Know who you’re writing. A girl can dream, but a lovey-dovey Jacob/Edward pairing probably won’t be at all believable without at least a major fanwank somewhere in your story.
10b. If a major fanwank is necessary, you may want to rethink your story.
10c. Know who you’re writing. Dean Winchester may be promiscuous, but he has never been disrespectful to women. Any fic that fails to capture that is one I won’t be reading.

11. Lack of Originality.
a. Plot. There are only so many stories in the world. Chances are, your Great Idea has already been done by someone else, or will have been done by someone else before you get the chance to post it. Do something with yours to make it different from the rest of the-story-from-Edward’s-POV stories.
b. Lifting lines from other people. If it’s not a well-known line (unlike, for example, “We’ll always have Paris.”), it is probably best to cite and credit. (That line is from Casablanca, by the way. Great movie. Highly recommend. Very quotable.)

12. Author’s notes in the middle of a story. If you need to tell your reader what’s happening while the story is going, then you probably haven’t done a good job with your exposition.

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On Writing:

Two links that might be of interest:
Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules of Writing

Kurt Vonnegut’s rules. Scroll down to “Writing”

1. If it “works”, you can do whatever you want, including breaking every writing rule known to mankind. (It might be helpful to know the rules before you start breaking them.)

2a. Be very, VERY sure it “works”. Because 9/10 times it won’t, and it will come across as sloppy writing.
2b. Shifting tenses or POV without warning or a good reason, i.e., because you think it’s artistic or something, does not count. It is just very confusing.

3. Edit, edit, edit. Resist the urge to post the story right away.

4. Find a beta (editor). Fresh eyes never hurt.

5. Listen to your beta. Maybe even discuss what went wrong and what went right.

6. Edit, edit, edit. You may even want to leave the piece for a few days, so you can have some distance and perspective on it.

7. Understand that not everyone is going to like what you write. But, if you are able to at least write in a comprehensible manner, you will probably come across more people who are willing to give your story a try, even, if, say, Charlie/Ms. Cope isn’t their thing. Or try something else you’ve written. If nothing else, it is one less thing for people to complain about. There is a lot to be said for being able to write a grammatically correct sentence. I’ve skated by on many a paper on that ability alone.

8a. “Brevity is the soul of wit” (Hamlet). Clearly not my strong point). The tighter your writing (hence all the editing), the better it will be. Promise. (See Vonnegut Rule #5 “Start as close to the end as possible.”) Cross out all the unnecessary description and exposition and backstory. Do not indulge yourself — unless your prose is lovely (and, well, really, whose isn’t?) and it works within the story; more is not always better. In fact, restraint is usually best; leave your readers wanting more, not wanting to shut off the screen.
b. Trust that your reader will infer certain things, such as in order to go from the bed to the bathroom, Bella will have to throw back the covers, sit up and get to her feet. Unless you have a specific reason for writing why she has to climb out of bed and slip on her Hello Kitty slippers before wandering, sleepy-eyed to the bathroom. Some details are necessary; the mark of a good writer is knowing which are and which are not.

9. Practice! The more you write, (theoretically) the better you’ll get. Actually, I think the more you practice writing correctly, the better your writing will become. If you simply practice writing in sentence fragments or replacing letters with numbers… well, I suppose, that takes a certain skill too, but it probably won’t improve your more formal writing.

10. Sometimes changing fonts or colors helps with the editing process because your eye may catch mistakes in fuchsia more readily than in the same black-on-white that you’ve been writing in all day.

On Reviewing:

1. Be kind — and if you can’t do that, be civil. No threats or name-calling or insults — unless you know the author very well and can get away with that sort of thing.

2. Try not to freak out when you receive constructive criticism (or just plain criticism). There will always be someone who writes better than you and people who are untactful or less able to communicate well through the written medium.

3. Ask for reviews, politely. Sometimes it works as an incentive. Although, generally, it’s the writing that’s the deal breaker, it seems, for most people.

4. No one has to leave a review and writers do not have to respond to them. I find, however, that I’m more willing to leave a comment, though generally not a full review, if the writer responds back to me, even if it’s just a quick “Thanks!” to acknowledge that they are reading the reviews and care for the feedback, and not (just) the number of reviews.