Fanfiction Writing Tips

Some fanfiction writing tips from our very own SandraDee!

Below, you'll find tips on what I consider to be some of writings do's and don'ts. While not a comprehensive study of grammar, I've tried to hit the highlights of common mistakes in that area. I've also attempted to touch upon some tips geared toward helping writers improve their content and how they present it.

I don't claim to have all the answers, but I am a grammar teacher, and I'm happy to try to help. While I can't offer to be a Beta reader, you're more than welcome to ask me grammar questions or plot-point questions. Contact information can be found in my profile.

So read on. I hope what you see will be helpful to you.

How Do I Become a Better Writer?


First, consider why you're writing. Do you write because you enjoy writing and feel you have a story to tell? Or are you writing because you think that people will read your story and want to give you a pat on the back? I truly hope the first reason is applicable to you; otherwise, you're shortchanging yourself as well as your readers.



Writing is a skill, just like painting. Yes, there's the element of talent, but so much of a story (just like a painting) is based on hard work and practice. The more you write, the better you get.

Also, don't be afraid to read. It increases your vocabulary and helps you to become accustomed to using variety in your sentence structures. If you're afraid that your stories would somehow be influenced by another writer's style or story, then read a magazine or something else that is unrelated to what you're writing.

With that said, you can't discount talent. Some people are just naturally gifted story-tellers the way some people are natural athletes. Writing isn't for everyone-but you shouldn't be afraid to at least try.

Worship at the Altar of Your English Teacher

If you're in school, pay attention in grammar class. You might think your teacher is just talking to hear her/himself, but there's a method to the madness. See, you need those skills that are being drilled into your head.

The fact of the matter is that you might have the best idea in the world for a story, but "if da story are frot, with langage problem, noBody will wont to read it."

Translation: If the story is fraught with language problems, nobody will want to read it.

If you're out of school, you've hopefully had the opportunity through your job or other activities to put to use what that mean old teacher taught you.

If you want your story to be good, good grammar isn't optional. If you don't take the time to proofread and make your story the best that it could possibly be, why should anyone take the time to read it?

Get a Beta Reader

Beta reader? What's that?

Well, the term originated because in computer software, there are "Beta Testers." These are people who review software before it is released to the general public. They check to see what works properly with the software, as well as what improvements are needed.

Likewise, a Beta Reader will do something similar for an author. S/he will read a chapter or story before it becomes available to the general reading public and  

If you have a beta reader or are looking for one, your beta reader needs to be someone who understands the mechanics of grammar as well as someone who will dig into your story, rather than reading it superficially.

You don't want someone who's just going to pat you on the back without telling you what improvements could be made. Otherwise, you won't improve as a writer. Nor will your chapter/story live up to its greatest potential.

Beta readers can be an excellent resource for a writer simply because they aren't the authors of the tales you're writing. When writing, it's sometimes difficult for the author to see the forest for the trees, so to speak. A Beta reader can provide a much-needed outside perspective.

Show Me! Don't Tell Me!

History is important. Isn't that what your history teacher always told you? You can avoid the mistakes of the past if you're familiar with what happened.

Well, I'm here to tell you that history doesn't have to be boring. You can give your readers a history lesson, but by golly, incorporate it into the action of the story.

Instead of this

Ivy hated Theresa because she blamed Theresa for tipping off the tabloid. Theresa, in turn never forgave Ivy for crashing her wedding. In the three years they'd known each other, their relationship changed a lot. They would never be friends again. They'd always be suspicious of each other.

Try this...

Ivy's blue eyes narrowed as she surveyed the young brunette whom she'd once looked forward to welcoming into her family. How things had changed over the last three years. "Do you have any idea of how much I hate you? It was because of your duplicitous act that my secret was discovered."

Theresa wrung her hands as she listened to the older woman's venomous tone. "How many times do I have to tell you? I did not send that e-mail to the tabloid!"

"You're disgusting. You're so pathetic you even believe your own lies."

"I'm not lying," Theresa insisted. "If you would look past your anger and hurt pride for more than three seconds, you might realize that. But what else should I expect from a woman who drove her car into the church to stop my wedding?"

Do you see the difference here? The first example is dry. As you read it, you probably felt removed from the characters.

In the second example, however, the reader is drawn into the action and privy to what the characters think and feel. It shows the action instead of merely reporting it.

Beware the Little Things

So you have a good story to tell? Double-check yourself with this handy guide to watching for the little things.

You're vs. Your

You're is a contraction (shortened form) of "you are." Your is a possessive pronoun.

Note the differences in the examples below.

You're going to get soaked if you stay outside in the rain.
Your dinner is ready.

They're vs. Their vs. There

They're is a contraction for "they are." Their is the possessive form of they. There is a demonstrative adjective and often denotes location. (Side note: it's also a lazy way to start a sentence)


They're happy to see the dog made it out of the burning building.
Did you read their report last night?
Over there is the stack of papers that needs to be filed.

Here's a personal pet-peeve of mine: misuse of "done"

Done is a past participle form of the infinitive "to do." Huh, you're saying? Well, in layman's terms, done should only be used with a helping verb.

Do this:

I have done as you asked.

Notice that have is a helping verb and done is the main verb in that sentence.


I done as you asked.

NOOOOO! EEEEEEK! Do you mean, "I did as you asked"?

Oh yes, and what about the dreaded personal pronouns?

I, you, he, she, it, we, and they can be used as subjects of your sentence.

Example: We plan to attend the party.
Example: Betsy and I are best friends.

NEVER use me, him, her, us, or them as subjects of your sentence. Most people don't do that when using a single subject, but things get more complicated when you're writing and using a compound subject.

Bad Example: Betsy and them are best friends.

Need to double-check yourself? Take off the words "Betsy and" and just say the rest of the sentence. What do you have left? Them are best friends.

Would you say that? We both know the answer to that question. Of course not!

So that lets you know that the word "them" is incorrect in that case.

Spell the Characters' Names Correctly

There's no such character as Heater Lasinki, Jack Green, or Johnstone Green. By golly, if you're going to write a story, spell the characters' names correctly, and do so consistently.

Use Variety In Your Sentence Structure

The girl watched the boy. The boy gave the flower to another girl. The first girl was sad. The boy didn't notice.
Now how boring was that?

Instead of using short, choppy sentences, combine.

As the boy gave the flower to another girl, she watched. Though his actions saddened her, the boy didn't notice.

The second version is much more compelling and flows more smoothly.

What Did You Say? The Art of Using Quotation Marks

Quotation marks can be a writer's best friend or worst enemy.

Some people prefer to write in script form, i.e.

Eric: Mary, I love you.

Mary: I love you, too, but we need to tell April the truth.

Eric: I know you're right, but can she take the truth?

Now what do you notice is missing from script form? You guessed it. Action and emotions.

I personally believe that writing in script form, while it lets one avoid the hassle of quotation marks, is a lazy writing habit.

So let's get down to business with the quotation marks. These are used around the words a character is saying. Here's the above passage written with handy-dandy quotation marks.

Eric touched Mary's cheek and spoke, "Mary, I love you."

Mary placed her hand over Eric's. "I love you, too," she began as she trailed her fingers over the back of his hand, "but we need to tell April the truth."

Eric sighed, "I know you're right, but can she take the truth? I just hate this whole situation!"

How did I do that? Here are five very simple rules to help you out.

Rule 1. Periods and commas always go inside quotation marks, even inside single quotes. If the a sentence in the quote is interrupted with information about who is doing the talking, that information should be set off with commas.

"Sam, I just don't trust Ivy," Grace lamented.
"Sam," lamented Grace, "I just don't trust Ivy."
"Sam, I just don't trust Ivy."

Rule 2. The placement of question marks with quotes follows logic. If a question is in quotation marks, the question mark should be placed inside the quote.

"Is it supposed to rain today?" asked David.
Did you just say, "You're a meaniehead"?

Rule 3. When you have a question outside AND inside a quote, use only one question mark and place it inside the quotation mark.

Did she say, "What time is it?"

Rule 4. Use single quotation marks for quotes within quotes. Note that the period goes inside all quote marks.

Sarah said, "She said, 'Let go now.'"

Rule 5. Use quotation marks to set off a direct quotation only.

Pilar prayed, "Dios, please protect my children."
Pilar prayed to God and asked him him to protect her children.

Gray Isn't Getting Down with his Homies, and Jake isn't Supping on Tea and Crumpets

Dialogue is ultra-important. In a story, this is your opportunity to capture the "voice" of a character. With writing original characters, you, as the author, get to set the standard of behavior and choose how a character will speak.

In fanfiction, however, the standards are somewhat different because you're dealing with pre-established characters. This can be very difficult as each character has specific speech patterns and habits.

For example, on Jericho, you'll never find Jake "preparing to partake of scrumptious tartlets." Nor will Gray say, "Yeah. Dat's fine wit me."

Read your dialogue and ask yourself, "Is this something the character would say?"

Plan Your Story

We all gripe and complain when we're watching a show, and the writers seem to change directions mid-stream.

You know you don't like it, so why would you want to jerk your readers around like that?

When I'm writing a story, what I usually do is write a skeleton version. I list various plot points that I want to address and the order in which I want them to happen. This helps to keep me focused, but also affords me the luxury of spontaneity in my chapters, as well.

A clear plot is important.

If your story is so muddled that no one can figure out what it's about or what's going on, then why should they bother to read it?

Sister Mary Bailey - Be Logical With Your Characters

When writing fanfiction, you're primarily dealing with characters with whom the readers are familiar. If your characters have to act out of character for your plot to work, then your plot doesn't work.

For example, if you were to pick up a story in which Mary has suddenly realized her mistakes in pursuing Eric and decides to become a nun, you'd be scratching your head. Since when has Mary (a) been religious, or (b) shown remorse for her affair with Eric? It makes no sense.

Your readers are intelligent. They will notice when characters don't act like themselves, and they're very likely to let you know.

My Dog Ate My Chapter - short vs. long

It's about quality, but quantity can be important, too.

Just because you have a long chapter or story, that doesn't mean you have a masterpiece.

Authors of longer pieces of literature run the risk of redundant repetitions (pun intended) when their stories become excessively long. With an increase in repetition comes a decrease in reader interest.

Be careful!

On the other hand, have you ever looked at someone's fanfiction chapter and thought to yourself, "Where's the rest of it?"

A chapter, by definition, is a significant portion of a story or a sub-section. Therefore, your chapters should consist of more than a few paragraphs, and you should be at a different point in the story when you finish a chapter than when you started it.

Basically, when you're writing, say what needs to be said and show what needs to be shown to further the plot and development of your characters.

Cloning Is Still Outlawed

True or false: Writing is a personal expression.

If you answered true, then you're correct.

What makes a story unique is the perspective of a writer. Circumstances, details about character motivation, and plot points come from the mind (and sometimes heart) of the author. That doesn't even take into account the act of putting these thoughts into words.

I cannot stress enough how important it is to be original. Do NOT copy portions of another author's story or even specific circumstances.

For one thing, that's just about the worst thing you can do to another writer. Would you want someone to do that to you? Invariably, the answer is a resounding NO.

The bottom line is that originality is a must in writing. With Jericho, we're going to come across certain familiar themes (Jake torn between Emily and Heather, how will the town survive, what happened to Heather in New Bern, etc). While certain themes are common and, yes, plentiful, it's how you develop the theme that makes it your own.

Good luck, and most importantly, have fun!