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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Writer/Blogger Hulk Smash!

Originally, I started this blog because I was preached at about the importance of developing a writer’s platform and all that. Everyone within a 5-degrees-of-separation radius of me already knows I’m not the writer’s advice following, “tell about your morning in chronological order using each first letter in the musical scale” exercise writing, all-forms-of-annoying-social-network plugging (where no one remembers their login name in six months)-type person. No really, it’s true. That, and maybe I’m a tad too critical of the above advice in the first place.

Hulk
“Which is it going to be? Me or that blog garbage?”
Hulk (Photo credit: Pablo SSt.)

But I like blogging. I mean, I really like it. So, I’ve had to find a balance between blogging and storytelling the way I think it should work ideally. Sometimes I spend too much time with my blogger-side and neglect my story-writing side. When this happens, I suffer a sort of separation anxiety. It’s like living life in shallow breaths. The currents of unrest seethe until I turn into the writer-withdrawal version of The Hulk and roar my ireful frustration to the world–or to someone unlucky enough to be nearby. That’s just how it is. My fiction-writing side rocks off its axis when I’m not lost in my plots regularly. Plus, my stories get lonely. They need to spend time with me.

I think I understand why many authors chose to release their work posthumously. It wasn’t because they were afraid to connect. They were trying to prioritize their time. They were the ones who worked without the platform, so they didn’t have the accolades and critiques of their peers ringing in their ears to tempt them into neglecting their work. In some ways, I think they were smart.

But they are dead.

What a Character! Tackling Characterization

Part 4 of The Fan Fiction Experiment

After all, the reason why poets invented these stories was surely just this—so that we should be able to see our own behavior mirrored in these other, imaginary characters, which thus cast a vivid light upon our own daily lives.

Cicero, In Defense of Sextus Roscius of Ameria

This will seem like a no-brainer: a good character relates to your reader. But it’s not as easy as that. You, the writer of the character, are not the reader. What do you know about the filters and experiences of the stranger who opens your book?

The beginning of your story is where a reader is most aware of your ability to relate to him or her. He/she can become attached to your character, or the situation surrounding your character, in just a few lines. Make your character come alive for your reader, and he/she will overlook a few hundred mistakes to find out what’s going to happen.

Fanfic stories mean instant camaraderie with fans, stemming from personal relatability to fictional characters we all love. You get to tap into that emotional attachment when you write a fanfic about one of these beloved fictional friends. When a fanfiction writer takes liberties with the characterization of an original author’s protagonist, protective readers will jump down a fanfic writer’s throat. For them, the character is not “canon,” and that’s like lying about their close friend.

Charlie Chaplin from the film The Great Dictator
Charlie Chaplin from the film The Great Dictator (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fanfiction inspires a writer to develop crisp characterizations. When writers tackle these fictional friends I know and love, I get to see how much or how little the author of the original story included in the description of a character’s personality—and how much I’ve assumed. Developing an awareness for the details that an author provides about his/her characters means I can better decide what details I want to include or omit about my original characters, and how I want to convey those details in my story.

Secondly, writing from the perspective of your favorite book characters lets you practice allowing a personality to speak through you, not like you. Two of the worst mistakes in writing a character are the dreaded “Mary Sue,” which is just the writer inserting herself into the story, and going OOC (out of character), where the character reacts in whatever way seems to move the story along to the writer’s whim. Practicing characterization through fanfics sharpens the ability to later define and describe an original character’s personality traits so a reader will recognize someone he/she knows in real life, and immediately relate to your character.

Angry girl.
Angry girl. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Protagonists who aren’t perfect are the ones we form literary relationships with. You know the temperaments and quirks of the people you are close to in real life. And don’t you love them even more for that? It’s their humanness. Don’t short-change your characters by omitting their inconsistencies. Don’t be afraid to write about your character’s flaws. Let him make mistakes. Let her be influenced by circumstances. Let him make promises that will selectively be forgotten. Let her contradict herself. Allow him to adamantly assure himself that others are at fault. Let your character judge the people around her because we all view things from a flawed perspective. Part of developing a relatable character is learning to allow those rough edges to show. That’s what makes them lovable. That’s what makes a story real to its reader. And, yes, even characters of plot-driven stories need some attention.

Friday will be about feeding your inner reader.

(Disclaimer: These opinions are based on my love of character-driven fiction. You may hate that. You may hate characters altogether. 🙂 )

Who Are These People? Finding Your Audience

Part 3 of The Fan Fiction Experiment

Mr. Baggins saw then how clever Gandalf had been. The interruptions had really made Beorn more interested in the story, and the story had kept him from sending the dwarves off at once like suspicious beggars.
***
‘A very good tale!’ said he. ‘The best I have heard for a long while. If all beggars could tell such a good one, they might find me kinder. You may be making it all up, of course, but you deserve a supper for the story all the same.’

The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

As writers, we all want to tell a story in a way that will prepare our audience to be the most receptive. Experimenting with fanfiction can help you approach your original fiction with a map that takes you right to the heart of your reader because it can help you realize who your audience is and how to talk to them.

Fanfiction sites give you opportunities to connect with all sorts of readers. If you post your work online, and it has potential, you’ll earn fans because they like something about what you’ve written. Fanfiction sites also give you tools that can help you get to know your readers better, so you can communicate with them more effectively. That way you can analyze what audience your style and story themes seem to attract. You may find it’s different from the audience you thought you were writing to.

But how do you attract these readers who are often introverted bibliophiles who read fanfics anonymously? (I started out as one of them.) And, anyway, what’s the point exactly in attracting those shy, bookworm types?

For one, they are the ones who buy the books on the bookstore shelves. They’re often lurking in specific fandoms because they’re caught up in some author’s world to such a degree that they need more to read about the characters to whom they’ve grown attached. Isn’t that the kind of fan-love you hope your characters receive some day?

They also know what makes a good book for them. If you happen to be writing in their area of expertise, they can sometimes be persuaded to explain it to you. Baiting these lurkers and hooking them can be a valuable asset in your writing journey. They can encourage you in the genre in which you really excel.

But as long as the reader remains a lurker, leaving little more than a hit and a country, that reader can’t really help you improve. (Unless the writer has a ton of hits from, say, Slovenia. If so, he/she might consider presenting future material to a Slovenian publisher.) Here are ways to lure those valuable shy readers, as well as keep your current readers actively involved in your journey:

1. Set up your story to accept anonymous reviews. There are enough filters in place to help you deal with anything offensive, and it will encourage those who aren’t ready to commit to an account yet to submit a review.

2. Send private messages. For a writer, there is much to be gleaned from fanfic sites beyond the story itself, and beyond what is publicly displayed. Cultivating one-on-one conversations can garner fantastic feedback because a shy reader is more comfortable expressing critiques and insights privately. They can give you a picture of what it is about your story, or your style of writing, that your audience wants to read.

Private-messaging is this undercurrent that builds goodwill and friendships. I’ve received private messages from shy readers who told me they signed up just to be alerted when I updated my story with a new chapter. I’ve never let a message like that lie dormant in my inbox. It is an opening for a potential writer/reader powwow.

Also, lookup the fanfic members who favorite you and/or your story. It’s to your advantage to reach out to these members. Send them a message thanking them for favorite-ing or adding your work. When you can, read their profiles to look for ways to personalize the note. Your message serves to break the ice.

3. Ask your readers for assistance. Many readers like to help out writers, but they won’t unless they know you’ll take suggestions well. So, post a note above or below your chapter that you are open to advice or suggestions. You can also say you’re looking for information on some aspect of your story that you wish to improve and would appreciate reader concrit.

While writing one of my stories, I requested to be contacted by readers living in a city where my character stayed briefly. Through the responses, I gained all sorts of details and anecdotes to help me better understand the environment, which helped me give those few paragraphs the finishing touches.

4. Encourage your readers to write detailed reviews. Answering thoughtful reviews for the recent chapters you’ve posted can help you receive more specifics from your readers. If you answer them publicly at the bottom of your next chapter, you can get a multi-viewer conversation going that encourages discussion and questions that will flourish into vital feedback! Here are guidelines to keep your review responses on task:

  • Make your response brief. Don’t go over 6 lines, if you can help it.
  • Don’t explain reasons or motives in your story. If you must explain something, chances are that explanation needs to be worked into the story itself.
  • Make your response entertaining, witty, complimentary, funny or all of the above. You want your reviewers to look forward to your response as much as you look forward to receiving their reviews.
  • Be confident about where your story is going, especially when you are the most unsure!
  • Be discreet. Reviewers can write about anything and everything—and they should because it tells you more about your audience—but a fanfic writer should be conscientious in responses. Otherwise, it might hamper a reviewer’s candidness.

Next Monday, I’ll focus on character relatability–which WordPress doesn’t recognize as a word. 😛

(Disclaimer: Not all lurkers want to be lured. Sometimes they want to leave one comment and disappear again. Some need time to get to know you. It took months for me to gather the courage to post my first anonymous review.)

Review Unto Others

Writer networking and support is a wonderful thing, isn’t it? I’ve arrived here via free fiction-writing communities, where I meet writers through reviews. I don’t have any previous relationships with these writers. I like that. It keeps my feedback real. In the free novel-writing world, it’s perfectly fine to leave a glowing review on a rough draft version of a story. The writer is just beginning. The potential’s there, but the story has a ton of mistakes. My review may mention a few, but it would be pointless to dissect the whole thing in the initial stages. (Sometimes I’ll try to talk the writer into letting me beta, my fingers itching to dispel the distractions I see in an otherwise great story.)

Now I’m stepping through the looking-glass to find… basically, the same review setup, only now it involves money and literary integrity. These new eBooks on Amazon, perched on virtual shelves, call to me at 99 cents. The summaries are often appealing. If there are reviews, I will read them. I’ve read a few where readers have commented with something like,

“There were grammatical errors, but this writer is new.”

“I admit I was hoping for a more rounded understanding of some of the other characters besides the main character.”

“I didn’t always relate to the main character. When events happened in the story that called for a strong reaction, there wasn’t really one.”

That’s pretty important stuff there. And some of these reviews come with four and five-star ratings. That’s not helpful. It’s like looking for a good cookie recipe, finding one with a 97% approval rating and 50+ reviews, and making a flour-heavy, tasteless dessert.* It’s a waste, and not just for other readers. It’s a waste for a writer who has talent and needs to hone his/her craft!

Why aren’t these reviews telling the whole story? Putting myself in the reader’s shoes, if I were given a free book and told, “All you need to do is review this when you’re done,” I’d think it was a great idea, initially. Free books! Yum! And, please, let me give you my opinion. What about further incentive from a writer-friend to swap books and review? I see the benefits of back-scratch reviewing, but I think the review itself is synthetic. The pressure to be kind will taint the whole experiment. It’s some mad twist on the golden rule. Whatever I say can no longer be entirely genuine. Think of little Fred, the poor fellow who volunteers to take a dose of Uncle Harvey’s Cure-All Old Indian Remedy, while Uncle Harvey rattles on about all the amazing things that the ‘elixir’ is going to do for headaches, gout, tuberculosis, freckles, abscesses, and hair loss. Little Fred sees the hope in the townspeople’s eyes; he’s aware of their breathless anticipation as he tilts the bottle for a swig. Is Fred going to say what he’s expected to say, perhaps physically convincing himself of the positive outcome?

As a reviewer, I think a published work should be held to a certain standard of quality. Should I praise a book with poorly structured sentences, underdeveloped characterizations, plot holes, dangling story threads, orphaned paragraphs of information, lost and wandering commas, etc.? The story can have incredible potential, but it hasn’t been placed in a comparable environment. Shouldn’t I address those issues? Shouldn’t my rating reflect the difference I see between it and the surrounding literature?

I don’t think a reader has to analyze the plot structure, tallying the arc points and subplots, to know if a story is the real thing; but there are some things that can be expressed objectively that I’d like to know as a prospective reader:

1. Grammatically speaking, is the book well-written? Could it use some work?

2. Is the pace of the story comparable to others of its general genre (adventure, mystery, horror, romance, etc.)? Exception: There are some works that employ eclectic pacing, but the skillful writer knows how to use it without losing the interest of the reader.

3. When contemplating what to write in the review, are there any negative aspects that are automatically ‘forgiven’? What are they, and why? For example, some stories speak to a reader through personal life experience, so one might overlook what the narrative lacks.

Finding any of these means the book probably needs a good going over.

With the book industry turned on its head, the readers are the ones to come to the rescue. Yet, reader/reviewer influence declines when the information in the reviews becomes overwhelmingly unreliable. That’s why it works against every writer to misuse the review system for unwarranted self-promotion, or to flatter in a weak moment; no one will trust the comments or ratings. It benefits everyone to use the power of the review to distinguish the works of merit. It really is about being kind and genuine. By ‘reviewing unto others,’ you’re really doing yourself a favor in the long run.

*Yes, it happened to me. And, yes, it was bad. I tweaked it into a great cheesecake crust, though.

Oh, That’s How You Spell ‘Kreativ’!

I’ve been nominated for the Kreativ Blogger award from Limebird Writers. Thank you to Beth and her fine feathered friends.

The rules:
1. Share 10 things about yourself that readers might find interesting.
2. Pass the award onto 6 other bloggers (be sure to leave a comment on each of the blogs to let them know).

Because I’m so ‘kreativ,’ I’m starting with rule 2.

6 Picks – And Why I Chose Them

1. twistingthreads – For me, this blog exemplifies the candid, analytical writer. I like tracing the path of her thoughts in her journal posts. It may seem random, but the ‘thread’ is always there.

2. booktopiareviews – This blogger researches awards given to books, what those awards entail, and, often, who backs them. She’s a teacher and an obvious bibliophile. Can’t beat that.

3. Discovering Ireland – I have no idea how I found this little treasure. It’s a school project that relates simple questions and answers about Ireland. Being a Gaelic folklore and fairy tales enthusiast, I find this blog entertaining and easy to peruse.

4. Ayesha Schroeder – In her own words, what makes this writer unique? “Her experience growing up in a mixed family gives her the unique viewpoint of both the Pakistani immigrant and the American struggling to find and define their culture.” From my perspective, she has a knack of sharing her views instead of expressing them, making her thoughts relatable to any reader. I’m not from Pakistan, nor do I pick up works purely for their cultural aspects. I’m going with my intuition about this author’s potential to win hearts from all walks of life.

5. Novel Girl – It’s a blog, but it’s more like a condensed writing class. Rebecca takes the writer’s craft seriously and packs her posts full of helpful advice, tips galore, and lovely analogies. I feel like every entry is a personalized gift because she seems to put so much into it.

6. Kristin McFarland – Aspiring fantasy writer with lots of passion and determination. Need I say more?

 10 Things You Were Just Dying to Know About Me

1. I’m left-handed. Inigo would have so pwned me.

2. Okay, I don’t even know how to handle a sword; Inigo would have pwned me anyway. But… “If I had ever learnt, I should have been a great proficient.” – Lady Catherine de Bourgh

3. Don’t give me knives or scissors, either. One time I cut myself, instead of an orange, while babysitting. I decided to make it a learning moment to remind the kids of the importance of using a cutting board. This lesson occurred while a copious amount of blood was being dealt with. The children were enthralled, but for some reason I was never invited to baby-sit those kids again.

4. I’m a chain tea-drinker and partial to tea-drinking writers I meet online.

5. I have a tendency to cross the bridge, plan for ulterior ways to get around the bridge, and prepare to scale the bridge, if necessary, before I get to it.

6. Pet peeve: I despise when the bookstore locks all the doors fifteen minutes before closing. Yeah, I’d do the same thing if I were working there, but still. My first instinct is to bang on the door, scream, “Help me! I’m trapped!” and drool like a maniac on the glass. Haven’t done that yet.

7. I lost part of my right earlobe to frostbite when I was 9. It grew back in the shape of a three-leaf clover.

8. My favorite colors are lime, kelly, and sage green. I’m now the proud owner of a kelly green velour blazer. My wardrobe is complete.

9. Number seven is purely fiction. You knew that, didn’t you? See, I’m honest.

10. I don’t normally do chain letters, chain emails, chain fb statuses, etc. This feels somewhat like that. At least it doesn’t come with a guilt trip if you don’t do it.

The Charm of All Vortices

“You should publish your story.”

That’s a nice compliment. It is also a minefield, when you consider what it means to publish nowadays. The term ‘publish’ has taken on totally different facets of definition and expectation. The options for publishing a book, especially when considering self-publishing, are breeding faster than rabbits. I’ve discussed the whole “self-publish or go for the gold” with fellow writers. That’s really how writers look at it, isn’t it? Self-publishing isn’t the crowning moment for a writer. I’m being honest here.In reality, the writers who’ve self-published are far superior in thought and action. It takes moxie to put yourself and your work out there. It also takes money.

The ‘helpful advice for writers’ blogs I’ve been reading continue to discuss self-publishing, and I’ve found some of the suggestions suspect. While advertisements for self-publish-assisting services flash and glisten along the sides of the article, it benevolently advises writers to opt for these services to make one’s book look professional. Does anyone want to present his/her story with an unprofessional aspect? Obviously not. Nor do many writers enter this vortex with funds in hand. Isn’t it a writer’s object to take as much financial risk out of the equation as possible, so that he/she won’t end up a Starving Writer Wraith in the Land of Author Discontent?

I’m new at this, you know. I don’t know what I’m doing. I think that’s why self-publishing sounds more like a casino game to me at the moment. Whoever doles out the cash gets a spin around the e-book world. Here and there, someone claims, “Look at my book! It hit the jackpot!”

I’m beginning to wonder if anyone really has a grip on the current publishing frenzy. But that’s the charm of all vortices, eh?