What Makes a Good Fanfic?
Well, here I go again with another Ramble, though this time it concerns what another fanfic writer had rambled about on fanfiction.net. The following is a list of what he thought caused fanfics to fail and my own opinions about them. Youíll also find this list on my forum and the discussion about it.
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 CANAGE. Seriously, donít give your reader a chance to answer that question themselves. Next time you read a review that's formed into a question, please remember the above reply. Secondly, such reviews 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 ch1 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.
My response: This is all a matter of what you want your readers to expect. I myself get turned off whenever I get a summary which is almost a play-by-play version of the story, which begs the question, why bother reading the thing if you know whatís in it? For the most part, I simply give my readers a small hook on the first chapter and leave it at that.
2) Your Grammar/Spelling fails. This is a direct indication about 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.
My response: Iíll admit that not using the Spell Checker when you have it available is a bit of a crime. Sometimes, I just copy and paste a chapter on my word processor, just to correct these elementary errors. Now Iím not saying Iím perfect, and I do read over some of my older stories and find some typos, but there are some fics out there with absolutely atrocious grammar and spelling errors. There are some out there that donít even know the differences between certain words like where and wear, but and butt, read and red, etc. Now if English isnít your primary language, then I could forgive such things if the problem doesnít persist for too long, but one must be able to use the tools at hand to eventually fix such nuisances.
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, "Heh heh, 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 subtly. 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.
My response: What can I say? The truth can hurt, especially if it is constantly shoved into someoneís face. Iíve been guilty of overstating stuff at time, though I have toned it down lately.
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 event 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 you insist only require one sentence explanations. 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...
My response: I have come across lots of instances of run-in sentences, cut up paragraphs, missed lines and whatnot. In many cases, it is because of the writer being too excited or in a hurry to finish. To solve such problems, write whatever in your mind at the time, then read back over it to fill in the missing blanks.
5) Your Dialogue fails. 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. 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.
My response: I do agree that some extra imagery never hurts, especially when the characters experiences great emotion. However, too much detail can also detract from the flow of the story. Normally, I keep myself to about one to two sentences of description whenever a character feels something. I give just enough to get the reader to imagine the scene, then I move on.
6) Your Shallow characters fail. Believe it or not, not everybody has read your favorite series. I KNOW! It's tough to swallow, but its true. Take a moment to tell us a bit about their appearance. Detail their mannerisms though story telling. Sure, you can assume 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.
My response: This is sort of a gray area here. Yes, you canít assume the reader knows about the series, but at the same time, you canít assume that he/she doesnít. Thatís one of the reasons why we writers always disclaim at the beginning, so the reader can backtrack to the original work to get an idea, if they wish. Iíve had readers praise me on some of my crossover work, even though some have never even heard about the series I use.
7) Your short chapters fail. Hardcore. Mainly, because they give you so 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 2-6. 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 DBZ once a week. It's excruciating.
My response: I have to agree that short chapters do kind of turns me off, especially when the story had a good start. Once again, a writer might want to go over his drafts and add things in to make it more complete.
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: 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.
My response: Fanfiction is all about taking an idea and putting your own twist on it. How one writes an idea is up to him/her. I do agree to research others before one tries it, but it is possible that he/she might have a different and possibly better idea on how to do it. Do not discount it, just because you may have heard it before.
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. If you're writing for the warm fuzzy glow of praise, quit right now or stop failing so much. If you were that good, you wouldn't be posting fiction here. 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.
My response: Hereís another bit of gray area that Iíd rather not touch, since thereís too many variables to make a judgment call. Pretty soon, it degrades into your opinion Vs their opinions. And somewhere, the story itself gets lost in the shuffle. If you have pre-readers who check your spelling and flow of the story, thatís fine. If they have some ideas that you can use, then go ahead. However, keep in mind that youíre the one writing the story, so you have the final say on what gets uploaded and what goes into the trash.
10) Your Altverse 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 has been 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.
My response: Now this one point that I cannot agree with. Fanfiction is MEANT to be what the fan writer WANTS. Thatís why there are no set rules to writing it. If you want the character to be different from the original due to some kind change in his/her history, then why not? We get a new story with twists and surprises, and we donít have to worry about following canon, because itís NOT canon. Itís like those What If stories from Marvel comics or Elseworlds from DC comics. So what if this happened in the original or that the main character never did that in canon? Am I writing about canon? No, Iím not and neither should any other writer who wants to make a change. So what if it doesnít follow the original? So what if the main character acts totally opposite to what he was before? Does that mean that I have to stop? If it did, then I should have never written Rune Soldier Ranma, Tekkadread, Tattoon Ranma and so on.
Exceptions exist to nearly all of these rules. They probably don't apply to you, but hey, it's called a disclaimer for a reason. And yes. I am PERFECT in ALL of these.
My response: Considering how many spelling/grammar mistakes I corrected when I copied your list, you may want to rephrase that. Furthermore, though I do agree on some points, I do not want other writers who are just starting to try their hand at fanfic writing, to take your opinions or mine as ironclad rules. What Iím giving are simply suggestions and advice. Good fanfiction is developed over time and writers will hit a lot of bumps along the way. Thatís all part of the learning process.