Fanfic Writer's Workshop

by Erica Friedman,

Editor-in-Chief of the Fanfic Revolution, "Worldshaking" Fanfic, Revolution! e-zine and staff editor for News from the Other Grove


Part 1: Getting Started

Since I'm not overwhelmed at work today, and it's been a topic of discussion, I thought I'd insert my two cents into the discussion of writing fanfic. If you are a fanfic writer, want to be one, thought about doing a fic, or have already written one, then hopefully something in these articles will help you to polish your skills and turn out even better stories.

Some of what I'm writing seems like common sense, but not everyone uses common sense when writing. All of this is based on my experience as a both a professional and personal reader, writer, editor and proofreader. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask - but expect the truth in answer...this is a teaching session - I'm not being polite.

And no - poems are NOT exempt from most of the rules. LOL


Making a story from scratch isn't much like baking a cake, but there are definitely things that you need to know in order to make it work. When making a cake, you *need* to know the difference between baking powder and baking soda, for instance. When you undertake a writing project, understanding the difference between grammar and syntax, proofreading and copyediting definitely makes things easier.

Before I even start on a story, let me recommend that anyone who has never written before seriously contemplate purchasing a "style book." These little gems will give you basic rules of writing that are generally accepted, and will stand you in good stead for usage of punctuation marks and other useful minutiae. I'll also recommend stopping by anyone of the numerous fanfic style guides littered all over the net. The Fanfic Revolution has a very basic (and somewhat tart) one at - this applies pretty much to how *we* see fanfic, and is not at all universal. But the basic rules do apply to all writing.

OK, we're ready to start. I've got a style book, and an idea. Oh, wait, no I don't! I need an idea to write a story...

Here's the first hint that you are probably not really cut out to be a writer. LOL If you don't have story or scene or dialogue ideas oozing out of your brain, then maybe writing just isn't really where you should focus your creative efforts.

Note: I think the most depressing question I get at fanfic panels is, "Where do you get your story ideas?" It makes me sad to see some earnest young thing ask this, because I know that the real answer will be of no help whatsoever to them. The real answer is, obviously, that I'm alive. I wake up, eat breakfast, look around, read things, talk to people, etc...story ideas flow from all those things. And, of course, I steal copiously. LOL I write on the basic principle that Shakespeare pretty much covered everything and did it better than I'll ever do. Once I get past the need to be "original," I'm pretty much free to do anything I want.

Step 1) Story idea. Last night I was reading a doujinshi about Sailors Uranus and Neptune. For the sake of argument, let's use them. So, my basic story idea is about when the original Sailors Uranus and Neptune arrive at the Moon Kingdom for the first time. There, we have a story idea.


Step 2) Mental storyboarding. I'm graphically impaired, but that doesn't mean I can't SEE what I want a thing to look like, in a general sense. Since the fanfic we're writing is based on a visual medium (print or animation) I tend to try to think out key scenes in terms of the "panels" they would occupy. Because I'm not an artist, I don't focus on the storyboard itself, but as more of an outline for the story and how I want it to progress. It's pretty much like writing an outline for an essay or research paper. This isn't a fixed thing - sometimes I see a story more like a live action movie, but I do try to "direct" my scenes in my head.

Here's the storyboard for the fanfic:

1) Rumors reach the Inner Senshi that two new Senshi will be arriving soon. (Mental images of each of the Inners responding characteristically – Mercury with concerned interest; Venus with open curiosity; Mars skeptically, etc)

2) Queen Serenity gathering the Senshi and announcing formally that the new Senshi will be arriving, make them welcome… (Image, the Senshi kneeling before the throne, Serenity looking much like the cat that ate the cream.)

3) The Senshi speculate together, will they be beautiful, ugly, etc, (Mental image – the gathered Inners, all walking down a hallway, talking animatedly)

4) The ship landing – tension builds (Mental image – from behind the Senshi, the ship doors open)

5) The Senshi's reactions to their new partners (Mental image - each Senshi's face registering shock, amusement, embarrassment)

6) Uranus and Neptune are revealed as standing in the doorway, kissing passionately. (Mental image, well, uh, it's obvious.)


Right, so there we are, a teeny little Outer Senshi story idea and storyboard. I'm not going to go ahead and write the whole thing. But I'll start off with an opening scene and we'll see how it progresses.


Step 3) Writing it down.

This is where most people have the hardest time. They have an idea and don't know where to begin. Well, storyboarding it in your head really helps, because it gives you an idea of how it should play out. In this case, since we started with rumors, I'll begin with unassigned dialog. Remember, we're writing in the milieu of anime/manga – think HOW that kind of thing is presented in our source material - in manga we get unassigned dialogue balloons, in anime we hear background voiceovers.

So we begin:

"Did you hear?"

"I know! I can hardly believe it?"

"What do you think they'll be like?"

"I heard that they are both very old and ugly."

"No! I heard that they are both even more beautiful than the Queen!"

"But will the be stronger than you know who?"

"Not if *she* has anything to say about it!"

"I bet they'll be scary..."

"Well, we can hardly know what they'll be – we don't really know anything do we?"

"Oh, Mercury, you're always...logical!"

The three girls laughed at the fourth, who only shook her head calmly. "It's true, I am logical – which is better than trying to make any decisions based on rumor and speculation."

The Senshi of Venus laughed musically. "Mercury, you're so serious…I was only having some fun."



Step 4) The opening scene sets the place, characters and tone for the piece. These are all really important things. At the FR we have basic rule of thumb – *Show, don't tell.* That is, there is NO reason to ever write a long, detailed author's note telling us what, where, who and why...all that belongs in the story itself. The point of the first few paragraphs of a story should not only hook the reader with a bit of tension, but should illustrate through dialogue and description, the place, time and cast and tone.

If I had wanted to give this story a less playful feel, I could have begun it with a more serious tone, i..e.,:

Rumors moved quickly through the Silver Millennium court. Rumors about the impending arrival of new the new Senshi from Uranus and Neptune moved with speed that rivaled that of light itself. Within hours of the news, every person at the court had heard at least three descriptions of the new Senshi – from hoary crones, replete with ancient wisdom, to young, nubile women, barely old enough to take up their mantles as Senshi.


Note that the total lack of dialogue makes the story sound much less light and goofy, right off the top. The language is slightly more archaic to give the scene a more formal tone, without dragging it down.

One of the things that immediately strikes me as an editor/reader is the overuse of adjectival and adverbial phrases by beginning writers. Not every noun needs a modifier! LOL

Look at the last sentence again, written with more descriptors:

Rumors moved with quicksilver speed through the Silver Millennium court. Whispered rumors about the impending arrival of the mysterious new Senshi from Uranus and Neptune moved with lightning velocity that rivaled...

You can see how it gets bogged down almost immediately.

The same applies to dialogue – "formal" doesn't mean stiff – or wordbound. There are genuine conventions in writing certain moods, accents, and linguistic implications. Let's say I want to write a character who speaks with a French accent. Well, I don't know any French, but I can still utilize certain conventions to assist in implying a French accent:

"That machine, she is a beautiful one, no?"

OK, it's ugly, but it gets the point across.

Or German : "A beautiful machine it is, ja."

OK, I'm sure you get the point. It's tacky, but it works. The key is not to overuse anything. *Imply* the accent or the status of a character, don't beat us over the head with it. I'll talk about this more in my section about voice.


Now, let's go back to the original, dialogue-based beginning. As I said, the point is to set the time, place, cast and tone. I've done that, but on reflection, I think it could be better. So, here's my first rewrite, which will include fixing a typo and adding in a missing word:

"Did you hear?"

"I know! I can hardly believe it!"

"What do you think they'll be like?"

"I heard that they are both very old and ugly."

"No! I heard that they are both even more beautiful than the Queen!" There was laughter at this comment.

"But will the be stronger than you know who?" The voice was just a shade too caustic to be funny.

"Not if *she* has anything to say about it!" More laughter.

"I bet they'll be scary...."

"Well, we can hardly know what they'll be – we don't really know anything do we?"

"Oh, Mercury, you're always so...logical!"

The three girls laughed at the fourth, who only shook her head calmly. "It's true, I am logical – which is better than trying to make any decisions based on rumor and speculation."

The Senshi of Venus laughed musically. "Mercury, you're so serious...I was only having some fun. Even Princess Serenity was speculating."


So, there – it's filled out a little bit. We have different tones of voice – one caustic, one joking, one a little more formal...I bet now you can place which Senshi is saying what line. By mentioning Princess Serenity by name, and using the Senshi's titles with no "Sailor" prefix I've pretty clearly set the time and place as the Silver Millennium – it might *possibly* be Crystal Tokyo, but we know that the Inners knew Uranus and Neptune, so logic dictates that it's the past, not the future.

And there we have it...the beginning of a fanfic. Not, I'll admit, an inspired one, granted, but one nonetheless. Next article I'll discuss grammar, syntax, proofreading, copy editing, more proofreading, voice, and some other bugaboos of fanfic – oh, and proofreading. LOL


Part 2: Making a Good Story Better


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