This sounds weird but could you give some advice to other fanfiction writers? You're really good. 💕
oh my goooooooood where are all you lovely people coming from tonight??
alrighty, let’s give this a go!
This is my biggest thing. You should always, at any given moment, know what every character in a scene wants. What they want is going to dictate how they act and react to things. Without characters wanting things, nobody ever does anything, and your fic doesn’t exist.
When characters have different motivations and have to come together, magic happens. And as characters develop, their motivations change.
what Luke wants (general motivation: freedom -> The Right Thing): to get off his uncle’s farm and get to go be with his friends at the academy -> to be a Jedi and fight for the rebellion -> to learn more but also keep his friends safe -> to redeem his father.
what Leia wants (general motivation: fight Empire): to get the Death Star plans to the rebel base and find Obi-Wan Kenobi -> to not be in the Empire’s clutches -> to blow up the Death star -> to not be in the Empire’s clutches -> to save Han -> to blow up the other Death Star
what Han wants (general motivation: self-preservation -> protect friends): to get his hands on some money so that he doesn’t get killed by a mob boss -> to escape the empire -> to help the rebellion/keep his friends safe
(Obi-Wan, meanwhile, pretty much just wants to keep Luke safe, and help the rebellion if he can.)
All different, all interweaving, most of them changing as the characters are influenced by others, and learn and grow.
So yeah. You gotta know this shit about your characters - it’s crucial.
Tip? If you’re unsure about whether you know what they want, try making a list of all the important characters in your fic (and then potentially do this with most scenes, briefly) and work out what their main motivation/what they want is. Just…in general. In life. And then, once you’re in a scene, see how this plays into what they want in this exact moment, and how they’re going to go about trying to get it.
Know Your Source Material
You don’t have to be an expert in your fandom to write fanfic, but the more you know, the easier it is to move through the world and build a story, because you know where you’re going and how things work. Wikis are your friend, especially when working in big universes like DW or SW. (Like, hell, I might know a lot about DW, and feel very comfortable in that universe, but I still find myself on the TARDIS Index File all the time, checking little random things. It’s a damn godsend, and every fandom has a wiki.)
Your Characters Are Just People
Make sure you let your characters fuck up once in a while. They’re fallible beings, they’re going to make rash decisions that backfire, they’re going to try something and fail, they’re going to say the wrong thing and piss somebody off. They’re going to maybe mean well but fuck up majorly, and that’s okay, that’s good. Let them apologise, let them learn from the consequences, let the healing of a wound in a relationship bring the people closer together.
And yes, this still goes for characters that almost never do anything wrong, or are all ‘holier than thou’. They are still gonna go about some things the wrong way.
Planning Is Good, But Be Flexible
In my experience, while some people lean heavily towards one or the other, appropriate use of planning or gardening can depend heavily on what kind of story you’re writing.
When writing more action based storylines, I’ve found it’s very easy to get stuck in the middle of them - you get the characters into a mess and get stuck for a month not knowing how to get them out. This is where planning tends to be handy. A good way of not getting stuck is to plan it all out in little increments, so there’s not too much room to get stuck. Also, plotting from the back. Start at the end. Works really well a lot of the time.
If planning works for you, plan as much as you want. But, always, always, be ready to change something, if you try a bit of gardening and end up somewhere different to where you expected to be. Always follow what feels right over sticking with a plan.
Gardening aka Let The Characters Take The Lead
…this is fanfic. Let’s be honest, we know that most of it is juicy interpersonal stuff. So while planning is all well and good, I think gardening works a lot better. When writing the maths teacher fic, I went in pretty much blind. I had a couple of vague ideas of what I wanted to achieve, but I also wanted the relationship I was developing to be as absolutely genuine/believable as possible (which, according to the general consensus, it is).
The way to do that?
Don’t try and force things between the characters. Sometimes you might start a scene with a particular moment in mind, and that’s all good, but for me personally, I’ve found that you tend to get results that are more organic by simply going into a scene blind and seeing what the characters do. You should still, hopefully, have an idea of what you want to happen, but the characters and their ways of reacting to things should always come first.
Seriously, if you’ve got the characterisation down, they’ll do the hard work for you.
Maybe they’ll get to where you wanted, maybe they won’t. But it’s actually a really fun ride, doing it this way. When are they going to kiss? When are they going to fuck? Who knows? Not me! How could I know, when I haven’t yet seen/created the unique and particular path of events that gets them to that point?
Like, I went into a chapter once, intending for a child character to kill a guy. But when it came to writing the scene, I just wasn’t quite sure if she would actually do it, even with her evil psychopathic mother egging her on. So I gave the kid the reins/gun, and sat back to see what happened. She ended up shooting him non-fatally, only for him to be killed by the vaguely disappointed mother instead. I was like “oh, okay, cool, that works”.
Garden. Have fun letting the characters surprise you!
Dialogue is the make or break of a story, really. And the trick to dialogue is to make it authentic, and give the characters their own unique voices.
First one is simple. Make sure the dialogue sounds like how people actually talk. Anyone who has read any of my fics knows that I use “-” and “…” and “um” and “uh” liberally. That’s because humans, modern day ones at least, aren’t always the most eloquent of creatures. We mumble and say the wrong thing, or get distracted halfway through, or forget what we were going to say, and hesitate when we’re unsure (even posh, eloquent characters, they just do it less and use bigger words in between). Let the characters do this.
Saying the dialogue out loud will help a lot. Also, you could also try verbally paraphrasing a conversation from the fic to a friend, and you’ll likely find some of the dialogue coming out a lot more casually/authentically.
As for giving the characters their own unique voices, that’s just down to knowing your canon and being in tune with the characters, which is a crucial thing but unfortunately not something I can really give advice on, you’ve gotta get those in your head on your own.
Different details matter in different stories. And getting them wrong can really break the immersion.
If you’re writing characters that come from a different place to you, make sure you know how people from that place talk! Americans, don’t you fucking dare have a British character call somebody ‘Mom’, it breaks the immersion completely and makes me want to punch something. It’s ‘Mum’, for anyone from UK/Aus/NZ. And same with Brits writing American characters, but the other way around. This goes for any UK/US/Aus/NZ/Canada language difference. Find out what your character calls things.
Working details out can seem unnecessary, or going over the top, but honestly, half the time you realise that you’ve gone and got something wrong, and next thing you know the entire plot has a gaping hole in it, or a character doesn’t know something they got told three months back, but you forgot about it.
Like, okay, I have a day by day plan of the timeline of the maths teacher fic (and, going forward, its general universe), because I was trying to weave in all this original material through the show canon (and now, write several stories/oneshot set at the same time within that verse, focused on different characters/things), and if I hadn’t done that, I would have royally fucked myself over multiple times.
I’m not saying everyone has to make a timeline that detailed, because for a lot of stories it wouldn’t be remotely necessary, but it was for this particular one.
But just details in general. Do your research, check that thing on the wiki, get specific with details about a character, even if they’re just a minor one (though maybe stick to just one or two details, in this case).
This kind of goes along with show, don’t tell. Like you could tell the readers blatantly that a character loves a thing, or you could talk about how they wearing clothing printed with the thing and have them jabbering on about it excitedly, you know?
Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need information!
Seek out people who are experts in something you need to know about. This might be kink (bless the friends I’ve made through fic in the last six months or so, who have helped me in this area), or something specific to their country’s society/culture/choice of words for a certain thing.
Also, if you’re trying to add diversity in your fics, and you hopefully should be, ask friends or people on Tumblr from within the group you’re trying to include to get information! Want to write a trans guy? Go find a trans guy to talk to about it! (I did this with a demigirl character recently, and got about four or five really helpful people more than happy to give me the info I was looking for, they were really excited about the prospect of demigirl characters existing at all.) It’s really easy to add in background diversity regardless of what fandom you’re writing for, and it can make a lot of difference to any readers who find themselves unexpectedly represented, even if only in a minor or one time character.
Know your characters, and what they want, and how they talk. Let them lead the story, because they’re why you’re here, and doing all this. Give them real and imperfect voices and qualities, and let them make mistakes and apologise.
And do your research, so you get the details right.
I hope this helped! Now, go forth and write!
(And have fun! That’s the other big rule. Do it out of love, make yourself laugh, just have fun with it!)