|| Do's and Don'ts of Fanon Writing|
To celebrate recently acquiring Book 3 on DVD (after buying the first two almost three years ago) and the fact that my Easter Holidays begin this coming Friday, I thought I would have a little fun and write short (perhaps) segment about writing. Specifically, good writing versus bad writing. Now, good and bad is relative. I think Australian feta and capers taste good, but another person may hate it. The same goes for writing. So I'm going to stick with the ‘if the toast is burnt, it's bad’ metaphor that I may or may not have just made up then. I'm going to focus on a main point that turns good writing into bad writing; description.
I assume (well, I hope) that many of you know how to read. It is also an assumption that you like to read. The hopeful part is whether or not you've actually read a good book, such as George Orwell's 1984, Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, or even Douglas Adams Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. These, in my opinion, are good books. Why? Because they are relatively easy to read (once you fall into the pattern the book sets; although I always get stuck when Gandalf catches up with Merry and Pippin in Isenguard after the Ents have destroyed Saruman's factory), and they contain lots of description.
Imagine reading the summary of a fanon, or having a look at the main page. The idea seems interesting, and the layout of the main page looks nice, so you click on the first chapter. You read it and almost cry because of the horrible grammar and punctuation. You don't understand the story because it's made almost entirely of dialogue, explaining what is going on. You read to the end of the chapter, and decide to never read fanfiction again because you are afraid of reading another terrible one.
See how dull that was? It was short and to the point – exactly what you don't want with a story. A fanfic should flow, and draw the readers in; it should make them wish for more time, because they don't believe they can put their computer, or phone down until they finish the story. A good story shouldn't even need a cliff hanger to keep people interested – the language should suffice. I am going to rewrite the previous paragraph, and hopefully you will be able to see the difference. For those who don't want to read my (if I do say so myself) awesome paragraph of… awesomeness.... there will also be a list down the bottom of ‘do's and don't's’ of writing.
Imagine, for a second, that you see a main page for a fanfiction. Imagine that it is bright and colourful, full of pictures and information (think Ratava-style). The plot is original and eye-catching; an amazing story, and you are ashamed that you didn't think of it first. You smile with apprehension, a giddy expression that makes the people on the train next to you cower in fear, terrified of the evil deeds you must be planning because no-one smiles like that for no reason. You click on the first chapter, a name both witty and charming. Your heart is beating double-time, the excitement causing your breath to hitch. Slowly, far too slowly, the page loads. You scroll down to the first paragraph as fast as you possibly can, your mind already brimming with ideas. Reading the first line, your eyes quickly devour the whole paragraph, and you can feel a strange feeling in your chest. No, it isn't love. Continuing onto the next paragraph, the shattering ache of your heart breaking becomes too much to bear, and you look away, tears springing to your eyes as yet another brilliant idea is slaughtered by dull adjectives and improper punctuation.
You know you shouldn't torture yourself further, but you have to know if the story gets better. You read and read, ignoring the screaming in your mind and the fogginess in your eyes as the tears make it hard to focus on a single line. The words become meshed together as the same word is repeated over and over again, as though the author has a vocabulary of a six year old. The end of the chapter comes swiftly – although it has taken far too long -, almost as if the author knows you are in pain, and wishes for it to end. You are done. Finished. Any hope held for the story has been stolen alongside your heart. You leave the page and clear your browser history, the stain of a story forever etched in your mind, surfacing only to torture you some more before it returns to the dark recesses of your imagination.
Did you see the difference between the two? If you're going to write, write a lot; no one ever complained about too much description, trust me (unless, like me, you got lost whilst adventuring through Middle Earth. It happens). Here is the list, and I hope it helps in at least one authors small scene – that's all I need, to know I have helped another author save themselves from the dreaded disease, inarticulitis.
Do's and Don't's of fanfic writing. (1) Please, if you're going to write in first person, tell us who you are. Also, try to keep the characters in character. If it isn't immediately obvious that the character you are speaking from is Katara, at least have her doing something that Katara would do. If you don't specify, it is almost assumed that it is an OC.
(2) Language. Mix it up a little; no one wants to hear that a “boring story was boring”. Boring is such a general word. I always have a thesaurus and a reverse dictionary in hand in case I have a mind blank. Same goes for speaking verbs; “he said, she said.” Add a few adverbs (guiltily, happily, grief stricken etc), and there are so many to choose from. Asked, retorted, yelled, cried, whimpered, murmured, whispered. The list goes on and on. This both prevents the writing from becoming dull, and gives the readers a little more insight into the characters emotions.
(3) Language leads us to probably the most important point. Description. Could you imagine how terrible the story was in the first example? What about the second? This is reason número uno to have a beta reader or an editor; as a writer, you can imagine what is happening. As a reader, who doesn't have your idea, plans and/or foresight, what should be an amazing scene, with flowing description and action may be reduced to just words on a page. Describe the characters thoughts and emotions (especially when writing in first person), and the actions they are doing.
(4) “Because” and “and” are connectors. It's a fact; however, they should not be used in the same sentence. There are many ways to connect sentences so it doesn't get boring. No one wants to read “and she did this, and I said this so she ran away because she said I was mean and I followed her because I wanted to apologise and she forgave me.”
(5) It isn't quite as noticeable on Avatar Wiki, however there are a myriad of Modern AU stories, particularly on FFN. If you decide to write a modern story, make sure to show where the original ends and the modern part begins. Many authors just have a little note at the top of the page, telling people it's a modern story. Can the characters bend? Is Toph blind (this is a big one)? Most authors don't mix bending with modern; they choose to keep the two separate, and believe me, this is a good thing.
(6) Show don't tell. The reader doesn't want to be spoon-fed everything – they want to try it out and make a mess. Figuratively speaking. So much more emotion and description can be conveyed by speaking of the characters facial expression, the way their voice sounds, and the physical reaction to how they feel. If someone is embarrassed, don't say “I was so embarrassed.” Spend a little more time describing the embarrassment; " Looking around at the empty faces staring at me, I felt my own heat up. The red contrasted spectacularly with my blue eyes, and for the first time since meeting Toph (who was currently in hysterics on the floor), I wished I was an earthbender; if only so the ground could swallow me up." See? I didn't say she was embarrassed, however the actions of Katara tells the reader what they need to know.
(7) Have fun. I've read quite a few stories in my time (read: about four months); however with some stories it's obvious the author is just continuing for the sake of finishing the story. The plot becomes sloppy, characters act OOC, and generally they take a darker turn, mirroring the authors own lack of inspiration. The same thing happens when the Block Bug strikes, and the author, no matter how hard they try, just can't come up with any good ideas and becomes frustrated. When the author is having fun, no matter the genre of story, it always makes it more enjoyable to read.
(8) Let the characters drive the plot. This ties in with the characterisation, however it isn't quite the same thing. If I want a scene between Zuko and Ozai about Ursa's whereabouts, I can't just have him be talking to Mai, and then dumping her, saying he's going to leave again. You need to foreshadow, dropping hints that Mai and Zuko are unhappy together, and that Zuko wants to find his mother.
The Fire Lord would not just leave his girlfriend to go on a quest to find his mother; in my opinion, it just wouldn't happen. A more believable plotline would be having Zuko become obsessed with his mother, to the point where he unintentionally pushes everyone away, and Mai decides to leave. Oath big point is that you can't have characters doing something because you want to do it. If your favourite character is Katara, and you want to get a tattoo and an eyebrow piercing, don't make Katara go and do it to herself just for the hell of it. Especially – and this is a big one – if it has nothing to do with the story. I read a spectacular one that had Toph get her belly pierced, and it ended up being a Checkhov's Gun for a scene about twenty chapters down the line. That's fine (and regarding the story, completely in character).
I hope that helped – I had a lot of fun writing it – and I'm always available to look over a story (preferably oneshots as I don't have a lot of time) if anyone wants. Or even just advice. I hope you liked it, and have a great day. This is Fruipit, signing off~!
|| Ad Report and a Rant on Character Development|
Well hey, I'm just being honest with the title here! So these days the fanon portal's pretty much on the same level with the rest of the wiki when it comes to inactivity - but only when it comes to new fanons. The hot and popular fanons are still running strong, such as the next 'Energy Saga' (ARG's Dragons, Sieges and Volcanoes) that has already nabbed 24 subscribers before its 5th chapter.
The only notable news today, aside from the usual reminder to vote on fanon nominations and fanonbending, is the fanon advertising contest results! Yep, we had a good 4 contestants last round, and our winner is none other than The lucky mango! He is indeed lucky today, and he now has bragging rights over an awesome userbox, glorification in this newsletter, and a step closer to an epic illustration from my deviantart.com pals (who I must remind you caused a craze of fanon competition in hopes of winning their art).
And now, onto the rant about character development! (Dun-dun-dun...) Well okay, it's honestly something I'm talking about casually, ominous music aside. But it's a recurring issue I've noticed in our fanon portal even for some of the more accomplished writers, if I could say so myself. A unique element of Avatar Wiki's fanon portal that I find very cool is that original characters are favored. As are fight scenes. It's a place that encourages creativity, and I love that - especially coming from fanfiction.net, where non-shipping stories are already a challenge to get any views, let alone OCs. But in the midst of this creativity, I notice that a lack of character development tends to accompany the fight scenes.
I would explain what happens to a fanon with a solid story, action, and little character development - but I actually discovered an astonishing connection to the canon show itself. So what are the effects of good character development? Well, I can confidently say that a story with more development than action will do just fine, considering any readers of my fanon have survived even through the non-violent chapters. But a story with more action than development can't accomplish this. A less obvious example of what happens is basically those fanons that aren't quite as popular as the authors hoped.
...But a much more prominent example is none other than The Legend of Korra. What are the reasons character development is so important? Well, remember all those things you said about A:TLA that LoK was missing? How you could really connect to the characters, actually feel for them, and understand what they do? That's all character development. As for the things you tend to bash LoK for - well, I've seen people just flat-out use the term many times. The Legend of Korra is piled with fight scenes, as we know. It was also graced with HD quality and beautiful animation that surpassed its predecessor. And yet...well, you know how the fanbase feels.
So why should fanons be any different? They're not. They're as much of a story as any cartoon, and so the same things that hindered LoK will do the same to your writing. Authors here may not realize what an impact character development has, but the reception to canon shows that this factor does matter at heart. If you're one of the many who find A:TLA more lovable than LoK, just ask yourself why before you write your next fanon chapter. This is important stuff! Things like being non-stereotypical, having a well-rounded background, displaying enough emotion, or even having a more thorough physical description should be prioritized before any action scenes. Character development is equally as important as a good plot, the way I see it.
...And with that, I think I may have just found the idea for my next writing contest! Unfortunately I'm sleep-deprived and probably can't handle one like next week or something, but it's definitely something to consider for, sayyyy...May. Better start practicing now, guys! Next target of improvement in our fanon portal: character development ;)