For some reason, it seems as fanfic readers all the time come across the very same mistakes. They are executed all over again, no matter if the fanfic is from early 2005 or written a week ago. Here they are. Throwing in an advising tone, I recommend a fanfic writer to think about them and if we may deserve to be accused of actually being guilty of this.
We are in 2018 and when by mistake coming across one of my first written fanfics, I noticed the 2010 mark. Meaning that I have been an active writer for eight years by now. Wow, time passes indeed. Therefore I would like to claim that I have my fair experience within the area and can thereby share what I have learnt when it comes to mistakes.
1. Amateur Summary
How many times have we seen the sentence: ”English is not my first language,” in the summary? What it does is that it repels readers big time. Because those words reveal that if we obviously need to excuse the language, it probably means our story will be filled with bad grammar and basically a bad flow. So I would recommend that even if so be it, do not give that away as if we are writing it on our forehead. Simply do not. First of all, we scare readers away with those words. And secondly – what do we really want to say by telling people this? If we want an excuse for bad grammar, readers in general will never approve of that anyway. If it is bad grammar or a poorly written story they do not care how much of a native speaker we are or not.
Then we have the classic every section has tons of: ”Summary sucks, but I promise my story is better. Pls read.” So, we cannot write a proper and engaging summary in three lines but somehow want to convince the reader we are capable of writing a 50k+ story that will be thrilling all through? (I may go into a proper summary and how to attract readers in another post). But nailing a perfect summary is crucial to gain the greatest size of an audience – if that is what we aim for. A poorly written summary makes people go ”Nah,” and choose another one. Right now I checked in one of the categories which I tend to work within, and found this rather quick: ”*Liza* is a 10 year old seller. She’s manipulative and knows how to win debates. What happens when she joins a certain Mr Johnson on an adventure? (Description sounds cheesy but this story is going to be awesome, I swear).”
And maybe, maybe, maybe – this story is the one which could deserve the noble prize in literature. However, after spending more than two months searching among fanfics and obsessing about whatever shipping one may have – we figure out that when an author writes something like this, chances are about 99% the story actually will suck. So for the love of God, do not ever write down this in our summaries.
Before going on to the next example I want to point out the ”Pls read,” part. When shorting down words like that it seems slightly amateurish too. Like we are chatting with a friend in desperation. Because writing ”Please read,” is desperate. Really, it does not work. If we feel that inwardly, that please let someone read this, the best way to go is having a spot on summary that just captures the reader at once. The reader simply cannot let the story pass but just have to check it out. Now that is how to write a summary, which I also will get back to this in another post.
Another interesting one is ”REVIEW PLEASE,” by either having this already in a summary (which I find fascinating to press a reader to review before even knowing what there is to review), or in an author’s note. Again, it seems amateurish and desperate to write such in a summary. As if we need confirmation and have a lack of acknowledgement. Like a child on a family gathering walking among every relative to show off a paining it has made. ”Look Grandma, Grandpa, Daddy, Mommy and all what I have done. Isn’t it amazing?!” and everybody has to nod in agreement even if the image only contains an ugly drawing of a house but it really looks like an alien getting killed by a tree – everybody smiles warmly and encourages the child to continue drawing this fantastically. So this is basically the same sensation when people ask for reviews this way. Of course I am alright with authors asking for reviews, but there are different ways of doing so. Writing in caps lock sounds more of a demand rather than nicely putting out that you would appreciate it. But do not forget it is up to a reader if he or she decides to leave a few words.
”Don’t like, don’t read!” I can admit I never read these types of stories. Because what those words literally say are: My story probably stinks and I do not want you to tell me about it, I just want you to get hell out of here. I find it kind of rude and at the time I did open those I quickly learned that the author had a negative tone. Typically the story was not the best either. If we do our best and write a proper story, chances are tiny that someone will come and tell us it sucks. Not many people enjoys being mean and spreading negativity, so the risk of receiving bad critic in a review is small. Usually when losing a reader they simply just leave without notice. I can admit that the only times I have crossed negative reviews have been in stories that are totally out of character, has no story line and simply makes no sense. Unless we do that and actually try our best at giving fans a story, they will not give us hate.
Another one to look out for when writing our summary is ”This is my first fanfic.” It is no surprise that everything requires experience and to be a pro demands a lot of trying and failing. When I check my first fanfic I do a face-palm, because it sucks. Oh dear lord what it sucks. I have no clue what the hell I am doing, yet I remember well that when I wrote it I truly believed it was a masterpiece. This still happens to me as for today. After wrapping up a fanfic and with pride putting it out there, it takes a year or so before my nose twitches. We grow quickly and always increase our skills. The first fanfic will rarely be the best we write and therefore by marketing our first fanfic as the first, is in rare cases the best idea. Compare it to soccer and you are about to begin a game. Which player would you choose? The one playing since it began to walk or the one who has never seen a football before? When a reader is in search of a story I would bet my money that this person looks for one which seems to be well executed.
Alright, now I hope we know what to avoid when doing a summary to our masterpieces. Going on to…
2. Not Coming Up With Something Unique
Too often when going through a category/shipping we find ourselves wrapped in the same storylines all over again. Everybody writes about the same conflict and in the end of the day we cannot separate the stories we have read as they all are quite similar. Often this happens when a franchise leave with a cliffhanger and the audience interprets in a particular way. Surely it is what is popular and probably what the readers want to see as well.
An idea can be to put our own twist on it. By that I mean that we shall twist the conflict somewhat. For example I will drive the whole moment from Fast and Furious when we at the end of Fast Five found out that Letty probably was alive – man fanfics boomed in the category – and all wanted to write the stories of when Dom hunted her down. Many got quite similar with a start of Dom finding out, him freaking out and then tracking down the captured Letty to rescue the damsel in distress (which her character actually is the opposite of). After beginning the third story we all knew what was going to happen throughout the story and really did not need to finish reading it without knowing how it will dissolve. To avoid this I suggest to plan the story out well and have a few twists and surprises to differ from the other stories aiming for the same outcome.
The best according to me are the authors who manage to bring in something completely unique. A unique concept that we can sum up in one or two sentences and put in our summary. Usually those writers tend to be the most successful ones as far as what I have come across.
In addition, I want to bring up the importance of having a clear conflict. What is the problem? Why are we writing a story? The better the conflict is defined, the better the story. Or rather, and I quote this: ”The graver the conflict the better the story.” (Do not remember the source but snapped it up from a screenwriter). And it is true. Not many people have the energy to read a story about our favorite character simply going grocery store shopping.
3. Abandoning The Story
This unfortunately happens too often and many experienced readers may not even open our story until a few chapters into it. They may also even wait to see the response of others and if it is well received. There are just too many authors giving up on their story and leaving it hanging. I find it highly important to finish whatever we start, as it shows our commitment and that the audience can trust us. By doing so, each time we finish a story, it will result in higher rates from the beginning of our following stories. As the reader knows we will upload until it is finished and not leave it at a cliffhanger after just one chapter. Or worse – in the middle of it. To avoid this setup I like to recommend having a notebook nearby or a program on the computer where we can write a short page with notes of the complete storyline. Starting a story without a plan is according to me impossible. At least if aiming for a good outcome.
Before we start a story it can be necessary to sit down and make a detailed plan on what we want to achieve, a little dialogue and actions, some characteristic events and highlight the climax of our fanfic. How can we build up the thrilling emotion to its maximum? Also, this keeps our authors motivated to continue writing because we are so keen on writing this particular climax and give it to our readers. And we must not feel discouraged if the readers do not pick up the story at once. But keep going and deliver a good story. Readers may find this story years after it is published and fall head over heels in love with it in the future. Therefore my recommendation of reaching the end.
4. Typos/Grammar Mistakes
Not only can too many typos and too many grammar mistakes disturb the eye of a reader. It can also cause confusion at points when it becomes another word/meaning. Look out for this!
5. Do Not Tell, Show
As easy as the title. When a character constantly speaks what it thinks or what it feels… let’s imagine that happening in a movie? Do not those type of movies suck? It leaves absolutely no mystery at all and in general it is not believable. It definitely kills the vibe and thrill of a story.
So instead of doing this, show. Show by actions that a character cares for another one. Show by its behavior what it thinks and what the opinion of something is. Describe the person’s reaction rather than letting the dialogue do all the information we get. I think any dialogue should be when we cannot possibly cause a thrill without having a bit of dialogue. I agree with the opinion that dialogue should strengthen the events rather than the opposite.
6. Jumping Into It Too Quickly/Not Have A Plan
In another post I will help out with focusing on a proper plan, but I will shorten down the basics here. I suppose we all have opened a story and thought about how this is going to be such a great read. We hit the pillow to fluff it and let our back sink into it while keeping the phone, iPad or whatever readable item in a strong grip in front of our eyes. We have just come across the greatest summary, just what we searched for! But after the first few pages the story has reached its peak and the rest is plateau. It is apparent that the author misses a plan and just creates a bit of ”local” unnecessary drama and as result the storyline becomes worse than boring.
Unfortunately, this seems to be not so uncommon. In fact I cannot count how many times I have met these… It is such a disappointment. Every time I notice that I have just faced yet another one of those stories I make a mental note to perhaps send this particular author a notebook and a working inc pencil. I cannot stress the importance of proper planning.
Jumping into the climax of the story too quickly kills the thrill. With this, if we are writing a love story of an OTP, the readers probably want a good exciting story that keeps them on the edge of their seats. They cannot wait for that special kiss or when they finally end up together. Then it becomes too bad when we give them what they want right from start. Because when we have reached it there is no real point in continuing the story.
An example from the daily life. We are hungry. We long for food. So we sit down on a restaurant and there are two hours until the main course is served. We are given small pieces of bread in the meantime to keep us there. So we will probably sit there those two hours in anticipation of this main course plus the hour in addition to finish the plate. Versus if we enter and sit down, get served right at once and we are probably out in half an hour. Do you see the connection I try to make? It is the same with writing. Because I dare to guess not many people will sit there for two and half hours just to stare after feeling full and the plate has gone to the dishes. Right?
This also joins the problem of some authors writing either too long stories or too short chapters. Some writers just love the idea of going several hundreds of thousands of words and present new conflict after conflict. While some can be a cozy little soap opera episode kind of like, some stories just get tiring. We need to try to define what we want to deliver and say (again, referring to having a plan).
Not much becomes more frustrating than short chapters. We can easy tell when an author wants to fish for reviews and I suppose splitting a story into more chapters ”than necessary” is a way to go. However it kinds of make one snap out of the the trance from the story when we constantly have to switch page. Some writers give chapters of 10k+ in words. I suppose that in my opinion the perfect chapter contains between 2000-10 000 words. But really, there is no right or wrong and everybody does of course as it pleases. Although if it can be to any help, writing too short are not even always within the guidelines on several fanfic sites. And another note from experienced readers is that the first impression of the author’s story can get destroyed by the thought of wondering how much an author really can manage deliver in such short chapters. Just a note!
7. Over-Describing A Character
A wild guess – when a reader comes across our story and has clicked on it, chances are high that this person is obsessing over a shipping. He or she is going through a period of time when he or she will spend nights awake reading fanfics until sunrise. Maybe even forgetting to eat (not good!) that when someone calls that dinner is ready, this person will bring it on a plate into its bedroom to bunker up. This means that it probably knows all about the characters and the universe, unless we write an AU (Alternative Universe). Spending several paragraphs depicting every single little detail of a character or environment are two unnecessary things. It is here among tons of other rules that an original story differs from a fanfic.
One typical thing when describing the overly hot character is telling the reader about what kind of clothing the character wears, what make-up or hairstyle etc. Remember that ”hot” is defined in various ways. As they say, attractiveness lays in the viewer’s eye. One afternoon when I for example sat on a beach near the ocean on a towel, I was reading a fanfic that had caught my fullest attention every free minute I had over during the past days. Suddenly out of nowhere the author decides to inform about how this hot well known character looks like. Note that it did not precisely agree to how it looks in the movies. As the author presumably described the hottest version of this one, I could not agree less and had to stop reading. Because it completely destroyed the mental picture I had over the story.
Therefore I register to describe them with cautious fingers typing on the keyboard. Just saying that someone appears in a certain way let the readers get an image in their minds which is true to them. And so on the story becomes the best version it possibly can be. That way it is different, unique and what everybody wants to see for each individual reading it. A mistake would be to put out every single detail – according to my opinion. I think it is better to leave a little to the person’s imaginations. Additionally, the majority of the audience knows the characters as the back of their hands. No need to point it all out because it is ”unnecessary” facts.
8. Out Of Character
Following the previous title I quote again, ”Fans know the characters as the back of their hand.” Which means that they will notice at once when the character is not following its pattern. Nothing makes a story worse than when a character is not acting like itself. Unless there is a reason why. Keeping the character in character is an art and talent, yet the most important task when wanting to achieve a bombass fanfic.
A fan can tell rather quickly if we know the characters/fandom well or not. A major checkpoint to this is definitely if the characters are true or not. To give us a good example I can inform about the many times I have read fanfics which takes place in 1700s France. The F-word simply does not suit. And the general way of how we speak and utter words today occurred differently back then and to make the story believable I think one should follow what was suitable back then.
Not only dialogue is the single focus but also actions. What is believable for a character to execute during the 1700s? This can be switched the opposite way. Is is believable that a character is acting like one from the 1700s when she or he lives in Manhattan during the 21st century? It can really be something to look over. Different genres, universes and characters require different language in our stories.
Another thing worth mentioning is character development. Something I have examined extra carefully lately as I have dug into screenwriting. Without really thinking over it before I noticed that my stories actually do have it. And I figured out the pattern that the better character development, the higher success my stories had. In another post I can go through the whole stage-points I think every writer should know about. But here I can let you know this wrapped-up-information I think every/most stories should contain:
- Introduce character.
- Debating on the offer.
- Deciding to do it.
- Everything goes well.
- Everything seems to go wrong and all readers wonder how in the world we as writers will solve it.
- The character must face and overcome its weakness to achieve its goal.
- The end.
It can sound cliche, as most feel good stories go down this road. But there is a reason why. It works. And the best stories in my opinion are the ones managing this pattern with a twist, with surprises along the way and such a grand surprise at the end. Those who have the talent, or are well planned ahead, that when readers are at point 6 they sit there and musingly rub their foreheads – wondering if they really will reach a happy ending. Because how can possibly the author solve the grand problem it has caused? And then the reader should have missed the tiny traces the author has left along the story to be able to wrap it up graciously towards the end, resulting in the reader having its jaw on the floor in awe. THOSE, are the best authors if you ask me.
To Sum Up
There is no right and wrong and we must not get discouraged of this text. It is supposed to help us to grow as writers and everybody can always get better. Including me. From my very own experience these are my words in forms of advice and tips of how to increase better skills in writing, particularly fanfics. Good luck and go writing!