Tips for fanfiction writers (that means YOU)

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Re: Tips for fanfiction writers (that means YOU)

Post by Oddball » Sat Apr 14, 2018 3:05 pm

I thought these tips were obvious, but after reading a few stories lately, I want to make sure they're mentioned and hopefully seen by people.

The cast should have a reason they want to hang around your main character. There should be something there they should actually like. Likewise, whoever your character is, they should have a reason for wanting to hang out with the rest of your cast. If your character is an asshole, nobody (or not many people) are going to want to hang out with them.

If your character is lazy, then Emi probably isn't going to be interested. If they're loud and forceful, Hanako is going to avoid them. etc etc.

Most GOOD characters aren't going to look at one of the main girls once or have a single conversation and decide that's 100% definitely who they want to spend their lives with. YOU may like Rin yourself, but if your characters first encounter with her, she basically just ignores them, they probably aren't going to be as interested as you are.

Oh, and describe what your character actually looks like at some point, preferably early on.
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Re: Tips for fanfiction writers (that means YOU)

Post by ProfAllister » Thu Jun 14, 2018 8:47 am

You can call this my "Grand Unified Theory of Writing with the Audience in Mind" or something.

I see writing as working with audience goodwill, a limited resource. Every reader comes in with a different amount. When you write something they like, you accumulate more goodwill; when you write something they may object to, it pulls from that store of goodwill.

Ideally, the reader isn't aware of such withdrawals. When they are, it's a warning sign.

Length, delay in writing, etc. all have the chance of sapping audience goodwill. If you overdraw, you lose readers.

A big overdraw is a scene that's just a bridge too far for your readers; a small overdraw is them suddenly realising they don't care about finding out what happens next.

With enough audience goodwill, you can get away with anything.

To expand on this, you might have a writer who chooses to "play it safe." He sticks close to the established characters, presents a simple and straightforward story, and otherwise hews to established precedent. It's a solid work, but doesn't really set anyone on fire and eventually is forgotten.

What did he do wrong? He didn't take any risks. He just slowly accumulated goodwill, without spending anything.

Expenditure of goodwill comes in two forms - "withdrawals", and "loans"

The withdrawal is straightforward - you introduce something new: details not set forth in canon, an interaction plays out in an unexpected manner, etc. The successful use of the withdrawal has the reader thinking, consciously or unconsciously, "I'll let him run with this and see where it goes." When a new detail results in something that pleases the reader, you essentially earn all the goodwill that you spent, and then some.

By contrast, a loan is the author essentially asking the reader to "bear with me" on the promise of a payoff. The most obvious example of a loan is a mystery - the characters in the story recognise that something's off, and are often driven to seek the answer. A loan has a minimal down payment of goodwill, but it's gonna be sapping away at goodwill until it pays off.

There are various other factors to take into account. For example, it costs far less goodwill to sell your reader on Lilly secretly running a brothel in a deliberately over the top comedic work than it would be to propose the same in a serious work.

Now, obviously, there's no magical formula to make the "perfect" story. All your readers will come in with different initial levels of goodwill, and different elements will earn or lose goodwill for different things. That's why stories are generally considered to have a "target audience" - they're calibrated to maximise goodwill from that group (ideally without pandering)

So what's all this mean on a practical level?

Want to use an OC? The mere fact of his existence is going to be a drain on your readers' goodwill. Additionally, if all your goodwill is spent in support of your OC? That's looking like a Mary Sue.

Want a romantic relationship between a teenager and an adult? It's gonna take a lot of laying of groundwork to pass that off as a believable development, due to the massive cultural taboos on that subject, and it may be an inescapable bridge too far for much of your audience.

Wondering why you got a bunch of negative feedback on your most recent chapter? If they're focused specifically on the last chapter, you probably tried to sell them on something they weren't ready to accept. If they start talking about your fic as a whole, chances are you've been bleeding goodwill for a while now.

Someone comes along and rips your fic apart with a point-by-point analysis of what didn't work and why? The natural impulse would be to get angry, but you should be thankful that they had enough goodwill to read through and give you detailed feedback, in spite of all the goodwill lost. As a general rule, these people are extremely generous, and the feedback comes from a good place.

And finally? You can't please everyone. There will inevitably be someone who simply doesn't like your work. That's okay. Don't let that guy dissuade you from sharing your work.
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Re: Tips for fanfiction writers (that means YOU)

Post by Silentcook » Fri Jul 13, 2018 2:50 pm

This mostly applies to writers who publish on media where interaction with the audience happens easily, or is even encouraged - but then again, I very rarely happen to find fan fiction published otherwise, so I guess this could be counted as a general tip. Ready to take notes, fledgling authors?

Shut. Up.

...Now to defuse the usual round of blank looks saying "Welp, there goes, 'cook is off his rocker yet again", let's try to qualify things further.

-Don't spoil your story to your readers.

If you have a bad habit of placing a synopsis right at the beginning of your story, don't. You're not a bestselling author yet. If you still want to, do as bestseller blurbs do - be very sure of discussing your plot only in the most vague of terms.
In the same vein, no main character bios - make that no character bios, period.
Don't write yourself into a corner before even beginning. If you were going to protest "but I have everything planned and outlined, and two chapters' worth of buffer", you need to work on your poker face more.
Don't preemptively decide for your readers whether your stuff is interesting, or what to take away from your writing. You're going to have trouble enough hooking people. Shut. Up.

-Don't explain your story to the readers.

Author's notes are a scourge. The only tolerable place for them, and notice my saying "tolerable", not "proper", is at the end, when absolutely everything else is done. Kaput. Finito.
If you feel the need to put in author's notes as you move along, then that means you've failed somewhere in your writing - you weren't clear enough, or interesting enough, or entertaining enough. But instead of working on it, you took the lazy way out.
Don't insult your audience's intelligence by explaining your works to them. If they don't get what you were trying to be clever about by just reading your stuff, it's your fault, not theirs. Shut. Up.

-For God's sake, never argue your story with your readers.

You will fuck up with your research at some point. Very probably by not doing any in your enthusiasm for your coolest storyline ever, but actual, legitimate mistakes sadly happen, too. Someone who knows better than you will notice and call you on it, more or less politely - more likely less.
Or vice versa, some self-proclaimed expert who actually knows less than you do will expound, loudly and at length, that You Got Things Wrong.
At either point, take note. Do your homework. Make corrections or not, as things warrant. Acknowledge, if you're feeling brave. Then move on.
That's it. Yes, I know that correcting people is an extremely popular spectator sport, but is your goal to write fanfiction here, or to look like/make someone look like a dumbass? Because that sport is going to distract from your stuff, and when the "actually"s get pulled out, it's not pretty.
In addition, this is a great way to trip into one or both of the two previous pitfalls. You lose either way. Shut. Up.

-Don't react to readers' expectations.

Your audience will guess that big reveal you were planning to use just before the end, and dissect it mercilessly as not very witty. They will pull out of their collective ass a twist so brilliant and fitting you'll wish you had thought of it two chapters ago. They'll ask for, beg for, and demand extra attention to their favorite special snowflake, which may well be a character so minor you've never thought about, aside from the two whole lines you gave them.
Such is life when writing serial works. You're outnumbered; don't let it get to you. You have a plan (you DO, right?), stick to it and forge ahead. Making changes to what you planned runs a high risk of causing unforeseen continuity disasters and/or plot flops, the later the changes the higher the risks.
I hope for everyone's sake that you are not writing on request or outside input, since if you're at this point everything's already probably gone south and you don't have anything but shenanigans. Enjoy your questing, I guess. It can be a fine thing, and very entertaining, but I wouldn't call it "writing".
Don't let the audience smell your fear. Shut. Up.

Now if you'll all excuse me: I have to go shut up.
Shattering your dreams since '94. I also fought COVID in '20 and '21, and all I got was this lousy forum sig.


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Re: Tips for fanfiction writers (that means YOU)

Post by brythain » Fri Jul 13, 2018 10:37 pm

The Cook Report has done it again. I must say that the advice I get from SC has always been a game-changer.

That advice and other bits are now here concentrated in one big SHUT UP post, and while it's a brutal regime, it is very useful.

I'd like to add counterpoints—not counterclaims, but complementary points.

1. Do your research enough that if some random reader decides to check if there actually was a snowstorm in Yokohama on a particular day, they'll find you weren't slacking. Alternatively, don't be that precise.

2. Explain the story to yourself, at least. If you don't get what you're doing, then the reader isn't likely to do so either.

3. Argue with yourself enough to know that you had a basis for your decisions in your writing.

4. Be true to your own expectations. If you were writing a comedy of manners, make sure it sounds like one at least to you.
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