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?

Congratulation to all my friends, and to all the wonderful authors nominated.

It’s been an interesting process and I’ve learned a great deal.

Thanks to maszatka for her great work on the videos and to my country-man (woman!) Krystle for organising.

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 think this is the most self-indulgent element of this blog: my desire to share with the world not just my stories, but the process that goes on behind the scenes when I’m writing them. Clearly I have some insane belief that people will be interested, but even if they’re not, I want to write this. (Which is perhaps the philosophy behind the whole of fan fic, really, but I’ll leave that to explore another time…)

NB: *Here be spoilers* if you haven’t read the story yet, you might not want to read this, because it gives away the really cool twist.

“If you really loved me you’d let me kill you” was mostly a very fun story to write. It flowed fast, especially the first part, and the title came to me about half-way through the first chapter. I wasn’t quite sure what it meant at the time, but I thought it was cool, so I typed it at the top. Later, it came to really define the emotional journey for the two characters.

My heroine, Alex — or, more precisely, Her Royal Highness, Princess Alexandra Maria Feliciana Di Giorgio — is a princess, mowed down by House on his motorbike after she accidentally stepped out into traffic. At first, I was totally enamoured by the princess idea. My brain was rushing through all the wonderful fun I could have with such an impolite and unconventional character as House entering the stiff, ordered world of royalty.

But.

Then it didn’t feel right. About chapter 3 or 4, I started to feel like the princess thing was too twee, too silly. And that was when Alex whispered her little secret in my ear: “I’m not really a princess, I only think I am”. Wow! THAT made sense! Then came a heap of research into delusions and dissociative mental disorders to find out if such a thing was possible. Not only was it possible, but it bought in a whole heap of wonderful plot possibilities, like paranoia, and the extrapolation of external events into the delusion.

(For example: When Alex and House go for a walk and House goes into the OTB, Alex sees a TV program about herself and believes it is a story about her family trying to track her down. In fact — and House sees the same program on YouTube later – it was a news item about the real-life tragedy that happened to her family. The whole scene came about because of the research I did that told me that while someone like Alex would not suffer from hallucinations, she would interpret real events to suit her delusion.)

Once I realised that Alex was NOT a princess, I went back over the first few chapters I’d written and made sure the story made sense. Surprisingly there wasn’t a lot that had to change — funny how that happens. Alex clearly knew that about herself from the start! This brings up another good fan fic question, which is: when is the right time to post? Clearly if I’d posted the story after I’d written chapter one, I would have been trapped and not able to start laying in the clues that Alex might not be all that she seemed to be. Again, another topic for another time.

Interestingly although this was a romance there wasn’t much in the way of sex scenes. For some reason, these two, while passionate, weren’t quite as hyped up for bedroom action as previous stories I’ve written. I did include one scene towards the end (under the Christmas tree, for extra romance factor), but that was actually a plot point – it was part of Alex learning that she could trust herself to ‘let go’ and really feel her emotions without worrying she might break down again.

House’s journey was my real challenge. In this story his journey wasn’t as extreme as Alex’s — in contrast to his character on the show, here he was the stable influence, the rock, while Alex veered from one reality to the other. In the end, I decided for him it was simply about exploring this very aspect: he took care of his daughter and continued to care for Alex even though she rejected him and refused to speak to him. He ended up at Mayfield, but as a support person, not a patient. House found his salvation through saving someone else, rather than descending into the pit of despair he ended up at by the end of season five. Plus he had to become a father — and a single father at that — which was another opportunity for his emotional growth.

I like writing Daddy House, but I hate the cliches — tears at the ultrasound? Puh-lease. I tried to keep his relationship with Matilda real without being ridiculous – the tiredness, the occasional disgusting-ness, the overwhelming infatuation. I hope I managed that ok.

Which brings me to my favourite part of the whole story — and it’s Wilson. Sometimes my writing moves me — tears, pain, hunger, schmexy stuff, and laughter. Hopefully that’s a good sign. This time it was laughter. Here’s the moment I’m talking about, just after Matilda has thrown up all over Wilson:

“Argh!” Wilson barely stifled a gag, holding the baby out to her father as he struggled to overcome the revulsion of being showered with baby barf.

House couldn’t help the laugh that shook him. He reached over and took Tilly from Wilson, laughing even harder as he watched his friend frantically try to wipe the baby vomit before it reached his eyes and then look around in horror, trying to find something to clean the rest away.

House couldn’t even manage to point to the bathroom, his laughter was so encompassing. “Oh. My. God,” he managed to gasp. House looked down at Tilly who was frowning at Wilson in an entirely displeased manner. Through his laughter, House held Tilly up to face Wilson like a puppet. “We are not amused,” House mugged, still laughing as Wilson disappeared down the corridor.

“It’s in my hair!” came the distressed call from the bathroom.

I laughed. And I laughed some more. I could just picture Robert Sean Leonard as Wilson, eyes wide, horrified, as he looked in the mirror, a trail of baby barf running down his temple, ruining his perfect quaff. I laughed again.

I have to admit, most of my favourite scenes in this story revolved around Matilda. I love it when House takes her from Wilson (because she’s spit up yet again), props her up on the sofa and she falls over — because she’s basically a newborn. He says:

“It’s not my fault,” he protested to Matilda as he picked up the unhappy little girl and hoisted her to his shoulder. “If you can’t hold your drink and then you go playing around with strange men, you’re going to end up face down one way or the other.”

Actually that might actually tie for my favourite moment. I love the idea of saying something so awful and rude to a baby. Does that make me weird?

All my stories have songs that go with them (some of them even have soundtracks). I don’t usually tell people that when I post, because I do think that this information is not all that interesting. Especially if you’ve never heard of the band or the song. Then you’re like, ‘so what?’. Anyway, for those of you who know it, this story’s song was ‘China’ by Tori Amos — mostly because I went to see her in concert and while I was there I wrote (in my head) through a block I was up against. That song seemed to help in some way. After that, every time the story stopped flowing, I would listen to that song and see what happened. Sometimes it worked. The lyrics aren’t especially relevant, although they are about distance and closeness and I think that resonates.

Anyway, for those of you that liked the story, I hope that that was vaguely interesting. If not, then it doesn’t really matter I guess — you’re probably not reading anyway! Thank you so much to everyone who reviewed, giving the story more than 300 reviews in total — I’m really thrilled with that. It means such a lot to have lovely readers who ‘pay’ for their reading by leaving a review. It’s a fantastic reward. (Although, be prepared, if/when I do eventually land a publishing deal, I will be looking for actual DOLLARS not just praise…:-))

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 . . .

I’m very pleased to have been nominated in the second annual Whiteboard Awards. These awards are run on the Fox Forum (although they are unofficial) and they recognise excellence in House fan fiction across all ships, genres and characterisations. Check out the cool promo video:

Being nominated is very exciting and I honestly don’t care too much what happens next. There are so many wonderful writers nominated (including many dear friends) so the competition is very tough. I will be excited if I win, I will be excited if my friends win. Either way, I can’t lose!

Hope 2010 has started off well for you, whatever you are up to!

Mine has been a great one so far. My story “If you really loved me, you’d let me kill you” is still getting lovely reviews and currently has 247 in total! It’s not quite a record, but it’s closing in fast. An old story of mine, “Change of Heart” has a total of 258 — I’m having my own private and self-indulgent little race to see if “If you really” can beat it!

I’m still not sure why “Change of Heart” is so popular. It still regularly gets hundreds of hits each month. I think it is because it is the story in my list with the highest number of reviews. (Which goes back to my previous post about reviewing.) Other than that I’m at a loss, because I can’t say I think the story is any better than any of my other, more recent ones. It does have a lot of sex, though. Hot, House smut. Maybe that’s it.  😉

I finished writing “If you really” just before Christmas. I’m very pleased with how the ending turned out and how all the threads twisted together. There’s also a very “out there” scene towards the end that just popped in of its own accord, but I really like it and I think it is quite unusual and moving. Not giving anything more away — it will be posted within the next week or so!

We’re closing in fast on the end of the story. And I don’t have another one planned right now. I really want to try to spend some time on my non-House writing this month. My work is quieter at this time (being summer in the Southern Hemisphere) and it’s a good opportunity for me to concentrate. But you never know, something might pop up.

Oh, and before I go, thanks to all the lovely people who nominated me for the “Whiteboard Awards” over on the Fox Forum. It really is such an honour to be nominated along with some other wonderful authors. My only regret is that one of my stories from last year, “Rebirth”, isn’t eligible because I posted it on ff.net, not the forum. It is one of the stories from last year that I’m most proud of. But the rules is the rules!

Sorry, this isn’t a particularly fascinating post, but I just thought I’d pop in, let you know I was still alive, still intending to keep up this blog, and…. well, that’s about it. Promise I’ll be back soon with more of my (hopefully) scintillating stuff. Once “If you really” is complete, I’m planning to publish a post about how I felt about writing it and some DVD extras, “behind the scenes” stuff. Hopefully that might be interesting!

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.

Reviews in the world of fan fiction are insanely important. And not just for blowing up the egos of authors like moi. 🙂

Many authors say that reviews are the “payment” that fan fic authors get for the hard work they put in to writing and posting a story, and that is true. But there are other impacts that reviews can have.

The number of reviews a story gets can have a lasting effect on the readership of that story. As a general rule, the more reviews you get, the more readers you get, and therefore the more reviews you get. It’s a snowball thing.

I know I often use the number of reviews as a guide to judge the quality of a story before I click on it to read. I’m sure lots of readers do. It’s not always a surefire technique. Sometimes, perhaps because a particular “ship” is popular, an average fic might get a lot of reviews, where a truly excellent fic might get less because it is about a less popular pairing. (As an OC writer, that is the bain of my life.)

Some readers (again, like me) might visit the reviews page before they start to read a story to get an idea of what people think about it. When you’ve been hanging around the FF.net site as long as I have, you also start to recognise the usernames and have “favourite” reviewers –“if ‘x’ likes this story, then I probably will too”.

So reviewers hold a lot of power in their hands.

And not just for crushing the egos of authors like moi. 🙂

What makes a good review? When you click to leave a review on the FF.net site, it urges reviewers:

A well rounded critique is often the most rewarding gift a reader can give . Please use this golden opportunity to offer a well deserved praise and/or tips for improvement.

Okay, my rule — and it’s only my rule — is that I NEVER leave any kind of constructive criticism as a review. Knowing that in effect, reviews can be a deciding factor as to whether or not people read, I don’t think it is fair to provide “tips for improvement” in a permanent record like the reviews page. Occasionally, when I am moved to give someone some advice (which doesn’t happen very often, I only give comments to people I really like or who I think are already great and just need a little nudge) I do it via email or private message. I think this is much fairer to the author. It also allows them to ignore me (as they have every right to do) or to take the criticism on board and fix things. If that happens, then anyone reading the reviews where I say “You need to fix ‘x'” is going to be thinking, “What? Why?”

Reviews are forever people!

Which is not to say that “Great stuff, update soon” is the only kind of review you should leave (or I want to receive). I’ve already said that the business of reviewing is a numbers game, so those short, uninformative reviews are still important. And, lets face it, we’re not all gasping for breath in our eagerness to write an essay for each and every chapter of a fic we read. So when I get those reviews, I’m still thankful, and appreciate the time people have taken to leave it. So very many people read everything I write and never take the time.

But the reviews that really make me smile, the ones that leave me with a spring in my step for the rest of the day? They have usually been the result of a little more effort on the behalf of the reviewer. They’ve taken serious time to comment on the plot, to wonder what might happen next, and to (sometimes) say nice things about the writing. They’re the ones I do this for.

And they’re the ones that have helped me build up the courage to find out if my writing can make it in the “real world”.

The last thing I’ll say on the subject of reviews is the one thing I’d love to know. Why is it, that when people read old stories, they never leave a review? From the detailed and fascinating statistics FF.net provides me on the readership of my stories, I can see that lots of them (all of them, in fact) are read by someone, all the time. And yet I only ever receive reviews for the current WIP. I’d so love to hear from the people who are reading old stories. They don’t have to review every chapter, just one at the end would be nice. It happens occasionally, but so rarely as to be a big surprise when it does. Perhaps I’m being unrealistic? Or perhaps those statistics are just people who’ve already read and reviewed going back to read again? *shrugs* Don’t know!

Anyway, whether you’re an author or a reader, let me know your thoughts on the topic of reviewing. I have a feeling this is a subject we might come back to again and again — there’s certain a lot to think about.

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The great and wise Gertrude Stein