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A Review For…Disappointing Fan Fiction

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What is the right way to review Fan Fiction that is found to be lacking in readability?

Step 1. Hold your nose. :biggrin:

OK, I’m sort-of joking there, but in a lot of cases it’s good, even necessary advice. Many, many people seem to want to write Fan Fiction without ever taking the trouble to learn how to write anything. Some of them have good, interesting story ideas which they proceed to bury under lousy, sloppy writing.

A number of such examples have motivated me to write a kind of general-purpose review that points out the most common lapses I’ve found.

Since I have no desire to be bitten by Muphry’s Law, I am submitting my review for review before I start using it.
(Yes, I do mean Muphry’s Law, which refers to pointing out someone’s writing errors, and then making similar errors in your complaint. Very red-face-making.)

So here is A General-Purpose Review For Badly Written Fan Fiction. Let me know what you think:


You are probably not going to like this review, but you need it.
I want to read more good stories, but so far yours is not one of them.

I’m not trying to insult you. I’m not trying to discourage you from writing. I’m trying to encourage you to write stories that people will want to read.
Do you want a lot of Favorites, and Follows? Do you want good reviews?  If so, your writing will have to change. It’s not easy, but it can be done.

A story is not about the writer. It is about the reader. If you write a story that nobody wants to read, you have just wasted your time. If you do not convey your meaning in a way the reader will understand, have you really told your story? ALWAYS keep the reader in mind.

NOTE: I spent hours composing this article, and made it general-purpose, so it can be re-used. I want everybody to read this, and maybe gain something from it. Your story may not have all the issues noted here, so ignore those that you are SURE don’t apply. I have found these problems to be depressingly prevalent in Fan Fiction, and most stories I drop this on as a review exhibit all of them to at least some degree.

I have only one piece of advice to give on story construction: Don’t start it off with a history lesson. Start with something happening, even if it’s an event as mundane as a character getting out of bed, or eating lunch. Drop the readers straight into your first scene. It gives them questions — who is this, why is he/she important, what will happen? Fill in background as it becomes relevant.

I can’t give advice on plotting, pacing and characterization. I’m not certain of my own ability in those areas. However, when it comes to the mechanics of writing literate English, and expressing ideas clearly — I have got that DOWN.

All those pesky rules they taught us in English class exist for a reason. Language is a tool, and if it is not used correctly it will not achieve its purpose. That purpose is to accurately convey ideas from a speaker, or a writer, to a listener, or a reader. In order for that process to work, both parties have to use the same protocols, the same rules, and represent their ideas in similar ways. If people ignore the rules, or make up their own, none of them can communicate.

Unfortunately, that is a wide-spread problem in Fan Fiction. I call it ‘The Infinite Number Of Monkeys School Of Writing’ and find story after story ruined by its influence. I think it’s an aspect of Sturgeon’s Law: ‘Ninety percent of everything is crap’. It takes a lot of care, and hard work, to lift our writing out of the crap and into that golden ten percent.

So, here are my Five Rules For Better Writing:

1. Spelling. Check it. Then check it again. Then check for commonly swapped words: you’re - your, who’s - whose, its - it’s, lose - loose, that - than - then, and about 40 others.
2. Punctuation. Use it! Correctly!
3. Sentences. Don’t just string a lot of words together. They have to make sense, too. That's what grammar is for.
4. Paragraphs. When you start a new theme, for extra emphasis, or every time a different character speaks.
5. Tenses. Don’t mix past and present tense in your exposition. Past tense works best in a narrative story, and most stories are narratives.

Dialog can be present or past tense, depending on what your character is talking about.

Sentences. I could go on all day about sentences. They are the building blocks of a story, and it’s critically important to get them right. A sentence should have structure. It should relate to the sentences before and after it. If it doesn’t, it’s probably time to start a new paragraph. Your sentence must express your idea in a way the reader will understand clearly, and it should end when its task is complete. The next sentence should express your next idea, and so on.

There are no prizes for atrocious 300-word run-on sentences that should have been split up into six paragraphs! I have seen that. I would like to never see it again.

Looonnnng sentences are tiring. The poor readers have to remember how the sentence started and everywhere it goes until they get to the end of it — only to embark upon another word marathon after finally reaching that long-anticipated period. Do that a few times and most readers will just up and quit on you. You can’t stop them. You can’t force them to keep reading.

You only write the story once. If you make it readable, if you make it enjoyable, it might be read thousands, even hundreds of thousands of times. That’s worth a little hard work.

Spend some of that work on your story summary. It’s the first example of your writing that your prospective readers will see. You have 384 characters to write something that causes people to think, ‘I want to read more’. If the summary sucks, they will think your story must also suck, and not even bother to click on it.

Take care with your first chapter, too. It’s the second example your readers see. Work that thing over and polish it until it shines! Your second or third chapter may be a timeless literary masterpiece, but nobody will ever read it if your first chapter didn’t hold their attention.

Your writing represents your thinking. If my writing were careless, sloppy and confusing, most people would conclude that I was too stupid to do any better, and wouldn’t waste their time reading it. I always take care with my writing so people won’t have a reason to think that about me. You never know who might read it.

Good writing takes practice. Everything you write is an opportunity to practice writing it readably, understandably, and correctly. That’s what I do. I always take a little extra time to ensure that everything I write expresses what I want it to say clearly and accurately in grammatically correct, properly punctuated English. The more I practice, the easier it becomes.

Now that you’ve read this message, read your story again and ask yourself: Which one is easier to read? Which one conveys its ideas most clearly and effectively?

Edited by Imaginos1892
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I love this post. I love it so much. It makes me laugh. Thank you for writing this.

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Board startup date: December 12, 2004 13:15:32