"How to avoid writing bad fanfiction" by Ghost in the Machine

Despite the ethical and legal grey areas involved, I think that overall, fanfiction is a good thing. Despite using situations and characters that were invented by others, it is still a creative activity. One where something is made. I prefer creation over destruction, that's part of my nature.

But please, if you're going to do it, do it right.

Of course, my definition of 'right' probably doesn't agree with anyone else's on the entire planet. I'm willing to accept that. But I think there are elements of what I think of as 'right' that others can accept.

First off, I'm not talking about subject matter. Everyone has their preferences. I don't like horror stories. I despise rape stories. My biggest problem with slash is not that it features male/male relationships, it is that those relationships are so seldom explained rationally on the way to having characters boff each other's brains out in unrealistic fashion. It was enough to sour me on the whole genre.

For most readers, if you don't like the subject matter, go on to the next story. There are plenty of them out there. Those doing beta-reading or editing work have it a bit tougher. In that case, politely tell the author that the work in question is not your cup of tea and go from there.

What I'm talking about are things like spelling, grammar, formatting and research. As a fanfiction author, you are trying to tell a story. At least I hope you are trying to tell a story. Wasting the reader's time makes you an annoyance, not an author.

I don't know of any current word processor that does not have some form of spellcheck. Use it. If your word processing program doesn't have spellcheck, it is time to upgrade. It's that simple. No excuses. Spellcheck should be run while the story is written, while the story is polished and definitely before the story is seen by someone other than the author. It isn't a magic wand though. 'You sir bee wear' will pass a spellchecker, but it certainly isn't 'User beware'.

Grammar check programs still have enough problems that I can't recommend them yet. Reading a work out loud helps with finding many grammar problems. But I've been noticing that many first time authors are having problems with these grammar basics...

1) Capitalizing the start of a sentence and with the use of capitals in general.
2) Failure to put some sort of punctuation at the end of a sentence.
3) Only having one period per sentence.

The last one mostly refers to dialog.

"Do what you want. [I don't care." She said.]

The part in brackets is one sentence, not two. Therefore, the period after 'care' should be a comma and 'She' should not be capitalized. The correct version is...

"Do what you want. I don't care," she said.

Formatting refers to the way the story is presented. As you can see, I put a blank line between paragraphs. When reading off a computer screen, I find that it helps keep things legible. In a 'real' book, those extra spaces wouldn't be there and each paragraph would be indented.

The biggest formatting problem new authors have is that they just lump everything into giant paragraphs. Dialog gets extremely hard to follow when there are multiple speakers in one paragraph. The simplest way to avoid this is to create a new paragraph each time a different character speaks.

Another formatting question is how to handle a character's thoughts. Some people use italics, others use single quotemarks instead of the double quotemarks used for dialog. Avoid using brackets or other characters to mark the beginning and end of a thought as it forces an unnatural break in the flow of the story. Which one do you think looks better?

[Well, that doesn't look so bad.] Tom thought.

'Well, that doesn't look so bad,' Tom thought.

Well, that doesn't look so bad, Tom thought.

Not every fanfiction site can handle italics. If your site can, I recommend using italics. If not, then single quotes work just fine.

Finally, research can make or break a story. Don't write for fandoms you know nothing about. Know your material. When a character's name is spelled wrong, it is a clear sign the author doesn't know the character well enough to write them. (That might sound like an odd complaint, but for stories based on Japanese anime or manga, it does happen.)

Use any reference materials you have. If you're not sure about something, look it up. That goes for spelling, characters, locations, history, grammar and everything else that appears in your story. Of course, if you need to tweak something for story purposes, feel free. But it's always better to know why you're changing something than to do it by accident.

Now go out there and write right.