The Weekend Five: Tips For Writing Really Bad Fanfiction

During my freshman year, my roommate introduced me to The Internet. Although I was already somewhat acquainted with its inner-workings (I’d already gone through the angsty Livejournal phase back in high school along with the rest of my peers), when I first started college I had yet to discover some of the amazing memes that The Internet had to offer.

My roommate also exposed me to something so terrible and yet so powerful that, once I saw it, I could never forget it. It was arguably the worst fanfiction of all time, the tale of a “goffik” seventh-year at Hogwarts loosely based on the Harry Potter series, entitled My Immortal (click to read). Oh, I was no stranger to the world of fanfiction, but nothing I’d ever read in the past came even close to the sheer idiocy of this story. A few weeks ago, my friends and I rediscovered My Immortal and began to perform readings of it because of how ridiculous it was. After our recent experiences with the story, a few of my friends asked me to blog about what makes a bad fanfiction (in other words, how not to write anything respectable). And thus, we begin…

The Weekend Five: Tips For Writing Really Bad Fanfiction

1. Don’t proofread or hire a beta reader because it will only stifle your creative process.
In fact, you can toss the entire editing/revising process out the window! With typos throughout your piece and words used incorrectly, you are actually leaving your work open for interpretation and keeping readers guessing. Were the characters “shouting” at each other, or were they “shooting” at each other? Was the character “scared” or “scarred” by a particular phenomenon? Most writers will argue that by correcting these typos, you will eliminate any confusion the reader may have, but some works of fanfiction suggest that mistakes allow the reader to apply his or her own meaning to the text. Who cares if that meaning is completely wrong?

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2. There is no such thing as a Mary Sue.
Remember when that one mean reviewer told you that your main character was a Mary Sue — too perfect and unrealistic to exist in the real world? Well, he was just jealous that his story’s protagonist is much more flawed than yours. The key to creating the perfect bad fanfiction protagonist (because all bad fanfictions have original characters… see #4) is to describe the character in the way that you see yourself, but without all of the weaknesses. That’s right — your character should be a skinnier, better looking, more desirable version of you. Most of the other characters should fawn over your protagonist as much as possible, discuss how jealous they are of this person, and fall head over heels in love with him or her throughout the story. Bonus points if: a) You accidentally refer to the character by your own name at least once; b) You name the character after yourself; c) You name the character using an anagram of your own name. If reviewers continue to refer to this character a Mary Sue, be secure in the fact that these people merely envy your ability to bring such an inspiring protagonist to life.

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3. Describe every scene in as much detail as possible so that readers won’t have to think for themselves.
Let’s go on a limb and assume that most readers have zero imagination. Therefore, they will greatly appreciate it if you describe every outfit your characters wear, every tear drop that falls from their eyes, every sound they make when they walk across a room, etc. The author of My Immortal does an excellent job of ensuring that the characters’ clothing choices are always accounted for. Observe the protagonist’s pre-concert beauty regimen: “On the night of the concert I put on my black lace-up boots with high heels. Underneath them were ripped red fishnets. Then I put on a black leather minidress with all this corset stuff on the back and front. I put on matching fishnet on my arms. I straightened my hair and made it look all spiky…. I painted my nails black and put on TONS of black eyeliner. Then I put on some black lipstick. I didn’t put on foundation because I was pale anyway. I drank some human blood so I was ready to go to the concert.” This sort of imagery reappears every time the protagonist experiences a change in wardrobe. Don’t you feel like you’re right there with her?

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4. When in doubt, create an original character… or seven.
The liberal use of original characters (OCs) may not be appreciated in the world of decent fanfiction, but if you’re looking to write something horrible, it is the perfect way to create filler and manipulate the story. For example, if the world of Harry Potter is too small for you, feel free to add in as many unrelated characters as possible, and don’t even bother to link them to the actual series. You can also recreate pre-existing characters by changing their backstories completely and allowing them to act entirely different from the way they acted in the books. J.K. Rowling obviously had it all wrong, anyway.

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5. Insert author notes into the actual story so that your readers can know exactly what you think about each and every scene.
It’s one thing to write a little note to your readers at the beginning of each chapter before the action begins, but Really Bad Fanfiction Writers take advantage of this within the text of the story as well. In fact, you can use it as a plot device! In the middle of a sentence, insert a set of parentheses with “A/N” to denote that it is an author note, and then write a note to one of your friends reading the story OR commentary on what is happening (A/N: Mom, you’d better be reading this!). In My Immortal, the author also utilizes these notes to explain her characters’ strange actions or outbursts, stating in her author’s notes that Dumbledore is using profanity because he has a headache, and that she is attracted to sensitive bisexual guys like “Vampire Potter.” If you didn’t explain it well enough in the actual story, you might as well insert an author note to get your point across!

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These are just a few marks of a really bad fanfiction. Readers, what do you suggest? What are some of the most ridiculous plots you’ve ever come across?

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10 comments

  1. Ha this advice was “great!” 😀 I remember discovering that fanfic and reading the entire thing through in an afternoon, simultaneously horrified and engrossed…

      1. I know, right? It was just so creepy and made me want to puke.

        FYI, OCs aren’t all bad. I like the concept of an OC because you get to take a character of your own and create your own unique adventure while being true to the source material. But I understand what you meant, and to an extent, I agree.

        Cheers! 🙂

        1. I agree with you – when I did fanfiction, I definitely had a few OCs of my own 🙂 I just like to stereotype a little bit, because I have seen some really awful ones in fanfiction! Thank you for the comment!

  2. I write fanfiction myself. I wrote a Transformers fanzine before I even knew what fanfiction was years later. I created characters for it, but I never knew what a Mary Sue was. I wrote to entertain, not to escape to some fantasy world. It takes a lot of talent to write original characters. The challenge is not to interject too much of yourself like your views (political or otherwise), your desires, or your personal tastes. I’ve seen fics where canon characters reflected the musical tastes of the writers. It can be done if the writer has the talent.

    1. I hope you don’t think this was meant to belittle good writing! As I said earlier, I used to read and write fanfiction when I was younger, and I see nothing wrong with honing your writing abilities and actually enhancing the series! I’m merely making fun of the really bad stories (ie: My Immortal) that give fanfiction a bad name.

      It’s great to be able to create your own characters — I’m poking fun at the ones that DO insert too much of themselves in. For the record, I think a lot of authors writing about existing characters OR authors writing new material tend to insert too much of themselves anyway (I know I’ve been guilty in the past) but I’m simply talking about the ones that are so blatantly obvious that it’s impossible to get past!

  3. You should add another one:
    6. If your fanfiction is about an anime, make sure to add random Japanese words to impress readers with your vast knowledge of the language. Such words include: kawaii, onegai, gomen, aishiteru and the like.

    1. Love it! Bonus points if your fanfiction is NOT about an anime but you still use those random Japanese words. 🙂

      Thanks for your contribution – it is too true!

  4. I offer the following:

    7. Do not let anything get in the way of your One True Pairing, whether it is the plot or another character, and especially not a canon pairing that you disagree with.

    I recently MSTed a Smash romantic fan fic in which the author steamrollered her way to the OTP, discarding an established ‘ship in the process and basically ignoring other canon characters or using them as filler except for demonizing the oppostion. She also deliberately followed rule no. 1 (I talked to her about it but am not sure if she listened) and was so sparing with her descriptions when they did not involve the OTP (mirror image of no. 3) that characters seemed to pop out of thin air at times. On top of that, she turned a main canon character into a Sue. It was too bad, because her premise was fine and she actually has some promise. Maybe she will get it out of her system. (If you are curious about the MST, it’s at The MST And Parody Paradise, a.k.a. Refia, in the InvisionFree forums. Look for Episode 2 of Play MST-y for Me; the original story is called The After Smash.)

    For my part, when I was writing Xena fan fiction, I did use quite a few OCs, but in the same way that the series did: villains, henchmen, allies, villagers and so forth. For the more important of these, I tried to give them reasonable backstories. Some, like my Amazon OCs, were to flesh out that particular section of the Xenaverse. Where canon characters were more appropriate, I used them. Here, the trick was to not turn Joxer into a Gary Stu (my specialty is Gabrielle/Joxer rom-coms) but to develop him slowly into someone Gabrielle might genuinely fall in love with. In my one-offs I had to shorten that, of course. I guess it’s overuse of gratuitous OCs and OC-Sues that helps distinguish badfic.

    And I will also admit to inserting myself into one of my favorite stories, Educating Joxer. Call it a Hitchcock cameo, if you please. Now I get to scratch the self-insert itch though my MSTs.

    1. That is too funny! I love when the author has clearly inserted himself or herself into the story, especially to fulfill some sort of fantasy they have about a fictional character. I like a good, well-developed OC that makes sense — or an undeveloped, pre-existing character in a series that can be reasonably developed in a story.

      It is always entertaining to read a story where the author has forced a non-canon OTP or completely changed the characters. I remember reading a Harry Potter story once where Hermione had to leave Hogwarts because she found out she was a princess, then she auditioned to be Draco Malfoy’s bride (because his family apparently ruled over a neighboring kingdom), and the development of the relationship was just bizarre.

      Thank you for sharing! 🙂

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