You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Writing technique’ category.

Singapore, actually, and it’s hot and sauna-humid! Do they have House here? Yep – season 6, Thursdays at 10pm. Might even get to catch it while I’m here. (Although I hasten to add that watching TV isn’t usually a priority when I’ m in another country!)

I haven’t been around for a while. I have still been writing though, just not House fiction. I’ve got two stories being considered by publishers right now – a short story and a novel. I’ve been busy doing revisions and getting them submitted. I’m also working on a new story (also not House) although it is coming slowly because work is keeping me busy.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for news on anything, if there’s anything I’ve learned over the past couple of years of finding my way in the publishing world, it’s that everything happens very, very s-l-o-w-l-y.

But that wasn’t what prompted me to jump on and blog – it was reading this blog post that prompted me to write. Many of you would know of Diana Gabaldon – she wrote the series of time-travel books featuring the hot Scots warrior, Jamie. (Called “Outlander” in the US and “Cross Stitch” in other parts of the world.)

Well, it appears Ms Gabaldon really, really, really HATES fan fiction.

I had very strong reactions when I read her post. (I have not read all of the 500+ comments, but I imagine my own reactions are mirrored in there somewhere.) On the one hand, I must admit, I wondered if there was a difference between writing fan fic about a TV character as compared to a character from a novel. The character of a novel is the creation of one person only, as compared to a TV character who is an amalgam of the writing, the actor, the director, etc. Does that make novel characters somehow more ‘private’? More ‘copyrighted’?

I have never been tempted to write fan fiction for any character other than House and for reasons I can’t explain, the idea of writing fan fiction about a character in a book somehow seems ‘different’. But is it really? Once a character is out in the public domain, be it in a book, on a TV program, in a film, isn’t it ‘out there’ regardless of its original format?

On the other hand, I was really angered on behalf of myself and the many other very talented writers I know who write fan fiction. She made some broad, sweeping generalisations that people who write fan fic do so because they are unable to do ‘proper’ writing of their own. That is so absolutely not true. I know at least FOUR other fan fic writers who are actively pursuing published author status. And that’s just the four people I know.

Ms Gabaldon has obviously been a published writer for a long time, and has clearly forgotten the rocky, disheartening and downright soul-destroying journey that it takes for an unpublished author to finally see their name in print. What real harm is done if, along the way, you write some fun stories using someone else’s characters, for no financial gain, but for the encouragement and reinforcement of your writing abilities?

I can’t refute her point that some people who have very poor writing skills will find themselves an audience if they shove in enough sex scenes or if they write the romance or storyline that fans want to see. (In the House fandom, witness some of the extraordinarily bad Hameron or Huddy stories – I’m NOT saying that they are all bad, but some have huge numbers of reviews not for the quality of the writing but for the adherence to the ‘ship’.)

But fan fic exists in a world in which anyone, anywhere, can be ‘published’, in the sense that your work can be made available to a global audience. Back when unpublished Diana was trying to work on her writing, the best she could hope was that her friends and family might have a read and give her some encouragement. Maybe she could enter a competition or two, or join a writers group. Those options are all still open to  an unpublished writer today (and, indeed are all things I’ve made use of). But what that young Diana couldn’t do, that I – and many like me – have been able to do, is put my writing up on a global stage, to get the feedback and encouragement from people in the US, Poland, Brazil, India, Sweden, Chile, Russia and more (and that’s just the fan fic stats for May so far). I’ve had tens of thousands of people read my work.

Welcome to Web 2.o and the twenty-first century, Ms Gabaldon.

Exactly what harm is it doing to you that people want to write about Jamie Fraser and Sassenach Claire? It’s certainly not hurting your hip pocket.

All I can say is that if I ever get my books published, I totally give you all permission to write as much fan fiction about them as you can. Go for it. Wild, sexy, implausible, pornographic, OOC, ridiculous, comedic, slash, crossover, even badly written. In my mind all it would do is honour my work, demonstrate affection for the characters of my invention, and let others learn from my experience.

I’ve just finished posting the final chapter of my latest fic, Affair to Remember. It’s a story about House, his mother, Blythe, his mother’s neighbor, Emma, and her son, Cameron. As far as plot goes, it’s pretty simple: Blythe’s failing mental health has been having an impact on her neighbor, who’s been forced into a caretaker role. She finally calls House and asks him to come and take care of his mother himself.

From a writing perspective, in this story I was practicing something; I was playing with the idea of “themes”.

If you’re interested in learning more about writing, one of the best writing books I’ve read is Stephen King’s On Writing. Part memoir, part instructional guide, it is an amazingly easy-to-read book and would be of interest to anyone (reader or writer) who wants to know more about the craft.

One of the things he talks about is this idea of “themes”.

I’m sure just from high school English class if nothing else, you’re familiar with the idea of themes throughout a book — for example, The Great Gatsby is about a thwarted love story, but the themes in it are rich well beyond that, such as the division between old money and new money, and the destruction of the “American dream”.

Stephen King advises that once you’ve written your book, you examine it for themes and then go back and weave them into the tapestry so they permeate throughout. It’s when authors do this that you have lots to talk about when you discuss a story — there is depth beyond the plot, and meaning behind the actions of the characters. It’s what makes a book good for a book club!

Now I’m not necessarily saying I achieved book club status with this story, but I was practicing with themes and I’d be interested to know if you picked up on any of it. There were two I was deliberately playing with: the nature of an “affair”, and “memory” or “remembering” — just as in the title.

All my characters had an affair — thus the title is deliberately not “AN Affair to Remember”, like the movie . Blythe’s affair was with House’s biological father and, in my mind, was the central “affair” of the title. Emma and House end up having an affair. And Cameron is about to set off on his very first “affair” by having sex with his girlfriend for the first time. Each of these three relationships weave in and out of all their lives, with Blythe’s remembrance of her affair as what sets off House believing that there is something wrong with her mental state.

My take on affairs wasn’t just the sex or the relationship angle though, it was on the “memory” — what does an affair leave you remembering? For Blythe, she remembers a man she loved, who left her with a son and the rest of her life that (to me) never measured up to what she could have had if she’d left John and gone with Tommy. Perhaps this is what is ultimately behind her parting advice to House “not to be afraid” — does she wish she’d had the courage to live her own life differently?

Both House and Emma reflect that they will remember the weekend forever. For Emma it marks a turning point in her life — a decision that she must start to live her life for herself and not just for her son, because he will grow up and leave her soon. Being with House shows her possibilities that she’s not let herself imagine.  This is in contrast to Blythe, who gave her life to her husband and and son. Emma realizes that she needs to change the way she lives or she faces a similar destiny to her neighbor. (And, as a little additional reinforcement of the “affair” theme, in Emma’s back story, we find out that she was badly hurt when her husband cheated on her when Cameron was a baby — that affair, although not hers, left her with memories that kept her from seeking another relationship for many years.)

In contrast to the other characters, Cameron is all about making memories rather than remembering them. House’s final advice to Cameron, to take his time “because he’ll remember it forever”, is opposite to when House first protests that he can’t remember how old he was himself when he first had sex. Cameron doesn’t call him on that, and we can only imagine what the teenager does or doesn’t do with his girlfriend Tori. (Although, I rather hope they have a very special time and end up going out with each other throughout high school until they part to go to different colleges. I liked Cameron. A lot. 🙂 )

House’s journey throughout the story is the one that is most about memories. I’ve mentioned to one reader that I was very much playing with the “Broken” version of House in this story. His relationship with Lydia in that episode was very informative to some of the inner workings of his mind, and in this story, it is Lydia who House remembers, not Stacy: his affair, rather than his relationship. The affair with Emma is more “domestic” than the affair with Lydia, and it shows House how much he misses the day-to-day aspects of being with someone — something he wanted with Lydia but couldn’t have.

House also has to face memories — his mother’s life and her decisions and how they’ve affected him. He also has to face the shadow of his father at every turn — the helpful marines and his father’s reputation preceding him. Although I could have, I didn’t delve too much into this, because this story wasn’t about John House or House’s relationship with his father, it was about mothers and sons. I felt getting into that would have “muddied” my themes by adding in a new one. (Besides, I think the House/John relationship has been pretty fully explored in fan fic, and I wanted to do something different.)

For House, the mother/son relationship dynamic couldn’t happen without some kind of “coming of age” journey for him. His reflections about the parent/child relationship shifting were part of this. I think this is also why he felt drawn to Cameron and found himself liking the teenager. Both of them were going through turning points in their lives: for Cameron it was puberty and losing his virginity; for House it was accepting his role and responsibilities as an adult and becoming a care-taker. House plays this role with each person at different points in the story — he rescues his mother after the accident and applies first aid; he comforts Emma in the hospital and realizes it is a fulfilling feeling; he advises and coaches Cameron on a number of occasions. I don’t know about you, but I liked House as the responsible one rather than the victim, I think he often likes to play “helpless” — with Wilson, especially.

I really enjoyed writing this story, and I feel it is something a little different to anything I have done before. It has echoes of “Rebirth” I think, in that it takes a kind of slow and gentle approach to the story-telling. I hope you enjoyed reading it.

And as a little treat for all of us:

Movie image, An Affair to Remember

*sigh* Cary Grant. Mmm.

I’m in the middle of doing revisions on a manuscript as requested by an editor. An actual editor from a publishing house! Who’s asked to see it again when I’m done!

Yes, it is very exciting, but combined with insanely, mind-numbingly frustrating as I pull apart my ‘baby’ and rework it — a very strange mix of emotions, I’m here to tell you . . .

A lot of the advice/revisions from the editor was absolutely spot-in (thus the frustrating part) and has resulted in me losing thousands of words in the first two chapters alone. Why? Because there was too much between the start and the action.

As I was sitting here with my finger on the ‘delete’ button, I was reminded of this song about the King Kong movie from a few years ago (audio only, very funny but rude and NSFW):

The band is Tripod, and if they ever track back this link I think they will be proud to see themselves referenced in something as potentially geeky as fan fiction. (Wouldn’t put it past them to have tried a little themselves. Probably Star Wars.)

Anyway, partly as an excuse to avoid my revisions, and partly to pass on this solid advice, I decided to write this short post. The song puts it best: Get to the fucking monkey!

If you are a writer, are you a plotter or a pantser?

A plotter is someone who works out the outline of their story before they write – generally they have everything worked out, characters fleshed-out, the story and its resolution completely decided before they write. I’m currently reading “The Pillars of the Earth” by Ken Follett on the recommendation of a fellow OC Babe. I recently saw him interviewed by Oprah and, much to my amazement, he said he had taken a full year to completely plot the book before he even started writing a word of it. He had every single chapter worked out, every single plot point decided. Now, this book is over 1,000 pages with many, many characters, and I think it would be almost impossible to write without a plan to guide you.

A pantser ( from the saying ‘flying by the seat of your pants’) is someone who writes as they go, who just lets the story guide them. They might have some idea of how the story is going to progress, but they don’t have any formal plan.

A cute medical analogy from the Story Fix link below is that pantsing and plotting are different in the way that exploratory surgery is different  to an appendectomy.

I sit somewhere between both. At first I’m a pantser. And then a plotter. And then I might go back to being a pantser for the last few chapters. (Apparently it’s called being an organic writer – glad to know there’s a pigeon hole for everyone…)

I love starting a story with a fantastic opening scene in my head and then finding out, as I write, what is going to happen to my characters and their situation. Then, about two-thirds of the way through, once I’ve discovered the surprises and I’ve worked out where things are heading, I do a little plotting. I go back and see if the earlier chapters provide the right clues and hints as to where the story is heading. I go back and make sure that my characters’ motivations and behaviour are consistent and work to explain the plot and their actions as the story progresses. My final chapter/s are often a bit more ‘pantsing’ and can sometimes even surprise me as something unexpected happens. Of course that then requires another bit of ‘plotting’ and going back and reviewing the story as a whole again.

I was quite excited when I found The Pantser’s Guide to Story Planning at the Story Fix blog. It has some really useful points about what key things you really need to focus on when you are a pantser. There are some essential elements to any well-constructed and smoothly-flowing story that even pantsers can’t afford to ignore. I like this approach because while I can see the value of ensuring you cover off these key elements, I simply can’t plot in advance without it completely ruining the joy of the writing process for me.

My ‘organic’ writing approach is the main reason that I don’t post my stories until I’m either completely finished writing or very close to. I hate being trapped by an earlier story point that has been already published and so I can’t change it to make the story flow the way I want to. I usually have all but the last two or three chapters (depending on the length of the story) completely written before I will even begin posting.

(And, on a side note: I know that some fan fic readers get annoyed by writers who don’t post every day especially when they know that the story is completely written. But each time I post, I take the opportunity to do one last edit/review of the chapter and check for all those typos I missed the first three hundred times I read it. 🙂 So I don’t necessarily have time to post every day when I have to fit in editing time as well. And, I will admit, my personal experience is that by posting every day you limit the number of reviews your story receives. I’ve talked before about how important the number of reviews you receive can be.)

I would hazard a guess that most fan fic writers are pantsers. Many of them begin to post before they have finished writing the story and without any kind of outline that will guide future chapters. I think, unfortunately, that sometimes that approach can give stories an awkward feel. It can also make the writing process more difficult and frustrating because as a pantser, you’re left trying to tie up the threads of the story as it stands and, because it’s published, you can’t go back and change anything.

Now, publishing fan fic is not quite the same as writing a book that you aim to get published. For a start, most fan fic writers can’t devote the time (a whole year in Ken Follett’s case!) to perfecting their story. And as fan fic readers we are forgiving of storylines that don’t quite tie up, minor characters that get lost along the way, and uneven or illogical character motivations. But I’m sure you agree that the very best fan fic stories are like novels in their scope and structure, and we have a clear sense of:

  • a set-up
  • a response to the new journey
  • attack on the problem
  • resolution

(Taken from Part two of The Pantser’s Guide to Story Planning, “The Nine Things You Should Know Before You Begin Writing”.)

Are you a plotter or a pantser? Let me know your approach when you write and publish fan fic. There is no right or wrong answer! And if you are a reader, can you notice the difference in the stories you read?

As someone who hopes one day to get published, I probably spend as much time learning about writing as actually writing. (And actually writing probably counts as learning too!)

I have a massive list of blogs on my Google Reader, authors, agents, publishers, reviewers, readers, you name it, and if I don’t keep on top of it, the number of posts to read swells to an unmanageable number very, very quickly.

At the moment, though, I’m hanging on every word of Paula Roe, in her blog series A Novel in 3 Months. Her current post (the one I’ve linked to) is about GMC = Goal, Motivation and Conflict, the holy trinity of character development. It looks simple, but when you try to apply it to characters of your own making it’s far less easy.

I’ve struggled with it, and I’m struggling with it in the story I’m trying to write right now. So, I thought, as an exercise, to try to get this concept straight, let’s apply it to Greg House.

Goal (desire or want)

What does House want that he doesn’t have? I think the answer is “personal fulfillment” or “meaning”. He searches for answers in every medical puzzle, in every patient, wanting to understand not just what is wrong with them, but what makes them tick. (At least he used to. Back in the early days of the show). His constant, existential search for meaning came primarily through his medical pursuits and the cases that he solved.

Then things changed and he began to realise that some of this meaning could be found in the more lasting relationships he had with the people around him: Wilson, Cuddy, his team. Of course what we House/OC writers like to imagine is that this search extends to a romantic relationship (something the show has toyed with but never really provided). We like to imagine him finding fulfillment by connecting with a woman (usually) and finding happiness in a relationship.

Another goal he has is to be “left alone”. We see him push people away, over and over (especially prior to his Mayfield visit). He projects through his words and actions an independence that he treasures.

Motivation (what makes him tick)

After five and a half years of getting to know this character we still don’t fully understand what makes him tick. But we certainly do have some idea.

Intelligent, perhaps too intelligent, he has never fitted in — he has often used his smarts to manipulate other people and situations to his own advantage. His family upbringing was harsh, an only child and the product of an extra-marital affair — abuse has been mentioned, but we don’t know exactly what form it took (despite the wild imaginings of many fan fic writers!). We get the impression that he broke away from his parents at an early age, his relationship from them as distant as he could make it.

Why did he go into medicine? Because he saw the respect given to a Japanese man, a doctor of low class, who no one thought counted, until they needed him. At a young age, House saw that the fact that this man had knowledge bridged every other disadvantage he faced. Suddenly we see it: this boy, painfully bright, wants only to find a way to use his knowledge to gain the esteem and respect of others. With fragile self-confidence and low self-esteem (caused by many factors including the abuse and a constantly shifting home as a military brat) House strives to be noticed and to matter at the very same time as he appears to disdain the very notion of such things.  Contradictory? Absolutely! I’m not sure if Paula would agree with me, but I’m figuring that’s what makes him such an appealing character.

His need to be “left alone” is perhaps linked to a deep-seated fear that he isn’t actually worthy of being loved. The breakdown of his only significant relationship (that we know of), left him shattered both physically and emotionally. He doesn’t appear to ever want to risk that pain again, seeking companionship from ‘paid help’ and brief affairs. (Although we’ve never really been privy to an affair other than Lydia, but we can guess there have been others: the nutritionist for example.)

Conflict (tension, roadblocks)

I think conflict in a five-year long TV series is a different beast to conflict in a novel. However this is where internal and external conflict become important. Internal conflict is the emotions, tensions, struggles and hangups that prevent the character from achieving their goals. External conflict is the ‘plot’, the events and the changes that happen that cause the story to develop. In most cases, the patient-of-the-week storyline in House is external conflict — something that stirs emotion or gets in the way.

From a romance writers angle, I’ve heard it described as ‘internal conflict pulls them apart, external conflict pushes them together’. It’s the old ‘cabin fever’ plot device: put two opposing characters into a situation they can’t escape from and see what happens…

The more conflict there is, the more compelling the story becomes (although within reason — you don’t want to test your readers’ patience with unending and unbearable angst). I’m sure you’ve all read a romance or a love story where you absolutely couldn’t possibly imagine how the two protagonists were ever going to end up together and were desperate to keep reading to find out what happened. That’s conflict.

(And, as a side note, perhaps that’s where David Shore is shooting himself in the food with the whole House/Cuddy storyline — the more things get in the way of them coming together, the more those rabid fans weld themselves to that outcome!)

Conflict is the hardest thing to write successfully, in my opinion. ESPECIALLY in fan fiction, where you are restricted in many ways to the character traits, goals and motivations that someone else has set.

A common problem I’ve found in my own writing is that I end up with both the internal and the external conflict pushing the characters away from each other and thinking that sexual tension is enough to pull them back together again. Sometimes it works, but it can make a story feel flimsy. (And editors and publishers don’t like it — trust me on that one!)

Another trap that’s easy to fall into, is making the internal conflict so complicated and complex, that you lose yourself in explaining what makes the character tick without actually showing what influence it has — i.e. why it is important. A great author I listened to speak said that character motivations should be ‘simple and deep, not complex and shallow’. I guess if you have five years to tell a character’s story you have the luxury of making it both ‘deep and complex’.

And perhaps that’s why we love writing fan fic — how else can we get to play with a character that has had five years to tell us his story??

Okay, so GMC in a nutshell: Character wants something. Character has flaws that get in the way of them achieving that. Things happen that help and hinder them along the way. Then, in the case of romance (and stories I like to read) somehow character emerges triumphant.

Hmm. Still sounds simple. Still is really, really, not. Back to reading and writing and learning, for me…

I wanted to write a little more constructively about the process of writing “If you really loved me”, the House fan fic story that I’ve just recently published the last chapter of, but I’m finding that I can’t. (But I will, in a future post.)

I’ve talked to other writers about the strange emotions that happen when you write and publish fan fic and I think that many of us go through the same kind of process.

At first, when I’m writing a story, I’m filled with enthusiasm and excitement for it. I can’t wait to find out what happens and I’m practically obsessed by writing – I simply don’t want to do anything else (eat, sleep, work, go outside . . .). It’s like an addiction, and occasionally just as unhealthy!

Usually, I start to post (publish) a story when I’m about two-thirds of the way through writing it. It’s when I’m still quite excited by the story and I’m bursting to get some feedback from someone and share my words with the world.

Then, a strange thing happens. I work out what’s going to happen in the story. I know how it’s going to end – all that has to happen is for me to sit down and type it out. And that’s usually right when I fall out of love with my story. Sitting down to do that typing feels more like a chore than a labour of love. I also no longer think it’s very good, despite any lovely reviews I might be getting (thank you) and I have a massive crisis of confidence, wondering what the hell I was thinking putting it out there anyway. I no longer have the drive to write that I did at the start.

Generally speaking it takes me two- to three-times longer to write the final two chapters as it did to write the whole rest of the story. Silly, hey?

So they’re the first two “emotional” phases of the process of fan fic writing – well for me, anyway. But there’s a third.

Once I’ve finished writing, I’ve typed the words “The End”, and then I’ve posted my final chapter, a weird kind of melancholy descends. It’s like Christmas Day when you’re a kid and all the presents have been opened and you didn’t get exactly what you’d hoped for. That sad, kind of restless sense of anti-climax. I think it’s because I used to have this ongoing sense of purpose, I’d wake up and know I needed to post. People were out there waiting for it! Not only that, I would get regular emails (review alerts) filled with praise from people – often complete strangers! – about how well I was doing with something. And then, all of a sudden, it stops.

I guess it’s a little like being an addict and having your “culottes” taken away. (That’s a House reference 🙂 ) The “high” that you once had is over. No more nagging to post from keen readers, no lovely reviews – no personal satisfaction simply from seeing thousands of words from your own imagination right there on the screen.

I don’t want to overstate this. It’s not like I’m sitting curled up in a ball in the corner of the room, rocking back and forward. I still have a life to lead, bills to pay, work to do, family and friends to annoy. But there’s this little weird, nagging sense of loss, of something missing, of a gap where something used to be.

That is, of course, until the next story begins . . .

The simple answer is, of course, anyone. But does that mean ‘anyone’ is capable of writing strong characters, interesting plot, well designed story arcs, and doing all of that using correct grammar and spelling? As anyone who has browsed through fan fic.net would know, the answer is definitively ‘no’!

There are some truly woeful stories up there. Some of the issues are because people are writing in English which is not their first language. As someone who is totally mono-lingual, and embarrassed by that fact, I can’t help but applaud people who can not only speak, but write, in more than one language. But unless you’re fluent, I probably won’t read your story. Sorry. In a previous life I have been an editor for business publications, and grammar and spelling mistakes serious enough to interrupt my reading just make my red-pen finger itch. I can’t bear it.

Whether English is your first or second language, there really is no reason to have basic errors in your fics. If you’re uncertain about your skills in this area, get a ‘beta’. A ‘beta’ is kind of like an editor for fan fic writers. Basically it’s someone who kindly volunteers to check your work and give you feedback. Finding a great beta to partner with is one of the hidden secrets of good writers! I think I’m going to dedicate my next post to talking about the beta-ing process and how to best work with a beta.

The other fics that make me cringe are those  penned by teens who (not unreasonably) place adult characters (in the case of House, a 50-year-old adult character!) into teenage situations and have teenage language coming from their mouths. Now I have nothing against teenagers, apparently I was one once. And I wrote some pretty bloody shocking stories back then. So I say, write your little hearts out, but sorry, unless your writing sings out above the flock — and there are some who do — I’m probably not going to read it.

(I just had to add that my favourite ‘bad writing’ thing ever is reading a story that includes smut written by someone who’s obviously never had sex. It’s deliciously awful.)

I know I run the risk here of putting myself up on the pedestal of declaring what is right and wrong, which I said I wouldn’t do in this blog. And I make myself vulnerable to someone instantly pointing out an error in one of my own fics. (If it’s the typo in chapter one of “If You Really Loved Me”, I just found it and fixed it. Damn. Been up there for weeks.)

But when it comes to grammar and spelling, I’m afraid that right and wrong do exist! Yes, there is flexibility. Yes there are international differences.(I still laugh when I remember that in one story I had a character wrap up a baby in a ‘rug’, and all my American readers were wondering why they wrapped a baby in a carpet!! In Australia, a rug is both a blanket and a piece of floor carpet!) But grammar and spelling are the foundations of language that allow us to communicate clearly with one another. If we don’t get those basics right, then it doesn’t matter how good our characters or our story are, because people won’t be able to understand what we’re trying to convey.

Typos, on the other hand, are a fact of life. Published authors still suffer from them. Published books have them in them! And let’s face it, I see every piece of fan fiction as ‘practice’. I hope that my writing has improved as I have gone on. And I’d hate to think that someone read my first story and went ‘she can’t write’ and never tried my stuff again. But I’d be reasonably confident to say that even my first story had few basic errors of spelling and grammar. It might not have been perfect, but it was readable.

The more you write, the better you get at it. So I don’t want to discourage anyone from giving it a go and putting it up there for people to comment on. It remains one of the bravest things you can do. My advice, if you’re in anyway uncertain about your writing skill, is: get help. Get a beta. Run your story through the Word spellcheck at the very least!

Anyone is allowed to write fan fic. It’s whether or not you want people to read it that should determine the effort you put in. If it’s going to stay hidden in your journal or saved into your secret file on the computer, then no one has to be able to read it except for you. But if you want to take the leap out into the big wide world and experience the joy of having someone else tell you they like what you’ve done, then do them the honour of getting the little things right.

A very intimidating title, there, and one I’m not sure I’m going to completely deserve with this post. However, it is something that has been on my mind this week as I battle with a few of my usual writing demons.

In traditional romance writing, the character arcs of the hero and heroine generally follow predictable trajectories. That’s not to say every character goes through the same thing, but that there are generally recognisable stages and steps that characters go through as we progress through a story. Probably one of the most well-known is the hero’s journey monomyth. (Wikipedia reference) If you want to know what that is, watch Star Wars, because apparently George Lucas copied it. Or so people say. (I haven’t done any actual academic creative writing theory, so for those of you who have, forgive me if this seems primitive.)

However, what can you do when the lead role in your story (whether hero or heroine) is played by someone else’s character – one that your readers know well and love? How much leeway do you have to change that character or to have them undergo some kind of transformational journey? And, if you decide to play things carefully, how do you ensure that your story is still satisfying and that, by the end, it feels like all the characters (both canon and OC) have come to the end of their respective journeys?

In writing House, there are some quite strong constraints around the character which, in my mind, he can’t grow too far from. He can’t suddenly become a submissive, docile man who will go along with whatever the heroine wants (or second hero, in the case of slash, I guess). He also can’t NOT change, because the whole point of the story (in a romance) is for him to find happiness in another human being, which, as a canon character, he finds incredibly difficult. The trick lies in finding a balance somewhere between.

Many fan fics I’ve read seem to go too far one way or the other.

Either House doesn’t change and so the story isn’t satisfying or doesn’t seem believable, because the House we know on the TV show would not be instantly transferrable, unchanged, into a stable, loving relationship. (Yes, we all know it’s there, just under the surface, and that’s why we write this, to explore it, but we all have to admit that he would have to change at least some things in order to make it work.)

Some fan fic writers go the other way and make House into an instantly soft and squishy, passive romantic lead. Yes, he gave Cameron a corsage. Yes, he brought Cuddy’s desk back from her parents’ place. But let’s face it: mostly, he’s still a bastard. He’s a bastard alpha male with a hidden streak of romantic purism and that’s what makes him so damn irresistible as a romantic lead.

I’m not saying that I think I get this balance right myself. It’s just one of the elements that I find difficult about writing House fic. When you write non-fan fiction, your characters are your own and you can invent the backstory and character flaws and past experiences that help to meld the transformation that the character goes through. When you write fan fiction, you are limited by what the canon has revealed and what tweaks you can fit in around the edges.

When a fan fic writer gets this balance right, to me, this is when the pairing or ship or storyline doesn’t matter. If you can take a known character, expand them in a believable way, take them through a journey that transforms them and yet they remain emphatically who the readers recognise, then I think you have succeeded. If you do that, I don’t really care who you have him sleeping with. Agree? Disagree?

Pages

The great and wise Gertrude Stein