I’m going to say first off that fanfiction can generally be considered the cancer of online writing. There are really well-written fanfiction; they’re just hard to find. If you are a BatCat fan, here’s one for you here. I’m gonna reference a lot of books here and there are also some terms that most people don’t know. If you don’t know the books, you can clearly tell which ones I like so check those out and if you don’t know any of the terms, don’t worry about it (there’s a reason why you don’t know). Otherwise, let’s jump into it.
P.S. This is directed at the fanfiction writers since writing fanfic online generally means you don’t have to go through a publishing company first with their pesky editors. However, if you’re looking for some general don’ts to writing, this is a good place for you too.
Using words you don’t know how to use/Using words the wrong way
This is one of the cringiest things a writer can do. Some people try to sound fancy or more sophisticated by using words that they have recently searched up in the dictionary. Instead of achieving the desired result, it just sounds awfully pretentious or just plain wrong. A prime example comes from the book Tiger’s Quest when the main character complains of aching muscles by claiming that they were “unionising against her”. Unionise? Cue massive cringe. In the midst of cheesy dialogue and an over-used plot line, there was this shit and I flipping flipped when I read it. It was just so ridiculous! So.. make sure you don’t do something like that and stick with words you do know how to use. Besides, most people read books for the story and the characters. If they wanted long fancy words, they’d rather pick up a thesaurus.
Starting with a question or a rhetorical situation
God, I hate this one so much. Most people use this type of opening wrong and it ends up being so cliche. The general rule of thumb is if it sounds like an infomercial, don’t use it.
Being too happy
Your job as a writer is to make trouble for your characters. Don’t start with a scene where everything is all right in the world. Nobody is ever totally content and no story should start off in Happyland. It totally ruins the reader’s suspense of disbelief and it makes for flat characters. Make trouble for your characters whenever you can but don’t be like Bleach or Noblesse where endless battles seem to be en vogue. Nobody wants boss after boss after boss and then have some sort of Deus Ex Machina come in on a white horse to save the day. It’s tiresome and frankly not very impressive. I’ve gone on a bit of a tangent, let’s keep moving.
Too much brave isn’t good
Despite what you think, having fearless and virtuous protagonists really isn’t a good idea. It means conflicts are often heroically resolved and the good always knows what to do to defeat the bad– and it means that it’s boring. Take Lisbeth Salander from the Millennium Series and Milo Weaver in the series named after him and you see that these characters are really flawed. They hurt people for selfish reasons, they neglect the people closest to them and they have a skewed moral compass. That’s what makes a character relatable and dynamic. Nobody is perfect and perfect is boring and predictable and neither of these traits are known to keep the readers flipping pages. There should be a threat of death over the entirety of the story, whether it be literal death or metaphorical death. Conflict is what drives a story but if the characters fall flat on their faces, then it’s like having a muscular body with no arms or legs. It has a lot of potential but no way to demonstrate it. I’m done with strange similes- let’s move on!
This one is exclusively for fanfic writers. OOC means out-of-character. In the pursuit of perfecting a ship, the fanfic writer often twists the characters’ personalities to make it possible. It would be like instead of having Mr. Darcy be snobby and proud for the majority of the book, Jane Austen decided to make him act like Bingley after he confessed. That is just not who he is and the sudden flip between the canon and the fanfic means that either the writer doesn’t know the character or is a fan of cheesy romance novels (don’t be like Twilight). I’ve read fanfics of my favourite animes and some of them have the characters so wrong, the only things the fanfic and the canon have in common are setting and character names. Mikasa shouldn’t have a Historia-type personality but she’s not a tsundere either (I don’t know why people like to make Jean perverted but he’s not so just stop it). Other strong female characters like Temari aren’t going to suddenly become moe to make the ship possible. Please don’t make Kougami or Levi softies either. THAT’S NOT WHO THEY ARE!! Why do you do this? If you like a franchise enough to write fanfic about it, at least keep the integrity of the characters.
The convoluted back-and-forth plotline
Soooo many fanfic writers like to do this with their ships and it’s supposed to turn readers off but I guess some people love melodrama. In any case, this type of plot is characterised by the sheer amount of times the two main characters fight, break up and come back together again. It’s okay if one or both of them have some sort of mental problem (insecurity, depression, paranoia, trauma etc) but it is NOT okay if it’s over some petty thing. Jealousy is believable but a lot of the characters in fanfics get jealous and mad over every single little thing. It’s so stupid. It also doesn’t help that the characters themselves are basic. Besides the point I made above in OOC, the worst thing you can do to a character besides drastically changing their personality is giving them no personality at all. You effectively kill characters by making them ordinary. John McCain was more of a “people’s man” in terms of the way he spoke (he had an accent and spoke more informally) but Obama made way more of an impact both with his booming voice and his eloquent words. People don’t want to relate to an ordinary character; they want substance, something they can look up to and judge at the same time. Add details, little personality quirks and a little history and plausible motives to inform their decisions. Make the character come alive and once the character becomes more than just a Mary Sue, then the plot will naturally follow. Take care of your characters and they’ll take care of you.
Grammar and spelling
This should be something basic that everyone should know how to do: how to English. Hell, you people have gone through school and got graded for it. You should know how to spell and how English syntax works. No matter how well you write, you have to first make sure that you can be understood correctly so no matter what other problems there may be in your writing, having sloppy spelling and careless grammar is inexcusable. One of worst (maybe the worse) fanfics ever written, My Immortal, is a prime example. To this day, I still don’t know whether it is trash or comedy gold.
I’m not surprised that a lot of people mess this one up since their characters aren’t fully developed, therefore their plot is lukewarm and therefore their dialogue is all fluff and no substance. Two things drive good dialogue: purpose and flow. Don’t make your characters say something they can show instead. Make sure each piece of dialogue is essential to either furthering the plot or developing the character. Flow is how natural it sounds. For example, don’t add the name of the person being addressed at the end of every sentence. Just as important is the use of dialogue tags: he said, she said. You should use them liberally since readers don’t even register the word said as much as people think they do. Using too many descriptive verbs, however, and the reader’s attention gets drawn to that instead and if the reader pays more attention to your writing than your story, then that’s bad news. Too many fanfics have dialogue that is mundane and plain old stupid. Dialogue isn’t there to take up space- make it count.
The Dan Brown Effect
I’ve named this literary phenomenon after Dan Brown, the guy that wrote The Da Vinci Code and Inferno. I’ve read his earlier book Digital Fortress and that book was pretty good but the two other books I’ve mentioned was especially rife with the Dan Brown disease. If you have the Dan Brown disease, it just means you put in too many details and like to show off your research way too much (and if you’re like Dan Brown, you’ll still get the facts wrong anyway). If you cut out all of the unnecessary descriptions of scenery or art or architecture from Dan Brown’s later books, you’ll be left with a book half the size of the original. (A lot of his information is inaccurate or just not true. If you want a full list, tvtropes has a page specifically for Dan Brown here.) Don’t feel the need to display everything you’ve researched to your readers. They don’t care. Instead, put your reference material at the back of the book and if your readers want to know more, they can go read it themselves.
Too much drama or too much action
Unlike movies where you can pull off having an action-based plot without the watchers being turned off, this type of imbalance in a book isn’t going to fly with the right type of readers. Too much drama turns off the less patient readers and you’ll attract fewer male readers. Too much action leaves you with no time to rest and no character development. Finding the right balance between drama and action means you can optimise the quality of your story and also increase interest from a wider group of readers.
That’s the end of my list. Hope you’ve gotten some ideas out of it. Of course, you might say that this list is false because there are popular fanfics that defy everything I say not to do here and people still love them. But then, it’s the same reason why people like McDonald’s. It doesn’t have to be good for a lot of people to like it and the people who know better would never touch it.
That’s all for today. See you on Sunday.
P.S. For those who are more interested in the steamier side of fanfiction, there is a good website here. Do not click if you are not over 18 and if you are offended by things like this, don’t read either. You have been warned. I will not be held responsible.