“I’d Like to Order a Mystery, a Side of Romance, and Add a Pinch of Sarcasm, Please” Writing What You Like To Read

Part 5 of The Fan Fiction Experiment

Never bet your money on another man’s game.

– Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Every reader has a different expectation when he/she opens a book. You can wind up in a losing game of chasing the trend if you try to write based on what you think others want to read…this week. Besides, the best stories are often the ones where the writers penned what their own inner readers craved.

Fanfiction can help you learn to write what your inner reader wants to read. It lets you test out your literary concoctions on a random sampling of readers—one that doesn’t have any impetus to support garbled writing or purple prosaic slop just because it’s you. You get to find out if what interests you interests others. Sometimes that means tearing out all the back story and the family connections in an adventure. It might be a fun study for you as a writer, and you should delve into the back story for yourself, but imagine picking it up off the shelf. Would you like having to wade through the four info-dump paragraphs that introduce every character? Not likely.

James Hamilton, Duke of Châtellerault and 2nd ...
James Hamilton, Duke of Châtellerault and 2nd Earl of Arran (Photo credit: lisby1)

I’m a Jane Austen-ophile, but I’m not a British aristocracy buff. There is a rare sect of Austenites that congregates for the pure pleasure of touting genealogical trivia. Some of them believe a long, meandering family tree belongs in the introduction of a regency fanfic. Now, if I have to know and recall to memory Sir Pimpleton Snigglebothum’s entire progeny, I will shelf that fic pronto. But I didn’t consider this when I first entered the Austen fandoms. I spent hours trying to get a grip on the difference between a duke and an earl, and which family house claimed which lands and what their links to the crown were–all to come up with a decent set of fake family names and titles so I could begin the actual story. You will not find that story online. It was duller to read than it was to write, if that’s possible. My point is, I wasted my time fulfilling other readers’ expectations, when I should’ve been writing what I enjoyed.

Try perusing fanfic stories in a fandom for one of your favorite novels. Many fanfic writers will attempt to write in the style of the author. Reading through these attempts will help you develop an eye for the original author’s methods and tricks. Does the author sum up large periods of time in a sentence or two? Does the author use flashbacks to keep the story moving? What narrating perspective is employed? Are the descriptions highly detailed? Is the story peppered with sentence fragments? Focus on what intrigues you about the way the author wrote that great story—what pulls you in—and implement it in your own fiction.

barsetshire 2: barchester towers
barsetshire 2: barchester towers (Photo credit: cdrummbks)

In the stories I crave, the author goes off on tangents and philosophizes in a way that endears me to the characters. Shortcomings are introduced from a perspective that lets me laugh sympathetically with the characters, not at them. They will reach the inevitable rock and hard place and leave me emotionally torn because I’m sympathizing to some degree with both sides. I find this scenario in many of Anthony Trollope’s novels. He was a master at creating reader sympathy for his characters. I also admire Elizabeth Gaskell’s understanding portrayal of those with conflicting views in works like Wives and Daughters and North and South.

What story-telling methods do you like best, and which authors satisfy the appetite of your inner reader?

Next up: Help for Wordophiles

(Disclaimer: My inner reader likes to read my opinions and pretend those opinions are clever. I’m pretty certain that’s why I’m posting this series.)

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Author: Rilla Z

I'm a scribbler. I'm genuine. Sometimes I'm too genuine. My topics of interest are: this world, the worlds inside my head, and the world to come. Oh, and cups of tea. Yes, I write about my cups of tea.

4 thoughts on ““I’d Like to Order a Mystery, a Side of Romance, and Add a Pinch of Sarcasm, Please” Writing What You Like To Read”

  1. Personally, I like to get right into it and learn the background as the story unfolds. I want to be whisked away and lose myself in another world. Hence, I prefer Sci Fi and Fantasy. I do like Historical fiction when “Historical” is used quite loosely. The Dan Brown-type novels and all the stories spawned by his books that tell of Templars, Mary Magdalene, religious artifacts, etc. Even if they are not so well written, the stories fascinate me.

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    1. It sounds to me like you don’t have problems getting past the research stage of your work. Research? What research? 🙂 I deal with some serious writer’s block when I put down my pen for “just a minute to check out the facts on that.”

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      1. You are so right. I HATE research. If I were to try writing a novel I realize there would have to be some research done, but I’d fight it tooth and nail and then pay someone to do it. I’m a stream of consciousness-type writer. I’d have to find a genre that was really simple to get into. Not ALL books are researched. Just the serious ones.

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        1. See, I’m just the opposite. When someone mentions Faulkner, I hide. No! Don’t make me do another stream of consciousness exercise! It’s not bad while I’m writing it, but the result looks like vomit. It plagues me until I can sort the thoughts into topics and make some sense out of it. And, um…when you need that nerdy researcher, you know where to find me. 😉

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