Mmmm, fanfic. That beautiful, terrible thing that can make you laugh, cry, smile, and/or want to bleach your eyes out. While fanfic (Short for fan fiction) is typically stereotyped as hackneyed, badly-written, and erotic, there ARE some good fics out there. They have a coherent plot, good pacing, keep characters extremely close to their original ‘incarnations’ so to speak, and (Most importantly!) have been spellchecked. Once read, the fanfic adds depth and additional insight to the original work. And now, you too can finally write that Fullmetal Alchemist/Doctor Who crossover, with these tips.
1. A Good Story
When you start writing a fic, you need to figure out what you want to happen. Is it a crossover? A slash (Pairing) fic? Or is it just a Slice of Life fic? Here are a few things to remember as you come up with a story line.
- It has to fit in with the world/setting of the original story. Unless you are writing a parody/overly silly, just-for-fun fanfic, it needs to follow the same rules as the world of the story you are writing about. This means no unicorns in a Walking Dead story, or spaceships in a Harry Potter fic. These rules can be twisted or bent depending on the fic (Especially “What if?” fics) but try to stick to what is allowed in the set story’s universe.
- It should have a fairly similar tone. A fanfic will ready reaaaaaalllly weirdly if you change the original tone of the story. I mean, imagine reading a Clifford The Big Red Dog fanfic–set in a dystopian world with a totalitarian government. Get my point?
- Have it make sense. If you are writing a Lord of The Rings midquel (Middle of the original story) don’t write about how Frodo went out for ice-cream in the middle of his quest for the ring. Seriously, does Middle-Earth even have ice-cream? Either way, you need to keep it consistent with what the characters do, their motivations, and (Most importantly) if it is allowed, or even exists, in the universe (See the first point for this!)
- It has to connect with the main story well. If the original story has an ambiguous ending, more often than not, you will find swarms of fanfic writers finishing it to their liking and own interpretation. Be careful of stories with wrapped up plotlines; Writing a sequel to it can come off as a hackneyed effort to try and ‘milk’ more out of it. (Like this) A story that has been wrapped up, like Spirited Away for example, can be hard (But not impossible!) to write about.
2. A Coherent Plot and Good Writing
The greatest story in the world is nothing if it isn’t executed properly. You need to plan out your story in advance; Writing as you go may work for some, but it can make for plot-holes, contrived coincidences, and deus ex machina. (Er, machinae, if you want the proper Latin plural form)
- As I said before, Plan out your story in advance. How do you want to story to start? Where do you want is to go? Don’t play it by ear!
- Show, Don’t Tell. For example:
“Lily walked into the room. There was a body there. She felt sick because it reminded her of her father’s death.”
“Lily walked into the room, and nearly walked out again. A pool of blood stained the carpet; the stench of death invaded her nostrils. The corpse of a young man lay, spread-armed, on the floor. The room began to spin, as the taste of bile rose in her throat. Not again, not again…. she thought, her mind playing back to the night her father was murdered. The same smell, the rough shock that had rocked her body and scarred her soul, all came rushing into her mind as she took the scene in. Stumbling, shaking, and crying, Lily ran from the room, holding back vomit.”
A bit melodramatic, yes, but far meatier and more descriptive than the former. It also tells us more about the character and her past, and immerses you far more in the story.
- Set up the story and characters a bit before you plunge into the action. You need to establish what characters are involved, and set up any OCs (Original Characters) before you get to the main meatiness of the plot. Hey, Harry didn’t start the Ultimate Showdown with Voldemort on page 1!
- Avoid plot devices. Don’t use last-minute ass-pulls, deus ex machinae, and the like if you happen to write yourself into a corner. They are signs of lazy writing! Save it for Golden Age Superman comics and parodies. Plot twists should be built up and hinted at, also. It takes time to write a good ending!
- Careful with the descriptions. Unless they have the patience of a saint, most readers will want to get on with the good stuff (The Doctor appearing at Hogwarts, Haku and Chihiro FINALLY kissing, etc) While you should take the time to set things up (See above) don’t dawdle. Taking 3 paragraphs to describes someone’s hair is excessive, and also kinda creepy.
- Pace it well. Hold your horses, partner! You can’t have the Climax in three chapters! (Seriously, are you writing a book for 1st graders?) Take time to flesh out the characters, set up the big plot twist, and so on. Don’t just have action scenes all the time; Likewise, don’t have boring exposition every other page, either.
3. Believable Characters
When writing a fic, there are 2 parts to character writing; Establishing any OCs or new characters, and keeping old characters, in, well, character. Here are a few tips.
- Make your characters well-rounded. The bane of every writer is the Mary Sue. This is a character that is downright unbelievable. (i.e. Too perfect) Avoid this at all costs; Make sure to give your characters flaws, quirks, and mistakes (As in, they make mistakes) like the rest of us humans. TVTropes has an excellent page on Avoiding Mary Sues.
- Keep characters in character. Would you read a fanfic about how Twlight Sparkle decides to quit reading and take up watching TV? Or one about Eren Yeager becoming a pacifistic vegetarian? No! (Though it does make for an interesting thought-study) When someone reads a fanfic, they want it to be as close to original piece as possible (Or else they wouldn’t read it!) so you need to keep the old characters in personality. Don’t send them off on a wild tangent just because you want something specific to happen!
- Make your characters interesting. A story about office workers doing boring things, living boring lives, and having boring personalities is not bound to interest your readers. Make it so that you would enjoy having a conversation with your character at a cocktail party.
- Make your characters likeable. One of the things I hated about The Great Gatsby was that nearly every character was quite despicable. While a hateable character can be a beautiful thing (Think Harry Potter‘s Umbridge) don’t overdo it.
For the love of all that is holy, PLEASE use good grammar! Your fic can have a great story, excellent writing and plot, and awesome, well-rounded characters, but if you don’t use proper grammar and spelling, you will turn away all but the hardiest readers at the door. Here are some points to keep in mind when editing a story (Please, please edit it before you post it!)
- Don’t be afraid to use punctuation. Have you ever read a sentence that’s really run on and as you keep on reading it you almost want to stop in the middle and take a breath because it has no commas or periods or anything to finish it or pace it (*Takes deep breath*) and it turns you away from the story because it’s such atrocious writing and… (Ok, you get my point.) The thing is, if you don’t break up a thought with a comma, period, or semicolon, then it will come off as rushed and ametuer. When in doubt, read the sentence out loud; If the way you say it sounds awkward, or you need take take a breath in the middle of it, then you might want to rethink it.
- Know you’re spelig and apostphe’s. Seriously–My Immortal’s spelling alone made me want to cry tears of blood. And just sticking it into spellcheck isn’t going to cut it; If you’re lazy, hire an editor. (Though that’s a bit excessive for just a fanfic. Maybe you could bully your roommate who’s majoring in English into it?) If you’re not, then go through the story, correcting as you go. Nobody’s perfect, so you are bound to find a few. TheOatmeal has an excellent guide for commonly misspelled words. And learn to use a dictionary!
- Don’t forget to proofread! This should be a given. You wouldn’t turn in a report or big paper without proofreading it, would you? Think of the internet as the most nitpicky, micromanaging, critical boss/teacher/professor in the world. Scared now? You’d better be! I read through all of my posts at least twice before posting. If a chick with the attention span of a squirrel with ADHD can do it, you can too. (Trust me!)
So, with these points in mind, go out into the wide, wide world, and give it your best shot. Who knows? Maybe your Pacific Rim/Attack on Titan crossover will be famous one day.