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aeslis ([personal profile] aeslis) wrote2009-08-02 12:13 pm
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Writing Tips for Fanfic (or just in general)

So, a few people actually expressed interest in a post of writing tips, and since I'd wanted to write one anyway, I took that as an invitation. This is it.

If you're not interested, go ahead and skip on by.

Tips for Writers

It's important that I lay out a few disclaimers to start with. The first is that while I completely believe in everything I write here, some of them are personal opinions in regards to writing and not everyone will agree. If you don't, that's totally cool, but I'll state in advance that you probably won't sway me if you try.

Disclaimer two is that I'm primarily writing about fanfiction, and more specifically writing about fanfiction based on Japanese media, because that's where I write. Even more specifically, I'm going to be using the Arashi members almost exclusively during examples just because that's how I roll. (I mark this out because while I think most people reading this are going to be of that fandom, there's always the possibility that someone may not be.)

The most important disclaimer is that I don't think I'm a writing goddess, nor close to perfection in any way. I struggle with writing often. But that's why I'm writing this--for people that struggle, and people who are imperfect, which honestly is everybody. The things I think about regarding writing are most assuredly not the same as what Nancy or Mary or Gillian or even Scott thinks about, so it's my hope that someone reading this will find something that they haven't considered before, and maybe that will help them better their writing.

I've separated this into two parts. The first part contains my personal Things to Think About While Writing, which I keep in mind every time I get to it. The second is some pointers on how to avoid writing badfic.

So, without further ado, and in no particular order:

Things I Think About in My Own Writing


I have a problem with redundancy. This covers a wide array of meanings, actually.

Basically, the bottom line is that I believe that it's not good to be redundant in any way, shape, or form. But it's really hard not to be. Some things I'm more aware of in my writing than others, though, like:

Word repetition: Hooking onto the same word and using it time and again. There are words that obviously people can't help but use repetitively, like "a" and "there" and "him," and those are words that no one would think twice about. But there comes a point for other words--even common words--where the reader starts to notice that they're cropping up a lot. Personally I think each word has a different limit. Words like "juxtaposition" should probably never be used more than once per novel--believe me, there have been times when I've noticed a word like that in chapter 3 and then noticed it again in chapter 16, because they're so uncommon as to be immediately striking the first time you read them.

But even words that are more common can be noticeable if you use them too much, and even more so if they're closer together. If you write a 6,000 word piece you can probably use the word "invisible" twice in there, but only if you're very very careful.

As a thought, I believe using the same adjective or adverb twice is a worse idea than using the same noun twice. Nouns tend to be the topics, so they get a lot of play. Still, it's best to be careful with words like "hands" or "smile", too. And verbs? Repeating them is like repeating adjectives, in my opinion. I try to avoid using even verbs like "walk" and "relax" and "offer" sparingly, as infrequently as I can. (Of course there are verbs that you can't avoid, like "put" and "get"; it's amazing how many times those can show up.)

My exception: the verb "to say." Using synonyms for "say" or "said" is usually a bad idea. It gets really distracting.

("I'm the king!" Jun announced.

"Does that mean you get a crown?" Aiba queried.

"I can make you one out of newspaper," Sho proposed.

"You guys are cheap," Jun lamented.

"Ah, but didn't you know that?" Nino bantered. "Say something, Ohno."

"Meep?" Ohno meeped.

... See what I'm getting at here, guys?)

Using other verbs in place of "say" has a tendency to put too much into the writing. So unless you really want to point out that it wasn't said normally, go with "say." I will thank you for it.

Another thing I have particular issues with is repetition of focus: I tend to describe the same kind of thing.

Part of me doesn't want to point it out, because if I do, people will be aware of it when they read my writing. But part of me is saying that's a good thing, because it'll encourage me even more to stop doing it.

For my part, I have a bad habit of describing hands (especially when it comes to women), smiles, people gazing/looking/blinking/something to do with eyes, and breathing. I don't know why my brain focuses on those points so much, but that's what I see most clearly, and I always want the reader to see what I see. Then I end up leaving out better, more unusual details that would really round out an image.

So think about your details. Are you describing something that you describe often? Is there really, honestly a good reason to describe it again?

Another type of redundancy is just that: redundancy. Saying things you've already said.

I don't pay active attention to this, so it's entirely likely that it slips under my radar all the time. An example of what I mean: "The stinging sensation." Does that sound redundant to you? It is. Stinging is a sensation, and no one needs to be told that it's a sensation in order to know it. I looked up some common redundancies here; as the article says, you really don't have to eliminate all of them, but unnecessary redundancy really does make a piece of writing weaker.

Which leads me to my next point...


Another thing I have trouble with is remembering that less can be more. I like to describe things, and that means I often saturate what I write with adjectives and adverbs. Not only that, but I over-write by over explaining things at times.

It's not necessarily bad to explain, or to use a lot of adjectives, but here's where things get tricky: You need to make sure that everything written in your fic is something that is beneficial to the flow of what you're writing.

This is where having a lot of experience writing comes in helpful. The more you've read and written, the better your sense and understanding is going to be when it comes to what to include and what not to. This is something that honestly is almost impossible to teach.

But the advice I can confidently give is this: if you're not sure, cut it.

I read of a writing exercise online that I would love to recommend, actually, for anyone and everyone no matter their writing skill: Write a fic without modifiers. A modifier, for those who don't know the term, is basically an adjective or an adverb. They modify a noun or a verb, limiting the meaning. For more in-depth discussion about modifiers and modifying clauses, see here.

Anyway, the reason I recommend this exercise is simple. If you can write a good, strong fic that stands by itself without modifiers, that will form a solid foundation for when you DO start inserting modifiers. You'll find you need fewer of them, too, and that the ones you choose to use will be more powerful.

Let me metaphor it, here. There are fics that are fluffy with descriptors and unnecessary writing, and those are overgrown bushes with branches poking everywhere and maybe some dead leaves and spider webs. Fic that has been well-trimmed and simplified? Why, that's a neat and tidy bonsai, of course.

So yes. Simplifying is a tactic that will make your fic much stronger and more aesthetically pleasing. It's hard to remember to do, because often you have a lot of things you want to communicate and say, but less can really be more. It encourages the reader to imagine, since it's not all spelled out for them.

Trust the Reader:

This has taken me many years to get through my head. It goes along with simplifying things, in a way. The truth is that it's instinct for me to just want to spell things out, because I always thought that made it easier on the reader.

Actually, it can make it really boring.

Implying things is a skill that I have yet to master. When I wrote Girlish, I ended up confusing my beta with some of the things I inferred. Still, that was a pretty big step up. I used to lay everything out, just in case it wasn't clear.

But you know, a lot of the fun of reading really good fic is picking up on those hints, or catching inside jokes, or finally figuring out why the other character has been acting such-and-such a way. It's those little light bulb moments as you read that can really draw you in. To explain it all to the reader takes away that fun.

An example via [personal profile] primroseshows:

You could say:

Nino rifled through Sho's wallet for some change. This was something that Nino did a lot, because he hated to spend his own money. Everyone knew that Nino was cheap, and by now Sho was completely used to such actions.

But if you want to trust the reader, it's probably better to do something like:

Nino rifled through Sho's wallet for some change. Sho sighed, but didn't stop him.

Arashi fans already know that Nino's cheap, so it's not really necessary to remind us. But seeing how Sho reacts can tell even the new fan that it's something of a common occurrence, and gives some insight into their friendship to boot.

So the next time you find yourself about to elaborate on what's written, take a minute to think about whether or not you really need to.

Sentence Length and Structure:

Okay. This is me being really meticulous, maybe, but I honestly DO think about the length of sentences in comparison to each other. And what I mean, pretty much, is how many commas a sentence uses. If I write five sentences in a row that all use two commas, the exact same rhythm will be carried through the entire paragraph, and while that's good in music that's not so good in writing. It's the same when you write a series of sentences with no commas at all. It'll be staccato bursts, and more distracting than you want it to be.

Let's look at an example. I'll write a paragraph here without commas. I'm not sure what to say actually. So I'll just keep writing. I'm thinking about plums. There are five plums on my floor. One went bad yesterday. I put it in the trash. The trash was full. The plum fell out. It got my toes dirty. That was gross. I took a shower.

Do you see what happened? You end up more taken up by the rhythm of the paragraph than what's actually being said. The best thing to do is to try to mix it up as best you can, putting sentences of varying length together, and if you discover any areas of your writing where things start sounding repetitive (yes, it's another issue of repetition) then see if you can fiddle with things to change it up.

Not only that, but the content of the sentences (which is what I mean by structure) is equally important. If you start all your sentences with the topic (which will always be a noun), it'll get pretty tiring. It's hard not to, and I do struggle sometimes when I realize I've started three sentences in a row with the word "he." Let's take a look:

Nino came home from work, tired and ready for bed. He nearly tripped over a game controller on the way to the bedroom, but managed to arrive unscathed. He peeled off his jacket and dumped it on the floor. He decided he was too tired for even a cigarette, so he got under the covers, pulling them over his head. He fell asleep moments later.

I made that pretty blatant, but you can see what I'm saying.

I wrote a series of sentences in my fic Natsuiro, and while I love the imagery of it, the way the sentences measure up against one another drives me batty:

The bowls are glass, and textured, and fit right in the palm of Nino's hand. The next five minutes are all about quiet, the clinking of spoons, the crunch of ice. The syrup is sweet, and slides down Nino's throat before he wants it to.

So I pay attention now.


Oh, guys, you don't even know just how lazy I am. I never want to research. But a lot of the time it can make all the difference in the believability of a fic, and that really should be an author's goal.

If you read a fic wherein someone in Arashi is dating one of your favorite female actresses, and the writer made that actress do something totally bitchy when you know she's a sweetheart, how invested will you be in that fic?

If you read a fic that's an AU where someone gets a disease that you have had, or someone you know has had, and the author makes glaring mistakes with the symptoms or treatment, how seriously are you going to take the fic?

I know that researching is a pain. But personally, I don't want to write a fic where there's a possibility that my reader is going to end up saying, "Yeah right," "Well that's obviously false," or "Where did she get THAT idea?"

Now, I know that there's an inevitability to it. Sometimes, even if you research, you're going to get things wrong. And sometimes, your beta isn't going to know how to help you fix it, and maybe they won't even catch it in the first place. I read a lot of fics and go "Err... no," mostly because I live in Japan and most authors don't. That means they make assumptions, or write things that they take for granted because it's the way America or Canada or England or wherever else is.

That often can't be helped, because obviously no matter how much you research, it's going to be hard to get another culture perfect when you don't live there. But still, it's obvious to me which authors are trying to use what they know, and which authors are just assuming and don't really care to try to make things believable or accurate.

I don't like reading those fics, mostly because if the author doesn't care about trying to make their fic believable, I can't really care about what's happening in it. If the author does care, then the blip usually fades off my radar, because I'm still invested in the rest.

Really, I really do know it's a pain. But looking like you know what you're talking about makes a better, more interesting fic, then I believe it's worth it. Just be careful not to saturate the fic with things that aren't important to the story.

Show, Don't (Just) Tell:

"Show, don't tell" is something I was taught in creative writing class. The phrase was pretty much drilled into me, but it took me a while to figure out what it actually meant and how to show more than tell.

It's really easy to tell something, but it's really boring if you don't also show.

For example: "Sho was drunk. He leaned on Aiba, and Aiba held his arm up for a cab to take them both home."

Well, okay, now we've been told, but no picture has been painted whatsoever. There are lots of ways to describe it to get the reader involved so that they feel like they're standing there too.

"Sho wobbled down the street, one jacket sleeve on and one off, and his eyes had that particular glaze to them that reminded Aiba of the time he had puked on the floor of the cab. At least he was happy though, Aiba thought, as Sho flung both arms around him and nearly tumbled them both down to the ground. 'You smell like you bathed in a tub of wine,' Aiba said, hauling him up and dragging him towards the taxi stop."

There we are. Now you know Sho is drunk, and not because I said so--because I didn't. You saw him and smelled him yourself.

If you want to move in between scenes, though, or there's a stretch of time in your story where nothing important will happen, go ahead and tell us that it's five days later or that the taxi took them home or whatever you need to skip ahead. Showing is important for those scenes that have purpose and focus. Telling is important for summarizing and skipping things that need not be dwelled upon.

The 5 Senses:

I may use the five senses too much, if truth be told, but that's because they're an incredibly powerful writing tool. Of course everyone knows what the five senses are, so I'm sure I don't have to spell it out.

Every writer will describe what characters do. Far fewer writers will evoke the senses. But using them really invites a reader into the story, so that they're not just reading, they're experiencing. Personally I love using the senses.

I guess I don't have much to say about it, but I wanted to mention them.

Simile and Metaphor:

I have NEVER been good with metaphor. Simile I can do, but metaphor is hard for me, and that makes no sense because a metaphor is essentially a simile with some word rearranging.

Personally, I find good use of metaphor striking in the fics that I read, even more than the five senses. A really elegant metaphor makes me braingasm. I strive to be able to write beautiful metaphors.

Actually, I still remember the first time I studied metaphor and simile in 7th grade. We read The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes, and to this day the line The road was a ribbon of moonlight is the first thing I'll think when talking about metaphor.

If metaphor is too hard (and it often is) at least try to practice simile. Not the normal similes that everyone uses and everyone knows, like "His hands were like ice," or "His face went red as a tomato." Get creative. "His touch was soft as snowflakes."

Just don't get too creative or we venture into badfic land, and here I quote something it is impossible for me to write myself: "Napoleon's mouth fastened onto his like an upset limpet." I credit Cim for finding that amazing line.

The Words 'Really' and 'Very':

Just a brief note on these two: they're some of the most useless words ever, and I use them all the time. More so in my blog entries, but they can creep into my writing, too. I've almost never found a situation where they added anything to a sentence. They end up just being filler words. These days I'm better about actively not writing them, but they can still sneak in.

Note that this doesn't pertain to when the word 'really' is used to mean 'actually'.


This is the bane of my writing. Good dialogue is so fucking hard to write. And since I just went and looked up advice myself and have none of my own wisdom to share on the matter, have a page with advice I truly appreciate. It's advice for screenplays, but it works just as well for fiction. I'm going to try to implement this and keep it in mind as best I can from here on out.

If You Don't Want to Write Badfic

I really don't think most people want to write bad fic, but the problem is that most people don't know when they're writing badfic unless they're purposefully writing crack. And since I was writing this whole post about fic and tactics and things to keep in mind anyway, why not write these out too, since I was thinking about it?

Opinions will certainly differ, but I'd say that committing, oh, three of these points would take it to a badfic level.

1. Get a Good Beta.

Who knew I would say this?

I'm so very serious, though. Everyone needs a second pair of eyes to look over their fic. I can't tell you the number of times I've read through four times only to find a typing error on the fifth, sixth, or seventh. They weasel their way in and camouflage themselves like you wouldn't even believe. It's partially because we already know what it's supposed to say, so our minds are patterned and programmed to 'see' what we believe we've written. It's like some Harry Potter magic, or something.

But a beta isn't just to find those homonyms, unnecessary plurals, and wonky words that sneak in. A beta can help you decide when you're laying it on too thick; when you haven't fleshed something out enough; when a sentence sounds clunky; when a character is doing something that isn't quite believable; when there is something that you understand but the reader isn't going to. A beta is there to help you trim the fat and smooth things out.

The best kind of beta also tells you what works for them and what doesn't. "Maybe," your beta might say, "you shouldn't have Aiba cry here. He's depicted as a crybaby, but could it be stronger if he feels like crying and hides it instead?"

The best thing to do is to not take any advice personally, because I promise, the beta is your friend and just trying to help. They want you to write something really awesome too.

But here's a heads up: You don't have to take every stylistic point of advice they throw your way; sometimes, it's just a difference of opinion. Stylistic differences aren't really things that are wrong, and you can choose to change them or not, but it's still good to give them consideration, because if it's something that stood out to your beta it may well be something that stands out to your readers, too.

2. Headers Are Important:

I could rant for a long time about the ridiculous headers that I've seen. They infest jent_fanfics like nobody's business. But since it's all already been said, and said better than I could say it, just go take a look this brilliant post: Headers, or the only way we have to judge a book by its cover.

3. Do Not Ever, Ever Use Epithets:

An 'epithet', for those who do not know, is a descriptive term used in the place of a person's name. You've seen them before. "The tall boy" or "the slender man" or maybe even "the ring-wearing DoS," "the goofy excitable baka," or hey, "the spaced-out sleepy-looking man," "the slender DS player," and let's not forget "the Keio graduate."

Drop them like hot potatoes. Please.

When you know the name, the name is enough. It's elegant, it's simple. I will not trip over it and go "What the hell?"

I have seen some pretty bad epithets before. They can turn into utter mouthfuls: "She followed the taciturn blonde-haired giant-sword-wielding man in blue down the street," for example.

Some people might argue that "the older man" and "the small boy" and such are perfectly acceptable (especially in comparison to those mouthfuls), and are good descriptive phrases.

Well, no.

Here's the thing. If it's a fic told from, for example, Nino's point of view, and Nino of course knows Aiba, he is not going to think of him as "the tall, bouncy man."

Plus the fact that repetitive use of the same descriptive phrase gets really old. If you call him "the tall man" ten times in your story, I am going to say, "I get the picture, he's tall, okay, right," by the third time.

Because the point that the author is trying to make is not that Aiba is tall, the point they really want to make when they're using an epithet is that it's Aiba. So why not just say "Aiba"?

That's rhetorical; I know, in theory, why some authors use epithets: they want to be descriptive. I give them props for it, but there are a number of reasons that doing it with an epithet is just a bad idea. First off, overuse of the same adjective (ie, "the tall man") is just going to make the adjective "tall" into an eyesore which loses all its meaning, as I already mentioned. Secondly, you should only use adjectives when you really are attempting to emphasize a quality about something or someone. If you're going to tell me he's tall, tell me at a time that it's purposeful, because that's when an adjective is the most meaningful and evocative. Lastly, when I read an epithet, I always feel like the author is just trying to avoid saying the name of the character. Actually, I usually consider epithets negative creativity, because they're not really properly descriptive at all and too easy to use.

Seriously, names are fabulous and almost impossible to overuse. Why not take advantage of that?

There IS an exception to this rule, and that's when someone has a title they can be referred to by. For example, "the doctor," "the captain," "the general," "the princess" (and here I mean someone who is ACTUALLY a princess--not Jun). A good rule of thumb is to try to consider whether or not someone would naturally use the epithet in conversation. "I'm going to the doctor," yes. "Bow before the princess!" yes. "The general demands your presence," yes. "Have you seen the Galaxy award winner?" no.

4. Likewise, Don't Use Japanese.

This is something I was once upon a time guilty of, so I understand the appeal of sticking Japanese in there. Sometimes it just seems like it makes more sense, especially because it has nuances that you can't convey in English.

Don't do it.

We all know by suspension of disbelief that these conversations you're writing in English are all the boys speaking natively and naturally to each other in Japanese. But putting in Japanese words means, wait a minute: they aren't speaking Japanese when they're speaking English. And they're not actually very good at Japanese at all! Look at that!

It garbles the fluidity of the language, and makes them sound like English-speaking fangirls that want to communicate in Japanese, so instead of adding to that believability, you're taking away from it, especially when you get the Japanese wrong. And I've seen it happen. A lot.

Even being fluent, or close to fluent, in Japanese doesn't mean you should use it. I know a lot of fans understand rudimentary Japanese words like "minna" and "arigatou," but if you write while thinking "other fans will understand" then you're writing fangirl fic, not actual good fic.

And no, putting translations at the bottom doesn't make it better. You shouldn't need to translate your fic for your readers. There shouldn't be a spot where the reader doesn't understand what's being said, because no one likes to think "Huh?" when they're reading.

By the way, I'm totally guilty of this. I did it in Liquid and I did it in Unexpectedly, and while I went back and changed Liquid (after shuddering about it), I still have to fix up Unexpectedly for public consumption. It's definitely a natural thing to want to do to make things seem more 'authentic', but really. Don't do it. Or you'll want to hide your face in your hands a couple years down the road.

5. Get a Beta Reader.

I'm really serious about this one, guys. Don't get someone that's going to swoon and maybe fix a few typos. Get someone who'll help you and challenge you to write things better. Get someone that knows how to help you polish your fic until it shines.

6. Remember your POV.

When you choose to write from someone's perspective, stay in that perspective unless there's a chapter break or a scene break.

In other words, don't do this:

Aiba was famished. He'd neglected breakfast that morning, and the egg sandwiches on the green room table were looking really good. He could feel himself drooling, but Sho was in his way.

"Man, he must be really hungry," Sho thought as Aiba eyed him, obviously about to mow him over to get to the sandwiches. He prudently stepped aside, relieved when Aiba moved past him with no incident.

It's confusing, and no novel you'll ever read will switch perspectives within a scene. Once you choose someone, stick to them. If you want to show what someone else is thinking, you're still going to have to somehow do it from the same perspective, like so:

Aiba was famished. He'd neglected breakfast that morning, and the egg sandwiches on the green room table were looking really good. He could feel himself drooling, but Sho was in his way.

When Sho turned around, he looked startled--probably at Aiba's desperation. Aiba almost, but didn't quite miss his look of relief as he fell upon the sandwiches after Sho prudently stepped aside.

Lame little example, but it gets the point across.

7. Stay in One Tense.

Don't change your tenses! Don't, don't, don't! If it's present tense, write in present. If it's past, write in past. There is (almost) nothing more distracting than reading something like this:

Jun woke up in the morning and sits up, looking out the window. The sun was hidden behind behind the clouds, but Jun feels refreshed and doesn't care. He thinks he should take a shower, so he got out of bed and looks for his slippers.

There's little that will take a reader out of the story faster. Really.

8. Avoid Making People Perfect.

I can't tell you how many times I've read about how angelic, perfectly sculpted, perfect bodied, beautiful, etc. etc. blah blah vomit characters are in fanfic. Especially in shower scenes.

The Arashi members are idols, but they aren't deities. They're people. They wear a lot of makeup. They are certainly attractive, and I will never argue that they have their moments of beauty, but they also have times where they make totally unflattering faces (Sho's when he skydived comes rapidly to mind) and do equally unflattering things (Ohno's nose picking, anyone?).

So don't try to make them perfection, please, or I will laugh. And possibly face desk.

Give me some qualities about them other than just their prettiness. Show the crookedness of Jun's lips, the way Nino has a dip in his jawbone. Show me qualities that define them, or I'll wonder whose body you're looking at.

And it's not even completely about the physical, either, my beta hastened to point out (why yes, I showed this to a beta--two, actually). People aren't physically perfect, and their personalities aren't perfect, either, nor their actions. The readers wants to see all the facets of their personality so they're not flatter than cardboard. Which leads us to:

9. Remember That Characters Are Multi-Dimensional.

There are fandom versions of any canon character. It happens in every fandom I've read in. Do your best to avoid those, and your fic will have a lot more merit.

In Arashi fandom, we're pretty well-aquainted with Nino the slutty girl who's keen on putting people down, Matsujun the princess that will deal with his band mates with either gleeful sadism or disgust, Sho the prude that whimpers when anything sexual is mentioned, Ohno who is too out in space to tie his own shoes, and Aiba the human bouncy ball that manipulates his friends with puppy eyes.

Okay, so I've used those puppy eyes.

But my point is that if you really think about it, there is so much more to them than what fandom has created, and some of what's become true in fic isn't even remotely true in reality. Jun, for example, may be easily irritable, but the members consistently name him the most considerate, and he's more hard worker than princess.

Digging deeper and shining light on different aspects of a character will improve fic drastically. Aiba might not be an angst muffin, but there are certainly days when he feels less than sunny. Nino might adore his DS, but that doesn't mean he won't get frustrated with his games sometimes. Those times are especially interesting to read about.

There are lots of facts to go off of, but there are also lots of different ways a character might react to something depending on how they happen to feel at the time.

And don't try to imitate anyone else's interpretation of a character from their fics; they have their interpretation, and you'll have yours. Think about it.

Though if your interpretation is schmoopy lovelove, you might want to think about it again.

Here are two posts on the matter that, once again, say it better than me: We return to the can of worms, and thoughts on fanfic characters. They make lovely points, especially the second essay which goes into the need for characters to be recognizable, and the three levels of understanding canon characters.

10. Get a Be Remember Your Audience and Don't Be Self-Indulgent

What do I mean by this?

Well, of course you should only write what you want to write. But you have to remember that if you're writing for the public, you're going to have to write something that's appealing to your readers as well as yourself.

Which is going to make it sound really odd when I say: I totally condone Mary Sue fics.

It's not because I think they're good reading, though. It's because so many people start their journey into writing fanfiction by writing self-inserts. I did. Not for Arashi, of course, this was years and years ago, but I totally wrote self-inserts complete with Special Names and Glorious Eyes, and I bet at least 75% of the other fic authors out there have written a Mary Sue, too.

They're the gateway drug of writing, okay. They're inspired by passion and imagination, and that's a lovely, wonderful way to start exploring the creation of other worlds.

This doesn't mean that I think anyone should share them. The sad fact of the matter is that no matter how much love, how much sweat, and how many tears you put into writing a self-insert, only .00001% of fic readers out there are going to care about your 'original' character. Everyone else is going to skip right over it.

People don't read fanfic to read about the character you've created. People read fanfic for the characters they already know and love.

The most important thing here is really to remember who you're writing for. If you're writing for yourself, it's probably best to keep it to yourself, too. If you're writing with an audience in mind, then your fic is much more likely to get a good reception.

And there's a very fuzzy line there sometimes, when you're writing about your own kinks or your own fantasies or your own characterisations (that may be wildly different than what people would agree with), but you're still thinking while you write that you're writing it to share. My advice here is to try to think objectively about what you're writing. Try to look at it from the eyes of a reader, and be prepared to make concessions with your fic.

11. Get a Beta: III.

Maybe you don't know if something you've written qualifies as badfic. Maybe you're not sure if things are out of character. Maybe you're bad at realizing whether or not your tense is staying put. Maybe you don't know if what you're writing is only interesting to yourself. Maybe epithets slip into your fics by habit, or your point of view in fics changes without you noticing.

Having an honest beta is, I promise, the best, best way to set these problems straight.

BUT. Well, how do you make sure your beta is an honest one? What if your beta isn't very good with writing either? If you're worried you're writing badfic, and that maybe, possibly, your beta reader isn't helping you to avoid that, you should probably look outside for someone else. It would be nice if we had a beta community for Arashi (or Johnny's Entertainment in general), wouldn't it? But since we don't, a writer's best option is to seek out a beta whose writing they admire.


And I hope some of that was interesting to someone. :) Obviously I have a lot of opinions. I could probably talk forever about the mechanics of fic and what works for me and what doesn't; I really do find it intriguing and fun.

And if you're a writer, share with me the things you keep in mind while you're writing. Certainly there are other little bits and bobs and tactics and concepts that have passed me by. I'm interested! Do you have any methods or formulas?

Major love to [personal profile] primroseshows and [personal profile] tsubomi for looking this over for me. ♥

[personal profile] fordream 2009-08-02 04:43 am (UTC)(link)
This is excellent. And YES on the advice on epithets. I absolutely CRINGE every time I see someone use "the taller man/the gamer/the older boy" in fics.
floweranza: (Default)

[personal profile] floweranza 2009-08-02 05:52 am (UTC)(link)
!! You are fabulous. :)

(By the way, so I can attempt to set an example - I'll finally be done with this fic soon. If you have time, could you beta it for me?)
aide: (Default)

[personal profile] aide 2009-08-02 05:56 am (UTC)(link)
Awesomesauce! I am going to give it a read after I get my chores done. I've been procrastinating too much today already. But the fever is gone! :D

I also pimped this on Kotobayori. Hope you don't mind. ♥
aide: (Default)

[personal profile] aide 2009-08-02 06:13 am (UTC)(link)
I only skimmed the first part and figured I really should get what I have to get done FIRST. >_> But I hates cleaning so much! I wish I could put all I learned from my writing prof down on paper... maybe when I get back to Canada and can dig out all my hardcopies, I'll write a primer too. But it'll pretty much be all the same. LOL

(Anonymous) 2009-08-02 06:23 am (UTC)(link)
thank you so much for this !
this was really helpful >_> I'll try to write better fanfic

btw, this is ulilulelo from lj -_-

(Anonymous) 2009-08-02 09:37 am (UTC)(link)
I absolutely agree on the "No Japanese" policy. Becuase it really does ruin a story :/
onlymostlytrue: (distress is my middle name)

[personal profile] onlymostlytrue 2009-08-02 09:01 pm (UTC)(link)
Ah, this is such a good post (and I admit, I came into it expecting it to be unbearable and pretentious :| )

I find POV so hard because my natural instinct is to do present tense + fixed POV and then I'll hit a segment where I wish I hadn't and it will frustrate me for days and days until I get over myself and reword it. (At the moment I'm stuck in 'oh self, why did you choose Ohno's POV again, you know how much harder it is'.)

Sentences are such a constant embarrassment for me (and a big reason why I should get an actual beta instead of just asking friends to look it over) because I write almost exactly like I speak and there are just so many conjunctions in the world it seems like a shame not to use them. Sometimes I read back and I realise my entire paragraph is one sentence DDDD:

When I'm writing I'm always aware that I use 'says' or 'said' probably too much but I can never bring myself to change it more than occasionally just because as a reader it bugs me so much. I'm glad that someone else feels that way. What I usually end up doing is making sure there is enough 'action' between each one that it doesn't read like a script.

In my previous fandom I had a beta who was a very good friend and we would do it for each other (sadly, we are no longer in the same fandoms so it doesn't really work) but it was completely and utterly invaluable. Just having the ability to say 'I know this doesn't work but I'm not sure how to fix it' to someone, or have them say that to you - suggestions or not - was really refreshing and actually quite good fun.

The most important thing here is really to remember who you're writing for. If you're writing for yourself, it's probably best to keep it to yourself, too.

I do disagree with this though, I mean, I understand the feelings behind it but I'm really more a 'share everything just don't complain if no-one reads it' kind of person. I think, for me, it's the same mentality as where I am often baffled by the amount of comments some Arashi (okay, Ohmiya) fics get, I can appreciate that they're obviously entertaining a lot of people. I'm kind of 'well, if one person enjoys it's worth sharing' and I think there's always going to be that one person. I'm not trying to change your mind or anything, that's just how I feel about it.

I'm sorry for my long and boring comment that didn't actually add anything. I wish sometimes there was a way to do a characterisation primer but it is so subjective and I'm always reminded of the time some suggested to me that a character would act to a situation in one way and all I wanted to reply to them with was HOW CAN YOU BE SO WRONG, YOU'RE STUPID, GO AWAY. :DDD
onlymostlytrue: (Default)

[personal profile] onlymostlytrue 2009-08-03 12:25 pm (UTC)(link)
The other thing I think with sentences and where beta readers are so helpful is that often - especially when you've been working on something for a long time - the scene/emotions are so vivid for you that you fail to realise it doesn't actually make any sense at all. Actually, I'm not sure if that's a problem other people have but I frequently get my friend saying to me 'look, this is just nonsense. read it word by word' and then I'm horrified when I do.

Totally with you on the 'Why?' with the Ohmiya fics, too.

I'm glad that I'm in a place where I don't actually care about my comments in relation to other people's, because that way lies madness but if I'm being honest (not just in this fandom, in previous ones too) I get so annoyed still if I have a fic that I slaved over for months/weeks and people like other fic of mine better. I know that's a little childish but dammit, sometimes that fic is my baby >:( I feel so embarrassed admitting that. :/

I really love talking about this stuff too. I used to hate it but I think the difference is in finding a group of writers whose work I admire and whose processes I would like to know more about. There are times when I read a line in fic and I really want to ask 'why did you choose that?' but it never really seems appropriate. It would be nice if there was kind of a 'round table' type thing where people could do that (and that, by participating you agree to ask other people a question/offer a criticism too - to remove the possible imbalance that could be slightly humiliating) but I think it's probably unworkable and it's pretty much just because I selfishly want to see other people talk anyway :)

(Anonymous) 2009-08-04 12:00 pm (UTC)(link)
more emotional, get-it-out-in-a-burst sort of writer--am I right?

Ahaha, yes very much so. I think part of it is that I've rarely got any free time where I can just sit down and write so it's easier for me to say something so it feels natural to me, type it fast and then fix it later.

I feel a lot of childish and pathetic things when it comes to Arashi fic, I don't even know when I became so overinvested but maybe it's that I've been spoiled before - previously my pairing was also fandom's pairing which makes a massive difference, I think, to a fannish experience. (Also, Arashi fandom's second favourite pairing - Sho/Aiba - happens to be my ultimate least favourite - I DO NOT EVEN UNDERSTAND IT OR WHERE IT COMES FROM AT ALL and it frustrates me no end.) I think part of my wanting to know other people's processes and how they write and why they do what they do is, weirdly, a way to see why people ship Jun/Aiba? It's just - I think there's a huge (general) quality difference between the people who write and ship Jun/Aiba compared to people who write and ship, for example, Sho/Aiba. I'm curious about why that is. I mean, I have theories but most of them are unkind and I wouldn't say them out loud. :)

I have gone way off topic now. sorry D:
onlymostlytrue: (Default)

[personal profile] onlymostlytrue 2009-08-04 12:01 pm (UTC)(link)
I could have sworn I was logged in a second ago.
onlymostlytrue: (Default)

[personal profile] onlymostlytrue 2009-08-04 07:56 pm (UTC)(link)
I spent a while considering this and I came up with not really knowing which pairing I prefer to write. Emotionally, I would like to say that I prefer to write Aiba/Jun but logically I know that this isn't true.

I think I like to write characters and I like to write scenes but, coupled with that, is that a part of my characterisation of Jun and Aiba (or Ohno and Nino) is that they have more-than-friendly feelings towards the other even if that's not explicitly what I'm talking about at the time.

This kind of goes back around to wanting to know how other people write (please! feel free to share with me!) because I generally have scenes with no real story for a long time before I work the story around them. It seems to be the case that I will write something with a pairing in mind (or no pairing) and then, when I come to work with it more completely, I'll feel that it works better in a different context. (Uh, which is why I suspect I will never be an amazing storyteller and I have a great admiration for people who are. There's a massive difference, imo, with being a storyteller and having a plot - you can tell a whole story in a few sentences if they're the right ones.)

I agree with you about the relative difficulty of Aiba/Jun and it ties in with that how I see it. Originally, I was confused because for me (taking Ohmiya out of the equation) Aiba/Jun is the obvious pairing but after thinking about it more I realised that there is not really, bar a few occasions, anything overt about it. So, apart from the difficulty with the balance thing which I think is true (I feel like such a tool saying this, btw), I think that there is a certain emotional maturity in the people who write Aiba/Jun that allows them to access a subtextual level that can otherwise be missed. Obviously, I'm kind of a crazy tinhat so that might not mean a lot, but, as an observation of the people who write it who I don't know, I think it holds.

(Also: I have this idea about Sho/Aiba writers tending to write fic-from-fic/fanon rather than fic-from-canon but I'm not quite sure how to put it or even if it's really fair of me to say given that comparatively I've read very little Aiba/Sho).

It is strange how romanticised Jun isn't (and how there is relatively little pairing fic about Jun) especially given that he is - let's say - the romantic lead of Arashi. I don't even think it's a fangirl desire to have him to oneself. Perhaps people just find him too complicated? I'm being unkind again, but I think perhaps that Jun has too many overt conflicting personality traits for some people to want to have to deal with. So you can have Sho the faily intellect, Nino the mean one, Ohno the spacey one, Aiba the idiot and Jun the princess who is actually sometimes mean like Nino but also very romantic but then also forthright and then sometimes he's ridiculously happy for no reason and then etc.

Again, I don't know how true that is but given the general one-dimensionality that I have read in non-Jun pairing fics, I think there's a reasonable chance of it having a little truth in it. If, for example, we took a selection of Shukudai-kun episodes, I think we'd find that Jun would have the most dynamic personality out of all of them.
floweranza: (Default)

[personal profile] floweranza 2009-08-05 06:15 am (UTC)(link)
I can't comment right now, but this conversation going on here is the best thread ever.

My imaginary hat off to you. heart1
floweranza: (Default)

[personal profile] floweranza 2009-08-05 03:07 pm (UTC)(link)
Yes! I'm not sure how great I'd be at articulating any opinions (I'm simple, I just write), but it sounds like a great idea.

O.T. This fic I've been working on for ages is in Jun's POV. I want to murder him! Er, no...
floweranza: (Default)

[personal profile] floweranza 2009-08-05 03:17 pm (UTC)(link)
Honestly, I think a large part of the difficulty of writing Jun is that he's such an adult. He has his dork moments, but usually he's as serious and steady as everyone says he is. There's an air of childishness around Nino, Aiba, and Ohno - even Sho is a social animal, which probably makes it easier for younger writers to identify with him. No such thing with Jun, who drinks wine alone in his apartment and talks aloud to himself like my Grandma does.

So people are cautious about writing Jun and when they do write him, they capitalise on the aspect of him being snarky because that's the easiest thing to do. It's a shame, because I think writing someone as neurotic, detailed and careful as he is makes a good challenge.
primroseshows: (arashi; we are the bright)

[personal profile] primroseshows 2009-08-13 04:04 am (UTC)(link)
Well I finally got the time to sit down and read all of this, and tbh I am kind of overwhelmed with the level of articulate discussion that is going on around here. It's really put me at a loss of what I could possibly contribute to the discussion like you'd wanted me to, but I really haven't thought as deeply about these issues (Sakuraiba, Jun's maturity) as you guys seem to have thought about them. D: Maybe it's not that I haven't thought about them, but that I haven't consciously tried to put what I think about them into words. DDD:

I'll admit though that I find Jun POV impossible to write -- there was this one drabble where I thought I had nailed him but them going back and reading it after a few days I realized I just exaggerated some personality traits (that are honestly more fanon than canon) to make it humourous. It... it was never posted, lol.

Are you still planning to start the community? I do like the idea of having a place where we can ask questions about our own writing and what next step to take if we're stuck with plot/characterization/etc. But, how do I say this... it's like, I can just talk to you guys about that, and if it's only us in the community... ha ha. If we can get more interest in it though, I think that would be great and especially helpful to the people who are willing to take criticism and improve.
tsubomi: (Default)

[personal profile] tsubomi 2009-08-03 12:41 am (UTC)(link)
I am so excited! It's finally posted after all the times you wondered if you should do it. ♥ Well, it is fabulous. I stand by my initial reaction that I feel like I'm really learning things. There are definitely some points here I'll keep in mind when working on fic (which will be soon, I hope).
solesakuma: (Pride & Prejudice)

[personal profile] solesakuma 2009-08-03 05:47 am (UTC)(link)
It's the first advice I give as a beta, I noticed.
More often than not, it's related to not trusting the reader enough.

RE: one-dimensional characterization. I think a more shallow, one-note character may work in, say, a crack fic, but the moment you step into the Great Unknown of the Serious Fic, you must show that Jun is a caring person too.
/might be dealing with that right now

This was really interesting to read, even if I disagree with some points.
solesakuma: (Default)

[personal profile] solesakuma 2009-08-04 11:17 pm (UTC)(link)
Well, it's more with comedy, I guess. I like humour that results from the characters' personalities, so I admit that exaggerating them works better than a most nuanced characterization.
Length probably has something to do with it too. I mean, in a drabble, it's difficult to focus on more than one theme, let alone more than one side of somebody's personality, for ezample.

IMO, say (and ask/answer, a little less) are useful to know who's talking -and even then, you can use names or narrator's observations if it gets confusing. You should only use the other ones to really emphasize how a particular line must be read.
Speech tags, for me, work particularly badly in 1st/3rd person tight fics, because they sound unnatural with most characters voice.
I was going to use my own dialogue as an example, but apparently I use one or two speech tags per fic.

It was mostly that I think that while avoiding repetition is good, you might end with the opposite effect and using thirty synonyms for 'table'. :P

[identity profile] 2009-08-04 04:15 pm (UTC)(link)
This is awesome, Aes! After all this time reading and writing, I still, always, learn things from posts like these, probably because I can't articulate my own process very well! And even though we travel in different circles of storytelling, good writing is pretty damn universal.

Thanks for taking the time to write all this down; I'm gonna bookmark it! ♥