Fanfiction, a Writer's View

by Spiletta42

Disclaimer: Ha. Paramount doesn't own this at all!

Fanfiction, a Writer's View

There's a certain freedom in writing fanfiction. By its very definition, it's unpublishable, which removes the pressure. The characters are stolen, as is the setting. It's a way to practice dialogue and plot development without the bother of creating anything particularly original. And when it's done, you can stick in on the internet and collect a fair amount of ego-boosting meaningless praise, providing you let all the right couples pair off.

It's also great fun.

So go ahead and write fanfiction to your heart's content, I say. Use it to grow and hone your skills. Just don't stop working on that original novel that you really can publish.

Want my two cents on how to make your fanfiction better? Okay. Since you asked. First of all, most of the rules that apply to good fiction also apply to good fanfiction. Clarity of plot, logical character motivations, properly handled point of view, and a smooth writing style are all important.

Try to apply the basic rules of grammar. Complete sentences are extremely nice. That means each sentence should contain at least a noun and verb, unless you have a specific artistic purpose in mind. Run-on sentences should also be avoided. Test yourself: Read the thing out loud. If you are out of breath when you are done, then by all means add some punctuation. And please, I beg of you, run the spell-check.

As for deciding what to include in your story, please, we don't need every detail. If a character needs to use the ladies room, the reader doesn't need to know about it. The exception to that rule, of course, is Earth's Children fanfic.

When writing fanfic, you want to stick to the style of the original creator. Jean Auel always keeps the reader extremely well informed as to the intimate daily activities of her characters. How else would The Plains of Passage have stretched out to an astounding 865 pages! While I and many others have enjoyed Auel's work, I suspect that the detailed nature of her writing style has significantly contributed to the fact that the fifth book in the series has been 'forthcoming' now for ten long years.

Easy on the adverbs. The adverbs should not outnumber the verbs. Herman Melville and Kevin J. Anderson aside, most stories are not improved by swarms of adjectives and adverbs. Use strong nouns and verbs, and you won't need all the adjectives and adverbs.

For example:

The red-haired female FBI agent walked laborously but steadily over the wet, mucky ground.

This would read better as:

Scully trudged through the swamp.

We well know that Scully is a red-haired female FBI agent, we can picture trudging clearly, while walking requires modifiers, and we know that swamps have wet, mucky ground.

If you are deliberately building suspense by slowing down the reader with a long, descriptive passage, that's different. You can even build tension by having Scully mask her concern for Mulder's safety with detailed observations about the local flora and fauna. Just know why you are doing it, and it will work better.

Do not repeat yourself. If Han Solo's heart is torn in two during the course of your story, fine. But once it has been torn in two, it's torn. Please don't tear it again and again. Find a new metaphor.

Yet bad grammar, endless useless information, and repetitive metaphors are all tolerable in comparison to the most unpardonable sin in fanfic: breaking character. By the very definition of fanfic, these are not your characters. It is therefore extremely important that you take care to respect the integrity of the characters you have borrowed. Ask yourself, "Is this his/her voice? Would he/she do or say this?"

Don't have Colonel Jack O'Neil spout off a page and a half of technobabble. What he'd really say is "Carter, tell him that thing you told me."

Out of character behavior can be interesting if used correctly. If Captain Janeway (or the Animorphs' Rachel, or Xena, Warrior Princess) suddenly turns into a whimpering, terrified crybaby, we know we have a problem. The character has been terribly altered in some way, or replaced by a poor duplicate. This can make an entertaining basis for a plot, and is obviously an acceptable exception to the rule.

But a character that is acting more like the fanfic writer, or the fanfic writer's boyfriend, girlfriend, father, cousin, or history teacher, than the traditional character, is more often than not a huge turn-off to the reader.

For example, while every member of the Fantastic Four has quit the team roughly a jillion times, Commander Chakotay is more likely to grow a second head than he is to leave Voyager, no matter how many times Captain Janeway turns him down.

Secretive characters don't suddenly start spouting personal information to every inhabitant of their fictional universe just because they are under a bit of stress. Scarecrow and Mrs. King do not tell people, especially Dotty West, of their secret marriage. X-Men's Rogue does not share her real name. Peter Parker doesn't tell J.J.J. that he is, in fact, Spider-Man. (Although, come to think of it, that one would make a fascinating what if...)

If the characters you are using have repeatedly performed with grace, courage, and level-headedness under fire when penned by their rightful owners, don't turn them into scared zombies when you borrow them. Don't make us watch Fox Mulder cower in terror at the prospect of a little pain. He's survived his own death, after all.

Always ask yourself if the threat is enough to justify the response. Princess Leia watched the destruction of her home planet. That's what it takes to get to her; she's not going to lose it over some minor skirmish with Boba Fett. Compare the bit of abuse you have in mind for the character with what they have really experienced. (Okay, so they haven't really experienced anything. Stick with me.)

If you want to scare Captain Dylan Hunt, you'd better have something up your sleeve that makes a trillion hungry Magog look tame. If you've got evil aliens boarding Voyager with the intention of using the ship to wipe out half the galaxy, then you'd better let Janeway initiate the self destruct. It doesn't have to work, but you'd better let her try. It's what she would do. It's what she has, in fact, done. (Deadlock, Dreadnought, Basics, etc...)

By the same token, if a background character is known for being so obtuse that she wouldn't notice wild animals in the dining room, try to respect the tradition. And if you must write the story where she finally discovers that her daughter is a mutant spy fighting an evil alien invasion, at least have the class to make the "evidence" extremely hard to miss. She doesn't suddenly put it all together based on the fact that her daughter has switched tooth paste brands.

Character voice is also important. If you can properly write Chekov's Russian accent, that's great. But if you can't, you are not alone. Many professional novelists have chosen not to write it in. That is an area where you are probably safe to take artistic license. On the other hand, the X-Men's Storm and Star Trek's Data do not speak with contractions. That mistake might get you lynched. The X-Men's Beast is among those who favor a rich vocabulary, and he is unlikely to use poor grammar. Likewise, Rupert Giles is a British librarian; he ain't gonna say "Get them books," although he certainly isn't above a well placed "Do shut up, Xander."

Other characters may speak quite sloppily, in which case take care to let them speak in their own voice even if it feels a bit awkward to you. At least let Original Cindy hang a preposition here and there.

All characters have a past of some kind, and that is a great source for emotional turmoil in a fanfic. Just be careful to get it right, because incorrect past history is a big turnoff for the obsessive fans you are trying to entertain. They know that Janeway's father, Admiral Edward Janeway, and her fiance, Lieutenent Justin Tighe, were killed in a shuttlecrash; don't try to tell them that she had to postpone her wedding because her father drowned. (Actually, he did drown. The shuttle crashed into an ocean. But the fiance drowned, too, so my point is valid.)

Fox Mulder is searching for 'the truth' because he saw his sister abducted by aliens when he was a child, so don't have him explain that he always wished for a sibling. Spider-Man has the death of Gwen Stacy to haunt him; you don't need to invent another dead former girlfriend. Jack O'Neill has a dead son. Han Solo witnessed the violent death of the Wookie woman who raised him, and has a dead ex-girlfriend named Bria. Check those facts before you write.

Then there's your chosen borrowed universe. Obey its laws. I'm not talking about the forty-seven suborders of the Prime Directive. I'm talking about the established facts within the fictional universe.

Starfleet vessels are equipped with voice activated sonic showers. This means that characters do not need to climb over naked unconscious people to turn the water off. They just need to to say "Computer, deactive shower." Then it's off. And unless the character specifically activated a real water shower, no one needs a towel. You'll have to get more creative if you want your characters to climb over wet, glistening naked bodies. (You can do it. I have faith. You won't have to go without glistening naked bodies.)

And as for the holodecks, remember the words "Computer, end program." If Janeway and Chakotay are sailing on Lake George (which they do in approximately nine million fics) and they get tired of it, they can end the program. They are not required to return the holographic sailboat to the holographic pier. (Not that we don't usually enjoy watching them do so.)

In Star Wars, they speak Basic. Not English. Buffy doesn't have to fight vampire attacks in broad daylight. Red Dwarf cannot travel faster than light. Andromeda cannot navigate the slipstream without a sentient being in the pilot's seat. Sam Beckett can see Al, but no one else can. Get the idea?

The little things are important, too. We take great pleasure in watching Mulder eat sunflower seeds. We love to see Janeway drink coffee. We giggle with delight when David Lister washes down his curry with a beer milkshake. We are positively giddy when Ford Prefect whips out his trusty towel. And it just isn't a Voyager fic without a leola root joke.

References to other fictional worlds can either delight or annoy the reader. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is often heard to declare that her Spider Sense is tingling. Since this is both funny and an ongoing joke from the series, by all means include it. Marco from the Animorphs loves to quote Star Trek, and refers to Rachel as "Xena." These characters are likely to make pop culture references, and they do it when written by their rightful owners. Whenever you choose to include a reference to something outside the character's universe, consider the appropriateness.

Those in the Star Trek universe seem to be obsessed with twentieth century American pop culture, which isn't particularly believable. But since it happens continuously in canon, you really aren't violating any rules if you do it yourself. Just do so sparingly. I doubt the work of The Beastie Boys really survived to be known and loved by Wesley Crusher.

This brings up the issue of song fics. There are thousands of bad ones, and they mostly go like this: Two characters listen to "a song from twentieth century Earth" which seems to have some vague similarity to their lives. This usually makes them kiss. That's about it for the plot.

If you must do a songfic, find a way to twist it. Find a way to make it better than everyone else's songfic. Do something creative with it. The fact that a song inspired you in some way does not mean that you need to insert its lyrics within the fic. Don't prop up a weak fic with song lyrics; if all the song inspired was a weak plot, then it doesn't deserve to be used. If the plot is great, then just mention the song in your author notes, with perhaps a link to the lyrics. The plot doesn't need the song to clutter it up.

Finally, a great deal of fanfic seems to consist of complicated and obsessive pornographic fantasies. It's a free cyber-world, so go ahead. It's fun. I know. But you just might want to ask yourself twice whether or not you want to display that particular part of yourself to thousands of complete strangers (which isn't really that bad) or what would happen if your beloved old grannie found your site (which would be very bad). Think of these things first, then post your insights into the effects of a contagious version of Pon Farr. If you do write NC-17 stuff, have the courtesy to label it as such.

As far as web design, I prefer for the fiction pages to be as clean and simple as possible. A white background with black text in an easily readable font allows the reader to focus on the story, not your ability to color coordinate. I, picky thing that I am, prefer to set my paragraph style for fiction. Not only does it look nicer, but it uses less paper if your reader chooses to print it out.

To use fiction style, type the following into your style sheet:

P {font-size:12pt; text-indent:5%; margin-top:0; margin-bottom:0; margin-left: 10%; margin-right: 15%}

You'll have to use line breaks any time you deliberately need space between paragraphs, and perhaps CLASS tags throughout the rest of your html.

One other thing regarding site design. If you have multiple chapters, link them all to the front page so that a synch program will grab them all. If someone wants to save your story to read off line, they'll appreciate it if they don't discover later that they only have the first part.

So, to sum it up: No giggling Vulcans or whimpering Klingons. No vampires running around in broad daylight. Spell check. Edit. Edit again. Less is more. Save the fancy HTML tricks and clever javascripts for your front page. And always ask yourself, "Does this sound like something Dr. McCoy would really say?"



Star Trek, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Voyager and related properties are Registered Trademarks of Paramount Pictures. Spider-Man, X-Men, Fantastic Four and related properties belong to Marvel Comics. Star Wars and related properties belong to George Lucas. Scarecrow and Mrs. King and related properties belong to Warner Bros. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, X-Files, and related properties belong to Twentieth Century Fox. Quantum Leap and related properties belong to Universal Studios. Red Dwarf and related properties belong to Rob Grant and Doug Naylor. Stargate SG-1 and related properties belong to Metro Goldwyn Mayer. Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and related properties belong to Douglas Adams. Animorphs and related properties belong to K.A. Applegate and Scholastic, Inc. No copyright infringement intended. No profits made here.