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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 thoseĀ  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.

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The great and wise Gertrude Stein