Melancholic Nostalgia

This could also apply to any writer too, once they have developed their characters.

Fanfiction, as it sounds is fiction written by fans of a particular series, or even real life… If only you knew what young (and old) female fans write about Justin Beiber…

Anyway, onto my point.

The joy of fanfiction is that, in a way, you don’t have to work as hard to write the characters, since most of the work has been done for you by the original creators. Their personalities have been written, appearances drawn out, relationships established, and most importantly, their experiences throughout the series.

This means that they are fully fledged players by the end (the main characters at least), so you know exactly what they have gone through and how they have grown, or were allowed to grow by the creator.

This canon is something writers need to heed, regardless of where they take a story. If you’re going to set a story in a universe populated by people from a popular series, you’re not going to just destroy the characters and mould them into your own image within one chapter. This would be an instant turn-off to most people who watched the show or read the book, and grew to like the people.

Naturally, you must read the entire official book series, or television series, to fully grasp the characters. Research in their behavioural patterns and skills is paramount to making a good fanfic. Never try to guess how they would react without having seen them do everything already, and definitely never base this from fanon, or god forbid, other fanfics.

Take for example Friends, if somebody wanted Joey to end up with Monica, they’re going to suddenly make Joey all articulate, intelligent and suave. The way he developed was more or less the same bumbling Joey, a little bit sexist and a bit of a playboy. Writers need to keep this aspect in mind when trying to write out that character.

The more obvious cases where the personality is destroyed are the classic ‘hero gets sent back into the past, whether by choice or not, and goes out to set things right.’ These are the ‘epic’ fanfics whereby a writer goes back and rewrites the entire series from scratch by changing how the main character see things, given the previous knowledge he now knows about.

Harry Potter fandom goes into this area very often. The ‘ending’ the hero escapes from is either the canon one (which some people didn’t like because of the deaths and relationships), or some nightmarish one where everything was lost..

So, Harry now has the knowledge of his new spells, friends and how things turns out. Some stories allow him to retain his power from the future, others don’t, depending on the method of time travel.

The problem is that they now turn Harry into a strange amalgamation of his canon personality and the ‘justice must prevail’ hero, and even acting totally contrary to his previous self. Once it strays into his personality jumping from his normal self to another extreme, the immersion in the story is lost.

Something that my reviewers have stated many times was that I managed to capture the characters perfectly. In one story I even brought out side characters who were only around for one movie and fleshed them out using what little I saw of them. Reading back over the story made me chuckle, since that was the first time I noticed what I was doing, my ‘secret’ as such to writing them perfectly.

I never write drafts as most people would think of them. When I write, it becomes the truth and it takes a lot for me to change it. I know in general how a chapter begins, ends and for some major events during the course of it. Everything else is open for creativity. However, there is something that helps me look into what I’ve written.

As I write, I think of the characters acting out the story on a stage reading over their lines and performing their actions. Technically for them though, they are not ‘acting’ as such, they are just doing what comes naturally to them. Even though they are fictional characters, their personalities are fixed already. I as the writer knows that, so I can only expect them to do what they are capable of doing.

Take the Ranma series, if I expect Ryoga to pick up a boulder, well, that’s normal. Ranma to punch faster than the eye can see, no problem. Now, if we then say Nabiki can roof hop (leaping walls and buildings to get around), then that’s a total lie, since she never displayed that kind of strength or ability before.

Likewise, if Ranma was to start acting sensitively, eloquently and not saying an occasional stupid comment, again likewise this would be jarring to see him speak like an English gentleman.

This mental image of the stage works well for this. Sometimes I write out entire chapters fast, then I have a readback with the characters on stage having more of an influence on me. They object, saying they’re too angry here, or that they would react in a different fashion. After looking at the scene analytically, I generally agree with them.

If they’re happy to continue participating in the play, then I’m happy to continue writing.

While it sounds slightly schizophrenic, it makes some sense. If your stage characters are happy, it means you are reflecting their true selves in your writing. If they object, the louder it is, the more you are pushing away from what their image is all about.

That’s not say you can never change a character’s reactions to specific events or people.

The key is to make it only slight changes at a time, even if it is a single sentence that they wouldn’t say unless they were in a good mood at that time, or choosing to walk instead of roof hopping to school.

Once you have established this change, you can make another, and another, until the canon is slowly being skewed to the route you want to go down. This way your stage characters won’t feel angry at this since they themselves agreed to the change.

In essence, make tiny changes to the characters each time, then you’ll have the perfect story.

Some people want to get to the action fast and skip over these small changes and make huge leaps, which is when the story falls over itself.

My old stories suffered from this. I had to stop writing my Love Hina rewrite (which I started in 2001) because I couldn’t believe how amateur it was, and I was retroactively trying assert the original personalities over the truly artificial ones I had created. Since that was too drastic, I had to give up.

Another interesting aspect about using the stage scenario in your head is that the characters may even create scenes for you. This is when your imagination is running wild, in a good way.

Many times, I was struggling to think on how to pad out a chapter when all my major events were there, when the stage characters would just start talking to one another naturally, or worse, pick a fight with each other. This would be all within the confines of the storyline and what was happening around them in the plot I was writing.

In a sense they were doing improvisation for me, I was observing them interact and simply writing it down. It all felt normal and free-flowing, as if no momentum was lost.

By using them as a muse, I was able to provide them with lines and actions, which they were happy to take on. Several thousand words later, the chapter would be complete.

We all have imagination, and we can easily see who characters are meant to be when you watch them. The key is allowing them to sometimes take control and say that what you’re writing isn’t good enough, or is too bizarre for them to accept.

The stage is of course, your own critical mind applying the facts to the fiction you are writing, and self-critiquing it. If you can accept this, then you’ll do just fine when writing.

And if you choose to ignore it, that also is up to you, but don’t be surprised when reviewers say everyone was OOC (out-of-character).


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