Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Top Tips for Writing Fanfiction

One thing I've noticed in the Richard Armitage fandom is that there are an awful lot of creative types in it. The abundance of fiction he inspires is considerably more than in other fandoms that I have been a part of over the years. In honour of this, I thought I'd write a post on getting started on that creative path, which can be very daunting.

Back when I started writing fic 20 years ago now, there was no internet. When I started posting online (14 years ago) the internet was a much nicer place. These are the tricks and tips that I have picked up over the years that might help a new writer, who is coming into an arguably harsher world today.

What's the number one tip: Be inspired!
If you aren't inspired, don't even start because writing isn't easy and without inspiration, you will quickly run out of steam. I don't generally read works in progress any more because I know from experience that many of them won't get finished.

John and Margaret as High School students
I would advise that you get to at least the half way point in writing before you start posting and at least know in your own mind roughly how it will end.

It doesn't matter how crazy or 'bad-fic' your idea is. It doesn't matter if you want to write a Mary-Sue (I even seek them out on occasion) if you want to write PWP (porn without plot) or even if you wan to transport North and South to a modern day US high school setting. If it inspires you, go with it!

And if your idea is really embarrassing, no one says you have to publish the finished product. Let it sit on your hard drive and be something that you can enjoy re-reading.

Tip number two rule: Enjoy it.
Lot's of people have an opinion of fanfic, some expect it to be novel quality but remember, there are as many different points of view in the world as there are people. This is just a hobby, you shouldn't write for anyone else, so write what you want to, how you want to.

Tip number three: Don't ever ever ever ask for constructive criticism!
At least we don't have to use an ink well any more!
Why? First, because most people, including me, won't do it.

Most people don't know enough about writing to feel comfortable offering criticism, so if they do comment, it's likely to just be praise and encouragement they offer. Which is lovely, of course but it doesn't actually help you improve, which is what I assume you're looking to do if you ask for constructive criticism.

Those who do feel comfortable enough to comment often aren't qualified to offer an opinion. Seriously, what does Tony the Taxi Driver know about writing? Unless they're a writer, editor, publisher or literature graduate, what makes Joe Public worthy of judging your story? They'll know what they like and don't like, of course but that kind of criticism is just an opinion and not at all constructive. And no, creative writing classes don't count, unless you have a degree in it or teach the course.

Personally, I do know enough to comment but I also have no desire to denigrate someone else's hobby. If it makes you happy, you go and enjoy it. Besides, who died and made me the law on fanfic? No one. I don't much like Mills & Boon type romance but I wouldn't dream of telling anyone else not to read or write them! Just because something isn't my cup of tea, doesn't make me right. I know where my back button is and if I don't like your fic, I use it.

Plus, a small minority will use “constructive criticism” as an invitation to be rude and mean. Don't give them an open invitation.

Tip number four: So how do you go about improving?
1) Read. There are articles all over the net on subjects like Mary-Sues (so that you can avoid falling into the same trap) how to write (structure of a story, writing a plan first or not etc) when is best to write (strict time table or go with the flow) which POV is best (first person, third person, omniscient narrator, switching points of view?).

There are also a lot of books offering advice on how to write.

ETA:  5 indispensable guides for fiction writers. This is mainly for people who want to be professional writers, but the books are still good for those who want to improve their fanfic and he explains the type of author/fiction each book would work best for. 
Gratuitous RA shot. We'll just call it 'Inspiration!'

Do remember though, these are just the various authors opinions, not law. The literati will tell you that Harry Potter isn't well written and perhaps by their standards it isn't. Doesn't stop the books from being a damn good read though! 

Don't get so hung up on dos and don'ts  that you stop enjoying yourself.

2) Pick a beta. Most beta's aren't any more qualified to critique a fic than Joe Public above but they are more impartial than you are.

If you have friends in your fandom who's opinion you trust to be honest without being cruel, ask them. Let them know that you expect brutal honesty and if they can't be honest, it would be better if they didn't volunteer to beta.

If you don't know anyone who fits the bill, post on a fandom forum or similar asking for a beta and remember to STATE WHAT YOU'RE LOOKING FOR. It's not presumptuous of you. It would be like placing a personal ad and forgetting to mention that you only want replies from people over 6 foot tall; you're just wasting the time of everyone who is under 6 foot and both parties are likely to be left disappointed.

Some writers just want spelling/grammar beta's, some are looking for copy editing (did a character just take the same coat off twice? Is that a plot hole I see before me?) or are you looking for over all plot help? Maybe you want someone who you can bounce ideas off, the best beta's inspire you that way.

Some people want all of these but make sure that you know what it is that you're looking for from a beta and don't be afraid to ask for it. If you get more than one reply, choose the person you think is best but don't put the others off (see below).
More "inspiration"

If a beta only does spelling/grammar and are really good at it but can't help with the other things, then use more than one beta but remember to send the fic to the spelling/grammar beta last so that the text doesn't change after they've proofed it.

Once you have found a beta, listen to them. If you have found a good one they'll tell you what you did right as well as what you did wrong. They'll point out a flaw and encourage you to correct it; they won't tear you down so that you want to give up completely.

If you get a bad beta, don't be afraid to end the relationship. It could be something really simple, perhaps that you are English and your beta is American and they correct your prose to American English or vice versa. It could be that they are overly harsh for your taste. Whatever, if it's not working, politely thank them and say that a friend is now doing it for you, then go to someone else who replied.

Give your beta time. Sure, you want to get your fic posted now but betas have their own lives and jobs and sometimes they get in the way of correcting your fic. If your beta is taking too long, politely send them a note asking if they're okay and offering that if they don't really have time, you're happy to let them off the hook; no harm, no foul but don't be pushy or petulant. They're doing you a favour, remember.

Tip number five, don't pay any attention to the number of comments or “likes” you receive.
95% or more of readers don't comment, even if they do like it. Just because your story has no feedback, that shouldn't stop you because you wrote this story for you, not others, right?

Yes, you feel all warm and fuzzy when a nice message comes in but it doesn't last long. Outside validation doesn't help self esteem in the long term so if you wrote your story expecting praise and plaudits, you are likely to be very disappointed.

When you've spent hours writing and editing a chapter, you wouldn't think it would be too much trouble for readers to leave a little feedback in return but you won't ever change human nature. Don't hold your fic to ransom (I'll only post the next chapter if I get 10 reviews!) it's petty, childish and it makes you seem ungrateful to those who have reviewed because they just wanted to tell you now much they enjoyed it.

And even supposing that you are the only person in the whole world who likes your fic, that should be enough*.

(*You won't be though. Even if you are a weird freak, there are lots of other weirdo's out there with your same freak!)

The final tip, grow a thick skin.
Some people just have to have an opinion on everything, including your fic. They will try to berate, belittle and brow beat you.

Don't take it personally. Some people are arseholes; a lot of those arseholes are on the net because they think they have anonymity and can be as arsehole-ish as they want. I know it's east to say and harder to do, but go back and read the good comments to remind yourself that some people are enjoying your fic.

"Oi! Stop posting mean things or I'll cut your fingers off!"
Even Sir Guy supports fanfic!
In the case of an outright flame, report it, delete it and block the person if you can. Don't feed the trolls.

As for other negative comments, okay, your story probably isn't the modern equivalent of To Kill A Mocking Bird but in all honesty, you knew that. So what if someone points it out?

If you did painting as a hobby, would you be upset someone pointed out that you weren't as good as Picasso or Manet? No, because it's just a hobby. You might be hurt at their insensitivity but don't let it stop you.

Some of the harshest feedback, comments and flames I've had have come from people who either don't write, or who's stories I personally don't like. If I don't like their stuff, it stands to reason that they wouldn't like mine. If they don't write anything, then they're probably not in a position to pass a valid judgement. Just because they have an opinion, doesn't mean that they're right. Of course it doesn't mean your fic is good either but you're writing for fun, remember, not prizes.

And try to remember, those kinds of people really deserve your sympathy not your scorn, because only unhappy people feel the need to tear others down. Think about it, when was the last time you saw someone who was happy try and pick on someone else?

So, that's basically (in my opinion) all you need to know to get you started in the world of fanfic.

What are you waiting for? Go find an idea that grabs you and get started!

Feel free to ask questions.

Follow the chain onward to Maria  Grazia! 

You may also be interested in 


  1. That is so right! never let anyone stop you!

  2. There's something really fulfilling, I find, about having an idea and just letting the fingers fly. I don't show my fanfic to anyone, though. It's just for me (and formerly, for my therapist).

    A lot of these tips are equally applicable to the kind of prose writing I do, with the exception of constructive criticism. I really like it when someone disagrees with me, even vehemently, as long as the disagreement remains confined to the issues. It sharpens my thinking and my writing. I've seen some concrit posted on the Internet that is really useful.

    Just so you know, your blog won't let me comment either as OpenID or as Wordpress.

    From my perspective, though, the essential issue is that for any kind of writing the motivation has to come from inside. If that's not there, nothing's happening.

    I'm sure a lot of potential authors will benefit from this! Great post!

    1. Thanks, Sev :D

      I think with the advent if the internet, it's just expected that what you write you should share, because that's all people see. When I started, the internet wasn't an option (it existed but I hadn't heard about it) and still today I have fic that will never see the light of day, sometimes because it's truly awful, sometimes because it's too personal.

      I enjoy a good debate (I used to head the debate club in school) but only when a) they know what they're talking about and b) are reasonable and rational, qualities that a lot of people leave behind when they jump on the computer!

      I did used to ask for con-crit but later found out that a lot of the advice I was given was pure bollocks and no more than one readers opinion. As such I would advise any new writers to consider the source of the advice before taking it.

      Having said that, I run all my novels past three test readers before they go into the editing stage. If 1 reader has problem with something, then it's probably just their opinion, though I do consider each of their points of views, that doesn't mean that I will change what they don't like. If 2 note the same problem, I'll consider it and talk to my editor or other writer friends. If all three point out the same flaw, clearly it's something that has to be addressed. The majority of issues that test readers point out fall into the "personal preference" category.

      I have checked my settings and posting should be open to all blogs. Is this just a problem you've found with my blogs or all blogspot? When i have a little time I'll dig a bit deeper into my settings, just to make sure it isn't something I've set incorrectly.

  3. Thanks heaps for a very informative post. The niggle in my brain that is urging me to write fanfic just became a little louder!

  4. Excellent advice and I agree with Servetus that it carries over into other forms of creative outlets. :)

  5. Wonderful collection of tips and encouragements for authors.
    I always try to encourage potential authors, that they should not watch out for what they think is expected of them, but what they like. They should write it down, let it rest for half a year and take it up again. They normally are their worst critiques and best judges from a distant perspective then.
    Thank you very much for your tips!

    1. Writers are their own worse critics and everyone should be encouraged!

      No one expects a novice golfer to become a champ overnight, so I'm never sure why fanfic is always held up to such high standards. Everyone needs time to find their style and voice.

  6. Cat lovely article.

    You raised some really good points cat. The part about a really good beta is esential. Even if you are secure in your spelling, grammer and plot an impartial reader picks up things you haven't thought of.

    I agree about the tough skin if you don't develop one you are going to be spending a lot of time hurt.

    Finally I spent a long time getting worried about the so called rules of fanfiction until one say I realised that I am an independent free thinking woman and don't have to follow somebody elses rules.

    1. Unfortunately, good beta's are really hard to come by and if you find a good one, stick with them!

      Well said about the rules!

      Also, did you know that Shakespeare broke every grammar rule going? It's true. So few people truly understand how and why these grammar/spelling rules came about, they just blindly follow that they learned in school and expect you to as well. In reality, there are so many exceptions to every single one of them.

      I think it's better to tell the story, then worry later about what you did right or wrong.

    2. there's rulebreaking in the name of art and rulebreaking that occurs from ignorance. You can't do the former unless you know the rules. I'm sure you didn't to equate Shakespeare with people who can't write sentences.

      I've always had problems commenting here -- sometimes it takes five or six tries.

    3. Well in Shakespeare's case, many of today's grammar rules hadn't been "invented" then. A lot of our so called grammar comes from the 18th and 19th century (which I guess is why Shakespeare gets a free pass) and mainly from intellectuals who wanted English to be more like Latin.

      Unfortunately, English is a mongrel of a language and can't be easily forced into boxes. 'I before E', 'ending sentences with prepositions' and 'less or fewer' are prime examples of so called "rules" that have so many exceptions, that they really should be scrapped (or taught in much more detail, but I'm not hopeful on that score).

  7. A fantastic article Cat for any newbie fan fiction writers with some very helpful hints, not yet tempted to put daydreams to paper but maybe one day.

    1. We'll get you one day! *evil laugh*

  8. Very helpful! I am not a writer, but I plan to share this with a couple of relatives. Am sure it will stimulate some interesting discussion. Nicely done.

  9. Thanks for the encouragement, Cat!

    I'm not a writer either, but I'm working on it. I have some stories that have to get out, and I can't rest until they do. So the inspiration part I've got down. Mostly, I dropped the identity I had which said I would never be able to write. Most of my stuff still sounds like tripe, but it's improving as I write, and I'm not referring to the blog but stories I've been working on for the last year or so.

    1. Oh god! When I remember what my early stuff must have been like, I cringe! Thankfully I think they got lost somewhere on the information superhighway!

      Still, enough people enjoyed them to encourage me and that's the only way we improve. I'm not a natural born writer, but rather my overwhelming desire to tell stories has forced me to master it (though I still don't claim to be any great shakes).

      Just remember no matter how trite you think your stuff is, it cant possibly be as bad as my early stuff!

      Good luck with it :D

  10. Great advice, Cat!
    Cheers! Grati ;->

  11. I am a HUGE fan of your work, Cat. Not sure if I'll ever get into this type of writing (I'm more of a nonfiction writer at the moment). Please keep writing :)