Author has written 23 stories for Ranma, Naruto, Stargate: SG-1, Oh My Goddess!, and Warhammer.
We're going to try the forum thing again. It seems a little more coherant than when it first came out, so why the hell not? It might also answer a few of those nagging questions you've been having. Try it, tell me what you think?-- Jusenkyo Reactor
In the interests of posting some content for you to read here, I've been asked a couple of times on how I write fics. Several writers I know start with bullet point outlines of their idea and I think that's probably the first place where I differ. Initially, there is the underlying concept of the idea, which can be summarized under Fanfiction Failure #12: Plot Vehicles. One either comes up with a vehicle or destination and for me, destination plots are usually easier to write. For example, Heir to the Empire started as a destination plot: Ranma teh reincarnated Queen Serenity. As the idea crystallizes, I develop a number of key ideas that will be part of the overall plot. Using the above example, Ranma would encounter the senshi in a massive misunderstanding. The amazons would be the antagonists. et cetera, et cetera.
Easy so far, right? Well, here's where things get a tad wonky. So we have an overarching plot idea and we will hit plot points that this fic will hit as the story is told. this is more or less a mental outline for me to keep track, which isn't a huge deal since I haven't invested much detail into its creation. It's not like I need a power point outline to remember to screw the Amazons over, right? But that aside, everything is free flowing. I don't pre-plan details from sign post to sign post. In fact, each plot point only serves as a directional guide to the next plot point. So how does all the rest of the crap get written?
Most of my fics more or less follow one huge IF-THEN string, using The Rules of Fanfiction Failure as a rule set. I especially lean on Cause and Effect and Characterizations to move the fic along. If Plot Point X happens, what are the Character Y's reactions? In essence, I liken my fic to a The Butterfly Effect-- Action reaction, to the point where the fic nearly writes itself. It's not always a convenient method of writing. Sometimes the causality nature of my writing spawns its own mutations into completely unintentional- but awesome -plot. Sometimes the action-reaction mechanism burns out and doesn't produce enough reaction to push things along to the next plot point. Usually that's where my writers block occurs.
Plot vehicles are harder for me to write than plot destinations as described above. It's easier (for me) to map out a fic that knows where its going than one that merely starts out as, what is in essence, a sign post. Take, for example, Ranma matched with Konatsu (and you think I'm joking). Now you could make that a plot destination in and of itself, but that makes for a fairly one dimensional fic in my opinion. That aside, it's much harder to generate that action-reaction catalyst when you are not starting from the beginning or end of the fic, but what is effectively the middle. generating a fic without a starting or ending point is much harder when my style of writing because my IF-THEN effectively becomes THEN-IF.
That's not to say it's impossible and as the Failure states, this particular failure can be negated at any point simply by creating that end goal.
From a more technical standpoint, I've had authors who watch me write (in real time via google docs) note how I actively and continually correct my work conceptually and grammatically as I write as opposed to burping it out and making an editing pass for these things later. This is only partially correct. I read and reread as I type to ensure flow and the idea I'm looking to portray comes across with the rest of the work. Very rarely do I care about spelling or grammar in the initical creation of the fic. As long as it says what i want it to say, it's fine. It also creates a massive headache for proofreaders, to the point where I advise them to not worry about grammar and spelling until the work is complete. After that is complete, I usually make two more passes at the work myself. The first pass is spelling for obvious reasons. The second is what I term as an environmental pass. This specifically looks at the plot environment in order to make the general world of the fic more than one dimensional. For example, instead of simply Ranma's shirt, I correct to Ranma's red shit, it's silk torn and battered. I rarely have to make a causality pass because it's my nature to write coherent IF-THEN as part of the fic creation. Environmental detail, on the other hand, can get left behind and usually deserves another pass before I release the fic into the wild.
So maybe all that will give you some insight as to how somethings come out like they do and others don't. or maybe I'm just talking to talk. I hope it helps some aspiring writer somewhere along the way as well and more importantly, my way is not the highway. If it's been generating 200 review fics, I'd say you have a good thing going as it is.
Not every time. Not all the time. But in most cases, the following should serve as a guide on how not to fail at writing fanfiction in nearly any genre you care to tackle. Sure, there are always exceptions to the rule, but if you have to ask yourself if you're that exception, then you probably aren't and should defer to the advice below. For those who have stumbled across this before, I've edited this introduction to be a fraction more professional in nature and slightly less abrasive, but you can still blame my overuse of the word 'fail' on DCG.
1) Your summary fails. It really does. This is the hook, your foot in the door. Avoid asking your readers questions here and avoid references to other parts of said fic. "What if Ranma fell into the world of Mario and saved the princess?" HE'LL EXPLODE INTO GOOEY CHUNKS AND SHOWER THE MUSHROOM KINGDOM WITH CRIMSON RAIN, DROWNING TURTLES AND PLUMBERS ALIKE IN A LAKE OF MARTIAL ARTS CARNAGE. Seriously, don't give your reader a chance to answer that question themselves. Next time you read a summary that's formed into a question, please remember the above reply. Secondly, such summaries impart no useful information to your audience. Likewise, "Continuing from part five, review my ass please" is similarly annoying. Hey genius, I didn't read part one. What's that about again? Convince me I should take the time to read chapter 1 before even considering part five. Be creative, give them a little bite of what to expect. Most entertaining is "I'm bad at summaries." The amount of fail in that statement could light Crystal Tokyo for a couple hundred years and encourages nobody to read your fic.
2) Your Grammar/Spelling fails. This is a direct indication of how much you care about your fic, and therefore how much we as readers should care about the fic. Every time you fail miserably at this, Chuck Norris kills a kitten. What's worse, you know you're failing and release the fic anyway. Don't cry when you get reamed by your reviewers. Why you aren't molesting the spell/grammar check function at a minimum is beyond me.
3) Your Plot Bludgeons fail. What is a plot bludgeon? You know, those pieces of information you impart on readers so obvious it hurts to read. An example of one I recently encountered-- Ukyo was really a flat chested man, unwraps himself to reveal that fact and say, "heheh, I can't believe I keep fooling them!" ...And i would have gotten away with it too if it hadn't been for those darn kids. Okay, so you want to get a point across to the reader. Great. But very rarely is there call to light your plot point up as a huge neon lit Las Vegas strip sign. Learn subtlety. Weave it naturally into the story. Ranma is a genius! Great, but tell me a story about it, not as an outright fact. Exceptions do exist, though most don't apply to you anyway.
4) Your obscure plot fails. Big rule... The more obscure/complex your plot is, the more it needs built up through detail and story telling. Likewise, the more important an event is in that plot, the more attention you need to pay it. Glossing over critical events is not allowed. Zap! Ranma is a female permanently now and feels suicidal. Huh? What? Ranma got mad and killed his father for all the injustices visited upon him. Whoa there, Tex. Might want to tell us what triggered that rampage or what led up to the critical events that you insist require only one sentence of explanation. If you have something weird going on, your readers might like to know some basic information... Like who, what, why, how, where, some history, motivations, etc...
5) Your Dialogue fails. (revised!) This mainly pertains to the structuring of said dialogue, not the content. The Pope will visit you tonight and rape your keyboard if you ever post a page full of dialogue without framing and context again. Don't assume your reader knows who's talking. Tell them who is talking. If you're feeling frisky, tell them how that character feels when they're talking. maybe the expressions on their face. What they're doing. Characters never just "said" anything. They never should just "reply". Dialogue is like a picture... It needs a frame if you're going to hang it on the wall properly. Of course, you could just nail it up there, but that's why you fail.
6) Your Shallow characters fail. Believe it or not, not everybody has read your favorite series. I KNOW! It's tough to swallow, but it's true. Take a moment to tell us a bit about their appearance. Detail their mannerisms though story telling. Sure, you can assume that if they're reading in a certain section they probably have at least basic knowledge of the series, but frankly that's a poor excuse not to embellish your characters with detail and depth. Sure, everybody knows who Optimus Prime is (did I just use him as an example? Yeck), but your story will fail less if you paint him in color instead of black and white.
7) Your short chapters fail. Hardcore. Mainly, because they give you very little space to impart critical plot and/or knowledge to the reader, forcing you to condense a lot of information into a short blurb. This normally leads to failures 2 through 6. Similarly, you drag out scenes that really should be combined into one flowing work. For example, watching Ranma wallow in angst for several short chapters while not really taking the story anywhere is not fun. It's like watching an episode of Dragonball Z once a week. It's excruciating.
8) Your derivative plot fails. Wheee! Ranma loses his memory after being locked as a female! Most readers are not opposed to this on average, but before you go thinking you're Stephen King, remember two things: He's dead, and assume it's been done before and buy a six pack of originality down at the corner 7-11. Your story/chapter needs a hook, no matter how good it is. Just because it has been done doesn't mean you shouldn't try your hand at it, but do your research on the competition before you just dive right in.
9) Your reviewers fail. Actually, no they don't. They're entitled to their opinion. Don't get defensive and don't argue with them because you're inherently insecure about your work. Self-confidence is required when facing your reviewers and actually debating their opinion on your work is bad taste. Honestly, why did you even bother posting in the first place? If you're writing for enjoyment, they shouldn't matter anyway. If you're writing to improve yourself, take notes. Nothing says insecurity and ass like a running review war. Yes, reviewers CAN be wrong, but so what? Arguing with them is a waste of your time anyway.
10) Your Alterverse fails. What do you get when you strip your main character of his canon personality, kill off all the supporting cast and send him off into another crossover series? You get one big bucket of suck. Any story where you can replace the main character with the name "Ed" and not know the difference automatically fails nine times out of ten. Do yourself a favor and assume you aren't that tenth time. Why did you even bother choosing that character and series to begin with if you were just going to piss all over the story and abandon it next chapter? Ha ha ha! Ranma doesn't have a curse, lost all his memories to the neko-ken and is now a faerie-vampire training with Bruce Lee in the cyber-wars of 2010! Of course that's ridiculous sounding, but its amazing how many aspiring authors totally divorce the characters from their original canon so completely. The sooner you accept the fact that you should scrub these fics from your hard drive with a brillo pad, the better.
11) Your Cause and Effect fails. Logical continuity will save plots that have no right being saved. Even yours. Thinking things through to their most logical conclusion is the hallmark of a well written story; as opposed to just going with a theme that sounds good and plowing though cause and effect like a semi plowing through a 30 car pile-up. When you're writing up a plot device, think the consequences of that path through and write the story around those consequences. Outlandish plot points are fine toward this end. You want Naruto to be a sexy demon slayer? Great! But think over. How you get there will make or break your fic, and generally the most easily explainable means toward that end are the best ones. Ask cause and effect questions at every stage of your fic. For every decision your character makes. For every action that happens in their proximity. Treat them as real people. How will they react? The more you have to justify those reactions and the more outlandish they sound, the more you are failing at it. This failure not only runs hand in hand with Fanfiction Failure #4, but has far reaching consequences in other failures at well.
12) Your plot vehicle fails. Because you obviously don't know how to drive. Stories are divided up into vehicles and destination, and one without the other is absolutely worthless. In fact, reading this particular failure to execute is like salting your eyeballs and dipping them in vinegar; something that can be avoided with some good ol' common sense. Harry Potter the magical girl is not a plot in and of itself. It's a way way to get to your plot. How Harry Potter becomes Queen of the magical girls is. That's your end destination, and everything in your fic should revolve around getting there. Fics without an end destination have a shelf life before your readers become as tired of reading it as you are of writing an endless, go nowhere exercise in futility. Your reader base might laugh at first, but all you've really done is sentence them to a slow, lingering death; though this can be reversed by simply remembering where you're going. Fics without vehicles, however, are always immediately fatal, mainly because how you're getting to that end plot makes no sense what-so ever. You tried to insert BS instead of substance in your point A to B plot, and it's a failure strongly related to number twelve. Harry Potter the magical girl queen is a laudable goal, but if you can't substantiate a way to make that happen, its best you leave that one to the big boys and girls.
13) Your Characterizations fail. Didn't we already visit this one? No, we did not. Characters are the lifeblood of your fic, and since your plots are obviously bleeding out, let me impart a bit of wisdom concerning them. KNOW YOUR GODDAMN CAST. Simply doing so is what will set you apart from your failing brethern, giving your fic an ever so slight chance to win. Canon will tell you everything you need to know about them: Their likes, dislikes, general disposition and best of all- repeat after me kids -how they will react to any situation you write them into. Not only does an authentically written character lend credbility to your story, knowing how they will react in regards to canon is solid fanfic gold for your readers. Even when you OC the hell out of the cast, this rule is vital just so you have a baseline, since you will at least know what you're doing to a given character when you take the mary sue torch to their ass. Building realistic characters also requires a grasp of Rule #11... Good character behavior plus cause and effect go hand in hand-- to the point where the story plot points will all but write themselves because you did your job as an author.
14) Your Overarching Plot fails. Here we have another incestuous relative of Failure #4 and like squicky brother and sister relationships, should be avoided at all costs. Most fics are built on tried and true formulas... Time travel to make things right. Harem for the hell of it. Matchmaking A to B. Excreta goddamn excreta. While tackling this subject matter won't cause the universe to spontaneously detonate, you've not only had impure relations with failure #4, but more than likely began to make googley eyes at her cousins, failure #8 and failure #12. What does this lead to, friends? BIRTH DEFECTS. Sure, you probably had some fun and your readers will enjoy it for a bit, but take a step back and ask yourself... Should you be looking at your sister that way? Friend, just say no and take the following advice: You can write these thoroughly mundane plots, but dress it up. Give it an overarching plot beyond the core you're trying to achieve. Tell us a story about something grand. You want a Ranma harem? Great! So do I, but tell us a story about how Ranma became The Dragon Lord of China (thanks MB) and work the harem in as branching story, not the end all be all of the story itself. And best of all, you can avoid giving birth to a four armed, six eyed baby plottling.
Fanfiction Failure Metarules for Writers
Things to look out for as an author to help you win more than fail at fanfiction.
Fanfiction Failure Metarule #1-- Readers will absolute love a completed work but will invariably pick apart and inadvertently attempt to destroy it if given a hand in its creation. Be especially wary of open forums and chat channels in this regard as they usually have opinionated folks who haven't ever written anything or anything in nearly forever. Either have a healthy self image or screen your pre-readers carefully to avoid this failure.
Fanfiction Failure Metarule #2-- The phrase "...that's just another excuse to (plot device)." indicates you are dealing with a person of below average insight as to how fiction is written. These people should not be allowed to influence your work in any way because everything is a means to an end and is therefore "an excuse" to achieve that end. For example; "...(plot device) is just another excuse to lock Ranma as a girl." This is an empty statement attempting to hide behind factual expertise; a bludgeon used by particular readers that don't get their way or don't approve of your plot. It contains no value beyond personal opinion and should therefor be treated as such.
Fanfiction Failure Metarule #3-- There is no impossible in fanfiction. Every once in a while you'll run into that anal retentive plot nazi that will say it simply can't be done like that. It doesn't matter what 'that' is because 'it' simply can't be done and they are, of course, the foremost authority on such matters. Normally this advisement is made by people that don't know they're closet creativity thieves; people who don't realize that their favorite series usually has either plot holes you can drive a death star through or that same series has Lucky God martial Artists, Flying airships, and springs of drowned Asura-zebra-octopi-phoenix-yeti-bulls. Sadly, their disagreements usual come down to little more than opinion of what is in reality- say it with me -magical bullshit. As such, these people should be given as little creative share in your work as possible. All that said, there is a difference between the broken ideology of "can't be done" and the more realistic "shouldn't be done". Consult the Rules of Fanfiction Failure for a head start on those.
Fanfiction Failure Metarule #4-- "It's been done before!" is never an excuse not to do it again. Some of the best works you will ever read in fanfiction "have been done before" and it's still amazing how these will be the first words out of reader's mouths when running an idea past them- even though they absolutely HAVE to know somewhere in the back of their mind that this is an empty statement, because half the fics they enjoy "have been done before". Don't take this one personally. It's reflex. Smile, nod and continue writing anyway with Rule of Fanfiction Failure #8 somewhere in the back of your mind.
Fanfiction Failure Metarule #5-- Fanon is not a sin. That's right folks, its time to drop the rosaries and stop going to those cleansing ceremonies because contrary to what you have been led to believe, fanon is not the end of the world. What is the end of the world is not knowing the difference between fanon and canon. Even if you don't know, your readers will and there's a good chance that your fic will deserve the smack-down heaped upon you even as your pitiful cries of "no flames" go unnoticed in the fic summary. Fanon often personalizes a fic and can- and I stress can -make it better than the original source material, but like Fan Fic Failure #13, knowing what you're doing to canon before you rape it at the alter will make or break a fic.
Fanfiction Failure Metarule #6 -- Do what they tell you not to or shouldn't. Who are 'they'? They are the know-it-alls of fanfiction; even other authors. This particular rule is a close cousin to metarule #3 and has served me well over the years. They tell you not to put specific dates in your fic? Do it. They tell you that writing about X will only cause problems. Go for it. Not only will you set your work apart from theirs as unique, your readers will appreciate you tackling subject matter others are afraid to touch. Trusted prereader advice should always take precedence over this rule, but always keep it in the back of your mind. Asking yourself 'why' somebody advises against certain material is half the battle whether you take their advise or not.
NEW! Fanfiction Failure Metarule #7 -- Know your gimmick and ride it into the ground. Every series has a gimmick that the plot revolves around, and the people reading your fiction are there for that gimmick. Your job as an author is to know what that gimmick is and incorporate it obviously into your work. Transformers have transforming robot battles. Ranma1/2 has martial arts and gender curses. Harry Potter has clueless magical noobs in over their heads... And you think I'm joking. Be that as it may, your readers are exploring the genre because they like source material. Obviously you need to know the cast of characters and have a halfway decent plot, but folks, they're their for a reason. A transformer fic without a robot transforming is a travesty. A Ranma fic that doesn't feature a curvy redhead is stale. Harry Potter without its James and the Giant Peach derivative plot is... Well, I think you get the idea. The original fiction has a gimmick and that gimmick better feature prominently throughout your work as well.