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Special 01: "How to Write Almost Readable Fanfiction"
(A How-To Guide by Ms. Nitpicker)

Hey there, boys and girls! How would you kiddies like to learn how to write almost readable fanfiction!? Well, if the answer is "Yes," then today is your lucky day! Courtesy of the famous Ms. Nitpicker comes an exclusive guide on writing fanfiction that will help your talents soar to new heights! In it, Ms. Nitpicker will demonstrate some of the finer points to this wondrous art in a way that is both fun and highly educational! You'll be happy that you took the time to sit down and... umm... and read... this....

Ah, to hell with it.

Here's the story: I was making my usual rounds about the internet, looking for bad fanfiction to make fun of, and I came across this editorial some ex-English teacher wrote about writing fanfiction. It was extremely lengthy, packed with weak attempts at dry humor, and offered little to no usable advice on the topic of actually writing fanfiction. Naturally, my parodying instincts kicked in, and here we are with the first official Project AFTER Special! [pause for applause]

While my hat goes off to Ms. Nittypicker (or whatever her name was) for trying to do something about the growing fanfic menace, I can't help but criticize her for leaving out the most important rule of writing fanfiction: Don't do it. Seriously, if you want to write something that badly then be original and think up your own damn characters. With that said, lets get this review underway and see if I can't score myself some more hatemail before it comes to an end.




Well, that sure is reassuring. Just like reading a guide on how to almost disarm a bomb.

Last updated in HALL OF SHAME on 12/2/2002.

First, a confession.

"You see, Frank never actually wrote that suicide note..."

Yes, Ms. Nitpicker, too, makes mistakes, hard though it is to believe. She secretly harbors a deep-seated conviction that all words ending in "l" or "t" have doubled letters when suffixes are added, as in "traveled," but the computer spell-checker always corrects her misapprehension.

One's a strange old lady who obsesses over minor spelling rules. The other's a computer program that corrects her spelling misapprehensions. Watch this lovable duo and all their heart-warming antics this fall on ABC.

For a long time, she was positive that the word to describe her villain's whisper was "silibant," not "sibilant"--it still sounds better--but when a better speller than she pointed out her error, Ms. Nitpicker reluctantly said farewell to the smoother, liquid "silibant."

Then she went insane and began referring to herself in the third person, and vowed revenge against the devil's spell-checker device!

You, too, can give up your punctuation and grammar confusion.

Second, a defense.

"He jumped out in front of me! I tried to swerve the car! I swear I really tried!"

Before you ask, "Just who do you think you are to tell us how to punctuate things?" I shall tell you: I'm Ms. Nitpicker, that's who.

This is eerily similar to what I imagine it would sound like if a serial killer left a message on my answering machine before coming after me.

Ms. Nitpicker was an English teacher in her youth. She reads far too much, and has written various fan fictions over the decades. Not content to rest on the laurels of her GPA, she also went to the local library--God bless all libraries!--and consulted grammatical guides in the course of preparing this website, because she has a bad memory and because she preferred reading and writing to grammar in her actual academic studies. She suspects you did, too.

Actually no, I can't say I've ever been discontent to rest on the laurels of my GPA, or consulted grammatical guides in the course of preparing a website.

Explaining how to write a high-quality piece of fiction, however, is beyond the scope of Ms. Nitpicker's efforts here. This list concentrates on making whatever you have written, however amateurishly, APPEAR readable.

When, in fact, people will just be staring at your fanfiction trying in vain to comprehend the perplexing and indiscernible jumble of text on the screen in front of them. It will APPEAR as though they can read it, though, and that is what's important.

No names are named, no story titles are mentioned--Ms. Nitpicker herself does not remember who the guilty parties are, and has mostly plucked these samples from stories she liked well enough to keep.

"She particularly liked such entertaining stories as 'Secrets of the Heart', 'Pokémon: A New Experience', and 'Summer Time!'"

The truly awful stories were usually not even read, let alone quoted. Face it; we ALL have made errors in our writing. Let us have a good laugh, or at least a snicker, and then try to remember the correct rules of grammar.

Stop trying to make it sound like learning can be fun. It's those kinds are lies that are responsible for making today's youth so moody and distrustful.


1. Put your name (or alias) on every section of your story, directly under the title. Ms. Nitpicker cannot tell you how many stories she has saved or printed apparently written by "Anonymous." Some fen don't even put their name on their web page, let alone their actual creations!

That's because people are ashamed of what they've written, and they don't want their friends and family to know they were responsible for such garbage.

Having made the effort to write this story/poem/filk, you deserve to get credit for it.

2. Run a spell-checker, but don't stop there. Your computer, though helpful, is not of Star Fleet capability and doesn't know whether you meant "way" or "weigh" or "whey."

Aww, but I want a machine to do all my thinking for me!

Perhaps you don't, either. A dictionary is a great help.

3. Find an excellent proofreader--a picky aunt who harps on correct grammar and punctuation, perhaps.

Kid: Aunt Miriam, will you please check the grammar and punctuation on my Lizzie McGuire lemon?

Aunt: Ah, now, right here, you should separate the paragraphs when a new person is moaning in orgasmic pleasure. Also, you don't need that comma between "throbbing" and "member".

Do not pick a beta reader who never reads books for entertainment, who got bad grades in English, or who does not speak or write English.

But the illegal immigrants work for so much cheaper...

Remember, when the beta reader finds mistakes, that this is HELPFUL, and not a personal attack on you. Be grateful that your mistake was only seen by a handful of people, and not thousands.

Thousands!? Are you trying to get your fanfiction published in the Reader's Digest or something?

4. Don't apologize. If you, who created the story, feel it's so bad that you have to tell us about the bad spelling and other problems, then sensible people will say, "Thanks for the warning," and avoid reading it.

The idea to take away from this lesson is that lying through your teeth will get you ahead in life.

Don't nervously confess to being a first-timer, or announce that you have never seen the show itself. Astute readers will notice any problems without your help--and many of us will avoid your fanfic if we see those disclaimers, possibly missing a great story.

Usually, though, we're just saving ourselves from many dozens of pages worth of torture.

Again, if you don't love it, aren't even proud of it--and you created it--why should we waste time on it? Claiming that it is only a "draft" and posting it that way for years without ever once changing a "draft" tale to a "polished" one fools no one. DON'T PRINT OR POST YOUR STORY UNTIL YOU'RE PROUD OF IT

So, pretty much never. Ms. Nunpicker is finally making a point I can agree with.

--and be sure an English teacher sort of person has read it first.

5. Don't repeat yourself. Ms. Nitpicker is going to repeat this later on.

But, you just said... Oh, I get it! Hahahahaha! Hahaha... haha... Whew, this is fun.

The first time Diane Carey referred to Major Kira in one DEEP SPACE NINE book as being like Peter Pan, it was apt and mildly amusing. By the third time, Ms. Nitpicker was screaming. (She repeated a Sisko comparison more than once, too--in the same book. Diane, we got it the first time. We are Not Dumb.)

Diane Carey, if you're reading this, I hope you get eye cancer! >:(

6. Watch the show. Watch it over and over again!

Just knowing the basic mechanics of the show isn't enough! You have to feel the show, you have to become the show, you have to cut yourself with a rusty scalpel while chanting the titles of your favorite episodes late into the night!

Read your story aloud and try to "hear" the TV character saying those words. If they sound wrong, re-write!

But don't stop there! Contact the original scriptwriters for the show and ask them to approve your story. Next, call up the actors and make sure they can picture themselves saying those lines. If even the most minute details feel out of context, people will immediately spot it and dismiss your story as pure crap and a waste of their time! And you know what? It will be.

7. Write about the actual character, not your fantasy, unless you label the story "AU" or "alternate universe." Many SENTINEL fans picture Blair Sandburg as a frail, delicate flower, but if you watch the show, you'll note that the character is quite short, but also quite solidly built. He is not fragile or slender. He does not have thin wrists or thin shoulders or thin anything.

He... He's just fat! He's a total fatass, OK! There! Somebody had to say it.

Similarly, don't have Joe Dawson of HIGHLANDER kneel by anyone--Joe (like the actor who plays him, Jim Byrnes) lost both legs just above the knee and wears prostheses. He CAN'T kneel.

Because an inaccuracy like that could kill your entire story's believability. I mean damn it, who even knows this shit?

8. Take time to do it right. Yes, in the heat of the moment some writers have dashed off instant productions that were enjoyable, but most creations benefit greatly from being re-read and re-written several times, and passed by a beta reader or two before being posted.

A good rule of thumb is to sit on your story for at least seven or eight years before publishing it on the web.

9. Do not post a story or part of a story if the story itself has not been finished. Yes, Ms. Nitpicker has heard all the whining about this point.

You need the pressure from readers to drive you to write.

I find I write my best work when I have lots of people breathing down my neck and pestering me day and night to turn out material faster than what is humanly possible.

[If you can't write fanfiction without outside pressure, you aren't a writer. Don't bother to start a story at all.

You tell 'em, Ms. Pitnicker!

Write for your own pleasure/satisfaction, please. If readers respond favorably, that's an added bonus.]

Readers' comments may help you come up with ideas.

So steal people's ideas and don't give them credit.

[That's what friends are for. That's what beta readers are for. That's what beta mail lists and chat rooms are for. Oh, forget it--if you don't have enough ideas to write a complete story, don't start one.]

"Once upon a time, there was a... um... there was a.... Fucking horse shit this is hard!"

Unlike all those other liars on the Web, you MEANT to finish the story promptly.

[The road to hell is paved with good intentions, dear.]

Does that mean the road to Heaven is paved with bad intentions, or are you just damned from the start?

Remember, when you post a story, you are signing a contract with the reader. If real life or writer's block interferes and you never finish the tale, you have broken the contract. You have lied. You, in fact, have no honor.

Holy crap, Ms. Nolitter. These kids are writing fanfiction, not taking up the code of bushido.

Do you promise children a Christmas, and entice them with tales of presents and Santa, then on Christmas Day announce that real life interfered or Santa ran out of ideas and Christmas is postponed? Even if, come July, the children arise to find presents under the withered tree, the event will be anticlimactic at best.

That's a pretty clever analogy, honestly, but it's sadly ruined by the fact that comparing Christmas to fanfiction is like comparing a trip to Disney Land to... uh, fanfiction. Sorry, I can't think of anything worse to better illustrate my point.

All this is quite aside from the fact that all stories need to be re-read and proofread and edited, and characters and plot often change dramatically as you write, leading you to need to re-write earlier sections to foreshadow what is to come. If it's already have a problem on your hands.

It IS a problem, because you won't be able to go back and make those crucial edits needed to transform your horrible shit-ass excuse for a story into a horrible shit-ass excuse for a story with tantalizing foreshadowing.

FINISH AT LEAST A FIRST DRAFT of the entire work before you start posting story chapters.

But if I do that, how will the readers' comments help me to come up with new ideas?

10. If, despite Ms. Nitpicker's earnest pleas, you ignored her and posted your story in parts as you wrote it, for God's sake, don't post sequels before you bother to finish the story!

Yes'm! I... I promise I'll finish the story first! I swear! Please don't hit me!

This is rubbing salt in the wound. If you have the time and energy to write a sequel, there is no excuse whatsoever for not finishing the original story.

11. Avoid mixed or nonsensical metaphors.

She said, much like a gopher drinking Cherry Coke in an apartment complex on Tuesday.

In a recent fan fiction, Ms. Nitpicker's alter ego stupidly wrote, "Thunderstorms clouded her charcoal eyes." Huh? You ever see thunderstorms whipping around inside your barbecue grill? It should either have involved lightning flashing in her storm-dark eyes, or sparks igniting in her charcoal eyes.

Actually, neither of those really make sense. Sorry.

In the same story, she had Giles reaching out without looking, like an acrobat who knows his catcher will be there, followed in the next sentence by Anya circling them like a shark scenting spilled blood. Nuh-uh. Either they're both sharks, or they're both acrobats, or you should only tangle one of them up in a metaphor or simile. (These examples amply demonstrate why you should edit and rewrite several times before posting a story to the Internet.)

Jeez, this should have been called "The Obsessive Compulsive Perfectionist's Guide To Writing Fan Fiction."

12. Try to make sense in comparisons. One on-line tale announced that a "second shot rang out on its heels." Bullets don't have heels; people and animals do.

My God. She is absolutely right!

Ms. Nitpicker applauds your attempt to avoid worn clichés like "white as a sheet," which appears in too many fan stories, but creativity has its limits. Can't you find or create a more understandable or more appropriate simile or metaphor? For instance, these fen wrote some interesting and original lines:

"Fen"? Isn't that a synonym for a swamp or a marshland?

Yet, most times, for a man with heightened senses, Jim could be as dense where other people were concerned as a forest primeval.

Dude, cheap shot at forest primevals.

The bruises from the previous day have faded to nothing, but the bruises behind her eyes are raw.


The grey clouds that had been weeping all day made sunset invisible, and the fluorescent lights made the dimming of daylight unnoticeable

Say what now?

When they arrived at the station, Blair immediately went for the coffee like a heat-seeking missile. He hadn't stopped shaking during the whole drive downtown.

Perhaps these would make more sense if we had some kind of setup... Or maybe I just need to be high.

Rain fell so heavily, it looked like black paint running down a canvas.

13. Try to make sense in general.

Wow, I never would have thought of that! You are the greatest teacher in the world, Ms. Nitwitter!

Do not tell us, as one writer did, that:

Jim heard Blair mutter some silent curses to himself when he tripped over an exposed root.

Oh, he did, did he? Did you perhaps mean ALMOST silent curses?

Sir! Yes, Sir! Mistakes are unacceptable, Sir!

Another example of unlikely events:

Kandros just stood there unmoving, waving his hand towards two of his men who were standing in the main door.

If he's unmoving, his hand ain't waving, baby.

Don't you see, Ms. Nutplucker? These people cannot be helped! You're trying to save a doomed race! Forget the fanfiction authors and get out while you still can!

Furthermore, people stand in doorways, not doors, except in the case of superheroes who can fade through the material of the door. This, too, is senseless:

Hell yes, more examples! Alright! Man, I just cannot get enough of these.

With a grateful sigh, he heard the blond-haired Alan call a rest stop.

What does his hair color have to do with his speech? Can we "hear" his blond hair? If not, don't try to squeeze in his hair color, sexual preferences, school grades, and other extraneous data.

Whoa, we're wandering dangerously close to that whole 'embittered sarcasm' area now...

Have your character glance or look at his friends as they walk and notice Alan's blond hair is sweat-matted, if you want to bring up hair color, as it's something we SEE, not hear.

14. Do not write stories in which you and your friends get to enter the TV show and interact with the characters.

Stick to badly-edited home movies spliced together with clips from the show you recorded on a VHS tape that you can put up on YouTube, because you think yourself having a wacky conversation about women's underwear with the Professor from Gilligan's Island is the most hilarious thing ever and the whole world should have an opportunity to watch it.

Well, okay, you may write them--all writing is good practice--but you must not inflict them on anyone other than the friends who appear in the story.

And even then, be prepared to lose any/all of said friends once they see what a deranged tale you've dragged their good names into.

15. Do not write stories about the actors who play the characters you like.

Seriously!? Aw, dammit! And I just bought '' domain name, too...

There have been some excellent fanfic tales about exactly this--Ms. Nitpicker was fond of a pair of BLAKE'S 7 zines in which first actor Paul Darrow got stuck in the B7 universe, and next Avon was the guest star at the convention Paul Darrow should've attended--but in general it is trespassing on the actor's private life, and very rude, even when well-done.

Yeah. Actors have enough to worry about with the paparazzi.

This goes doubly for slash stories about the actor or actress.

Unless they happen to be porn stars, then it's OK.

16. You may write a Mary Sue story--again, all writing is good practice--but if you post it or print it, be prepared to either be flamed or laughed at, even if a few people profess to like the story.

Which probably won't happen anyway.

What is a Mary Sue story? A story about a character who often has an unusual name, a tragic past, one or more incredible talents, is related to or beloved by one or more of the main characters from the TV show/movie/comic book you're writing about, and may die after saving the day for everyone. In other words, your daydream alter ego.

Hey, don't look at me. My daydream alter ego is the guy who works at the liquor store.

After discovering STAR TREK fandom (the original series), Ms. Nitpicker was mortified to realize she had been writing private Mary Sue stories about the younger sister of Mark Slate from THE GIRL FROM UNCLE.

AHAHAHAHAHAHA!!! Oh my GOD, that's super-lame!!

Like farting and burping, everyone does it sooner or later, but it is an embarrassment and should be kept as private as possible.

Hahaha... Nope, sorry Ms. Notbicker, you've already lost all credibility. The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.... Oh man, that's priceless.

17. Set the scene. Ms. Nitpicker's writer alter ego has a bad habit of starting each scene with a smart-alec bit of dialogue or character's thought, leaving the reader lost. Where are we? When are we? How did we get there? A header that gives the date and time is not enough. Give us descriptive details that appeal to the senses. What do we smell here?

The wretched odor of overly-descriptive writing, that's what!

What do we hear? What do we see? Don't say Giles is in a warehouse; tell us that it looks new and clean but stinks of rancid grease, and he fears the boxes stacked neatly around him are stuffed full of McDonald's French fries waiting for delivery.

McDonald's French fries are pretty scary...

18. Read! Write! Read some more! (Be sure some, if not most, of the reading you do is by professional writers with good reputations,

Not those sleazy writers caught in immoral sex scandals.

because what you read will rub off on you, and if all you read is badly written tripe, you will tend to write badly written tripe.

Well I'm fucked...

No, you are not required to read the classics, but read something other than novelizations of movies and TV shows.)

Now she's giving us homework? Does your cruelty know no limits, Ms. Niptucker!?

19. Research! With the advent of the Internet, you may not even have to go to the library to do it.

Is class over yet? I wanna go home...

If you have absolutely no knowledge of policework, don't write police case stories without researching it first. Visit a library. Get on the Internet. Call on fellow fen for help--some may well be police.

Just dial 911. They won't mind if you tie up the line asking questions about their daily routines. Tell them, "I'm just gathering research material for my 'Cops' fanfiction."

Too many fanfics involve the heroes not finding out until 2/3rd of the story is done that their fellow cop was intimately involved in the case in the past or suddenly having the brilliant idea to call the FBI, astounding the boss, when the FBI would have been contacted first thing.

If I wasn't such a dumbass, I would have known that already! I hate me! *sob*

Similarly, don't have Al Calavicci of QUANTUM LEAP shot in the heart and, after being dead for ten minutes, suddenly sit up, get off the gurney, and lead an attack on the bad guys, unless you're writing a story about zombies. Again, there are web sites specializing in medical facts useful for fan fiction.

Such as

20. Be consistent. If your villain is named "Gardner" in the first half of your story, don't call him "Gardener" through the second half. (If you have a shaky memory, try to pick memorable names that don't have common spelling variations.)

For instance, trying naming your characters Guy #1, Girl #5, Guy #16, etc.

21. Unless you have a literary reason that would thrill an English teacher, most of the time the passive voice should not be used. For instance:


Joe complied and the sound of a rifle was heard, followed by several sparks.

The sound isn't the subject and doesn't get to be heard; Joe is the subject, and gets to hear the sound.

The sound will forever regret attempting to steal Joe's role as the subject. Oh yes, Joe would see to that...

This sentence should say something along the lines of, "Joe complied, and heard the sound of a rifle, then saw several sparks." Better yet, since "sound" is so general and bland, make it the snap or bark or boom or crack of a rifle, and make those sparks shine for us.

22. If you're new to writing, avoid using the present tense to tell your story.

Look, why don't you just give us a list of all the tenses that we can use in a fanfiction. It'll be much faster that way.

Although there are vignettes and stories which use it for a reason and do so successfully, it is very tricky. (On a personal note, Ms. Nitpicker uses it to outline her story before actually writing it, so your story reads to her as an unpolished first draft story idea, not an actual story.)

Well that's really more of a personal problem isn't it, Ms. Bitlicker.

Also tricky, as well as irritating, is writing in the second person--"You walk to the cupboard and are intrigued to find it stuffed with statues of Terry Pratchett."

"You continue to read the excruciatingly boring guide on writing fanfiction. You wonder why the author is hanging on the most trivial, unimportant subjects of writing instead of just sticking to topics useful to specifically writing fanfiction. You hope the guide is nearly finished, but then you scroll down and are horrified as you realize that it still has a number of pages left to go. You bang you head against the monitor in frustration."

In most cases, it's best to either write a normal story, or put it in real script form if you want to keep saying "Mulder picks up the gun and turns to Skinner." If you do write a present tense story--and certainly you may--try not to slip back and forth between present and past tense unless you have some artistic reason to switch and can justify it to an English teacher.

"Yeah, uh, you see, the change in tense here symbolizes how, uh, we're all like, you know, living in the past, in the sense that, uh... You know, social revolution, collapse of individual thinking, post-modern... uh, living? Yeah. Pretty artistic, huh?"

23. Use dialogue. If no one speaks in your story, you've probably written a summary, not a story.

Hey, to hell with you! My mime fanfiction got great reviews, so there!

24. This is very important: pick a p.o.v.--that is, a point of view--and stick to it within one scene.. We see what that character sees, think what he thinks.

This is ridiculous. I'm damn near positive that Ms. Hatfitter is just copying stuff out of an English reference handbook by this point. I normally don't do this, but this guide is dragging on so much I'm just going to trim the fat and edit out some of the more long-winded explanations in hopes of actually seeing the end of this thing before I die of old age.

When the reader is comfortable "being" Kirk, abruptly shifting to "being" McCoy and then back to Kirk is disruptive.

The reader is a gentle and sensitive creature, and must be treated with loving care.

25. Avoid excessive use of bold or all-capital-letter "shouting" in your writing.


Exclamation points (which are used singly, not in packs) and wording should make it clear to us which words were emphasized. Yes, Ms. Nitpicker just used bold formating in the example above; she is not telling you that bold is anathema, merely to cut back on your use of it in order to make it truly dramatic/useful.


26. Your characters should speak ungrammatically, not in thesis paper language. Remember that in real life we use many contractions and slang, and we seldom deliver lengthy ponderous lectures in fancy terminology.

I don't know about that Ms. Cornfritter... You ever watch Frasier?

We say, "I'll go, too" instead of "I will go, also" or "I shall journey, as well." HOWEVER, the non-dialogue parts of your story should use full sentences and correct English as much as possible.

27. Avoid purple prose. "Opal ocular orbs" is not an improvement on "blue eyes." Although Ms. Nitpicker praises your desire to widen your vocabulary, in writing, less is often more.

Now that you mention it, the same could be said of writing guides...

Indeed, many writing guides advocate drawing a line through every other adjective you use. If your story reads like a breathless romance novel, with lots of tousled tresses, pouting, and tear-filled eyes, you have probably strayed into the violet prose zone, if not deep purple.

And purple is the color of failure!

28. If you feel the need to tell us that the villain is sneering evilly, you've failed in writing.

Give up now and save yourself from a lifetime of setbacks and frustration.

Your readers are smart enough to know he's not seriously worried that the hero might not be comfortable. Adding a "twisted, evil smile" is overkill. Besides, most villains don't believe they're evil, they feel justified in and enjoy what they're doing. They're smiling with sincere pleasure.

I'll bet you know a lot about the minds of evil villains, don't you, Ms. Titflicker.

29. Vary your sentence structure. If every sentence starts with "He," you have a problem. Instead of writing, "He put his coat on and left," try, "Putting on his coat, he left." On the other hand, if every sentence starts with an adverbial phrase, try starting some with a subject.

I think we've officially crossed the line into "generic writing advice" by now. This has so little to do with fanfiction it's a joke. An arduous, time-wasting, unfunny joke.

30. Don't use words whose meaning you don't understand.

I agree cosmologically!

Turn to a dictionary--an online one, if nothing else--or a thesaurus if you have even the slightest doubt. For instance, this was wrong:

[Insert everything ever written that wasn't composed by Ms. Nightstalker herself.]

Ellison came pounding after, but his senses must have warned him of the precipitous. [He's at the edge of a steep? His senses didn't warn him of an abrupt? No, you meant a "precipice," dear.]

Damn the English language for having so many words that are spelled alike!

31. Too many pronouns can be confusing, as in:

...he assured him with a smile and bob of his eyebrows...

I'm so confused!!! Aaaaaahhhh!!

There is no reason to avoid using the character's name now and then.

32. Don't TELL us what happened--SHOW us, with dialogue and action. Too many stories are lengthy summaries along the lines of:

Hey, um, speaking of things going on for too long...

"Duncan let Joe know about the new Gathering, and Joe agreed to attend. He went there even before Duncan. They had a long talk about what it might mean." How did Duncan tell him? How did Joe react? Did he have qualms about attending? Did he bring or tell anyone else? Was he armed? What did they say in the long talk? Was it angry, amused, worried, all of the above?

*sobbing* I don't know! Please, just let me go home!

Give us a whole scene--in this case, probably two scenes, one of the discussion and one of Joe's arrival--instead of a few sentences summarizing it.

Stories are only good when people are so bored by them that they become mildly suicidal.

33. Don't tell us too much.



Didn't you just spend 32 goddamn lessons telling us how to pile on the superfluous details like Rosie O'Donnell piles on the bacon bits at a health food buffet!? Make up your mind!! I HATE YOU MS. NUTKICKER!! I HATE YOU I HATE YOU I HATE YOU!!!

Ms. Nitpicker once read a fanfiction piece that opened with three pages on the history of the building that was going to appear in the story. Ms. Nitpicker skipped the entire thing. So will most readers.


If your characters are going to be battling evil in a haunted house, let us find out about the house WITH them, in BRIEF documents found in the house, phone calls or e-mails seeking data, and conversations with neighbors or ghosts.

Arrrgh... So, what, avoid just telling the reader what they need to know directly and waste time with clichéd plot devices instead?

Similarly, don't tell us the past history of the show and all about the characters' relationships; assume that we've seen the show at least once, and tell us only what we need to know to understand this story. Conciseness is the key.


Do it in little bits scattered here and there--don't tell us that Jim and McCoy had a fight and sum it up for us in a paragraph, let us pick up on it by their sidelong glances and angry snips of dialogue in the course of the story.

The world made sense an hour ago....

Riley and Xander helped the former librarian, and now magic shop owner, up. Giles groaned a little, as Riley looked around. "He disappeared?"

Do we need to know that Giles used to be a librarian, in order to understand that he got knocked down?

Jeez, I don't know. Maybe if he, like, got knocked down while putting some books away or something.

Do we need to know that Willow is a computer hacker and witch, perhaps to explain why she couldn't see any sign of their attacker?

Don't insert unnecessary details. Right. Lesson learned. Please move on. Quickly.

This, for instance, is appalling, even aside from the terrible punctuation and incorrect spelling of a main character's name:

"Ethan Rain my ex-lover! It is strange to find you in Sunnydale expecially in the mall bathroom" Giles was in shock at seeing the mischevious man in the bathroom.

-Excerpt from "Bathroom Surprise" by xXBuffyfan014Xx

34. It is very tempting to refer to our favorite sidekick as "the young Immortal" or "the young anthropology student." But after awhile it leads us to suspect that you are perhaps in your nineties.

Because old people always incorporate the word "young" into their stories whenever possible. It reminds them how much closer they are to death in comparison.

Furthermore, it's insulting, for you're assuming we never watch the TV show or that we can't remember which one is the young one and which is the cop, or which is the Starfleet doctor and which is the alien. Use it ONCE, if you absolutely positively cannot think of another way to establish who the character is and you are addicted to clichés.

I got addicted to clichés back in Nam.

If there are so many pronouns like "he" in your paragraph that you think we are getting confused--and we may well be--refer to your characters by name.

More ground-breaking advice from Ms. Bootyplunder! Refer to your characters by name... I think I can say with the utmost certainty that I would never have thought of that on my own!

Tell us "He raised his fist, and Blair ducked" instead of "He raised his fist, and the young anthropology student ducked." Most of the time, you're probably referring to the "young man" immediately after a line of dialogue, as in:

"Yes," said the bad writer.

...And that's pretty much where it ends. It also lists some links to other writing guides she composed, just in case you weren't quite bored enough with this one. Screw the warm milk, the next time I can't sleep I'll just look around this site for a few minutes and nod off in no time. You can see the entire unedited piece for yourself if you so choose, but prepare to be assaulted by legions of pop-up ads.

Copyright 1999-2003, Jane Leavell. All rights reserved.

Hey Jane, how's the game? From your guide I had nothing to gain. But thanks for the chest pains all the same!


Well, that certainly was... Educational. Yes, that's a good word for it. And just like any good educational article, it was dull, repetitious, tediously paced, and mind-numbingly boring to read through.

Although I did make fun of this guide (and rightfully so), I'll be fair and admit that at least its premise wasn't as deserving of being scorned as most of this stuff that winds up on this site. In all seriousness, it did have some beneficial advice to give and it made some really good points. However, the length of the thing was just plain ridiculous. I mean, 34 entire lessons on how to write fanfiction!? Goddamn, lady!

I could maybe see writing a guide of this sort that focused solely on advice pertinent to composing fanfiction (such as staying true to the subject material, remembering your target audience, avoiding copying someone else's fics, etc.), but this covered pretty everything related to the rules of the English language, and then some. Lessons on choosing a P.O.V. and varying your sentence structure are extremely generic topics that have no place in an editorial specifically about writing fanfiction. Including all that other stuff was totally unnecessary, and really only served to bog down what could have been a useful guide on the subject. As it is, most new writers were probably scared off by this behemoth article's massive size before they could even learn anything from it.

I look at it this way: Most people who write fanfiction are in it for a quick writing project that they can start, complete, and publish within a few days at the most. The fact that they're using an existing universe means they don't have to think up new characters, and don't need to bother introducing or explaining the setting because so many people are already familiar with it. Sure, there are people who take fanfiction seriously and put a good share of time and effort into their stories, but the vast majority of these writers aren't going to bother going through even half of the steps this guide listed. For instance, how many people do you honestly believe are going to bother running their work by a professional English teacher or getting a credited proofreader? More than half the fics I've seen don't even look like the friggin' authors read them. Giving those kinds of people such an extensive mental check-list of objectives to worry about is like taking a dog that's too stupid to figure out how to fetch a stick and attempting to teach it how to ride a unicycle on a tightrope over a tank full of starving alligators while it juggles Ginsu knives.

Personally, rather than writing out a huge essay like that that will probably fall on deaf ears, I would have been more inclined to write a shorter, more succinct version that might have actually helped a few people improve their writing skills... Or at least avoid a few of the more common problems that plague most fanfics. It's all about appealing to your target audience: Keep your advice simple so that it will be comprehensible to the simple-minded people you're trying to educate. That way, you also have the added bonus of not boring the shit out of the rest of us!

But hell, I suppose I'm just giving pointless advice myself at this point. That's just my two cents, really, and we all know two cents isn't worth much nowadays. Take it, leave it, or shove it where the sun don't shine. I'm just happy that this Writing Fundamentals refresher course is over.