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Twelve Tips to improve your fanfic writing - do you agree?

Joined
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I was browsing through the various tabs at the top of the Buffy Boards and found a resource on tips to improve fanfiction writing:
which originally came from here:
They mostly follow the same tips that all these things do - repeating advice we've all heard 100 times (see the similarities between Wayne's list and the ones on Coley's video here)

And I thought it might be fun for us to discuss how much of these we do, which ones of these we agree with and if there's any here that actually we think is bad advice. (Not that I want to prejudice anyone against Wayne and whether or not he is the best person to be giving advice on improving quality of content - but the Buffy Board version of this calls it 'twelve tips', Wayne's website titles it 'Eleven tips' and as the end he writes ' just follow these ten tips...' I've counted - the Buffy Boards got the number right!)

So here are my thoughts - I'd love to hear yours :)

*************

1) Avoid Starting a Story With A Long Narrative Passage: Readers are more interested in reading about something as it happens (showing them action) than they are about reading a character or narrator telling them what's happening. Starting a story with a slow-moving narrative passage was the most common mistake I found during a recent survey of 377 X-Files authors. Avoid their mistake and you'll stand out as a better-than-average author. Start with lively action, capture your reader's interest by quickly introducing a mystery, and you'll be assured that they will stay with your story.

Hmmm - for me I guess I would have to ask what constituted a 'slow moving narrative passage'. Who decides if it is slow moving or not? Wayne says he did a recent survey of 377 X Files authors - and this is what he found was the most common mistake but I'm unclear as to if he means he asked 377 authors and this is what the majority of them said they didn't like (which I suppose is fair enough and quite robust research) or does he mean he just read the work of 377 different authors and as he believes this is a mistake he saw it happen lots of times. He says 'I found' which suggests it's him reading rather than asking other people what they think ... but just because he doesn't like an opening narrative passage doesn't make it a mistake. And the fact it is used commonly suggests most people are OK with them.

When I think about all the great first lines of literature that I can quote from the top of my head:
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of good fortune must be in want of a wife.
Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number four Privet Drive were proud to say they were perfectly normal thank you very much.
Last night I dreamed I was at Mandaley again.
Marley was dead: to begin with
It was a bright, cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen

... they're all the beginnings of narrative passages.

I think the opening of a story and the right way to do it is going to change depending on genre, length, whether it's the first story in this world or a sequel - and there should be no hard and fast rules as to what is the 'right' way to do something. I think it's Hardy that is famous for ridiculously long descriptive passages - like in The Mayor of Casterbridge - and a lot of people don't like them... but he's been successful for 200 years, so obviously there is an audience out there for that way of writing. There is no one size fits all answer to how to start a story and citing your own personal preference as the 'right' way is not a helpful tip.

I guess if I was going to give tips on how to open a story I would say work on that first sentence - make it memorable, make it pithy or clever, make it stand out - whether that's by making it short and sharp or lyrical and beautiful or funny or shocking - whatever fits with the story you're writing. And then plan out from there what needs to come next. Don't pad out with unnecessary information just to burn word count - but don't skim over important info because you're worried about making it too slow. How quickly you need to introduce the world and the characters will differ depending on how long the story will be, but in a multi-chapter story both should have been introduced by the end of the first chapter... though of course there will be great literary classics that do none of that, because there really is no hard and fast rule as to what makes good writing.

2) Show, Don't Tell: Don't tell your reader that something's beautiful, show them by describing it and have them discover its beauty for themselves. Better still, Show the reactions the beauty inspires in your characters. This adds life and movement to the scene.

This is advice that I think is better used on visual media than written. Because of course it makes a difference in a piece of television to have your characters out and doing something rather than sitting around spouting exposition. However, when you're writing - no matter how you write it - you're still narrating. You're still telling. I can describe a beautiful sunset without using the word 'beautiful' but at the end of the day, I'm still telling you that the 'crimson glow lit up the sky like it was on fire'. I'm just being more descriptive ... and getting the balance of description right can be a tricky thing - too much and the whole thing becomes ridiculous and overprosey.

On a T.V show you can have a character say 'I'm sweating with fear' or you can have a bead of sweat roll down their brow and their expression tell you they are afraid. But in a story 'he was sweating' vs 'a bead of sweat rolled down his brow' doesn't create the same amount of difference - they're still both written statements. And as to whether or not to go with the short matter of fact statement vs the description is going to come down to what the scene is, what the surrounding sentences are - do you want it to be short and punchy? Go with matter of fact. Do you want to paint a picture? Go with the description - both can be utilised to create a feeling of tension/ anxiety/ whatever. When writing you should change between longer and shorter sentences - pick the one that fits the paragraph best, not the one that would tick the most boxes if you were 8 and handing it in to the teacher to demonstrate you can use adjectives.

I think where show and tell is actually important in writing is in character attributes. You can write how amazing and powerful and intelligent a character is until your fingers ache and your hands seize up, but at some point they're actually going to have to do something in the story that backs it up. It isn't enough for the narrator or other characters to say she is clever - she has to say smart things, she has to figure something out. Her actions have to back up the narration otherwise the narration is meaningless.
Even worse than praise that is never earned though, is when the actions of the character directly contradict the narration. So the narrator or the other characters tell us how amazing someone is but not only are they not doing anything amazing, they're actually a liability who does everything wrong - but no one in world ever seems to notice. The narration tells us what a great guy he is - but he's a liar who gets violently angry at the drop of a hat and screams horrible things at his dearest friends ... who never hold it against him and later admit he was right all along to treat them that way. When you show the character to be one thing through their words and actions but insist they are the opposite in your narration, your readers will lose all trust in you.
Being consistent and showing receipts for why you describe a character the way you do is much more important to good writing than writing: 'his face was white as a sheet and his breath was ragged, his limbs were trembling' instead of: 'he was afraid'.

So that's what show don't tell means to me, in a story. It's not write a big long flowery description to describe action or feelings - and dance around using the actual words like 'angry' or 'sad' or 'beautiful'. It's utilising the action and the dialogue to prove that a character is smart and capable, or irredeemably evil, or whatever it is you want them to be and not just informing us in the narration or having another character say 'well of course Willow is terribly smart and capable'.

3) Avoid Repetition: Repetition turns up in many different forms, all of them bad. Here's a few to avoid: Don't use the same word twice close to each other. This applies to prefixes and suffixes too. Don't describe a person as being excited and then say that he or she said something excitedly. The context should show they said it excitedly. Don't place sentences that are the same length next to each other. Don't use two phrases to describe the same thing (like a drunk staggering and stumbling).

Hard disagree on all repetition being bad. Repetition is a literary tool and can be very effective if used correctly. Yes it's better to not have to use the same word close together -sometimes it's unavoidable. Synonyms are not always your friend. It is a sad fact of the English language that there is no word for 'eyes' but 'eyes' - so if you need to use 'eyes' twice in quick succession then that is what you have to do. Do not - under any circumstances - be tempted to substitute 'eyes' for 'orbs'. 'Orbs' sounds like a euphemism for testicles ... and that makes for a very different sentence. And tell me honestly, when was the last time you used 'orbs' for 'eyes' when you were having an actual conversation?... Exactly. So don't use it in your writing.

I would also argue that 'like a drunk, staggering and stumbling' is a far more effective, descriptive and interesting sentence than 'like a drunk, staggering.'

Repetition can be bad - but it's by no means a definite no no (ha! - see what I did?) and can be used well to emphasise a point or paint a picture. It can also be good for humour.

4) Avoid Cliches: Cliches are commonly used phrases like raining cats and dogs. Cliches can also show up in characters: the prostitute with a heart of gold, and plots: the cavalry riding to the rescue at the last moment.

This one is a bit wide reaching and so maybe not very helpful. Putting idioms and common phrases in your work is fine - people say them, so it's fine to include them. Certainly, don't put one in every sentence but they are part of the language and are there to be used to convey an idea. Everyone will understand what you mean and clear communication is vital to good writing.

And then moving straight on to characters and plot - which is massively different to using 'cliche' phrases and an entirely separate part of writing a story (plot development and character development are a different skill set to narration or dialogue) - how is someone deciding if it is a cliche, a stereotype, an archetype or a trope? Archetypes and tropes are tools of storytelling - you cannot possibly avoid them all nor should you try to. Readers like recognising the archetypes and being able to predict what will happen. They also enjoy them being subverted - but you can't subvert them without building them up in the first place (and if you subverted them every single time, that would become cliche). I think readers would tire of a story very quickly if they found nothing recognisable within it and couldn't compare it to something they already knew.

So yeah - this one, cliche is not very well defined, no explanation as to why not use it, no hint as to what to do instead and no distinction between 'cliche' (bad) and 'trope/archetype' (useful tool). It sounds good 'avoid cliches' but one person's cliche is another's favourite trope of all time. A linguistic cliche could work beautifully in a sentence, or set up a subversion or work as a joke.

I generally don't like any 'avoid' advice tbh. I don't think anything should be 'avoided' full stop - I think if it works in the context, use it. If you use it well, nothing should be off limits (apart form 'orbs' as 'eyes' - that is off limits).

5) Avoid Qualifiers: Adjectives and adverbs help clarify verbs but they also weaken their impact. A better solution is to find a more descriptive verb that shows the reader what you want him to see.

See above. Don't avoid anything. Use what works best in the sentence. If a person is 'walking' then a more descriptive verb is inappropriate. They can 'walk slowly' they can 'walk quickly' - but if you have them 'flouncing' 'stomping' or 'drifting' that changes the image of what they are doing. If they're 'flouncing' down a street then they look like a right weirdo. 'Dawdling' is a lovely word - but if they're not dawdling, don't use it. Walking and dawdling are not direct synonyms. A person dawdling is wasting time, a person walking slowly is moving along - getting where they're going - just not with any urgency. If all they're doing is 'walking' then say that. If you want to convey the speed at which they do it, in order to clarify mood or urgency then add a qualifier.

It comes back to synonyms not always being your friend. You choose the best and clearest word for the idea you want to communicate - not the longest, most impressive or most obscure one.

6) Keep Modifiers Close to the Word They Modify: Consider the following:

Sam smashed the brass knuckles into Jeff's face covered with studs.

This extreme example makes it sound like Jeff's face is covered in studs. It reads more clearly as:

Sam smashed the brass knuckles covered with studs into Jeff's face.

Most of the time this mistake is more subtle than this example but can still confuse the reader.


This one is fair enough . Always read back your work and rearrange your sentence structure as necessary. Sometimes the sentence in your head doesn't read back the way you intended it and you should check for that. Sometimes it can involve an entire rewrite because you can't find a place to fit the information so it still makes sense. If that's the case. decide if the modifier is strictly necessary. Do we need to be told the brass knuckles are covered in studs? Are we not getting enough of an image from 'brass knuckles' by themselves?

7) Don't Use "--- said" If It's Not Needed: When only two people are talking, you only need he said and she said a couple of times in the beginning of the dialog. Readers are smart enough to follow who's talking from then on.

I agree you don't need 'said' on every line of dialogue, if it's a conversation between two people (and even if it's between more, find ways to tell us who is talking without using 'said' - or a synonym thereof - every time). But I disagree that you should use it a couple of times at the start and then not again. If the dialogue goes on for more then 5 lines the reader will start to lose sight of who is talking and have to go back and check which character is speaking the odd lines and which one the even, and then count to see what number line they are on. Rather, establish who is speaking to whom at the start and then 5 sentences later check in again - whether that's using another 'said' or indicating it another way - like starting the line 'Buffy nodded her head:' before writing her line of dialogue. And then back to back and forth - and another check in a few sentences later.

8) Use Contractions in Dialog: That's how real people talk. It'll make your dialogs read smoother and more realistic.

Yep - unless you're writing Mr. Data... but dialogue has a 'ue' at the end of it. Dialog is just ugly.

9) Cut Out Extraneous Words: Most fan fiction fails to read smoothly because authors use more words to describe a scene than are needed. The result is that the story reads unevenly. This is also called overwriting. Imagine you have to pay for each word in your story and the ones that can be cut will stand out. Give words like the, and, even, and just an extra hard look. Many times these can be dropped to make the passage sound more dynamic and active.

While I agree with the bit in bold - I disagree with what is classed as an extraneous word. For me, extraneous is an overabundance of adjectives, or descriptive phrases - as the whole 'show don't tell' doesn't work in a non-visual medium - it's all telling, so don't labour the point. Just tell it in an interesting way. Whereas words like 'the' 'and' 'even' and 'just' are free words. Our minds skip over them, they are background. So they can add clarity and precision - but the reader won't really notice they are there. Nevertheless, their overall reading experience will have been better because of them.

Names are also free words. You can say 'Buffy' three times in a sentence and it will not stand out or jarr as much as just one use of 'the blonde'. Epithets for characters should always be used sparingly ... and no one should ever be described by their hair colour alone. She isn't a 'blonde' she is a 'blonde woman' or a 'blonde slayer', if comparing her to Faith or Kendra.

10) Conquer "-ly" confusion: What's the difference between the following two sentences:

He smells bad.

He smells badly.

The first sentence states that the man in question has a bad odor. The second says that there is something wrong with his nose and he isn't able to smell effectively. These examples demonstrate that the -ly suffex is used to convert an adjective into an adverb. Mastering this simple rule will help clarify what you are trying to say about a character.


This is a weird one. First of all I don't know why any writer would have so called 'ly confusion' unless English wasn't their first language in which case ... give them a break. Native English speakers will know how these words affect the sentence ... so this essentially boils down to 'don't use the wrong word' - which ... duh!

However, even assuming 'ly confusion' is a thing (I don't think it is) in the example he gives it isn't actually bad and badly where the variation occurs (they can be used interchangeably in the right sentence) - it's in the verb 'smell'. For example if you changed it to 'he felt bad' vs 'he felt badly' .. they mean the same thing. Ditto 'he felt guilt'/ 'he felt guilty' - because 'felt' is performing the same role in both sentences. However change it to 'he smells guilt'/ 'he smells guilty' - in the first one he can scent guilt on the air, in the second other people can smell guilt upon him. Because smell is either the action of sniffing or the odour coming off something. So the real advice should be - understand that sometimes the same verb can refer to different actions, and then use the correct adjective/ adverb to make the meaning of the verb clear. But that's essentially ... understand the English language and use it properly. And again - native speakers will do that, non-native speakers - give them a break.

11) Rewrite: Always rewrite your story several times, preferably with a couple of weeks break between each one, before posting it on the net. The key to good rewriting is to proof read slowly. Writers are so familiar with their work that when they look at it they don't really read but just skim it; their memories fill in the words they jump over. The hazard is that this permits mistakes to be jumped over as well. Maintaining a list of mistakes you repeatedly make will help focus your attention on them during proof readings.

I would say 'edit' rather than 'rewrite'. 'Rewrite' suggest literally writing it again - don't reinvent the wheel. But do go back over it and check it makes sense, cut out unnecessary parts, rejig things, add bits in, check for continuity. Obviously this is much easier since the dawn of computers - literal rewrites will be necessary if you're working on paper. And if you're struggling with a section, copy and paste the original to another document, make your changes to the story - repeat as necessary. That way, if you decide actually you had it right first time, you still have the first draft to paste back in. Don't publish until you think it's exactly how you want it - then leave it a couple of weeks before you check one last time. And always do a final proof read before you hit 'publish'.

12) Use a Spellchecker: You work hard to draw your reader into the world of your story. A single misspelled word is like a slap in the face to a reader; it shocks him or her out of the story by reminding them that it's just something they're reading.

Fair enough. Though 'a single misspelled word is like a slap in the face to a reader' is a bit melodramatic. Do your best but, in a work of any significant length, you'll never get them all - and many readers won't notice them because our minds fill in so much of what we expect to see that they will skim the mistake and correct it without realising. Even properly published books, which have been through agents, editors and proofreaders still have one or two typos in them.

********


So what do you think of Wayne's tips (and his counting abilities?) Do you agree with him? What would your tips for improving fanfic writing be?
 

Priceless

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1) Avoid Starting a Story With A Long Narrative Passage:
Completely agree with this. If I open a fanfic and am met with a huge wall of words, I tend to switch off. And most fanfic writers are not Hardy and cannot get away with it. I like short punchy paragraphs, and I can only hope I write in the way I like to read, though others should be the judge of that.

2) Show, Don't Tell:
This is the number one piece of writing advice everyone gives. Not easy to do, but I think it's worth it for your readers. I personally don't need consistency in character as long as inconsistency is explained rationally. Humans aren't consistent, and how dull if there were, so I don't mind if characters say one thing and do another or do one thing one day and the opposite the following day. That's just people.

3) Avoid Repetition:
4) Avoid Cliches:
Hard agree on both of these. Though I think cliches are hard to avoid, as everything has pretty much been said and done in fanfic, it's really hard to find something new.

5) Avoid Qualifiers:
This tends to slow the story down for me. Sometimes the basics just work and you should stick with them.
6) Keep Modifiers Close to the Word They Modify:
7) Don't Use "--- said" If It's Not Needed:
8) Use Contractions in Dialog:
10) Conquer "-ly" confusion:
12) Use a Spellchecker:
All this is just basic English/grammar skills, which I am not great on, but that's why you need a great Beta reader/editor, someone who is completely honest with you.

11) Rewrite:
This is a biggie. I would advise, if you have the time and inclination, to rewrite several times, just keep rewriting until you and your Beta agree it's good enough. But of course you can get stuck in the 'it's not good enough to show to the world' frame of mind, which is a killer - have confidence and just go for it.

My best advice would be to get a great Beta Reader, someone you trust who will be completely honest with you. That's actually a tough ask, because no one wants to hurt your feelings, but they have to be strong enough to tell you when your writing in poor and needs reworking. A good Beta can make your story a thousand times better and help make you a better writer.

By the way, I adore Coley and wish she'd enter the buffyverse fandom . . . 😄
 

Ethan Reigns

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I agree with his attitude that you should not be formulaic about what constitutes good writing but adhere to good grammatical rules. Writing follows fads and fashions and what is in vogue now may not remain that way, such as the four pages of description of Casterbridge in Hardy's "The Mayor of Casterbridge". It was a success in that when I saw the movie "Far from the Madding Crowd" when the scene changed to Casterbridge, it was exactly as I had imagined it in my mind. That's good writing - just not fashionable at the moment.

I have run across a few more nuggets of bogus advice I often see about writing:

13) Rush the first draft: One piece of advice I often see is to blaze your way through your first draft like you are on a mission and don't stop to correct anything or you will get bogged down. First of all, if I know I have made a mistake, it bugs me to the point where going back and correcting it is the only way to work because I know if I leave it, I might not find it again. I doubt my 60 words per minute typing speed is going to outpace my thinking and if I am outpacing my thinking, then just what kind of crap am I writing?

14) Write what you know: You have to write what you know and what you don't know with equal facility. I happen to be male. Does that mean I can't write a female character? I also happen to be white, straight and a professional (in my case, a professional engineer). To an SJW, that means I have four strikes against me. But the question is not who has done the writing but what has been written. There are people who can write realistic parts for people who are not "like them" and no one would be able to guess anything about the writer.

15) Let the characters take care of themselves in the reader's mind. Even in fan fiction, I find it difficult sometimes to follow what each character is doing after a number of pages of writing because it is easy to lose track of who said or did what to whom. Russian novels were famous for this - a character introduced on page 167 and not mentioned again suddenly becomes important on page 865 and you have to wade through a lot of pages to figure out what is going on. I have even seen this is Buffy fan fiction - I do not retain all the words and descriptions of activities taking place, so I have to try and figure out what just happened - or just give up and go on to something else.

16) Don't start without an outline: If I knew what the story was before I started, I wouldn't bother writing it. Part of writing is seeing which direction characters and events are going in. And they will pull you in directions you were not aware of at the beginning. It is good to have a general idea of what the story is about but if you write details down, you feel constrained to follow them.

17) Have a character description for each character: Like an outline, this is another self-imposed constraint. Once you write a description, you feel compelled to put the items in the description into the story. Maintain continuity (we often complain that Buffy should have had a series Bible so people would never act out of character) but do not write something that impels you to add descriptive detail where it is unnecessary.
 
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By the way, I adore Coley and wish she'd enter the buffyverse fandom . .
Me too! I'm desperate for Buffy content from her - but alas, I fear she is too young.

I personally don't need consistency in character as long as inconsistency is explained rationally.
Yes, I'm fine with people being stupid or hypocritical or working against their own best interests, or good people doing bad things (or bad people doing good things) - as long as it is a clear and purposeful part of the story! But it's when the author clearly has no idea that the character they are writing is doing things out of line and are telling the story as if they are the hero and never sanctioning them for bad behaviour or suffering consequences and instead heaps praise on them that is not actually borne out by the character's actions. I like when a character does something unexpected or wrong and that has ramifications and is clearly a purposeful part of the story ... it's when the narrator tells us 'he was such a good and loyal friend' ... and actually he's lying and gaslighting and behaving appallingly and I just think 'hmm - I don't think you're writing the story you think you're writing'.

That's when what you're telling and what you're showing are inconsistent.

13) Rush the first draft: One piece of advice I often see is to blaze your way through your first draft like you are on a mission and don't stop to correct anything or you will get bogged down. First of all, if I know I have made a mistake, it bugs me to the point where going back and correcting it is the only way to work because I know if I leave it, I might not find it again. I doubt my 60 words per minute typing speed is going to outpace my thinking and if I am outpacing my thinking, then just what kind of crap am I writing?
Agree - I don't think you should 'rush' anything. By all means if you're caught up in it and on fire keep going until you run out of steam... but if you're in a more methodical mood then work through methodically. And how long is a first draft? Do they mean don't check through until the whole thing is written - that could take days/ weeks/ months! If you don't ever read it back in that time your continuity is going to be all the over the place, at the very least.

When I go back to a piece of writing I always read back at least from what I wrote last time, maybe from all the way at the beginning - and then obviously edit as I go along and once I've finished that and the previous chapter/ paragraph is fresh in my mind then I start writing new stuff. I think I think slightly faster than I type - so sometimes I'll write the words in the wrong order because my mind is ahead of my fingers - but that's the sort of thing that I need to put right as soon as I notice it, otherwise, like you said - it might slip through the proof read when I've got a longer section to edit and so am skimming. And of course, if I mess up the spelling and the typo looks like another word, spellcheck - in it's infinite wisdom - will take it upon itself to 'correct' to the wrong word. That's the sort of thing you need to check for regularly, otherwise you come back to a long forgotten sentence that makes no sense and you have no idea what it was you meant to say. Also - I have keys that stick. Particularly the d and the h. Anything with a h in is regularly missing it but that sometimes still creates a real word and spellcheck doesn't pick it up (like I meant 'hand' but what is written is 'and') That's an easy mistake to slip through a proof read. The more frequent checks, the more of them I catch.

I think really the best advice is do what works best for you and what works best for you might not be the same thing day on day. One day you might be ablaze with ideas and the next snailing along. Snail days are good days to edit - lean into it.

14) Write what you know:
I read a thing recently about how this is actually commonly misunderstood. People think it means write what you have experience in, stick to your areas of expertise - when what it actually means is: if you're going to write about it, then know about it first i.e do research. Because once you've researched then you do 'know' and so can write it.

15) Let the characters take care of themselves in the reader's mind. Even in fan fiction, I find it difficult sometimes to follow what each character is doing after a number of pages of writing because it is easy to lose track of who said or did what to whom. Russian novels were famous for this - a character introduced on page 167 and not mentioned again suddenly becomes important on page 865 and you have to wade through a lot of pages to figure out what is going on
Yep - hate this. Also when there are just too many characters, often with similar sounding names, to keep track of. Trying to keep everything straight and flicking back through the book to find out who said what and who is who really ruins immersion in the story.

Don't start without an outline: If I knew what the story was before I started, I wouldn't bother writing it. Part of writing is seeing which direction characters and events are going in. And they will pull you in directions you were not aware of at the beginning. It is good to have a general idea of what the story is about but if you write details down, you feel constrained to follow them.
I can go either way on this. If it helps someone then it's a good tool, if they prefer not too that's fine as well. Both methods can be used to create good stories. It's something I use more often the longer I write because I find I have good ideas, don't get round to writing them and by the time I actually sit down to do some writing ... it's gone. (In an original story I wrote I had a girl bump into a covered painting as she hurried out of the door - and as I wrote, it was because there some great significance about the painting ... didn't come back to it for six months - no clue. I had to make something up. No idea if my second idea was the same as the first or, if they were different, which was better. So now - if I have an idea about what comes next I always leave a note to myself before I close the document, just in case I don't come back to it for ages.)
I think it helps to plot out important moments in the story - have an idea of what you want your characters to achieve, what journey they go on and how you intend to create that. But I don't bind myself to the outline. One thing I enjoy is looking back at the original outline and comparing it to the finished product and comparing how the story changed along the way. I like a story to develop quite organically and that means sometimes wildly different things end up happening to what was originally planned, and it is always interesting to look back and see how the story ended up changing itself.

17) Have a character description for each character: Like an outline, this is another self-imposed constraint.
yeah - I've never written out a character description in my planning. 'She has brown hair and likes computers and her favourite food is sushi' ... not helpful. Though I guess if it works for someone else, more power to them.

I think my tip would be - beyond good spelling and grammar (and spacing on AO3) - don't get bogged down worrying about tips 😛 There's no one true way to write a good story, and there is no piece of work so fantastic that everyone on the planet will enjoy it. A methodology that works for one person may not work for you at all - and that is fine. Have fun, play around, work out what your strengths are and play to them, challenge yourself but be honest about your limits, write what interests you - because if you don't care about it, no one else will. And if after all that, you're still rubbish - so what? If you enjoy it and it gives you pleasure keep on doing it. You don't owe it to anyone to be good - everyone is free to not read your work if they don't like it. Especially if you're putting it on the internet for free.

I'd also say that while reading good work helps you understand how to put a story together, even without you realising it, reading bad work can be helpful too. It's a lot easier to avoid pitfalls if you've seen other people fall into them.
 

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Me too! I'm desperate for Buffy content from her - but alas, I fear she is too young.
Yes and I'm not sure I'm ready to be parodied just yet 😀
Yes, I'm fine with people being stupid or hypocritical or working against their own best interests, or good people doing bad things (or bad people doing good things) - as long as it is a clear and purposeful part of the story! But it's when the author clearly has no idea that the character they are writing is doing things out of line and are telling the story as if they are the hero and never sanctioning them for bad behaviour or suffering consequences and instead heaps praise on them that is not actually borne out by the character's actions. I like when a character does something unexpected or wrong and that has ramifications and is clearly a purposeful part of the story ... it's when the narrator tells us 'he was such a good and loyal friend' ... and actually he's lying and gaslighting and behaving appallingly and I just think 'hmm - I don't think you're writing the story you think you're writing'.

That's when what you're telling and what you're showing are inconsistent.
Very much agree, but I am happy to give fanfic writers more rope than published authors. Fanfic is all about wish fulfillment and so I expect characters to do unexpected things and do things that I would not condone, so the writer can get them to the place she wants them. I also find a lot of fanfic writers have ready made bad guys they like to bash (the scoobies come in for a lot of that) and things that were forgiven on the show are raked over and unforgiven in fanfic. There is a favourite Spuffy fanfic writer that I love to read, but she bashes Angel in every fic, and it gets really tedious and I tend to fast forward through those bits.
 
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Bashing is tedious!

I read Doyle/Cordy fic and the Wesley bashing is another level. I don't particularly like show Wesley but the characterisation of him in Doyle fics is deeply unfair. And Doyle is always an utter dick to him, right from the off (for absolutely no reason - never a reason given, Wes never does anything wrong - I can only assume it's because all Americans think all Irish people hate all British people on sight) - and it's always treated as if Doyle is a) funny and b) in the right (and if it is because Wes is a Brit C) not racist as hell) . Plus he always steals all of Wes' knowledge, actions and usefulness so Wes is just there to be a punching bag.

It's the whiplash of 'Doyle was such a good and loyal friend - so kind and thoughtful, thought Cordelia as she gazed into his dreamy emerald orbs' (n.b get those to a doctor, mate). 'Wesley walked into the office. "good morning all" he said, pleasantly. Doyle rolled his eyes, tripped him up and gave him a wedgie. Cordelia laughed, because Wesley was so stuffy and had it coming. Doyle winked one of his seagreen occular cavities at her and she felt a fluttering in her nethers. Then he went to find Angel, because Angel was brooding - and Doyle was just so good and patient with everyone and only he could understand what Angel was feeling.'

That's a slight exaggeration - but over the course of a long fic, where incident builds on incident, it's what it starts to feel like. And over the course of the entire sub genre - the very first grimace from Doyle, when he meets Wesley for the first time, is enough to get me frantically hitting the back button.
 

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Wow, I did not know it got that bad with Coyle fics, but I've only read a few, myself.

The bashing element is one of the changes I've felt from reading fic ten years ago to today. I had no issue with excessive bashing when I was younger, even enjoyed it if it was a character I didn't particularly like (such as BtVS Angel or Willow), but these days it has to be in character or I just get annoyed. Like, if you have to bring down Angel in order to raise up Spike, something's wrong here...
 
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Wow, I did not know it got that bad with Coyle fics, but I've only read a few, myself.
it sneaks up on you. It's there from the beginning but you don't notice it amid everything else going on. And then something crosses a line and you think 'hang on...' and go back, and yep - it was there from day one. So now it's on red alert on my radar. That and treating the Coyle pairing like they're Bangel - and everything is high stakes melodrama at every moment ... like, surely the nice thing about Cordelia and Doyle is how chill they are? They're like the anti-bangel.

The bashing element is one of the changes I've felt from reading fic ten years ago to today. I had no issue with excessive bashing when I was younger, even enjoyed it if it was a character I didn't particularly like (such as BtVS Angel or Willow), but these days it has to be in character or I just get annoyed. Like, if you have to bring down Angel in order to raise up Spike, something's wrong here...
yeah I think bashing is definitely a sign of immaturity in writers (and liking it is probably a sign if immaturity in readers!) but then I guess a lot of fanfic writers start really young so that explains it - to quote Buffy, they're teens - they've yet to mature.
I imagine writers who stick at it mostly grow out of it (not everyone matures - lol) but then there's always the next generation of tweeny writers publishing their bashing material so it never ends.
 

ILLYRIAN

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Really! Some of the "do this or that" advice is very lame.
Is character bashing of one character to another okay, of course it is if done for a reason that helps the fan fic.
Is it alright if Faith beats up on Xander? If they are going to become friends then yes. If it helps the plot then yes, if it encourage the relationship twixt two other characters then yes, it is okay.

Should you know where the fan fic is going, it is handy.

Have a character description for each character. This is fan fic not a literary work of art, most fan fics are up to a couple of hundred words long, a few are longer but not many and the character can be developed during the fic in longer fics I know this as my longest was about 240,000 words.

There was even a bit of info telling you to show don't tell, the show don't tell is used for screenplays not the written word.

Write what you know will help a story as the author can add elements that are known and not what is written in books, a lot of what is written in books is false or sounds false. Are witches allowed in churches the bible might say no but I was several times, so I know that is bull.
The stuff said about how a vampire is killed was brought on by the church, much of it even sounds silly.
The crap about what governs a werewolves behaviour was made up by some bloke at Universal films for a film.
So if you know about an item the content will often read better that what you read for an hour or two in a book as the fan fic is likely to be short not a 1000 page book.

How many drafts do you feel comfortable with - your choice. Just one thing the second draft should be done a few weeks after the initial draft so that your brain won't automatically fill in the gaps.

BETA readers?
Get someone else to read the story as a critique or get an editor. Just hope they know what they are talking about. I once had an editor read a manuscript I had been recommended to go to this person but I spent many E-Mails trying to explain to that guy how telepathy worked. In the end I wasn't very polite to him. Also find a person who wants you to be as good as you can, not some oh yeah that'll be alright wally.

It was said to rewite, rewrite, rewrite! How do you write out the story? I use a computer and as such changing a few words here or there completely negates the need for a rewrite.

One person wrote of how to begin, not using long narratives, or to use short punchy paragraphs. How long is a long narrative or how short is a short punchy paragraph and is the punchy element a suitable subject?

Avoid repetition has been used to advise folk, why repetition can be good.

But my biggest laugh came with keep Modifyers close to the word they modify, do what!
It even gave an example: Sam smashed the brass knuckles into Jeff's face covered with studs. Forget the Modifyer stuff try to use the correct punctuation and use good language. You should also be aware of the spelling of certain words and the descriptive terms being used correctly, was Jeff's face covered in studs or was the knuckle dusters covered in studs?

Writing fan fiction is hard enough without telling potential authors a load of bull.
 
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@ILLYRIAN - I think you reacted to it pretty much the same way I did. I found way too much of that advice to be the personal preference of the person who came up with the list. Nothing should be thrown out of the window - everything has it's place.
 
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There was even a bit of info telling you to show don't tell, the show don't tell is used for screenplays not the written word.
Exactly - you can't show without pictures. It's all tell in a written story. It's just sometimes you tell directly 'he was afraid' and sometimes you go round about the houses 'his face was white as a sheet and he was shaking'. But I'm still telling you that.
The only way I think it can be useful is for comparing narration to action. If the author is stating 'this is a good character who does decent and noble things' and you read what they're doing and think ... 'nope, that was an objectively bad action and you're pretending it wasn't' then that is a case of the writer telling you something that isn't supported in the story. But that's not really 'show don't tell' that's 'don't lie to your audience' (and a little bit 'be self aware about the characters you're writing - just because you like them doesn't mean they can do no wrong, acknowledge the wrong they do').

It was said to rewite, rewrite, rewrite! How do you write out the story? I use a computer and as such changing a few words here or there completely negates the need for a rewrite.
Exactly - this was maybe more a thing before computers, when it would get to a point that your scribblings and crossings out would make the whole thing unreadable and you would start again. But when you're typing, editing can be an ongoing process. I might even say reread reread reread rather than rewrite - read it over and over again to pick up every typo, inconsistency and check it all makes sense - but only rewrite the bits that need it.

One person wrote of how to begin, not using long narratives, or to use short punchy paragraphs. How long is a long narrative or how short is a short punchy paragraph and is the punchy element a suitable subject?
How long is a piece of string? ... Just telling someone not to write a long paragraph isn't overly helpful is it?

Avoid repetition has been used to advise folk, why repetition can be good.
I imagine what 'Wayne' meant was don't use five 'ands' in one sentence or don't say something like 'it was a bright day and the sun shone brightly'. But of course repetition can be used in any number of ways and is a literary tool. You might as well say 'don't use similes'.
So it was quite an inexact tip - because it means 'don't repeat the same idea twice in quick succession, unless you mean too for emphasis. And be careful how often you use the same word - because it will start to stand out' but 'don't use repetition' is a blanket ban on a tool which is ideal for emphasis or humour - and without distinguishing between good repetition and bad repetition, then Wayne isn't really helping out budding writings, he's just giving them a whole load of red lines and making them think they shouldn't use something that would actually work.
 
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