So in our Forms of Fandom: Fanfiction article, we (I) included a few bits of advice when engaging with it. But there weren’t very many, and they got a bit jumbled up with the rest of it, so here’s a few things to keep in mind if and when you decide to give it a go.
- Write what you want to write – Obviously, if you’re writing fanfiction, you want people to read it. Even better, you want people to review it, because it helps you to improve. And, yes, there are certain genres in every fandom that get more readers, whether it’s because of the ship, or the original genre, or any number of things. That doesn’t make your story ‘wrong’, just different, and you will do a far better job writing something you want to write than you will trying to fit in with the masses. More importantly, you’ll keep your motivation longer as well.
- You can’t please everyone – in every story, you will have at least one reviewer who says “Can you make … happen?” If that happens to fit with your storyline and you want to, go ahead. If not, don’t. It’s your story, not theirs. In my very first Harry Potter story, I had one reviewer who, whilst loyal, kept asking me to remove Ron from the equation. I ignored it, and eventually got a message along the lines of “I can’t read this story anymore”. Well, good for you, buddy. It’s still my story. Bottom line is, everyone who reads your story will be hoping for something to happen next. Some people will be pleased by it, some people won’t, some people will make suggestions about what should happen next. Thank them for their input, but remember – it’s your story. Which brings me to …
- Be grateful to your reviewers – A lot of people lurk on fanfiction sites – I know, I’m guilty of it myself – and you can’t always tell if they’ve enjoyed the story. Some sites – like Wattpad and AO3 – have an option to vote for or like a story, which does give you a better view of the story’s reception. It’s quicker to do that than write a review. So when you get a review, thank that person. You don’t have to message them all back personally – that can be quite time consuming – but just add an author’s note to the next chapter. If it’s a particularly long and helpful review, take the time to message them and let them know that you’re grateful for their feedback.
- Ask questions – Before you do anything, you need inspiration: questions are your friend. What happened when …? What if …? Who is s/he …?
- Know your storyline – This seems like an obvious one, but you need to do this, before you start writing. You don’t have to plan your story the way they taught you at school, but you need to know where your characters are coming from, where they’re going and, most importantly, how they’re going to get there.
- The journey is important – It’s very easy, and I know, because I still do it, to get caught up in where you want your characters to get to, be it a fight, or a relationship, or an important revelation in the story. But don’t rush the journey there. Take your time. The devil’s in the detail.
- Know your characters – With fanfiction, that’s a bit easier, because we know the characters already. At the same time, it can also make it harder, because your readers know the characters as well, and they can be very quick to jump on something that is ‘out of character’ (see above RE: you can’t please everyone). Again, questions are your friend – at school, you will have been given the obvious: ‘What do they like/dislike?’, ‘What do they look like?’, ‘Who are they friends with?’ Your challenge now is to ask ‘why?’ What happened in their life to make them like this? Why do they react in certain ways? Above all, what is their motivation?
- Don’t fan the flames – At some point, you will get negative feedback. It is inevitable (see above RE: you can’t please everyone). It would be lovely to think that all negative feedback is constructive, but it isn’t. Even when it is constructive, it hurts. If and when this happens, take a step back, exit your email, and do something else for AT LEAST an hour. Leave it a day or two if possible. DO NOT react instantly, because you will say something you will regret and make it worse. Sometimes, especially with constructive criticism, when you go back to it, you realise that it’s not as bad as it could be. Sometimes, it’s worse. The best thing you can do is send them a polite message back, saying “Thank you for your feedback, I appreciate that you took the time to send me this”. First of all, it makes you the better person. Second of all, it may be that they didn’t mean it sound as harsh as they did. It’s difficult to judge tone on a computer screen. If the ‘review’ was something along the lines of “this sucks ur the worst writer in the world go die” – thankfully, I’ve never had one like that, but you see some things – chances are, it’s a troll. Report them to the admin and don’t feed them.
- Rate appropriately – I really can’t stress this enough. It’s difficult to judge sometimes, I know, but do your best. Sometimes, the difficulty comes from culture. Where I live, for example, the word ‘damn’ is not considered a bad one. I have read stories where it is starred out. Some sites automatically filter M and MA rated stories out so you have to specifically search for them, and it can be tempting to rate your story lower so it can be seen by a wider audience. Don’t. There are children on these sites, and we don’t want to ruin their innocence too early now, do we? At the risk of turning into Inception:
K – No language or violence or shippy stuff at all. Not even a punch or a kiss.
K+ – More uncommon these days. Maybe a few hugs and kisses, still no language or violence.
T – Teen. Think a 15-rated movie. Mild language, mild violence, sex implied but not on screen.
M – Mature. Strong language, violence, sex on screen but with no real detail.
MA/E – Mature Adult (or Explicit). Does what it says on the tin. Strong language, strong violence, explicit sex.
If you drop the F-bomb – Again, it’s a cultural thing. I wouldn’t have a problem with one or two in a Teen fic, but make sure you add warnings. More regular than that should really be rated no lower than Mature.
- Tag your warnings – Make sure readers are warned of sensitive issues. Aside from covering yourself if younger readers get hold of it, you can risk triggering people if you don’t (See our earlier Tips on Exploring Difficult Issues).
- Avoid self-inserts – By which I mean, avoid making yourself into a character and put yourself into the story, it rarely works. I have seen people do it well, but you do risk that person turning into a Mary-Sue or Gary-Stu. Speaking of which:
- Watch your Original Characters – I get it. I do. I have original characters, of which I am frighteningly protective. And there’s nothing better than an original character who blends in seamlessly with the rest of the cast (See the Harry Potter Dangerverse stories for an example). But be careful. There are a lot of stories in which our OC comes sweeping in, either stunningly beautiful or exceedingly handsome, the main character (and most other people) absolutely adores them, and, of course, they’re brilliantly intelligent and powerful, and they can do everything, and … They’re Mary Sues, basically. Your characters have to have flaws. At the same time, it’s important not to give them a flaw for the purpose of having a flaw. They need motivation (see above). Example: They’re self-centred. Why are they self-centred? Were they an only child, spoiled by their parents? On the flip-side, were they neglected, and now crave attention?
- Be cruel – By this, I don’t mean too cruel. You don’t need to take your main character’s parents away, dump them with people who hate him and abuse him, then throw him into a fight he can’t possibly win to be a successful author. Obviously, it worked for JK Rowling, but even she cut Harry a break every so often. But your characters need conflict. There is no couple in the world that has never argued. Once again, though, consider the motivation. Don’t cause conflict for conflict’s sake.
- Check your spelling – You have spell-check and Google. There is no excuse for: “Sory abot da speling but not to good at riting.” [You have no idea how much I want to correct this. -Ed.] Aside from anything else, I now have red and blue squiggly lines all over my screen. You don’t have to be great at spelling and grammar to write well, but you do have resources to help you. Ask a friend to proof-read, or ask one of your readers if they’d be willing to proof-read for you.
- Have fun – If you don’t, there’s no point in doing it!
Well, that’s all of my tips for now – if you’ve got any of your own, let us know in the comments below!
Roxanne Williams (can’t please everyone)