ELEVEN QUICKS STEPS TO IMPROVE YOUR FAN FICTION! Quick fixes to improve your writing

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As I worked my way through hundreds of fan fiction stories on the Internet, I kept a running tab of the most common writing mistakes. Here they are and what to do so that they don't turn up in your stories. Follow these guidelines and you'll be getting rave comments from readers. For a more in-depth guide to better writing, try How to Write Better Fan Fiction.

Avoid Starting a Story With A Long Narrative Passage: Readers are more interested in reading about something as it happens (showing them action) than they are about reading a character or narrator telling them what's happening. Starting a story with a slow-moving narrative passage was the most common mistake I found during a recent survey of 377 X-Files authors. Avoid their mistake and you'll stand out as a better-than-average author. Start with lively action, capture your reader's interest by quickly introducing a mystery and you'll be assured that they will stay with your story.

Show, Don't Tell: Don't tell your reader that something's beautiful, show them by describing it and have them discover its beauty for themselves. Better still, Show the reactions the beauty inspires in your characters. This adds life and movement to the scene.

Avoid Repetition: Repetition turns up in many different forms, all of them bad. Here's a few to avoid: Don't use the same word twice close to each other. This applies to prefixes and suffixes too. Don't describe a person as being excited and then say that he or she said something excitedly. The context should show they said it excitedly. Don't place sentences that are the same length next to each other. Don't use two phrases to describe the same thing (like a drunk staggering and stumbling).

Avoid Cliches: Cliches are commonly used phrases like raining cats and dogs. Cliches can also show up in characters: the prostitute with a heart of gold, and plots: the cavalry riding to the rescue at the last moment.

Avoid Qualifiers: Adjectives and adverbs help clarify verbs but they also weaken their impact. A better solution is to find a more descriptive verb that shows the reader what you want him to see.

Keep Modifiers Close to the Word They Modify: Consider they following:

  Sam smashed the brass knuckles into Jeff's face covered with studs.

  This extreme example makes it sound like Jeff's face is covered in studs. It reads more clearly as:

  Sam smashed the brass knuckles covered with studs into Jeff's face.

  Most of the time this mistake is more subtle than this example but can still confuse the reader.

Don't Use "--- said" If It's Not Needed: When only two people are talking, you only need he said and she said a couple of times in the beginning of the dialog. Readers are smart enough to follow who's talking from then on.

Use Contractions in Dialog: That's how real people talk. It'll make your dialogs read smoother and more realistic.

Cut Out Extraneous Words: Most fan fiction fails to read smoothly because authors use more words to describe a scene than are needed. The result is that the story reads unevenly. This is also called overwriting. Imagine you have to pay for each word in your story and the ones that can be cut will stand out. Give words like the, and, even, and just an extra hard look. Many times these can be dropped to make the passage sound more dynamic and active.

Conquer "-ly" confusion: What's the difference between the following two sentences:

He smells bad.

He smells badly.

The first sentence states that the man in question has a bad odor. The second says that there is something wrong with his nose and he isn't able to smell effectively. These examples demonstrate that the -ly suffex is used to convert an adjective into an adverb. Mastering this simple rule will help clarify what you are trying to say about a character.

Rewrite: Always rewrite your story several times, preferably with a couple of weeks break between each one, before posting it on the net. The key to good rewriting is to proof read slowly. Writers are so familiar with their work that when they look at it they don't really read but just skim it; their memories fill in the words they jump over. The hazard is that this permits mistakes to be jumped over as well. Maintaining a list of mistakes you repeatedly make will help focus your attention on them during proof readings.

Use a Spellchecker: You work hard to draw your reader into the world of your story. A single misspelled word is like a slap in the face to a reader; it shocks him or her out of the story by reminding them that it's just something they're reading.


That's it! There are a lot more tricks that will make your writing more effective (see my page How To Write Better Fan Fiction for 184 of them) but if you follow these ten tips and apply them to good plots with interesting characters, you'll be sure to satisfy your readers.


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