Writing Advice

Improve Your Writing with a Little Fan Fiction

Fan-written fiction (fanfic) means taking a story someone else wrote and making your own version of it without requiring permission or seeking profit. It’s usually done by amateurs, though some pros go at it too. While you can argue it’s been going on informally since the beginning of storytelling, modern fanfic is mostly posted on the Internet.

And, lately, fanfic is finally getting some respect as a sort of underground writing movement. It’s sedition against the corporate ownership of stories. It’s personal expression gone wild. It’s exploration of modern culture motivated by shared interest and decidedly not overseen by The Man.

More to the point for this blog, it’s also a good way to work on your writing.

Limitations

 

Let’s get it out of the way that I’m talking about using fanfic as a writing exercise, not about writing fanfic for the rest of your life (though you certainly can if you want to). Writing fanfic helps with some things, but it isn’t a good way to work on the incredibly important business of establishing plot, character, or setting. After all, those are what you steal when you write fanfic.

Figure Out What Inspires You & Copy It

People write fanfic because they feel inspired by the original material, whether it’s Star Trek, The Simpsons, Harry Potter, The Catcher in the Rye, or March of the Penguins. Fanfic means trying to continue those qualities you feel inspired by, and this can help you figure out who you are as an author.

I’m not going to resist the metaphor of the aspiring painter who makes copies of the masters to learn techniques and to see why and how things work. Put Indiana Jones or Elizabeth Bennet at a dinner table (or on a battlefield) and see if you can keep them in character with your own words. Take the Tolkien universe and add your own monster. Is it as scary as the orcs? Write your own mystery with Sherlock Holmes. Can you come up with an appropriately clever crime?

Improve Your Dialogue

This one’s a beaut. A problem almost all writers struggle with, especially new writers, is making their characters sound like different people. I highly recommend reading dialogue, others’ and yours, out loud. Writing dialogue for someone you can clearly hear in your head (say Mary from Downton Abbey or Tony Stark/Iron Man or the Wicked Witch of the West) can help you learn to stay in character with every word.

For extra points, learn to do with without catch phrases. No “Beam me up, Mr. Scot” or “Vodka martini, shaken not stirred.”

Get Feedback

Writing can just be so damn lonely. When you write fanfic, you don’t have to post it for others to see, but you certainly can. It’s free and it’s fun. And no, you don’t have to join any sort of cult.

The best place these days is Archive of Our Own (https://archiveofourown.org), an open-source, non-commercial, non-profit archive for fan fiction run by the Organization for Transformative Works. You just register and post your story with the online template. If people like it, they can give it “kudos.” And if they really like it, you’ll get comments.

If you do want to join an online community, there are many on Twitter (https://www.twitter.com) and Tumblr (https://www.tumblr.com). There’s also Live Journal (http://www.livejournal.com), which allows large posts and encourages things like fanfic challenges and hooking up writers with “beta-readers” (people who will read your work before you post and give you feedback).

Isn’t Fanfic All Kinky and Weird and Stuff?

Yeah, yeah. People on the outside of anything are only interested in the weird bits, but, believe it or not, a lot of fanfic out there reads like mainstream TV episodes or movie sequels. While to a lot of people “fanfic” instantly equates to “Kirk and Spock get it on,” there’s really every variety you can think of, and quite frankly more.

In fact, it’s a little overwhelming at first. That’s why most fanfic archives have “warnings” and “tags” so that you know exactly what sort of thing you’re going to read. You can also use these yourself to tell the world what sort of story you’ve written and thus attract the audience you’re looking for. Here’s a brief into:

Gen

Short for general audience (aka G-rated, no sex, no major violence, etc.). At Archive of Our Own, 334,424 of the current 1,341,499 stories available are tagged “Gen.”

Het

This means the story will feature a relationship, most likely romantic, between a man and a woman. “Het” by no means equals “Gen.”

Slash

Yeah, let’s get it out of the way. It’s a romantic pairing between two people of the same sex.

Crack

This one’s actually my favorite. It means a story written like the writer’s on crack. Read (or write) about your favorite characters as cats, or dogs, or Martians, or Girl Scout Cookies. Done poorly, these stories can be pretty lame. Done well, they can be awesome.

Fluff

A light and sweet story.

Dark

Not fluff.

PWP

Stands for “plot, what plot?” Usually a sex scene, but sometimes a gag or just thinking out loud.

AU

Stands for “alternative universe.” This means a story where the characters from one fictional universe (say, that high school in Glee) are put into another universe (say, one where everyone’s a vampire).

IMWWALF

Stands for “improving my writing with a little fanfic.” Hm, well, this one isn’t actually a standard tag yet, but it could be!

10 Wise Steps in Writing a Dissertation

Step 1

    • Ask your department chair if you can skip the dissertation and get a Ph.D. solely on the strength of your winning personality.
    • Okay, so it’s never worked before. It’s still worth a shot, isn’t it? Think positive!
    • Or, if not your winning personality, some previous work, work experience, body of work—anything at all!
    • Okay, so that rarely works either—but it does and has worked for some people, depending on the strength of that previous work.

FRIENDS JOEY AND CHANDLER REGRET NOTHING

Step 2

  • Make a plan and stick to it!
  • Plan to spend more time finding a manageable dissertation topic than researching that topic, and more time researching it than actually writing the dissertation.
  • Plan to spend more time revising the dissertation than writing it, and more time writing it than researching it.
  • Spend more time researching it than finding out what your topic is.
  • To help with the organization of your thesis, consider hiring a logician. I did.

that's the plan dr. horrible neil patrick harris

Step 3

  • Make sure you and your thesis advisor are on the same page.
  • Make sure to tell your thesis advisor what page that is.

matt bomer always on same page

Step 4

  • Abandon all hope of reading everything that’s germane to your chosen topic. Eventually you’re bound to discover that somebody has already said everything you want to say, and in the very words you were going to use. Scary!
  • However, don’t be alarmed by this. Remember: “There is nothing new under the sun,” and “Of the making of books there is no end,” and “So, the heck with it, what’s one book more?”

silver linings playbook throwing book out window

Step 5

  • When you’re ready to write, strike while the iron is hot.
  • If the iron is not hot, heat it. By … any … means … necessary!
  • If you don’t know what the iron is, forget about a career in academia. Consider becoming a professional golf caddie, instead. (“Here’s your 5-iron, Tiger.”)

jim carrey bruce almighty typing

 

Step 6

  • Be sure to follow all of your department’s specifications for formatting your thesis, no matter how difficult they are.
  • When in doubt, hire a reputable editing service to do this for you.

Andy-Samberg-Wink-SNL

 

Step 7

  • Prepare for your thesis defense as if your life depended on it. As a matter of fact, your career does.
  • Anticipate every possible question. Now is the time to do the research I told you not to do back in Step 4. Quickly, quickly.
  • However, on the day of the defense, relax. You’re as ready as you’ll ever be. There’s nothing more you can do.
  • Try to enjoy your defense. If you have some ability to make people laugh, make your committee members laugh. If they’re having a good time, the defense might be a breeze.

 i've got the power boom bruce almighty jim carrey

Step 8

  • Answer each and every one of their questions politely and thoroughly.
  • If, after 45 minutes of politely and thoroughly responding to each and every one of their questions, they still maintain that you’re talking gibberish, remember your Samuel Johnson. Say, as haughtily as possible: “Sirs,  I am required to furnish you with an explanation. I am not also required to furnish you with an understanding of it.” (This will sound twice as impressive if you happen to be wearing a powdered wig.)

samuel johnson book perplexed

Step 9

If at some point you find yourself at a complete loss for words, quote the lyrics of some Broadway or Hollywood musical. I have found that there are surprisingly few things in life, academic subjects included, that have not at some point been made the subject of a song. A comforting thought, no?

Step 10

Okay, here it is, my final word of advice, the fruit of my years of experience as a dissertation editor: take pride in writing your dissertation and do the very best you can do. It’s a reflection of you. So cherish, respect, and enjoy the entire process for it should be a labor of love. If it’s not, then you’re not doing what you should be doing with your life. Tough love words, I know, but the absolute truth of the matter.

big bang theory sheldon that's how its done

Writing a Quality Book Review

Have you read some great….and maybe some not so great books recently on your eReader or Tablet device? Congratulations, you are part of a group of people known as “bibliophiles” who are reading more books each month using a variety of electronic devices. In the past, you relied on a friend, librarian, book club, or the book bestseller list in a newspaper to help you choose books. Today, you might be influenced to select a book for reading because of a good online review or a catchy book cover.

No doubt you have noticed that about two weeks after you purchased a book electronically, a request for a review appears in your email. Do some reviews help you make a choice to read that book? Do you wish you could write a fabulous review? Do you avoid doing a review because you do not know where to start? Well, you are in luck because this blog shares the key elements of a great review that will help you be a person of influence in the book-reading world.
 

Writer and editor duties

What is a book review?

A review is a description of the book and your experience with reading this particular treasure. It can be as basic as a few impressions to as detailed and critical as a scholarly analysis. Reviewers provide a sense of the quality, meaning, and impact of a book. Book reviews are very personal creations because they share your opinion.

A review is not a retelling of the story. If you retell the story then you will spoil it for others. The review should instead focus on the purpose of the book, what the book is about, how you enjoyed the book, and in the case of non-fiction — does the book and author provide information that has merit. The review is a record of your emotional and intellectual response, an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses, and how the book made you feel or think. A review may be as short as 50 words or longer – just remember that your review needs to get to the point quickly because the goal of a reader is not to spend hours reading reviews…his or her goal is to find that next book to read.

As readers, we are experts on how we want the story to develop and end or how much information a book should give to us… when it works or does not work, we can certainly share our opinion with others. You do not have to be an excellent writer to craft a good book review. Your goal is to assist customers in deciding whether to buy or borrow a book to read.

Are all reviews the same?

The answer is – NO – all reviews are not the same. The content and how you approach a review will depend on your intention and the requirements of your target audience.

The Descriptive Review

This type of book review gives the essential information about a book (style, subject, audience, plot, and character). This is usually done by sharing your interpretation of the work and by sometimes quoting particular passages from the text that you felt were especially strong or weak.

The Critical review

This type of review describes and compares the book to others of a similar genre. You do not always need to cite a specific book in the comparison but you most certainly can refer to similar works so that the reader of your review might be able to use this as a comparison.

The Parts of a Review

Both types of reviews, descriptive and critical, benefit from including the following pieces in your review.

Introduction

This is where you capture the reader’s attention, hopefully with your opening sentence. The introduction should state your main conclusion and set the tone of the review. This can be 10 to 15 words.

Body

This should be sufficient so that the reader of your review will have some understanding of the author’s thoughts. This is not a story summary of the story; instead, it describes the elements or pieces that the author uses to bring the story to life. This has an overall appraisal of the book. Describe and evaluate what you think was the intent of the author and explain how well you think the author did in giving you a good book to read. You can provide quotations supporting your analysis. Your review is considered an opinion based on your reading. Share how you think the author succeeded (or failed) in his/her goal. Use examples to support your thoughts. This can have 50 to 250 words in this section.

Conclusion

Wrap up your review with some final thoughts and remind the reader of why you did or did not like the book. This can be 10 to 50 words.

Writing a review to thank an author

How to Write that Perfect Book Review

Sit down and write all out thoughts out about the book. If the book was good and you feel positive about this work and want others to know about your great find — simply write that out with the Introduction, then write the Body, and end with a Conclusion as described above.

What about those times when you did not like the book? Certainly you want to “warn” others not to spend good money on this book. This is the most difficult review to write because it is negative. Many authors actually appreciate these reviews when they are well written because a negative review will help the author learn where he/she can improve. Other readers really appreciate knowing why you did not like the book because it helps them make an informed decision about whether or not the book might be good for him/her.

We can all admit it is more difficult to write a negative review. Simply writing “I hated this book” does not tell the next potential reader why. For a book that you consider to be of lower quality, it is a good idea to use the “sandwich” review approach. With this method, you write something positive about the book, then give the details of how this book failed (the negative part) and then find something nice to say in your conclusion. This will help the next potential reader understand why you gave the book a low rating. It also helps you “ease the pain to the author for receiving a negative review” by putting the bad parts inside of two good parts.

The Final Parts to your Excellent Book Review

Carefully read what you have written and make sure it is easy to understand. Check for grammar and spelling errors. Make sure your review is honest and avoids any personal attacks.

When you are ready, submit your review, and know that you have possibly helped 100’s or 1000’s of other bibliophiles find the next treasure or avoid spending money on a bad book.