Soapbox Essay: "Pearls of Wisdom"
by Eternal SailorM

Disclaimer: Everything here is solely the author's opinion. The author is not attempting to change other people's mind, only make a statement on the state of fanfiction. Any series/manga/video games/etc mentioned here belong solely to their own original creators.

Pardon me while I hop on my soap box. This is going to sound very elitist, but...

I've been writing fanfiction since 1999 and reading it since around 1997. Yes, I waited roughly two years to jump into the fray. Yes, I have written some crap (see The Never Ending Crossover and Welcome to the Future), but for the most part, I've strived my best to make each and every story I put online something I can be proud of and something I wouldn't mind reading again later. And that means following certain rules (and forgive me for tattling on authors that break these rules - It drives me nuts - or bragging on ones that follow these rules in fun ways):

01. No author/character interaction. It's called self-insertion. It's impossible to write this well in a non-comedy situation, so don't suddenly start talking to your characters and have them answer.

02. No blatant author intervention. There are plenty of plot devices without You The Author playing at being a god in your own story. One of the most annoying examples I've found of this has been a story called "Seventeen Again". If you can't think of a reason to suddenly turn an old character young again and send them to their past life, ask around. I'm sure someone else can. Blatant author intervention is for people who don't know what they're doing - and probably shouldn't be posting online yet.

03. No overpowering/Mary Sue-ing/Gary Stu-ing characters. So X is your favorite character? Great! ...Don't make him a god. Not everyone is going to like him/her, love him/her, adore him/her, want to feed him/her breakfast in bed. Not everyone is going tremble in his/her footsteps. Or they wouldn't if you don't write them out of character to accommodate the overpowering you gave Character X. That doesn't mean treat Character X like crap either (and especially not at the same time); torturing the character you like best almost to the point of death over and over, chapter by chapter, rarely endears said character to the audience. To the contrary, they start wondering when he'll die so the story will finally be over. See "Seventeen Again" as an example of this.

04. The old plot devices still work best. Sometimes you just have to lock two characters in a room/elevator/alternate dimension together with only each other to depend on to get them to realize their affections for each other. Some characters are just stubborn like that, and it takes 'One Blanket' situations to make them admit defeat. I think the best example I've seen of this was in the Final Fantasy VII epic "A Long, Hard Road". Yeah, Sephiroth and Cloud are prime examples of stubborn characters, and it would take an abandoned cabin, in the middle of nowhere, with a barely working stove, and a few blankets to make them admit they like each other. (Yuugiou authors, can you picture the Egyptians stuck in a snowed-in cabin? It'd work wonders.)

05. There is only so much angst a reader will take. It is good to string your readers along. Not to mention, if you're doing it well, it can be fun for author and readers alike. But readers will only take so much. You want them to feel the character's pain; that is the purpose of writing angst. But put a limit on how much pain the character goes through and have the character react in believable ways to that pain. If a character gets shot or stabbed, there are consequences and sequences of events which must follow: blood loss, a doctor visit if not hospitalization (unless you have a character with EMT training or that knows a little beyond basic first aide, especially with shootings), bandages that have to be changed, and a slow recovery. Even in situations where magic can be used to repair the injuries, can the magic deal with blood loss? Just think how much fun it could be to be working on setting Character X and Y up, Y gets shot/stabbed then healed, but keeps stumbling, and X eventually has to support Y wherever they're going.

The same goes for emotional pain and trauma, only it doesn't heal as quickly. All characters have a breaking point. It may come sooner or later, depending on the life the character has lead till this point, but there is only so much a character can take before he/she is broken. A kiss won't magically make it all better; that only works in fairy tales. So unless you're intending to rewrite Snow White or Sleeping Beauty with, say, the Yuugiou cast, a kiss doesn't make trauma better. No believably written character is going to go from "Why is he torturing me?" to "Oh, he kissed me! He must like me now!" in a couple of chapters, unless You The Author have broken them beyond repair.

All in all, there is only so much angst an audience can take before they quit reading this drivel. Yeah, you know what I'm about to say: See "Seventeen Again" as an example of this.

06. Rape fics are rarely handled well. Fics containing rape really need their own category since there are (or should be) rules for them as well. I'm going to try to sum it up as briefly as possible with two points: (1) Rape entails horror and angst on a scale that is hard to imagine. No one, no matter how strong, is going to bounce right back from this, especially not someone who fancied themselves strong. A rape victim is not going to jump into the next person's arms and everything be magically all right; it takes months and even years to begin to deal with the aftermath of a rape - and that's assuming the victim did not become pregnant or catch some kind of STD or even HIV. And as traumatizing as rape is for a woman, it will be more so for a man. Keep that in mind; and (2) A rape victim is not going to fall in love with her/his attacker. This occurs only with psychoses being involved, usually something very similar to Stockholm's Syndrome. I think the best example of a rape fic I've seen in a while was "Submission" by Borath, since it does deal with the consequences.

07. Do your homework. If you're making up a world, fine. Then you can ignore this rule, to an extent. But if you're functioning on Earth in some form or manner, then make sure you get your facts straight. If you're using another country (for the gods' sake, especially if you're writing from an anime involving a school), make sure you know about that country; i.e., in Japan, schools go 6 days a week (though Saturday is a half day), students have to have school permission to have a part-time job, and uniforms are required -- so no letting your Japanese character sleep in because it's a Saturday! (If you need help with understanding the Japanese school system, use what anime fanfic authors have been using since the late 80s: Maiko Covington's Life in a Japanese School.)

Doing research may not always been fun, but it can be rewarding. When I started writing Gods and Other Creatures, I spent hours upon hours in my university's library pouring over various mythology books, comparing information, writing down what I thought worked best, and sometimes going back and writing down something else that turned out working better. Most days I left the library with sore hands and stacks of handwritten papers because some of the books I was using were too old to be photocopied. But since then, I've gotten numerous emails and comments complimenting me on the veracity of my information.

08. Don't be a review whore. This should be underlined, highlighted, bolded, italized, and in 40 point font. Asking for comments is great. Sometimes readers get to going fast (if the story is good) and forget to leave comments; I know I'm guilty of this; so gentle reminders are quite fine. But blatant review whoring is not. I guess I should explain what I mean by 'review whoring', should I? Statements like "I'm going to pull all my stories offline and quit writing if I don't get *x number* of reviews" are review whoring. That is the quickest way to make me close your story and go to another one.

09. You The Author are not the characters' creator. Should I even have to mention this rule? Well, my brief stint in the X/1999 fandom (and exposure there to people such as Ari Seishirou and Choffman) has taught me, yes. Let me say it again: the fanfic author is not the series creator/mangaka. Because of the nature of interpretation, other people are going to see characters in different ways than you do. Not everyone is alike and will therefore disagree. Even if the author comes out and says a character is one way, there will always be those saying the character is another; see Bishoujo Senshi Sailormoon and the semi-infamous arguments between Save our Sailors and Takeuchi Naoko regarding the sexual preferences of two characters as a prime example of this. You cannot dictate what other people see and how other people interpret.

10. No deities as guest cameos. Ugh, no. There is no way this can be done well, unless it's a comedy. And if you're dealing with anime, the Christian God and Satan shouldn't even figure in. Japan is predominantly Shinto and Buddhist, with a few Christian communities throughout. For the most part, the Christian mythos is not even going to occur to the typical Japanese character (and don't make me laugh to think it will for an Ancient Egyptian), so no guest cameos - unless you mean to make me laugh.

11. Never be offended by critiques, comments, or flames. I know, that's a hard one to accept, but really it's the most important one for a fanfic author. Not everyone is going to like your work. You may have spent hours/days/weeks/months tooling it just the way you wanted it till it looks just perfect to you, but not everyone's tastes are the same as your own. Flames are a way of life for any writer, even famous ones; see recent events with and Anne Rice as an example. Critiques and comments are fun, for sure. There's nothing more uplifting that finding out a fellow author enjoyed your hard work for A, B, and C reasons; that's a comment. A critique will let you know things you may have missed: a misspelled word, a strange turn of phrase, a disagreement in character reaction. It can brighten the spirits to debate a point in a story. Just never take it too seriously. The story may be your baby, yes, but you won't die if someone doesn't like it.

12. Writing life is much easier with a beta reader or two. This has been my newest lesson in writing. I had a beta reader when I started writing fanfiction to post online, then I discovered she was hurting my writing more than helping, so I quit using her. Briefly I had one of my online "imoutos" as a beta, but it didn't last long, and so for several years, I wrote without one. There were horrid chapters where so many things would be misspelled that it made reading difficult. Then in the last year, I acquired a roommate and a live-in beta reader. I've noticed the jump in my quality in the last year. I've also noted the jump in productivity since I have a good beta off which to bounce ideas and see if anything is good to go with. The key to having a good beta reader, I think, is having someone who will tell you if you're doing something wrong or stupid and give you ideas on how to fix it. The worst beta to have is the one who will gush over your writing and tell you it's the best, perfect, etc. If you're going to use a beta, use one who will help your writing, not hurt it.

And those are my little pearls of wisdom. Thanks for listening to me babble.

30 January 2005

Thanks for giving this a read.