Fanfic Writing Primer

Some basic tips from us here at Fubar Inc for writing fanfiction

Fanfic Primer (v. 1.1)

Format
Grammar
Character conversation
Flavor text
Referring to characters
Characterization
Tone
Power Levels: A.k.a. Keeping the Balance
Plotting
Crossover Compatibility

Format:

If you are using a word-processor to HTML program like Microsoft Word, go ahead and left justify everything and tab the first line of each paragraph (at least 5 spaces).  Also, leave a blank line in between paragraphs.  It makes a story a lot easier to read.  Do not center paragraphs, and do not right align paragraphs.

Tabbing and spacing makes the story far easier to read. However, do not double-space your lines. This is a fanfic, not a report. One blank line between paragraphs is sufficient. Using two or three lines to space between scenes is recommended, or using a line of dashes or some other marker.

If you’re writing in plain text, leave a space between every paragraph and TURN ON WORD WRAP!!!! Nothing is more irritating than having to scroll right to read a sentence.  

If using colored text in an .html format, make sure that the text is *easily* legible on the background. Do not use red and black unless the purpose of the story is to invoke eyestrain and migraines.

If you have the ability to differentiate your title text from the body, do so. Bold, super-sized, whatever.

If you are writing in text format only, please limit yourself to one chapter per file.

Grammar:

1. If English is not your primary language AND you are trying to write the story in English, get an English-native pre-reader… those auto-translators don’t really work.

 2. A. Always spell-check at LEAST once before releasing your fic. Your readers will appreciate it. Pre-readers are still recommended highly.

2. B. Don’t always believe the spell-checker. When in doubt, pick up a dictionary. Pre-readers are still recommended highly. An example: 'had a little pawn with a garden' passed the spell-checker, but the correct phrase was 'had a POND with a garden'.

 3. If you have a grammar checker in your word processor, USE IT. And listen to it! Though be aware that on occasions, the grammar checker is an idiot. Pre-readers are still recommended highly.

 4. Avoid using the same word more than once in a sentence. If you can, avoid using it more than once in a paragraph. Synonyms work better. One of the worst examples I’ve ever seen was something along the lines of. ‘The youma yelled, ‘Forked Hair Attack!’ and attacked Moon with it’s forked hair attack. Moon dodged the attack, and attacked with her attack. The youma didn’t notice the attack.’

 5. This is more about spelling than grammar. When writing a story using someone else's characters, the courteous thing to do is to verify the correct spelling. For example, in Ranma 1/2 it's Nerima, not Nermia. Nodoka, not Nodaka. It may seem like a small difference, but it can really grate on someone's nerves if they know the characters well. There are plenty of places on the web to verify spelling, including the official sites for these anime/manga based characters. AnimeInfo is just one of many reliable sites for not only character names and descriptions, but summaries of episodes, etc. Use the resources available! And fanfiction does NOT count as a reliable source. It doesn't matter how many different fics out there spell it 'Nermia'. The real spelling is Nerima. Period. The reason why it is mispelled so often is that so many authors base what they write off of other fanfiction and not the original stories. Now, on the flip side of this, some spellings are much harder to get exact on, typically those involving 'o' and 'u'. Ukyou is sometimes spelled Ukyo. Ryouga/Ryoga. Tarou/Taro. Etc. Most fanfic readers/writers will accept either spelling, so there is little need to be as anal in that particular circumstance.

Character conversation:

Try to avoid using 'said'.  It's okay to use it once or twice, but don't rely on it.  Try to use 'commented', 'exclaimed', and other comments to portray tone or temper.  Or you can use actions to indicate who is talking.  For example, instead of saying "'What do you know, you stupid Tomboy?', said Ranma.", use "Ranma folded his arms.  'What do you know, you stupid Tomboy?'"

Another thing you can do is not have any indicators at all.  If there are only two people talking, don't have any flavor text at all.  However, I wouldn't rely on this technique as much as I would on the character action technique.

Flavor text:

Flavor text is great filler and helps paint the scene better for the reader, but you also don't want to deluge the reader with words that aren't important to the story.  Below are some examples:

Bad:  Ranma hit Ryoga

Okay: Ranma threw a jab at Ryoga.

Good:  Ranma threw a right cross at Ryoga's nose.

Bad:  Ranma's arm tensed up as he pulled his fist back and unleashed a crippling haymaker that whistled in the air upon the bulbous snout of Hibiki Ryoga.

Remember that flavor text helps to give your readers an idea of the ambiance of the story.  Use environmental descriptions  to give the reader an idea of the mood you are trying to convey.  For example, if it's a dark fic, paint a bleary picture of dark, overcast skies with alleys full of grays and blacks.  If it's a happy story, try a sunny day with children laughing in the background.

Referring to characters:

If you keep calling their names every sentence it gets monotonous.  For example, instead of saying 'Ranma' every time he speaks, say 'the pigtailed martial artist' or 'redhead' when he's in his cursed form.  Use descriptive terms to call attention to the person instead of directly calling their name.  Helps keep the story interesting.

Good character descriptions are: Age, hair color/style, height, clothing, race, gender (under certain circumstances), or even attitude. Combinations work well too, though try to avoid combining too many, unless you’re doing it for comedic effect. I quote Kasumi, ‘She’s nice girl, she’s just a violent psychopath.’

Characterization:

Remember one thing: Just because most fanfic authors write it that way, does NOT make it true. If you are trying to write a ‘canon’ story, do your research. A good example of this is ‘perfectly kind Kasumi’… in the manga, there are at least two instances where her acid tongue comes into play without a second thought. ‘She’s a nice girl, she’s just a violent psychopath’ is the first. Later on, she rails Akane again by saying, ‘She doesn’t realize she’s not cute.’ If a character is acting outside their accepted persona, you should make at least a paragraph attempt to explain why. ‘It was just that time of the month’ is NOT an acceptable excuse for having a axe-murderer Kasumi chasing after Ranma. If it is the premise of the story, then make sure that this is at least mentioned in the early stages of the story. Even if you intend on leaving the details towards the end of the saga .

 Another thing to remember is that every good anime character has flaws.  As an example, Goku’s flaw (at least one of them) is that he is simple. He doesn’t understand any form of politics, subtlety, or even gender half the time. This is an endearing trait, but it is also a flaw that should be recognized when an author is having him interact with other characters. A Goku who can provide sound relationship advice is NOT Goku. I’m sorry, but his idea of a date is a fight.

Tone:

If you are trying for a particular tone in your story, keep it as best you can. Occasional lightheartedness is acceptable in a dark fic AS LONG AS IT”S SHORT and not overboard for the scene. A bad example is Suddenly Shampoo… a serious tone has been maintained until Chapter 4, where the entire chapter is nearly a running gag. This is bad! 

A good example would be Youma ½, where, though based on a dark premise, there is a humorous undercurrent through the entire fic.

Power Levels: A.k.a. Keeping the Balance:

A lot of people out there love using Dragonball series.  There is a big problem with doing a DB story that involves characters from nearly any other anime. That issue is ‘Overpower’. Even in the early days of the original Dragonball, Roshi blew up the moon with little effort. Before even writing the first words, make sure you come up with a system to keep the powers balanced. This is especially important in a crossover story. An example of how Overpower can damage a story is Forbidden Empires.  Everything was going in a fairly acceptable manner until the author introduced the Tenchi cast. Suddenly he had to deal with Ryo-Ohki’s abilities to not only get just about anywhere real fast, but also the firepower that the cabbit could put out. Add in Ryoko’s own firepower and willingness to use it and he nearly overshadowed all of the other characters. A fair example of power level management was the early days of Dragonabll R. Ranma never would have stood a chance against Pan, and Pan’s presence would have overridden the rest of the Nerima Wrecking Crew without the gratuitous, yet somehow appropriate, use of Miss Hinako’s draining ability until Ranma could get closer to Pan’s level. Another point to bring up is that Power does not necessarily equal Skill. Ranma, compared to the DBZ crew, has all the ki of a Mr. Satan. However, Ranma’s skill and tactics are so far beyond the DBZ crew that it isn’t even funny. If the fight were restricted to non-ki attacks, Ranma would stand a fair chance, except for the DBZ’s crew’s ability to move at near light speed and crash trough mountains without blinking.

 Which brings us to the next Warning. Ranma as a god. Just… say… NO! Now, if your premise is that he IS a deity, remember to keep the flaws in AND have someone of comparable power level nearby. You can bypass this, BUT it NEEDS to be the premise of the story and WELL explained. Simply having Ranma come in as a god because he’s been training for ten years doesn’t cut it. Make sure Ranma has to work at it to beat his enemy. Remember, it’s not that ‘Ranma never loses’, it’s that ‘Ranma never loses when it counts’…. There have been a number of times when the pigtailed macho jerk had his rear handed to him. Examples are Ryouga and the Shishi Hokuudan, the first Herb encounter, whenever Happosai is REALLY pissed, etc. Even Konatsu knocked out the pigtailed wonder in a fight. Another example of someone who has lost, just not when it counted, is Goku. Heck, he’s died a few times. Even Tenchi has had his butt in a sling, as shown when Kagato put a nice hole… through most of his body.

Plotting:

It is important to find a balance in planning. You should have at least a general idea of where you want the fic to go, but you really shouldn’t plot out every single detail before you write. Too much planning can make a story seem mechanical, while too little results in vague wanderings that leave the reader wondering just what the heck is going on. Planning ahead is also important so you can avoid plot-holes that can eat a Star Destroyer. A good trick is to reread the last chapter before and after you write the next one. It’ll help you to avoid contradicting yourself and make things flow better.

One of the most common plots/sub-plots in anime is the love triangle (though this is sometimes more like an octagon), so having one in your fic is not only acceptable, but it is often recommended.

Variety! If you are going to write more than one fic, try to avoid using the same reoccurring themes. Examples: Akane always being an unreasoning b!tc#. Okay, it’s fine in a story or two, or if it needs to be the premise. However, if every story is that way, prepare to lose some of your audience AND receive flames/criticism.

Crossover Compatibility

Rule 1: Dragonball Z is NOT natively compatible with just about any other Anime. Yes, you can MAKE it work, but it requires a LARGE amount of effort.

 Rule 2: The more crosses, the harder it is to keep it compatible. Multi-Multi crossovers are not only confusing, but they are often extremely unbalanced as well. For example, having Gohan going to school with Ranma, Tenchi, A-Ko, Lum, and Shinji will result in a horribly balanced power structure and completely incompatible plots. Gohan would quite simply annihilate just about any villain that could threaten the others, and any villain that could threaten Gohan would quite simply vaporize the others. Sure Tenchi himself could survive just about anything, but he’s the only one.

 Rule 3: Magic and Technology are extremely touchy to combine. Decide on a standard and do NOT permit yourself to have exceptions without a VERY good and plausible reason. An example of imbalance that can come from this would be sending Lina Inverse after the Angels. Either the Dragon Slave would rip the Angel apart, or the Angel would annihilate the redheaded sorceress. Pick a result and stick with it. And if it’s going to be a stalemate, remember that most characters will NOT settle for a stalemate for very long. Lina is well known for her temper in this case and would quite likely resort to a Giga Slave if the Angel really pissed her off…

Rule 4: Just because it CAN be done does not mean it SHOULD. If it’s a neat concept, but has nowhere to go, that’s what spamfics were created for. As an example: Ranma as a Sith Lord. Sure, It’s an entertaining concept, but really… what are you going to do with past the initial stage? (and if you take this as a challenge, I’d love to read a good version… just remember, you can’t just make it a hack-n-slash story, and no plagiarizing Star Wars!!!)

Rule 5: More of a reminder than a rule is this: It’s probably already been done. Accept this fact. Get beyond it. And DON’T let it stop you from writing it your way! Just make sure you’re not plagiarizing.  Have a new angle or a new perspective, or even just a new approach. If someone borrows your concept, volunteer to be a pre-reader for him/her/it. That way you can help them avoid plagiarism, you can spy on their work to keep them honest, and you can help a fellow author. Don’t throw a hissy fit without justification and VERIFICATION first.

Revision History

1.0 Initial Release
1.1 1.  Added Grammer part 5.
2.  Added ...