Writing Tips - General - Pt.1
Disclaimer: I’m just a fandom writer and I write for fun and I realized that whenever I sit down and write I seem to learn something. That’s why I’m doing this series: I just want to collect what I learned so far so that it might help others. I never took writing courses so these tips won’t be very technical at all but just the result of my own experience so far.
Some (most) of these tips will only apply to fandom writers.
My biggest tip is:
r e a d
Obviously read books and read fics, because fics are a very specific kind of subgenre of literature that has its own rules. True, some fics could be read as novels or as short stories, but most of them rely on very specific tropes that are much easier (generally speaking) to explore if you’re just starting out.
For example, I was always an avid reader, but before I started being active in the world of fandom and actually started reading fanfiction, I had no idea about the different kinds of AUs and tropes.
Knowing and reading what’s already out there can be scary at first. You’ll read a perfect coffee shop AU that you wished you’d written yourself and you’ll wonder, “But why should I put myself out there? Why should I write something when other people are already doing it and doing it better than me?”
The thing to remember is that readers will always want to read something, no matter how many times they’ve read the same trope applied to the same fictional couple, so one coffee shop AU isn’t enough. Good thing you’re just now planning to write one, right?
And the thing is, you won’t actually know if your writing is good or not unless you try. Even if your first fic isn’t that good, writing is something that you get better at with time and with practice, so there really isn’t any reason not to write (unless you have no interest in trying it).
Let’s say you’re now convinced that you want to try writing something: you might still be wondering how you’re going to get ideas for a fic or a story.
I think we’ve all been there. So…
HOW DO I GET IDEAS?
If you’re someone who doesn’t have a lot of imagination (like me), the thought of writing something is really scary. Of course, you can’t write a story without ideas, so I want to go over a few ways to actually start getting them.
Interact with the fandom
You don’t have to participate actively and you can just reblog stuff, but in my experience, the more you interact (even just by commenting on someone else’s post or tweet), the more your brain starts working on ideas that are yours.
I basically see it as an exercise or workout: the more you do squats the more your muscles build themselves, right? The same way, the more you get your brain to think of even just small headcanons (like, what does a character like to eat? Are they a morning person or a night owl?), the more you’ll get used to thinking up new ideas that could potentially become a full story.
Oh, and when I say interact, I really do mean interact. I was really surprised when I first came to tumblr and found out that it’s perfectly normal for people to randomly start talking to you in your DMs, and the conversation usually starts with some headcanon or just general screaming about your favorite characters or something that just happened recently in the fandom. Sometimes that wraps up in a couple of lines, but others it can lead to wonderful virtual friendships. While that’s amazing on its own, it’s actually also a great support system for any content creators (especially writers), because so many ideas are born out of simple conversations.
Know your sources
The better you know your fandom, the more ideas you’ll get. You’ll start seeing details of a character’s personality that you didn’t see or read the first time, you’ll re-analyze a certain interaction, etc. It’s very difficult to write fanfiction if you’ve only watched/read canon once.
Sometimes canon is not enough: find metas about characters and scenes and interactions. Metas aren’t canon, but they help a lot and you’ll not only understand things better, you’ll also get new ideas for content you want to write.
Know other sources
You and your ideas don’t and shouldn’t exist in a vacuum. A lot of great ideas come from knowing other works so you can make AUs and retellings.
Also try to remember the difference between the two and ask yourself which one fits better:
- [fictional source] AU: the story should be more or less the same as your source and set in the same world, but the characters will be the ones from the fandom you’re writing for.
[fictional source] retelling: your plot is heavily inspired by [fictional source] but you add elements or take away what you don’t need if something from the original source doesn’t fit your characters. It can also be set somewhere different (for example modern retellings of fairy tales).
Know your tropes
Knowing popular (and less popular) tropes helps you think about what kind of story you want to write. It also helps you categorize the different stories you read and start thinking about them in a more analytical way.
You need to see the mechanisms (enemies to lovers, friends to lovers, etc) behind a story to be able to analyze it and relate it to other stories, and understand which rules you want to follow once you understand what trope you’re using for your story.
Notice that I said which rules you want to follow, because I think it’s perfectly fine (and even admirable) to be more daring and break trope rules or mix them up. No matter what you want to do, you definitely need to know them first, and then you can start writing them and/or changing them and making them your own.
Okay, you have a few ideas now (you don’t need to have the full plot before you start writing, but at least an outline would be nice -
I have another post planned about plot so look out for that).
There are a few extra steps you might want to take. Most of these you will kind of just feel in your gut without really having to think about it, but in case that doesn’t happen, here’s a noncomprehensive list of a few of them.
Understand what your story needs in terms of POV:
A POV can make or break a story. There are some things that just don’t work well in a certain person, or they’re extremely difficult to pull off.
Learn what your favorite POV is when you read, and that will probably be the POV you’ll write best.
Regardless of the type of POV, your story might need more than one (if it’s third person limited or first person). It’s difficult to describe how you can understand it, and I think it has a lot to do with plotting and characterization:
Do you want to keep a character’s motives mysterious until the Big Reveal of chapter 16? Then you should stick to only one character POV. Does your fic follow more than one storyline? Then you will almost definitely need more than one POV.
In case it needs more than one POV:
First of all, I can’t stress this enough: make it understandable when the POV switches. Be it with a completely different chapter or a visual separation, make sure your reader understands it.
With that said, you need to know your story and ask yourself, What POV works best for this scene?
A scene can be extremely powerful and memorable from one POV but completely dull and boring from another. It all comes down to the different characters’ personalities and I can’t possibly cover all the different examples and scenarios in this post, but if you’re familiar with your fictional world enough then you should be able to understand it yourself.
Understand what the best tense for your story is:
This is something that for me usually just happens by itself when I start writing the first few paragraphs. I’ve started fics deciding that they needed to be in a past tense, and then no matter how many verbs I wrote down, my mind would always make me write them in present tense unless I forced a past tense in there. But that’s the thing, whatever you write, it should never feel forced. That’s when I realized that present tense was what felt more natural to the story, and it didn’t matter that I don’t even like present tense. The story didn’t want to be written any other way.
Follow your instinct on this.
Understand what the best format is:
Ask yourself: Is it going to be a long fic with 20 chapters or a one shot? Do you only have enough material for a drabble?
Every fic length is valid in my opinion, but you need to be clear about what you want.
If you do decide to make your fic chaptered, try to make each chapter its own little story, with a beginning, a plot/character arc and an end (which can absolutely be a small cliffhanger, but try to not abuse it).
SHOULD I TELL SOMEONE?
So this is a point I wanted to include even though it’s not exactly about writing itself, BUT I think it’s important to talk about.
Should you tell someone, “Hey, I have this awesome fic in mind that I really want to write!”?
I don’t think the answer to this is universal. I think generally speaking telling someone definitely helps you stick to your goal, especially if people get excited about your WIP.
It can also backfire though, you can get anxious about other people expecting something from you when you’re at a point where you don’t even know whether you’ll actually write/finish your story or not.
(A small addition on this: if you’re like me, you’ll never know whether you’re actually going to publish something until you’ve written all of it. You might have written more than half of your fic and then decide that you don’t want to continue it, for whatever reason. If nobody is expecting it anyway, you’ll feel less bad about abandoning your work because you won’t feel like you’re disappointing anyone.)
This is one of those things that require for you to know yourself because only you will know whether people’s expectations can be a motivation or a hindrance for you.
My suggestion is not to tell anyone right away if you’ve never written anything in your entire life. Posting without anyone (not even my virtual friendships) knowing about it was what made it possible for me to actually write. I only began sharing and interacting with people as a writer here on tumblr after about three fics (two of which were chaptered ones) and getting enough positive feedback, but I still keep my real identity hidden because I don’t want anyone IRL to be able to find my stuff.
If you know you’re going to be very self conscious about your work, I encourage you to start a tumblr alias like I did, because it can be liberating to write what you want to write without being afraid of what people will think of you if they actually find your fics.
Of course, this is what worked for me and it might not work for everybody, but try to take measures to protect yourself if that’s the only way you you think you can publish your writing without feeling scared.
This post is already too long so Pt.2 is coming soon!
Other writing tips: (coming soon!)