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
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. 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.
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.