Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Writing Wednesdays - Fanfiction

Now, quite a short entry tonight - midnight is approaching, and the person who normally advises on these has disappeared off to Europe.

That having been said, today we are looking at fanfiction.

For those who don't know, fanfictions are stories set involving either preexisting characters or preexisting worlds or a mixture of the two - if you think of the entire Star Wars extended universe, that's published fanfiction.  So is anything written using the characters from Harry Potter, or set at Hogwarts, or in any other kind of fictional world that someone else has created.

Now, there are two camps of thought here: That it's the most terrible thing that ever existed, and that it's a good thing.  I am most definitely in the latter camp.  As a writer, I dream of creating characters that are engaging enough and cared about enough that people are driven to write stories about them and to carry on from where I have left off.  But aside from boosting the original author's ego, why is fanfiction good?

- Chance to get into writing
- Instant feedback
- Ability to develop other people's ideas
- Able to enhance your skills and try new things
- LGBT representation

For many young writers, fanfiction is the first time they've written a long story.  They've been reading for their entire life, and one story interests them enough that it pushes them into writing.  Maybe they aren't happy with how the story ends, or they want different characters to get together.  So they write out their stories based on these other worlds, and begin to work out how to tell stories.

Once these stories have been written, they can be published online, on one of several websites set up for just this purpose.  They can get other people responding, telling them what they liked and didn't, and this helps them to develop their work.  Whilst with original writing it's hard to get a response of what people like, fanfiction will often get quick responses from a range of people.

Developing other people's ideas can help you get better at your own work, and to work on your own concepts.  It gives you a chance to look at other works in greater depth, and to practice writing whilst getting quicker responses than you would on your original work.

A lot of very famous authors started off writing fanfiction, or pastiches, of other people's works.  Most of Shakespeare's plays were based on preexisting stories, and Agatha Christie started to write with works looking at the Sherlock Holmes stories.

One other thing that I like about fanfiction is the fact that it is an LGBT friendly atmosphere.  Whilst most mainstream fiction has little representation of those who aren't cisgender and straight, fanfiction is much more liberal with gay characters particularly common.  For people questioning their own sexuality, fanfiction gives a chance to read about people like you, and that's encouraging.

So there we go - why I think fanfiction is amazing.  I know not everyone will share this view - I once went to a writing group that banned fanfiction from being read there.  But I have found it helpful for my writing process, and I think other people will as well.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Writing Wednesdays - Background Characters

So, last week we were looking at main characters and their development over a piece.  Today, I'm going to build on that, by looking at background characters: The individuals who populate the world that your characters inhabit, and that your characters interact with.  Background characters are an entire spectrum - from your protagonist's trusted best friend to a shop keeper who is only in a single scene.

There is one key tip to keep in mind when writing background characters: They don't know that they are background characters.  As far as they are concerned, they are the key character in their life, and they have their own needs and concerns.  They might only feature temporarily in your story, but they are just as developed in their own minds as any other person, including you.  They might be scared of spiders, dream of being a professional dancer, be allergic to peanuts - they have thoughts and feelings, dreams and goals.

That doesn't mean you need to include all of this information in your novel: If you're writing a brief exchange with a shop keeper, you don't want to write a long paragraph explaining their family situation or their ambitions - a slight description of their appearance or tone of voice will be enough.  But knowing that they have these things matters.

When it comes to a background character who repeatedly appears, then you can develop them in the same way you would develop your main character.  For example, if you're writing in a combat zone, the reality of war won't only change how your main character thinks, how they look at the world.  The characters around them, the men and women they are working alongside, would be affected as well, and in a variety of ways: Perhaps some become more confident, others quieter, some suffering from PTSD.  Perhaps one is physically injured, or loses their ability to trust, or has their faith in humanity restored.

Having background characters who are not just cardboard cut outs or caricatures but are instead people makes your writing a lot more interesting to read.   Having them developed also leaves the way open to their use in sequels and further pieces - if they are developed and interesting, then the people reading your story will become invested in them, and want to know what happens to them...

Let’s take Harry Potter as an example of background characters that do fairly well - over the books they grow and develop.  Your main characters are Harry, Ron, Hermione, Draco, Voldemort, perhaps a few others.  But  offer those who enjoy the stories the chance to read about what happens next to Neville, or to Luna, and many will be delighted at the opportunity - they care about these characters just as much as the 'stars' of the book.

Next week, I'm going to build on the idea I just mentioned, to look not at your own characters but other peoples', as I take a look at writing fanfiction.  I'll see you then!

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Writing Wednesdays - Character Development

We're starting with some more shameless advertising - but this time it is for a free flash fiction anthology:  Go there, and you can download a series of short stories based on the theme of "Please Don't Feed the Alligators".  I've got a short story in there, and so have some other wonderful authors, and it's entirely free, so go and take a look, in case you find something that you'd like.

Advertising out of the way, today we are going to look at the idea of character development.  This is the personal journey your characters take over the course of the story - how they mature, and their personality develops, whilst still staying the same person beneath it all.

A good way to look at it is to consider some examples:
- Bilbo Baggins, the simple Hobbit at the start of the book who wants nothing more than a quiet life, ends up becoming more confident, having an adventure and doing a lot of things that he never dreamed he would have been capable of doing.
- Harry Potter goes over the course from a mistreated, unwanted and lonely boy to a warrior and hero who is willing to sacrifice himself, and is surrounded by friends whose loyalty he has earned.  He bears the mental scars from his journey, but he is far stronger at the end of the books than he was at the beginning.
- Ana Steele goes from an abused virgin being manipulated by the abusive and violent Mister Grey to a coldhearted murderess, able to get rid of her tormentor and take his wealth for herself
... alright, so possibly the last of those didn't happen, but a girl can dream right?

Regardless, people don't want to read about characters that are the same at the start of your story as they are at the end.  They need to have grown and changed in some way - even if it is simply that they have a renewed appreciation of their life and a greater understanding of those around them.

One of the best ways to develop your characters, and to make your stories more interesting, is to make your characters' lives difficult.  If you challenge them, and make them rise to defeat problems, you can help them grow.  Even the challenges that they can't conquer, and which they aren't able to tackle, will enable them to develop - perhaps a lost fight will give them determination, or being unable to help in an accident will inspire them to learn first aid.  Giving your characters an easy life isn't only not as engaging to read, it doesn't let the characters develop in response.

Challenges for your characters don't need to be anything particularly gigantic - it doesn't need to be a world-ending, or life or death situation.  Having to decide if they will quit a job they hate, or respond to a flirtatious word when they have been hurt before, can help to slowly move your character from who they are at the start of your writing to who they are at the ending.

One thing that a lot of new writers get criticized for is making their characters too perfect.  Whilst this isn't necessarily true; see Batman or Iron Man (both billionaire geniuses with a long list of romantic conquests, a tragic past and amazing technology), giving your characters flaws helps them to be more real.  Over the course of the story, they can come to realize these flaws, and work to tackle them, even if they don't solve them entirely.

If you are writing a romance story, or a story in which romance features, you have two main characters who will develop over the course of the story - revealing sides of themselves that perhaps wouldn't have been so obvious at the start.  A famous example of this would be the relationship between Elizabeth Bennett and Mr Darcy within Pride and Prejudice, as over the course of the book their views of each other are transformed and hatred gives way to love.

All characters within your story will be affected by the events that happen around them, and background characters will have their own lives as well that will be developing.  It might not be possible to show the development that is happening to minor characters, but if they are caught up in anything that you think would change them keep that in mind.  Next week we will be looking at background characters more closely, so I'll see you then.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Writing Wednesdays - Progress so far

To be honest, I'm on holiday right now, so what I've got for you this week is just a summary of what we have covered so far, with links to all the old blogs.  There is however one more writing resource thrown in, in the writing resources section.  Other than that, it's just helping you find things in the blog posts that I've already made.  Don't say that I didn't warn you!

Writing Resources:
There are lots of websites out there to be of help, and here is a summary of some of the best ones that I have found so far:, alongside a special feature on my personal favourite, Nanowrimo:

Another program that I foolishly forgot to mention in the above summaries is the wonderful Q10  It's a full screen text editor, which gives you live word and page counts, with you able to specify for yourself what formula you want to use to calculate page count.  It is customisable, and in a single file so that you can easily move it around.  It also has a timer, which tells you when your time is up, and how many words you wrote in the time - this is particularly useful for word wars (for those unfamiliar with word wars, they are when you write competing with another person to see who can write most within a (often brief) period of time - fifteen or twenty minutes is common.  My absolute favourite feature though, is the fact that you can set a target, in terms of words, lines, pages, or whatever else you would want, and it tells you how close you are to achieving it.  There are also typing sounds, and it's fast to use, it autosaves, and most important of all? It's free.  I find it useful in certain situations - especially when I have a deadline approaching.  Give it a go, and see if it helps you.

Beginning to write:
I have covered various ways to get ideas:, and how to start to develop them into a full story:  Once that has been done, you need to develop your characters:  Only when you have a plot, and developed characters, can you start to write:

Writing Process:
When it gets to writing, a routine is important to develop.  In an ideal world, you might be writing for several hours every day, but real life doesn't work like that, so I try and look at some more realistic ways of making it work

No matter how hard you try to stick to your routines though, you might find yourself ambushed by the dreaded Writer's Block.  Try not to panic: there are lots of tricks that you can use to get over it:

Keep fighting through the block, and you'll manage to be ready in time for any deadlines you have approaching.  In, I set out a few tricks for getting to the deadlines with the minimum of stress (some stress is sadly unavoidable when deadlines are looming).

Once you've got this far, and you  have your complete first draft, it's time to do some reworking.  It's good, but you can make it far better.  Here I set out how to edit, and how to rewrite in order to make your finished piece as good as you can possibly make it.  This is one of the steps you either love or hate, but it needs to be done - just push through it, and you'll get a far better story at the end of it.

When your work has been edited, and you are as happy as you are going to get with it, it's time to submit, and in I try and set out some advice for getting your work published.  Sadly, you might not always get your writing accepted, and tries to show you where to go from now, without losing your ambition.  If you have got to this stage, you've written an entire story, and that is something that you can be truly proud of.

I hope that this has been of some help - if you can see any gaping holes in my writing tips, please do let me know.  If not, well, I'll be racking my brains to see what I can bring you next week.  I have a couple of ideas, but if you have any ideas, please let me know.  See you next time, and best of luck with your writing.