How to Handle Fanfiction Annoyances

June 7, 2015

Introduction

Recently, we’ve joined several fanfiction groups on Facebook and made lots of great, fast friends. We enjoy occasionally posting our stories, taking up challenges, etc. Things are generally pleasant. However, it’s come to our attention that there are some common issues that arise in the world of fanfiction, in general, which people like to complain about loudly, bitterly, and very, very publicly.

There used to be a saying: If you can’t saying anything nice, don’t say anything at all. It’s not that you can’t express a dislike for some fandom/genre/category/trope, but there are people who do enjoy those very same fandoms/genres/categories/tropes that you may dislike. Keep in mind, people, just like you, invest a lot of time and emotion into their fandom/genre/category/trope. They’re people too, with jobs, families, friends, and other hobbies. Your opinion is no better or worse than theirs.

Readers’ Issue: Missing Warnings

Many readers have very specific tastes in what they like to read. Some like slash, some hate it. Some like mpreg (male pregnancy), some hate it. Some like romance, some hate it. We could go on forever. It’s a common courtesy as a writer, especially if you have a controversial element, to put appropriate warnings in the description of your story before the person even starts reading. It saves them time and headache, and saves you a bad review or possibly being reported.

For a reader, nothing is as frustrating as getting into a story, and then getting surprised by an element you carefully avoid. Falling in love with a story and suddenly having a surprise element you hate sprung on you is just not cool. Writers who don’t warn appropriately are just begging for nasty reviews.

Readers’ Issue: Improper Rating

Similar to the above, many readers either specifically want mature content, or seek to avoid it. Young kids, for example, probably don’t want detailed descriptions of inserting tab A into slot B. Rating your story too low could have strong repercussions for the writer, including having a story removed or your account revoked.

Similarly, rating your story too high can also frustrate readers. Rating your story M when it barely gets above PG is just cruel. Someone’s expecting hanky-panky, violence, etc and will be pissed when it doesn’t appear. Don’t forget, foul language is part of the rating system. It’s a courtesy to accurately let your readers know what to expect.

Readers’ Issue: Needy Writers

We’ve all seen the story that has the following author’s note at the end. “I must get 10 comments and 20 likes before I post the next chapter! Love you all!!!! xoxoxo” Worst case example: Immortal Beloved, but it’s extremely common on Wattpad and other sites.

Here’s the problem: many readers are not writers. They don’t feel comfortable putting their thoughts into words. Worse, many will hit the like/star/favorite/whatever, and have nothing to say on top of that beyond “I liked it.” Are you writing for yourself, or for ego strokes? If you’re writing for yourself, why the demands? If you’re writing for ego strokes, have you considered you have a poor motive for your hobby?

Readers are just looking for a good story, not for blackmail. People will drop you like a hot potato if you do this. Pushing out chapters regularly draws readers. Withholding chapters drives them away.

Readers’ Issue: Incomplete Stories

Sybil and Winged are both guilty of this. Writers sometimes abandon stories for other stories, or because they lost interest, or because they run out of ideas. As a writer, we do not want to be cajoled to pick up a story before we’re ready. If you do, we’ll produce a poorer quality product and we’ll be miserable. We’re glad you love our story, but don’t be needy.

To help us get back to a story, a simple feedback of “Love it! Can’t wait for next chappy!” is generally good. “When the heck are you bringing it back?” is not appreciated. We have lives, priorities, and family. Those things can all interfere with writing a story, as well. If you really love it, perhaps ask to adopt it and finish the story. Writers can always put “Discontinued” in the description if a story will not be picked up again.

Writers’ Issue: Lack of Feedback

Many writers are desperate for feedback on their stories. They see the reads, but nobody says what they think of it. It can be frustrating when you have no idea how your story is actually being received. For that reason, many writers try to figure out ways to cajole their readers into providing that feedback.

First of all: don’t do blackmail. It pisses off readers. Winged has a bunch of snarky replies that are “feedback” on your desire for feedback, not your story. You don’t want those. Second, a good source of feedback is a beta reader. There are lists on most fanfiction/writing sites that can help you out. Third, join a writing circle, such as your local NaNoWriMo. They’ll be more than happy to give you constructive criticism. Finally, Wing’s favorite idea is to go leave feedback yourself. Establish dialog with other writers. They’re more likely to look at your story and offer feedback in response. Don’t ask for what you’re unwilling to give.

Writers’ Issue: Troll/Inappropriate/Useless Feedback

We’ve all seen this at one point or another. Winged recently had feedback on a story about Tsubasa. It involves a princess and a servant. However, they’re in such a radically non-standard setting, that they’re really peers and friends with no hierarchy. Someone left “helpful” feedback on relationships between royalty and staff. Not helpful. Didn’t know the fandom, and admitted it.

If you’re going to leave feedback, please leave intelligent feedback. Know the fandom, don’t tell the writer how to write the story, and please, don’t leave troll feedback (unless it’s earned with a troll story). A writer is inviting you along for the ride. You were not given a map or steering wheel. Constructive criticism can be good, but make sure it’s constructive.

Writers’ Issue: Needy Readers

When a reader really loves a story, they tend to start getting demanding about rapid updates, offer ideas for plot, etc. More often than not, this is not appreciated. As authors, we are putting our heart and souls into stories, often at the expense of having to face our own, personal demons. Trying to deal with demons while someone is demanding updates NOW is just more pressure we don’t need. Writers are people, not story machines. They have personal issues going on.

Similarly, your ideas for plot, character hookups, etc, are often not appreciated or desired. Writers often know where they’re going far in advance. If you want to see a specific plot, hookup, etc, go write it. Writers write their own stories, not anyone else’s. We’re not here to make up for your inability to write your story ideas. Winged, in particular, is apt to kill one of the hookup characters just to stop that nonsense.

Writers’ Issue: Readers Ignoring Warnings/Ratings and Complaining

This is a parallel issue to missing Warnings/Ratings above. There are some readers who love to go on about how much they despise a fandom/genre/category/trope. Unfortunately, they don’t always read the ratings and warnings and pairings. For example, if you hate mpreg, and the warnings clearly state this story will have mpreg, then don’t complain when it appears. You ignored the warning. It was there for a reason.

If you hate a character pairing, say Hermione and Draco, then don’t go reading stories with Hermione and Draco pairings. Don’t pick up a fork, stick it in the light socket twenty times, and complain when it zaps you each and every time! Readers are more responsible for what they read than the writers are. Winged has dropped many, many stories because he didn’t care for the content. He didn’t complain unless it was a book he paid for.

Most responsible writers don’t hide what they’re writing about. If you’re a writer who hides warnings, then you deserve the flames you will get. If you’re a reader who ignores the warnings, you deserve to be called an idiot if you complain when you get what was advertised. Don’t buy Ford Fiesta and complain that it’s not a Camaro.

General Issue: XYZ sucks/is unrealistic/etc

Okay, so we all know werewolf romance sucks beyond belief. Wait, what? You mean it’s incredibly popular right now? But it’s so unrealistic! It’s impossible! And who wants to have sex with a monster!?!? What? Vampire romance is popular too?

Okay, the above was being silly, but we’ve seen some major arguments recently that are just as silly. “Mpreg is unrealistic!” Really? In what fandom? In what technology setting? With which alien races? People tend to think in terms of what they like to read or write. Other people don’t read/write what you do. Cope. Fanfiction writing is an escape from the mundane for the writer. They create a fantasy world where anything can happen.

Slash (homosexual relationships) may not be your thing. They may also be how a teenage girl is trying to understand boys. Mpreg may not be your thing. It may also make sense in the setting, and be a logical consequence of a slash relationship. Romance may not be your thing. Some people like it, such as Winged. Action may not be your thing. We like it. Sci-fi may not be your thing. We like it. Fantasy may not be your thing. We like it. Get the point? The world of fanfiction doesn’t exist to make you happy. Go find the parts that do and ignore the rest.

Summary

Keep in mind, we are all fanfiction writers/readers here. If you’re reading this essay, you probably have an interest in fanfiction. We’re all people, with our personal preferences and real life struggles. The person on the other side is a person, just like you. You would probably like them if you got to know them. Approaching them with a positive attitude instead of a confrontational one is the best way to build good will and make friends.

Writer’s Block

May 25, 2015

Writer’s Block: What is it?

Writer’s Block is the plague of all writers! It is the horrible condition of staring at a blank page as words refuse to magically appear upon it! There is a story in your mind SCREAMING to come out! But it won’t. And it’s common. We’ve seen a lot of posts asking how to deal with it in the last couple weeks.

Writer’s Block: But what is it really?

Writer’s Block is actually a collection of related writing issues. They all manifest in the same way: no words. However, the causes vary wildly. Here are a few examples: you need sleep, your life is full of stress, your story has reached a point where you have to write about an uncomfortable topic (Sybil’s facing this in one story), you wrote yourself into a corner and don’t know how to get out, you don’t want your story to end, your characters disagree with you on a course of action, etc.

If you don’t identify your issue more precisely than “I have writer’s block, help me!” you’ll never solve it. Winged’s biggest source of writer’s block is being tired or lacking inspiration. His solution is to play MineCraft. Sybil’s biggest source is when she needs to write things that hit close to home, emotionally. She just needs to bull through and deal with her heebie-jeebies.

Did You Actually Have an Idea?

We’ve run into this a few times, both ourselves and observing others. You see this totally awesome fandom/character, and you just HAVE to write about it/him/her. That’s not an idea. That’s not a plot. That’s being a fangirl/fanboy. The trick here, is to think about WHY you like this character/fandom/etc. Dig deeper, list cool parts, boring parts, parts you hate, etc. Somewhere in there, a story idea will emerge. But right now, you don’t have writer’s block, you have plot block.

Abandon Your Preconceived Plot!

So, you’ve been writing away, and your characters have been just doing their thing, and suddenly you realize they’ve gone far astray from where you wanted to go, and you have no idea how to get back. This can actually be a good thing! But, if you’re stuck on preserving your plot, you’re screwed. Abandon it! Let it flow in a new direction and see what evolves! It may be even better than what you thought.

For example, Sybil was writing a Gundam Wing story a while back where Milliardo and Midii were supposed to be completely platonic in a spy drama. Every time she tried to write it, she got hit with writer’s block. Finally, she let them get romantically involved, and the story suddenly wrote itself. Her characters simply wanted to get hot and heavy.

Is Your Story (Almost) Done?

Winged has seen this a LOT. He’s read tons of stories where everything moves smoothly for about sixteen chapters, and everything’s in place for the big wrap-up. Instead, the author drones on for about another dozen chapters, often leaving author’s notes begging for ideas. The authors probably thought they had writer’s block. They didn’t. They had a nearly complete story they wouldn’t allow to finish. Winged has also had scenarios where he wrote the story, wrapped it up, and had people shocked that the story was complete. His attitude is simple: write the story, put a bow on it, move on.

Many people run into issues with their story when it’s done. As an author, we’ve put blood, sweat, tears, and emotion into crafting our stories, and we fall in love with them. The result, however, is that we don’t want those stories to end. We love them, the characters, everything. Let it end. Your block is that you only have the ending left to write. That’s it. (Cue Frozen: Let it Go!)

Know Your Personal Hangups

If you are someone who is dealing with a personal problem/trauma and you know that you are not emotionally resolved about the issue, don’t try to write it. Yes, personal experience can help, and yes writing can be cathartic, but make sure you can engage the story in a fair-minded way. The problem is, if you are constantly shying away from the elephant in the story’s room, you can’t write. Alcoholism, grieving, death, sex, homosexuality, sexual/physical/emotional abuse, among many other things can all create writer’s block as your mind simply REFUSES to write about the topic.

Your choices are fairly limited. First, you can put on your big-boy-panties and write it anyway. It may be therapeutic, or it may be crap. Or both. Be sure you run this through a beta reader before posting (and you might not post). Second, admit you can’t handle this and rework things so the issue isn’t there. This may mean scrapping your story. You can keep it in a slush file to return to later for ideas. Third, get therapy. No, seriously, find a good therapist and deal with this issue in your life. It’s impacting your writing, and probably a lot of other things, too. Winged spent a year-and-a-half in therapy, and Sybil is considering it. A good therapist can be invaluable.

Reread Your Story

Sybil has found this helpful on numerous occasions. While you do it, make notes about plot points that may need additional explanation, addressing, etc. There’s nothing quite like reading your story to remember that you introduced Count Bigjerk in chapter two, but never mentioned him again. Maybe he can help out now! Or a ring lost in chapter seven never got found. Perhaps we should find it now. For a long story, having notes can be an invaluable help to remind you of things to address. This can also help you fall in love with your story again, and inspire you to finish.

Write Something Else

Both of us regularly have two to four stories we’re working on at once. You might end up with an abandoned story, though, so be careful. You don’t want nasty “More chapters, please!” comments, but it’s also your story to write at your pace.

Why is this good? Let’s say you’ve just finished watching Full Metal Alchemist. You start writing like a fiend, cranking out chapter after chapter. Meanwhile, you get a copy of Samurai Champloo and watch it. What happens? Your mind starts filling up with ideas about Samurai Champloo, and the ideas for FMA start to drift away. There’s a simple choice to embrace your current inspiration and go with it.

Watch/Read the Fandom Again

Or watch FMA again. Remind yourself why you love that fandom! Was it Alphonse’s sweet innocence? Was it Ed’s temper? Was it drooling over Lust? There’s nothing like going back to the source to get new ideas, new inspiration, and rekindle your passion. Sybil has read the Tsubasa manga three times, and xxxHolic twice, just to maintain the passion and get new ideas.

Skip a Scene for Later

Sometimes your problem isn’t that you don’t have ideas, but you just don’t know how to get to the scene you have ideas for. Easy! Put a couple notes about what goes in the boring scene you have no passion for, then write the one that is begging to be written. With that done, you’re more likely to be able to write the boring scene. Or maybe you’ll realize you don’t need a scene, but just the couple comments you already noted. It’s amazing how often an “important scene” isn’t important at all.

Winged got stuck at one point where he’d been writing a day-by-day detail of what was going on with two characters. Then they got stable in their relationship. He didn’t want to write more scenes of “guy and girl hang out playing video games,” “guy and girl have a date,” “guy and girl survive the term paper,” etc. Eventually, he realized he needed to write a few sentences about things going smoothly, and move on to the next bit of action a few weeks later. It’s perfectly okay to make chronological jumps in your story with a transitional sentence or two.

Writing Challenge: A Day in the Life of…

Starting here, we’re going to give you ideas for short writing challenges to get those creative writing juices going. For starters, pick one character and write a typical day in his/her life. Often, it works even better if you use a scene from canon. For example, Winged wrote “A Day in the Life of Brad Crawford” to explain how his precognition works. Similarly, he wrote his “Mary Sue/Gary Stu meets the real [Gundam Wing Character X]” stories to reinforce how the Gundam Wing characters would actually react to people trying to influence/seduce them.

This does a few things. First, it strengthens your understanding of the characters. This, by itself, is huge. Second, it can push you back to the source material (see Watch/Read the Fandom Again above). Finally, you may be able to pull some of these ideas into your story.

Writing Challenge: 100 Word Story

This is one Sybil has done a few times. The goal is to write a complete story in EXACTLY 100 words, no more, no less. It helps you focus on expressing one idea, often a character trait, clearly and succinctly. Often, when we get writer’s block, we start rambling. When you have to get your ideas down to 100 words, you suddenly acquire focus. What are you trying to say? Does this sentence contribute to what you want to say? Do you have time for that nuance? Does that nuance even matter? You will build clarity of thought. And, like Sybil, you might even win cool prizes!

Writing Challenge: 50 Sentences Challenges

This is how we kill time on road trips. You get a list of 50 words, pick a fandom/character(s) and write exactly one grammatically correct sentence that includes/refers to each word for that fandom/character(s). One source of sentences is http://1sentence.livejournal.com/, but there are many, many others.

The purpose of this challenge is two-fold: first, it gets the creative juices going. We had most of Miyuki-chan in Celes Land written by doing one of these challenges. There was a lot to fill out, but most of the plot just appeared. Our Sophisticated, Seasonal Serpentwear story also arose from one of these.

Second, it forces you to write sentences that contain a complete thought. You are forced to rely on knowledge of the characters and your one sentence to imply… everything. Often, each sentence could be the kernel of a story all by itself. By writing these challenges, you can certainly come up with some sort of idea for your story.

Writing Challenge: Dictionary.com Word of the Day (15 minutes)

This is used a lot by Sybil. You take the word of the day as a story prompt, set a timer for fifteen minutes, and write. You have only fifteen minutes to write, and you must write for the full fifteen minutes. To get an actual story out of this, you’ll have to severely limit yourself. For example: only one character, exploring an aspect of that character. This is the long version of 50 Sentences.

NaNoWriMo/Ray Bradbury: Just Write Anyway!

First, if you don’t have a copy of Ray Bradbury’s “Zen and the Art of Writing,” get it! He addresses writer’s block several times. Similarly, NaNoWriMo (http://nanowrimo.org) has tons and tons of advice on writing, writer’s block, etc. Both have one piece of advice in common: Just write! It might be garbage that you’ll delete later, but write! It might be utter trash, but write! Eventually you’ll get something good, and you can always edit it into shape later.

The reality is people are great at making excuses. Remove those excuses from your life, and you’ll be a prolific writer. Tired? Take a nap, then write. Don’t feel the passion? Write, it’ll come back. Don’t have ideas? Yes you do! You just might not like them. You claim you’re a writer? Then go write!

Co-Writing

April 4, 2015

Co-writing is a technique where you have two authors of one story. There are some special challenges that occur when co-writing a story, including communicating about the story, the details of writing it, and blending your writing styles to have a single voice.

Choosing Your Writing Partner and Story

In order to co-write a story, you must find a story and a writing partner where you both want to write a story in the same fandom, and want to write it the same way. For example, Sybil and Winged have co-written some Weiss Kreuz and Tsubasa stories in the past. We like to focus on the same characters, and get excited about the same story ideas. By contrast, Sybil likes to write spy-thriller stories in Gundam Wing, while Winged prefers to write short comedies, assuming he bothers to write for that fandom at all.

Ultimately, you need to find somebody who gets excited about a story idea with you, and wants to feed into the same ideas and direction as you. Further, you must have the same vision for who the characters are, and how they will interact.

Chatting While Writing

Skype is your friend, assuming you can’t be in the same place while writing. When co-writing, it is very important that you collaborate with your partner, and doing it in real-time is the ideal. People talk far faster than they type, so voice chatting is the ideal. If you can’t, for whatever reason, voice chat, there are also tons of programs that let you chat via text, including FaceBook chat, Google Talk, etc. There really is no excuse for not being able to collaborate in real time.

Why would you communicate in real time? Well, let’s say you’re writing your section of the story. You write out the most brilliant piece of prose to ever fly forth from your fingertips, it gets to your partner’s computer, and her response is to delete it and write something else completely. You’ll feel offended that your brilliance was deleted, and that your plot idea was derailed. Talking in real-time avoids that mess. Collaboration is communication and compromise.

Communicating with Comments and Track Changes

So, suppose you’re a pair of thirteen-year olds whose parents will NOT let you chat with strangers. Worse, you live in different time zones, and just can’t sneak in a quick chat. All you have is the power of email. In a case like this, there are a few things you can do.

First of all, you will need to build an outline of your story and agree on it. Communication out of real time requires more planning, starting with your plot. If you need to make a major change, get approval from your writing partner.

Second, there are a few tricks most document editors (Word, OpenOffice, LibreOffice, etc) provide. First is the ability to insert comments. This can be done either with the comments feature, or by adding colored text. Anything a beta-reader might do to offer feedback can be used by co-writers. Second, you can use the “Track Changes” feature to see who typed what, who deleted what, and you can even approve/reject changes. None of this is ideal, but it’s far better than any other option.

Simultaneous Writing

So you’re ready to start writing. The ideal situation is where you both have the same document open at the same time, writing at the same time, making changes at the same time. There are a few ways to do this.

For this essay, we used Google Docs. It lets both of us see/make changes in real time (sometimes with a bit of lag on one side or the other). We have also used AbiWord, which has a similar feature. It can also be somewhat flaky at times. Okay, AbiWord can be a lot of flaky. Another powerful tool, though without the formatting features, is Gobby. It was meant to be a programming editor, but it works well as a collaborative version of Notepad. You can use * or // to mark italics and bold for later.

Try a variety of tools to see what works best for you. It can be somewhat bizarre to be typing away while the other person is following behind cleaning up misspellings and miscellaneous grammar. On the other hand, it can be extremely rewarding.

We worked on a story where we had two documents open and shared. Sybil wrote her story from one POV, while Winged wrote the same story from a different POV. All direct quotes were the same in both stories, but all the action was written from different POVs. It was a fun process that we desperately need to finish :).

One Writer at a Time in Collaboration

One of the things we like to do when traveling is doing “50 Sentences” challenges. There is a list of fifty one-word writing prompts, and each one requires a single-sentence that fulfills that prompt. With one of us driving, obviously only one person can be manning the keyboard. This is a collaboration strategy where one person types, while both discuss. We use this often when sitting in the same room. Winged types faster, so he usually does the typing. He also usually drives, so Sybil does most of the typing in the car.

When writing a story, this will absolutely require real-time communication, probably with both people in the same room, or some sort of screen-sharing application in use (Skype does this). You may need to “hot swap” the keyboard, one person moving aside to let the other person type.

Alternating Writing

In this scenario, one person writes all or part of the story, then sends the document to the other writer. For example, if one person is great at writing action sequences, and the other writes fabulous smut scenes, you would write what you’re good at, then hand over the document (often via email) to the other person to review what’s been written and moves forward. Our Cyborg 009 story, The Mastermind, was written this way, with Winged writing all the Ivan/001 parts, and Sybil writing everything else – it’s more balanced than it sounds.

Another way this can be done is for one person to write the entire story, then the second person edits/rewrites/adds/etc to it. It goes back and forth between both writers until neither has changes left to make. This is very similar to the beta-reader process, but more intrusive. We’ve written a few stories this way, such as Miyuki-chan in Celes-Land (our favorite crack-fic that we should beaten for). It is, however, far less “collaborative” in feel, and the first draft really should be done as a collaborative effort with some form of voice communication going on. Doing this method requires you to know your writing partner very well. It may be a technique for your beta-reader to move into writing for the first time, for example.

Summary

Co-writing can be a very rewarding, or a very frustrating experience. We’ve had own share of failures and successes. We had to try a variety of methods before we found what works for us. An important thing to remember is that you are working with another person with their own thoughts and feelings. It’s important to remember this as you strive for a good writing partnership. Being married helps us co-write, but we still have very different styles at times, and only co-write where it makes sense. Like we’ve mentioned we have had some failures and a few hurt feelings, but we pick up and go on so we can share our love of writing.

When Should You Publish?

March 29, 2015

So, you’re writing a story. The two main questions are: how should you start exposing your story to your readers, and what preparation should you put into it? We will look at these separately.

Exposure Option 1: Full story

The idea here is that you will write your complete story to your satisfaction, then distribute it to your readers. For some platforms, this seems obvious: such as publishing on Amazon, but even there it’s not the only choice. The advantage of this approach is that you can carefully make sure you don’t have any plot holes, and it lets you change things early on without causing problems. The disadvantage is you can’t slowly generate interest.

Exposure Option 2: As you go

This is the most common option on various fanfiction sites. The idea here is that you write a chapter/section, then publish it. Of course, you can edit it if you’ve got some issues you must correct, but it’s harder to make changes, no matter how bad a corner you’ve written yourself into. While this works well on fanfiction sites, it can piss people off on sites like Amazon. Some people absolutely despise serials, for example, while others love them. Here, you have the advantage of generating interest, and sometimes getting ideas from your fans. Of course, if you lose interest, you can end up with an abandoned, incomplete story.

Preparation Option 1: Raw draft, comment-based edits

This option is probably your worst possible option, but it happens often. The idea is simple: you slam out as much of your story as you intend to publish for this round, and then you put it out there. In the worst case scenario, you don’t even run a basic spell-check. If you’re publishing as you go on a fanfiction site, you can at least take feedback from your readers to fix mistakes. This puts your readers in the unfortunate position of being your beta-reader, and they don’t get your best. Unfortunately, many readers, myself included, will not put up with such low quality. Your story probably won’t be popular with this option.

Given how strongly I’ve spoken against this, it’s worth discussing why people do it. I’ve seen people say, “I know it needs to be edited, but I just wanted to get this out for my fans!” Okay, first of all, I’ve seen that on chapters that were published a year ago. Often, the editing simply doesn’t happen. Second, if you’ve put out a first chapter where the shift key was never, ever used, then it wasn’t about getting it out for your fans, it was about making sure you have no fans. Yes, I’ve seen stuff like that. No capitalization at all. Respect your readers enough to give them your best, not your laziest.

Preparation Option 2: Self-edited

This option is really your minimum acceptable level of effort. Again, the idea is simple: you write your story, and then you read over it. You fix as much spelling and grammar as you can. You make sure your sentences flow well. You make sure your material is consistent with what as come before. Depending on your skill level, this can give you a very good product, or only a mediocre one. Regardless, this will give you the best you can give.

Preparation Option 3: Beta-reader edited

At this point, you take one of the above options and give it to another person to help you. I have a story that is twenty-three pages long. I wrote it, and then edited it three times. Punctuation: perfect! Spelling: perfect! Plot: perfect! Then I gave it to Sybil. She noted that I used the word “vegetarian” instead of “vegan”. She noticed a couple spelling errors. She noticed that I was talking about chickens soaring through the air. Perhaps my story hadn’t been quite perfect, after all. She also gave me feedback on what worked particularly well. In this case, with a good beta-reader, your story can be better than what you could make yourself. On the other hand, a poor beta-reader can drag you down.

Writing About Sex

March 22, 2015

For many people, writing about sex is one of the hardest things to do well, or at all. There are a number of valid reasons for that, and we want to help guide you through the process. As a warning, we will be using examples throughout this that may not be appropriate for younger readers, though nothing blatantly vulgar. Please exercise discretion before proceeding.

Should your have a sex scene?

In the 1960’s through 70’s, science fiction novels had an unusual requirement: they had to have at least one sex scene in each book, unless you were a top-tier author. Even second-tier, established authors still had to comply with this requirement. The reason was simple: publishers believed that nobody would read sci-fi just for the sci-fi’s sake. Instead, they felt there had to be the promise of sex to get people to buy. The result was a useless sex scene that interrupted the plot, instead of advancing it.

You need to determine whether your plot requires a sex scene. WingedPanther has some stories that skip over the sex scenes, and others that go into graphic detail. Sybil usually writes implied sex scenes, or occasionally a low-detail scene. In every case, it’s about what furthers the plot, and what information needs to be conveyed.

Usually, sex is not a vital plot element. If you’re writing a story for the sole purpose of writing a sex scene (Plot, what plot? – PWP), that’s fine, but if you’re writing a larger story, you should definitely think about whether the sex should be implied or not, and if not implied, in what detail.

Remember, every scene you write should have a purpose. It should further your plot, develop your characters, or strengthen/weaken/transform relationships. Unless the purpose of your plot is to write about sex (trashy romance novels), it’s usually not necessary. In other words, never feel like you have to write a sex scene if you’re dabbling in a romance. WingedPanther has a horror story with explicit sex, and a romance story with only implied sex.

How much detail should you write?

First of all, think about where you’re going to be posting your story. Some sites have strict limitations on what level of detail you can write. For example, fanfiction.net limits you to non-explicit suggestive adult themes. Detailed descriptions of sex are not allowed. You can have your story or your account revoked. Other sites allow detailed descriptions, but may have limitations on the ages of the participants (18+ participants only is a VERY common restriction). This means your decision on where to post may restrict what you can write.

Even if detailed sex of various levels is allowed, make sure you give them appropriate warnings. People may like certain types of erotica, but not others. Some people like slash (gay sex), others don’t. Warning a person does two things: it lets people avoid something they don’t want to read, or more easily find what they do want to read.

Next, write what you know. This doesn’t mean you have to have sex to write smut, but at least be educated about it. Readers who have had sex, or even certain types of sex, will be quick to call “BS” on certain things that are not written well. Certain actions that may sound sexy are actually painful, or even potentially deadly. Others can only be performed by circus contortionists on a Twister mat. We’re not saying you need to try everything you write, but a few google searches can help clarify what makes sense and what doesn’t.

Finally, write within your comfort zone, or just slightly outside it. Many people force themselves to write smut, and it gets extremely stilted because they have trouble writing or editing it. We’ve both read a number of fictions where a perfectly edited, eloquent story turns into a train wreck the instant things get hot and heavy.

What happens is the writers get so self-conscious, that their brains shut down. Sentences can become completely incoherent, eloquent descriptions get replaced by something a third grader would write, and the entire scene turns into rubbish. If that’s happening to you, it’s a sign that you shouldn’t write this scene. When in doubt, get a mature beta-reader to scan over it for advice.

Finally, if you want to start writing sex scenes, start by writing one you do not intend to distribute. Removing the pressure of other people reading this will help you relax. Also, easing into it helps. If your first scene is a menage-a-trois with tabs A-C entering slots D-F simultaneously, you will probably not do well. Starting with low-detail/high-emotion scenes and slowly adding details as you get comfortable with it will usually work best.

How do you make it believable?

First, it’s very, very important to understand that men and women experience sex differently. Each person is somewhat different, but when we get to genders, the wiring is totally different. A guy can go from getting ready to done in about two minutes. A woman can take over thirty minutes. To write the experience of the opposite gender, you need to find someone you can have a frank discussion with.

Winged went to Sybil when he started writing explicit scenes to ask how she experienced just about everything. Observing her reactions as a married couple was totally different from understanding what she was experiencing. Similarly, Sybil had a gay beta-reader who gave her a lot of advice about writing male-male relationships (hint: they’re both male!). If you can’t have one of these frank discussions, it will severely limit the POVs you can write from, or perhaps even your ability to write sex scenes at all.

As a quick summary of some key points to help, here are a few things you need to be aware of for sex scenes as far as gender is concerned. For a woman, her entire body is, to one degree or another, an erogenous zone. For a guy, the genitals are almost the only erogenous zone. Women tend to be cued in to touch and words (bodice busters). Men tend to be cued in to sight (Playboy).

Beyond gender differences, there are a few other things to consider. There are a lot of stories out there that describe things that make no sense whatsoever. When a five foot tall woman is making love with her six foot six beefcake, there is no way he can thrust into her while his mouth is latched on her chest. It’s just not going to happen. Ever. If your reader is visual, they will try to picture it, fail, and you just ruined the scene. Squeezing fingers between bodies pressed tightly together, anal sex without lube (and no, blood doesn’t count), flinging bodies about as if they weigh ten pounds, or twisting couples into pretzels all confuse the reader and interrupt the flow of the story.

If it’s not physically possible, don’t write it. It doesn’t matter how “sexy” it sounds, you’re ruining it for at least some of your readers, and they will complain or quit reading your story.

How do you make it sexy?

First of all, let’s get one thing out of the way: you have to get the technical aspects of your writing perfect. Nothing says unsexy like “He thrusted inta her hole with her member, fasterer and fasterer, until she cummed like a bansheee.” Your readers will be too busy scratching their heads or face-palming to appreciate the glory of this moment. Side note: when Sybil first heard the quote read out loud, she started laughing like a hyena. Not the response you want to your great sex scene. This is a one-way ticket to being read on Bad Fanfiction Theater.

You cannot allow any distractions or points of confusion to get into your writing. Put two or three times as much effort into editing your sex scenes as any others. For reference, this post took two rounds of editing after it was initially written, and we weren’t feeling nervous about the content. Make sure your beta-reader hits them hard (no pun intended). Ideally, you will choose a beta-reader who has written sex scenes, or at least won’t get flustered by reading them. No, not all beta-readers are effective when things get hot and heavy. Also, some beta-readers will not beta-read certain types of sexual content. Shop carefully and be up front about what you’re writing.

Second, word choice is vital. Sex and comedy are the two areas where word choice matters more than anything else. Many people get insecure about what they’re writing, and come up with various euphemisms to avoid stating what they’re trying to say. We all know there are hundreds of phrases for the male and female genitals. However, if you start talking about how he “thrust his Rod of Lordly Might into her moist chamber,” the reader no longer knows if they’re reading a sex scene or a Dungeons and Dragons adventure.

“Penis” is probably too clinical. “Dick” or “cock” are common. “Hard member” is also common. Word choice reveals not only your own comfort with various words, but also your character’s. So, for example, if you are writing the POV of an inexperienced female, the descriptions need to communicate that inexperience, intimidation, etc. She won’t think, “he whipped out his tallywhacker and waved it in her face.” Instead, you just communicated silly dismissal of his masculinity.

At this point, it’s important to start thinking about what sex is. Sex is, under normal circumstances, the culmination of an intimate relationship. It implies trust and intimacy as two people seek to give each other mutual pleasure. This is also why rape is so horrible. It violates everything that sex is meant to be.

Of course, with trust and intimacy comes feelings of vulnerability. Further, the process of approaching orgasm comes with an increase in both physical and mental tension. This means you, as the writer, need to be describing how the character is experiencing these increased sensations. The details will vary by gender, experience of the partner, and the level of detail you want to write. Regardless, however, it should be about bonding two characters closer together.

With this in mind, to make your scene sexy, you have to talk about how this is achieved. Above all, keep in mind who your characters are, and the POV you are writing from. If the POV character is nervous, write about it! If the POV character is getting excited, write about the increased heart rate and breathing.

For the “first time”, the characters might not even culminate their experience, simply having some heavy petting. This will heighten the tension and anticipation for the next scene. Above all, stay VERY clear about which perspective you are writing from! Nothing is as confusing as switching from the feelings a woman is experiencing, to the discomfort of a rigid, throbbing cock that is desperate for relief.

There will be dialogue. People normally talk to one degree or another before, during, and after sex. It can be playful, talking dirty, or even the simple, “Yes! Right there!” However, avoid cheesy dialogue. That is you, as the author, trying to avoid the intensity of the scene you’re writing. Unfortunately, that means you’re robbing your reader of the intensity of the scene they could have been reading. If you find yourself cheapening the scene, just don’t write it! This is true of all scenes, not just sex.

Finally, more than anything else, a sexy scene is an emotional scene. It’s all in the head. It’s cementing trust, allowing themselves to be vulnerable, taking risks with another person. Men fear being inadequate. Women fear not looking good enough. Both fear not being able to give pleasure. In a world full of high expectations, sex is one of the scariest things two people can do. It is also one of the most rewarding, as two people deep in a loving relationship can use it to express their love and appreciation for each other.

A sex scene means something. It shouldn’t be a cheap thrill for your reader, unless you’re going for that PWP one-shot, but is a deep connection between two characters. Don’t get lost in how one person touched the other in this, that, and the other place on their body. As the characters get lost in their passion, they lose track of what’s happening and it all blends into a rising pleasure and tension. Porn isn’t sexy unless you use cameras. You’re using words, go for the emotional punch. Don’t write Tab A goes in Slot B descriptions.

Creating Religions/Gods For Stories

March 14, 2015

One of the issues we sometimes face as a writer, especially when creating an AU for a fanfiction, or doing an original fiction, is the need to build up a mythology for the world. Whether you’re building up a fantasy world, or developing a sci-fi death cult, sometimes you just need to round out your world with religion.

Before discussing various tips for this, I think it’s important to discuss whether you should try to build a religion. Frequently, you can make use of something that already exists. We already have a rich set of religions in the world. Greek/Roman mythology, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Shintoism, Hinduism, Norse mythology, etc, etc, etc. If something that already exists will work for you, then don’t reinvent the wheel. You can change names to protect the innocent, if need be.

The role of religion

One of your first concerns will need to be the role of religion in your world. For many cultures in our world, religion provides color, dictates some customs, and determines holidays. Judaism and Christianity gave us the five day work week. Hinduism affects beef consumption in India. However, the reality is you can make a lot of tweaks to the religious practices of many people in our world, or eliminate them altogether, with minimal impact.

In a case like this, religion is more about color. Many werewolf romances feature prayers to the Moon Goddess. Normally, nothing really happens as a result. They could be praying to God just as easily and nothing would change. We know wolves are associated with the moon, so this is a simple swap for color.

Another option is that the religion strongly affects the behavior of its followers. Radical Islam is an example of this. Catholic nuns and monks are another. Religion can inspire its followers to great acts of violence, charity, compassion, or hatred. In cases like this, a society’s laws, standards of behavior, etc can all be dictated by religion. In this case, an outside observer won’t notice a direct influence by the god(s) of the religion, but it dictates the culture.

Next, there can be a supernatural influence. Priests of death may be able to kill with a touch. The Moon Goddess may bless certain werewolves with extra powers. Sailors may travel with priests of Neptune to ensure safe travel and favorable winds. In this case, the gods don’t make an appearance, but their existence is very hard to deny. Sure, these might be examples of various psychic powers, but it is more likely they are just what they appear to be: manifestations of the favor of the gods.

Finally, the gods may walk among us. Ares may stride about the great battlefields of World War II. Zeus may rain lightning down on those who dared to build a spacecraft. When gods are present in the world in a tangible way, it becomes a question of how often they interact, and to what purpose.

Religion in your world

So, with the above in mind, you have to think about how religion fits into your world. Knowing your genre is not enough. A werewolf romance could have vague references to the Moon Goddess, blessings of the Moon Goddess, or her brothers Apollo and Ares may be the head werewolves in the world (yes, I’ve run into this).

You absolutely must decide how big an interaction with gods you will have. If there will be direct contact or blessings, you are going to have to make sure you know exactly who they are, relative power, personalities, interactions with each other, interactions with followers, etc, etc, etc. You have a LOT of work to do. If you’re hijacking an existing mythology, it turns into research instead of creative work, but still a lot of work.

On the other hand, if all you’re doing is justifying some cultural quirks, you may only need a couple paragraphs of explanation, with regular references to the teachings of the Buddha or the Prophet. For this, you may only need a few key guidelines, and perhaps some typical quotes that “everyone” says.

Also, regardless, you’ll need to consider what various levels of devotion to a god/religion look like. Many Christians show up at church for a couple hours every Sunday, and do little else. Some, however, commit their lives to traveling the world helping the poor. A goddess of love may have a temple that sponsors orgies. A god of war may demand adherents spend all their time preparing their minds and bodies for battle.

Balance of power

This is where things can get interesting. Consider the history of Christianity. Being a Christian has, at various points in time, made you a criminal, been mandatory, been a sign of subjugation, or been a sign of esteem. Being a priest has been just powerful, at times, as being a king. At other times, being a priest has been nearly guaranteed prison time.

You will need to determine the role your religion takes, and how high-ranking members fit into society. A king may get his authority from the pope, or the pope may be granted his authority by a king. Priests may be the judges, interpreting laws handed down by their god, or they may be in hiding while barely holding their followers together.

In the end, religion and government may be the same thing, in a power struggle, or indifferent towards each other. You have to know how they fit together. It makes the difference between whether your characters are outlaws or power-brokers.

A word of caution

Religion can be a very touchy subject for people. As a Christian, I often avoid religion entirely when writing. Depending on who your writer is, most any decision you make related to religion can upset most any reader. If you discuss Christianity in an unflattering way, you are likely to offend Christian readers, while pleasing various others. If you make up a religion, you may offend readers who are strong adherents of most every religion.

As a result, you need to think about how your readers will react to your story’s religion(s)/mythology. Fantasy worlds, or worlds in other cultures, are usually safe to do what you want. As you get closer to your own culture, you will want to be sensitive to how your readers may react.

Pacing

March 8, 2015

Pacing is the art of controlling how rapidly the action feels to the reader. It’s similar to the use of cut scenes, slow motion cameras, and close-ups/distance shots in movies. All the tricks used in movies to control the audience’s focus have corresponding techniques in writing. Further, it helps you focus on a character, their mental state, and their personality. Of course, if you don’t use the techniques for pacing well, you can end up with fight scenes shot all in slow-mo, and romance scenes that feel like they were shot with a shaky cam.

How to write action scenes

Before you do anything, you have to know what type of scene you’re writing. Let’s start with a fight scene. Fights are all about high-speed action. They’re about constant motion, intensity, and pumping adrenaline. The way to achieve this is through short, punchy, standalone sentences. Back them up with short words, and you will have action.

Consider these two sentences:

1) Neo successfully threw a rabbit-punch to Smith’s face, snapping his head back.

2) Neo carefully looked for the opening, finally finding it and snapping his fist forward, aiming for the right side of the jaw; he was rewarded with a satisfying smack as Agent Smith’s head flew backwards.

Both sentences describe the same activity: a fast punch to Smith, which connects powerfully. However, the first sentence is quick to read, and conveys motion as well. The other slows the reader down, and slows down the punch. The reader can only envision the action as fast as they read it. The result is the second sentence was “shot” in slow-mo. Unless you want to convey slow motion, the second sentence is a complete fail.

Notice something else: the fist sentence has one comma. The second has two commas and a semi-colon. Each of these punctuation marks indicates a slowing down of the sentence, and thus a slowing down of the action being described. These also indicate that the second sentence is more complicated. This means the reader will have to think harder to process the sentence, further slowing down the action in the reader’s mind.

So, for fast pacing, such as in fight scenes, you want small words in short, simple sentences. Of course, that suggests the opposite for slow pacing. Let’s look at some examples where this applies.

How to write reflective scenes

Suppose we want to have a character reflecting on their situation. Our poor character, Neo, has just had it revealed that everything he thought he knew about the world is a lie. How will he process this information?

1) Neo woke with a start. His eyes darted around the room. Suddenly, he remembered that he was in the puny craft Morpheus flew. Morpheus had “awoken” him with that crazy pill. Now he was cold. Now he was hungry. Now he was trying to understand his new reality. It was overwhelming.

2) Neo woke with a start. He felt himself on an unfamiliar bed, and cracked his eyes open. He was in a small, dank room. As he took in the room once again, his mind drifted back to his “awakening” after taking the pill, being ejected, and being caught by the crazy ship Morpheus flew. He took a deep breath, his mind coming more alert. The robots had done an amazing job of replicating the feeling of a deep breath, but it wasn’t quite right. A cramping feeling in his stomach, hunger, pushed him out of bed and into the chill air. He wasn’t sure he cared for reality; it was still overwhelming. (Sybil demands Winged post this as a fanfic.)

So, let’s consider the impression these two paragraphs convey. The first has short, choppy sentences, exactly what we’d expect in an action scene. In this case, they convey anxious thoughts, an almost panicky mental state. It’s reasonable to anticipate his next actions to be an escape attempt of some sort. Also, we don’t really get a sense of his thoughts or attitudes. With no introspection, it reinforces a sort of panic-mode mindset.

The second, on the other hand, has longer sentences, more complex sentences and word choices, and more sentences. Rather than him simply being awake, he’s slowly coming awake. He’s experiencing a moment of disorientation before he recalls where he is. He’s being reflective as he recalls how he got into the room. He’s focusing on what it’s like to be real, rather than in the Matrix. He’s noting subtle differences and processing them. There is no sense of panic in this, but a slow coming awake and processing of his reality. This is what you would expect of a naturally thoughtful, intelligent person.

So in this case, using short, punchy sentences on a character’s musings speeds up the “action,” to the effect of making the character come across as mentally disjointed and panicky. Using longer, more complicated sentences and wording slows down the speed of the “action,” to the effect of making the character come across as calmer and more reflective. Note, also, that we’ve mentioned word choice a couple times, now. More advanced words slows down the reading, and conveys a more intellectual state. Simpler words speeds up the reading, and conveys a less intellectual state. More advanced words also tend to have more nuance, making the scene deeper and richer.

Know what your scene is, and write to it.

Now, let’s reverse the process and be deliberate about what we want to achieve, and chose the pacing to reflect it. For our example, let’s consider a tender moment when Trinity and Neo are having some “alone time.” There are a few options for how we can want this to work. Option one: they’re having a tender moment, just cuddling together. Option two: they’re getting hot and heavy, expressing their animalistic desire for each other.

For option one, we need to think about what makes a moment tender. It’s not about hands rushing to various body parts, but about emotional closeness. For this, we want our characters to mainly be holding each other, and reflecting on their love for each other. We’ll be using emotion-laden, long sentences.

1) Trinity felt relief course through her as Neo suddenly breathed again. His heart began to beat, and she threw herself on him, fresh tears coursing down her face. She couldn’t see what he was doing in the Matrix, but heard amazement in the voices around her. All she knew was that she loved this man. He was determined. He was noble. She was drawn deeply to his character as she vowed to herself that she would do anything, anything, to protect him. He was The One, and she would be his one, if he would have her. When they finally unplugged him from the Matrix, she gave in to the impulsive desire and kissed him.

Notice the emphasis on emotion, hopes, and reflections. Long sentences structured together with plenty of commas and subclauses. We choose words carefully to get very specific nuance to each sentence, and use adjectives and adverbs liberally. The goal of this is to show Trinity’s epiphany.

Now, let’s consider later in their relationship, where they share a room together. Neo’s The One, and he is confident in what he is. Alas, he’s about to go into danger, and they both want to share the joy of being alive with each other. This is about raw, primal sex (not graphic). It will be somewhat emotional, but mainly carnal.

2) Trinity pulled herself tight against Neo. The room always felt slightly chilled, but there was a sheen of sweat on her skin. “I’ll miss you,” she panted, before pressing her lips firmly against his. He gripped her tight, pulling her flush against his naked body. “I’ll be back soon,” he gasped, when their lips parted. Trinity pulled back, shoving him down on the bed. She straddled him. His hands roamed her body. As death threatened from every side, they reaffirmed life. Soon, she collapsed on him. They were exhausted, but happy. Finally, he rolled her off him, “I have to leave now, Trinity. I’m sorry.”

In this case, we want faster action. They aren’t thinking, they aren’t reflecting, they’re just being together. In your version of this, you could certainly expand on the details of their passion, but the goal is motion. Short bursts of sensation, motion, touch. This is physicality, with an emotional undertone, unlike the first scene, which was emotional, with some physical expressions. Sex is action. Emotion is mental. As a result, sex uses short, punchy sentences, while falling in love uses long, complicated sentences.

Additional tips

Pacing doesn’t just apply to individual scenes, but also to your chapters and story as a whole. An action scene will have shorter paragraphs and shorter chapters. A reflective scene will have longer paragraphs and longer chapters. Also, the choice of content will become very important.

Think about your own life story. There are probably some interesting times you could talk about if you wanted to share it. WingedPanther got run over by the family car when he was five. Sybil got burned on her leg when she was three. Those are interesting stories, but the day-to-day details of kindergarten are probably of no interest to anyone, since they don’t even remember those details themselves.

Many things that you could write in your story are things that you shouldn’t write. You want to skip from important scene to important scene, not relate the daily life of your characters. For example, we know that Neo is a programmer. We don’t know if the concept of marriage exists in Zion. What we know is only what is needed to establish relationships between characters, and to advance the plot. What you share in your own story should only be the things you need your reader to know.

We’ve all read stories where the story seems to bog down. Often, it’s because there are scenes, or even entire chapters, that have information that doesn’t advance the story. It turns into a vanity piece about characters (OC or canon). Often, it comes down to the author running out of ideas for the plot, and just writing stuff down. The readers, however, just feels that things have stalled out. When chapter after chapter of the “evolving love between Mary Sue and Gary Stu” grinds out, everyone becomes bored. You need to have a goal, and then make sure that each chapter, scene and bit of dialogue advances your characters towards that goal.

Finally, be careful, when writing, to make sure you have knowledge of what you’re writing about. This doesn’t mean you have to get married to write about weddings and marriage. You can observe married couples, hopefully your parents, to learn about it. Similarly, you don’t have to be gay to write about gay characters, but it helps to know someone who’s gay (or have a gay beta-reader as Sybil once did).

Winged and Sybil often discuss what it is like to be male or female in various situations, in order to do a better job with their characters. If you write about things that you are ignorant of, your writing will flounder, and your pacing will become derailed as you struggle to express yourself at all.

Pacing boils down to choice in words, sentence length, paragraph length, and content. Make deliberate choices in all these things, and you can have successful pacing in your story.

AUs and Cross-overs

March 1, 2015

There are two, closely related types of fanfiction that have some unique challenges: Alternative Universes and Cross-overs. Alternative Universes are where the writer deliberately changes the setting the characters are in, from changing one event early in the story, to completely moving them to a different time/place. Cross-overs are where you take two or more fandoms and merge them together somehow.

Two of the more common AUs are the vampire trope, and the high school trope. In the vampire trope, one or more of the canon characters are turned into vampires. This obviously changes things, as characters suddenly become immortal, nearly indestructible, etc. Of course, the bad guys may be vampires, too, so the dynamics can be basically the same, just with new powers. This AU trope seems to vary in popularity, with spikes happening when Interview with a Vampire, Laura K. Hamilton’s series, and Twilight came out.

In the high school trope, adult characters are put into a high school setting, often as students but sometimes as teachers as well. Since many fanfiction writers are in school, themselves, this setting pulls the characters into a place with established dynamics that they know well. There’s something fun about having Bruce Banner as the temperamental science teacher, or Wolverine as the cranky football coach.

Another style of AU is to leave the setting alone, and ask yourself “What if this event hadn’t happened? What would have followed from that?” This can be things like Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben not dying, Jean Grey choosing Wolverine over Cyclops (and let’s be honest, Cyclops was a douche), or that first battle going different (worse or better). This can result in changes to characters’ personalities, or the way they relate to each other compared to the canon version. DC and Marvel comics have a long history of doing this type of “what if?” resulting in a “canon” that is so twisted, almost anything can be claimed as canon.

Another style of AU is to move the characters into a different time. For example, what happens if you move the Fantastic Four into 1692 (another what if that was actually done)? Suddenly, you have to reinterpret the characters in terms of the technology that existed at the time. They couldn’t be irradiated in space, but it could be something mystical. Moving characters from modern Japan to feudal Japan, or vice versa, is another possibility.

For all of these things, the challenge is to preserve the essence of the canon characters, while making them fit the new setting. For example, Wolverine will always be a reckless, loose canon, even if he does have the current love of his life with him. Then again, he’ll be haunted by all the other women he’s lost, and the fear of losing one more. Cyclops, on the other hand, would turn into more of a wannabe tyrant. Bruce Banner as a teacher might not turn into a green monster, but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t flip tables and cause gas explosions that destroy the school every other week. But keep in mind, he will always be a nerd.

The purpose of all this is to keep the fans of your fandom able to identify with the characters that they love. Things will change, but part of the fun is keeping the characters recognizable through all those changes.

A more interesting “AU” is the cross-over. In this, you look at multiple fandoms and find a way to somehow merge them into a single story. For example, who doesn’t want to see the Hulk smash that goody two-shoes Superman into the core of the planet? Normally, this would be impossible (Marvel vs DC), but in cross-overs, this is what we want. For some settings, it’s as simple as pretending they didn’t happen to meet before. For example, Aliens/Predator is a canon mixture. Wouldn’t it be neat to watch Wolverine become the leader of the Predators as they tear through an alien hive? How would Wolverine deal with a race with fake claws? How would the Predators react to a puny human with built-in claws? How bad would alien blood-acid hurt Wolverine? Is adamantium immune to that acid?

When you have the characters from different fandoms meet, you have to take special care to think about how they’ll react to each other. It is very easy to let one group of characters or another fall out of character. For example, what if Bruce Banner and Clark Kent became besties? What if Hulk and Supes became gay lovers? At last, Supes found someone who can withstand his “passion”, and Hulk can give someone a hug. We are NOT recommending this! Hulk is violent, not tender. Superman protects the innocent from all threats, which Hulk certainly is. This is a ridiculous example, but some people would try to do just this sort of nonsense, warping both characters beyond recognition.

When the settings are more different, new challenges arise. Crossing Star Wars with Teletubbies, for example, probably shouldn’t ever be done. But if you want to, you have to justify how they encounter each other. The intergalactic travel of Star Wars will be your key, here. Magic, super-science, and time travel can all be used to justify a variety of cross-overs. You can also mix a cross-over with an AU, moving several groups of modern characters into medieval Europe, for example. The Dark Knight Vader and his marauding army of knights could run into the Hulkish Ogre. The AU setting justifies bringing whoever you want in.

All the things being discussed here are just extensions of why we write fanfiction. The difference is that with cross-overs and AUs, we’re deliberately moving away from canon. Sometimes, it’s far, far away from canon. Despite that, you still have to remember the elements that makes a good fanfiction. Have good characters that the fans will recognize. Have good relationships. Have a good story.

How to create a good Original Character

February 21, 2015

Okay, as promised in a couple Facebook groups, Sybil and I have some advice about OCs (Original Characters). As we go though this, we’re also going to be using M*A*S*H for our practical examples of how they work. Hopefully, you’ll find this entertaining and informative.

First, It’s important to understand that OCs are just one of several categories of characters. Using broad strokes, there are: Major Canon Characters, Minor Canon Characters, Background Canon Characters, and Original Characters. Major Canon Characters are the stars of the show. They appear in almost every episode/chapter. Hawkeye Pierce, Hotlips Houlihan, and Frank Burns are great examples of this. Minor Canon Characters are the ones that show up regularly, but generally only serve to help move things forward with the Major Characters. Radar O’Reilly, Sidney (the psychologist), and Klinger are good examples of this. Background Canon Characters are the ones that have to be there for setting, but almost never reveal anything about themselves. The cook (Igor), various MPs, and a handful of the nurses/orderlies are in this category. Then there are the Original Characters. We’ve decided to name ours Charles Emerson Winchester, III, a brilliant and talented surgeon whose wealthy family lives in Cape Cod.

There’s an important reason we have these four categories. A Major Character is someone that every fan knows. If you get their personality even slightly off, you will be in for a flame-fest the likes of which could do more damage to Tokyo than Godzilla. These are the characters that drive everything, and make people love the fandom. M*A*S*H would never be the same without Frank Burns getting tortured by Pierce and Hunnicutt.

Minor Characters are less well defined. They enable the plot, rather than driving it. You could swap out Klinger for Radar as the company clerk, and things would more or less run the same way. Things would play out somewhat differently, but they could both accomplish the same plot tasks. For these characters, you have a certain amount of freedom to interpret them as you wish. There are major personality elements you have to stick with, but they’re less rigid in a given situation. For example, we all know Klinger loves to wear dresses, but he wouldn’t change that much if he wore standard army issue fatigues.

Background Characters simply exist. We know there’s a cook that serves crappy food, and his name is Igor. He gets harassed for the horrible slop he produces, but he’s really just there to take abuse. If you focus a story on this character, you will essentially be developing an original character. There’s a brief outline of what he should be, but nothing that really limits you.

An Original Character is where you get to make up everything. For example, we’ve decided we’re sick and tired of having to write about that loser, “Ferret-face” Frank. He’s a nut, so we’ll just write him out as having gone insane, and have Charles get assigned to the MASH unit for some reason or other. Maybe have him slaughter a general at the gentleman’s game of cribbage or something. With the open bunk, he’ll be able to hang out with Hawkeye and Hunnicutt, and give them a bit of culture. MASH really needed more Wagner in the background.

If you’ve been paying attention, up to this point, you’ve no doubt noticed that this Winchester chap is starting to sound a bit like a Gary Stu (the male version of a Mary Sue). So at this point, we need to discuss what a Mary Sue is, and why it’s a problem. A Mary Sue is a character who is one of two things: either a character who is SO fabulously wonderful that they overshadow all the other characters, especially the canon heroes/female characters, or a character who exerts such powerful influence that they warp the personalities of the Major Canon Characters. If there’s a romantic bent involved, a Mary Sue would become Hawkeye’s permanent girlfriend/fiancé/wife, and would cause him to become a tea-totaler who never cracks a joke. Often, these characters are the expression of the author’s desire to be in the story (self insert) as the romantic interest of a given Major Canon Character. The result is a perfect character, with a perfected lover, and all other characters reduced to Minor Characters, at best.

The problem with that is simple: you have now twisted all the characters’ personalities and relationships into something that never existed in canon. Character flaws are essential to making a character relatable, and challenges are important for making a story interesting. Mary Sues destroy everything that made the fandom enjoyable: flawed characters driving the plot to the best of their ability, quirks and all.

So, Winchester could be an issue. We have to limit him a bit. No problem! First, let’s make him a blowhard. That should irritate Hawkeye and Hunnicutt, making him an immediate target of their pranks. Second, let’s make him a perfectionist surgeon. He can replace every organ in a person’s body with no problems, just give him twenty hours in a sterile environment and he’s good to go. Oh wait, he’s doing meatball surgery with artillery shaking dust into open wounds and missing supplies and no time. Third, he can neither relate to “commoners,” nor inspire them. Instead, his personality just irritates those around him, who view him as an arrogant snob with no empathy. If we toss in a scene where Hawkeye operates circles around him, we’ll finish establishing him as imperfect, and set the stage for all kinds of plot-driving interactions/conflicts.

The key to all characters is flaws, and we’ve just given our OC some big ones. We’ve strongly implied a background, we’ve provided a personality, and most importantly, we’ve established that the other characters will remain who they are. Now, to keep Winchester from being a villain, we need to give him some good points, too. He will be a good surgeon, and perhaps he’ll be a bit of a prankster, too. Maybe he’ll even be a decent guy when no one’s watching.

So, overall, the key to a good OC is the same as for any other character: you need a three-dimensional character who has flaws and strengths, has a relationship with the other characters that may alter the group dynamics, but won’t significantly change the individual characters, and ultimately feels like a real person. So here’s where we’re going to give you a few ideas to help you make sure you have a solid character. Many of these can be done with Canon Characters as well.

First: one of WP’s favorite exercises is to write “A Day in the Life of…” one-shots. For a Canon Character, he likes to pick a single scene, and write it from that character’s perspective, perhaps expanding it out to include breakfast, etc. Maybe write about Igor getting up in the morning to see the meager supplies in the kitchen, and desperately attempting to make something edible while anticipating getting verbally beat up by Hawkeye yet again.

Second: one of Sybil’s big tips is to make sure your OC is on an even footing with all the other characters. This means having a similar number of flaws, good points, abilities, etc. For example, Winchester and Hawkeye are BOTH great surgeons, but with different areas of expertise. Hawkeye tends to be an alcoholic, whereas Winchester tends to aggravate everyone around him (mainly with Wagner).

Third: when dealing with supernatural/super-powered fandoms, keep things under control. For examples, WP wrote a parody story about Mary Sue meeting the Cyborg 009 cyborgs. She had ALL their abilities. Her powers tended to interfere with each other, or her lack of practice would cause her to fail dramatically. With real Mary Sue stories, the fails don’t happen, and the OC makes all the others useless.

Fourth: you don’t need to described EVERYTHING about your character’s appearance/clothing/eyes. If you are spending three paragraphs painting a picture of your character, you are not worried about the things that make your character three-dimensional. Winchester is prematurely bald, tall, and slightly overweight. ‘Nuff said. Freaky colored eyes/hair is a no-no.

Fifth: Not everyone comes from a tragic background. Sometimes normal people or people without hardships, like Winchester, can be just as interesting to work with, and get dragged into these situations just as easily. Moreover, a character who is used to physical hardship will handle being in a MASH unit far better than our pampered prince.

Sixth: that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a background. Know who your character is, where he comes from, and why he’s in the story now. Winchester’s sister, the poorly named Honoria, stutters. His wealth gives him arrogance, but also causes him to annoy those around him with his “high culture”. His snobbishness actually prevents him from having fun with those he’s working with. You should have a clear idea why your character exists in the story.

Seventh: if you’re writing this story specifically so you can show off your wonderful OC, you’re probably a Suethor (writer of Mary Sues). This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write your story, but that you should be VERY cautious about what you’re doing. Here is a link to a well-done OC that was integrated well into the canon: http://embyquinn.tripod.com/gatchaman/miyabio.html . Miya has a history that is tightly integrated into the history of the canon characters, was a member of an actual bad-guy group, and has comparable abilities to the canon heroes. When she joins the canon heroes, she simply integrates as a sixth member of the group. She isn’t the star, she doesn’t drive Jun into the background, she simply is. A background as detailed as Miya’s is not necessary, but it’s a good example of what makes a GOOD OC. Unfortunately, it’s more likely that you’re writing something akin to My Immortal Beloved, where Harry Potter never even appears. In fact, the only canon thing is Hogwarts itself.

Eighth: make sure you think seriously about how your character will interact with the canon characters. WP made a bunch of Gundam Wing Mary Sue parodies specifically to show how the Major Canon Characters would actually interact with someone attempting to overwhelm their personality. Hawkeye is an alcoholic dealing with a hellish situation. Radar is a naive kid who happens to be a psychic and doesn’t really understand what’s happening. Winchester will wrap himself in snobbery and arrogance so he doesn’t risk feeling loss. When he fails to save a patient, he’ll have a breakdown. Being human will nearly destroy him. Ironically, it will be an alcoholic and an ignorant kid that help him recover.

As you should well know, Winchester is not our character, but when he was introduced to the story, he was, for all intents and purposes, an OC being thrust into a group of established characters. He had to blend in to be successful. What made him interesting was the friction that existed between him and the other characters. He was no more or less important than the others, and was forced to learn humility the hard way. Once that was done, his honor and nobility had a chance to show through, even when it trapped him in hell with the others. In the end, Winchester became another Major Canon Character, and the greatest prankster in camp.

Reading the Qu’ran

November 8, 2012

I’ve started reading the Qu’ran. It’s an English translation for Android: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.verypositive.Quran

I’m on the fourth Sura, and have come to one major conclusion: the Bible and Qu’ran can NOT both be true. The Qu’ran refers to a number of passages in both the Old Testament and the Gospels. When you compare them, it becomes very obvious that they are inconsistent with each other. Saul is credited with Gideon’s filtering of his soldiers by how they drank water. In the Qu’ran, Zechariah’s period of muteness is measured in days, not months.

While it should be obvious which I believe to correct, my point in this is that these are just two of many examples where they cannot both be true. Despite this, Muslims are encouraged to refer to the Old Testament and Gospels (it’s not clear to me that the letters are considered authoritative by Mohammed).

It begs the question, how do Muslims account for this discrepency? I’ve heard that Muslims believe the Biblical documents were altered into falsehoods, but it then becomes important to consider WHEN that alteration occurred, and whether we can reconstruct what the unaltered documents might be.

I’ll probably add more as I proceed, but these are things that really jump out at me.


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