Once upon a time, I was a fanfic writer. And I wrote a fic. At the time, it was The Fic. Thousands of reviews came pouring in, people screaming at me in all caps how much they loved it and how much it meant to them. This was the story that changed my life.
Armed with the readers’ encouragement, I took my fic into the OF (Original Fiction)world. Over the next year of querying and entering it in contests, some things became glaringly clear:
Fanfic and OF are NOT the same.
In fanfic, there are no rules. Write a romance where everyone dies? Been there, done that. Write a 65k novella that is all fluff, no conflict, and barely has a plot? Got a whole closet full of those T-shirts. Write a 130k epic with multiple POVs, more plot than a DiCaprio/Scorsese collaboration, and emotional arcs that leave your readers shredded in the best way? Well, that’s the goal . . .
My point is, these stories are glorious and beautiful, and they WORK in their natural habitat. But when we try to bring them into the publishing world, there are problems. Things to learn. Unwritten rules that only become clear once you take a chance, and are told you’re doing it wrong FOR THEM.
Because, remember, it’s not wrong. It’s fanfic. It doesn’t have to obey anybody’s rules but your own. But if you want to put it out in the OF world? Well . . . here are some rules I have for myself when crossing a story over, and as such, I highly recommend them.
The Ten Commandments for Crossing Fanfic Over to OF
Thou shalt know their genre, and as thus, its conventions
Thou shalt know thy word count restrictions
Thou shalt not use adverbs or filter words
Thou shalt not defy said
Thou shalt not confuse dialogue tags with action beats
Thou shalt not rely on assumed reader connection to characters
Thou shalt challenge characters without prejudice: having both an internal and external plot line for each main character, or any provided a POV
Thou shalt not let the climax occur in the wrong spot, nor the epilogue last too long
Thou shalt not be afraid to change that which was already beloved, or to decline a rebuild
Thou shalt not give up writing, nor forget thy worth
All right, let’s take these one at a time, shall we?
1. Thou shalt know their genre, and as thus, its conventions
When you’re writing and publishing a fanfic, you chose a genre upon upload. Romance. Fantasy. Horror. Not that different here, except that genres have . . . You guessed it! Rules. These are called conventions. Every genre has them, and they’re usually pretty clear.
In romance, the most common conventions are that the romance plot has to be central to the story, and it has to end in a Happily Ever After, or a Happy For Now. Not that hard. But if your epically awesome and groundbreaking fanfic is a romance all the way, except the characters don’t end up together because of the most important reason ever, an agent is going to say: Sorry, it doesn’t fit the romance genre conventions. Pass.
Houston: you now have a problem. If you don’t have your genre clear cut, which an agent will know based on whether you follow the genre conventions, they can’t sell the book because the book doesn’t have a shelf in Barnes and Noble. That’s the easiest way to explain it. It has to fit on the shelf, and that shelf has rules. You can break some, but not all, or you don’t get a shelf. Sorry.
Also, this does not only apply to your genre. It also applies to your age category (MG, YA, NA, Adult), and your sub-genre (Contemporary, Historical, Psychological, etc.)
2. Thou shalt know thy word count restrictions
Just like having genre conventions, in the OF world, there are limits on word count.
Find out what they are.
Don’t ignore them.
Or you’re going to be sitting in a closet, laughing at the magical butterflies that are distracting you from having to cut 45k before the agent will even consider your revision. Trust me, the magical butterflies are not your friend.
3. Thou shalt not use adverbs or filter words
Quietly, sneakily, loudly, whatever. Lose it. Lose it now. Kill it with fire.
Based on your descriptions of surroundings, along with pacing and tone, you shouldn’t need these words to paint a clear picture for the reader. If you do, revise until you don’t. Not to mention, these superfluous words take up space in the novel you just realized you have get from 110k down to 85k because of word count limits ;)
Also in the realm of superfluous words are filter words. I see, I hear, I smell, I look, I feel, I know. (Adjust for s/he for third person, of course, but I’m a firsty.)
Do a search, flag, then cut. Instead of: I smell the coffee brewing in the kitchen. (Flat.) Try: The aroma of the bitter coffee grounds swirl through the hallway, choking my already frightened throat. (She still smells the coffee, but Not Flat.)
Kill the newbie shortcuts – the adverbs and the filter. Take the time to do it right, and it’ll pay off in the end.
4. Thou shalt not defy said
Somebody (I think on Pinterest) decided to make all writers go insane, and launched some attack on the word “said.”
“Cry out!” they suggested. “Wail, wallow, screech, snap . . . anything but said!”
They made a whole list of options, and the lists have not stopped forming.
Um, fuck that person. If every dialogue tag is described with a new thesaurus vomit option of said, it’s distracting. For me, it’s downright irritating and before long, I’ll realize I’ve stopped reading the story, and instead, I’m wondering how many times they right-clicked to the thesaurus or if they really came up with all these options on their own.
If you have anything other than said, it should be few and far between, and for a very good reason. Like yell or shout if someone is yelling or shouting (although typically, punctuation should take care of that for you.)
Don’t buy the hype! Said is not dead!
5. Thou shalt not confuse dialogue tags with action beats
This learning curve was a long time coming for me. And yes, some people will claim that this is a stylistic choice and it’s not a hard and fast rule, and that’s fine. For everyone else . . .
This is a dialogue tag:
“And then he clucked in the chicken outfit,” she said, laughing.
It describes who said the dialogue, and/or the way it was said.
This is an action beat.
“And then he clucked in the chicken outfit.” She laughed.
Laughing is an ACTION that happens near the dialogue, but is independent of it.
Now, when I was writing fanfic, dialogue tags and actions tags were pretty much interchangeable. But in my OF writing experience, this is not correct. Most importantly, action tags should not be punctuated as dialogue tags, because we don’t speak in actions.
“And then he clucked in the chicken outfit,” she laughed.
We can say something while we’re laughing, but we don’t laugh words. At least, not coherently. Just try it, I dare you ;)
“And then he clucked in the chicken outfit.” She laughed.