Five things I learned from my old terrible fanfics

My kids recently got interested in the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise. This interest waxes and wanes, depending on who is raising chao at the time.

Anyway, this time when they got on a Sonic kick, I said, “Do you guys want me to read you my old Sonic stories?”

Their answer was Very Yes. So I started trying to read them the very first one I wrote when I was 15.

If I knew then what I know now:

melodramatic

1. Melodrama is not plot. I had pages and pages of little random dramas, but nothing really moving forward in the story.

There’s also quite a few loops. Professional writers use them to hit word counts. A character goes out to accomplish something, fails, and winds up back where they started. It adds nothing to the story, but hey, it added 5k more words. This is why fantasy books are so thick.

Solution: cut that fluff and keep that story moving. If I did this with the fanfic in question, it would go from 50k words of wandering fluff to 13k of tightly-written awesome.

kneel_before_your_master
This actually happened in a Sonic game. It was awesome.

2. Bring the Big Bad in EARLY. In that first story, Metal Sonic is the main antagonist. But he doesn’t show up until about the 3/4ths mark. My enthusiastic teen self built the plot like a Lego tower. Let’s add on THIS and add on THAT and who cares if it makes sense? The plot muddles around with weaker secondary villains before finally settling on the Big Bad.

Solution: have Metal Sonic actively oppose the heroes from the start. He’s terrifying. Let him terrify the reader.

cast-of-thousands

3. Casts of thousands work fine for epic fantasy, but not for smaller-scope urban fantasy. I had eight main characters. Count ’em. Eight. And I really only liked four of them. So that’s who got all the character development.

Poor Tails. I apologize for always leaving you out in the cold. You get more love later in the series, I promise!

Solution: cut everybody not necessary to the plot. They can stay home and have an adventure next time.

idiot_ball_by_seekerarmada-d5irhmw

4. The idiot ball: don’t give it to anyone. Ever.

This is when a character who has been competent up to this point does something randomly stupid to move the plot along. Horror movies are full of these.

“Don’t go into the house alone!”

“Why are the lights out?”

“I’m going to ignore the spooky sound coming from the back of the house.”

“We know the bad guy attacks girls when they’re alone … let’s go hunt for him and leave our girl alone!”

Solution: Characters have to do things that logically follow. Sure, people are stupid in real life. But this is fiction. It has to make sense. Give the characters some freaking survival instincts.

mary-sue

5. You know that perfect character who is perfect and never gets scared and has all the answers and is better than all the other characters? She’s called a Mary-Sue. She’s the author’s self-insert into the story.

:tears out hair:

Solution: Give her some freaking FLAWS. Let her make MISTAKES. My GOSH. I hate this character so BADLY. And she’s MINE.

I apologize to everybody who waded through my old stories. They’re awful and painful and … :whispering: … still available. I’d take them down, except I still get the occasional message from a fan who remembers them fondly.

Long story short, the kids and I skipped the first five stories. We’re just going to hit the ones where new characters get introduced. We’ll see if my writing gets any more succinct as we move forward in time.

Guest Post: Confessions of a closet fanfiction writer

I’m being hosted on Ralene Burke’s blog today as part of her confessions series!

fanfic-meme
“Please, please, can we have a Sega Genesis?” my brother wheedled. “I’ll buy it with my birthday money!”

Our parents hemmed and hawed. This was the 1990s. Focus on the Family had been cranking out anti-videogame propaganda for years–anything from it ruining a kid’s grades to being a gateway to porn. But finally our parents said that we could buy a Genesis on one condition: they approve the games we bought.

The light was green! We bought our first video game system (and every single system after that). We played Sonic the Hedgehog and Jurassic Park and the maddeningly difficult Disney games. Batman Forever became a fixture.

Then–horrors–one hot summer day, our parents decreed that we spent too much time on games. “One hour a day,” they admonished. “Go do something else.”

Mutinous, I stalked upstairs to my desk. As a homeschooler, I had a very nice desk … Read More

Five things fanfiction can teach you about writing

Being a teenager is hard. You don’t fit in with kids anymore, but you’re not quite an adult. When I turned 13, I felt like I was too old to play with toys anymore. That was when I started writing–because I could have any toy I wanted, in my head.

What I wrote was Sonic the Hedgehog fanfiction.

collage1
Sonic fanfic. It’s seriously epic.

I wrote it madly for the rest of my teen years and into my 20s. I built a website around it, and hosted other kids’ stories and art. We had a fantastic community, all because I was trying to find my niche.

While writing epic adventure after epic adventure, and reading copious amounts of fanfiction, I learned quite a lot about writing a story. I also ingested anything on writing I could find–curriculum, The Elements of Style, Stephen King’s On Writing.

I learned:

1. It gets the cliches out of your system

We love cliches. That’s why we have archetypes (a fancy word for “stuff we tell stories about over and over”) and Hero’s Journey (farm boy goes on a quest and becomes a hero). But they’re called cliches for a reason–they’ve been done before.

As a new writer, you may not realize that what you’re writing is the same thing every new writer writes. All you know is that it rings your bell, and you write it like mad–nobody has ever seen this plot before!

Except that they have, over and over.

angsty-char-checklist

It’s common when you’re starting out to retell your favorite stories in your own voice. No matter how well you tell it, it’s still the same story everybody tells (ex: epic fantasy, ragtag group of adventurers save the world). It’s hard to get published with these stories, because agents and readers go, “Ho hum, seen it.”

But with fanfiction, you can write the cliche, revel in it, get it out of your system, and move on. Once you’ve done that, you uncover the real golden ideas–the publishable ones.

2. It lets you experiment with self inserts

Self-inserts are a joke in the fanfiction community. They’re when the author write themselves into the story, usually as a perfect, wise, beautiful person whom all the characters love. They’re known as Mary Sues (or Gary Stu), because they usually have a humdrum name.

proslash1
I’ll bet you can’t guess what my self-insert was.

Self-inserts (“serts”) are another type of cliche that an author does well to get out of their system early. For one thing, perfect characters are boring. For another, savvy readers will sniff out a sert and call you on it. They’re the mark of a new writer.

3. You learn to finish

Finishing a book is a big deal. The Internet is littered with half-finished stories. Reading them is frustrating, because nobody knows the ending–not even the author. I’ve read some totally awesome stories, fanfic and original, that the author abandoned at the sticky midpoint.

You don’t get a fans if you never finish anything. Besides, endings are fun–they’re the payoff, the big confrontation, the place to have the big chase or the huge explosions.

You can’t get published if you never finish.

4. You learn to handle feedback

The lure of fanfic is the speedy feedback. You can have comments on a chapter a few hours after you post it–whereas on a published book, it takes weeks or months.

Quick feedback is fun–but it comes with a price. My dad always says, “Everyone is entitled to their own stupid opinion”, and boy, is that evident when writing stories. You’ll get good comments, and you get nasty ones, too. You get the guy who corrects your tiny mistakes, the fan girl who rages because she doesn’t ship your pairing, and people who just go, “Didn’t like it” without explaining why.

It can make you go bury your face in chocolate cake. But it toughens you up. The next time somebody leaves you a nasty review, you can paraphrase Tolkein and remark that you don’t like the kinds of book that they favor, so there.

5. You learn to write within the constraints of a world

Fanfiction and historical fiction have one thing in common: you have to write inside that world. You have to research the setting, learn the principal characters and their personalities and goals–then you have to write it well. A huge crime in fanfic is getting someone OOC–out of character. (There’s also PWP–plot what plot, but that’s a different problem.) This is something that people will gleefully tell you in reviews–you’re doing it wrong, lawl.

sunandtheshine-vs-perfectch
You wouldn’t believe how gleefully people correct the “flaws” in this picture.

Writing within world constraints is a useful skill, even if the world is your own. The details have to ring true, whether you’re writing Regency romance or urban fantasy.

Does your Regency heroine carry a handgun? Muff pistols were a thing. They even had a sort of safety on them, so they almost wouldn’t blow your fingers off. How do I know this? Research.

Is your hero a private detective or a bounty hunter? Sometimes they do quite similar jobs. Again–research!

How is it possible that Sonic can run hundreds of miles per hour without burning off his own feet, or tearing a hole in his face when he hits leaves, bugs, dust, etc? The fans have some excellent quasi-scientific theories available to draw upon. All it takes is research.

In conclusion, fanfiction is an excellent place to exercise your writing muscles. A lot of what you learn there carry over into the big leagues of writing for publication. Some people convert fanfics straight to publication.

The Mortal Instruments? Harry Potter fanfic.

Fifty Shades? Twilight fanfic.

The Temeraire books? Master and Commander fanfic.

Sherlock? Well, that one is easy to guess.

Have you ever written fanfiction? Do you think it helped you learn to write?