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fleets' Guide to Writing Long Fanfiction

I was asked what I do to organize my stories, and I thought it would be useful to write it all out (for myself, too). As a disclaimer, I am by no means perfect at following these little guidelines or writing the best stories. This is what I do, for anyone who was curious. :)

Start with the characters

I always start planning my stories by thinking of what character(s) I want to write about. (Vaati~!)

Okay, so I have a character I want to write about. Maybe even two. But what's going to happen to them? Now I have to

Think about the Plot, and Think about it some More

I can't stress this enough. One of the worst things you can do is start writing a story without knowing clearly what the plot is going to be. No one wants to read a story that doesn't have a plot: it's not going to be interesting! Also, you will become confused on where to focus the story and thus you will confuse your readers. And they will not be happy about that. So take your time on this one.

Go back to the characters you picked earlier, and let the plot involve them. They should care about it (because if they don't care about it, it won't be a plot – duhs). If you don't have a clear idea, it's okay to start with a general one.

If you are having trouble thinking of a plot

Sometimes the plot doesn't come to you because all you have is an idea you want to explore and not necessarily a conflict you want to write about. This is what happened when I first wrote Avilux. In that case, delve a little deeper into the concept you have.

i.e. Concept: I want to write about Vaati in the modern world

Right, so that's all I had when I first thought out Avilux. Nothing else. I know I can't just write about Vaati trundling around in jeans and sneakers, so I started thinking about how he would behave. What makes him tick? What does he like? What makes him angry? What kind of outrageous situations I can put him in, regarding this concept?

Looking for outrageous situations is usually (for me) the fastest way to find a plot. It doesn't have to make sense – just write it out! Think about solving the plot later.

I am going to have the world be in danger of flooding and stick Vaati, who doesn't remember anything about his past, be in the middle of it :P

Now I have something! But perhaps the biggest problem is on how to solve the plot. The world is going to flood. Vaati doesn't know about magic because he's in the modern world. How will I put these things together?

Think about the new questions that now need to be addressed

These questions don't have to be solved just yet, but maybe jot them down so you don't forget about them. The questions I have so far for Avilux are:

1. How will my characters stop (or fail to stop) the world from flooding?
2. Why is the world flooding?
3. Why is Vaati in the modern world?
4. Why doesn't Vaati remember his past?
5. How will Vaati remember his past again? Will he even remember by the end of the story?
6. How will Vaati get involved with the crisis of the world flooding, and how does he find out about it?

Here is where I start answering the questions I have. Some of these questions will lead to more questions, but tackle them the way you tackled the first questions. Eventually (I swear) you will run out of questions and only have answers (and a very satisfying flow-chart). Be critical of your answers and look for any inconsistencies – one of my stories, The Unresolved, arose because I noticed an inconsistency in one of my answers in the outline to its preceding story Beyond Centuries. Unless you have plans to tackle a sequel, be aware of squashing all of those inconsistencies in your answers to these questions.

These answers and questions will be the guidelines you'll be following for writing your outline. You must include these points at some time in your story or you will have readers questioning the believability of your story.

Now that you have the answers to the bunches of questions, start writing very rough points on the certain scenes that will take place that will provide the answers. It's okay if they're not in order, but make an attempt at ordering them in the way they will appear in the story. This is the backbone of your outline. Don't worry about connecting them together just yet – just focus on what kind of scenes you want to include for now.

You should have something pretty good now to start writing your story. You must be itching to write it, right? STOP RIGHT NOW. Yes, stop. Take those fingers off the keyboard right now and STOP.

I know, I know, I get excited too and want to start as soon as I have a good thing going. But during the course of finding answers to the questions, you must have realized you're going to need a few more characters to get the story going other than the characters you chose (maybe, but I bet you do). They may or may not be OCs, but I'm going to talk about the next points as though they are OCs because these points can apply to any character:

Incorporating other characters (and OCs) and keeping it interesting

There's a chance you don't care about these characters as much as the first character you picked (Vaati rulez~ *shot*)

However, your job now is to love your characters. Love them! Or at least make an effort to understand every single goddamned aspect of them. Be their stalker. Turn into them for a few hours. I don't care, just do what you need to do to know how to think like them, because this is what you will be doing to write their scenes. This will also help you stay in character. Keep track of their development and always be aware if their attitude changes, and role-play as them again from time to time to make sure you still understand them.

Now that you know the very essence of the characters you will be adding, give them key roles. This might be hard to believe since everyone seems to warn you against spawning the horrible Mary Sue, but it's a must in fanfiction to give OCs the important, plot changing roles. Otherwise they will become boring to read because they will have nothing to contribute. They might as well not be in the story if they're not going to have a drastic effect on it. Canon characters can get away with not having an important role because people reading fanfiction sometimes just enjoy seeing recognizable characters in stories, but OCs need a purpose to remain relevant to the readers' interests.

Take a look at all of the characters you want to include, and take note on what role they will have on the story. Here are some of the OCs I've used in the past:

1. Halstead Dugal: story needs a villain. He will be the villain.
2. Thistle: complete plot changer.
3. Opal: reason for why Rend even happens.

These are only a few examples. I wish I could write more, but I can't because I would be spoiling my current stories. :P But I hope you can see that these characters have super important roles and absolutely NEED to be in the stories. Don't half-ass your OCs – be confident and give them roles to be proud of.

Also don't forget to give them quirks that will make them memorable. For instance:

1.      Thistle: dishonest or sarcastic 90% of the time
2.      Kestrel: wears sunglasses, even indoors
3.      Dugal: rich asshat who likes fast food

That said, DO be careful of creating Mary Sues. You can check to see if your character is turning into a Mary Sue by counting how many important roles they have in the story. If they have more than two, you should start to feel suspicious.

While we're on the topic of Mary Sues, I do believe you are allowed to create a character who is "perfect at everything" as long as you turn this perfection into a hindrance. Anything that is too much of something to an excess becomes an undesirable trait, so use that to your advantage:

i.e. Dugal: perfect shot. Uber rich. Great at lots of things = super arrogant and full of himself, which leads to blunders and stupid mistakes.

One last step: think about what motivations and goals ALL of your characters have. This is important so that you don't lose sight of how a character might act in a given situation. Jot them down if you have to at the top of your outline, because this should be in mind at all times when you're writing your story.

Once you know what goals each of your character has, your job is to make sure they either achieve their goal or fail trying by the end of your story (UNLESS you have a sequel in mind that will address this). If you leave a goal unaddressed, you will risk the readers feeling cheated out of the whole story when they reach the end. There will be too many "but what about so-and-so?" type of questions and it won't be a good ending.

Now take your time and stick in more scenes and key points that are relevant to character goals into the outline you already have. This is your ammo to use for character development throughout the story and to make things interesting. Some of these goals might be used to move the plot forward, so if you see an opportunity to do so use it! It will add to the character's significance, which I've already mentioned how important that is for OCs.
Now the fun part:

Imagine how the story ends

I love this part. Sometimes I see an ending before I do all of the above stuff, because the ending will be the Concept I want to write about.

Think of the ending with an idea on what kind of tone you want to end the story with. Do you want a heart-wrenching tragedy (i.e. Recollections)? A bitter-sweet ending (i.e. Rend)? An ending aimed to surprise readers with an unexpected element (i.e. Avilux)? A light-hearted happy ending (i.e. … uhmmm, I'll get to that one maybe lol)?

Whatever you decide to do, you should aim to give at least one summary of character development by/of one character. I suppose this tip is just a personal opinion, but I generally like seeing the journey a character took to grow throughout the story. Me having terrible memory, I appreciate the little introspective moments where I can see a summary of how a character changed from the beginning of the story to the end. It's like seeing a slide show of the adventure's best (and worst) moments.

Stick that ending into your outline, and as one last touchup:

Look for points in the outline where you can foreshadow like crazy or connect two events

I've been asked a few times how I can plan so far ahead in the story. Probably the best example is in my story Avilux where I start with Dugal narrating (though you don't know it's him), and ending with the reader realizing he'd been speaking about the story all along. This example is a little extreme, but it's easy to do if you have an outline to look at to connect the dots.

I also use this time to edit the outline backbone a little to throw in events that will lead up to something bigger.

Aaaaand that's it! You're done! Have fun and start writing. You can also always go back to the outline and change a few things when you come up with new ideas – this happens to me all the time. :) And now here's a sample of bits from an actual outline I am currently using for Occult Ascendancy as proof that I actually do this lol:

- Introduction by Thistle and Thyme
- Vaati finds Dark playing FSA. Grumbles
- Dugal and Vaati meet
- Dugal had found a temple (from +spoiler sorry+). Needs Vaati's help
- recruit Vaati at fast food chain. Vaati keeps it as a secret from Dark
- Vaati and Dugal correspond via phone. (Vaati demands to know everything. Dugal refuses. Dugal demands to know everything. Vaati refuses).
- Dark becomes suspicious of what's going on. (Vaati/Dark plays end of FSA – multiplayer doesn't go well as Vaati keeps trying to kill the Links.)
- Dugal needs to get Loze out of the picture. Explains Vaati had gotten an internship.
.
.
.
.
- Hawk and Kestrel snatch Dark just as government officials try to get to him
- Dark worried after Zelda threat.
- Hawk and Kestrel: later explain Zelda in international territory for internship, therefore government can't lay hands on her for the time being.
_ H and K not interested in dragging her with them as well (more complicated with more people)
- Condor leaked information. H and K after C for breaking Talon rules
- write about Hawk's past here.

- …. Etc.
Writing the chapters become so much easier with this guide: I guess this is what I mean when I say the stories start to write themselves out when I begin.  :)
I've been asked more than once how I plan out stories, so I just up and wrote how I do my writing process. It happens over the course of a few days - it certainly doesn't happen overnight even when I'm inspired. Planning takes a long time for me, but it makes the actual writing so much easier.

:)

~fleets
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:icontheohsowindmagevaati:
theohsowindmagevaati Featured By Owner Mar 3, 2014  Student Traditional Artist
This is pretty useful. I will definitely put this to good use for my newest story Do You Like Me? I am learning to develope my oc Violet. Thank you for the tips.
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:iconkonekoyoukai:
KonekoYoukai Featured By Owner Jul 15, 2011  Hobbyist General Artist
This looks really useful...*faves*

So...um, what do you do to avoid thinking about the plot TOO much? I tend to think about really tiny details before I even get the entire plot down, so I can never seem to get to the actual "writing the story" part XD *fails*
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:iconfleetfleets:
fleetfleets Featured By Owner Jul 19, 2011
That happens to me sometimes haha. When that happens I try to just start writing things down, and later when I come back to see all the things that I wrote, I try to see if I can connect any of them in a coherent way. It's usually a lot more intimidating to just sit and think of all the ideas at once instead of writing it down (doesn't have to be organized at this point) and looking at it.

Hmm, that's a good question - I'll add this tip later. ;)
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:iconfunnywolfie:
FunnyWolfie Featured By Owner Jul 11, 2011  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Really quick comment. My friend whose actually trying to make her own book series has been helping me write Shadow Wolf (Zelda version :p) when I get writer's block and she writes Vaati just like you do. And she doesn't even play or read the Zelda series!
So basically, you're both EPIC authors!
(It's fun to write Vaati as an a-hole :giggle:)
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:iconfleetfleets:
fleetfleets Featured By Owner Jul 19, 2011
aw thank you!
And that's impressive she can write Vaati without having any Zelda experience!
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:iconfunnywolfie:
FunnyWolfie Featured By Owner Jul 20, 2011  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
You're welcome. I actually let her look at a picture of my Minish Cap manga I got and she first thought Vaati was a girl. :meow: And we mage him a perv to one of my OCs who looks like him. :giggle:
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:iconmsfcatlover:
msfcatlover Featured By Owner Jul 10, 2011
Wow...
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:iconlordsiravant:
lordsiravant Featured By Owner Jul 7, 2011  Hobbyist General Artist
Damn, that sounds like a lot of work. I don't usually put such an extreme amount of thought into my stories. (except for that one time I suddenly got an irrational obsession with my sequel which I haven't even written yet. Majora being the villain may be one reason why :P) However, whenever I think of ideas, I try to keep them in my head and see if they could be worked into the story. Sometimes I do concept art (more like concept doodles lol) to get a feeling for what certain characters will look like. Anyways, I like that you have such a structured process. It sounds really useful.
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:icontorakoh:
torakoh Featured By Owner Jul 7, 2011  Hobbyist General Artist
this looks like a lot of work but it sure is helpful. I always get stuck with my stories because I don't care enough about the plot...
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:iconcrazysodfan:
CrazySoDFan Featured By Owner Jul 7, 2011  Hobbyist General Artist
Thanks for creating this guide! It was really useful, and I've noticed how much effort you put into your works. Keep writing!

Oh, and are you going to write an official book or something like that? :P
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:iconfleetfleets:
fleetfleets Featured By Owner Jul 19, 2011
Thanks, I'm glad you find it useful!
Haha yeah, I'm a little OCD when it comes to story writing >.>;

Hmmm, I don't know. I've actually started a completely original story but I'm having more fun writing fanfiction so I don't know if I'll ever finish ^^; It's more of a hobby thing for now.
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:iconfullmoon-senpie:
Fullmoon-senpie Featured By Owner Jul 7, 2011  Hobbyist General Artist
W-What is a Mary-Sue :o
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:iconsmashqueen:
SmashQueen Featured By Owner Jul 7, 2011  Hobbyist Writer
Everyone has a slightly different version of what they consider to be a Mary Sue (or the male version, Gary Stu). I use "an abomination of perfection". Sues are usually just that, perfect, with no flaws to speak of. Everyone either loves or hates them in whatever universe they inhabit and if there's a love interest, they obtain him or her within the first few chapters having at least one sloppy make out session. Canon characters are tossed aside or made OOC and the Sue usually has some sort of unusual powers (like being able to fly when others can't and there is no in-universe reason as to why that happens).

Actually, there is a lot that is never explained with Mary Sues around. :/ It can be anything. >_> Like "Why does this girl have a Fairy Ocarina?" O_o Or even better, "Why does this girl have the Spiritual Stone of *insert element here*?" O_o

Here are a few examples of what a Sue could be/do.

1. The Sue falls in love with Link, Link loves her back, Zelda is killed off or otherwise shoved out of the picture permanently (as well as any other "threat" to the relationship), and the "couple" lives happily ever after. May have super children. ...I kid you not.

2. Vaati is reformed within 2 chapters so he can fall madly in love with a girl he barely knows. After that, tragedy befalls the current Princess Zelda, Link is maimed or possibly killed, and the 2 live happily ever after. Ezlo might be badmouthed and the "couple" may leave Hyrule FOREVAH. Vaati is forever nice and if he turns evil again it will be someone else's fault. The couple may team up against Ganondorf. If the Sue dies (it's very rare for this to happen), Vaati will mourn her and never take another bride. If desperate, the author may make Vaati revive his 'one twue wuv' to continue the story using methods that don't make sense in the LoZ universe. (Revival's not a bad thing in stories, but revival in LoZ requires either an immediate fairy or some sort of sacrifice with evil deeds.)

3. The Sue comes in, directs all the canon characters on what to do (though they would have gotten it themselves), and gains a major power upgrade that nobody else does (except maybe the protagonist). Proceeds to kick major butt while everyone else is left out or forgotten. Sue may also have a rare never-before-heard-of bloodline that grants said powers.

4. Obscenely beautiful and everyone loves her. Those who don't are spurned even by their loved ones. It doesn't matter which point of view is used, you will know that the character is hated by the author.


And those are good examples of what not to do. :P There are a ton of things to add to the list, but I'm not going to take up your time. Decide for yourself what else classifies a character as a Mary Sue.
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:iconfullmoon-senpie:
Fullmoon-senpie Featured By Owner Jul 7, 2011  Hobbyist General Artist
I get it...MAH MARY SUE IS DEAD MWAHAHAHAHA(tried to not broke the canon characters' story line.Or game's.But Capcom made it >A<)
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:iconsmashqueen:
SmashQueen Featured By Owner Jul 7, 2011  Hobbyist Writer
It's alright to break a story and make it interesting. As long as you know where you're going with it. :) But yeah, when you find out your character is a Mary Sue, it tends to be disheartening. Only choice is to start again, make some flaws, tone down some aspects, blah blah. It takes practice. :)
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:iconfullmoon-senpie:
Fullmoon-senpie Featured By Owner Jul 7, 2011  Hobbyist General Artist
Thanks.Are Mary Sues evil?
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:iconsmashqueen:
SmashQueen Featured By Owner Jul 7, 2011  Hobbyist Writer
To the literary world, yes. But in the stories they're in (both fan and original fiction, they exist in both) they can be considered to be good if the author wants to. It depends on the writer, but Sues are usually aligned with the good guys. :shrug:
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:iconfullmoon-senpie:
Fullmoon-senpie Featured By Owner Jul 7, 2011  Hobbyist General Artist
Ok thanks...That saved her but she is dead :p she had to T.T but she is still alive in my fanfiction :o
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:iconsweeneysvendetta:
SweeneysVendetta Featured By Owner Jul 6, 2011  Hobbyist Filmographer
As Reily said, tons of fun.

I never really plot stuff out, but lately I have. Also, when you talk about characters and learning everything about them? SO TRUE.

I love to tell my writing friend about that, since he never develops his characters enough. You have to know even the most useless things about them!
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:iconsmashqueen:
SmashQueen Featured By Owner Jul 6, 2011  Hobbyist Writer
Heh heh. When I write, it usually starts with a plot bunny. My most extensive outline to date (on hiatus due to fights being a huge weakness and there are a ton of them) started out as "What would it be like for someone in our world to fight as a Smasher?" (Super Smash Bros. :P). It was originally about 8 chapters long with little interactions with the actual characters, some training, and a bunch of random, stupid stuff. Fast Forward some years and a total revision went underway.

- How do I extend this?
- What happens after the main OC *SPOILER*?
- How to incorporate Brawl?
- With the main OC's attachments to certain characters, how does Master hand respond to blah blah plot bluh?
=insert about 50 questions here=

Still being worked on and no idea if I'll ever get around to it, but proud of how it went. XD
(Incorporating other characters (and OCs) and keeping it interesting <-- Downfall of outlined fic. XDDD)


I'd like to add some thoughts here that popped up while reading your process.

- Key roles can be minor. A small change can make all the difference.

- Once you know what goals each of your character has, your job is to make sure they either achieve their goal or fail trying by the end of your story (UNLESS you have a sequel in mind that will address this).
Depending on how you pull it off, having a vague ending can work too. Walking off from the group to continue their journey, watching as someone disappears into the Dark World, etc. It's not recommended as much, but it can make quite the impact if the writer knows what he/she is doing.

- Some people are lucky enough to be able to write by the seat of their pants. A flexible outline can work as well as a defined one if you know your abilities. (Guess how much of MoaWM was completely outlined? XD)

Eh. that's all I got. :P
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:iconfleetfleets:
fleetfleets Featured By Owner Jul 19, 2011
I used to HATE writing OCs because I didn't know what to do with them. Also hated minor characters because I didn't care enough about them.

Then I read some really impressive stuff on fanfiction.net and realized what made them so enjoyable was because a lot of them had other characters that played off the main characters.

That's a good point - I'll have to add that!

Mmmm I never really know how to pull off a vague ending. I'm impressed when people actually manage to pull it off though! That takes a lot of skill to pull off without leaving readers frustrated (or maybe I'm easily frustrated by inconclusive endings).

Pfff I wish I could write by the seat of my pants. I'm so scatterbrained that would never work for me though >.<
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:iconsmashqueen:
SmashQueen Featured By Owner Jul 19, 2011  Hobbyist Writer
Ah, that's a thing about OCs. Unless you put your heart into them and give them some kind of purpose, it's difficult to write them, fanfiction or not.

^_^

They're not easy, by any means (unless somehow the world you're writing about has a solution for such a thing). It's something to think about if you don't like the "good" or "bad" endings to something.
And boy those successful endings can be interesting.

Thus why outlines are the way to go. :P
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:iconkawaii-turtle:
kawaii-turtle Featured By Owner Jul 6, 2011  Hobbyist General Artist
This actually kind of helps!

I like just to let the ideas flow, but I realized I had to stop that and actually start thinking about what I want done instead of well, randomness. I don't know how to think ahead though. So this was quite helpful. Thanks for posting! :3
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:iconfleetfleets:
fleetfleets Featured By Owner Jul 19, 2011
I used to have that problem!
Things went nowhere because I kept going on random tangents, and then I confused myself DX
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:iconreily96:
Reily96 Featured By Owner Jul 6, 2011  Professional General Artist
Haha believe it or not, I've never thought of writing this way... It's funny, because I see some things I have done in there, and other things I'm all like "Crap, I should really give that a try." I'm probably going to have to with FA...

Still, it's always interesting to see how people approach their writing. This was fun to read~
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:iconfleetfleets:
fleetfleets Featured By Owner Jul 19, 2011
I'd love to hear what other authors do to write. I'm sure some of the tips I can incorporate to make writing even easier!
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:iconreily96:
Reily96 Featured By Owner Jul 19, 2011  Professional General Artist
Derp, I may just do it then. It's problematic for me, though, mostly because I don't really have a process. ^^; But I'm up to take the challenge~
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