Rob's Pile of Transformers: Manic Ramblings



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!

Back to Rob's Pile of Rambings