Tag Archives: critiques

Five Reasons to Write Fanfiction

stockvault-notebook-and-pen136687Fanfiction, while exceedingly popular, can often get a lot of scorn from authors. I think this is ridiculous. There’s a long history of re-imagining established stories and characters in literature. All the famous Greek playwrights wrote in one sense, fanfiction in that they took well known stories and characters and made them their own, creating new adventures or re-imagining older ones. In fact, I’m willing to go beyond just saying fanfiction is not a problem and people ought to write fanfiction (if they are inclined to).

With one caveat though: Always respect the authors’ copyrights. Don’t steal work and illegally sell stories based on their characters and worlds. Making money off other people’s work is wrong. But when done properly, there’s definitely five great reasons to consider writing fanfiction.

1) Learning Your Craft 

Fanfiction in some ways makes things easier for a beginning writer. It supplies the world building and the characters ready made. Sometimes it even provides plot, big events happening in the mainstream story that you can use in your own re-imagining. When trying to write for the first time, it can be overwhelming to create everything you need on your own. Trying fanfiction allows you to practice writing and gain skill in it with the support of elements you know are solid. I think of it a bit like tracing when learning to draw. Or copying masterpieces in learning to paint. These common exercise are used to educate beginning artists in how to do things right. It helps you learn to pick out elements in your own work that need further development when you compare them to your favorite stories.

Much of my earliest writing was Redwall or Star Wars fanfic. When I look at it, I can see ideas that I added to these worlds that were good strong ideas. Later on I kept some of those concepts and characters that originally came out of fanfiction and developed them further into original stories.

2) Keeping Enough Enthusiasm and Confidence in Your Story 

Another common problem beginning writers struggle with is believing your story is good enough to actually get to the end of it. Often writers will abandon a project because somewhere along the way they lost faith in it as a good idea. This can happen with any story, even fanfiction, but I’ve found that where fanfiction differs is you have the original story that excited you no matter what. You love something about this world or these characters, something about it got you so excited about it, you weren’t done when the story was over. You wanted more. Your brain is giving you more, filling in new ideas about what these characters are doing or how this world is changing. I find it easier to hold onto my confidence in the characters and the world when it’s so obvious popular with many people. This can help the writer stick with the story longer and thus learn more from writing it.

3) Feedback From People Who Care as Much as You

When you’re starting out as a writer, getting feedback on your work is essential. It’s the biggest way you learn and grow as a writer, to hear reader comments about how you can improve. However, as anyone who is a writer knows, it can be pretty difficult to get anyone to read your stuff. Friends and family get tired of you begging them to, and often don’t give good feedback. Joining critique groups is quite helpful, but sometimes you end up in groups where the people critiquing you don’t have the same interests in reading as you do. You might find what you’re critiquing in exchange just as boring back. While you’re all writers, you have different tastes.

With fanfiction you have an immediate community with other fans. These people are just as excited about this particular world and these characters are you are. They’re eager to read it. You’ll find their writing more exciting as well as it features the same things that excite you. On a fanfiction forum you can meat lots of people to share and connect with and to give you thoughts and reactions on your writing. It’s a fantastic way to grow as a writer.

4) Gaining Fans That Carry Over

If you have an active fanfiction community and fans who enjoy your work, sometimes that can carry over to your original work as well. These people know and love your fanfiction. They like your treatment of characters and find your style interesting. It’s also likely that your original work will have lots of the elements of the established worlds you love. I’m not saying copying, but more like they’d be in the same genre. My original books aren’t copies of Redwall or Star Wars anymore, but you can see the influences in things like animal characters, complicated family relationships, a hero on a quest to save his home or country, and other larger themes.

Many of the people read your fanfiction will likely enjoy your original work as well. Several authors have had success publishing original stories after having a large number of fans of their fanfiction work. It helps you to build up a platform from which you will eventually sell your own work.

5) You Can Make Money in Fanfiction 

Now, just to be clear, I mean LEGALLY, not trying to sell stories still under copyright. There’s several ways you can do this. First, some older properties are no longer under copyright. Notably, recently copyrights expired for Sherlock Holmes and Treasure Island. You can now legally write stories with those characters. There’s a lot of great older stuff like Alice in Wonderland or the Jungle Book. Just double check to make sure the property you’re selling actually is public domain before you charge money for it.

Sometimes, when a property is still under copyright, there are ways to get permission. If the owner of the copyright is willing to sell you or the publisher the rights, your story can be published. Peter Pan for example goes through the Children’s Hospital in the UK. Also, some larger publishers regularly put out books in various worlds like Star Trek and Star Wars. Someone has to write those books. If you’re good enough and they like your ideas, it could be you. Recently the Jim Henson Company held a contest to pick which author they’d hire for a Dark Chrystal prequel novel. If you really love the right fanfic universe, you just might be able to write in it. Just do your research about who holds the rights and the best way to legally write for them.

These days, you can even self-publish in a few established worlds. Amazon has purchased the right to sell fanfiction in several worlds through kindle publishing. These copyright holders receive a percentage of your story’s income. It’s worth checking out their list of allowed worlds to write in to see if any of them are worlds you enjoy. While it’s a limited list, it ranges from something as literary as Kurt Vonnegut’s novels to as pop culture as GI Joe. Each world has rules though that have to be followed before you can publish a story with it, so make sure your fanfiction follows the unique guidelines. Hopefully more copyright holders will be interested in joining the program in the future.

Now if only they got the rights to Redwall… and I might just return the field of fanfiction.

Five Thoughts on Critiques

stockvault-notebook-and-pen136687Once my aunt asked me with novel writing if there’s some hard and fast objective way to tell if you as a writer are “good” or have “reached a professional level” before submitting to publishers. I had to answer that honestly I didn’t think there was, because writing, as an artform, is one of those nebulous things where what is “good” writing and what is “bad” is always going to be debated, even among professionals. It doesn’t mean there isn’t that line somewhere between brilliant and utter garbage, it’s just everyone’s going to have a different opinion about where various books lie along it.

She was a bit dismayed when I was trying to explain that the main way most writers improve and judge their writing is through peer critiques (sometimes professional paid critiques, but there are no standards for becoming one so I feel they often come out the same). Basically you’re asking someone else’s subjective opinion on your writing. No matter how many degrees they have or books they’ve published, ultimately they could still be wrong and completely miss the genius of your idea. Yet, on the other hand, if you completely ignore everyone’s advice you’ll never improve as an author. You’ll be ignoring important suggestions that can actually improve your writing. As the author, sometimes you’re just too close to your work to see your own flaws.

I’ve found five rules for myself to help me balance keeping my vision for my writing with accepting and using critiques.

1) Ask for a wide range of feedback 

There’s a lot of readers out there, and a broad range overall opinions about a story in revision can be extremely valuable. Perhaps most of the feedback won’t actually be helpful, but it will highlight the range of reactions the final book will get. Try to get some target readers who are into the genre that the book fits into as well. For me, that means children, since I write children’s fiction. While these readers won’t be able to offer me line edits or detailed feedback, knowing when they get confused or bored while reading is invaluable. I also need feedback from parents and teachers, since those are the people who buy the book ultimately. Pretty much, I’ve found a reader reaction from anyone, even if I don’t use any of their suggestions, is valuable, because it gives me a greater perspective on my work.

2) Always give a positive thank you, even if the crit is pretty much useless

This person took the time to read your writing. It’s a gift and the professional thing is to say thank you. If the person offered something you found helpful, list what it was specifically and the thank you will mean more to them. What if the crit was rude or demeaning or the person was lazy and only read a couple of paragraphs before telling you how horrible they thought they were? Well, there’s no need to be enthusiastic I suppose in that case, but I still think a thank you is in order, even if it’s a one sentence email that says: Thank you for taking the time to read part of my story.

First, why sink to their level. Take the moral high ground and thank everyone. Secondly, it’ll effect your reputation and professionalism as an author if you get into arguments with people who read your work. You don’t have to ever ask that person again to read your writing, you can just move on. Obviously if a crit makes you too furious to say thank you, it’s better to say nothing than get in a fight, but in general it’s best to manage at least a polite sentence. It’s also better not to mention if you ultimately decide to disregard the person’s advice entirely. You’re going to ignore a lot of advice that’s not right for you and your story, but there’s no reason to rub it in people’s faces. It’s ultimately your work and the critiquer ought to know that, but no reason to stir things up unless you’re genuinely asking them to further explain their suggestions.

Furthermore, I believe in thanking paid editors as well. Yes, I’ve hired them for a service, but editing means putting a lot of thought and soul into making suggestions and these people work very hard for us. Even in that case while I might debate an issue with a paid editor to try to explain what I’m doing better so the person can fit their suggestions to it, a big thank you for their hard work is the right thing to do along with paying the bill. If a paid editor really doesn’t see the vision of a story correctly, then you thank them (and of course pay them) for their time anyway and find a different editor for the story, but there’s no reason you can’t be professional about it.

3) Keep the heart of your story in mind while looking at critiques

The biggest danger of taking advice from others is that sometimes your unique intention for a story can get buried. So, before looking at critiques I find it best to either list or at the very least make clear in my mind what’s most important about the story to me. What am I saying ultimately? What are my major themes? What is my character arc? What aspects of my world are non-negotiable to me? What is my voice/tone for the story?  This helps me to recognize which advice might strengthen those aspects and which while perfectly fine for someone else’s story, doesn’t fit mine.

Sometimes hard critique comments create quite a big inner debate. When half my readers found my main character unlikable in one of my books, I really had to take a long difficult look at what aspects of my main character’s personality were important to me. Was what was making her unlikable so important to me that I had  to keep it? I ended up keeping some of her personality traits but changing others in order to create a character more people could relate to, but still one who kept my central vision of her internal journey across the book.

4) Lean on a few people who really understand the vision/heart of the story

Once I have a wide range of feedback, I often turn to just a few people who gave me the advice that felt best for further critiques on the novel. A story will naturally resonate with some people over others and when I can see a critiquer really understood my story, that leads me to turn to them again with revisions, if they’re interested. Once I’ve gotten a wide view of opinions, I find no more than 3-5 beta readers is usually best for honing late stages of revision. Too many opinions later on tends to muddy both my focus and that of the book. I know some people use that same group of people and only that same group for all their novels, but I’ve found each book finds its own group of core people who love it in particular and that’s not always the same people.

5) Critique other people and give the sort of critiques you want to receive

I feel like giving critiques has been as important to me as receiving them. For one thing, this is the best and biggest thank you that you can give other writers when they critique your work–returning the favor. Second, you have more distance from other people’s work. By articulating what works and doesn’t work for you in someone else’s work helps you later recognize what works and doesn’t work in your own. I’ve learned a great deal about revision through critiquing other people’s work. It also helps you learn to be diplomatic when explaining what you feel doesn’t work in a way that’s helpful and constructive, so you can better understand how to take criticism when you receive it.

I feel as a published author now, critiques are just as important to me as when I was first starting. Perhaps writing isn’t a peer reviewed, bar exam sort of profession, but I do feel critiques ground and clarify my work and allow me to reach my full potential as an author.