A/N: Ho boy. I just had a vision of myself, working on this instead of my fanfiction. Long story short, about a year ago I joined a discord server for PMD, and ever since I've really gotten involved in the fandom, the most involved I've been in years. We share a lot of writing advice, and it got me thinking. When I was younger I was a big fan of stuff like Canon Rape (in retrospect that title makes me cringe, lol) and Clichestorm. You know, tongue-in-cheek parodies that were also intended to inform burgeoning authors.
But as I grew older and learned more about writing, I sort of realized that these stories don't really get at the root of the problems they parody and/or mock, but were rather a byproduct of more systematic issues (some of which lays at the feet of the source material, but that's a discussion for another day).
It's no secret that most fanfiction isn't very good. I attribute this to a variety of reasons. Lack of experience, lack of talent, lack of mentoring, lack of editing, lack of filtering, lack of drive. But one thing fanfiction does have in spades is passion. People write about fandoms because, well, because they care. They love Naruto, they love Harry Potter, they love Pokémon. And they're inspired to creatively express that love through smut, err, I mean stories.
This opens up avenues to people who otherwise may have never started writing. It provides a place to share ideas, to foster community and support and growth. And I think that's pretty neat.
So I want to give back with a little guide of my own, that comprehensively goes over the foundations of narrative, and apply it to Pokémon fanfiction. Because at the end of the day, fanfiction is just that, fiction, and thus the same rules apply. We just get to take some shortcuts, heh.
By the end of this guide, I'll have drafted an outline for a novel-length story. Feel free to join me in working on an outline of your own, or simply follow along. If you have any requests or questions, let me know either in reviews or via PM, and I'll see if I can't discuss it in upcoming chapters. Here we go!
"We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars." - Oscar Wilde
As a quick aside, I don't plan to touch on grammar much if at all. Mainly because it's boring. I recommend checking out podcasts such as Grammar Girl or sites such as Grammarly (or perhaps talk to a teacher/professor in a school setting). I'll make two quick points about grammar before moving on:
1. Grammar exists to better facilitate communication between author and reader. Learn the rules.
2. The best authors know when and how to break the rules of grammar to evoke a specific reaction and/or effect. But again, rules must be learned to be broken.
One of the first things I do when writing any sort of fanfiction - or fiction in general - is determine the genre. Is it a romantic comedy, fantasy adventure, science fiction, urban thriller, film-noir, family drama, etc., etc. There are a variety of categories and subcategories.
Different genres often come with different expectations from the audience. People that read romance are primarily interested in interactions between characters, while fantasy readers are often interested in world building aspects.
In ancient Greece, genres boiled down to comedies (light hearted stories often poking fun at artists, politicians, and philosophers), tragedies (serious subject matter dealing with moral rights and wrongs), and satyr, also known as tragicomedy (a tragic play with comedic elements to lighten the mood, or a serious play with a happy ending). All three fall under the umbrella of the Athenian drama.
For the purpose of this guide, I'm going to focus on writing a fantasy adventure fanfiction, with a dash of romance, since that's what's most popular in this particular fandom. It'll mostly be comedic, although I'll include some tragic undertones. I've also decided to use characters from the Pokémon anime, because interpreting canon characters is fairly unique to fanfiction. I do intend to discuss original characters as well, and character building in general, so fear not.
Misty and Gary will star as the main characters in my story. They'll both be on vacation in Alola when shenanigans occur, and boom, there's an opening premise.
One other thing to keep in mind is that even something as simple as competence isn't just going to appear out of thin air. Or, more accurately, during the first draft. Writing is a skill that, like any other, needs to be honed and practiced. The more I write the better I get.
Even the stuff I wrote about two years back makes me cringe a bit (okay, a lot), because of my constant evolution as an author. It's natural. It's normal. Rookie writers are going to make mistakes (hell, experienced writers are going to make mistakes! They're just better at hiding it, haha), and that's okay. That's how they learn and improve.
Some advice to help expedite the process. First, read a lot. People often learn best by association. It also gives ideas to steal, I mean, borrow, and improve upon or approach from another angle.
I coach soccer, and we often encourage kids to play other sports as well in the off season. The reason is that certain, specific skills are improved upon due to cross-sports play. A similar concept applies to this situation. Consume media outside of books such as movies, television, plays, games, and music - the presentation of narrative may differ, but many of the applications remain the same.
As a note of caution, not everything across mediums translates well. A picture is worth a thousand words or whatever. There's a reason adaptations are often contentious.
Point of View
"The more you explain it, the more I don't understand it." - Mark Twain
What's the first thing that should be decided when writing any story? Plot? Characters? Setting? Nope! The answer, if it wasn't already obvious, is point of view! Point of view is something that seems simple and easy but can be surprisingly tricky.
POV is essentially the means with which a narrative interacts with the audience. All writing has a point of view. It's the "surface" of the story. Who is telling the story? Am I inside the protagonist's head, am I beside them, am I above them? Is the focus on one character or many?
Each POV has rules, things that can and can't be done, and the job of an author is to determine which POV best complements the sort of story they want to tell. Most people are probably familiar with the three major points of view. I'll also touch on some subcategories that probably aren't as well known, or known but not always mentioned by name.
Dramatic/Objective Third Person
Essentially all thought is stricken from the prose. Ideas can only be communicated through action, physical reaction, and dialogue. Shirley Jackson's The Lottery is a famous example.
The concept behind this point of view is to be cold and distant. Far away. An observer with no opinion, or at least one not expressed outside a scene. Everything must be inferred by the actions and statements of characters, with no input from the narrator. It is completely neutral.
Misty sat beside the pool. Water lapped at her knees. She rested on her palms, staring up at the ceiling. Beads of sweat dripped down her temple.
"Where do we go from here?"
Psyduck tilted his head. He moved forward, slipped, and tumbled into the pool. Water sprayed everywhere as he thrashed about.
After a moment, Misty sighed and leaned forward, fishing Psyduck out.
Third Person Limited
Most contemporary fiction is written in third person limited. It's viewing the thoughts of one character, and one character only, and sticking with them for the duration of the scene/novel.
There can be multiple characters whose perspective I write from, but I can't switch perspectives mid-sentence. The scene has to conclude first, otherwise it's considered bad form. Another way to think about it is that I'm using dramatic third person except for the point of view character.
A word of warning: waiting to introduce a new character's viewpoint has more potential to confuse the reader the longer it takes for them to appear. It's possible to bring in someone new even as late as a third of a way into the story, but it can also backfire.
Why is the limited third POV so popular? The answer is identification. I, the author, am providing a window for the reader to see into a specific character's mind - their quirks, dreams, backstory, motivation, flaws, and more. For a brief period of time, they embody that character. It's clear and engaging for a large majority of readers. Personal.
It's also easy to break POV here. For example, "Gary stared at his desk. There was so much paperwork. He ran a hand through his dark brown hair, bright brown eyes piercing as shadows lengthened around him."
I don't think about what color my hair is or what color my eyes are. A lot of fanfiction authors touch on this as a criticism, but generally don't articulate why it's bad - it's a POV break (and often extraneous, boring detail, because Gary having brown hair tells me nothing about Gary the character).
As a writer I think it's my responsibility to describe to readers what the character looks like. It's also why 'mirror scenes' tend to be popular. Trust me, though, nobody cares. It takes the reader out of the moment. I want them to be as close to the point of view character as possible, and breaking a reader's immersion is one of the worst mistakes a new writer can make. Physicality can imply character, but that's a slightly different matter that I'll return to in another chapter.
Another example of a POV break:
"Gary glared at his grandfather, face flushed with anger. Professor Oak was angry too." The second sentence is the break. It flips from Gary's perspective to Oak's.
This, as with a lot of POV breaks, is rather subtle. Some might argue that it's not a violation because it's obvious that Oak is angry. There are absolutely grey areas for whether something is a POV break or not, and writer's discretion always plays a role.
But in this instance, Oak's anger can easily be shown through other means - clenched fists, raised voice, etc., and better reinforces the idea that the story is being viewed through Gary's eyes.
Third Person Omniscient
Third person omniscient covers the thoughts of multiple characters, often within a single scene. The narrator is god. A lot of 18th century stories were written this way. Tolstoy, Dickens, Austen, the list goes on.
It's quieter, more controlled, sort of floating between characters. It's good for ensemble casts in particular. As with anything, it's important to establish early so that readers know what to expect.
This POV is rather tricky and I don't recommend it for new writers, as it's easy to overwhelm and overload the reader with information. There's an author between the character and the audience for all flavors of third person, even if the voice of the author is completely neutral, and omniscient can put up a wall that makes it difficult to connect with any character.
They watch the popplio slide down the tree. He's trying quite hard to get the coconut. What he'll do with the coconut is unimportant. First he needs to reach it.
Misty wants to help the poor dear. Gary just wants to take out his phone, film the popplio, and then upload the video onto social media. A pokémon doing a funny thing is guaranteed to go viral.
Second person is writing from the perspective of "you". It's not used all that often, and personally I find it rather gimmicky. You did this. You did that. No, I didn't do this or that, the character did. But some authors who have done well with it are Jay McInerny, Lorrie Moore, and Terry Slessinger.
Sometimes writers will switch between third and second, creating the effect that there are 'two' voices. This POV is difficult and often weird, and should only be done by experienced authors interested in experimenting with different and/or new styles.
You receive a letter in the mail. No one slowbro mails anything anymore. It's from the Pokémon League. That explains it. The neat, standardized font stares at you, as does the ornate, officious seal.
You contemplate the letter before hiding it under a pile of spam. Maybe later, right now you're conveniently busy with a rather important thing.
First person utilizes "I". It's from the perspective of the characters themselves, rather than through the lens of a more distant narrator. This POV is special because the tone of the character is attached to the delivery. There's a lot more flexibility in how it can be delivered.
Hammet, Fitzgerald, and Twain are all authors who've used it. First person is particularly popular in mystery novels.
I, and quite a few others, tend to recommend this viewpoint to new writers for several reasons:
1. It's easier to create an identifiable voice for the protagonist.
2. It places limits on the writer, and limitations often breed creativity.
3. It helps the audience better identify with the protagonist.
4. It prevents point of view breaks.
It's important to keep in mind that third person sentences can still be used to describe what the character is observing. I rewrote a passage from The Jungle Book to demonstrate what I mean:
"Father and Mother Wolf died, and I rolled a big boulder against the mouth of the cave, and cried the Death Song over them; Baloo grew very old and stiff, and even Bagheera, whose nerves were steel and whose muscles were iron, was a shade slower on the kill than he had been. Akela turned from gray to milky white with pure age; his ribs stuck out, and he walked as though he had been made of wood, and I killed for him."
That's not to say that it's a simple matter of flipping between first and third, it's more to make the point that not every sentence needs to start with "I". First person is essentially in the character's head - sentences are more likely to fragment and break down. A friend of mine had this point to make about some fanfiction in first person I've been working on:
"... characterization comes through what the pov character notices, sometimes the detail you put in when describing setting or characters comes off as kind of hollow. like [sic] the poetry and elegance she uses to describe for example the elder's house is at odds with her quips and nonchalance in dialogue."
Another question to ask is, 'Who's listening? Where is this being narrated from?' It's not something that might necessarily be answered, but it's still something to consider.
The coffee cup read, 'World's Number One Grandson' in obnoxious yellow and red font. I stared at it for a long time. When had I even gotten this? Probably from gramps. I shrugged and grabbed it anyway - Gary motherfuckin' Oak could make even the ugliest coffee cup look good.
I then opened the drawer, searching for my expertly hidden box of donuts. But all I found was a box filled with crumbs and betrayal, and a note that read, 'nice try. smell ya later'.
Dammit. This was why fratricide should be legal.
Epistolary (letter) and Journal
A subdivision of first person. Nick Bantock's, The Griffin and Sabine books are epistolary, Dracula by Stoker, and of course everyone should know The Diary of Anne Frank.
It's important to remember that events have already taken place in these stories. That is to say, the narrator is discussing past events. It means whoever is writing this has already survived, which often lowers stakes and tension.
Quite often these are observers of the 'main character'. That is to say, the first person narrator isn't always the protagonist.
This is a POV that, again, I don't really recommend for new writers. But at the same time, I think it's a bit of an easier format compared to third omniscient or second person. So if someone is newer and wants to try a POV other than the standard ones, this is what I'd go with.
I threw a match today, because of how often I've been winning. "Skews the stats", they say. It's so stupid. The kid was such a sore winner, too.
I think I need a break.
How to Determine Point of View
Some questions I'll ask myself when selecting a point of view:
What do I want to do to the reader?
Can the reader get what they need to know from inside a single narrator or not?
Will I need to describe some events where that narrator isn't present?
Will the story be as gripping if I'm telling it after the fact? Or if I jump between multiple points of view?
Whose story is this? Whose story am I telling?
Psychic distance is a rather advanced concept that ties into point of view. John Gardner defines it as, "the distance the reader feels between himself [or herself] and the events in the story". He breaks it down into five levels of distance
"A young woman stepped into the forest."
At its farthest point, characters don't have names, they are figures in a landscape. This character isn't Misty to us, not yet, she's just 'a young woman'.
2. "Misty Kasumi had never liked bugs."
Now we know her name, and have thus moved one step closer to her. But we're still a fair distance away from the character, it's quite formal.
3. "In fact, Misty hated bugs."
Now we're on a first name basis, and we've changed the verb to better reflect the character's feelings. This middle ground is where much of a story will take place, distance wise.
4. "Arceus, how she loathed those fucking bugs."
Now we've moved even closer due to pronouns and even stronger language.
5. "Creeping, crawling everywhere, too many legs, too many eyes, they wriggle beneath her skin and lay eggs, hatchlings bursting out through her skull."
This is the closest we can get - inside a character's head. The thoughts aren't being paraphrased.
Think of psychic distance as a camera. My words, and how close they bring me to the character or characters, acts as lens. Cinematography utilizes concepts such as close ups, wide shots, establishing shots, dutch angles, and more to better evoke a reaction or a feeling out of the audience. I can format my sentences in such a way to mimic this process.
Looking over the POVs just discussed, objective perspective places the reader the farthest from story events, while first person would be the closest. But often it can be like a camera on a dolly, moving in closer and then pulling away.
"Misty Kasumi hated bugs. (2) Arceus, she thought, they drive me crazy. (5) The young woman had only ever had one bad experience with them. (1) But Misty never forgot it. (3)"
This is all over the place in terms psychic distance, moving in and out without any sort of rhyme or reason. It's like a yo-yo for the reader. Or we'll be using a characters name and their appropriate pronoun, and suddenly we get self-conscious of repetition and replace a pronoun with an epithet. Suddenly the reader is thrown way out of the story. Most of the time we should be hovering between 3 and 4, unless the change exists to make the reader feel something specific.
That's why it's important to control psychic distance, same as with controlling point of view. It better engages and directs the reader. But I wouldn't worry about this too much for new writers, and even experienced writers should be thinking about this sort of thing in the revision stages rather then the first draft.
For my story involving Gary and Misty, I've decided to use third person limited, because I want to shift between their respective viewpoints.
Well, that about covers everything involving POV. In the next chapter I'll discuss plot structures such as the hero's journey, the heroic quest, the three act structure, and freytag's pyramid. Hope this was helpful, and that everyone has a nice day.
Daniel Schwabauer, One Year Adventure Novel
The Odyssey Workshop podcast featuring Gregory Frost, Robert Sawyer, and Rodman Philbrick
John Gardner, The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers