Part Two: Fanfic Cliches, and What I Don't Like About Them A year ago I slapped up a list of so-called "fanfic cliches" that I'd spent maybe fifteen minutes jotting down. Since then I've altered some of my views, become more certain of others, and noted a few more things that are just worn out in Transformer stories. This is the end result. Enjoy, and remember the point is to help make better stories, not to discourage anyone from writing. And they're all just opinions. And we're all friends here. And it is all good. Let the sun shine in. Come on, people now, smile on your brother, everybody get together... NOTE: not ALL of these things are inherently bad; in fact, probably every one of them has been used well in a good story at some point. But I've seen them in so many fanfics that they've reached the point of cliché, while other worthwhile ideas tend to go unexplored. * Fan-made character is more powerful and awesomely destructive than the Feature Characters [the ones made by Hasbro] and has no weaknesses [usually no personality, either :]. Avoid hyperbolic superpowers in your own characters. It may be fun when you're playing at home to slaughter all the old characters with one of your own, but if you do it in a story, people are just going to roll their eyes and move on. In all honesty, no-one cares about your made-up MegaHumungoSuperOblivicus who can snap his fingers and make anyone fall dead and is now set to conquer the universe. I'm not saying don't make up your own characters; indeed, that's part of the fun of it all. But keep them realistic. If you're creating a very strong character, give 'em a few weaknesses of some sort (and by that I don't mean a plot-device Achilles' Heel like having three spots on their back that cause deactivation when shot). Give them a personality beyond just "he's really tough and cool and he kicks a lotta ass." Tell us what he's feeling, how he views and reacts to the other characters, what he personally wants in the short and long term, how he sees himself, what goes on in his head... the possibilities go on and on. * Fan-made character is the author in disguise. Actually, there's a lot of leeway with this, since -- as several people pointed out to me -- a lot of fictional writing is autobiographical to a certain degree (indeed, several of my own characters are simply what I see as different sides of my own personality.) But, often, the fan-made character is the same as the ultra-powerful types mentioned above. Other times the author literally writes their life into the story -- which instantly sends the cheese factor off the scale. Your acquisition of super powers and rise to prominence in the Transformers' ranks may be a cool fantasy, but it's likely to be a poor story. * Fan-made character is the One True Love of a major FC [Mary Sue syndrome], or fan-made character is the son/daughter/father/mother/great aunt of another fan-made character and a major FC. If the FC has family, why have we never seen any indication of it? * Fan-made character gets the Matrix and becomes Autobot leader * ANYBODY gets the Matrix and becomes Autobot leader. Why is everyone so dead-set on the importance of who the "leader" is, anyway? Transformers quibble over leadership like nobody's business, even when it's over a paltry three or four troops. Can't we find something else for them to worry about? Especially since we rarely see any actual motivation for the characters to become leader, besides a vague craving for "power"! How many people do you know who are really so dead-set on acquiring "power"? Don't answer that. And has anyone ever stopped to think how silly it is to have a quasi-mystical glowing hunk of cubic zirconium with wings determine who your leader is? Shouldn't the characters be intelligent enough to make that decision themselves? The Autobot Creation Matrix of Leadership is the most tired plot device in all the Transformers mythos, and it will take a truly exceptional writer to do anything worthwhile with it. Simon Furman seemingly took it about as far as it could go in the G1 comics; BW's Bob'n'Larry have -- remarkably -- managed to breath new life into the concept, expanding it still further. But, if you need a plot device for your story, please, please, please, find a different one, 'cause this one is terribly old. And it doesn't serve much purpose besides being a plot device, really. There are many more compelling ways to tell about the assumption of responsibility, the gaining of wisdom, being a leader, and discovering your past than contact with a magic disco ball. * Long-lost "third race" of TFs is re-discovered Admittedly, there is a fair bit of justification for this one, since it seems logical that many factions would have fled Cybertron during the course of the 4 million year civil war. Heck, G2 was pretty much built around this very premise, as was "Fight or Flee". But frequently this plot point is used to introduce Author-as-Superhero as mentioned above; ie, the new TFs can kick the butts of the old ones (which begs the question of why they fled Cybertron in the first place.) It's still an interesting concept, but be careful if you decide to use it -- it's been done a lot already (reference "The Last Divinity", Max's "TF 2001", and the Generation 2 comics for some good examples.) * "In my TF story, [insert any part of TF canon] never happened." Again, it's hard to criticize for this one -- there are at least two major "official" versions of the Transformer story (US cartoon and comic), three if you count the original Beast Wars show as separate from the G1 cartoon, and four if you include the tech specs as another different universe. On top of that there's a UK comic which can be considered different from the US comic continuity (and featured several differing timelines to boot), several G1 Japanese series that took the US cartoon in a different direction, two more Japanese Beast Wars cartoons now out along with a manga comic series, and various coloring- and story-book interpretations to top it all off. HOWEVER, many people want to go a step further and chuck some or all of this out the window as well. The problem with this is that they then have to set up an alternate back story for their fanfic; this can be complicated and dull -- and detracts effort from the actual telling of the story. Before you announce that "this is set after the movie but in the movie Megatron wasn't turned into Galvatron and Starscream became the leader until my character Killdeathmongerwind destroyed him and...", consider: what good is this really doing my story? Will it make it better, or just serve to aggrandize my own non-FC character by making him important to the TF universe? The average fan would much rather read an introspective story about Beachcomber out wandering through the desert on his own, or an adventure tale about a group of Decepticons on a mission, or something that gives new perspective as a human being on what it might be like to have 30-foot living alien robots fighting a civil war on our little planet -- or what it might be like to *be* one of those robots. To put it another way: you're better off if you don't try to re- write the mythos. There are enough Transformer continuities out there already -- more than enough. As much fun as your personal version of the Transformers war may have been when you were a kid, stick to one of the canon versions when you're writing in public. Why should you do this? Well, the "official" stories are the ones which captured Transfans' imaginations and made them fans to begin with. Part of what makes Optimus Prime who he is is the fact that he's been through all these adventures and done all these great deeds as seen in the cartoon and/or comics. If you discard all that, then in a way it's like it never happened, which changes who the character is. More to the point, it is far more interesting for the reader (and challenging for the writer) if a story builds on the existing continuities, rather than ignoring them or shredding them up by discounting episodes X, Y, and Z. Such stories have a built-in audience already. For me, one of the greatest enjoyments of reading a TF story is knowing that it is happening in the same universe and timeline as the stories I accept as canon, knowing that it is part of a larger universe that I am already familiar with. This is Transformers' greatest strength as a science fiction genre for fan writers: unlike Star Wars or Star Trek, you are not limited to a small group of core feature characters, or a small number of times and settings. There are literally hundreds of characters waiting to be explored, to have their souls bared, to be sent on dazzling adventures, to have fun with. And so many of them with only the vaguest hint of characterizations in the official canon! There are limitless possibilities for interactions and personalities. Furthermore, the plot possibilities within the 'official' universes are equally tremendous! Beast Wars, for example, is something completely new and different, yet it fits almost seemlessly into the cartoon universe. There is a gap of twenty years between the G1 cartoon and the Movie -- and a 4 million year void before that. There is the possibility of legions of TFs scattered among the stars a la Generation 2; there is a virtually unseen Cybertron during Beast Wars. There are myriad little gaps during the comic stories. There is the open-ended conclusion of the G1 cartoon. In short, there's so many possibilities in the canon that it's almost hard to believe anyone needs to alter Transformer 'reality' any further. I admit, I've seen some wonderful things done with alternate dimensions, distant futures, and "what if" stories. But they were carefully controlled and limited by the authors, who didn't expect the reader to scrap everything they'd known about TFs. And they tend to be "open and shut cases", stories with a definate ending that the writer was kind enough to provide. Another common alteration is to introduce elements from one version of the TF story into another version: for example, using Circuit Breaker or Jhiaxus in the cartoon universe. Personally, I don't mind this sort of alteration nearly as much; in fact, I rather like it. There WAS a lot of room for "add-ins" like that in both comic and cartoon; and it's neat to see different interpretations of the characters when they're in different situations. Yes, it's universe-building again, but there does come a time when you *have* to start building your own universe, adding in things that weren't shown in the canon, or your story won't get very far. What better way to do that than with stuff that's already canon? Finally, we do have to grant some leeway to those who, for whatever reason, aren't too familiar with one part or another of Tranformers canon. HOWEVER, with all the material on the Internet these days, there's really no reason that anyone with access to the World Wide Web can't get at least a basic idea of what happened in most major TF stories. And it also begs the question: if you don't know anything about a particular part of TFdom, why write about it? * Under-developed FCs (especially 4th and 5th year G1 characters) are killed off, typically without even having been mentioned anywhere else in the story. Speaking personally, treating canon characters as disposable is one of the quickest ways to make me dismiss a fanfic as thoughtlessly tossed-off ramblings, instead of an addition to the canon or an enjoyable alternate timeline. It's a cheap route to kill characters whose lives only have meaning to the reader through another medium, ie from the cartoon or the comics. Even if readers know who Grapple or Brawn or Perceptor are, their deaths within a story are pretty meaningless and hollow if the writer himself has done nothing to bring his readers close to those characters, or if their deaths contribute nothing to the story besides gratuitous violence. That's why "Transformers: the Movie" was such a cheap shot -- Brawn, Ironhide, Wheeljack, Prowl, and other beloved characters were killed with hardly a word. It would have been something else entirely if the movie had followed their adventures, and at the end it was their destiny to perish for their cause or beliefs. But as it was, the Movie stole characters that the cartoon had spent two year building up, and killed them without a thought. It was simply riding on the cartoon's coattails. Fanfic writers who kill feature characters are very often doing the same. Anyway, one person's obscure background character is another person's personal favorite TF. Remember that before you casually off someone like Doublecross, Trailbreaker, Cloudburst, etc... Occasionally, I'll see a minor character begin to be developed, only to be killed off a moment later. It leaves me with the frustrated feeling of, "Don't kill that guy off! I was starting to *like* him!" Why is it better to keep the character alive for a bit, if your own muse says to kill them? My answer, in a nutshell, boils down to this: A live character is more interesting than a dead one. When the reader meets a character, there's a period of getting to know them, learning what they're all about. It is during this process that the character becomes 'real' to the reader. Only after this process can the reader begin to feel for the character, become curious about them, look forward to their next words or actions. A character who meets a quick death never gets past the introductory stage, and thus is a lost opportunity for the writer and a disappointment for the reader. A dead character's life is over; hence for them there will be no more development, no more interactions with the other characters, no more action, no more influence to the story beyond the remembrances of the surviving characters. Death is the end (unless you're Starscream or Optimus Prime), so make sure you've taken your character everywhere you want to take them before you kill them. Of course, you can answer that life's not always like that, not every death matters. But who says fiction has to mirror life precisely? If I want the horror of random, meaningless death, I'll read the newspaper. * In the course of one or two chapters, the Autobots go from securely holding Cybertron to [being on the brink of] losing it and facing total annihilation at the hands of a newly arisen Ultimate Enemy (ideally the aforementioned All-Powerful Fan- Made Character who is the Author-as-Superhero from the Long-Lost "Third Race" of TFs.) Interestingly, it's always the Autobots who face this problem; the only time I've ever seen the Decepticons go up againt the Ultimate Enemy was in the Movie, and that pretty much got glossed over. * TFs have some form of sex. Is there some degree of rationalization for romantic relationships between Transformers? Yes. (It's not acceptable to everyone, but it's there.) Can they be justified as having a direct physical analogue for human sexual intercourse? IMO, no. Speaking personally again, I like the idea of romantically attracted TFs sharing some sort of mind-link for purely pleasurable purposes -- but that's not physical sex as we understand it. The -- ahem -- hardware for sexual intercourse just isn't there; furthermore, there's no biological REASON for it. They don't need it to reproduce. TF bodies can be built, or produced by that budding stuff if you're into G2. They don't need to be grown from a fetus; even if they *could* do it, it'd be terribly inefficient and slow compared to most of the 'canon' methods we've seen. Even romance in fanfics must be handled carefully. As a rule of thumb it should only be included if it seems like a natural outgrowth of two characters' interactions or is necessary to the plot. I guess if you're into slash 'fics, or just like to see two characters doin' the horizontal bop, that's your business. It may get you off, but I doubt it's gonna produce a good story. :] * Origins of Hot Rod, Arcee, and Springer. For some reason these three seem to get done and done again and done even more. Read Bobbi Corothers'stuff before you decide to write another origin story for them. * FCs don't sound (or act) anything like they do in canon stories. This is called re-writing a character, and it is evil evil evil!! Established characters are just that: established. They are who they are. It's one thing to retcon anomalous behavior (why was Shockwave so loyal in the cartoon when the comic and 'specs both had his sights set on leadership? Why did Grimlock go from wise leader to caveman tyrant in the comics? No Budiansky jokes, please.) But to recreate a character is another form of building your own universe. If you don't like the character the way they are... find another character! I mean that literally -- there are TONS of official characters in the TF universe. If you need a guy to be neurotic, heroic, worried, endlessly happy, whatever, you can probably find one that's written that way already. Poke around on the Web, browse through tech specs and TF Universe entries, make up your own character, or best of all ask on the newsgroups -- there's tons of Transfans out there who'd be happy to help you. But don't alter an FC from what they are, because then you're not really writing about that character any more; you're just using the name. With so many Transformers out there, it's likely you can find one to suit your purposes. And if you do use someone obscure, like say Swerve or Dirge or Hosehead or Snapdragon, people will go: "Cool! A story about [character X]!" All this is not to say a character should never change. But there are pre-established notions of who and what a particular character is. To ignore those notions is, more or less, to create an entirely new character masquerading as someone else. It is these notions that make it so infuriating to the fans when Megatron is released in toy form as a little race car (GoBot), or when Sludge gives a Shakespearian speech in the middle of a battle (comic adaptation of the Movie), or when Blitzwing suddenly becomes a noble renegade for no apparent reason (Five Faces of Darkness part 5). If our beloved characters are abrubtly going to act completely different from what we've come to expect, we the readers are entitled to a thorough, believable explanation of why, which is best given in the form of the story (rather than some disclaimer at the beginning which says something like "Oh, by the way, right before my story starts, Thundercracker got bopped on the head with an I-beam and now he's an Autobot.") * Character X (FC or otherwise) reflects on the major FCs or on events of the Movie: "Optimus Prime had been so wise and brave and noble, fighting on against Megatron during the battle at Autobot City, even when Hot Rod got in the way and..." Yes, yes, we're Transformer fans -- we *know* all this. Even if we don't, do we NEED to be told? Or is the author just trying to snare some of the Movie's "coolness" for his own story? Will it add anything for someone who doesn't already know it? Remember, you don't have to tell us *everything.* * Stories written for no other purpose than to retcon a canon event/death. If your story does nothing but undo a canon event (like, say, the destruction of Starscream in the Movie), you might as well just write an essay instead (think how boring "Ghost in the Machine" would have been if Starscream had just gone straight to Unicron and gotten a body in the first five minutes of the show. Yawn! What makes it interesting is all the difficulties he has to go through first, all the while creating trouble for the other characters.) If you can tie it in to other plot threads or make it fun or instructive or just an interesting ride, then you've got a story worth telling. So if you're going to change something, make it incidental or make it interesting! Rob Jung wrote a great story about an attempt to bring Megatron back to life after the Movie. Although restoring Megatron was the main plot point, it was NOT the main focus of the story. * FANFIC: "The Creation of [fan-made character]". Odds are, no-one cares. Don't take that personally; it's just that the best way to endear the reader to your character is to have them doing something that requires them to think, react, speak, make moral choices, and interact with other characters. Kewl stuff like the creation of a character most likely isn't going to win them over; even on screen, it's relatively boring. In print it's usually duller than dirt. The *life* of a character is far more interesting than their birth (or even their death, usually.) * Pages and pages of characters sitting around brooding over their problems. Quit talkin' about it and do something! The main problem with brooding is that, by definition, it means the plot isn't going anywhere. If your characters are faced with a delima, it is logical for them to discuss and consider their options; this can also shield you from critics saying, "why didn't they do this instead of that?" (in the same manner, it can help you spot potential plot holes.) But problems are more interesting when they're seen in action (Hot Rod has a fight with Arcee) than in retrospect (Hot Rod is upset about the fight he had with Arcee, which we the readers didn't get to see at all.) * Backstory fanfics that concentrate primarily on arranging every single detail of the canon they're building up to -- like a story that veers far out of its way just to show Optimus Prime bouncing out of the Ark's command chair (as seen in "The Agenda" part 3) and onto a table (where he was shown in "More Than Meets the Eye" part 1). [Although, such touches can be very nice if they're kept as what they should be -- details. Example: in one of Bobbi Carothers' stories, she mentions the fact that Springer wasn't present at Optimus Prime's death -- not as a flashback to the Movie, but as a facet of his character.] * Characters have taste in Earthen music that is surprisingly similar to that of the author. I believe it was Walky who first pointed out this one. Just once I'd like to see some Transformer listening to Metallica or Megadeth, only to have another character turn to him and say, "How can you listen to that teenage-angsty heavy metal crap? Here, try some Barry Mantilow or Barbara Streissand instead -- it's much better!" Odds are most of your readers have never heard the song you're referring to anyway. There are some songs that are fairly universal in American culture, and could probably be cited by name -- "American Pie" or "Piano Man" or "Born to Be Wild", to name a few. But if it's never been a huge Top 40 hit, most folks probably won't know it. If you need some "source music" in your story (ie, music that the characters are listening to), a simple description of "blasting speed metal" or "funky reggae" or "top-volume drum and bass" will get your point across well enough. * Cross-overs with almost any other genre. As someone else said, it's very tough to write a cross-over story that isn't overflowing with cheese. Surprisingly, most of the cross-over stories I've seen have been quite well done (Chris Meadows' "Stranded" comes to mind in particular, as does Lizard's "Sale of the 24th Century" -- no matter what he says, it was a good story!!) Cross-over writing requires an exceptionally careful application of the rule of Don't Tell Everything. You've got to make sure that people who aren't fans of one story or another can understand the set-up and background of both of the genres you're writing about (believe it or not, not everyone's seen Mighty Orbots or Voltron or Robotech or Transformers or Star Trek -- or even Star Wars.) At the same time, you have to be careful not to bludgeon readers with basic facts that they already know, since that's a fast path to both cheese and boredom. On top of that, your reader will likely be hounding you with the question of, "What was the point of this story?" A good cross-over MUST have some character-driven elements, normally based on the interaction of characters from each of the two genres -- otherwise, it's just two characters getting together for some kewl fighting -- "Wouldn't it be kewl if Leader-One teamed up with Optimus Prime and blew up Megatron and CyKill?!?" No. It wouldn't. It'd be boring. * G1/G2 FCs enter the Beast Wars. There are only so many quantum alien spacial transwarp temporal wormhole wavefront anomalies existing outside the fabric of time space and existance itself that can suck random Transformers to the exact same time and place that Optimus Primal and Megatron's crews are stranded in. In fact, I think Depth Charge used up the last one. * Crew of the Axalon is on a mission of pivitol, world-shaking importance. From what we've seen, Primal's crew was pretty ordinary; they just got a bit unlucky in drawing the assignment to dispose of Protoform X. And that was to be done quietly... so it seems unlikely they were a high-profile group. * Fanfics in script form. The most common reason given for using script format instead of regular prose is that the writer wanted to get the story done and over with. Well, if you're willing to bother writing it to begin with, why not put some time into it, and flesh it out more fully? It's hard to write effectively in this form, since scripts by definition are not meant to be final products, but rather just a skeleton that is later fleshed out by voice actors, animators, sound effects, and music guys. Regular prose goes a long way toward filling that gap. Script also leaves relatively little room for subtlty -- it explicitly tells the reader what they're supposed to see and notice, what's important and what's not. And finally, some people simply find it harder to read and won't come near it. You're losing some of your audience by writing in script form. On the other hand, script format does read faster for *most* folks. It can be a good way to tell a fast-moving, primarily plot- oriented story. It works well for parodies and humorous 'fics. And from my one or two hesitant attempts at writing a Daria fanfic, I can understand how sometimes it's just impossible to write about a particular sub-genre in standard prose form (especially if your only exposure to Beast Wars in written form is the scripts from the shows.) Nevertheless, I feel most writers will be better off if they at least try prose first. * Flashbacks. I don't blame the fanfic writers of ATT for wearing out this story-telling device; I blame every comic book writer in the universe. I actually can't recall any particular fanfics that use flashback (besides one or two of my own, and even those I'm not especially fond of), but I think it should be mentioned nonetheless that flashbacks can make things confusing and hazy in storytelling. Simon Furman used them an awful lot in his comic writing, to the point where issue 64 literally contains a flashback within a flashback within a flashback. I feel that issue would be greatly improved by simply being told start to finish, rather than dumping the back story on us in bits and pieces. Why is flashback so popular with writers? I think it's because it allows you to start en medias res -- in the middle of the action, starting off with a dramatic, attention-getting bang that otherwise might be buried deeper in the story. In issue 64 it was Longtooth standing dramatically with a harpoon in one hand shouting "DIE, foul abomination! DIE!" While flashback can work well in comics, I think it can often be a hindrance in text stories. Not *always*, of course, but it should be used in moderation. It can become a way of glossing over action that would actually be more clear and dramatic if it were told as it happens.Which is more exciting: a first-hand, present-tense account of Unicron attacking Cybertron, or Kup remembering it years later? Not only is it less vivid, but it removes an element of suspense -- will Kup survive the battle? If it's a flashback, obviously he survived. If he's on Cybertron, obviously Cybertron survived as well. If it's told in the present, you don't know if he'll survive or not, or if any of the Transformers will survive. The story becomes more dramatic and gripping, more exciting to read. And if you've started off your story with the big attention-getting bang, what's left to build up to? Flashback isn't the only way to organize a story, and often it's not the best. It's easiest to start from the start, and proceed from there -- and that's the default method that I recommend. Don't worry if your story doesn't start out with an earth- shattering kaboom -- ordinary events, if well told, can be enough to capture the reader's interest. * Stories with the characters constantly in a state of ultra- agitation. Every once in a while I bump into a fanfic in which every character is shouting and swearing away like it's the end of the world, presumbably in an attempt to make the story seem more tough, adult, or cool. Typically they go like this: In the Axalon Optimus Primal: Cheetor, where the hell are you!! We need a sensor reading now, dammit! Cheetor: Hang on a slagging minute, big bot! Jesus Christ! Rattrap: Cheetor we need those readings right the frickin' frackin' hell now!! Or we are all going to die!! Rhinox: There are Predacons attacking in grid Insert-my- name-here!! Their going to blow us all to shit!!!! Optimus Primal: Well that's just PRIME!!!!!!! Goddammit!!!!!!!!!!!! We oughta have shotguns for these jobs! ...It never works. First off, it's completely out of character -- totally at odds with what we see on the show. Second, Transformers are not Pulp Fiction (well, one could say they are pulp fiction, but they're not a Tarrentino production. :] Swearing in a Transformer fanfic is effective only if it's done in extreme moderation, and excessive swearing actually tends to make the writing seem juvenile (or maybe I've just never seen it used well...) Anyway, a lot of English swear words -- shit, fuck, crap,and bitch, for example -- describe or originate with stuff that's purely biological and wouldn't have any Transformer equivalent. So think really hard about it before you have TFs say them, especially since many curses can be replaced effectively by "Transformer swear words". The most popular at the moment is "slag", but "shock" works nicely as well. And it's always fun to make up some cheesey Cybertronian- sounding nonsense to have your characters mutter in astonishment: "Holy retroturborats! Great Xaal! Tricurse you! Stick it up your exhaust!" * Scene [or story] starts off with unidentified "him" or "her" figuring out where they are and what's happening, with the reader not knowing anything more than them. Sometimes it fits, especially if a character is just waking up or being created or some such, but often it's just an annoying stylistic decision by the author. Before starting off a story in this manner, ask yourself if there's a reason that the narrator isn't telling us who we're reading about. * Scene [or story] starts off with a character doing something, without giving the reader any clue where, when, or why the action is taking place. Many fanfics (typically BW 'fics) simply drop the reader into things with absolutely zero introduction, such as the "ultra- agitation" fic above: Optimus entered the Axalon's control room. "I'm getting strange readings from subsector Bob'n'Larry," Rhinox said. After reading this, legitimate questions for the reader to be asking include "Who is Optimus, where/what/when is the Axalon, and who is Rhinox??" Even if you assume the reader is a regular watcher of Beast Wars and knows all this stuff, how about some introduction to set the tone of the story? Is it a dark and stormy night outside the Axalon? A blazing sun- scorched summer day? A soft, gentle spring morning? Is Rhinox tired, grouchy,overjoyed, hung over, or what? Why is Optimus walking in just then -- coincidence, or did Rhinox call him? Things like that can heighten tension for the reader if bad things are going to happen later on, or cue them in that this is going to be a gentle, quiet story, etc. Mood setting can be a powerful tool -- don't overlook it. * Phoneticly spelling the words of a character with an odd speech habit. The most common victims are Waspinator (come on, people, everybody knowzzzzz how Wazzzzzzzpinator talks) and Ironhide (Ah'm ah ghettin seckahn tarred ah ever'body trahhn ta wrat dis way, Prahm!). Cramming Blurr's words together to make them sound rushed also falls into this category. Ifyoudontputspacesbetweenyourwordsthennoonecanreadthe m! Come on, I mean, there's gotta be another way, there must be another way, surely you can show someone's talking way too fast and still have a readable read, right, huh, don'tcha think? I mean you've gotta leave spaces, cause if you don't you can't read it and if you can't read it then who else is gonna read it, nobody, that's who! Seriously -- no matter what you do, it's virtually impossible to correctly portray a speech oddity in print. You might look at the above and say "Yeah, that's how Ironhide talks", but someone who has never seen the G1 cartoon is going to 'hear' it completely differently than someone who knows how Peter Cullen voiced Ironhide. And if you *do* know how Ironhide talks, there's really no need to beat it into the ground by mangling the spelling of everything he says. As I said above, we're Transfans -- we *know*. Furthermore, in a vague sense, what we hear a character say (or what we say ourselves) is only an approximation of the English language, which is a set of rules and words codified and made "official" a few hundred years ago by a bunch of scholars. What we *write* is a more exact representation of that code, and for the most part it's considered more "correct" to stick by established spellings, even when pronunciations contradict them. I wish I could come up with a more persuasive argument than just "it's considered correct", but language is an artificial construct lacking any "truth" or "absolute right". Anyway, "Wazzzbinate-or" may be a closer approximation of what we hear him say, but what he means is "Waspinator". If you start down the path of "Wazzpinator", where do you stop? Do you start writing "oyil" for someone who pronouces "oil" the way I do, and "ole" for when Ironhide says it? And so on for a million other minute variations in pronunciation? It's a tough call for something as overt asWaspinator's impediment, but I find it more appealing to draw the line at the occasional "gonna" and "goin'". It's less distracting -- put simply, it reads better. * Fanfics with words like "dark", "night", "shadow", and "war" in the title I'm guilty of all four, and I wish I weren't. Work hard on thinking up an original title, 'cause there are an awful lot of uncreative ones out there. A good title lures in readers. A bad one like "Dark Shadows of Evil" makes people say, "Wasn't there a Star Wars novel with that name?" (to which the answer is: probably so.) Other overused title words include "evil", "fire", "warrior", and "death" (we Transfans are a morbid lot, eh?) Avoid "ominous" words -- go for descriptive ones instead. Likewise, avoid using a cliche phrase as a title if possible -- face it, titles like "The Adventures of [character X]" or "Battle For Cybertron" don't stick in your head nearly as long as something creative like "Rise of the Morning Star". * Some horrible retcons (that's "retroactive continuity", an attempt to explain away or "undo" something that happened in an earlier story): - "Megatron was damaged and had to be rebuilt into his original body." Usually an attempt to shoehorn the G2 comic before the Movie. The only realistic reason I can see Megs being returned to his original form would be to inspire the troops who know him in that form, to rally them with the assurance that the old glory days are soon to return. Otherwise, it's just going back to an older, outdated form-- what would be the point? You may be sentimental about the G1 cartoons and Megs' appearance there, but he probably isn't. - "The Quintessons lied" -- attempts to put the Quints and Primus in the same universe. The Quints implanted false information into the Matrix and/or the Transformers' collective knowledge? Maybe. They were deluded themselves? Possibly interesting. But just "lied"? I'd be lying if I didn't say that's painfully bad... Not Cliche: Underused Themes/Plots in TF Fanfic Okay, so I've got so much to say about what I've seen enough of. What HAVEN'T I seen in abundance?... * Short character studies of minor FCs * Fan-made character is just a regular Joe with a regular job * Non-combat interaction among our heroes, like a day off at Decepticon HQ * Why didn't anyone try to rescue the Ark after it crashed? * X vs. Y -- who would win? When posted as a discussion thread, this sort of argument generally goes nowhere (since nothing you say can make the other camp agree with you, and vice versa.) If you feel strongly enough to shout at someone about it on a newsgroup, why not turn it into a nice little short story instead? Then you get to have total control over the outcome, as well. Just be careful not to make it a fanboy punch-fest... a big fight by itself isn't reason enough to write a story (well, okay, it can be at times. "Aerialbots Versus Seekers" was basically a big knock-down drag-out dogfight, but I'll be darned if we didn't get a decent look inside almost all the characters' heads before it was over...) * Character-based stories focusing on gestalt teams other than the Aerialbots and Constructicons. I have *never* seen a Protectobot story, for example. The combiner teams are small groups of usually very disperate personalities that are forced to work in close coordination for extended periods of time -- there's so much potential for character interaction it's unbelievable. And just what goes on inside the mind of a gestalt? Is it five minds shouting at once? Or an entirely new and different mind retaining elements of all its components? What happens to the individual minds when they're merged? (questions courtesy of Raksha...) * Stories that build on someone else's fanfic universe. I think I'm partial to this because basically it means there's one less fanfic universe to keep straight. Of course, I understand the difficulty of getting permission AND thinking up a good story AND respecting the other person's stories and characters, etc. And of course, anyone creative enough to be writing fanfic is probably going to have their own spin on the TF universe, and not want to learn someone else's. Still, I think it's a cool idea if you can pull it off. * Short stories that fit within the cartoon or comics WITHOUT altering anything canon. I *love* stories that build on the cartoon or comics universes, especially the rare kind that could fit between random or specific shows/issues. I have seen almost none of these for Beast Wars... I think Lizard's "Hero" is perhaps the only short story that fits the bill; everyone else wants to change everything around. Other possibilities include: - "Early years" stories of our heroes long before we encountered them - "Missing years" stories filling the gaps between the Ark's disappearanceand its reactivation - "Missing years" stories from the years between the first two cartoon seasons and the Movie, that don't focus on the movie characters Of course, the great weakness of such stories is that they can't change anything major in the status quo, or suddenly they're not in the canon universe anymore. But given how much goes on in the shadows of the TF universe, that doesn't have to be a problem. To name one tiny example: do we have any idea how Grapple and Smokescreen feel towards each other? You could write a story that ends with them hating one another and it wouldn't affect or contradict anything we saw in the cartoon (or comics, IIRC.) With all the characters in the TF universe, such possiblities are nearly infinate. Outro: Let Me Explain. No, There is Too Much. Let Me Sum Up. A few disclaimers: First off -- all of the above are *opinions*, not facts. And they're just *my* opinions, not necessarily anyone else's, based on what I've seen. I should mention that "cliche" can mean I've seen it in as few as two or three different stories, and just kind of assumed it's present in others that I haven't read. (You know what you do when you assume, don't you? You create a donkey out of yourself and myself.) Second -- this isn't meant to be a checklist, but rather something to think about. Just because you committed one, ten, or all of the "violations" above doesn't mean your story will be bad (nor will it be good just because you avoided them all.) The "why" behind the rules is vastly more important than the rules themselves. What can I say; writing is not an exact science. Third, and most important -- when I first posted this stuff, I got a couple of comments from authors who felt discouraged from writing after reading it. That's the LAST thing I want; my hope is that this will give people ideas on how to improve their own writing. And the only way to improve at writing -- or anything, for that matter -- is to do it a lot! So your first, second, third stories didn't turn out so good. Keep trying -- it'll all be worth it when that fourth one turns out great! And writing is more than a means to write fanfic; it's a tool you'll use for the rest of your life. Any and all practice can only help you in the long run. So your main plot is something I said was "cliche" -- so what! Work to make it the best darn cliche plot ever told! (reference: Beast Wars episode "Proving Grounds".) Sometimes the plot is the least important part of a good story; there's other things -- characters and their interactions, themes, mood, detail, dialogue -- that can more than make up for a weak or tired plot. In fact, if a story is well told, most readers will hardly notice or care if the plot is something that's been done before. Anyway, there's really nothing new under the sun; any plot that you or I or anyone else thinks up has probably been done before by someone somewhere (go look at the sheer number of paperback sci-fi novels in any given used book store, if you don't believe me.) The trick is to do it *well*, and in a way that makes it personally your own. And don't forget, it's just Transformers. At the end of the day, the only really important thing is to have fun writing your story. Don't worry if it's not an earth-shattering, universe- altering epic. It can be quite simple and ordinary and small, and still be wonderful. So, that's my advice. You're free to disagree with it or ignore it. But if you're thinking of turning out some fanfic and you want comments, do consider it. It might just help ya out. And remember, they're just suggestions. If you can go against any or all of them and still turn out a quality Tranformers story, go for it. Good luck to all you fanfic writers out there, and keep on writing!
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