How To: Write Fanfiction That Doesn't Suck Part Two
Updated: Aug 28, 2019
Welcome back, friends, to part two of How to Write Fanfiction That Doesn't Suck!
Let's do a quick review of what we discussed last week before diving into this weeks topics, shall we?
Fandom: Pick what you think you will stick with; there are thousands to choose from, and some things to think about when making your selection.
OC vs. EC: We touched on the pros and cons of Original Characters and Established Characters, how they fit into your story, and how you will not be able to please everyone.
Universe: There are three main ones you need to know:
It's important to pick one (maybe two) and run with those for the whole of your story, as this will help you promote it correctly. Genre mashing too many genres will mean you are more likely to miss your audience.
If you haven't read the first one in this series, I recommend going back and doing so you can get a holistic idea of what I'm talking about.
To Trope, or not to Trope...
Tropes. You either love them or hate them. This is mainly due to the sheer amount of crappy writing out there that use these things. Love triangles, ugly duckling syndrome, vanilla villains who are so bad they give villainy a bad name (and not in a good way), and the hero who saves the world from certain doom. The list goes on and on.
Please don't misunderstand, tropes aren't some evil thing that you should avoid at all costs (unless it's that thing to the left *shivers*), they can actually be useful at times and if done in the right way because readers will be familiar with them.
Let's take vanilla villains; I have one in my Tales of the Fourth Age series named Dalion. He's a bad guy; a villainous villain who revels in villainy. I show him with hardly any personality, and I kill him off pretty quickly (#spoilers). I have a second one named Lord Falcon who also enjoys villainy. He dies fairly quickly, too. #spoilersfordays
You picking up what I'm putting down?
I'm using the trope of an overly villainous villain to hide what's really going on, but they are not the stars of my story; it's a tool to throw readers off the trail. I take something that the reader is familiar with and use that against them. Readers are so used to seeing tropes in writing that they tend to not second guess that something else is really going on. This works to your advantage as a writer, and you can leverage that to enhance your stories. Just remember, it happens to you, too.
A Little Bit of Everything
You should spend time thinking about what you want to include in your story, such as romance, thriller-like moments, horror, adventure, wonder, etc. Did you know it was possible to have all of those in the same book? The same chapter?
I would highly recommend listening to the podcasts by Writing Excuses where they talk about the Elemental Genres more in-depth, and I've attached the link. Go and listen. I will do a super condensed version here.
Get rid of everything you think you know about genre (which is probably based on what it looks like at the bookstore) and think on this: You can have any type of style in your book by taking the elements that make up that genre.
Let's look at Horror as an element; at its core, it is about taking the everyday things we are used to and making them scary. Here's an example:
A babysitter is watching three kids, ages 8, 4, and 6 months. The baby has a nut allergy, so they have to be very careful to keep the kitchen clean. Said babysitter walks in and sees a jar of peanut butter sitting on the counter.
We know a couple things about the family, and how the baby has an allergy. Our babysitter walks in and finds a jar of peanut butter on the counter. Not scary, right? Let's take it further: the jar is open.
Still not scary?
The babysitter sees peanut butter hand prints smeared on the counter-tops, walls, chairs, and it leads down the hall. Baby is resting upstairs, and she has no idea where the other two kids are. She begins to panic and rushes past the messy hand prints on the walls, hoping she can get to the baby in time.
This scene could be written in a romance novel where the babysitter is in love with the boy next door (also a trope), and she took the job to be closer to him. Once you boil down the element, you can put it anywhere.
(The description is not mine, it is given on the Writing Excuses podcast)
Of Plots, Characters, and POV
Three of the most important things for a story to be successful in my opinion; if I don't care about the character, I won't be invested in the story. If I can see where the plot is going and predict every twist and turn, I lose interest. If the Point of View keeps changing too many times, I'm going to get confused about what is going on.
We're going to tackle these on there own, starting with plots.
Plot: You story doesn't have to reinvent the wheel to be cool, just make it yours. There are many, many, many, many...many fanfictions set in Lord of the Rings with a 10th Walker, or just set in the Third Age in general. This isn't to say that those are bad, far from it; I'm just not likely to read them because 3/4 of it will be almost verbatim from the book itself with a little sprinkling of an OC in there.
These stories that follow a book or movie are not bad, they are just not unique. They tend to not stand out, either. If you want to write a story that draws people in, do something that the readers do not expect. This is what I did in my story; I took events that fans were familiar with and then flipped it on its head. This is partly why my stories have done so well; the readers do not know what to expect next, so they keep reading to find out the answers.
The next thing is having interesting characters that your readers can connect with. No connection equals no reads. No matter how compelling your plot may be, if the person whose perspective with looking through is flat or boring, then you'll have reader gouging their eyes out, and that's bad.
How do we create such a super character? Well, I designed worksheets to help authors with this very thing. If you sign up for email, you get three for free, or you can find them here.
The first place to start is to figure out their flaws (this is where I tend to start) because it helps me know their limits and just how far I can push them. A flaw is something to do with their character, and weakness is usually about their state or condition; they are not the same. I have a weakness for donuts, but my flaw is how I lie about eating the donuts. Do you see?
Once you have at least one or two good flaws, you need to make sure that those flaws come into play throughout the story, with them playing a significant role in at least two critical scenes. It shows the reader that they are not perfect; therefore, they are relatable.
If you're doing a romance or friendship, the character should be the opposite in many ways to the other person. Captain America and Iron Man are friends, and in many ways they want the same thing, but they disagree all the time. Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice are opposites, but you see that they are right for each other because they challenge each other. These little things in your character will draw your readers in and, hopefully, invest in your characters and story.
Point of View is so important. You are choosing the eyes through which your readers will see the world and watch the story unfold, so don't screw it up.
If you have more than one main character, you can run into some issues with POV because you'll probably want to switch views to show what's happening to other characters in the story. There is a finesse to this that I have not seen in a lot of stories. For instance, I see people jump characters mid-chapter without telling the reader there has been a POV change; or there are multiple flashbacks during a chapter, leaving readers confused as to what is really going on.
If you need to change the POV, I recommend making an obvious pause point in the chapter. You don't even need to tell them who the new POV is, just make sure I know that there has been a pause in the current POV and then show me in the text who it is.
Aside from this, you should decide if you will be doing it in third-person or first-person, but that can be a whole other article for another time.
Choosing a Platform
There are many platforms out there where you can post your fanfictions, but I'm going to focus on two for this article that I have personally used.
This was the first site that I went to when I started looking to post my stories, and I know many people who still post their stories here, but I am not a fan (no pun intended). The user interface is outdated, or at the very least "simple"; the real issue for me was the formatting. It was a huge pain to try and work with, I had to upload different docs, and I couldn't upload pictures.
I read that fans here tend to leave a lot of feedback in the comments and that this is where some of the more die-hard fans tend to hang out. That was not my experience there, and I got little to no feedback even though I asked for it, and tried to interact with readers.
This does not mean that it's a bad setup! It just did not fit my vision of what I was looking to do. I wanted to customize more than that platform is built for, so it wasn't a good fit.
Wattpad took a little getting used too when it came to posting stories on there, but once I got the hang of it, I was pumping out stuff as fast as I could. They also let you upload your own book covers (which is a huge plus in my book. Again, no pun intended) and Canva even has a Wattpad friendly template you can use.
You can add videos, pictures, Gifs, and links inside your book to create richer content for your readers. This was another big plus for me.
You can easily join the community pages, post topics, look for new reads, have new reads recommended to you based on subject, and find like-minded people who share your love for storytelling and fandoms.
Wattpad does have its downsides which are more personal irritations of mine (like not having a neat and orderly friends/followers list that I can arrange) that don't take away from the experience.
Now It's Up To You
I won't say that you now have everything you need to write a story, but you at least have some tools in your belt that can help you along the way. Remember that writing is a journey and that just because you are not the author you want to be today, does not mean that you will never get there; it's a process, and you will learn and grow along the way, so don't give up! Keep writing!
Always strive to write something better than the last thing you did. Surround yourself with people who will not only encourage you as you write but will also help you get better by being honest with you about it. You're going to write some stuff that you are not happy with now and again, it happens. I still do it. But what will separate you from everyone else is when you learn from it.
God bless you all.