Archive for March, 2015

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.