Guest Post: How to Hone Writing Skills Through Fan Fiction

Today’s guest is the one, the only, Iscah, who will cover the benefits of writing Fan Fiction.
Take it away, Iscah!

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 Fan Fiction is unauthorized stories written by fans based on their favorite shows, books, and films.

Many professional authors feel fan fiction is a waste of time, and yes, fan fiction is a violation of copyright.  However many copyright holders tolerate or encourage fan fiction, because it helps keep their fanbase engaged with the world/characters and busy between releases.  Fanlore has a partial list of various authors’ policies towards fan fiction and yes, I think you should respect their wishes.

But writing stories based on other’s work is long, proud literary tradition.  Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet was based on a poem by Arthur Brooke.  Many modern, professional authors pay the bills by writing for establish franchises like Star Wars and Monk.

So this article is dedicated to tips for getting the most out of writing fan fiction for those of you hoping someday to go pro…or at least improve at your hobby.

Writing Fan Fiction is a Chance to Study a Popular Work – You know you like the world or characters you’re writing about, but stop to think why you and so many others like it.  What makes these characters interesting?  How is the plot structured that makes their struggles engaging?  What prose techniques does the author use to keep you turning pages?  Pay attention to the details and nuances of your source material.

Use Fan Fiction for Feedback – It’s much easier to get strangers to read your bad fan fiction than your great original story.  (Sad but true.)  Add a note encouraging readers to respond with their comments and suggestions, particularly in regards to your writing style.

Beta Other’s Fan Fiction to Improve Your Editing Skills – Reading and critiquing other writer’s work is a great way to train yourself to spot spelling, grammar, and logistical errors in your own.  While writing and editing are different skills, they compliment each other.  And you may discover you enjoy editing even more than writing.

Fan Fiction Betas Can Prepare You For Editors – Learning to accept and make good use of corrections and criticism is an important skill for a professional writer.  Your average beta won’t be as thorough as a professional editor, but when you’re starting out, that may be a good thing.

Use Fan Fiction to Learn Platform Building Skills – The most popular fan fiction authors tend to update regularly, finish what they start, use social media to gain new readers and keep in touch with current fans, and sometimes build websites and/or blogs to showcase their work and fan art based on it.  They may even appear as panel speakers at conventions (a volunteer role but good PR practice).  These are skills and habits that can translate well to professional work.

Use Fan Fiction to Focus on Plot and Style – Writing someone else’s characters in a believable way can be as big a challenge as writing something purely original.  However it is true in fan fiction that you’re already standing on the shoulder of the author(s) who originated the work.  Since your characters and settings are ready made, you can pay extra attention to honing your plot building and refining your writing style.  What new element can you bring to this established world?  What new territory can your explore that will engage your fellow fans?

OCs Don’t Have to Be Mary Sues – Fan fictions should rotate heavily around established characters and settings, otherwise I’d question why you tried to pass it off as fanfic and not just spin off into a $ellable original fiction.  However, smoothly interesting an OC (Original Character) or element into an established world can be a good test of writing skill.  If you do it well, readers will roll with it.  If you do it poorly they’ll gripe.  Just remember once you use an OC in a fanfic, you should expect to abandon them to that world.  If you’d like to use your OC elsewhere, best not to include them in a fan fiction.

Writing Sellable Fan Fiction With Kindle Worlds – As a general rule, you can not sell fan fiction.  However, Kindle Worlds has created a fan portal that will allow you to do so legally within certain guidelines.  I advise treading carefully and reading through all the legal.  But essentially it’s open (alternate universe) franchise writing, could be an interesting way for writers to connect with a ready fanbase.

For legal reasons, I write fan fiction under a different pen name than my original work.  I didn’t want to have to pull everything down like Cassandra Claire did once she went pro.  But it was a wonderful way for me to get five novels and a few short stories worth of experience in before releasing a novel to sell.

 

About Iscah

Iscah is the author of the fantasy novel Seventh Night  and the related novella The Girl With No Name. She was even kind enough to provide a Music of the Day!

Guest Post: The Importance of Research in Fantasy

Today’s guest is David Tufts, a former Army medic with a healthy appreciation for the craft of writing.

Here he details the importance of research in all forms of writing, focusing on Fantasy.

Take it away, David!

~~~~~

The importance of research when crafting a written work can never be understated. Research is vital when trying to produce a work be it fiction, or any other work. Since this group is focused on Fantasy fiction writing, I will focus this discussion on how research impacts the creation of a good piece of written Fantasy fiction.

Firstly, the setting of a story is large place, even if the story takes place in, and never leaves a single place, the detail of that one place can be a daunting task when one thinks about it. Research helps a writer deal with the level of detail necessary for any sort of writing task. Without a certain level of detail within a story, a writer can run the risk of losing the reader’s interest. Proper research on a subject can help prevent that loss of interest. I will use a common example of the importance of research. In the movie “Star Wars: A New Hope”, a mistake was made that could have been prevented if proper research was done. In the movie a measure of distance, a parsec, was used as reference of time to create the illusion of a fast ship. What this mistake serves to force the viewer out of the story, if this happens enough the viewer, or reader can lose interest in the story, subsequently the reader would put the story down, and move on to a different story. On the flip side of this the creators of the entire “Star Wars” series did extensive research into what makes a tragic hero. This research was important because it helped portray the main character of the series, namely Anakin Skywalker, and his rise and fall as a tragic hero figure. The research helped in portraying his character, as well as setting the stage around him. Consider how the movies would have turned out if the writers and creators of these series of movies had done a poor job in researching the different facets of these movies. I think that the movies would have turned out poorly, and would have not have made the impact they have otherwise.

How does this relate to the Fantasy genre? Consider one of the staples of the fantasy genre. Long has sword and sorcery been a part of the Fantasy genre. At some point in most Fantasy stories that involve the use of hand weapons, research must be done on the actual use of these weapons. One can’t just pick up a sword or an axe, and immediately be as good as Conan in their use. Most writers don’t have experience with physical combat, and the properties of the weapons that antagonists or protagonists are using. That is where research plays a vital role. Writers can create a vivid life and death fight between two opponents. What ruins a scene like this for the reader is the interjection of unrealistic aspects that could easily become a part of this fight. By doing proper research a writer could understand the ballet and rhythm that happens when melee battle takes place. Every weapon has it uses based on the reasons why that weapon was created. For example, an axe, as a weapon, was created for a different reason, and a different function in a fight, than say a war hammer. Research would help a writer understand the differences between each different type of weapon, and their uses. It would also allow the writer to understand the subtle differences that would be present when using the various types of weapons. This understanding would allow the writer to better craft a fight scene.

This is only a small portion of what research can do when writing the next great Fantasy novel. Look at the world of Middle-Earth. The works of J.R.R. Tolkien is a prime example of what is possible when proper research is done, even in regards to a work of Fantasy. Without plenty of research done the stories presented in the world of Middle-earth may not have stood the ravages of time as well as they have. There also would not be the level of spin-off work if research was done, and documented. J.R.R Tolkien, with his research, made it possible to have two fully functional languages that were completely made up languages. This could have only been done with comprehensive linguistical research. In addition to this, the modern remakes of Tolkien’s works into elaborate movies, would not have been possible if the research done by J.R.R. Tolkien was not available for the staff of the movies to use as resources when filming the movies.

My first wife worked as a Fantasy Romance writer full time. She had published multiple Romance novels under a pen name. Who she was, and what titles she wrote are not important to the discussion of the importance of research to a Fantasy work, but what is important is that all of her works we set in the same world of her creation. How she created this world, and the detail of her world, was by in large due to the research that she conducted while creating her world. She spent long hours researching articles in libraries, and eventually using the internet. When she started writing the internet was young, and the resources that are available now, were not available when she started her career. How she kept the details of her world consistent and as realistic as she could was possible with comprehensive research, and subsequent documentation of her world. When she died, one of the projects I worked on was the creation of a Fantasy Role Playing game based on the world that she created. That project was easier because she left detail notes on her world, and included all the research she had done that helped her create the setting of her Fantasy Romance stories. I have even toyed with the thought of finishing her last novel, which would normally be impossible, but I have her notes, research, and material that she had about the world she created, and her last incomplete novel.

One last point about the need to use research when writing is that research does not mean that only doing research in a library or on the web is the only good research. Research can be more than just a written work. Research can be consulting experts in fields that the writer may not have any experience in. I have been used as a resource when a fellow writer had questions about the Army. I spent many years in the Army as a combat medic. As a result, a fellow writer used me as a practical source when he was writing a military science fiction story. I in turn used a friend when creating an action sequence that involved martial arts. Research can include any source that helps the writer create a vivid scene within their work. So it is important to remember that research can encompass more than just the web of the library. The television series “Deadliest Warriors” is a prime example of multiple layers of research come together for a common goal. In these series of shows historical warriors were pitched in a head to head fight. Different sources were used, both historical, and actual weapons and fighting experts were used as sources. Without historical and practical sources an accurate depiction of the warriors used would not be possible, and the series would not be a realistic portrayal of how each warrior would stand up against another.

These are but a few reasons why research is important to just about any form of writing. A creative idea is very important. It serves as the inspiration that can set one down the path of great adventure, but a vision is only the beginning. If a writer spends the time, and adds research to their creation, then they add depth and color to their creation that will shine through and help the reader see a similar vision. Online generators may be able to provide guidance, but these generators are but a tool, and a poor tool at that. They will never replace a vision that a writer comes up with on his own, and the online tools will never replace the importance to conduct good research, and the integration of that research into the writer’s vision.

~~~~~

David has worked in the technical writing field while in the Army. 

He has also worked in the role playing community for a number of years as technical support. 

He has a couple of current writing projects in the works, and can be reached via gmail at the following address. jumpinjacksplat99@gmail.com

Guest Post: A Beginner’s Guide to Beginning

Today’s guest, Terry Murray, talks about the value of using RPGs as a valuable resource for worldbuilding, character development and plotting. Take it away, Terry!

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Mine is a tale of long ago, back when Steve Jackson’s Generic Universal RolePlaying System (GURPS) was almost new and the Commodore 64 still cool if not hot. A time when machines could not tell much of a story before their memories ran out. Nevertheless, I like to think some of what I learnt as we entered the 1990s will prove of value to a younger generation of cybernetically enhanced writers.

My venture in to the world of graphic novels to write, arguably, the first Christian example of the genre ironically benefited from a source many believers then (and now) might disapprove of – rpg reference books. I have found such materials a great help when it comes to fantasy writing. Of course, they also present some potential pitfalls.

The first problem role playing games helped me to solve was, so to speak, historical. It is true that the fantasy writer does not suffer the inconvenience of the historical novelist who must constantly take care to be faithful to the time and place they have set their story within. However, I soon came to realise I faced double the challenge. I needed first to create a plausible world, complete with history, within which to set my story and then to ensure I did not break my own rules of existence.

Admittedly, it was a fact-filled publication, Whitaker’s Almanack, which proved invaluable when it came to the early number-crunching. A late 19th century edition provided population figures for Australia from which I could envisage low-tech population clusters.

While Whitaker’s applied the broad brush strokes it was the rpg handbooks that filled in the finer detail. Using them as “culture catalogues”, I was able to order a collection of nations and people groups to populate the land.

The second problem I faced was character generation and plot development. The way I write, I might have a beginning and an end in mind but my story lines tend to be character driven. What happens to them in large part is influenced by who they are. I might place them in a situation but their abilities and personality will colour and to some extent decide the outcome; just as in the “real world” we don’t always have control of our circumstances but we do have a choice as to how we respond to them.

I found my rpg manuals an easy and convenient way to access a multitude of professions, abilities and backgrounds when I put together a collection of possible major players. I then played “what if” with a number of them and considered the results. Following these “auditions” I selected my cast and sent them on their way. As their journey changed them, they in turn changed their journey. The rest, as they say, is history.

If only it were that simple. The downside with referring to RPG material is one finds oneself spoilt for choice, so like a child let loose in a sweet shop it is tempting to have too much of too many things. From weapons to races, magic to monsters, the world of roleplay would be absurdly overstocked but for the discernment and discretion of those running the games.

The writer even more so must filter and distil the mass of possibilities if he or she is to create a world that does not look like a theme park. Where the games master might be generous, the writer needs to be frugal. We need to remember that exotic items, be they weapons or wands, are just that. They should be rare and reasonable. Similarly, you don’t need to be an ecologist to recognise what havoc some creatures would do if let loose upon a world. If you are going to introduce an exotic animal or monster in to the world, one way or another, it needs to fit in to the scheme of things.

Finally, when drawing upon such sources for inspiration, we must not lose sight of who rules our universe. Get too caught up in the designer’s game mechanics and we will start to limit our own imagination. Don’t let your story turn into a system scenario (unless you are planning to sell it as such).

Would I recommend any particular role playing game?

In my case, the Iron Crown Enterprise (ICE) Rolemaster series of the time played a big part in helping me to populate the world, establish its social dynamics and set its degree of divergence from the mundane. But there were a number of other potentially useful games around then, as there are now. What was best for me might not be best for you. If you are considering investing inRPGs as a writing resource investigate the market for yourself and purchase what suits your particular needs.

You might even find yourself playing the game!

Guest Post: Sexism in Fantasy

Today’s post is by Andy Peloquin, covering sexism in fantasy.

In case you somehow missed the title.

Take it away, Andy!

~~~~~

One thing I and other male fantasy/sci-fi writers find is that writing female leads is pretty darn tough!

Think about all of the great fantasy books currently floating around in bookstores today. I can honestly say that 90% of them have male main characters, with female characters to support them.

Books with male MCs:

  • Harry Potter
  • The Wheel of Time
  • The Stormlight Archives
  • The Gentlemen Bastards
  • A Song of Ice and Fire

All of these books have strong male leads, though there are strong females to support them or even share the spotlight with them. However, in all of them, it’s the main male characters that move the story forward.

For example, take the Harry Potter series. Hermione is a very important character in the book, but it’s not called the Adventures of Hermione Granger.

Look at the Stormlight Archives books. Book 1 The Way of Kings heavily featured Kaladin Stormblessed and Dalinar Kholin, with the space shared with Shallan Davar. Book 2 places a bit more emphasis on Shallan, but it’s still Kaladin and Dalinar’s story.

All of the greatest books have had male leads, and–this is going to be highly contested, but I have to say it–most of the books with female leads come off almost more Young Adult than hardcore fantasy.

Look at series like The Hunger Games and Divergent. Both the movies and the books tend to be pretty mild when you compare them to books with strong male leads. I did a Google Search for “top fantasy books for women”, and most of the results were books I’ve never heard of.

So why is it that fantasy tends to be such a male-dominated culture?

  • A lot of the writers are male. I’d be willing to venture a guess that upwards of 60% of fantasy writers are men. Men don’t usually write women as well as they write other men.
  • Male leads are easier to write. With a man, you pretty much know what you’re going to get. Female leads are harder to write, as there is a lot more complex emotions going on in most cases. (I’m not generalizing, just stating what I’ve found to be true.)
  • It’s easier to make an adventure with men. A man wearing heavy plate mail, holding up a falling gate, or commanding a troop of infantry is much more plausible than a woman doing so. If you want intrigue, female leads are brilliant. For straight-forward epic adventure, women make excellent supporting characters to a man’s lead.
  • Males dominated medieval cultures. If you read most fantasy books, they tend to be male-centric. There is always an exception to every rule, but most fantasy worlds tend to be fairly archaic, medieval, and “male-power”.

I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with the way fantasy is written, it’s just a trend that I’ve noticed as more and more women in the media harp on equal rights.

Does that mean you should start writing books with strong lead women? If you’re a writer who can’t make female leads interesting, you’ll end up watering down a potentially great story with a poor character.

However, when you come up with a new story idea, don’t automatically make it all about the men in the world you’re building. See if you can add strong, empowered female leads that help propel the story forward. Try to get creative with your MC and see if you can’t make that “he” into a “she”. Not only will you start thinking outside of the box, but some of these fantasy adventures could almost come out better with a woman at the reins.

And don’t forget the Bechdel test:

  1. It has to have at least two women in it,
  2. who talk to each other,
  3. about something besides a man. [1]

 

 

About the Author:

Andy Peloquin is a fantasy lover turned author, and he writes the stories he would love to read.

Growing up as a third-culture kid gave him a broader insight into the world around him, an insight he tries to weave into his books. When not writing he enjoys family, practicing martial arts, reading comics, reading, playing the guitar, and blogging on his website: http://www.andypeloquin.com.

He debuted his first novel — In the Days: A Tale of the Forgotten Continent — in 2014, and plans on writing many, many more.

He can also be found on his social media pages, such as:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/AndyPeloquin

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/andyqpeloquin

 

Sources:

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bechdel_test

 

Guest Post: We Are All On An Epic Adventure

Today’s Post is by Sarah Queen, a fellow fantasy enthusiast. You can find her on Twitter by the handle @SarahAnneDroid. Take it away, Sarah!

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1 darth

Fantasy get’s a bad rap. We’ve all heard it before; the antisocial ones, trying to escape reality. Why lose oneself in worlds and societies that do not even exist? Well for me, it was often to find myself.

I have always been vexed with the need to know “why?” Why am I even here? Why bother? Why are we trying so hard? Why does it hurt so much?

Let’s face it; most of us do not have stimulating lives propelling us into all our hopes and dreams. Life is hard. Learning from life is even harder. Even a relatively good life: driving in traffic, working at a day job, grocery shopping, doing laundry and trying to get to bed in time to wake up early and do it all again tomorrow. It’s difficult to recognize purpose in the routine.

Yet do we breathe in and out just to eat that next meal, sleep and wake until one day we stop? I think the answer to that question lies in the fact that we would ask it at all. So if I desire more than the life of my five senses and daily routines, obviously there is a more I am yearning for. A more I have recognized and I’m missing it.

2 don't quit

Life is a bizarrely multifaceted experience that I believe we’ve hardly scratched the surface of.   Art in all its forms communicates these aspects from one soul to another. The way my heart stirs at the sight of the swirling, vibrant colors of a magnificent painting. The emotion forced to swell at the insistent tide of a beautiful melody! The call to action, like tides of a raging storm, my soul demands of me as I read the story of injustice!

If we were simply meant to eat, sleep, and breathe these other stirrings would not exist. They would have no place. They would make no sense. But, see, they do exist. And they move me with a power that I could not explain simply from within the confines of my own daily experience. So I turn to fantasy fiction.

3 colors

I think if all paintings were only of real people and places our imaginations would be stunted and our ambitions dim. But painting the abstract dreamscape communicates something I’ve only experienced inwardly. Things I have explored and learned from through the fantastical epics of others. And I think there is a reason we relate so strongly to these stories.

Donald Miller, author of “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years,” explored the idea that there is a reason we relate to the basic aspects of the storyline. That we are ourselves the main character of our own story, and like any good plot, the main character wants something, and must overcome difficulty to get it.

4 hobbits

Sci-fi and fantasy fiction helped me put to words the struggles that seemed far larger than my daily routine. The feeling of being small and simple in a world of powerful forces that I feel in no way capable of impacting, yet if evil goes unchallenged it will rise to defeat us all: Bilbo and Frodo, Atreyu, Richard Cypher, Lucy Pevensie, Harry Potter, Arthur Dent, Luke Skywalker. These characters helped me to recognize that everyone feels small and simple. Everyone is faced with the decision to fight for what is good and helpful, or to succumb to fear and side with evil and take from others at a rate that would harm them.

5 treks

Fantasy worlds, societies, technologies; these also pull us into thinking in ways that we have not yet experienced. They make it possible to learn, and grow; to walk a mile in those proverbial shoes without actually getting the blisters. After all, every possibility that still lies only in our future is technically science fiction.

I grew up watching Star Trek: TNG (Captain Picard is my hero). I loved the idea of a convenient computer system they always had access to, which held the sum of human knowledge, a plethora of personal recordings and experiences, and made it very easy for them to stay in constant communication with one another. If one needed to learn about any subject they simply called it up from this wealth of readily available information. They even had convenient little handheld devices that would feed this information directly to wherever they needed it. Sounds familiar now, doesn’t it. But not then. This was decades before smart phones and tablets when the internet was really in its infancy, bulkily slugging along behind us.

6 cs lewis

Fantasy fiction provided us with a vehicle to explore all the layers of life and its possibilities. To explain in vibrant color the dreams we dream. To experience new and foreign concepts in a way that is not captured by our day to day settings. I don’t think fantasy will change the world. But I do think it changes people. And that can change the world.

~~~

For more from Sarah, check out musical projects she has partaken in at The Droids and Seventh Epic.

Not to mention her Twitter handle, @SarahAnneDroid