Thursday, November 3, 2011
Writing Your First Fanfic
I'd like to thank amara z for the suggestion on writing this as a post. And it will get us back to posting more "topical" posts as according to the poll that seems to be what you all want more of!
So, you want to write a fanfic, but you aren't sure where to get started, huh? Well, there are probably at least a hundred different things you could do to start, but here I'll just give you some suggestions.
First, obviously, you need an idea. There are no set rules as to what this idea needs to entail other than it should probably have something to do with Star Wars and Han and Leia. I could tell you that you should start simple or with a short story, but there have been plenty of writers (*cough* Push *cough*) that have started right out of the gate with pretty epic story lines, so there's no reason your first story can only be five hundred words. But if you only want it to be that long, then that's okay, too.
Don't judge your ideas. Any idea is valid. Even if it's an idea that has been done before, I still believe that every author can bring their own unique perspective to it. Sure, there are dozens of trip to Bespin stories. And some are similar, but no two are exactly alike. If you think you have something to say on a subject that has been done before, write it.
So, you've got your idea. Now what? First, even if you don't have time to start writing the story, at least write down the idea somewhere so you don't forget it. You'd be amazed how quickly things can fly right out of your brain, never to be heard from again. Don't judge your idea. Don't analyze whether it's worth pursuing or not. If I only wrote things I thought would be the most amazing stories ever... well, I never would've written anything.
Find some quiet time and sit down and start typing. For those adults with children among us, this time is precious, so hopefully you can find some of it when there aren't a dozen other things weighing on your mind. Or hopefully you can at least tune out all of the other stresses in your life. It is preferable if it is either quiet or maybe some music in the background. I sometimes find that listening to the movie soundtracks provides inspiration. Although sometimes that can also be distracting because I'll recognize certain music cues and be like, "Oh, this was when they were in the garbage masher!"
And lastly, start typing. Don't have any rules to start with. Just write what you want to write. If the dialogue is what is clearest in your mind and you don't feel like filling in all of the other details in between, then just go with that. There is no reason you can't go back and add later. I know in the past I've always been sort of rigid in my writing, basically telling myself I couldn't move on until I completely finished a certain scene or whatever, but I don't do that anymore. I find it's best to write what I'm inspired to write at the time and to get typed up the things most clear in my head. It can be demoralizing when you're forcing yourself to write something you're not into at the moment just to get to the stuff you are. So just keep typing and blanks can be filled in later.
At any time during this process you can send it to a trusted friend to read. It is up to you at what point this should happen and I know for me it depends on the story. Sometimes I want Push to read it right away and sometimes I don't send it to her until it's halfway or even almost done. Sometimes I send it when it is more complete and sometimes I send it when I know there are some details missing but I want her to look at it anyway. You'll know when it's time. There is nothing wrong with asking for help. And by help I mean really almost anything you might need for the story. Whether it be spelling, grammar, even helping move the plot along if there are some details you just can't seem to get worked out. It can be tough at first, especially since sometimes it feels like giving up control or getting help in certain things means the story isn't entirely yours anymore. As long as you don't hand it to someone and say, "Here, you write this whole thing," then it's still yours.
You can work alone as long as you want, though. Eventually it helps to share it. But at first, write as though you are the only one who is going to see it. You can delete anything you later deem too embarrassing to share with another human being. I promise, the more you do this, the lower your standards become for that sort of thing. You need a combination of uninhibited writing that is just for you and then later it helps to have the motivation of someone reading it and telling you what they like about it. It is always more inspiring when someone tells you that what you're writing is worthwhile. Often it can be tough to push through to publishing without that sort of encouragement along the way. That's not to say it's impossible, because I think a lot of us (myself included) did it on our own to start with, but once you get to sharing it, it's tough to go back the other way.
All right, you've decided to share it with someone and they've read it. This can provide motivation and/or editing help. I don't care if you got straight A's in English. Everyone needs someone to read their stuff. I've not noticed in my own stories some of the sort of mistakes I correct for other people all the time. Sometimes you just need a fresh pair of eyes looking at it. It doesn't mean you're stupid or that under most circumstances you do, in fact, know that you were supposed to use their instead of there.
At this point, it is really up to you how much back in forth is involved here. It can be a one and done thing or you can ask over and over again. And this is another thing that often depends on the story. Sometimes I send Push something once, and sometimes I'll bother her with it four or five times, it just depends on the scene. This is where you would go back and fill in those details you'd been avoiding, or whatever scenes you'd been putting off. Trust me, a lot of times they're easier to deal with when the rest of the story is almost done and it's the only thing holding you back. It's tougher to push through them when there's not much story there yet and you can just as easily give up on it.
So you've had your quiet writing time. You've shared with a friend for motivation and for editing. You've got what you think is a complete story, so what next? Time to publish! Most of us here are probably going through fanfiction.net as I do. It's easy enough to set up an account over there and post. The only problem is that I find one of the hardest things to deal with are titles and summaries. I've literally had people tell me they avoided reading something of mine due to one or both of those. Fortunately, a friend had told them to read anyway and they were pleasantly surprised, so you can certainly do it wrong.
My advice here, although I'm not sure I'm qualified, is to keep it simple. I struggle sometimes with what might be too much plot to give away in the summary but you just do what you feel is right. And please, don't put "I suck at summaries" in your summary. Yes, maybe you do suck at summaries. But writing that within the summary doesn't really entice me to read it. Even a sucky summary without the commentary on its suckiness is going to make me want to read the story more than telling me you suck at summaries.
Once it's published, there's not much left to do but sit and wait for reviews. Wait, reviews? Where are my reviews? Perhaps the hardest thing about all of this is sometimes you're just not going to get many of them. Why? Because there are more readers than writers and I think the people who just read have no idea how much a simple acknowledgment that they read and enjoyed your story can mean to someone. I also think that the reviews tend to increase the more you write. This doesn't even have to do with you getting better (although you probably will) but I think seeing your name more often up there just gives you a better chance of people reading and reviewing your things.
It's definitely tough to sit back and wonder why you don't have more reviews and you have to try not to let that get to you. Don't let it stop you from writing. If you get ten reviews for a one-shot you are probably way ahead of the game. Another suggestion on the review front? Thank the reviewers! On ff.net it is very easy to send a little message back and tell someone you appreciated them taking the time to review. It takes thirty seconds. And I think that it is nice to let someone know that their efforts were appreciated and my instincts tell me that it makes them more likely to review later. And please, review other people's stuff, too. Remember the golden rule? You want reviews, you review other people's stuff. It gives the whole thing much more sense of community. Push and I never would've started talking if I didn't start reviewing her first story. You never know where friends might come from.
After that, just keep writing! Don't try and force stuff, but do write when you want to write. If you're having trouble coming up with any ideas, I'd suggest going over to Nerfherder's Playground and looking at some of the old challenges there. Maybe nothing will come of it, but it's good to keep writing anyway.
And I've said it before and I'll say it again. Don't delete anything you write! I think all of us probably at some point write something that the next day we feel embarrassed about for whatever reason. Whether the idea was too silly or you decide the reactions are too melodramatic or maybe you experimented with writing sex for the first time and you're afraid that someone you know might find it and you'd simply die if someone knew you wrote that. First of all, when you are on your friends' computers, do you snoop around their files? I know I don't, and I'd hope they wouldn't do that to me, either. That's not to say that you shouldn't at least close any documents you've left open with fanfic on them ;) You never know when you want to go back to something you wrote before for any number of reasons. Using it for a different story or even just laughing at yourself and seeing how far you've come. You don't have to publish everything.
All right, I think that's a good starting point but let me know if you want any other ideas on anything. Or if you want to disagree with anything I've written. Discussions make the blog more fun!