Time for a geek-fession: I’ve been writing a lot of fanfiction lately.
As I participate in two separate “Big Bang” fanfiction extravaganzas (yes, I know, I’m crazy for that, right?), I’m noticing that there are a few things that have become my saving graces as I frantically type up 15K word drafts. So whether you’re new to the fanfic biz or you’re a tried-and-true transformative work veteran, here are a few things that you need to successfully write that 100K word Coffeeshop AU.
Take a Notebook With You Everywhere
Okay, okay, I know you’ve heard this one before, but it’s true. Let me tell you why:
A few years ago I was taking a scriptwriting course, and one of our assignments was to transcribe a five-minute conversation. As I sat inside a Starbucks waiting for my interviewee to arrive, I rifled aimlessly through my notebook, reviewing notes on script formatting and whatnot (I was absolutely not doodling).
There was a couple sitting behind me, and try as I might, I couldn’t help but overhear their conversation. They were breaking up, and the conversation was getting heated. About five minutes later, I was really f**king glad I had a pen and paper, because sometimes life is so much stranger than fiction. Here’s an excerpt of that conversation:
Broken-hearted man: Baby, I’m sorry. If I humiliated you, then I’m so, so sorry. I was drunk, baby. I didn’t mean any of those things I said about you.
Righteously angry woman: Quit calling me ‘baby.’ I’m not your baby. It’s over. You can’t have me. You know that.
Broken-hearted man: It was stupid. I didn’t mean it. I was stupid. C’mon, give me a break. I thought you were going to tell me you love me. Not that. I didn’t mean it. I’m sorry.
Righteously angry woman: I’m not staying. Even if we talk, it won’t change anything. I’m good at my job, and it’s good money. And I don’t care if you think it’s disgusting.
Broken-hearted man: How do you do it? Why do you do it? I just don’t understand…so many men.
As I not-so-covertly wrote down their conversation, I realized that I was listening to a breakup between a paid escort and her boyfriend. Apparently, she told him about her job and he called her some pretty awful things, after which she broke up with him. It was a sad and gut-wrenching conversation that later became the basis of a script I wrote for that class.
Any writer will tell you that some of the most compelling things they write are drawn from real-life experiences, and unless you are like my roommate and have a photographic memory, you need to write it down. A notebook, your phone, hell, I’ve even used the back of a Starbucks receipt before. When you find/hear/see something that inspires you, make damn sure you remember it later.
A Plan (Preferably One That Is Written Down)
Also known as an outline.
Yeah, I know you hate it (I do too), but how else are you going to keep track of what’s going on in your 300K word story? Or, inversely, how are you going to write that 15K word draft that’s due tonight when you don’t know what’s going to happen? (I may or may not have been in that boat last week…)
Point is: you need a point to your story.
The very first fanfiction I ever wrote ended up being 250,000 words. Now, this was a few years ago and I have long since taken it off FFN, and although it was well received and quickly became one of the most-read stories on the site, I was never happy with it. I’m not saying this to brag; I’m telling you this to reveal a very painful truth about writing: there is no perfect draft. This monstrosity is now sitting in a “To Be Revised” folder, gathering bytes of dust in its margins. Why? Because I wrote it with no plan, and if I were to actually revise it, I’d probably chop out 200,000 words. That’s two years of work that I plan on massacring.
As I work on both my BB fics, I’m realizing that I can’t do it without an outline. Both fics are due within two weeks of each other, and trying to write 50,000 words without an outline is like Napoleon waiting for the “ideal weather” to fight the Battle of Waterloo…oh wait.
We Need A Little Help From Our Friends
If you’ve ever written for a Big Bang, you know the value of a good beta. A beta is your second-in-command, your Will “Number One” Riker of the writing world. They support and encourage you, and like any good first mate, they occasionally call you out on your bullshit.
If you’re lucky, they only nitpick your grammar.
If you’re really lucky, they’ll spend excruciating amounts of time debating you on every plot point, on every character flaw. And you know what? Your story will be better for it.
There are forums on FFN that help people connect with betas (hint hint.)
A Killer Soundtrack
We all have music that inspires us. Or if not music, some kind of sound (is that vague enough?). I create playlists on Spotify that fit the general tone of every fic I write, and that have lyrics that fit the storyline. For my longest fic (50K and counting!), I’ve listened to Mumford and Son’s “I Gave You All” on repeat for hours because I worried that changing the song would disrupt my writing flow. Sidenote: that particular M&S song is the most Destiel song in existence and no one can convince me otherwise.
Not everyone can write while listening to music. I have a friend who can only write when she has Buffy the Vampire Slayer playing on her television in the background. My father won’t write unless he is outside listening to nature (he’s a real Teddy Roosevelt type, he is). Here is an example I found on youtube of a more unique playlist:
Next time you write, put on music that inspires and motivates you. It doesn’t have to be Mumford & Sons, I promise.
A Friend in the Medical Profession
No, but really. I’ve been writing for enough years to know the value of accuracy in a story; trust me, if you don’t have your research done, someone on FFN or AO3 or LJ is going to point it out (and some people aren’t very kind about it either). Now, one of my biggest pet peeves when I read are writers who don’t bother to do much more than take a cursory glance at WebMD. The human body is a complicated thing, and relying on WebMD to completely inform you about the symptoms and treatment of fibromyalgia is like trusting Wikipedia to tell you everything you need to know about quantum mechanics or Buddhism. So if you’re writing a hurt/comfort fic (and let’s face it, it’s a popular trope), get yourself a buddy who’s put in the book time and would love to tell you all about this horrible disease they studied last week.
I have one. I call her Cherry Bomb. She’s very helpful.
This week, I was writing a Sherlolly smutty fic, and I had a question about resting pulse rates. Cherry Bomb to the rescue. Or in the middle of the night when I needed to know how quickly someone afflicted needed to seek medical attention? Yeah, Cherry Bomb had my back.
I probably ask her one strange medical question every week, but I promise you I’m not taking advantage of her knowledge. We have a symbiotic relationship. I always thank her with a picture of Tyler “Sexy Wolf” Hoechlin.
If Cherry Bomb is reading this, I love you Snugglemuffin, and I have a bottle of Stella Rosa in the fridge with your name on it. 🙂
So there it is: five things that I, as a fanfic writer, can’t live without.
Now back to my furious typing of my DCBB fic.