Monthly Archives: September 2012

Writing fanfiction

Today I was reading my copy of Writing, a magazine about writing and publishing I subscribe to. It’s a very UK-centred magazine which has quite a few useful articles and links. It has an online presence at and is worth checking out even if you live elsewhere in the world.

Anyway, in one of the letters a subscriber who was generally in favour of fanfiction said they admitted it was ‘a lazy way to write’, saying that fan fic writers had the characters ready made for them and didn’t need to work hard to develop them.

I wanted to write back but I knew my thoughts would probably be too long for a letter to a magazine so I thought I’d explore them here. As you know, I read and write fanfiction – I sometimes jokingly call it my ‘other’ hobby – and I would take issue with the letter writer!

So the characters from films and TV shows (and from books, too) are ready made and therefore easy to write about? Would the letter writer say the same about historical figures? Characters such as Emperor Claudius, Napoleon, Henry VIII, the Borgia Popes, Jesus, are all ‘ready made’ in the same way but serious writers gain praise for their new explorations of these characters. It is perhaps harder, in some ways, to write something new and original about a character who has existed in history or on the screen. The fanfic writer (or the writer of tie-in novels for that matter) must be very observant and pay great attention to detail. The ‘voice’ of the character has to come across to readers who already have well-developed expectations and will pounce on errors. Dialogue needs to sound likely, and must not contain any errors e.g. Americanisms for Brit characters or vice versa. If the show is set in a particular era it is necessary to check small details such as finance (were Euros in use?), types of communication (computers? mobile phones?) and even things like the types of sweets or snacks available. Readers who are fans of the original will notice anachronisms.

The settings of TV shows and films are also ready made. This doesn’t mean the fanfic writer needn’t do any homework. The online information about the setting needs to be meticulously researched, and the good writer will look at all kinds of resources, not only the original screen works, to check that the backgrounds for their fics are acceptable. This involves just as much work as for an original novel, which might well be set in the author’s own home town and be less taxing. Besides, a new story about the same characters needs some new locations and these will also need research. I once ordered tourist publicity for a town in America to enable me to place my story accurately – I think the tourist board decided I was a likely visitor and ‘spammed’ me with invitations to book hotels or tours for ages. Wikipedia is my first stop, but its information needs to be independently checked; it isn’t always either correct or adequate.

There are also, of course, the minor characters who people the fics. Whilst many shows have a supporting or ensemble cast that can be utilised, there will always be a need for extras, for instance shopkeepers or villains, or simply new characters who form part of the plot, who will be invented by the writer but will need to fit seamlessly into the world the main characters already inhabit. This can be harder work than inventing a new group of characters from scratch.

For many excellent fanfic writers there is great pleasure in transposing characters from their original setting or period into another and asking how they would have behaved under very different circumstances. Some of the best stories I have read have put, for example, modern detectives (e.g. The Professionals) into Regency London, or a world of space ships or the film industry. The reader gets pleasure from the exploration of the essence of the character in what is known as an AU (alternative universe), whether it is fantasy, or merely historical or just different. In these cases the characters need close study that is far from lazy, and of course the alternative settings need research, too. There are also ‘crossovers’ where, for example, the heroes of a TV series (e.g. Supernatural) appear in a totally different setting such as Harry Potter’s Hogwarts, and have magic to contend with. Writers of crossovers have two sets of fans to satisfy!

Books can be harder to deal with in this way simply because the plot is often more thoroughly ‘closed’ at the end, though there are often minor characters whose stories have not been told to the complete satisfaction of readers, and of course the characters can also be placed in different settings. There are also series which allow for extra stories. Sometimes writers will ignore the ending of a novel; again, to take Harry Potter as an example, people write stories with the label EWE meaning Epilogue? What Epilogue? and take the characters beyond the book in all kinds of different directions, ignoring JKR’s vision of their later lives.

Of course there are fics written in a lazy fashion but then I have read many published original stories that are dull, derivative or otherwise badly written. The best fanfic avoids these problems; the worst is not much worse than the drivel some publishers offer. One reason for this is the instant feedback given to fanfic. If I write original fic and publish or self-publish it, I am unlikely to hear from readers for some time unless or until I gain fans on my website.  The day I post fanfic on an archive I get feedback, some of it detailed, and not necessarily always friendly. There is room for discussion and indeed heated debate. Most sensible fanfic writers use beta readers who will save them from really bad mistakes in characterisation, plot, etc. as well as from mechanical problems with spellings and typos. But even the best beta group can’t guarantee there will be no problems at all. This keeps fanfic writers on their toes.

Some fanfic writers ‘file off the serial numbers’ and publish their work as original fiction. It is usually impossible to tell when this has been done unless one has read the fanfic version. This suggests that fanfic has more in common with original fic than the letter writer thinks.

I strongly suspect the letter writer has only read or written fics that fall into what some of us call the ‘episode’ category, in which an episode of a TV show is rewritten from another point of view, or with extra scenes inserted. This type of fanfic, which fills in the gaps we all notice in our favourite shows, is only one kind of fanfic. Some of it – and only some – can be so closely based on the original as to give the impression  – and only the impression – of lazy writing. But there is plenty of fanfic out there that goes on to expand the original show or the original characters way beyond anything the producers intended. And even the ‘episode’ fic requires keen observation and a lot of imagination.

I write both fanfic and original fic. They are different in the sense that they are largely for different audiences and are posted or uploaded in different places, and in that only original work can hope for financial reward. They are also different in that they are in response to different stimuli. They both require hard work from the writer. The skills needed for both bleed into each other – work on plot, characterisation, locations, and language use.   I think, on balance, fanfic is slightly harder work if it is to satisfy its audience, because it is more difficult to write convincingly in someone else’s universe than in one’s own. It has certainly never struck me as in any way a ‘lazy’ activity.

I know some of you read fan fiction. What do you think?


Posted by on September 21, 2012 in writing



To a gamer. A poem.

I wrote this in a mood of frustration, a couple of years ago. I spent quite a lot of time on online gaming (role playing games or RPGs) but was eventually persuaded by a friend who also played that I was not a gamer but a writer who entered games for the purpose of story development. The game was never enough in itself. But at the time I was immersed in the story and the character I was playing and hated it when the game folded, as they so often do. I stopped playing eventually – a kind of self-preservation.

To a gamer who is moving on.

(Sometimes the organiser of an RPG will abandon their game before others are ready to leave.)

We played hard.
Through woods and mines, into cities of frozen stone,
And vast graveyards of polished bone,
We took our swords, two-headed axes and sharp spears,
All down the years.

Our hearts beat
With the heroic cyber pulse of might and story,
Making us virtual wizards of dread and glory,
Pumping your writing out along our veins,
Singing our names.

We stayed close,
Playing the game, fighting the fight, killing monsters that haunt dreams,
Defeating ghouls that emitted eldritch screams.
We never questioned whether you were true.
We trusted you.

Now you turn
Away from the roles, the play, shelving those who served so long,
Abandoning soldiers who, for you, were strong,
Telling your friends in a voice that hints of shame,
‘It was just a game.’

Who would say,
Compared with friends or kin in London, Paris or Rome,
Compared with loved ones here at home,
That we who kept the faith are not, at the end,
At least as real as them?


Posted by on September 10, 2012 in poetry



August reading and viewing


Aug 5 E The Wise Man’s Fear***** – Patrick Rothfuss. This is the sequel to The Name of the Wind. They are the first two books in The Kingkiller Chronicle and I am looking forward to the next. Excellent world building, and characters (even the minor ones) so detailed and three dimensional I couldn’t help caring deeply about them. There are stories within the story, which itself is told as a story to a Chronicler at an inn. Intricate and enthralling fantasy, beautifully written.

Aug 7 E The Gallows Tree**** – RJ Scott. An American, fleeing an abusive relationship, comes to England and gets involved with a ghost story and a local man. The ghost element was hard to follow at times but the story was well written and charming.

Aug 8 E Hot Head* – Damon Suede. Basically porn, dressed up as a very lightweight story about New York fire fighters. It also had very strange dialogue punctuation. I hated it.

Aug 10 E Renfred’s Masquerade*** – Hayden Thorne. An intriguing YA novel of magic and mystery. I’m pretty sure teenagers would love it but although the plot hooked me the characters didn’t. I felt distanced from them and never really lost myself in the story as a result. Ghosts, magic, and mechanical marvels abound. I know the author (and indeed she has done incredibly helpful beta work for me) and I admire her YA stories but most of them don’t really appeal. For this one, she deserved a better editor – there were a lot of typos and similar errors. She has changed publishing houses and it shows.

Aug 12 E Riptide Rentboys Collection * – Various authors. I bought this because I know one of the authors well and she was excited about her new publisher. I reviewed her contribution a couple of months ago, The stories were acceptable though not special. The formatting, however, was appalling, which really annoyed me, because there is so much said about how publishers, such as Riptide, give the readers good formatting, unlike self-publishing… One story in the collection was unreadable, because the file was corrupt. The others had elementary formatting errors which kept interfering with reading enjoyment. I will pass on my comments via my friend, and I am unlikely ever to buy from this publisher again.

[Update: I contacted the publisher and was able to download another copy of the story. It wasn’t worth the effort but the publisher was polite and helpful. Also, I got a mobi download this time and the formatting was much better, so .pdfs can clearly be a problem.]

Aug 13 E In search of saints**** – Harper Fox. As usual, Harper Fox’s research and location were mind blowing and beautiful, but this time I felt that the story deserved a novel and this was only a novella. A fascinating tale of rival archaeologists and a discovery that needs to remain hidden, side by side with an m/m romance. True to form, the author introduces paranormal elements with a light touch. A lovely book, but one that should have been longer.

Aug 18 P Revelation*** – C.J.Sansom. This is a volume in the writer’s much-hyped Tudor detective series. The historical research and background details were fascinating and the plot was at times gripping but… First of all, the whole thing was too long and could well have been cut to about two thirds its length with some good editing. It was full of repetitions, ponderous info dumps and clumsy (though grammatical) sentence structures.  The crime element of the story, whilst exciting, never quite convinced me, and some of the sub-plots simply petered out though of course they might re-emerge in future volumes. I was  transported into Tudor England by the descriptions of everyday life and the effect was both haunting and lasting, but I won’t be reading any more books by this author. Disappointing in some ways.

Aug 20 P The Safe House*** – Nicci French. Another crime story, this time set in present day Essex. Gripping plot with a lot of twists but whilst I was caught up in the story while I read, the whole thing didn’t quite convince me when I wasn’t reading. A very unsettling ending, and I don’t think I’ll be reading any of their other books (the author is a husband and wife team).

Aug 24 E Point of Knives***** – Melissa Scott. A lovely addition to the Astreiant series which deals with ‘police’ work in a fantasy world. When Melissa Scott’s partner and co-writer died, fans of the books thought there would be no more but she has finally given us this novella which bridges the two previous books, and she is promising us another later in the year. Beautifully written, with interesting characters and detailed world-building. This story could probably stand alone but would benefit from being read after Point of Hopes. Recommended.

Aug 28 E Love Ahead*** – Madelaine Urban and Abigail Roux. Two long novellas with a modern m/m romance theme. The stories were pleasant but not particularly memorable, and the writing, whilst good, was full of American dialect and cultural references that left this Brit reader at times bewildered. I read books like this to check out the competition. I don’t think I’ll be in the same competition as these.


Aug 9 Third Man Out** – One of the Donald Strachey mystery series. Poor acting and poor filming.

Aug 14 Shelter** – very lightweight m/m romance made film length by the addition of a lot of surfing scenes and a great deal of unmemorable music.

Aug 19 Page Eight**** – beautifully directed and acted made-for-TV spy film with Bill Nighy and Michael Gambon plus a sparkling supporting cast. Reminiscent somehow of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. I was disappointed by the ending which I thought was left slightly ambiguous for some kind of ‘art’ reason.

Aug 21 The Boat that Rocked*** – Nighy again, and Kenneth Brannagh, both of whom were somewhat wasted in this film. The story of UK’s pirate radio stations was one that needed to be told but the film couldn’t make its mind up over whether to be serious or comic, true to the facts or just a generalisation. It was too long for the story it ended up delivering, and was too lightweight, I thought, for its theme. The music was included in short snatches which were tantalising but unsatisfying. I have heard the CD which was better. The star-studded cast must have felt strongly about the subject matter in order to go ahead with this project. I found it disappointing.


Posted by on September 5, 2012 in reviews



Tax problems on the way to being solved!

The internet is a wonderful thing.

Writers are generous and supportive of each other!

My last post garnered a response from a very kind complete stranger (Martyn V Halm) who gave me a link to this article:

It seems I’m not the only one suffering angst over these issues and other people have bravely gone before, tested the system and posted about their experiences so that the rest of us can de-stress! There is a method of obtaining a tax number, via a phone call to the IRS people, which can then be used for all e-publishing firms. Whoever worked it out and tested it deserves a medal!

If you’re at all interested in the tax problem, on your own behalf or for anyone else, go and read the article and the numerous comments which extend the initial research.

I think the thing I need now is Skype. I did have it installed on my old PC but then my microphone broke and as I wasn’t really chatting to many people I never bothered to replace it. I could do with a new headset and will buy one of the combined headset/microphone things but that might have to wait till I get back from our next trip to Portugal so that I can order the kind I want and have some chance of being here when it arrives. Skype will prevent the cost of phone calls to America becoming as astronomical as any notary expenses…

Once I can call cheaply I shall follow all the instructions given in the article and let you (and the authors) know how I get on. That will probably be some time in October.

Meanwhile, I’m extraordinarily grateful to Martyn, a Netherlands based author who has taken the time to reassure me and point me in the right direction. His WordPress blog is if anyone wants to have a look at what he writes – sounds interesting.


Posted by on September 2, 2012 in publishing