A Plea to Fanfic Writers
Dear Fanfic writers,
Could you please, for the love of all things living, stop what you’re doing and think about what story you are writing, and how you are writing that said story. I ask this because it seems the more I visit fanfiction websites, the more I want to bang my head against my desk and hope that I will black out early. Here are some of my pointers on writing fanfiction.
Writing stories is like painting a picture, only with words. Some of the best stories around have the ability to paint a picture for their audience without having to actually use pictures. Don’t write your story as if you are telling it to a 10 year old. I don’t want you talking down to me as if I have a limited vocabulary. An example of this is has been taken and modified from a previous story I have mocked: “It was Sunday night, and she had just gone out with him, but it wasn’t really a date, it was more catch up date.” This does nothing to tell me about the date, all I know is it was just a catch up date. I feel ignorant for even having to read it, and stupid for not knowing what’s exactly going on. Remember writers, your audience is smart and generally don’t take kindly to you assuming their stupidity. While you don’t need to use a painting by Monet to tell me what’s happening in the story, but it never helps to have a good description. Please don’t hold your readers hand and give them every detail, but paint them the picture and let them put together the story.
Another example of painting too much of a picture is when you give too much details. Its a fine line between too much information and not enough. Here is an example of too much information: Detective Kate Beckett stood at the corner of the police tape on the empty street. She was wearing her favorite red boat neck sweater with the fine ribbing that accentuated her curves; she loved the shirt so much that she bought every color of the shirt two years ago at some boutique that no longer was in business. This, my friends, is called data dumping, which is when you dump too much information on the reader that they aren’t sure what to take from it. Unless the fact that she owns every color of the shirt and she got it at a boutique that no longer in business is important to the story, then leave it out. I can assure you, no one cares! Instead, paint the picture for the audience. Let them imagine the details of the scene instead of the many details that don’t matter. If the shirt is so important, then let other characters bring it up, or pick something to tie it into the scene. For example: Detective Kate Beckett stood in the grey empty street, her red boat neck shirt made her stand out against the dull orange setting sun behind her and the bright yellow police tape in front of her. See, I used the shirt to help paint the reader a picture of the location Beckett was standing at (empty street), the time of day it was (evening), and what type of location it was (a crime scene). Another great example comes from Richard Castle’s own book that he read aloud in the episode “Hell Has No Fury”: “The wind gathered up her hair…” While it does sound silly, you have to admit, it works. We, the reader, have the image of how the scene looks.
Fanfiction is not something that only the elite American’s can write. In fact, some of my favorite stories have been written by non Americans. Although keep in mind, if your target audience for a story you are writing is for viewers of an American TV show/movie, and you aren’t American, then you might want to brush up on your slang and word usage. This is not something for just my Non-American friends, this goes for everybody. For example, did you know that the word “blond” is actually French and used to describe males, mixed genders, or when gender is not certain. While “blonde” with the “e” at the end is the female variation. So if you story calls for Beckett to bleach her hair, then it would be blonde, not blond. Another example will be when we get down to technicalities is the American spelling and the Non-American spelling of words. Nothing drives me more nutty is when I am reading a story that is written for an American fandom, such as Castle, but has non-American spelling of words. For example: in America, we use a crayon to color a favorite picture of an honored soldier. Whereas, in England, you might use that same crayon to colour that favourite picture of an honoured soldier. It may seem silly, but to some of us selfish American’s, it screams spelling mistake! And trust me, if I was to ever write a Doctor Who fanfic story, I will make sure to add in that silly “u” to those words.
The same goes for slang. If it wasn’t for the Harry Potter books, I would think a jumper was overalls that are a dress instead of a sweater. While not all readers are smart enough to go look up in a dictionary to see what a jumper really is, make sure you check your slang before you hit the publish button. A perfect example of this is one that I remember from being in middle school. It was one that the smart ass kid’s older brother found and made a copy for them to pass around at school. You know the one that explains that in England, a fag is a cigarette and not the derogatory word it is in America. Of course everyone that age thinks it’s funny to call their friends a fag, and then remind them that they are actually calling them a cigarette. But of course, we all grow up and out of that stage and forget about its secondary meaning. So unless you want to offend half your readers and confuse them on why they are smoking a gay person, then please, urban dictionary is your friend.
Speaking of spelling, a great spell checker might be your best friend, but your real BFF is always going to be your best proof reader and spelling savior. I will be the first to admit that I am a horrible speller. If it wasn’t for Word catching most of my mistakes, my writing would be unreadable. And I’m the first to understand about insecurities and not wanting people in your family to know about what you are writing, find someone else to read it. My best beta reader is a another former Yearbook editor nazi like myself. We are both picky about the littlest things, and it may drive me nuts when she nitpicks at my work, but I know its for the best. Besides, you’re already going to publish it for the world to read, I’m sure you can randomly pick someone who has reviewed your writings in the past to beta read your new story, and I am sure they will love to do so, or point you in the direction of someone who could. You can even go to fanfiction.net and find a beta reader. I can promise you they are not going to rip your story apart and then rewrite it themselves and put their name on it. All they want to do is make sure that they catch all your spelling and grammar mistakes. If anything, wait a day from when you wrote it, and then go back and reread it. Sometimes something as simple as getting a good night’s sleep and then going back to reread it will help you find some of your mistakes. While this isn’t a sure fire way to catch them all, it beats nothing.
And as a final thought, if your story involves something that is considered clichéd, then think twice about writing it. If your idea involves Beckett and Castle going undercover, then please, do your research. If you don’t have a case for Castle and Beckett to be solving, then don’t have him just staring at her while she does paperwork. If it’s something they have mentioned before in an episode of the show, then you shouldn’t reuse it. Be original and use your own creativity. If you don’t know the layout of New York, or what restaurants are nearby the precinct, then don’t use Remy’s. It’s over used. Create your own restaurant. I can assure you, this is what the writers on the show do themselves. Make up your own diner that’s open 24 hours, and instead of milkshakes, have them eat pie. Hell when in doubt, use IHOP, its even open 24 hours for those late night plots! And remember, Google is another best friend of a writer’s. There is this handy thing called street level view maps that lets you see how it looks as if you are standing in the middle of the street.
Another cliché that needs to die has to do where the murder occurs. I know it may seem like our favorite team handles every single murder in New York, but I can assure you, they don’t. Here is a perfect resource for a screen capture from a Castle episode of the precinct boundary lines. While it’s not perfect, but it is a great discussion on the boundary lines versus a real New York City map.
My last cliché is one that seems to have gotten out of hand. If you are going to write a pregnancy story, then please, do your research. Even something as trivial as Wikipedia, use it because it will let you know that you will not immediately after having sex with someone for the first time, wake up nauseous and know your pregnant! While getting pregnant can happen overnight, I can assure you, you will not know the next day! Go to the library and pick up a copy of a book that tells you what to expect when you’re pregnant so that way you will know that you don’t typically start showing until your second trimester, which in non medical terms, is about 3-4 months along. And while I’m no expert seeing to how I don’t have a kid, nor want a kid, I do know how to use the Google when it comes to finding statistics and it will let you know if something really can happen. If in doubt, ask, there are many women in the fandom world who have children and can help provide their own experiences to help you with your writing.
With that being said, let me start out with, I am not perfect. In the wise words of a very smart Yogi (and not the bear, or baseball player), “even monkeys fall from trees.” I have too made my fair mistakes in the writing world and have taken my punishments and negative reviews. You might be asking yourself what makes me, BadCastleFic, qualified to write such a letter? Do I have a degree in Creative Writing? Nope, can’t say that I do, but I sure did a lot of writing while working on the two college degrees I do have. Do I have flowing reviews on fanfic that I have written? Not in a very long time since that would require me to actually write a story and put it on the internet. So why do I get to tell you how to write fanfic? Because I’m the one who has to suffer and read some of the more horribly written stories and mock them so others don’t have to suffer. Now, go out and create masterpieces of fiction that will hopefully never be seen on this website!