Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Creating Memorable Characters (the Cheater Way)

(Or Part Three of the Fanfiction Writing Workshop Series.
If you are just joining us, the series starts here)
One of the biggest benefits to using fanfiction as a writing springboard is the chance to start writing with premade characters. Believable, sympathetic characters must populate your stories. Readers need to feel like they are meeting real people with issues they care about. Unfortunately, doing this is hard. You have to practice characterization in order to avoid things like the info dump and having characters tell their life stories to others.

With fanfiction, you get to play in someone else’s sandbox and use all their toys. Your readers already know these characters and already feel sympathy for them. The challenge then becomes taking a well-known character and putting him/her into a new situation in your fic while keeping that person in character.

For instance, I am a huge fan of the ABC show “Once Upon a Time.” The character Belle has lost her memory at the moment, but her basic personality is still intact. This provides a perfect fanfiction opportunity to have her meet new people and react to new situations but still be the same person.

For instance, what if Hook decided now was a good time to get some revenge on Rumplestiltskin by stealing Belle away from him? How would she react to Hook? Could a writer present these characters in this new situation in such a way that everyone reading would still recognize Belle and Hook? If Belle did not sound and act like Belle in this fic, readers would not hesitate to call her OOC (out of character) in reviews.

A huge subset of fanfiction in any fandom are the AU or Alternate Universe fics. These take our characters and keep them intact while putting them in an alternate reality. For instance, what if the cast of Star Wars all went to high school together in California? Can you imagine Darth Vader as high school principal? Could you make this person still recognizable as Darth Vader to your readers?

Another type of fic that lets writers move characters about is the crossover. Why not throw Sawyer from Lost right in the middle of Game of Thrones? Or how about slipping Ferris Beuller into CSI: New York? The challenge of the crossover is to mix two fandoms while keeping each one intact and recognizable. If Sawyer doesn’t talk and act like Sawyer anymore, then you’ve just appropriated the name and not the essence and your readers will balk.

So your task for the week is to write a short piece that pushes you to improve your characterization skills. It’s not enough to just say in the introduction, “This is Princess Leia.” You’ve got to make everybody reading know that this is her from the ground up and have her react to something new and different in ways only she would react.

More to come next week!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Overcoming Submission Anxiety (One R&R at a Time)

Or, Using Fanfiction as a Creative Writing Workshop Part 2 (Part 1 link here)
Well, you finished it. You’ve read it over and over and had your high school English teacher proof it for errors. Now it’s time to submit.

And you freeze. What if they don’t like it? What if it comes back with a nasty note? What if it doesn’t come back at all—lost forever in slushpile limbo?

One of the first hurdles a developing writer has to face is submission anxiety. You are about to send your baby out into the harsh cold world. A rejection of your work is likely to feel very much like a personal rejection as well.

I’m not going to downplay that because it hurts to be rejected. I have collected my rejection letters and hold them proudly as badges announcing “By God, I tried!” which is more than lots of aspiring authors can say as their MS lingers on their hard drive until it turns to cyberdust. But it still hurts to hear my work isn’t wanted.

Fanfiction can be a wonderful place to begin getting over that anxiety and start letting go of your work in a friendlier, safer, more accepting environment. Most Fanfiction reviewers are kind and encouraging. Sure, you’ll get constructive criticism if you ask for it. But you’ll mainly hear reinforcement of what they liked.

I’m going to get more in-depth later on with how to read your reviews, but to begin, it’s good to just start hearing from readers to help you gain confidence in your writing and in submitting it.

The best way to get reviews is to leave reviews. If you haven’t started reviewing other pieces and narrowing down the fandom you want to start writing in, this is the week to do it. Build relationships by reviewing other authors who are currently working. Or if you find a piece you love that’s been out a few years, review it as well. I get reviews on fics that are five years old and still love it and still respond to them.

Oh, yes, as an author you can respond to the reviewer and thank them or answer questions. But your first lesson in getting reviews is this---just like in the traditional publishing world, DO NOT RESPOND TO A NEGATIVE REVIEW IN ANY WAY. Just let it go. If somebody trolls you really badly and leaves all kinds of nastiness, you can remove the review or report them. But the best thing to do is LEAVE IT.

So get out there, start reviewing and start thinking about your fandom and even start working on your piece.