MsLovesToRead789: You've disabled PM, so I couldn't respond any other way to your question. You have all the ones by JRR; there is the History of Middle-earth series by his son Christopher, which is where the Book of Lost Tales is. Check out chapter seven for more information. :)
So, since twelve is a very auspicious number for the Elves, we decided to make this fic twelve chapters long. …Ok, not really, this is just how it turned out. But yes, this is the last chapter.
And in it, as the title may suggest, we're addressing AUs. First off, I'd like to get it out there that just because you're going to say your fic is "set in an alternate universe" doesn't mean that it's perfectly okay to disregard the past eleven chapters. And not just because Skye and I have worked so hard on them!- because even if you're writing an AU fic, it only makes sense to still show respect for the rules the sub-created (to steal a term from Tolkien) universe you're playing in is governed by. That isn't to say you *can't* label your story an AU and do whatever you want, but if you've gotten this far into our little guide, it shows that you care about respecting Tolkien's world- and would want to do so even if you're tweaking it a hair...?
To my mind, AUs are a lot like grammar. As my creative writing professor said, you have to know it before you can play with it. An AU is not simply doing whatever you wish to the story. It's taking a specific aspect of the original work, changing it, and then exploring what that would do. In that respect, writing a good AU is almost harder than writing a gap-filler or something similar. Not only do you have to know what happened in the original story, but you have to understand the logic behind it: why what happened played out the way it did.
People often create what they call a "What if?" AU, but, when you think about it, all good AUs will answer that question. Even if it's by adding a tenth member to the Fellowship, you're still answering that question- and you're still inside Tolkien's world, playing by Tolkien's rules. It all goes back to our very first chapter, caring about your writing because your writing is worth the care. Deciding to populate Middle-earth with fairies and unicorns can answer a "What if?" but you've also got to consider how much that really respects Tolkien's wishes- and oftentimes the wishes of your potential readers, too!
We are so luck to get to play in a universe that is so rich: Tolkien spent his entire life working and refining these tales. There is so much to be explored that it almost seems like cheating to add new creatures or new civilizations. There's no need! Anything you could want is already in Ea. Adding random, ill-fitting elements says–to me–that the writer was too lazy to research what already exists in this wonderful universe. I doubt that's the impression you want to give, and I doubt that's the kind of people you are, if you're reading this!
Thus, like so many things else, a quality AU comes down to taste, discretion, research, and characterization. Now, you might be thinking, "But isn't this universe technically one with two canons?"; the movies often give many writers an easy out of at least two of the items I've mentioned. As you know, Skye and I have been a bit "biased" in this guide toward the books (if you want to put it that way), but adopting the movie!canon doesn't remove you from Tolkien's universe. When it comes to the issue of movieverse, I say to go for it, as long as you do your research on anything you choose to dabble in outside what's addressed by Peter Jackson's films. (And I also say to go read the books, but I digress...) If you're in the movieverse, don't leave it.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the movies don't quite manage to tell the whole story. While they do an excellent job, (they are the best book to movie adaptions I've seen) they still leave out some rather important things. Like Numenor, for example. Or that Frodo doesn't leave the Shire until 17 years after Bilbo does. These are little things, but they can make your work more logical and show to your readers that you really do know what you're talking about. I have no problems reading something that's movieverse, until they start making things up that contradict book!canon. Then I occasionally loose interest in the work, or simply find it irritating. But then, I will freely admit that I'm a purist.
And then there are the mash-ups. It's like a casserole gone a little funky when a writer decides they can't choose between the two canons and says, "Oh, I'll sprinkle in a dash of that from the books- I like Glorfindel- but, oh, I think I also want a little suspense on the road to Helm's Deep, let's keep that battle." Or, "Well, I like how everyone stands up and volunteers to be a Fellowship member in the movie, but it's also nice in the books how Gandalf and the hobbits all meet together later and discuss things." Perhaps my examples weren't so good, but (I hope!) the point is still there: it takes your readers for an uncomfortable ride if they're unsure which canon you're following, or it varies chapter by chapter.
I would say there's on exception to what Crackers said, and she may disagree with me here, but I'm personally fond of fics that attempt to reconcile the two canons together where they are massively disparate. I'm also fine with fics that follow basic movieverse, but change some of the more...extensive...departures from book!canon. Like Faramir's little 'lets-drag-the-Hobbits-to-Osgilliath-and-completely-destroy-my-character' move. Overall though, Crackers is absolutely right: pick one and stay with it.
I do indeed agree! As long as you've got some order in your combination of the canons, there's really no problem, but when it becomes a random mixing together of dialogue and elements from both, to the point where, like Skye's already mentioned, it begins to appear you don't know what you're talking about, that's where we start to get issues. A little order and reliability never hurt anybody's fanfic.
It seems we're repeating ourselves: you really have to know what you're talking about. So, now that we've spent a lot of time on what *not* to do, why don't we talk a bit on how to write a good AU?
The first trick is to find a part in the story that could have gone differently. Like, what would have happened in Moria if Glorfindel had been included in the Fellowship? Or if Denethor didn't die in the pyre? Or–a popular one–what would have happened if Boromir hadn't died? *starts kicking plot bunnies* I really need to remember not to give them ammunition...
Then, once you have the element you're changing, you follow the logic of what would happen next. If Glorfindel had faced the Balrog instead of Gandalf, what would that mean for Middle-earth? Would Denethor fight to keep his rival Aragorn off the throne of Gondor? How would things be different if Boromir rather than Faramir was Steward of Gondor, or would he abdicate in his brother's favor? All things to consider.
Then, there are the really big AUs. For instance, what would have happened if Sauron had regained the Three Rings during the second Age? What if he had won the War of the Last Alliance? What if the quest failed, and he regained his Ring? What if Saruman got the Ring? Harder to answer, but certainly intriguing to think about. *eyes the ravenous plot bunnies nervously*
That's all any good AU takes, intriguing questions that will attract readers and create a twist on the story's plot without leaving behind everything else about the universe you're working in. With that in mind, I suppose this is where we find ourselves at the end of- not all things, but at least this chapter, and this guide. It's been a good ride, and I sincerely hope you've had as much fun reading it as we've had writing it, and that we've been able to help you out by just sharing a small portion of everything there is to know about Tolkien's wonderful cosmos.
If there's anything you take away from this guide, I hope it's a greater appreciation for Tolkien's works. I know I've said it before, and I know I'll say it again, but there is no substitution for reading the books that are a culmination of a lifetime of work for this author. Thousands upon thousands have read and loved his works, Crackers and I included.
Again, if you have any questions we didn't cover in this guide, or something you didn't understand, or you just want to chat, feel free to PM us, or check out our forum. Thank you to everyone who reviewed, or favorited, or followed, or just read.
Your feedback has been so encouraging throughout this story; it really does mean a lot to us to know people are interested in keeping their fanfic in touch with Tolkien's world. That said, go forth and write!
So I guess all that is left to say is to quote the Great Eagles:"Farewell, wherever you fare, till your eyries receive you at the journey's end!"