Bad Fanfic! No Biscuit!
Below is a list of the most frequently noticed problems in unintentional Bad Fiction. If you are guilty of any of these things, please learn from your mistakes! Bear in mind that this list is NOT comprehensive. There are lots of things that make BadFic bad, and these are just some of the most common (and some of our biggest pet peeves).
If you see something on this list and you don't understand why it's wrong, please, please email us and ask. Don't worry that you're annoying us or making yourself look dumb. Believe us, we WANT to help you improve your writing. And a desire to improve makes you look smart! Also, please bear in mind that many of these are generalizations. Almost any rule can be broken, provided that you a) understand what the rule is and why it exists, and b) have a good reason for breaking it. The important thing is to be aware of what you're doing and to think it through.
If there's another common error in badfic that you think should be included here, email us.
Note: None of the examples on this page is taken from any specific fanfic. They were all made up for the purpose of this document.
English Language Errors | Stylistic/Compositional | Sex Errors
English Language Errors
Bad spelling in a fanfic is a major turnoff. Unless you're using a REALLY ancient word processor, you do have spellcheck, and there is absolutely no excuse for not using it!
Spelling the characters' names wrong is also bad. If you care enough about the show to write fanfic, you should care enough to find out the approved spellings of the characters' names. Almost every show has an official website. Check that site and find out how to spell the name!
Some of the most commonly misspelled character names these days are Xander ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer"), Krycek ("X-Files"), Fraser ("Due South"), Anakin ("Star Wars"), B'Elanna ("Star Trek: Voyager"), and basically all the characters on "Farscape" (Crichton, Aeryn, D'Argo, etc.).
Punctuation/Capitalization/Other Typographic Errors
You should know what the major punctuation marks are and how to use them. (For a tutorial, see English Chick Grammar Lessons.) You should also know when to capitalize a word and when not to do so. And you should know the basic rules of how to construct a sentence, a paragraph, and an entire story in the English language.
Below is a list of some of our biggest typographical pet peeves. We could list all the typographical errors ever made in fanfic, but we don't have that much time, energy, or web space.
- Commas: too many, or too few, or commas used in the wrong places.
- Semicolons used incorrectly. In particular, we hate it when a semicolon is used to separate a complete clause from a sentence fragment. A comma should be used in this case, or the sentence should be rewritten so that the second half is a complete clause.
She walked toward him; a smile on her face.
- Capitalization of a speaking-word ("said," "asked," "yelled," etc.)
"I'm hungry," Said John.
- Incorrect punctuation of a line of dialogue.
"I'm hungry." said John.
"I'm hungry," said John, "What's for dinner?"
- Failure to start a new paragraph when a new person starts speaking.
"What should we do?" asked Sarah. "Maybe we should go find a restaurant," John suggested.
- The wrong form of its/it's, their/there/they're, you're/your, and so on.
- All those homonyms (words that sound the same but are spelled differently) that the spellchecker won't catch. For example, sight/site/cite, rain/rein/reign, etc.
- Mixing up lie/lay/laid. For example, all of these are wrong:
He smiled as he lay her on the bed.
He wanted to lay down next to her, but he couldn't.
He watched her lie her head on the pillow.
- Excessive use of general pronouns. This can especially be a problem in m/m or f/f slash.
He put his hand on his chest and looked deeply into his eyes. He felt his heartbeat speed up as he licked his lips. [etc...]
As stated above, you should know the general rules of how to put together a story. The trouble with most stylistic mistakes is that they are difficult to define or to agree upon. It's not like spelling, where you're either right or wrong. One person's idea of a poorly composed plot may be another person's idea of brilliance, and so forth. So, take all of this with a grain of salt.
Other than grammar and spelling, bad characterization may be the single biggest thing that is wrong with most bad fiction. When writing fanfic, you are using characters that are already very well-defined in your readers' minds. The characters have specific personalities, likes and dislikes, quirks, habits, and so forth. If your reader finds him- or herself thinking, "Captain Picard would never do/say that," you have a story with bad characterization.
(It's not impossible to write a good story where a character does something he or she wouldn't normally do. But you need to EXPLAIN it. For example, show that the character is on drugs, or is under a paranormal influence, or is actually the character's evil twin from an alternate dimension. You can sometimes even get away with having the character simply have a change of heart, but it needs to be well-written and believable.)
We can't really tell you a general rule for how to improve your characterization, since every story is different. However, here's one hint that does help us: Try to envision the actor(s) acting out your fic. Try to "hear" them saying your dialogue in your mind. If they sound stilted, chances are you haven't really captured the character. If you're not so good at imagining voices, try to picture the character's face in the situation you're writing about. You can even try reading your story out loud to see if it sounds natural.
If that doesn't work either, try replacing the characters' names with John or Mary, and see how the story sounds. If it sounds just as natural that way, that means you aren't really capturing the unique nature of the character.
If you're writing a PWP ("Plot, What Plot?" also known as "Porn Without Plot"), it's okay to have only the bare minimum of plot. However, don't just have the characters walk into a room and start screwing. Especially if they're two characters who don't have a relationship on the show, you need to have SOME explanation of why they're suddenly screwing. Otherwise you might as well just be writing about John and Mary.
If your story has more plot than a PWP, you should be aware of the general rules of fictional composition. For example:
- Your plot should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. (Think that sounds obvious? You clearly haven't read some of the fanfic we've read.) It's okay to start in what feels like the middle of the action, but at some point you do need to get around to explaining how the characters got to that point.
- Your plot should make sense. If the characters are in a weird location, how did they get there? If in the middle of your story the characters suddenly start having sex, why are they doing so? When a major event happens, why do the characters react the way they do?
- Remember the basic principle of cause and effect. If a character does X, you need to bear in mind that X usually causes Y to happen. If Y then does not happen in your story, you need to have a plausible reason for that. One event in your story should follow logically from the previous one.
- The story needs to end, not just stop. We realize that a lot of people have trouble writing endings; we have that problem too. But that's no excuse for leaving your reader dangling. If you can't think of a clever one-liner to end the story on, at least have a character thinking, "Gee, that was exciting. I need a nap," and getting into bed, or something. Your readers need closure.
A lot of times we find that we start writing a story, and then it starts going in a different direction than we had intended. Hey, that's okay! But the plot still needs to make sense, and the story needs to have a sense of "flow." Again, reading your story out loud to yourself can often help with this. And we cannot stress enough the value of using a beta reader!
These are some general stylistic problems that are pet peeves for us. Once again, this list is not comprehensive.
- Changing tense in the middle of the story. If you're writing in the past tense ("John woke up and looked around...."), stay in the past tense. If you're in the present tense ("John wakes up and looks around...."), stay in the present tense. It's okay to use different tenses for different characters' point-of-view, but if you do this, make sure you're consistent.
- Changing voice in the middle of the story. If your entire story is from Scully's point of view and you suddenly switch to Mulder's point of view, it can be jarring. We won't say you should never do this, but it needs to be handled carefully.
- Changing person in the middle of the story. This is rare, but it does happen. If your entire story is in Mulder's point of view, but half the time Mulder is "I" and half the time "he," it can be very confusing.
- Constantly reusing the same phrase, sentence type, or plot device. Remember that variety is the spice of life!
- The ever-present Mary Sue. It seems like everyone reading or writing fanfic makes fun of the Mary Sue phenomenon, and yet people keep on writing it. What is Mary Sue? It's a generic term for a story where the author invents an original character who is obviously a wishful-thinking stand-in for the author herself. The Mary Sue character is beautiful, smart, competent, and irresistibly sexy. Invariably, she ends up saving the planet (or whatever) and the main series character (Picard, Mulder, Buffy, Xena, etc.) falls madly in love with her, upon which they have pages and pages of soulful, steamy sex. Please avoid Mary Sue-ism at all costs. It's almost never a good thing.
(Note that the feminine pronoun is used in the previous paragraph because Mary Sues are almost always female. Not always, but definitely the vast majority of the time.)
These are some other things we hate to see in fic, which don't really fit into the above categories.
There are lots of mistakes that are found specifically in erotic fanfic. If you're going to write a sex scene, you should at least know the basics about sex. You should know the names of all the major erotic body parts (and how to spell them, of course!), where they are, what they do, and how they fit together. You don't have to have tried every position you write about, but you should make a reasonable effort to find out whether it's physically possible.
Contrary to popular belief, you don't actually have to have had sex in order to write a good sex scene. (Believe us. We know.) If that were true, why would there be so many women -- including lesbians and bisexual women -- writing really good m/m slash? But you should at least know what the naked human body looks like, and have a general idea of what the sex act looks/smells/sounds/feels like. If you're writing m/m slash, we HIGHLY recommend Minotaur's Sex Tips for Slash Writers.
Below are some of the most common errors or problems found in fanfic sex scenes.
- "That doesn't go there," aka a position that isn't possible.
- Lack of lube in anal sex. Or, to put it more succinctly as one of our members once did, "treating anal sex like PIV." Also, using something as a lube that wouldn't really provide enough lubrication, such as water, saliva, or (ew!) blood.
- Women being aroused and climaxing way too easily.
- Men achieving erection way too easily, or men who can achieve erection again and again, and have orgasm after orgasm.
- Women having "taught thighs."
- Sex cliches, especially combat imagery during kissing, e.g. "Their tongues did battle" or "Their tongues wrestled."
- Stupid or cutesy words for sex parts, such as "mounds" (for breasts) or "man-meat" (for penises).
- Use of the verb "impale" when a penis enters an orifice.
- Women who, on TV, are virgins or sexually inexperienced (such as most of the teenage girls on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer") being fellatio experts.
- Women who have never had a homosexual experience before being experts at cunnilingus.
- Men who have never had a homosexual experience before being fellatio experts.
- A man who has never had a homosexual experience before being able to take a large penis up his ass without any trouble or preparation.
- A female character having much larger breasts than the actress who plays her.
- A male character having an unbelievably large penis. (Okay, this isn't technically an error, but it turns us off.)
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Last updated January 4, 2001