If you want to write, you must read. If you want to write, read your genre. Many published authors remind writers to read outside their genre, but they are assuming people have immersed themselves in genre they write in.
First, you need to know your genre. Get to know its tropes; what are things people ignore in the genre and things which must be explained. What are the shorthand terms. Read recent books in the genre to know what is trending both in the brick-and-mortar industry and the self-published. Read classic books to know the history the genre is built on.
If you write superhero prose, do not have all the battles “off-screen”. If you have a romance, all affection cannot remain behind “closed doors”. In the science-fiction world, faster-than-light travel can be hand-waved but space stations nearly always are explained in detailed from how the gravity works and where spaceships dock to planetary connections for food and how many levels are within the structure.
If you can’t stand to read the genre long enough to understand the tropes and rules, don’t write it. Three manuscripts I reviewed this year – three fails: superhero prose with fights described after the fact in conversation – not a single “on-screen” battle, a “romance” where the couple never hugs or kisses, and sci-fi where the space station had less personality than an office building.
Read your genre – and outside of it (because, yeah, that is important too). Know the must-haves and the have-nots.
Or FanFic as most of the writing community calls it, is often sneered at by established writers who conveniently forget the origins of their writing development. Yes, some of the early work between age three and fifteen had originality, but much of it sprung from books read, television watched, and movies experienced. I know I had lots of stories dance in my head based on the Wizard of Oz, and even more from the Marvelous land of Oz which introduced Ozma of Oz. As a teen, Star Trek, the Next Generation, was my go-to for inserting myself into a narrative.
Why FanFic? Because worldbuilding is hard, and these worlds have been created. A reader falls in love with them, and what else is one going to do when the author stopped writing stories for the world. I love inserting myself into these wonderful layered worlds to live a little longer after the book is done and the show is over.
Side-note: Self-Inserts are great for expanding on writing skills initially, but they are not ones to share on FanFic writing forums in general. FixFic (correcting an error in the story, at least in the writer’s opinion, or making a better ending), Shipping (two characters who are not together in a relationship in the story but are for the FanFic), and Crossover (two or more fan universe mashup) are more widely accepted than Self-Inserts. This goes back to the developing writing skills (a writer knows who they are and therefore doesn’t need to work as hard for character development) and the point of FanFic (spending more time in the universe and its characters). Feel free to write Self-Inserts but keep those to close to the chest. Other expansions in all their glorious subgenres can be shared on the appropriate FanFic sites.
FanFic has been around for a long, long time. How many versions of Camelot exist? People loved the mythos for over a thousand years and have been adding to it all the time. Every movie made from a book or existing story is a FanFic by the director.
Now the question is: do establish writers attempt FanFic? All the time. Some of it even is contracted such as getting a novel published in the Doctor Who, Star Wars, or Star Trek universes. Also joint sandboxes are everywhere for playtime like Eric Flint’s Ring of Fire Series and John Hartness, Monster Hunter Universe. People make a living translating screenplays to novels.
The takeaway I want you, dear writers, to have is: FanFic skills are valuable. They can make money writing screenplays or novelizing them. They let you explore worldbuilding in an existing world: what pieces are needed to create world robust enough to hold up to expansion and how can a world be layered enough for other people to want to live there.
WRITING EXERCISE: Write a FanFic flash – more than 100 words but don’t kill yourself. What made this world robust enough to support your FanFic? What made you want to expand the mythos?
READING/VIEWING EXERCISE: What is the most recent story you daydreamed about in a FanFic sort of way? Why?
In Men-in-Black 2, Agent J needs Agent K’s skills, so Will Smith’s character pulls Tommy Lee Jones’ character back into the business and restores his memory. At the end of the first movie, Agent K became Kevin Brown again and is reunited with his love, and they marry. The second movie has him willingly accepting being back to monitoring aliens because he wasn’t able to cut it in the real world and the woman who had waited decades for him, divorced his psychotic ass.
Dang, I loved that scene in the original film. It added so much to his character, to the world. Things flow out and in from 45-second scene.
And the screenwriters of the sequel WRECKED IT!
My FixFic starts in the same place as the sequel. Kevin Brown (Agent K without memories) working in the post office, the love of his life no longer in the picture.
After being deneuralized, Agent K walks away and keeps walking. Focused, determined. Much more his old self than the pale imitation Agent J had found at the post office. Agent J prances after his old mentor, asking questions about memory without a single reaction until he offers Kay a ride to wherever he is going when they pass a black sedan. Kay freezes, turns around, and demands, “Keys.”
“Still working on one word answers, huh?” Jay pats his pockets and pulls out the keys.
Kay grabs them and walks around the vehicle to the driver side, getting in. Protesting, Jay quickly climbs in and buckles up, closing the door as Kay pulls away from the curb. “Be careful, Zed upgraded the cars in the last four years. Do you even know how to drive? Did the deneuralizer fry you? Come on man, talk to me.”
Already on the highway and going way over the speed limit while weaving in and out, Kay looks over at Jay with disdain.
After one quick drift between cars, Jay screeches, “Watch the road. We can talk later. In the meantime, let me tell you why Zed had you recalled…”
At headquarters Agent Kay walks right by the guard in the vent room, Jay nearly running to keep up. But being Jay, he looks over at the guard and winks as they get on the elevator. “Heck yeah,” he nods at the guard who stood, looking flabbergasted. “Kay is back in business.”
The elevator door closes but doesn’t move.
Jay looks up, talking to the ceiling. “It’s okay. Agent Kay is being brought in just like Zed asked–“
“Override Candy-Delta-<shrill-click-click>-Hamburger.” Kay interrupts and the elevator moves down.
Striding through the terminal, Jay continues to jabber and run after his silent, steadily moving partner. Around them, a ripple of beings stop and stare. Most continue on their business, but moving slowly, their heads and eye stalks swiveling to follow the two agents.
Kay takes no notice. Stopping only when reaching the crow’s nest, where Zed is standing, opening his arms. “Welcome back, my frie–“
A right hook stops the Men-in-Black leader, lifts him off his feet for a second, and drops him to the floor. He looks up at the returning agent, who is rubbing his knuckles.
“You could have saved her.” The accusation grinds out of Kay’s soul.
Zed nods, rubbing his chin. “You know the rules.” He moved to stand up. “I leaked the information as quickly as I could when I found out, but too many changes, too many jumps in technology.” He shook his head; Zed’s pompous starchiness left him sagging against his desk. His eyes watered. “I wasn’t fast enough.” Zed dropped his eyes before Kay’s dead stare.
“Two months. We had only two months.”
“At least you had that much.” Zed whispered back.
(words 475; first published 2/28/2017)
(And back to the regularly scheduled movie already in progress.)
Same end situation – Kevin working in a dead-end job, not fitting in. Same loss of love. But we got to keep the emotional payoff of the first movie, and Kay comes back as not so much as helpless in the real world but broken.
This is the FicFix I want for the movie. Men-in-black is a wonderful mythos covering multiple comics, movies, and urban legends. I think this would make it better.
“Gods, I cannot believe what a bunch of losers you guys have become.” Donnie waved with the hand not holding his beer, encompassing the group sitting throughout the upscale living room where they had collapsed after an exhausting evening of interspecies political wrangling. The rant went on and on about the old days and how everything had changed since his friends started pairing off with “the girls,” finally ended with, “We’re monsters for crying loud!”
The host adjusted himself on the arm of the cream and maroon striped settee to better watch his wife as she bustled around the kitchen. “Just because I have chosen to hand the reigns to someone does not mean I am tame.” He nodded happily as Ketzal gave him a wave before she opened the refrigerator. With her hidden behind the stainless steel door, Ebon returned his full attention to his guests, smiling with his canines exposed.
“Get real, the ring on your hand is like a ring through your nose,” Donnie sneered. “Dude, you are so pussy whipped I can’t even hear the crack of the leather anymore.”
Ebon moved faster than even the vampire of the group of immortals could observe. One moment Donnie was leaning against the sofa with Maria and Lorenzo, the next the shifter was holding him at arm’s length with Donnie’s legs swinging nearly a foot above the floor. Black hair sprouted along Ebon’s elongated arms, rock-hard muscular arms ending in claws around Donnie’s neck. The back of the dark elf’s head lay gently against an undamaged silk wallcovering.
Everyone stopped moving, and those that could held their breath.
“Do not think my marriage makes me any less dangerous.” Black eyes glowed red in the centers. Ebon stepped closer to the wall, bending the arm without effort while keeping the elf suffocating mid-air. He brought his short snout and full set of glistening teeth closer to the Wild Hunt rider face.
“Dinner is ready in ten…Ebon, my heart, put Donnie down.”
“Dead or alive,” he growled unmoving, staring into the eyes of his trembling prey.
Ketzal’s sweet voice replied. “I don’t really care, but if you kill him, you will need to dispose of the body after dinner.”
“What are we having?”
An exasperated puff came behind him. “What do you think?”
“Something tomatoey,” her husband replied after sniffing the air close to the elf’s neck.
If anything, Ebon’s toothy grin grew wider. “You live.” He opened his left hand.
Donnie fell to the floor gasping, rubbing his neck.
“And if you have a minute, can you fetch some wine for the meal?” The brunette swung her waist long hair behind her as the shifter stalked closer to her to give her ear a quick bite.
Whispering into it, which did not obscure the communication to anyone in the room because of their heightened senses, he said, “I will need to give it a taste to choose the right match.”
The goddess of flowers and ephemeral things giggled softly a second before turning her lips to his. “I just sampled the dish.”
He kissed her a long moment.
“The Sidewood Sauvignon Blanc, 2012, should do.” He opened the small door between the living room and kitchen for the wine cellar stairs.
The satisfaction of Ketzal’s sigh left no doubt about the happiness of the couple’s relationship, even as it moved into its second decade. “Dinner is ready for seating as soon as someone helps me set the table.”
Tykevius and Carissa glided from where they had been hovering near the ceiling toward the dining area.
“Oh, and Donnie.” Ketzal’s musical tones carried the bass throb of power.
The elf snapped his head toward the Aztec goddess.
Her sweet smile looked even scarier than her husband’s. “I wouldn’t have seconds if I were you.”
A gay couple dancing at the Chelsea Arts New Year’s Eve Ball. Photograph by Tony Linck. London, January 1947
Fran dragged Leslie onto the dance floor for the Chelsea Ball. It worked despite Leslie being taller, stronger and having a military background for two reasons. One, Leslie was overwhelmed by being in the middle of all the money, fame and demented people that showed up every year for the artist gentleman’s club New Year’s Eve Party, and, secondly, Leslie was not letting go of his hand. He was on shore for the holidays and did not want to miss a second with Fran.
Fran curled into his lover’s arms, ignoring the stares. Enough of the artists had brought their lovers to the party that one more gay couple did not matter. The stares were for Leslie being a sailor. Some artists were anti-military, but the majority of London still remembered the sirens. Only a year had passed since the war ended. Most were staring because they were trying to figure out a way to approach Leslie to thank him for serving.
Unconsciously Fran clenched Leslie’s hand tighter. They had met during training, but Fran’s family money had gotten him an officer position on shore and a quick muster out after serving his time. Leslie’s more plebeian descent had him on the front for over five years. Fran did not want to remember how often he nearly lost the love of his life. Ships were safer than ground pounding, but it also meant everyone died on the same bullet instead of an individual.
One more tour and they could be together forever.
Fran hoped that Leslie’s flamboyant style will allow him to overcome the status differences. Fran cared less about his personal wealth, but sometimes, like tonight, Leslie was clearly intimidated. The duke, whose title allowed him to disregard certain social requirements such as introductions, did express his gratitude to Leslie and had left his lover speechless.
The artist part of Fran’s mind started thinking about how to capture both an ostentatious and terrified attitude in one painting. On first pass, they do not seem to go together, but anyone who has been on the front could tell you both the sheer terror and the pure courage needed to be there.
Leslie guided Fran off the dance floor towards the bar when the song ended. He recognized the look that had seized Fran’s face. They would need to get home soon to Fran’s paints.
Leslie squashed the green monster from long habit when jealousy tried to sneak in. He only had two more days before pulling out and he had nearly ten days of Fran’s undivided attention. When he got back next time, he would need to decide if he could live as the second love of Fran’s life.
(words 449 – I believe the copyright on the photo is expired. If anyone knows that the copyright is different than public domain, please inform me – first published 12/30/2012; republished new blog format 12/11/2016)
You may be familiar with “ticking clocks” from the thriller genre, but they also occur in other genre. A few things to remember with Ticking Clocks:
1. Be precise about the passage of time. NOT GOOD: “When we talked earlier today” ; “The other day” GOOD: “When we talked before lunch in second period” ; “The day before yesterday”
The passage of time needs to feel important to everyone. If the clock is ticking off hours, be precise about the hours – if ticking off days, be precise at the day level.
2. Don’t slow down. As the deadline approaches increase the challenges. Torture your characters.
3. Remind your readers of the Ticking Clock through the urgency the main character feels, not reminding the reader by relaying the countdown through the prose. NOT GOOD: Charlie tore down the sidewalks because he only had moments to meet his true love, according to the street soothsayer. GOOD: The soothsayer told him he needed to be at the corner of Second and Main at 5:08 sharp. Charlie’s breath burned in his lungs as he ran. He never was good at running, but to meet true love he would arrive gasping.
WRITING EXERCISE: Write a Ticking Clock – At least three sentences and share below. Make us feel the urgency.
Make us feel like we are back in school taking a final of 150 multiple choices in one hour … urgent … and realize the last question is an essay and we have 10 minutes left …. building, racing toward the end, getting more difficult …Then realize that the essay is 25% of the grade. I did mention torturing the characters, right?
Charlie rounded the corner to Main, plowing through the professionals pouring out of the Maddox building. He was going to make it; only one city block left and it was a short side.
The bright orange cones would not have stopped him, but the caution tape was at ankle, waist, and eye level. They were repairing the sidewalk and directing foot traffic across the street. He didn’t have time.
His eyes darted for a way as his feet continued to move.
Subway, had two exits, one on Third and the other on Second.
He half-jumped the steps and half-slid the rails down; more a control fall than anything else. God, who would have thought he would be doing parkour? He forgot to breathe during the distance across tiles between the staircases. He gasp a new breath as he faced the second set of stairs, trying to ignore the digital clock above letting the commuters know it was 5:07. He had failed at everything he had ever tried unless it was a total deadend, like his job at the coffee shop.
True love was seconds away, if he made it up the three flights of stairs.
(words 42 +195 = 237 – first published 7/11/2015; republished in new blog format 11/29/2017)