Why I’m Not Going to Read Your Fanfic

Embarrassing admission of the day: I read fanfiction.  It’s hard to tell over the Internet, but that word “read” is in the present tense.  I read fanfiction.  Today. But only sometimes!  Once or twice a year – at most, I … Continued

Shakespeare won't read your fanfic either.

Shakespeare won’t read your fanfic, either.

Embarrassing admission of the day: I read fanfiction.  It’s hard to tell over the Internet, but that word “read” is in the present tense.  I read fanfiction.  Today.

But only sometimes!  Once or twice a year – at most, I swear! – I indulge in what I admit is a very guilty pleasure.  Some of you watch Gossip Girl; some of you unironically enjoy The Chronicles of Riddick.  Me, I read amateur versions of anime and children’s books.

99% of fanfiction is terrible, of course.  95% of anything is terrible, and I added 4% because this is the Internet we’re talking about.  But every so often I find a fanfic I can’t keep my eyes off.  It might capture the feeling of the original source, or attack the premise from an interesting and new point of view.  I get to see my favorite characters come back to life through the power of words.  The puppeteer might be different, but, in the best fics, anyway, my beloved puppets are back and better than ever.

[optin-monster-shortcode id=”ll7hbqdkyb3reqr1ue6g”]

Before you sneer, I should probably remind you that many great pieces of “real” literature are just glorified fanfics.  Every other year the Pulitzer or Man Booker Prize goes to a retelling of a some old text; the only difference is that they use stuff in the public domain so they can’t get sued.  Fanfic isn’t new, either.  See anything by Shakespeare, anything by the any of the Ancient Greeks, and the entire New Testament, for instance, and you’ll understand what I mean.  Although the New Testament did get the character of “God” all wrong and also was a little too G-rated in comparison to the original text.  Still, points for using the postmodern techniques of using “found documents” and not one but four unreliable narrators.  That’s a good fanfic.

The trouble is that it is very difficult to find good fanfic.  Sometimes I go dumpster diving at Fanfiction.net, but it just takes too long.  Why in the world doesn’t that site have a “sort by rating” feature or “sort by number of reviews” feature, anyway?  Seeing as I am too lazy to wade through the slush, as those in the publishing world like to say, I’m just going to have to make every fanfiction writer on the Internet better.  That means you.  In my spare time away from this blog I teach writing, so I do this more out of habit than anything else.  And, yes, I’m going to make the assumption that stories that meet my personal tastes are objectively better stories than those that don’t.

You guys better step it up.

A list of five thou shalt nots and five thou shalts below.  While some of these tips will be about writing in general, most are specifically about writing fanfiction, a form with its own quirks and issues.  And even if you don’t write fanfiction yourself, maybe you’ll enjoy reading a deconstruction of the medium.

1.    I will not read your fanfic if nothing happens on the first screen.

But, really, I will not read your fanfic if nothing happens in the first paragraph.  Maybe even the first sentence if I’m feeling ungenerous.

Listen: I’m not one of those crazy “how to write books” people who claims you have to have a murder on the first page to get my attention.  However, do realize that many readers have very little time to find and read fanfiction, so you need to grab them as quickly as you can.

Again, this does not mean you need to start with a dead body.  If you’re writing a murder mystery, then maybe you do, but, otherwise, not so much.

But you probably shouldn’t start with three paragraphs worth



of description.  I see that a lot on FF.net.  The funny thing about writing that I’ve recently learned is that a tiny bit of description goes a long, long way.  I recently finished writing an almost 400 page novel which contained maybe less than two sentences of description of my main character but everyone who read it knew exactly what he looked like.  My boyfriend was even able to draw a picture of him that perfectly matched my image of him.  Less is more, especially on your first page.  (Note: This doesn’t mean no description!  It just means you should use it sparingly – to illuminate character.  And do it a little later, when readers already know who the characters are.  If your last name is Steinbeck, ignore this advice.  Your descriptions are awesome.)

Other ways you probably shouldn’t start.  I will probably not read your story if it starts with a character’s angsty inner monologue.  A little inner monologue is fine.  I’ll even go so far as to say that a little angst is fine, too.  Maybe even great.  But you need to lead up to it.  It hits harder if your story builds up to angst.  But if your entire first chapter consists of angsty inner monologue – well, god help you.   Someone else might like it, but not me.


2.    I will not read your fic if early on a character does something he or she would never ever do.

It is out of character to have anyone send presents to Anton Chigurh.

It is out of character to have anyone send presents to Anton Chigurh.  It is also out of character for him to express gratitude over said presents.  FYI.

Let’s say you’re writing a fic based on a show in which the male and female leads spent the entire series yelling at each other.  And they never got together even though the subtext was so there.  So you say to yourself, I’m going to fix this situation.  Those two characters are getting together, whether they like it or not.

Fair enough.  But there are good ways of doing it and less good ways.  Let’s say both characters are bitter, sarcastic characters who lash out at one another because they don’t know how to properly share their feelings.  Or perhaps they’ve already lost someone and are afraid of losing someone again.

Does it make sense for these two adult adolescents to miraculously get over these hang-ups in a few pages, confess their love for one another in a straightforward way, and engage in loving intercourse?  No.  No, it does not make sense.  I don’t care how much you want these two to bone.  It will not happen this way.

All is not lost, though.  They can still bone.  But it’s trickier to achieve.  Here’s a suggestion:

They fight.  During the verbal sparring match, they both make fun of the other’s obvious crush.  Sexual tension rises.  They bone—but passionately.  Like, hair ripping sex.  But afterward, one of them just leaves.  Silently.  Or kicks the other out.  Things are awkward between them for a while.  They see other people.  But then one almost gets killed by the bad guy.  The other admits to him/herself that they have feelings for the other.  They have a Talk.  They agree maybe to be nicer to each other.  Maybe they admit, in their own oblique way, that they have feelings for each other.  Or maybe they just bone again, I dunno.

But they don’t get married!  That would be crazy!  Off the wall nuts!


Well, that doesn’t make it right.

Keep your characters in character.  I don’t know about other readers, but I’ll stop reading a fic mid-sentence if a beloved character of mine does something uncharacteristic.  Try to make your characters’ dialogue sound like them, too.  If they curse, have them curse.  If they don’t, don’t.  And if they sometimes use certain words, use them (sparingly!).

3.    I will not read your fic if has too much dialogue or too little dialogue.

This one is kind of personal, I think, and it has a lot to do with computer screens.  When I open a fanfic on the Internet and find a huge block of text without a break for dialogue staring at me, I will run away scared.  I know my eyes won’t be able to take it.  If you have to have long expanses of narration without dialogue, put in paragraph breaks every so often.  For my eyes.

Too much dialogue is a different problem.  If a story is all dialogue and no narration, it’s a bad, weird sign.  Your fic will come off like those comic strips where characters say stuff but there’s no background behind them.  Except at least in the comic strips you can see what the characters look like and the expressions on their faces.

On the other hand, the Pulitzer Prize winning classic, A Confederacy of Dunces, is almost only dialogue.  So who knows?  Toole was pretty great with dialogue, and his dialogue was much more fun to read than his narration, so it makes sense that he wrote that way.  He also killed himself, so maybe you shouldn’t copy everything he does.

4.    If you overuse adverbs, I might read your fic, but I will soon become annoyed.

I complain about this “rule” constantly, because adverbs are actually wonderful.  Writing teachers who claim that writers should never use adverbs never read The Great Gatsby, a gorgeous piece of writing despite the fact that almost every other word is an adverb.  So I will never say “no adverbs.”  In fact, this paragraph has several adverbs in it.   In fact in fact, all of them were perfectly placed.  Also, that use of the passive voice there was super-cool, too.


Britney is crying sadly :(

But I agree with those people who say not to put adverbs after dialogue tags.  There is a good reason for that rule.  Bad example I see too often in fanfics: “he asked questioningly.”  The problem here isn’t the adverb.  It’s the redundancy.  Yeah, I’m pretty sure the word “asked” implied the word “questioningly.”  And the question mark at the end of the dialogue probably implied the word “asked.”

Or: “he shouted angrily.”  When someone shouts, she is probably angry.  And, hopefully, you’ve already made it clear through the dialogue and narration that the character is angry.  Don’t be redundant.

My other main problem with adverbs has nothing to do with a bias against them as a part of speech.  It has to do with repetition.  Because most of them end with “ly,” adverbs tend to sound the same.  Use them too much and your story will kind of rhyme.  You don’t want that.  Unless you do.  In which case, ignore my opinion.

5.    I will probably not read your fanfic if you tell me in the blurb who is going to get together in the fic.

Everyone else in the world is probably against me on this one.  I’m going to say it anyway.  Why would I, your reader, want to read a fic when you’ve already told me the ending in your blurb?  What happened to surprise, Internet?  Can’t I learn while reading your fic that Luke and Han are going to have hot sex?  Why do you have to spoil it before I even start reading?

See? It happened in the show!

See? It happened in the show!

And when the pairings aren’t surprising, then it’s even more ridiculous.  I was just sifting through the 4000+ Avatar fics on FF.net (don’t ask) and was appalled to see blurbs reading “Sukka!!1!”   That foreign word apparently means that the fic featured a Suki-Sokka pairing.

For Sokka’s sake, I’m going to ratchet up the sarcasm here.  Sarcasm:  “Wow, really?  Suki and Sokka – together?!  Thank God you told me in the summary!  If you hadn’t warned me, I might have keeled over from shock while reading your awesome fic.  You know.   Since they weren’t a couple IN THE SERIES.”
Grumble.  It’s like someone writing a fic based on Romeo and Juliet and saying “Rom/Jul” in the blurb.  THANKS FOR THE WARNING.

Here’s the exception, though.  I WILL read your fic, or at least skim it, if your summary has an absurd pairing in it.  “Ron/Herm” won’t do it.  “Snape/Herm” won’t do it.  “Snape/Draco Malfoy” definitely won’t do it.

But “Draco Malfoy/Professor McGonagall”?

Yes yes yes yes yes.

What?  It makes me laugh.

To prove that I’m not naïve, yes, I understand that people scan blurbs for pairings so they can jerk off to their favorite fanship with ease.  You Internet folks are strange.

6. I will not read your fic if there is a Mary Sue in it.

You’ve heard this rule before.  Let me first tell you what I don’t mean.  I don’t mean no original characters.  I don’t mean no female original characters.

But I’ll be suspicious if your original character is the main character of the fic.  Especially if it’s in the first person.  And if the character is a teenage girl.  Who is so great the hero falls in love with her.

But you’ve heard this all before.  Just… avoid it, will you?  Only put in an original character if there needs to be one, and make sure he or she fits into the world you’re hijacking.

7. I will probably not read your fic if it’s a crossover; I definitely won’t read it if it crosses over too many canons.

Epic crossover in action.

Epic crossover action.

Although I personally don’t like crossover fics, I understand why others might.  That’s fine.  The trouble is when I read blurbs that say Death Note x DBZ x Buffy x Star Trek: TNG x Dragnet x Entourage x Gilligan’s Island.  Who in the world has seen all of those shows and is familiar enough with all of them to get your references?  You are limiting your audience to very very few people.  It’s the problem with in jokes.  If only a few people get your in-joke, each of those few people will enjoy it A LOT.  But only those few people.  Everyone else will make a “buh-wha??!” face and click the back button on their web browser.

Hey!  Let’s be positive.  There are some wonderful fics out there.  How can you write one?  Here are some tips, in backwards order of importance.

5. Run your story through a spell check before you put it up on the Internet for everyone else to see.  Unless your fic is in the form of some text message or AIM chat, in which case I will shoot you with a gun.

4. Try to “hear” your story to make sure it sounds right. Try not to be too choppy or too repetitive, unless that’s what you’re going for.  In some fanfics I’ve read, every sentence starts with “he” or “she.”  That can get boring to the ear very quickly.  Avoid it… unless that’s what you were going for.

3. The best fanfiction has the feel of the original source or its own style that nonetheless works well with the canon characters.  Example: A fic based on the Terminator series will probably be best if it is dark and full of action, like the Terminator movies and TV show.  But a clever writer could maybe do it as a dark romance (similar to the subplot of the first Terminator film) or futuristic noir, a la Blade Runner, or a war story set in The Future.  A Terminator fic probably wouldn’t work as a light romantic comedy set at a high school slumber party.  Unless it was really, really, really funny.  Really.



2. The best fics say something new about the characters. Why should I read your story about these characters I already know?  A decent answer is, “Because the show/book/series is over and you want to see more of them.”  A better answer is, “Because I show something about them the original text didn’t show.”

Like what Christopher Nolan did in Batman Begins, which isn’t a fanfic but in some ways is.  Every Batman story before that one harped on one big point: Batman became Batman because he was upset his parents died.  Batman Begins started like that, too, of course.  But it was when Ras al Ghul said, “It wasn’t your fault.  It was your father’s.  He acted like a real dumbass” that I sat up and took notice.  Although that reading of Batman’s origin story may have been done before, I hadn’t heard of it, and neither did Brucey in that scene.  That line instantly made the tried and true plot more complex and interesting.  It put Batman’s dad and Batman himself in a new light.

Also, that movie depicted Batman as a ninja, which was sweet.

Ras is proficient in all the martial arts and can psychoanalyze your dead dad in twenty seconds or less!

Ras is proficient in all the martial arts and can psychoanalyze your dead dad in twenty seconds or less!

If you just end up saying the same thing about the character that’s already been said, it can get quite boring.  Since I was fourteen I’ve been in love with the anime, Cowboy Bebop, and when the show ended I was happy to learn a movie was in the works.  Although the series had amazingly well-developed characters, there were still many mysteries left unrevealed.  Back-stories in the show were sketched in at best, enough to give viewers a decent idea about characters’ pasts but vague enough that fanfic writers could go crazy filling in the details later.  The end of the show also ended on a purposefully ambiguous note, leaving many characters’ problems unresolved.

But the movie disappointed me.  It just showed me the characters doing the same things they always did.  The protag, Spike, got character development scenes that showed us that he saw the world as a waking dream and acted recklessly because of his nihilistic worldview.  Those scenes would have been great… if we hadn’t already learned that in the TV show.  In the end, what was the point of watching the movie at all if it wasn’t going to say something new?

A cool way of achieving this goal of saying something new about old characters is to tell the story from a side character’s point of view.  That’s the trick of Grendel, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, and Wide Sargasso Sea.  Probably Jean Rhys was reading a Vision of Escaflowne fic from the POV of Dilandau when she went, “Jackpot!”  Yeah, fanfics are that powerful.

Again, your versions of the characters should make sense.  If I were your English teacher and said, “Show me in the original text where you got this ridiculous idea from!” would you be able to?  Jean Rhys would be able to say, “Yes, I can show you in Jane Eyre that Rochester is shunting Bertha into the attic because he is afraid of her Creole ways.”  And her teacher would give her an A, even though some parts of her book were annoyingly didactic and over the top.  In Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Tom Stoppard even went as far as having the characters saying lines from the original play.  Naturally, they took on a different tone in the new context of the new play.  You don’t have to quote lines from your original source in your fic, but it is cool to have some sort of continuity and allow the characters to reference events and dialogue that happened in the original story.  That’s also fun because it’s a kind of nod or in-joke for your readers who remember those details.

1.    Have a plot. I don’t care how interesting the characters are; if they aren’t doing anything interesting, readers won’t watch them.  Give one or more of your characters a goal and an obstacle (aka a plot).  Ideally, this plot will make sense in the universe of the original piece you’re ripping off of.  I was about to make a rule that said “no bringing dead characters back to life plots,” but the fact is that I’ve liked – even adored – some fic that did just that.  The difference was that it made sense in the context of the original piece.  In a superhero series, resurrection is par for the course.  If the character’s death in the original piece was ambiguous, why not have him or her miraculously survive?  Just make it make sense.

But how to come up with a plot?  When you write a fanfic, half the work is done for you, because the characters are there already.  Pick one character and figure out what his or her main issue is.  It can be an issue he or she explored in the series but never completely fixed, a new issue that would arise after the series ended, or, if you’re writing a prequel, an issue he would have faced back then.  Once you know what his problem is, come up with a situation that dramatizes that problem.

Back to Batman, since it’s a shared text for most of us.  Let’s say you decided to write a fanfic about Alfred.  Why not?  Alfred’s pretty great.

What’s Alfred’s problem?  Well, his main goal is to help Batman save Gotham.  That’s his thing.  I guess he also buttles from time to time.
But there are other unspoken things.  Alfred doesn’t have his own family, friends, or anything.  He forsook all that stuff… for Batman.

Why so serious, Alfred?

Why so serious, Alfred?

Let’s dramatize it.  What if an old flame came into Alfred’s life again?  And she turned out to be working for the mob?  And Alfred had to choose between helping her and helping Batman stop her?  And she ended up taking Morgan Freeman hostage and Alfred had to choose whether or not to kill her?

Silly?  Possibly.  But it illuminates the dramatic potential of Alfred’s character.  This way, your readers don’t have to just read an angsty poem by Alfred about his feelings.  They can see his feelings in action.

And that’s it!  OK.  Now you’re ready to write me some fanfic.  I will be grading your work, so make sure you follow these guidelines to the letter, unless they don’t work for your particular story, in which case you should ignore them completely.  But I expect to see better fics from now on, people!

Cue Rocky music.

PS: Here are 57 pages of fanfics based on BEING IN MARCHING BAND.  I’m not quite sure that fanfic based on real life can actually be considered fanfic…  Anyway, enjoy.

49 Comments on “Why I’m Not Going to Read Your Fanfic”

  1. Gab #

    Mlwaski, your level of cool just went up about fifty points. Even *I* am not bold enough to read fanfic more than once or twice a year. I have a lot of friends that do, and I’m so sending them a link to this. They’ll appreciate it marvelous much.

    I *am* curious as to what your limit is on the bizarre pairings. I once came across a slash fanfic involving Jonathan and Ardeth from _The Mummy_. Not all that out there, right? But I’ve also seen Draco and the Giant Squid… Ew. Hagrid and Dobby? Yikes. Buffy and Spike? Not so out there.

    Oh, btw. One of the problems I have with those Smeyer books is they read like bad fanfiction. The main character is a Mary Sue and there is all this cheesy dialogue and NOTHING she does makes sense and they SPARKLE and oh my God it hurts my soul. Seriously, I’m surprised none of the authors on this site have tackled those books yet- unless you’re waiting for the movie? Meyer has been called “the next JKR” and I just… No.


  2. Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

    I broke a whole bunch of these rules in the Summer Movie Mashup.

    But Shana, the “Crossover” rule is a point where you and I disagree. Crossover fan fiction interests me more than non-crossover fan fiction, if it’s done cleverly. Remind me to explain my theory about how Mary Poppins is actually a Hogwarts dropout.


  3. fenzel #

    I’ve read a great deal of fanfiction myself, and in my opinion, although it is very short and unfortunately the only surviving version of it on the web is very poorly formatted, this is my favorite piece of fan fiction of all time —


    It is for the Sega arcade/Dreamcast/multi-platform driving game Crazy Taxi.


  4. mlawski OTI Staff #

    Those two fics made me laugh very hard. I wish there was a whole series of them.



  5. J.P. Hufnagel #

    Fenzel, what happened to the idea of your Contra (NES, not Nicaragua) fan-fic? I believe it was entitled “Red Pants, Blue Pants.” I’ve never read fan-fic in my life, but I’d read that one.


  6. fenzel #

    That wasn’t ever mine, that was always Belinkie’s. And he wrote a great deal of it.

    Matt, is that still up online somewhere?


  7. Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

    It’s not up online… right now. I won’t say it’s my top priority, but “Red Pants, Blue Pants” will return.


  8. lee OTI Staff #

    “A Terminator fic probably wouldn’t work as a light romantic comedy set at a high school slumber party. Unless it was really, really, really funny. Really.”

    This isn’t technically fanfic, but it is a really, really, really funny example of a Terminator romantic comedy:


    Being a fan of all things Terminator, I would be remiss if I didn’t share this one.


  9. sarielthrawn #

    This is great.

    But I have to disagree about the crossover stuff too.

    The best fan fiction I ever read was a Star Wars/Star Trek (TNG) crossover.

    Luke Skywalker meets Q? Han Solo fighting alongside Riker?

    Who wouldn’t want to read that? I just wish I hadn’t lost the file.


  10. mlawski OTI Staff #

    Lee: The best thing about that Terminator rom-com is that it reminded me of the most awesome line from that movie: “Cyborgs don’t feel pain. I do.”

    Gab: That link is disturbing. In all the right ways, of course.

    Sarielthrawn: Yeah, I realize my dislike of crossovers is strange and unnatural. TNG/Star Wars doesn’t really fit my criteria for bad crossover. Those fics only cross two universes, and many people know both of them very well. They are also similar enough that you can imagine putting them together. Same goes for Back to the Future X Bill and Ted, or Ella Enchanted X The Princess Diaries, etc. You know what? I’ll even take Jurassic Park X Transformers. Why not?

    But I just went to the movie crossover section at fanfiction.net, and the first fic on the list was Pirates of the Caribbean 3 (NOT THE FIRST TWO) X The Princess Bride X Nicholas Nickleby. That’s strange to me. The niche audience of that fic, I’d imagine, is very very small.

    Other crossovers listed that I don’t understand:
    La Vita e Bella X Jumper
    Horton Hears a Who! X Kingdom Hearts
    Shark Tale X The Ring
    Black Hawk Down X Lord of the Rings

    I’m sure some of these strange combinations can be good, but I’m not holding my breath. When the universes are so far off from each other, how can you know what tone to write in? Take Shark Tale X The Ring. Do you make it a horror fic? With sharks scratching their eyes out and screaming for their lives? Or do you write a fun animated romp featuring that creepy ring girl?

    Not that these can’t be done well. I just think it’s going to be much harder to pull off properly.


  11. Gab #

    I think you sort of answered the crossover question yourself in an obscure, undertone sort of way, mlwaski. “When the universes are so far off from each other…” Well, when they’re not all *that* far off, it may be more plausible. Like what sarielthrawn brought up about “Star Wars” and “Star Trek” mating. I mean, what if the world of Artemis Fowl met up with Harry Potter? Or “Entourage” met “Sex and the City”? The similarities make things like that easier to swallow than, yeah, “Shark Tale” X “The Ring.”

    It could also give the author more leeway in terms of writing style, too. They could choose the style of one of the worlds they’re using, or I dunno, change it depending on which character’s perspective is being presented at the time. And it would give them more justification of using their own, completely different writing style, too, if that’s how they wanted to go.


  12. cathrl #

    Excellent article. Just one quibble:

    “Why in the world doesn’t that site have a “sort by rating” feature or “sort by number of reviews” feature, anyway?”

    Because that would put every 200 word chatspeak Twilight or Naruto fic, every Legomance, and every Marriage Law fic ahead of every single fic in every one of my fandoms. I’ve been posting on fanfiction.net since 2004 and I have 167 reviews total. Not because I can’t write, but because I write Battle of the Planets and Thunderbirds fic. Heard of them? No, thought not :)

    Better fics don’t get better ratings – because the fics with the top ratings (on sites that have them) are the ones which are given five stars by every one of their fellow pairing-fans even if they were typed with one elbow while the author was asleep. They’re also the fics with the most reviews, since they appeal to the largest group of fanfic readers. Better fics are reviewed less often, and are far more likely to be given reviews and ratings of “good but not perfect.”

    But I’m actually not the only person on the internet who thinks the biggest sign of a fic not worth reading is a pairing label – any pairing label? I feel better :)


  13. mlawski OTI Staff #

    Ah, good point, Cathrl. Still, I wish there was some way to help us readers sort through the junk and make our way to the good stuff!


  14. Tasia #

    I was directed here by the faithful members of Discuss… I’m glad to see that someone else enjoys indulging in (well-written!!!) fanfiction as much as I do :) I wholeheartedly agree with everything you’ve said!

    Funnily enough, I was inspired to join marching band by fanfiction. I read this amazing story in 8th grade (in retrospect, it might not be that amazing. My standards were much lower back then) that set my favorite characters in a high school marching band. I was sold. There just aren’t that many people I can admit that to!


  15. delphia2000 #

    I joined a few ‘fic recommendations’ type communities on LiveJournal just so I could get right to the good stuff without having to wade through the morass of fanficnet. They are very helpful and I’ve read some great stuff in my favorite fandoms. I also admit to enjoying a few of the ‘mock the badfic!’ communities but have yet to write anything worthy of their attention, dang it.


  16. mike weber #

    “They fight. During the verbal sparring match, they both make fun of the other’s obvious crush. Sexual tension rises. They bone—but passionately. Like, hair ripping sex. But afterward, one of them just leaves. Silently. Or kicks the other out. Things are awkward between them for a while.”

    Sounds like MaryJanice Davidson’s “Betsy, Queen of the Vampires” series, some of the most goofily fun paranormal romances that my wife drags home…

    “If you have to have long expanses of narration without dialogue, put in paragraph breaks every so often. For my eyes.”

    As someone on the rec.arts.sf,fandom newsgroup remarked: “Mr Paragraph is your friend.”

    “Or: ‘he shouted angrily.’ When someone shouts, she is probably angry. And, hopefully, you’ve already made it clear through the dialogue and narration that the character is angry. Don’t be redundant.”

    (1) “Hopefully”? for shame.
    (2) In James Blish’s SF criticism written under the name “William Atheling Jr” i encountered the phrase “said bookisms”. He was death on them. And, as i recall, he wasn’t real big on using adverbs with them.

    (Incidentally, i can whole-heartedly recommend to would-be writers in any fictional field – not just SF/Fantasy)the collections of the “Atheling” SF crit, “The Issue at Hand” {http://www.nesfa.org/press/Books/Advent/Blish-1.htm} and “More Issues at Hand” {http://www.nesfa.org/press/Books/Advent/Blish-2.htm}.)

    “6. I will not read your fic if there is a Mary Sue in it.”

    Case in Point (and by the original author, not fan-fic, no less): Lackey’s “Exile’s Valor” – which has other problems that ought to be typical of fan-fic, not the author’s own work, too. {http://electronictiger.net/reviews/exile.htm}

    “7. I will probably not read your fic if it’s a crossover; I definitely won’t read it if it crosses over too many canons.

    “Who in the world has seen all of those shows and is familiar enough with all of them to get your references?”

    The late David McDaniel, who recognised every fan-boy’s dream and got PAID (and by the original creators, too) to write fan-fic (“an from UNCLE” novels) always had zillions of in-joke/obscure references, particularly in the book “The Rainbow Affair”, which is well-beloved by fans of the series (of books, that is, not necessarily of the show), and the equally-late John M Ford’s “How Much for Just the Planet”, and the not-so-late Barbara Hambly’s “Ishmael”, two “Star Trek” novels, revel in their refrences. Hambly crosses over “Star Trek” and “Here Come the Brides” (there is a certain inner logic to that, of course), and tosses in “Dr Who” and “Have Gun, Will Travel”, “Bonanza” and original “Battlestar: Galactica” references…

    “Back to Batman, since it’s a shared text for most of us. Let’s say you decided to write a fanfic about Alfred. Why not? Alfred’s pretty great.

    “What’s Alfred’s problem? Well, his main goal is to help Batman save Gotham. That’s his thing. I guess he also buttles from time to time.”

    And he apparently is something like former SAS and was a mercenary in the 1960s or so… I think you’ve defined what i found irritating about “Batman Begins” and “Dark Knight” – the characters are out of character. And, oddly enough, the least out of character is Alfred who, the comics have shown us, was a commando in World War 2 and often takes an active part and frequently delivers rather crushing and sardonic commentary on “Master Bruce”‘s activities which obviously masks a deep concern…

    Incidentally, a whole long page of nothing *but* “crossover fan-fic” (just the opening or a typical paragraph or two) is entitled “If Lord Of the Rings had been written by someone else!?” {http://forum.barrowdowns.com/showthread.php?t=1265}


  17. mike weber #

    Oh – incidentally – David Gerrold’s “The Trouble with Tribbles” started out as a “Star Trek” fanfic (and a Heinlein Knockoff – check out the chapter “Flat Cats Factorial” in his “The Rolling Stones) that Gerrold submitted over the transom and beat the odds…


  18. pronker #

    Hi, a note to say that I enjoyed your essay on the ins and outs of FFN. I agree that the crossovers make the mind melt. As a girl at sleepovers in 1969, we friends wrote legal pad after legal pad of death-defying Star Trek stories, mainly h/c, which were no better nor worse that what is on the site. FFN is a great source of both fun reads and moan-evoking prose. And poetry! Oh, the poetry! And songfics. Ah, well, thanks for the interesting article and happy writing,



  19. pronker #

    Hi, I enjoyed your article greatly. FFN has changed some things in the past week, perhaps your idea of ‘the greatest number of reviews’ or ‘most popular’ will be implemented, as the site skyehawke.com has done.




  20. Shaun #

    i can’t read most fanfiction, either–and i *write* fanfiction (i like to think that i’m the creme of the crop, though…well, most of the time).

    my best works are my evagelion fics, “Requiem” and “At World’s End”, i think. “requiem” especially–i was channeling some serious mojo when i wrote that one, and it kicks an unbelievable amount of ass, if i do say so myself. it’s also pretty much completely unlike anything else i’ve ever written (*cough*yaoi*cough*).


    “DBZ Condensed”, which is a fic of…well, you know…is also a rarity in my work, as it is a comedy, and it *really* rips into the subject matter.


    there’s other stories that people love to death, but quite frankly, i’m not so sure about all of those people.

    if you decide to check out my profile page, do NOT look at “Breaking,” as it’s…well, plotless smut. really, if i had any shame, i’d just delete it. the people love it, though–see what i mean?


  21. cornflakes #

    “5. I will probably not read your fanfic if you tell me in the blurb who is going to get together in the fic.”

    A quick word about this, I think it depends… it helps people waste less time– taking the HP fandom for example, if I find Draco/Hagrid repellent, and a blurb announces that it will have that pairing, I will not need to waste time reading the fic before I realise the point of the fic.

    On the flip side, sometimes I just want to read about a certain pairing. Having the pairing announced in the blurb doesn’t have to kill the surprise/tension, sometimes the best pairing fics are those that reinvent a familiar pairing with a fresh approach/perspective.


    • Loriane #

      This ^
      I sometimes want to read about a certain pairing with different perspectives and plotlines.


  22. Valandhir #


    I just read your little article here and laughed heartily. You nailed some issues of fanfic nicely. But why “admit” that you read fanfic now and then? It’s not a crime. I love reading books, and I amuse myself by reading fanfic if I feel like it.
    But to be fair – an admission on my side. I write fanfic now and then. Why? Because it forces me to write in English. You can’t imagine what doing some dozen pages for a fanfic can do for your ability to write a foreign language. And there’s always some nice soul willing to betaread your stuff and tell you what you are doing wrong.
    There was one thing on your article that made me frown, though: You won’t read a fanfic where nothing happens in the first paragraph/line? Sorry, I usually skip fanfics that throw too much action at me on the first paragraph. I admit, there are rare exceptions, that managed to built up a strong start like that. But fics a la: “The night Ginny Weasley was murdered her brother crossed the sund of Azkaban on the boat to the mainland..” are very rare. I usually enjoy some good describtions in the beginning, or a dialog – sequence if it is well done. Many good novels need an entire chapter before getting anywhere significant. (I particularly well remember reading J.F.Cooper as a kid, giving huge describtions of the Canadian landscape before anything else happened.)
    Ah yes, and in your terms I tend to overuse adverbs. Mainly because most of the stories I write play in my head like a movie, and I try to describe what I “see” there.



  23. Blackpanther #

    I realize i’m very very late to this party, but these rules should be stickied at the top of the ff.net homepage. And at the top of the page where you submit fics.

    Because you’re right in every single aspect. Including the crossover ones. I admit some craky crossovers might just work but most of them don’t. And crossovers between more than two things will tend to go down the too many characters route.


  24. Noobmagick #

    I personally don’t read fanfics because some “fanfic” writers rely too much on their strict grip on grammar and the story hardly takes on a life of its own.

    Maybe because the characters are too familiar that it’s hard to bring it somewhere. If there’s something to say about such writers, I’d say “tell me something I don’t know”.


  25. Rocki Martinez #

    “Crossovers are terrible”
    *thumbs up*
    Challenge accepted!


    • Nickolaus Pacione #

      You should give my original horror exclusive to wattpad a spin as it’s a deconstruct of teen dramas and horror films where the characters in the shows or films are teenagers, but the actors are much older in truth. This piece is a little frightening because I am fond of the truth in television trope. My subject matter when written in the 2000s and early 2010s being set in the 1990s I was trying not sound dated but at the same time I was able to capture an era. What you saw on TV in the 1990s — the reality was a bit darker.


  26. Elinor #

    There is some outstanding fanfiction out there, but you need to wade through an ocean of illiterate garbage and ridiculous Mary Sues to find it.


  27. SortingHat #

    I hate how bad fanfic gets popualr reviews often above 1K while unique fanfiction struggles past the 200s or often case gets abandoned after 3 chapters.

    I’ve seen interesting starts where the author just vanishes and her profile is minimum like if your not going 2 participate why even dangle a carrot in front of us? Hmmmmm?


  28. Pen Sword #

    The thing that cracks me up about people complaining about fanfics is NOTHING is stopping them from writing their own fanfics. If 95% of them are so awful, why not write your own with your vastly superior writing skills? What’s stopping you? I mean anyone with internet access can write their very own fanfic and raise the intellectual tone of fanfiction over all, but most of you won’t. You’d rather put more effort into bitching and complaining about bad fanfics than review what’s out there or oh I don’t know write you own! Most fanfics are written by first time writers (may of them teenagers) who don’t even get paid. As a writer I understand that if you can’t take criticism you’ll never grow as a writer, but some of you get off on the sound of your own voice, and if you’ve never tried to write anything other than a review on a random blog somewhere you might want to try write a fanfiction yourself and then see how easy writing fanfics are. I’ve read plenty of awful fanfics in my life, but guess what we ALL have to start from somewhere. Read any professional writers first ventures into writing and I’ll guarantee many of them read like bad fanfics. I just hate this whole culture where people need to make themselves feel superior by putting down fanfic writers. Guess what they are not professorial writers, and if you want better fanfic write it yourself.


    • Monarchos #

      Pen Sword, I 100% agree. Lighten up, people. Everyone’s doing their best. And it takes a lot of guts to even hit that upload button. If your eyes are burned by all that’s awful out there, then life must be pretty hard for you. It’s fan fiction. (Which I love). Everything will work out in the end. Promise. I have no problem moving on to the next story if something isn’t my style. But I certainly don’t waste my energy on hating the writer who is willing to throw themselves out there.


    • Kyle Hill #

      SO you agree to censor anyone critical of anything. You should go to China where they are going back to their 1960s ways of people ‘vanishing’ you’ll be liked until they nave no use for you anymore and suddenly your body parts are ‘donated’.


  29. Rose #

    I’m going to help all of you when it comes to finding a fanfiction website. It’s called Wattpad.com and it’s amazing. I love it because it’s not just fanfiction, but is specializes in all genres. I absolutely love the Harry Potter fics on there, but if you want the best of the best Harry Potter fics, read any HP fic by kmbell92. Also, if you just want to scroll through the fics, there’s an option where you can go to search, type in something like #harrypotter and a bunch of HP fics show up. Most of the first ones that show up are extremely popular, too.


    • Kyle Hill #

      Annnnnnnnd your hit with a forced registration page!…………….eeeeeeeeeeeeeehhhhhhh nope! I hit the back button don’t want spam from tham! (Spam and tham rhymes)


  30. Randomly #

    Fanfiction is like humanity. The diamonds are buried deep in the vast rough. You get sick of the near endless rough, so you give up on it entirely. I can’t say that I blame you.

    But I’ve decided to dig and I found some truly brilliant fanfics. Too good to even be on a Fanfiction site even.

    I’ve even tried my hand at fanfiction myself and with the help of some good people, I’ve improved.

    If anyone wants to brave it out and read my stuff, you can find my stories here:


  31. Nickolaus Pacione #

    In 2005-2007 then in 2010 I turned writers from the fanwriting circuit into published authors; The Edgar Allan Poe fandom is ripe with authors who are asking to become published. I have an expose I did speaking of an author who appeared on an E-Zine I was also introduced on two years later. (The slash fanfiction fandom well it’s safe to say I became known to be the author they’re always collectively pissed at. The particular story they tend to give me the most shit for writing is the one that got the most visibility on The House of Pain in 2004.) In 2002 I became known for a creative nonfiction yarn that’s a work of true crime that plays up like a much harder Tell-Tale Heart if written by H. P. Lovecraft with Anne Rule’s input.


  32. Bethany Collison #

    truly helpful, too much interesting, I gone through your post, I am also trying to write fanfiction story, your post will really helpful for me, I am follows a blog, I want you to read it once, see this site for fanifiction guide and site.


  33. It's not that serious #

    To be Honest 99.99% of people who read are awful. I’ve found most of them to be I pretentious pseudointellectuals. They go out expecting great works of literature full well knowing that most of the people who write fanfiction are young and inexperienced. I mean what are you expecting Shakespeare? Fanfiction is where a lot of young inexperienced writers get their start, but are often discouraged because everyone is in to being snarky rude and show off how much more grammar they know than anyone else. Well good for you Glenn Coco, you know grammar, but guess what your whole persona is awful, but hey you do you. I’d much rather read a bad fanfiction for someone who tried than article from someone who seems to for get what fanfiction is for. It’s not for a bunch of grammar snobs to show off it’s to give a voice and outlet to people who might have had it before, yeah a lot of fanfiction is bad…but so what. Ugh I just hate how people act over fanfiction. Please all of you just build a bridge and get over yourselves.


  34. Rolls eyes to high heavens #

    Or you can just… read for enjoyment? If you’re expecting flawless amazing work of literature, maybe Penguin Books and Learned and Serious Authors Who Writes as a Profession and To Generate Income out there have something for you, not Fanfiction.net and amateur writers of all ages and language background who wrote for fun and for free.

    (Free, as in not paid. As in they’re doing it literally out of their own volition without expecting any payment except maybe some comments and people to like them)

    Y’all haughty and pretentious, i swear, and i much prefer not having people like this reading my fics. Fics are supposed to be fun, a hobby, a way to channel your interest, even if for some it was also a way to improve their skills in various ways. Then come people like you who goes ‘99% of fanfics are bad’ and like, yeah no shit. These are written by people who probably don’t have proper education in writing or literature class. They probably never read 1000 book as a reference of what is a great story, because all they care about is that they like something with a fandom and they want to create something to contribute to it, and that is a fanfic.

    If they suddenly want to be a published writer with that level of skill, then yeah, criticize the fuck out of them. But when it was something they did out of pure enjoyment and you went prancing about in your high horse and calling these stories ‘garbage’ then by all means, leave.

    I prefer these ‘bad fics’ sticks around with all of their enthusiasm to share an idea about a character, a relationship or a new fictional universe of their own creation within a fictional universe created as the base of their stories, than having people who’d belittle them for the most irrelevant thing.


    • Thrawn #

      > If they suddenly want to be a published writer with that level of skill, then yeah, criticize the **** out of them.

      Actually, nah, even then it’s not necessary. I’ve been doing some proofreading for a friend who has published a few books commercially, and is now self-publishing one. He’s not Shakespeare, JKR, or Tolkien; there are style issues, typos on most pages, and I’m a bit confused about his target age, because it seems to be a mix of young adult with possibly-not-really-YA-suitable elements. But it’s an interesting read nonetheless, and he’s putting it out there, hundreds of pages, which is way more effort and time and investment of self than I’m doing by looking for his mistakes (even though he’s pleased I’m doing it). Even though it’s not my favorite story, I respect him a lot for writing and publishing it, and I’m sure he’s learning from the experience and improving all the time.


  35. Brandon #

    I hate OC characters since most are either Mary Sues, self inserts or both. Also Multicrossovers ate the worst kind of Crossover, since their are too many characters and sometimes places thrown in one story. It gets confusing after awhile trying to keep everyone important in the story. There is one where the Flood from Halo goes and attacks a lot of different universes, making them all band together to fight the flood. Their wasn’t any explanation to how any of it happened.


  36. Mildora #

    Well, to be fair, there is a practical reason fic writers mention pairings in the tags or blurbs: so that people who don’t like that pairing know not to read the fic. Ship wars are a complete nightmare, and tags make it easy to avoid getting jumped by some of the more rabid fans. Plus some dynamics that are popular in romance fiction (especially turbulent ones that would be unhealthy in real life) can be a PTSD trigger for abuse survivors sometimes, so they need a way to know not to read the fic as well. Heck, I first learned what PTSD triggers were from fanfiction – guess this stuff is educational as well as entertaining!


  37. Kyle Hill #

    Anything involving Watt Pad forget it! They force you to make an account just to read an immature fanfic!


  38. Moustachmallow #

    Glad to know my fanfic doesn’t check any of the items on this list. Except maybe for a bit of grammar, but I’m not an english native speaker.


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