Please welcome back tfm, who last month taught us about writing AU stories. She is an Australian author, who has been writing fanfic for nine years in various fandoms. Today through Thursday, she’ll be telling us about Crossover stories.
So you want to write something different. You want to write something that’s fun, and suspenseful, and just a little bit reality transcending, but you don’t want to create a whole new universe. Maybe it’s because you don’t have the time, or the effort, or maybe it’s because you don’t think that you can effectively convey such a world. It doesn’t matter. You decide, then, instead of making up a whole new universe, you’ll use one that’s already there. One, or two, or more fandoms interacting in order to provide a whole new universe in which to set your story.
This is the crossover.
As with AUs, there are several ways to do crossover stories. A lot of the same rules apply, but their execution can be very different: instead of creating a new universe, you’re merging two already existing universes. This can be a good thing, and it could be a bad thing. It can be good because it allows you to write for a different genre without making up your own rules, but by the same token, crossovers can be a lot less flexible because you’re working with two distinct canons with their own rigid backstories, genres, themes, etc.
Sometimes, two fandoms will connect easily. Sometimes they won’t. Being able to balance these disparities can be the difference between writing a good crossover, and a stilted one. It can also drive the tone and genre of the story, based on the themes you choose to focus on. For example, if you’re writing for a couple of procedural shows, then the task can be very straightforward – Team X and Team Y get together to solve a murder. “Straightforward” does not mean simple, however. In this circumstance, the genre crosses over easily enough, but the tone might not. Consider NCIS and Criminal Minds. Both shows deal with catching killers, but tonally speaking, NCIS is more humorous, more patriotic, and some might argue, a little more ridiculous than Criminal Minds (this isn’t intended as a criticism of the show, just an observation). So how do you reconcile these issues? Use them to your advantage. A joke at the wrong time can be a source of tension. A political obstacle might threaten the investigation.
Similarly, being of two different genres does not necessarily have to be a death knell. Using another Criminal Minds example (seriously, I don’t really write in any other fandoms, so it’s the best example I can use), one of the more common crossovers is the Supernatural crossover. With angels and demons and vampires and werewolves, it seems like it would be difficult to merge them, right? Not so much.
Tonally speaking, I feel that Supernatural and Criminal Minds share a lot in common. They’re both shows about fighting monsters, albeit very different monsters in very different ways. Both have a fairly dark tone, and something of a “what makes us so different from them” kind of theme. Conflicts can come from the fact that each group works on the different side of the law, or the fact that they’re arguing over whether a demon or a serial killer is responsible, or even something more character-based, like someone’s attitude towards killing in cold blood. Both the differences and the similarities between fandoms can make for interesting character and setting interactions.
I find it easiest to stick with two fandoms; trying to go with three or more can get very complicated, very quickly. Again, this doesn’t mean that you can’t do it. It just means that you need to be careful about how you’re doing it. You want to write a story where the characters from Leverage and the characters from Warehouse 13 and the characters from Doctor Who are trying to get an artefact that might destroy the world? Awesome. Except you have to deal with three ensemble casts, three universes, three lots of backstories, and so on. Remember that the complications aren’t just a problem for the writer, but the reader, as well; if they can’t keep track of the story, then readership will probably start to drop off. Similarly readers may be put off by the inclusion of fandoms they aren’t familiar with, and each extra fandom makes the story just a little bit more obscure, especially for fandoms from different genres or mediums.
So how do we cross fandoms over?
Well my first bit of advice would be to start off small.
Tune in for more tomorrow!
If you post to fanfiction.net beware they are purging, and apparently purging quite a lot. They are not telling writers until after the fact, and haven’t been very communicative to writer’s requests.
Make sure all your stories have K (G) rated titles and summaries. I’ve read that “kill” was getting flagged as well, so be generous with your edits.
If you have naughty stories, back them up just in case.
These seem to be the two most common problems, though I’ve read slash is been hit more than others.
Buffy and Dr. Who have have been pretty brutally hit. Twilight, Harry Potter, Pokemon, Naruto, Sailor Moon and several others have had a great deal of stories removed as well. Thank you Alixe75 for this information.
Today we’re going to talk about plotting, which is mostly relevant for chaptered stories. One-shots and drabbles don’t require the same amount of structure and forethought, though if you’re new to writing, it may help with those as well.
The first thing you need to keep in mind for plotting is that scene A flows into scene B flows into C. Each scene leads to the next and step-by-step they push the story forward and toward the climax.
The second thing you need to keep in mind is that it’s the characters’ choices that direct you toward the next part of the story. The story moves this way when Protagonist Patty makes the choice to bring a her father’s gun, rather than leave it home when she goes to Big Scary House on the Hill. It moves that way when Patty gets spooked and shoots the old man squatting in house. The story is Patty dealing with having killed someone and the downward spiral of self-loathing from that action. Had she not brought the gun, it would have gone a totally different way.
Summaries. Oh yes, today we are talking about those things everyone hates to write, but must if they want their story read.
I know you don’t want to write it, I know you struggle, but the summary is very important. It’s how you advertise your story, how you ask readers to come and take a chance on you and your work. People have limited time and there are hundreds of things they could be doing aside from reading your fanfic. There are probably things they should be doing instead of reading your fic too. This why you want to include a summary, and not just a summary, but an intriguing summary.
The biggest thing to remember when writing a summary for a fanfic is that it isn’t just a summary. It’s a pitch. That means you need to combine the two elements when you construct one.
Taking this down to its basics, the elements of a fanfic summary are who, what, and why. On which characters does your story focus? What is the problem the character(s) faces? Why is this a problem/what’s preventing them from achieving resolution?
I threw a few topics around in my head for today’s post, but ultimately settled on one that you don’t see in published fiction, but do see quite often in fanfic. It’s also one of my biggest pet peeves with fan fiction.
Character assassination. Also called character bashing.
This most often occurs when there is a character in the way of someone’s ship. The author vilifies said character, so they can make an opening for their ship. They do this without regard to the character’s actual personality, and I think that bothers me most. Characters who don’t deserve it become ugly, cruel or stupid for no reason other than they’re dating someone the writer wants someone else to date.
Now, I’ve seen this happen in multiple fandoms. In NCIS Jeanne Benoit was turned into a nasty, even crazy murderous woman, just to get her out of the way so Tony and Ziva could get together. She wasn’t a bad person, and she was in a lot of pain from Tony’s betrayal. Now, I like the Tony/Ziva pairing, but I don’t feel compelled to assassinate another character on the show to make it work.
There are few subjects that draw more tension and hostility than shipping. Correction: there are few subjects that draw more unnecessary tension and hostility than shipping.
I believe the term shipping originated out of the X Files fandom many years ago*, as a designation of one of two fan groups. There were the Shippers, who wanted a romantic relationship between Mulder and Scully, and the NoRomos, those who wanted to see only friendship between the two characters. The two groups were equally passionate, and often clashed.
Shipping has since become a term to describe a fan’s desire to see whichever couple in a work that strikes their interest. Most writers pick a few ships per show and focus on those, while others are more monogamous with their choices (like myself). I’m sure there are also writers who will ship every pairing imaginable on the show, and that’s their prerogative. That’s the wonderful thing about fanfiction, you can make anything happen or not happen as you see fit.
I was taking a shower this morning, and there was this song stuck in my head. It was a song I liked, so it didn’t bother me. It did make me think of some of my reading material for my Criminal Behavior class, which made me think of Criminal Minds. It had come very close to putting an idea in my head when I read it, but had never quite materialized. The song plus the reading seemed to do the trick.
It wasn’t intentional. I wasn’t trying to develop another story idea. I was just thinking about how the character had experienced something similar in cannon, so what if hypothetical story (that I really wasn’t trying to come up with) connected to that. This led me to a dozen questions, to which my mind quickly supplied answers. Before I even realized it, I’d developed the skeleton of a plot, and a pretty decent unsub.
This little anecdote has three purposes. The first is to explain to those who don’t write, or those who’ve just started where ideas come from. I know a lot of fanfic writers have to look for ideas, because they don’t come naturally to them. That is as hard for me to understand, as it is for most non-creative people to understand the concept of having ideas randomly popping into your head from nowhere.
Neil Gaiman wrote a blog post on that ‘Where do you get your ideas’ questions, and in it said, “Firstly, I don’t know myself where the ideas really come from, what makes them come, or whether one day they’ll stop. Secondly, I doubt anyone who asks really wants a three hour lecture on the creative process. And thirdly, the ideas aren’t that important.”
This brings me to my second purpose. You’ll notice he said the idea isn’t very important, and he’s right.
I have a very strong creative drive that pushes me to write in general. I actually discovered a few years ago that I begin to get genuinely depressed without a creative outlet. I’m a much happier person, and for more pleasant to be around when I’m writing actively. Fanfic is less stressful and intellectually demanding than original writing, so it’s something I can keep up with even while I’m doing other things (like grad school as I am now). It also allows for far more creative freedom than original writing, where you need to conform to certain rules to make your fiction publishable.
My other reasons tie into your second question. What I choose to write depends on the fandom in which I’m writing. My first story on ff.net was a Crossing Jordan fic, which I wrote, because I didn’t feel like waiting the whole summer for resolution on the season finale. I wrote Standoff fiction because there were so few writers in that fandom, and even fewer who were good, that I just wrote instead of read. The X Files stories I wrote mostly because ideas came into my head. “Into the Darkness” I wrote partly to explore the perspective of a sadistic killer and get over some of my squeamishness. I started to write NCIS fic, because I wasn’t satisfied with how the writers were handling a particular storyline. Criminal Minds…similar to the X Files, I write for that generally because ideas come into my head. I think the dark tone of the show also fits with my style of writing better than many other shows. I also tend to write what I’m unlikely to see on the show, like romantic pairings, and can focus on my favorite characters. I wouldn’t necessarily say I want to see it, because I wouldn’t want at least CM to do most of what I’ve written, but it’s what I find interesting. To a large extent I write simply because an idea popped into my head, and I decided to roll with it.
I wrote a post on inspiration that I’ll try to post next week, which touches on some of what you asked about here.
Thanks for the questions, and feel free to ask any other questions you have. :)
Today’s post is on a few things I’ve notice in fanfic that aren’t really substantial enough to be on their own. Like the title says, odds and ends.
- Avoid wordiness.
I studied journalism in school, and one of the things they broke us of was using a lot of words when a few will do. Newspaper articles are short, so we had to learn to squeeze the value out of every word we used. That’s what you should be doing with your stories. Next time you write a story or chapter, go through and see how many sentences can be simplified and phrases can be changed to one word.
- Use slang sparingly.
First off, only use slang if your character uses it. Second, slang comes across much differently in print than on screen. It can become aggravating for a reader to understand slang in print, because they aren’t accustomed to the words. Also, slang gets tiresome and repetitive quicker in print than it does on screen. Really think when you go to use it, make sure it’s necessary, and make it sparing.
- The character should only be unsure about a situation or a bit of information if it’s true to their character. Not because you’re unsure.
When I was working on the novel and reading a ton of books and blogs on writing, one thing many of them said was that as a writer you have to be confident. You have to believe in what you’re saying, even if you aren’t sure, because otherwise, you lose credibility with the readers. Think about, would you want to read something by a person who clearly didn’t know what they were talking about? Probably not.
If you’re unsure, don’t let it show. Fake confidence if you don’t actually have any. You can put author’s note that says your aren’t sure, but don’t let it show in the actual content of the story.
- Introductions should be like bridesmaids’ dresses—understated and not detracting attention from the important things.
One of my biggest pet peeves is when people open a story and introduce every character with their full name and title. Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs, Supervisory Special Agent Derek Morgan, US Marshal Mary Shannon…you get the point. It’s fanfic, your readers already know their names and title, and introducing them this way creates distance where there was none and should be none. It’s like your saying to the reader, you don’t know these people, so I have to tell you. Your readers know the characters just as well as you do.
Just as important, doing this also gets repetitive and therefore annoying. Think about how many of the characters in your fandom have the same title, especially on cop shows.
That’s it for today. Are there anything little things in fanfic that bother you?
Writing fan fiction is not the same as writing regular fiction, even for professional fanfic writers (think the books based off TV shows). Fanfic in general is very different for two very specific reasons.
Fanfic authors have complete editorial control over their work. This does not happen in the publishing world. Both the literary agent, and the publisher who eventually picks up the novel will have much of the editorial control. Also, titles are very often changed.
Fanfic authors can’t make money off their work. We’re paid in reviews, not cash. This is great for the people reading, but I don’t imagine many of my fellow writers would turn down the opportunity to be paid for their work.
This applies to professional fanfic writers as well. These are the people who write books for Criminal Minds, Star Trek, Buffy TVS, Supernatural, Glee, CSI, Dune, Battlestar Galatica and what I imagine is many, many others. They get to make money, and are subject to the same rules as the rest of the publishing world. A side note on these to enthusiastic writers, you do not write a fanfic book and send it to a publisher/literary agent. If a network wants someone to write novels based on their show, they’ll pick an already established author and commission them to do it.
Moving onto the writing. The primary differences in writing fanfic versus original fiction are that you’ve already have characters, setting, and generally tone set for you. Tone and setting are flexible to an extent, but the characters are the reason you’re writing the story in the first place. You want to keep those characters, though you do have the freedom to choose which to focus on in your writing and how you want to develop them.
Already having characters removes a considerable chunk of the work you have to do, and if you don’t believe that, try writing a novel. I’ve done it, and trust me, developing characters is not easy and takes a considerable amount of work. By having characters already written, you know what they look like, what they sound like, how they act, nervous tics and odd mannerisms, and an entire history on which to build. Often you have a few seasons of a show, or several books or comics that have given you a clear, very distinct impression and an opportunity to sort to integrate that characters in your head. With original work, you’re starting fresh, and it’s hard to keep track of every character in a book, and make all your central players stand-out when you haven’t been with them very long.
The flipside of that though, is that you have to know someone else’s characters and do your best to stay true to those characters. I reread the X Files novels a few years ago (yes, I’m a nerd), and I was disappointed to realize that that author could have been writing about anyone. It said Mulder and Scully, but there was very little distinct about the characters in the novel, and certainly nothing that said they were Mulder and Scully. That is your challenge as a fanfic writer, to get to know someone else’s characters so well you can put them to paper in your own voice and words.
Like I said, setting can be flexible depending on the show, book or comic. Obviously if you’re writing for Star Wars, you need to set it an their universe, but you can pick which planet and even what location on which planet. In some series, like Criminal Minds, the X Files and Supernatural, the characters often travel, so you’ve got a lot of freedom. In other series, like Grey’s Anatomy, Law & Order, and Charmed, the location is more static, and you need to have good reason to move the story out of their city.
Tone is a little less concrete, and it often changes (and should) even within the show, book or comic, but there’s still sort of a central tone, a general feeling to it that remains the same throughout. Think of the feel of Bones or NCIS versus that of Criminal Minds or Law & Order. The former two shows have more of a fun, humorous tone to them, and while the latter both have moments of humor, they’re darker and more serious. Likewise, Bones and NCIS both have their darker, more serious moments. Fanfic writers have to stay true to this tone. Of course, like in the original work, the tone should be fluid in a story, but still hold to that overall feel.
What do you think are the major differences with fanfic and original fic? What do you think are strengths and weaknesses of fanfic?