Tigger's Guide to Writing Good Fanfic

or, at least Tigger's Guide to NOT writing bad Fanfic that leads to hitting the back button after two paragraphs. :)

I'm not going to pretend to be an expert, but I am a fanfic author (that gets mostly positive feedback) and an avid fanfic reader. So these are the rules that I try to follow, and the mistakes that make me hit the back button faster than anything.

Rule 1 (Note the importance of this being the first rule)

Grammar and standard spelling were invented for a reason. It makes things easier to read. They are NOT optional. Just because this is a new medium and your teacher isn't looking doesn't mean that you can ignore them. If you want your readers to be able to follow you, use it. If you're writing this mostly for yourself and therefore don't care, ask yourself this: why am I going through the trouble of posting this? If you want to write for yourself and not make your story easy to read, fine. Just don't inflict it on the whole community by posting it to fanfiction.net.

Rule 2

Watch the show. Seriously. I'm not saying you have to have seen every single episode (I know someone who wrote a great Buffy story after seeing half the first season), but there are fics out there written by people who haven't seen the shows they're about. Trust me: it doesn't work.

Note: These first two rules can probably almost be considered laws. What follows are considered guidelines.

Rule 3

Beta readers are your best friends. Use them early. Use them often. But don't use them as a glorified spell checker. Sure, they're great for catching editing mistakes, but if you're using them to make sure your post is readable and you want to post in an hour, you're not using them to your best advantage. They make an objective judge between out there great idea and just outlandish plot premises. They tell you if you're being true to the characters. Or sometimes they just tell you that something seems off. And sometimes this means a major rewrite (I've had comments of "so-and-so isn't quite in character" lead to changes of point of view). But usually afterwards, you come out with a stronger story. This fresh pair of eyes can help you see the story with a new distance that reduces the shelf time required between drafts. In short, a good beta reader works with an author to improve a story throughout the whole process. Find one, let them help you, and don't forget to thank them and return the favor.

Rule 4

Mary Sue is Evil!!! (Well, most of the time.) If you're writing an original character ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Do they have my name? Do they have a highly unusual name despite being human? (This is also a good reason not to choose the name of an original character as a pen name. It's a red flag.)
  2. What are their flaws? (They should have several.)
  3. What purpose do they serve in the story? Is the story more about them than the canonical characters?

Original characters can flesh out the show universe. (This is especially true of shows like Power Rangers or The Tomorrow People where the characters' everyday lives are largely neglected.) I've seen great stories about original characters-- usually, though, they are a part of a series that starts with mostly cannon characters. Sometimes an original character is almost required (open challenge: write a plot driven Mutant X fic using only canonical characters). But if you're going to do it, develop them well, make them flawed, and for pity's sake, don't have you favorite character fall madly in love with them in paragraph one! Even if they're nothing like you, it's going to set off alarm bells with readers. I'm not saying all original characters are bad (I can think of several that I really like), but a lot of them are poorly executed.

For more detailed information, see Mary Sue and How to Avoid her by... well, I can't seem to find the page author's name-- but it's a great guide. (To be very clear that essay is not mine.)

Rule 5

Be careful how many characters you use. I understand the temptation to use *all* the Tomorrow People (or, in my case, the whole tp discussion list) in a story. If you're having trouble keeping the characters straight, rest assured your readers are having the same problem. If they're all canonical, a scene or two with a lot of characters might work or even be necessary, but even then try to focus on just a few characters, preferably any that will be appearing later. It'll make things easier on you and your readers.

Rule 6

If your fic is an alternate universe, say so. Really. Otherwise we think you're breaking rule 2 or not paying close attention-- and authors who don't pay close attention to the show usually don't pay very close attention to their fic either. AU's can be fun, just keep in mind it's usually a good idea to label them as such.

I'm not saying following these rules will garner a lot of feedback (how much one gets seem to depend largely on the fandom you're posting in), but if you follow them people actually clicking on your story might actually read it. Or at least I will.

Have I left something out? Beg to differ? Feel free to contact me with comments or suggestions at tptigger@mail.com

Page created December 26, 2002. Last modified February 7, 2003 The opinions expressed herein are merely my own. Links to other sites are not my work and out of my control. Please don't upload this to another server without my express permission. I guess this is ready for linking. Let me know if you do, OK?