For writers, fanfiction can be a great place to get started. The process seems rather straightfoward; perhaps you see a movie, television show or maybe even read a book, fall in love with the characters and storyline and come up with a brilliant original idea to add to the mix. Coming up with the ideas is the easy part. Now, how can you spin it into words? Over the past ten years as a fanfiction writer and reader, I have come to quite a few conclusions about what makes a strong, enjoyable story that generates positive attention.
Before I begin, let me just say this: there is one beautiful, important exception to every suggestion in this guide. But we’ll get to that a little later on – no sense in ruining the mystery at the beginning!
Characterization: This is something that I have seen many authors struggle with, myself included. When writing fanfiction, you are working with pre-existing characters that have personalities, opinions and flaws of their original creator’s making. While some people find this easier (the argument being that there is less guess-work involved when you’re writing about someone who already exists), few pull off characterization well. There is a term in the fanfiction world: OOC, which stands for “out of character.” This can have its ups and downs as with anything else, but if it’s not what you’re aiming for, your readers will often peg you with these letters in their reviews. Try to think as the character would – meaning, if you have them responding to a question in your story, try think about how that character would actually respond as they would in the movie, television show or book. A fun exercise to practice this, is to come up with a mock interview for the character you would like to pinpoint more accurately. Think of a few questions, however simple or complex you would like them to be, and answer them exactly as you think that character would. No matter how much experience you have writing, this is a great way to improve your story’s characterization and make your story that much more believable.
Original Characters (OC): Not much needs to be said for this section. Original characters are characters that do not exist in the original work, but that you created and inserted into the fanfiction for the purposes of your story. In ten years, the best suggestion that I can give regarding the use of OC is to use as few of them as possible, and to make them as realistic as you can: with a personality, flaws, opinions as any other character would have. Remember that even in movies, tv and books, nobody is perfect. No matter how made-up your character is, they shouldn’t be perfect either or run the risk of being deemed a Mary-Sue http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Sue.
Plotlines and consistency: More often than not, your fanfiction will tie into a pre-existing storyline from the original work. Be sure to try to have your facts straight! If there is a mistake in your fanfiction that isn’t consistent with the original work, the readers (who are also fans of the work bear in mind) will catch it and often make remarks about it. If the mistake is small and can be fixed, such as the misspelling of a name, don’t fret too much but remember it for next time. However, if you’re writing a Twilight fanfiction and for whatever reason, Bella is a red-head and hails from New York City, you may want to give that a double-take before posting it somewhere.
Plot deviations: Sometimes your story, especially if it’s a longer, multi-chapter fanfiction, will deviate from the original. Perhaps you’re writing a fanfiction for a murder-mystery television series and you develop an original mystery of your own for the characters to trek through. For stories with intentional plot deviations, it’s helpful to alert the reader at the very beginning of the story with an Author’s Note (usually marked as “A/N:” at the top of the first chapter of the story). This way it will give your readers a heads up to disconnect the original work and your story to a certain point. It will also help prevent them from becoming confused. Remember, if your reader cannot understand what it going on within the first chapter or two, they will usually stop reading.
English 101? Not such a useless class after all: One of a reader’s biggest pet peeves is a poorly written story, grammar and structure-wise. You can have the most compelling plotlines and the strongest characterization, but if your sentences are choppy and you’ve got an entire page as a run-on sentence, chances are your readers will drop like flies. Fanfiction.net offers a beta-reader system in which you can search a list of members that will work with you, read and edit your story for free and send it back to you before you publish it. Beta-readers look for all the nitty gritty things like punctuation, spelling, grammar and structure errors. Don’t forget, beta-readers are there to help you – use them, that’s what they’re there for and more often than not, they are happy to help!
The exception – Creativity: I mentioned earlier that there is one major exception to every single suggestion I have mentioned. What is that single exception? Creativity. While there are no “rules” in fanfiction, only guidelines, the use of creativity trumps any guideline in the books. With fanfiction, one of the most important things to remember is that you are essentially adding to an already existing world. However, writing is a creative process and as a result, you can use your creative license as an author to stretch or change a character’s personality, set the story into an alternate universe or setting, or add any elements you would like! The most important thing is to have fun with what you’re doing. If you can make changes artfully enough, you will attract and keep readers coming back for more!