Some basics before you beta

9/28/2005 8:41:08 PM
Over the past few months, I’ve noticed a plethora of stories on fanfiction.net that make my teeth itch. They are mostly written by teenaged girls, from the ages of 13-19 and they are poorly written on many levels. They have poor mechanics, with multiple mistakes in grammar, punctuation, and spelling. They are poorly written in terms of plot, with holes big enough to drive a semi through (that’s an articulated truck for my good friends in the UK). And they’re poorly written in terms of characterization, with the canon characters pushed to the background by weak, wimpy Mary Sues or characters written so OOC as to be virtually unrecognizable.
 
One of these aspiring writers has reposted her long list of stories for the third time, hoping that perhaps if they appear on the front page of the Thunderbirds section, they’ll get noticed. They’ve been noticed all right; by a reviewer who leaves excellent concrit without flaming. Among those stories is a small bit she wrote about herself and her muse. It has nothing to do with Thunderbirds and, by rights, doesn’t even belong on the site. Inside, she reprinted (without permission) an email she got from some experienced writers; a missive full of wonderful advice, kindly meant and positive in its presentation. From the reaction of her "muse", I would guess that she felt put upon and angry at the concrit. So I weighed in myself, giving my opinion on the ideas that her "muse" gave her, adding my approval to the advice she had already gotten, throwing in some counsel of my own, and hoping against hope that not only would she finally "get it" but that others with the same problem would as well.
 
Here are the very basic things I told her to do:
 
1. Get help with her English. It is a real shame that, as schools across the world have had to shoulder the burden of being everything to every child, teachers have not been able to take the time necessary to make sure that their students "get it" when it comes to the basics of writing. But fortunately, in light of that problem, there are many, many programs out there to help students of any age learn how to write properly. I told this young woman to check with her local library to see what was available. And, though I didn’t mention this to her, a lot of schools have teamed up with local churches and civic groups to offer free, after-school remedial tutoring. My youngest son brought home a list of the programs offered in our area and the school will have a meeting tomorrow evening to bring these agencies and needy families together to help the children who most need it get a leg up on their studies.
 
2. Think through her plots. She needs, as we all do, to ask, "Is this real? Would this happen in real life? Would this or could this happen in the reality of my chosen fandom?" I mentioned that, though we are dealing with fantasy in our fandom, most of fan fiction writers see the world and the characters they are writing about as "real"; otherwise, we wouldn’t write about them. So there is a genuine need to think through what we are writing and ask, "Does this ring true?" And not only about our plots, but about our characters as well.
 
3. Research her subject. If there ‘s anything that will gain a writer negative concrit faster than bad mechanics, it’s a badly researched storyline. If there’s a nurse out there who is reading a story, and the author has a character, also a nurse, do something that no nurse would ever do, she’s going to call the writer on it faster than you can say "intravenous line". So research, as boring as it may seem, is vital to a well-written, well-plotted story. The entire Internet is at an author’s fingertips, and most people that are in a particular profession would love to share their knowledge so the story is right. Make use of them. Who knows? You might end up with a beautiful friendship.
 
4. Run her stories through a spellchecker. Spellcheckers may be stupid, but they are also necessary. I can’t count how many times a long word that I just know I’ve spelled correctly, has turned out wrong. As long as you know that you’re using the right words, you have to make sure that they’re spelled right as well.
 
5. Read it aloud. I’ve already covered this, and won’t go over it again, except to say that it’s a great tool for any writer, novice or seasoned.
 
Finally, I told her that when she had accomplished these tasks, she could ask for beta.
 
Will she listen? Will others? Only time will tell.

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