I Like Your Style! Inspiring Other Writers

Part 9 (and last) of The Fanfiction Experiment

‘Your soul is a beautiful thing, child,’ replied the grave man’s voice, ‘and I thank you. No emperor ever received so fair a gift.’

The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux

When I’m in the throes of a story, I will question sometimes whether I’ve become obsessed. There’s something very insistent about a tale all wrapped up in my head. It will entreat me to pay attention to it at the most inconvenient times. My thoughts trail away to a scene, and the characters begin to interact, whether I’m in a position to listen or not.

Medieval writing desk
Medieval writing desk (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s no wonder that some of us writers grow emotionally attached to our stories. They become part of us. And when they are written and we close the book, it is a painful separation. An inexplicable grieving period follows that no one really shares or understands. Connecting with other writers is a way to find support for that intense connection that a writer can experience with his/her story-child.

When a writer hands over that treasured story for another to read, it’s a gift—even if it may seem more like a white elephant. Many writers are looking for someone willing to read their manuscript with an objective eye and to give insightful feedback. It is an opportunity to be supportive, not only of the work but of a writer’s heart.

Fanfiction allows you to observe a writer’s style and temperament before you agree to invest your time. Last summer, I discussed my great experience with my first critique partner. It worked out well, but it was definitely more of a blind search than getting acquainted with a writer through his/her online work and corresponding through private messages. I’ve reviewed and touched up many works from fanfic writers I got to know beforehand. I became interested in supporting the writer and his/her style first.

Here are some tips for encouraging meaningful interaction that can grow into that supportive writer relationship:

Give thorough, honest reviews
Receiving a thoughtful review is everything to a serious writer. He/she will seek you out for genuine feedback because he/she is not there simply to amass reviews. (I’m not saying it wouldn’t be nice, mind you.)

Writing a thoughtful review is also a writer’s advertisement. This is true for blog comments, isn’t it? It’s the primary means I use to find writers whose work I’m interested in reading, whether it’s through blogging or online fiction.

Reading glasses
Reading glasses (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Volunteer to be a beta reader
Being a beta reader, that second pair of eyes, is a ton of fun, but it requires sacrifice. It’s important to make the most of what you can offer a writer and prioritize, considering the time you will spend on the work. It’s necessary to be selective. One can’t be a beta reader for every writer who makes the request, but it’s worth it when you’re interested in a writer and/or the story. And beta reading isn’t just a service, it’s a learning experience. It helps a writer reason through the stream of someone’s work objectively, and it develops awareness of one’s own storytelling weaknesses. In my opinion, the object of a beta reader is to give a writer the assurance that the story flows and speaks to the reader. Honest assurance.

When I’m the writer, I try to be considerate of my beta reader, both of his/her time and feelings. I want to create a relationship in which it’s okay for my beta to respond, “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure about this” when expressing a gut feeling. Sometimes a reader’s intuition benefits a writer more than textbook corrections.

English: "A Helping Hand". 1881 pain...
English: “A Helping Hand”. 1881 painting by Emile Renouf Français (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Be a mentor for a less-experienced writer
There are different ways to go about this–there are organizations, of course–but you can do this on fanfiction sites, too.

The lengthiest fanfic chapter story I’ve worked on was 25 chapters, and I accepted redrafts of each chapter. The story was written by an advanced high school student. It was a magical adventure, and her passion for improving her work made the whole experience magical for me. I started from scratch and returned to writing basics. Instead of cleaning up grammatical errors, I was allowed to help her restructure her sentences for better impact and flow. (You can’t do this with many writers because repeating a simple rule of grammar can come off belittling.) I brainstormed with her for ways to make her characters more than actors under her pen. The ideas came from her own head, and I just prompted her to decide the mood or conclusion she wanted and to think about ways to communicate that. She taught me so much! She completed her fanfic, and we’ve kept in touch. She’s in college and writing for her university’s paper. It makes me happy to know she still loves writing, despite my critiques.

In case you’ve missed a post or two, here are the points I’ve mentioned in the Fanfiction Experiment series:

  • All Fiction is Fan Fiction.

 Fanfiction:

  • is a ready-made setting for all types of writing exercises.
  • can help you realize who your audience is and how to talk to them.
  • inspires a writer to develop crisp characterizations.
  • can help you learn to write what your inner reader wants to read.
  • challenges writers to hold a reader’s attention.
  • sites can help you stay accountable, motivated, and focused.
  • allows writers to filter through the trends.
  • allows you to observe a writer’s style and temperament before you agree to invest your time.

I hope something I’ve touched on in this series has inspired you to think outside the box about ways you can develop your craft. Granted, fanfic readers aren’t editors, nor are they versed in all things considered marketable by the publishing industry. The majority of readers read what they do because they like it, not because they’ve analyzed the trends or they have a good eye for the best opening line. But it’s eye-opening for the writer who considers his/her craft a journey. No matter how much one learns, there is always something more to be gleaned. There is always room for growth. Keep writing!

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This Skeptic Just Turned Avid Fan

Did you miss me? I’ve been in the throes of fresh, uninhibited editing! It’s delicious. My Critique Partner’s manuscript was due today, and we’ve been blazing through chapter after chapter, draft after draft for a week and a half. We’ve fleshed out meaningful descriptions, and we’ve brainstormed for effective ways of foreshadowing and developing more intense relationship interactions. I love, love, lurve working with this writer! And four months ago, I didn’t know her from Eve.

I’ll admit: when I signed up on Ladies Who Critique, I was skeptical. My previous critiquing and beta experiences have rarely included a trade. I thought I’d end up in the same scenario on LWC—which I was okay with. I would be generous, and I would find someone equally generous. But that’s not how the system is meant to work. It’s truly about the give and take of a partnership. I’m such a loner in my craft I couldn’t quite grasp that concept. That might be why finding a Critique Partner took me a few months. I sifted through a ton of writers’ profiles on the site. I contacted a few writers and vice versa, but we were able to tell almost immediately that our tastes weren’t a fit. Then along came this writer, who pores over Celtic folklore like I do and loves to mask a good fairytale archetype with a better setting and higher stakes. I’m so glad she found me!

So what changed me from the one dragging my feet all the way to the game to the one waving that ridiculous “We’re #1!” foam hand? Here are a couple of things I’ve loved about the Critique Partner setup:

Having a Critique Partner spurs my creative momentum. We both have a vested interest, so it’s easier not to get sidetracked working on manuscripts. And it’s like Christmas when I get the notification that there are a new set of her chapters waiting for me.

There’s a sense of fairness when it comes to constructive criticism. Every writer knows that concrit smarts. I mean, who wants to be told something negative about one’s child of script? And telling someone else the flaws in his/her story is so much worse! But that honesty is necessary to correct what’s amiss in the tale. When we are both giving positive and negative feedback—both encouraging the strengths and highlighting what is lacking—it’s easier to take, and to bravely give, that negative stuff.

My CP continues to be thorough about analyzing my characters and their influences. She’s already pointed out inconsistencies in characterization, lack of action during dialogue, wordiness, incoherent mood transitions… She deserves a medal.

And you know what’s amazing? She makes comments after my critiques, like, “This is the kind of feedback I need! Thanks!” It’s so awesome to think I might be helping her as much as she is helping me.

Gushing finished.