How to write Fan Fiction properly
     by Edwina Carson

"A writer is very much like a captain on a starship, facing the unknown. When you face the blank page, and you have no idea where you are going, it can be terrifying, but it also could be the adventure of a lifetime."
-- (Michael Piller)


Fan Fiction writing is a vital part of every fandom. And it is much fun. Which are probably the reasons why it has been done for decades, starting when the first fanzines saw the light of the day, long before the internet came to be a reality. However, the internet helped to make Fan Fiction stories the popular phenomenon they are today. It definitely adds to their appeal. You can read fics written by people from all over the globe and present your own tales to a multicultural readership by posting them on your homepage or on a fanfic board.

As appealing as they might be, these fan-produced stories do not only vary in length, but also in quality, and it takes a lot of time, effort, practice, and a pinch of luck to find the good ones in that web jungle out there.

Writing them is something else. It takes a lot of skill to write good stories, and mere writing talent is a good start, but not all that you need to do so. There are lots of things you have to keep an eye on while writing Fan Fiction - most of which applies to writing in general; but some things are more specific, which has a lot to do with them being published on the net and being based on pre-established story lines.

In the course of this essay, I will first explain what exactly a Fan Fiction is and why people bother writing it. After that, I'll give you some advise on how to write Fan Fiction properly and what to keep an eye on. The third part features the most common slang words in the Fan Fiction scene and offers explanations.

In case you're relatively new to the subject, use part three as a dictionary for the slang words in part two. It is arranged alphabetically. Please keep in mind, though, that more slang words exist in the fanfic scene than are featured here. I only listed the most common ones and left out those I heard about but never saw in use anywhere.

Whether you are new to writing Fan Fiction or an old pro, however, learning about the specifics of fanfic writing can always be useful to improve your talents and to deepen your knowledge. I'm sure you'll find some helpful tips here.

Note, however, that I will not go further into common grammar or spelling mistakes here. Get yourself a spell-checker, a grammar book, and a dictionary, for Christ's sake. You can find grammar aids for frequently made mistakes on the net as well.

Why another Fan Fiction guide? you may ask. Aren't there so many already? True, and there are quite a number of very good ones, too. However, I felt that there was need for a concise overview that captured all the problems and pitfalls I have come across during my years as a Fan Fiction fan. Since the day I realized that there is more to writing than simply stringing letters and words together, I have been interested in how a good story works and how to improve my writing. To be honest, I didn't yet get very far with my own fanfic writing. I'm probably one of the slowest fanfic writers ever. But I read lots and lots of fics, and I have seen what works and what does not. In fact, I learned a lot even by writing this essay.

But then, as William Faulkner so aptly phrased it, you never know what you think about something until you read what you've written on it.

As I said, this is not a step-by-step guide, but some tips and advises hopefully useful to Fan Fiction writers and those who want to be one. Read it closely, and decide for yourself what you think is worth following. Make sure, though, that if you do engage in potentially problematic ways of writing for artistic reasons, you do it on purpose and not because you didn't know that it could be problematic.

Part I: Fan Fiction? What is that?

Fan Fictions, colloquially called "fanfics", are original stories, but involve characters or settings taken from one or more fandoms not created by the writers themselves.

In other words, they put characters from a television series, a film, a book, a comic - sometimes, but more rarely, even from a computer game - into a new situation. Or they take given settings and create their own characters to act in them. Thus, writers use an established universe to create their own stories around it.

Commonly, fanfic writers are fans of the series they adopted, for only fans - aside from the original producers, of course - know enough about the fandom to write an acceptable story.

You should know, however, that since Fan Fiction writers use characters and settings that are copyrighted without having asked the producers first, there is a little copyright problem concerning Fan Fiction: Posting Fan Fiction is in a gray area of copyright infringement, no matter how often you write in your disclaimer that you don't want to infringe any copyrights. But because most executives have realized that Fan Fictions promote their products rather than draw people away from them, and since most writers write for fun and don't make any money with their stories, many producers allow or even embrace Fan Fiction writing.

Large collections of fanfics can be found on Fan Fiction archives and networks, in Fanzines, and occasionally on private home- and fanpages.

There is also the sub-category of fan produced poems and lyrics that are based on a fandom, but they don't get written as frequently as fan-created stories.

Why write Fan Fiction?

This is a good question. I guess every writer has his own reasons why he writes Fan Fiction. And, no, it's not that we couldn't make up characters of our own. In fact, it is much harder to hit a character just right that somebody else created. If you make up your own characters, you can fit them into your story a little. Set characters, however, can't be changed much and the story has to be fitted to them.

Just take it that fans' thoughts revolve around their favorite series a lot, so it isn't too surprising that, when they decide to start writing, the results are Fan Fictions.

One reason should be, however, dedication and passion for the series - or book or whatever - you write about.

It does help, too, if you love writing. If you don't, do everyone a favor and don't bother starting.

Some writers want to reach people, want to get a message across, or educate. Others want to entertain their audience. Some want recognition and feedback. There are people who have an idea nagging them until they finally write it down. Some enjoy reading Fan Fictions and someday thought, "hey, why not write some myself?"

Whatever their motive, most people who write pro bono probably do it because they have fun writing.

Whatever it is, you most certainly want people to enjoy your story. So ...

Part II: How to write readable Fan Fiction

1. Use past tense.

A lot of people who write stories themselves use present tense to write story outlines and have trouble taking stories written in present tense seriously.

Besides, it sounds horrible.
2. Always try to capture the characters as well as possible.

Since the main audience of fanfics are fans of the series, it would be wise to stay with the character's personality as it came across on the show. Most people don't like it too much if you make their favorite characters act out of character.

3. Use the facts mentioned in the series (aka canon) if possible/available.

For the same reason as in point two, you should stick to canon facts as much as possible. Most readers will be fans of the show, and every time you write something that differs from what they think to know, they will stumble over it. They will pause reading for a moment and think, but it wasn't like that in the series. It will tear them out of the reading flow, which is something you really want to avoid. Trust me on that.

However, now and then you might have artistic reasons for changing canon facts. I have come across a number of very well written Alternate Reality stories that did so successfully.

So remember, it's just as well to change canon facts when done on purpose and performed nicely, but being too lazy to check it out is no excuse whatsoever.

And if you do change canon facts, please make a note of it at the beginning of the story, maybe in an Author's Note or something of the kind, so that people will know it was intentional.

4. Look closely for writing mistakes.

Writing mistakes are probably one of the greatest problems in literature. Everyone makes mistakes, which is okay when occurring occasionally, but it really is no pleasure to read a text that has every fifth or sixth word spelled incorrectly. It's embarrassing for the author, too.

Running your story through a spell-checker - better even more than once - is a very good idea, but that doesn't take reading it through closely from you. A spell-checker can't know whether you wanted to write were or where, neither if you left a word out.

So re- and proofread closely and more than just once. If you spend hours and hours working on your story, take a break. Put it away for a while and then proofread again. Getting a little distance can help a lot sometimes.

A beta reader is also helpful when dealing with spelling problems. He/she will find spelling mistakes or missing words a lot easier, because you, as the writer, know what you wanted to write. It's amazing just how the mind adds words that are supposed to be there, but aren't.

Also, use a dictionary. Dictionaries can be a great help when you're not sure how a word is spelled, or when you use words about whose meaning you're not sure. There are lots of words that sound similar but have a different meaning when spelled differently, like affect and effect. If you have only the slightest doubts, look it up. It might be a little more work at that, but it's worth it.

If you already posted a story, it's not carved in stone. Should you or someone else find a mistake, don't lose time, correct it.

5. Don't post unfinished stories.

You can't say it often enough: Don't. Post. Unfinished. Stories!! There are two good reasons for that, too.

First, it's unfair towards the reader. There are way too many unfinished stories on the net which the author promised to finish, but never did.

Second, and even more important, while writing a story it's essential sometimes to rewrite earlier scenes, and if you already posted it, you have a problem.

So, take my advice and always finish your story and check it through closely before posting it.

6. Only post stories that you're satisfied with.

When you post a story and start excusing in the header that you didn't watch the series very often, it's your first story and you are so unsure if it's good enough, most readers will skip it.

The reason for that is simple. Online users are the most impatient species there is. They are always in a hurry. They want to find what they are looking for, and they want to find it now. If you start excusing, they will ask themselves, why waste time with a story that not even the author seems to like?

But you made all the effort to write it, check it through and post it. Give the reader the opportunity to develop his own opinion about your story.

Besides, if you actually think it is that bad, you shouldn't post it in the first place. And if you don't, why sound as if you did?

7.1. Don't explain too many canon facts in one chain of sentences.

What I mean to say is, don't write a two page description of things that happened or were said in the series. You might mention things shortly for readers who didn't watch the show very often or not at all. Of course you have to explain some things and introduce the people, especially when it concerns things that were mentioned just once. Not everyone will remember them or will have watched this specific episode.

But for the sake of all the people who do know, please do it as unobtrusively as possible. Most important, distribute it in the story. Don't make it too obvious. Give the reader little bits of information one piece at a time, and don't slay him with too much info. Add new thoughts and angles to it.

The decision you have to make is a matter of whom you want to reach. Do you want all people to be able to read and understand the story without knowing the series? Then you have to serve them every single bit of information that is usually canon knowledge on a plate. Do you want die-hard fans to enjoy your story? Then what you have to do is hint at things rather than describe them in detail.

You want to reach a general audience? Then try to find a good mixture of both. Non-fans don't have to know every reminiscence to enjoy the story if it is well written, real fans will be bored to death if your story contains nothing but canon facts explained in detail.

7.2. Don't start a story with a summary of the series.

Giving a short plot summary and short introduction into the series you adopted is a good thing. Say something about the characters you used. Give some background if you feel it is vital to understand the story. This can be a great help when you write crossovers. People reading crossovers often have the problem to know one series but not the other.

But non-crossover stories don't need introductions.

And if you do have a crossover, separate the introduction from your story. Make it clear where the summary ends and where the story begins. Give the reader the opportunity to skip the intro if he feels that he knows the series by heart and reading a summary would only bore the hell out of him.

8.1 Be careful not to mix up any names.

It's really annoying - and confusing - if you call someone Timmy on the first few pages and later rename him to Jimmy.

This is a mistake that comes up sometimes when you consciously change a name during the writing phase. Now, you might have reasons to change the name, which is just as well. But if you do, read the whole story closely just checking the name afterwards. Tell your beta readers that you changed the name and ask them to look out for slips, too. Copy the story into a word processing program - if you haven't already written it in one - and use the search function looking for the old version of the name.

Confusing names might also be a result of distraction. If you can't memorize your own characters' names, make a list and keep it with you when you write.

8.2 Try to always spell main characters' names correctly.

Few things are as easy to avoid as spelling main characters' names wrong. There are such things as credits. Look it up. Or, if you're not sure, ask some fellow fans.

However, you can't always find canon spellings for sometimes there aren't any. Some names even have two canon spellings. But try to research it if you don't know for sure, and then stick to it. Don't go and write it differently several times within your own story.

If you have an unusual name that isn't recognized by your spell-checker, add it. That way you have a greater chance of noticing when you misspelled it by accident.

9. Make sure to find a good mixture of dialogue and action.

Plain dialogue, no matter how literally valuable it is, is as bad as plain description or action.

Sure, there are dramas; they use dialogue almost purely. But you're not writing drama. You are writing Fan Fiction.

Plain description or action is just as bad. Story outlines have no dialogues. Poetry can do fine without them. But Fan Fictions can't. The basis of most fanfics are shows and movies, which cosist to the most part of dialogues.

Well written Fan Fictions consist of a good mixture of dialogue, description, action and characters' thoughts and sentiments.

10. Have your stories beta read.

Beta readers are people who read your story before you actually publish it. This is very important because four eyes see more than two. Always have others read your story before giving it to public display and listen closely to their constructive criticism. If someone has a good idea how to change a scene, do it. Don't feel offended when they correct your bad spelling. This is what beta reading is for, after all.

But think about whom you pick for a beta reader. There are some criteria that ought to be fulfilled. The people you pick should be good in the language you write in so they can detect spelling mistakes. They should also be able to consider reading fun. Don't have people proofread who don't usually read if they can avoid it. Your beta readers have to read closely and thoroughly to find logical mistakes and grammar flaws.

You don't even need all that in one person. You have someone who's really good in the language you write in? Have them correct your spelling. You know someone else who's reading all the time and can help you with logic problems? Good. Pick their brains about that a little.

Beta readers mustn't necessarily be part of your fandom, but it might be useful to have some fellow fans read through it, too. Only real fans can tell whether you got the mood, the people's characters and the canon facts right.

There are writer communities that offer beta reading on the web. You might join one of those, but some friends and fellow fans of yours can be just as capable of beta reading your pieces as any 'professional' editor, as long as they fulfill the criteria mentioned above.

But be careful. As much as beta reading is a good thing, you are the writer. You write the story, so you will decide which scenes are changed. You should be open to criticism and listen closely to advice, but in the end, it's up to you which you want to follow.

11. Make sure to vary your sentence structure.

If you start every sentence with a 'he' or a 'she', the reader will be fast asleep because it sounds boring, no matter how neat your action might be. It just doesn't sound too good. So instead of starting every sentence with a name, try starting with the subordinate clause or something.

But please stick to the common grammar rules. And don't overdo it. Sentences are meant to be understandable, or you will confuse the reader more than entertain him.

As well, see that you vary the length of your sentences. Use what's appropriate. Short sentences, e.g., are good for fast action while description usually goes with longer sentences.

12. Avoid too much description.

Description is a good thing. When done nicely, it can give the reader the impression of being there and can tell him a lot. But nobody wants to read a two page description of what a certain office looks like. Avoid long descriptions. Give the most important information. Where are we? What does it smell like? Does it look abandoned? Old, new, whatever. How does the narrator feel about this place? Etc.

The most important thing, though, put it between the action or the narrating character's thoughts. Have the narrator describe the place and state his feelings or whatever. But, for Christ's sake, have something happen in between. Few things can kill a story better than bad and too long descriptions.

If you feel you're not too good at descriptions, a short impression about the place will suffice just as well. Is a room large? How is it furnished? What kind of view do you have when looking out the window?

So remember: don't overdo descriptions. Most readers have got imagination and can picture an office without a two page description.

If you want to practice descriptions, sit down somewhere with your pad and pencil and try to describe your environment. What does it look like? How are the colors? How is the mood of the place? What do you smell? How do you feel being there? How would your characters feel if they were there? Try to do this at different kinds of places.

Or look up some adjectives that might be useful. Read through other people's descriptions you think are well written and try to find out what they did to describe the scene.

13.1 Have your characters talk colloquial.

Dialogues, and also monologues, are a very vital aspect of every story. Probably less than in a script for TV or in a drama, but nonetheless part of every Fan Fiction.

Remember, however, that it ain't Shakespeare. Not every word must have tons of hidden meanings behind it. Dialogues mustn't be brilliant. People don't talk like that. People curse, pursue small-talk, use slang and don't always speak in correct or whole sentences all the time.

If you want your characters to be believable, they have to talk like a normal person of their social standard and background would. Or, in case of canon characters, like the set character would talk.

This doesn't mean, of course, that your characters can't give impressive speeches from time to time or talk more articulately than we do in every-day conversation. Characters always have to act within their individual maximal capacity, so realism is no excuse for grammatical incapacity.

13.2 Use the right - and not too much - slang.

There are two good reasons for not using too many slang expressions.

The most important being: people have to understand it. If you want to publish on the net, remember that people from all over the world will read it. Not only every country, but every region has its own slang expressions. Slang that isn't generally accepted or can be understood from the context will make the story hard to follow.

The second aspect is authenticity. British characters won't speak American slang. American characters are not very likely to use words like 'bloody.' Again, have the character talk the way he would in the show.

Another problem are accents. Don't write the words the way the accent is pronounced. That will make the story extremely hard to read. Write it properly and state that the person has an accent. A reader can usually imagine an accent without having it spelled out. And if he can't, he probably won't be able to read your dialogues if you insist on misspelling.

14. Take the time you need.

In case you have picked up writing Fan Fictions as a hobby and don't write for a publishing company or magazine, you don't need to hurry. There are no deadlines you have to follow. You won't end up starving because you needed to publish for money. The world isn't going to fall apart if you publish next week rather than today.

So why do so many people write and post in such a hurry? Take as much time as you need to finish the story properly and have everything the way you want it to be. Readers will enjoy the story a lot more if it's worked out thoroughly. People won't mind waiting that little longer when the story is worth it in the end.

15. Research closely what you write about.

In case you didn't know, there are such things as libraries, reference books, data-banks and various aids for fanfic writers. There is the internet. Make use of them. You know somebody who knows a lot about the subject? Good. Ask him some questions. Have them read your story and see if it's realistic.

I can't hold it back from you, though, that it takes a lot of extra work. But it's mostly worth it.

It might happen, occasionally, that you won't be able to find anything. State it. Let us know what we can believe and what's made up. Writing is meant as a means of education and shouldn't spread wrong information.

16. Put your name under the story.

Don't forget to write your name - or pseudonym, or web-name, or whatever - under your story. It's probably even better to put it under the title as well.

This is important because on the net, strange things happen. People save things to their computers to save online time, they stumble into stories through external links or search engines and miss that the rest of your homepage features your name several times over, etc.

As a result, I can't recall how many stories I've read written by seemingly no one. If you wrote and posted it, you should take the credit for it, too.

17. Write a header.

If you only got a handful of stories on your homepage, this is, of course, not necessary, though you should at least write one or two sentences about the plot. But if you post on big Fan Fiction networks, a properly written header can make or break the success of your story.

As I said before, most internet users are in a hurry while they are on-line, and on these networks there is such a huge amount of stories that he needs a little guidance. If there is no header that tells a reader why he should read yours of all stories, he'll probably skip it.

So write a proper header and make sure it will be seen. But be honest. A header should not promise something your story doesn't offer just to attract readers. That won't get you the kind of readership you wanted to begin with.

18. Put The End under your story.

This sounds fatuous, I know, but I really couldn't tell how many times I reached the bottom of the page and wasn't sure whether this was really the ending, whether I had missed the rest somehow or whether this was another of those stories that was never finished, and I missed the notice that stated: "under construction. Last updated 1954."

There are many variations for The End. Use End, Fin, or write your name, the writing date or a copyright notice under it. But at least make sure the reader knows, even if your ending isn't so confusing, that he has just finished reading.

Again, don't post unfinished stories.

19. Find out how you work best.

There are no laws or regulations as to how to write a story. Personally, I prefer writing the scenes in order. Some people, though, write a story by writing the last scene first and then see how to get there, others prefer writing the dialogues first, others write the scenes out of order or chronologically. Try out how you can work best.

Think about whether you want to write down the scenes as they come to your mind or whether you want to write a story outline first. You might want to make up your mind as to how the course of the story is going to be, or you might feel disturbed in your creativity through outlines.

Do you like writing on a computer or do you prefer hiding with your spiral block and your favorite pen somewhere? Can you work better if your record player is on full power or do you need silence?

Try a few things and see what works best for you. If you keep on writing, you'll probably develop your own routine.

20. Figure out your plot.

It might be useful to at least sit down and come up with a vague concept before you start writing. Most people do this automatically. They don't start writing unless they know what they want to write about.

But there are stories out there that can be labeled PWP, as in Plot? What plot? And, yes, I am aware that the term is also used for Porn Without Plot. But I'm not referring to those right here. I mean stories that go on and on, and one thing after another happens, but there is no real thread. The scenes just don't have anything to do with each other. These stories always send me wondering just what the hell the author intended to say.

Think about your general concept and make sure that every scene has something to do with the others. Don't develop too many little subplots; that's awfully confusing. Formulate a short concept and keep to it. Believe me, it's really worth that little more thinking.

21. Avoid Mary Sue stories.

Oh yes, Mary Sue; don't you just have to love her?

The answer is, no. Though Mary Sue - or Gary Stu, the male equivalent - can be kind of fun when well written, most just aren't. It's a delicate subject. Mary Sue characters are too flat and too predictable. They are always good looking, striking, perfect all the time, loved and adored by everyone - except maybe the villain, but even he admires her for some reason. They have superpowers and usually die saving the day.

If you just realized that one of your characters fits into this profile without intention from your part, you might have a problem. If you don't intend on writing a satiric story, you might want to consider working on your character a little more. It will make him/her decidedly more interesting and believable if he/she has some faults, bad habits or problems.

Keep in mind, a perfect character simply isn't realistic. Even Superman isn't perfect. One single person can't be everywhere at the right time to save the day or die trying. He just can't know or do everything.

They are predictable and boring, too, because you can mostly tell how it's going to end.

I don't say don't write Mary Sue at all. There are, as I said, some that are quite good. But think about it twice. You want to give them superpowers? All right. But remember that superpowers and special skills have their good and their bad sides. Nothing is just black or white. Give your characters some flaws and faults to make them more believable.

Not every character that has one or two Mary Sue characteristics must necessarily be a Mary Sue. But beware, a Mary Sue mustn't have all the characteristics either. Mary Sue is an idealization. The kind of person the author would like to be, but isn't. Be careful; maybe even run your character through a Mary Sue test and see where the catches are. There are several out there on the net. If you don't find one from your fandom, use a test from another fandom. There are a lot of traits that every Mary Sue has in common so it can be transferred quite easily.

Again, don't overdo it. Many people have a fit when a character has the same name the author does, a similar job - or a job the author would like to have, and things like that. Now, I don't see the problem with that. I think a character can be called however the author likes. As for the job thing, if you would like to be it, you probably know a lot about the profession and can use this knowledge to create a believable environment for the character. There is no problem with that, as long as you make sure the character is well-rounded and believable.

Now, if you realize that you have come up with a Mary Sue, don't worry. You don't need to give it up entirely. In most cases, a little work on the character can still turn it into a more believable person.

22. Always explain how alternate universes could occur.

A large number of Fan Fictions are Alternate Universe stories (aka A/U); this means that canon facts have been altered for some reason. Those can range from small differences to major changes. They might be a little harder to get into to begin with, but can, when done nicely, result into very enjoyable stories.

I'm sure you have artistic reasons when you change a few canon facts here and there. If you do it on purpose, that is. Being too lazy to check it out is no excuse.

However, if you write A/U, you should state the fact - especially when writing slash fiction - to avoid the initial confusion. It's hard enough to adapt to all specifications of an alternate universe without stumbling over the changes and thinking, but this isn't right. It wasn't like this on the show.

If a reader knows that things are supposed to be different, he doesn't worry about differences so much and can enjoy the story.

So, just state that it is an A/U and explain how this change could occur to begin with. Even if the only reason is that you described a parallel existence altogether, say so. Write an Author's Note or have the characters realize that they ended up in a parallel universe.

How ever you want to do it, let the readers know that you changed things on purpose. Don't have them believe you had no clue about your favorite series or were too stupid to look it up.

23. Choose a narrator and a POV (point of view) and stick to them.

The point of view is the perspective from which a story is told by a narrator. Ask yourself right from the beginning which POV and narrator you want to use. Though the most common is the omniscient third person narrator that switches POV, you might want to consider which the most sensible for your story is.

Do you want to write it from one character's perspective or do you need scenes in which this character doesn't take place? Do you want to display the thoughts of all characters, of one character in particular, or no thoughts at all? Who will tell the story?

Every time you start a new story, you will have to think about this. Some decide it without thinking about it, some consider it closely for each new story they write. Some do both once in a while.

However, when you have made up your mind about the narrator and POV, stick to it. It happens too easily to switch POV without realizing it and throw in opinions and thoughts that don't belong there. The problem is, if you slip too often, it will confuse the reader immensely. It can make the story hard to read, maybe even to the extend of being impossible to understand.

I know it is hard, but if you realize you did slip, and you or your beta readers think it's just that little harder to understand because of it, rewrite the scene.

24. Use synonyms for 'said.'

'Said' is a very neat word and should be used once in a while; but when you write dialogues, don't use it excessively. The paragraph will sound dry and boring if you keep repeating yourself too often.

For the beginning, it could be useful if you got yourself a list with synonyms for 'said' and keep it with you when you write so you can look things up. After a while, you probably won't have to look them up anymore.

There are several possibilities to get such a list. You can write down the synonyms that come to your mind, use a dictionary and pick some out while you read other stories. There are several of those lists on the net to aid writers, too.

Like this one: Conversation Synonyms

But don't overdo it. Use the word 'said' once in a while. Don't avoid it artificially, because that makes the story hard to read. You can also describe emotions through the action that takes place in between the dialogues. That way you won't need any synonyms at all sometimes. Believe me, it sounds a lot better.

But be careful. Don't use words when you don't know what they mean or when you're not sure how to use them properly. This leads to mistakes more often than not.

25. Keep reading.

Even if you might not notice it right away, what you read rubs off on you. It does so with a vengeance, too. So if all you read is bad written junk, all you're likely to come up with is bad written junk.

I myself love reading Fan Fictions immensely, but I have only come across very few that were really well written. Get yourself some books or (fanfic) stories that you know are well written and have a good sentence structure, few spelling mistakes, and good expressions. I'm sure your writing will profit from it.

Of course it won't hurt reading not so well written stuff sometimes. But make sure that isn't all you read. Maybe you can even profit from it by finding out why it doesn't sound good and how you could express it better.

26. Don't expect too much from your first story.

If you are relatively new to writing, don't expect to come up with a brilliant and perfect story all at once. Writing is, like most things, a matter of practice. Of course, having a little talent helps matters a lot, and someone with no talent at all will probably never become perfect, but everyone can improve his writing skills if he puts his heart to it and practices a lot.

I have heard of natural talents, of course; most of them stories I have trouble to believe. But you really shouldn't expect too much from your first stories. It's a new skill you have to learn before you can employ it. You wouldn't give a concert in the Carnegy Hall right after your very first piano lesson either, would you? And don't give up when your earlier pieces don't come out quite as you wanted them to be. If you are not satisfied, put it aside and rewrite it later. If you are satisfied, the better.

Read, write, proofread, rewrite and proofread once again. What you need to do to become a good writer is practice, practice and practice. Have others read your story and listen to their constructive criticism, or, if you're not ready for public display yet, be your own worst critic. Do the sentences sound good? Are the characters well-developed or did you just have your first encounter with Mary Sue? Is there character development in your story? Do you really need to describe every single pencil on the office table? Be honest. And be discerning. You can only make progress if you work diligently and question everything.

But, as a means to avoid self-caused writer's block, don't think about what you write overmuch while you write. Write what comes to your mind. That way you don't lose ideas. If you think a scene isn't good, you can still take it out or rewrite it later.

27. Find a suitable title.

Probably one of the hardest parts of writing is finding an appropriate name for your story. It must relate to the plot or action somehow, must be rather short, mustn't give away anything from the development of the story, and it must sound good and interesting so people will get interested. If you publish on fanfic networks, it must be striking enough to get a reader to pause going over title after title and read the description.

In case you haven't got trouble coming up with a title, the better. If you can't come up with a good name at once, however, because you don't really know where the story line is going to take you, or because nothing comes to your mind right away, or for whatever reason, work with a temporary working title during the writing phase. You can still change it later.

Maybe it could also help you to come up with a number of different titles and then pick the best one.

28. Diagnosis: Writer's block. And what do I do now?

You sit there and want to write, but you just can't think of anything. You write something and then crumble the paper and throw it away. Again and again. You stare at a white sheet of paper - or an empty computer screen - that just won't fill itself. You spend hours rewriting one single paragraph and are still not satisfied.

Sounds vaguely familiar? Well, it might, because every writer gets it sooner or later. It's called writer's block, and where it comes from, or when it is finally going to go away, nobody knows. There is no way to tell, really.

First thing, don't panic. The last thing you'll want to do is panic because all it does is make matters worse.

Second, I'm sorry to have to disillusion you, but there is no general cure for writer's block. There are a few things you can do to try to get rid of it, though.

Ask yourself why you suffer from writer's block. Do you have personal problems that eat you up or spin around in your subconscious? Are you under stress? Or are you just in no good mood right now? If you are able to determine the root cause of the problem, you might have a chance to get rid of writer's block by getting rid of your bad state of mind. Often it helps to just write about your problems. If you sit there and the pen won't move, then write about the things that bother you. It will get you started, and maybe help you to find a good solution for your problem.

However, sometimes you just can't determine why you suffer from writer's block. Maybe there isn't even a specific reason for it. What you can do now is relax. Make yourself comfortable, try to remember under which circumstances you could always write best and create your environment accordingly.

Another thing you could do, just sit down and write. Anything, it doesn't matter. Just write. Maybe most of what you write under writer's block will end up in your waste can sooner or later, but it can get you started. Don't be critical with what you write.

Or maybe all you need is some new inspiration. Go out and try to write about something you see. Rent a new film or book and try to find some inspiration there. Go over some earlier stories of yours, maybe some you never finished. Dig up some old ideas you had earlier but didn't have time to form into a story.

But whatever you do, don't beat yourself up over it. Don't sit there and whine about the fact that you haven't got any inspiration right there and then. Do something you like doing. Eat your favorite food. Spend some time with friends.

If nothing of the above works, sit it out. As long as you are not a professional writer, you have no real pressures. Just think about other things. Pursue another hobby of yours. As I said, writer's block comes and it goes. Have a little patience and just sit it out.

Part III: Common expressions in the world of Fan Fiction

A/U or Alternate Universe

In an A/U story, the author takes the liberty to change a vital canon story part or has his story take place in a canon alternate universe - like the Mirror Universe in Star Trek.

Writing A/U enables the author to use characters that already died in the series, create 'what if...' stories or display relationships that didn't exist in the canon story line. The most frequent use of the latter are probably slash stories.

Some authors even establish an own alternate universe and write a whole series of Fan Fictions around it. Others write single stories.

But if you post A/U, please remember to label it accordingly and explain how the change could occur.

Beta reader

A person who reads fanfics before they're posted to avoid mistakes. These people should be good in the language you write in so they can find spelling or grammatical mistakes and should be interested in reading.


The original meaning of the word 'canon', as far as I know, is that of solid rules set up in church.

In the case of Fan Fiction, it is a fact or events mentioned in the series or film (e.g. a character's birthday/origin, a character's death, etc.) It is a point of discussion whether canon includes the mood of the series as well and whether characters that haven't got a relationship in the series should have one in a Fan Fiction.

However, these facts should be the basis to every Fan Fiction - even when it concerns an A/U story. At least make sure you know exactly what you changed.


A crossover is a story that uses characters of more than one fandom or show and makes them meet each other for some reason. So you could, e.g. have Sam Beckett from Quantum Leap leap into Captain Picard from Star Trek.

A crossover might also put characters from one series into the universe of another.


The disclaimer, usually located in the header of a story, contains the mention of the copyright owner and the author assures everyone that he's not making any money with this story.


A fact made up by a fanfic author, especially if it's further copied by other authors. Fanon can also be an unproved fact that was picked from the subtext of the series and is looked upon as canon.


This is a fan created magazine that contains Fan Fiction, fan-art, and articles on a specific fandom. They're not as popular as they used to be because of the internet, but they still exist.


A header displays general information about a story. It is written to give the potential reader a first impression to help him decide if he wants to read the story. Headers are not necessary on private homepages, but common and positively helpful if you post your stories on Fan Fiction networks.

It can contain a disclaimer, a short plot description, feedback notice, a rating, a spoiler and an author's note.

Mary Sue story

A Mary Sue story involves a (mostly, but not necessarily, new invented) character that has a lot in common with the author and is the hero of the day. With other words, the author's would-like-to-be alter ego. It's mostly no good writing, though.

As far as I know, the term came about by a Star Trek Fan Fiction that featured a similar character by the name of Mary Sue. I have never had the opportunity to read it, though. The male equivalent hasn't really got a name; I have, however, seen people refer to him as Gary Stu now and then.

Characteristics of a Mary Sue: A Mary Sue character is always good looking, adored by all the other characters and very often the child or lover of - or differently related to - the author's favorite series character. She has lots of skills, talents or superpowers that make her superior to the other characters, and mostly a tragic past. At the end, she usually saves the day or dies trying. Heroically, successfully, and mourned over by the other characters, I might add.

A Mary Sue character must not have all these character traits, and a character that has one or two of them mustn't necessarily be a Mary Sue. Be careful with Mary Sue. If you suspect you might have come up with one, run her through a Mary Sue test. If the result is positive, work it over a little.


The narrator is the person who tells the story. Every story has a narrator, even if he doesn't appear as a person. He must not be part of the action either.

First misconception about the narrator, he is not equal to POV. These aspects are very closely linked and mostly described together, but do not mean the same thing.

There are two different narrators: the first and the third person narrator. Both have their advantages and disadvantages and it depends on the nature of the story which is appropriate.

First person narrator: the story is told by one of the characters in the first person, with his own words, opinion and sentiments. He has the advantage that people can identify with him because they learn so much about him. The disadvantage, though, is that scenes in which the character does not take place are anathema. The reader doesn't get to know the other characters other than the first person narrator sees them, either.

There can be, however, a first person narrator outside the story, maybe even one who's almost omniscient. But they're extremely rare.

Third person narrator: there are two different third person narrators: the limited and the omniscient one.

The limited third person narrator tells the story from one character's POV like the first person narrator does, but in the third person. Since the limited third person narrator can only see through the eyes of this one person, we don't get to know about the other characters' sentiments, and scenes without that person are anathema because he knows only what the character knows, and he sticks with this one character throughout the whole story.

The omniscient third person narrator is, like the name indicates, omniscient. He knows everything and can tell about all action and all characters' thoughts and feelings. An omniscient narrator can, though, be split even further into three different POVs:

God's eye view: will tell the reader about every character and all action. This is the toughest one to write because you switch from one person to another within a scene, but if you do this too suddenly, the reader won't know who thinks what and will end up confused.

Camera eye view: will show all action but doesn't feature any feelings or thoughts that can't be visually seen. This is how it's mostly displayed on TV, but can be found very rarely in Fan Fiction.

Focused View: will tell of all action but will pick one character whose feelings he describes. He switches between characters too, but not so frequently. He will stay with one person in one scene and pick another in the next, but won't switch within a scene. This is the most common narrator/POV in the history of Fan Fiction writing.

Another mistake people tend to make when talking about a story, a narrator is not equal to the author. Even if a narrator's personality isn't clarified in a story, and even if he doesn't take place in the action, he is a fictitious character nonetheless and not to be confused with the writer.

P.S.: Please note that there are lots and lots of different theories concerning narration. The one I described here is that which I found most logical. However, this is one topic I most disagree over with my literature professor.


The header of a story can contain a rating. It offers advice for which age the story is suitable. The declarations are similar to videos:

G   (general audience)
PG (parental guidance)
R   (restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying adult)
X   (no one under 17 admitted)
A rating can also warn of grave violence or detailed sexual scenes.
Round Robin

A Fan Fiction written by more than one author. Not as in two authors working together on a story, which can be a good thing - but meaning, one writes a few lines, the next a few more and so on. Which mostly turns into a disaster. Maybe fun to do, impossible to read.

Season N

Season N (normally there's a number instead of the 'N') is a series of Fan Fictions by the same authors that continues where the real last season of a show ended. (e.g. 'Star Trek - TNG' had seven seasons, so Season N would be Season 8 (ff.) in this case)

Some people even take things like an actor's death into their Season N and take the character he plays out of the series.


The expression is occasionally used for Fan Fictions that include detailed sex scenes, but usually describes a story that features a relationship between two male or two female characters. Usually concerning some main characters who weren't lovers in the series.

Slash is always A/U because a vital canon story part was altered.

The term slash fiction comes from the earlier declaration as m/m or f/f for describing stories featuring a relationship between two males or two females, wherein the letters are divided with a slash.


A story that takes place in the canon universe of a series but uses newly created characters. A spin-off can also be a story that uses the characters in a different environment.

So one could say that every 'Star Trek' series after TOS (that's the one with Kirk) is a spin-off.


The spoiler, located in the header of a story, states where in the canon story line the Fan Fiction takes place. It also informs the reader which episodes are hinted at for not to spoil things for people who haven't seen those episodes yet, hence its name.


Stands for The Powers That Be (TPTB) or, not so nicely, The Idiots In Charge (TIIC). Usually meaning the producer(s)/writer(s) of a show/book.

Part IV: Bibliography

And last but not least, some related websites I came across on the net that you might find useful:

© Eddy C.
originally written on August 31, 2002
completely revised and rewritten: February 6-7, 2004
revised: September 13, 2007

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