Friday, August 31, 2012

Fanfiction: What is it? What makes it 'Good' or 'Bad'?

Everyone has probably heard of Fan Fiction in one way or another. You’ve probably heard a friend talking about a Fan Fic they have read or even read some yourself. But what is it exactly and what makes it so appealing? What makes for a ‘good’ fan fiction versus a ‘bad’ one? Of course all of these questions are subject to opinion and personal preference but I will get into more of the reason for that in a little bit.

Let’s look at the definition of Fan Fiction first and foremost: ‘Fan Fiction, a fictional account written by a fan of a show, movie, book, or video game to explore themes and ideas that will not or cannot be explored via the originating medium; also written fan fic, also called fanfic’- from In essence, Fan Fiction is just a written story someone has created because they want to play with an idea, theme, or concept they have for a particular show, game, book, and or movie. It can be used as a way to ‘practice’ writing, character building, and a platform to work off of. 

However, it is not a way to generate income or even to make a little extra cash. There are still copyright laws to contend with and some authors or creators absolutely do not wish to have their ‘crafts’ written about and for those no ‘disclaimer’ will protect you. Katie MacAlister, a favorite author of mine, is one of those. Here is a list those who do not allow for fanfiction. 

This is an old list and I am sure there are updated lists out there, but I have not found them as of yet. Remember that this is their income and oft times central livelihood so you can see why they might not wish someone else to play with it. And not to kill the proverbial puppy, there is a light at the end of this tunnel because there are many creators and authors who don’t care one way or another and some even encourage fan fiction. So it's a really good idea to check prior to writing something you want to eventually post on the Internet falls under the "forbidden" list prior to actually posting it. This is more to protect yourself than anything else. 

 All of that being said and out of the way we can move on to what makes a fan fiction ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Personally, I have written fan fiction for anime series such as Cowboy Bebop, Saiyuki, Gravitation, Fullmetal Alchemist, and Inuyasha. For manga, I’ve written fan fiction for The Cain Saga and Godchild. As far as Television shows and movies I’ve done some for Stargate SG-1 and Lord of the Rings. And for books I’ve played with The Dragonlance Series as well as Forgotten Realms- the Drizzit books. Not all have been posted on the Internet and most of them are just ideas that I toyed with for a time and abandoned. Also, not all have been particularly good, in fact most I had to smack myself and ask ‘What the heck was I thinking’?  Yes, I literally smacked myself a time or two… or fifteen.

Still, there were some I turned out that were decent enough and I felt I not only accomplished something with the actual story, but I also learned some things about my own writing through. There are a couple I posted on a few years ago that I am still getting good reviews for. 

But what sort of criteria made them good enough or terrible? I’ve often asked myself these things and sometimes it comes down to what audience are you writing for? Are you writing for those who simply want smut/erotica or are you writing for the audience that wants a plot mixed with some romantic scenes or plot with smut? I feel like that is the first avenue you have to decide. Next, and I have a small list coming up shortly, is how to make it good, something people will want to read and see through to the end.

1.      It is essential to have a grasp on the characters in the particular fandom you are writing about. You want the characters from the show, movie, game, manga, or book to resemble their original selves as much as possible.

2.        If you are adding your own original character (as I routinely do) or any small original characters here and there, you want to have a strong grasp on said character(s) as well. In one fandom, on one particular site I posted on, some people got bent out of shape and thrashed me as well as others for adding original characters to stories. They called them Mary Sue’s every time whether or not said original characters actually were. Some people think Mary Sue's are just back original characters whereas some else might define a Mary Sue as you inserting yourself into a story. I, personally, don’t feel like having a Mary Sue (going with the latter idea) is such a bad thing from time to time. There are both good and bad Mary Sue’s of course, an example of one, and of just plain bad fan fiction and writing is: My Immortal   I haven’t read the whole thing, frankly it hurt.

3.      A good story will stick with the original story. If you’re writing fan fiction you don’t want to deviate too much from the book/show/game/movie ect because then it becomes your story with pre-made characters under the guise of being a(n) “insert whatever book/show/movie/game”. It’s kind of like stealing someone else’s world and trying to call it your own. I did a story in which Roy Mustang from Fullmetal Alchemist had a daughter no one really knew much about in the beginning, called Fetch
      It was (AU) Alternate Universe in that Roy Mustang had previously been married and his wife had died not long after the birth of their daughter in the Ishbal War. In the original manga/TV Series, Roy Mustang never had a daughter and he was never married. However, when writing this story, I made sure to keep Roy Mustang, Edward and Alphonse Elric and the other characters from the show as close to their original selves and worked my original character in to fit. I did not deviate from the original world and concepts too much so as to make it not only a believable story but also a fun one. 
4.      It’s a good idea to get a beta reader which essentially is an editor, someone to proof read, catch spelling and grammatical mistakes, and bounce ideas off of. I haven’t always done this. I’m not proud of it and wish I had. Most readers will forgive the occasional error, after all this isn’t a big time bestselling novel, it’s just for fun, but if your story is riddled with errors, people get caught up on them and cease to enjoy the story.

5.      Make certain the story makes sense. If someone can’t follow the story, or gets lost and doesn’t know what’s going on, you’re going to lose them. I don’t know how many times I’ve really liked a story but something happens where the writer did something and I had no idea what was going on. I was really sad to have to give up on the story.

6.      Do your research not just on the characters but the world, the rules of said world and settings. I don’t know how many maps of Amestris I have stored away and character profiles I’ve copied for reference from the web, or notes I have taken on a particular place or character. I don’t know how many hours I have spent taking notes while watching or reading a particular show or book. As you can probably tell I am in love with the Fullmetal Alchemist world in that respect I have studied their ‘Alchemy’ as best I can from the first TV series and even looked up real life Alchemy. Interesting stuff by the way.

7.      As I mentioned before, it’s a good idea to try and see if what you’re writing falls under the ‘Forbidden’ list. If not, then a simple disclaimer at the beginning and a couple of times throughout your story will help save your butt.  Examples:   Disclaimer: I do not own Fullmetal Alchemist or the characters therein or even Disclaimer: I do not own (insert your fandom), the characters, and I am not profiting from this story.

8.      When looking to post your story, look around the site for flamers, people who trash and thrash others because they can and they think it is fun. Some sites have trolls who lurk and hang around in clicks, just like in high school. Several people will complement their friend’s stories (whether or not they are actually good or not) and tear someone else who might have a really good story to shreds because they aren’t in their particular group and because they are jerks. So you want to be sure to check the comments on several stories. If you find constructive or helpful criticism, then it’s a good place to post. If you don’t and most of the comments give you the feeling of someone being down right vicious or overly mean or there are a lot of “This story sucks” then it probably isn’t the best place to post your work.

9.       Most importantly have fun and be creative.

       Remember, Fan fiction is written for fun, an escape, and can even be a good place to practice
writing. It is also a challenge. Furthermore, keeping the aforementioned ideas in mind coupled with
your own writing talent and you should be able to turn something out that others, not just yourself, 
can enjoy. 

     Here are a few Fan fiction sites I've gone too to read stories posted and or post my own stories.

Adult Fan (for those over 18)


  1. You hit on so many points that a lot of people ignore, and it makes their stories so hard to follow. I read a lot of fan fictions, some of them canon, au, and a mix, and you can tell when a person knows their subject and the characters. I'm hooked on Avengers FF at the moment.

    *I have in fact read ALL of My Immortal. I think my brain may have exploded a little because of that.

  2. Good article! I have to admit: I'm guilty of violating soooo many of those rules. I have never written a disclaimer of any sort. Just never thought of it. I only have a couple smutty fan fics out there now. I've taken the rest down.

    And don't you hate it when you write something and you're just absolutely overjoyed and otherwise smitten with it, and then a few years later you pick it up and then feel like crawling under a rock from embarrassment? Ugh. I wonder if Stephen King ever does that...