Cynamin's Fanfic Hints

With minor changes/additions by Ocean Elf.



Okay, I read a lot of fanfic. And anyone who knows that out of all of the fanfic out there, a lot of it is bad, a chunk of it is mediocre, and only a very small percentage is any good. But even out of the better fanfics, there are certain things that take away from it so much that I either won't read at all or will stop reading part way through. Now, most of these are my own personal opinion, and some will certainly disagree with me, but this is what I don't like in fan fiction, and what can be done about it.

| Basic Mechanics | Writing | Styles and Types |

Basic Mechanics

1. Spelling

Use spell check, please! I don't know how many stories I've read where some words were so misspelled I couldn't puzzle them out. If you do nothing else at all, use spell check.

2. Proof Reading

A lot of the time, spell check is not enough. You should always read back over what you have written as stupid mistakes may not be caught. Watch out for apostrophe placement, and words that sound the same but have different meanings: to/too/two, there/their/they're, by/buy/bye, and plenty of others.

Proof reading is probably the area where the beta reader is most important. I don't know anyone who couldn't benefit from someone else looking over their writing every once in a while.

3. Formatting

There are some basics for formatting, whether you're posting the story on a website or a mailing list. Some of these are necessary in order for your story to be readable. The biggest one of these is skipping a line in between paragraphs. Since html does not support paragraph first line indentation skipping a line is necessary to tell where paragraphs begin and end. If you don't skip a line you end up with one massive block of text. When I see this come into a mailing list or something I simply won't read it.

Another formatting problem is lines running off the screen. If you post a story on a website and I have to use the scroll bar at the bottom in order to read it...well, it's usually not worth the bother of trying to read it then, anyway.

4. Symbols

A lot of fanfic authors use symbols to connote emphasis and other information. Some fanfic authors use symbols...excessively. While for mailing list symbols must be used in place of italics or bold, it is easy to get carried away. I shouldn't need to read a complicated author's note to understand what all the symbols stand for. It's like a secret decoder... I'd much rather any symbols are self explanatory.

In posting stories on a website, however, such symbols should be replaced with italics, bold, or underlining when appropriate. It makes for a much better looking story.


When it comes to writing fanfic, there is no replacement for watching the shows. But here are some additional things to keep in mind.

1. Characterization

This is, I think, the biggest problem in actual writing of fanfic. You are working with characters created by the writers of a television show. As such, they should act according to already established patterns. The readers of fanfic are expecting new adventures of characters they are familiar with. As such, well, characters should act like they would act on the show, unless there are massive circumstances such as would cause a shift in behavior. For example, Angel from Buffy, and Perry Mason are not highly emotional under normal circumstances. If in one story you have them bawling his eyes out and laughing hysterically in a short period of time, you better have a darn good reason.

2. Romance

This is mostly for unconventional romance, but conventional romance - especially if the characters are not currently together - should keep this in mind, too. While I don't mind the concept of unconventional romances - there are even some I like - there are some problems I have with a lot of them. This is that if you have two characters who are not romantically involved on the show and you want them to be involved in your story, there should be a reason. "I was wrong; I'm really in love with you, not her!" seems really fake and makes the characters look fickle. The unconventional romances I've read and really liked are ones where it made sense for the characters to end up together, and there was a plot beyond jumping in bed. Give the characters a reason to be involved romantically, and allow actual emotional development.

3. Original character, or Mary Sue?

With original characters, I think all I can say is be careful. If you are openly writing yourself into the story, go ahead. A lot of people may not ever read it for that reason, but I know it's fun to write. And maybe some people will read it and enjoy it. But if you're not writing yourself in you have to pay extra attention to the character. People aren't perfect, and if you create an original character that is super strong, talented, a great singer, everyone loves, and immediately gets in a relationship with the main character...well, a lot of people will cringe and roll their eyes. Those are sure fire signs of a Mary Sue - a thinly veiled projection of your ideal self into the story. Instead, give the character some flaws. Have them not be trusted by everyone. And if they do get involved with a main character, just like my comments on other romances, there had better be a good reason!

4. Research

Now, as this is fanfic and not strictly original stories about our own made-up characters we're intending to publish, a lot of authors won't put the same sort of effort into they would otherwise. One good example of this is in research. It's pretty obvious when the author has gone out of their way to find historical backgrounds, research a place, or get more information on a particular monster. It's just as obvious when the author doesn't take the time and fudges it.

Probably the places that could use the most effort of this sort are medicine and magic.

Magic you can be very creative, but it often works better if you take a closer look at how magic has been used on Charmed, 👩‍💻BtVS, 🧝‍♀️Once Upon A Time, even Bewitched etc. whatever source the fic is based on. 👩‍💻or 🧝‍♀️You could also look at 👩‍💻some interesting folk magic 🧝‍♀️and draw inspiration from that, if that's your thing. This route seems to be overdone in fantasy role-play, though, going hand in hand with paganism or fake religions.

👩‍💻Medicine...well, it's easy to see where some research would be helpful when some sort of medical issue comes up in a story. As silly as it may seem to do research for fanfic, a little bit goes a long way.

5. Show and Tell

This is one of the most annoying things I have ever read. It's an extreme example, but there are subtler ways of having the same issues. There is nothing that pulls me out of a story faster than when the author suddenly decides that I need more information and does not tell it in the story context. Instead of somehow having the information revealed through the story itself, the author chooses to do a mid-chapter author's note to say: "By the way, here's this character's family tree." As a result, I am never quite able to immerse myself in the world the author is creating. Don't you think it would be better for the character to even tell her relations to other characters ("I should warn you - my aunt doesn't like strangers much." "Wait - she's your aunt?") than to have the author tell the reader? It keeps you fully engaged in the story.

Styles and Types

Okay, these are, far more than the things listed above, my personal pet peeves. There are certain types of stories or writing styles that I really don't enjoy. Some people do, but here's what I don't like and why.

1. Song fics

There is a way to write a song fic I will enjoy. Very rarely, however, does this actually happen. Far more often is there one of these two methods of writing a song fic: one, the song is interspersed with an emotional reinterpretation of a scene that basically gives no new information or two, the song is played at the Bronze or other club and characters dance. Both of these basically show me that you found a song you like and you want to include it, with very little regard to the rest of the story. The first of these the most often encountered problem is that whatever emotions or whatever are expressed through the song and character thoughts are no more than any person can get watching the show. Far better, be creative. Show us something we couldn't find on our own. Write an original scene that the music enhances. The second often written song fic - two characters dance - has been written so often at this point that I could almost recite it word for word.

I guess what I'm saying with both of these is be creative. Music is a wonderful thing, but your story should be able to support itself without the song lyrics. Song lyrics can enhance a story, but they shouldn't replace it. If you can find a way to smoothly incorporate a song into a story, then you might end up with something very interesting.

2. Script or prose?

Some people prefer to write their fanfic as scripts instead of as stories. That works for some. For most, though, it just ends up looking like you were lazy. It especially appears this way when you describe scenes but dialogue appears simply as "Angel: Let's go." Is it really that much harder to say, "Angel called impatiently to his companions, 'Let's go.'" It also gives the reader more information. If you really want to write your fanfic as a script, then go all the way. Include stage directions, movements, facial expressions, etc. Don't jump in and out of script and prose styles.

3. The Total Alternate Universe

The basic premise has been "What if there was no such thing as vampires and Slayers, and Buffy and Angel were normal people?" An interesting question maybe, but my question that follows is this: Is there any reason for the personalities to turn out at all the same without those related issues? To deal with a supernatural free world is to totally diverge from the Buffy-sphere. If you're going to create your own world, why not create your own characters to live in it and thus have an all new, original story?

Well, that's it for now. I'm sure I will come up with more to add in the future. Don't agree with me or have something to add? Please, let me know!


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