The Vengeful Polyglot

Archive for the ‘Fan Fiction Guides’ Category

For the Authors: The Finding, Care, and Feeding of Betas

So, let’s say you’re an author, and you’ve just finished the first, polished draft of one of your new fanfics. You’ve fixed all the little red squiggles under words from spell-check, your story seems relatively grammatically-correct, and you think you’ve wrapped up what you meant to do with the plot very nicely. Now it’s time to go post it on whatever site hosts your fics, right?

Not just yet. There’s one tiny step missing, and it’s a vital one. Vital to helping you improve your craft over time, as well as showing that you respect your readers enough to show them a wonderful final product. You need to find a beta.

“Why do I need a beta?” you might ask. “I worked hard on this.” You might even feel sort of offended that you would need someone else to look over your work in order to make it fit for publishing. But it’s not to offend you that I strongly, strongly suggest that all authors have one, or possibly many, betas. There are plenty of wonderful reasons to find a beta. Not only will they point out little nitpicky detail-problems about your fic that you might have missed, but they’ll help you to improve things like flow, characterization, and dialogue until they are much more effective.

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Anyone who has spent any reasonable amount of time on a fanfiction archive such as FanFiction.Net has probably come across the very common fic summary, “I suck so much at summaries, sorry! Please read and review!” or any of a hundred different versions thereof. It’s everywhere. In every fandom, for every pairing, for fics that are canon, AU, it doesn’t matter – and more importantly, it doesn’t state any of that information right there.

Therein lies the very problem with this sort of non-summary: it doesn’t summarize. Though I can understand well the self-consciousness of new authors who sometimes use this sort of summary for their fics for lack of a better idea, hopefully this column will help to remedy this influx of somewhat confusing summaries and help authors to be more confident in putting together their two or three sentence “hooks.”

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I’m here to talk about High School Alternate-Universe (AU) fics, and how to and how to deal with some of the common issues encountered while writing them. The High School AU is a very common AU – possibly even the most common. Most fans I’ve known have written one, and most of those have admitted to writing them really, exceedingly poorly. I’ve written them really, exceedingly poorly, for that matter, though no one alive will get their current location from me. I’m actually one of those fangirls who has the capability to truly enjoy a HS AU, assuming it’s well written.

That’s where we tend to run into problems, though, these fics and I. AUs are notoriously sophisticated and tricksy beasts; not only does the author have to think about all of the normal problems which crop up while writing fanfiction – such a characterization, diction, interpersonal relationships, plot – but they also have to deal with plopping the characters in a new locale, or possibly remaking the whole story in a new world entirely. This is a particularly daunting task.

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Let me start by saying that I have always had problems with doing effective pre-writing. I would be bitten by an idea for something and just start writing. This served me fine for a while, at least for short fics, because most of my writing, well, didn’t have much, or any, real plot development. Most of what I wrote were essentially vignettes – nice little snapshots of time, but without much development outside of the characters’ heads. Because they were short (it took me years in fandom to write something more than 2,000 words long) and fairly simple, I actually managed to get along quite well this way. Unfortunately, once I started trying to write short-stories and chaptered fics, I ran into a bit of a problem. I would get bored with whatever plot idea I started with, or forget where I was going with it, and eventually I would usually give up.

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One of the greatest parts of being part of fandom is coming into contact with such a diverse group of people. There are people representative of all origins, all walks of life, and all skill-sets – truly a sampling platter of what a variety of people there are in the world. One of my favorite things, personally, is meeting people of different cultural backgrounds, and people who speak foreign languages. It’s fascinating, especially if it’s a language you’ve been interested in studying. It’s especially wonderful if you can help each other – I had a German pen-pal I would beta for and swap English tips with in exchange for her teaching me some really nifty German swear words. People of different origins from yours can be great assets as friends and serve as a wealth of interesting information.

Being that fandom is so diverse, especially in terms of what language we all speak, understandably there is a semi-prevalent use of other languages, secondary languages, in fanfic. However, sometimes this is done less-than-ideally and so I’d like to offer some tips about how to incorporate foreign languages into a fic in an appropriate manner.

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Blog by a programmer cum linguist cum writer cum total geek. One who pretentiously uses "cum" in place of any other logical connectives. Direct questions to the Ask Lauren page!

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