Smallville Fanfic Guidelines
Introduction: This thread is meant as a set of guidelines for posting Smallville fanfic to the Kryptonsite Message Boards, and anywhere else you wish to archive fic. If you want to ignore it, by all means, do so. ;) I might refer you to it politely in a review, but this is not to be a hard-and-fast set of rules. The idea is that these guidelines and links will help writers who want to improve their work somehow and aren't sure just where to begin. I actually don't recommend running a fic through this in one sitting, lol. It would take way too long, make every single reader discouraged (I'd discourage myself if I read it straight through), and help them none. I suggest reading only one section at a time. For instance, if you know you have lots of trouble with keeping people in character, you could try the Characterization section and see if anything there would help you.
Note!: This was written around 2005, and few if any of the links have been checked since then. As I don't have time to maintain the links, I leave that to you. If you find a dead link in this list, please send me an e-mail with a suitable replacement link that I can check out and swap into the list, and I'll be happy to replace it. I just don't have time to go looking myself.
The other posters on the Tips for writing fanfiction thread.
The links found in the checklist and after it.
Tara (LJC) O'Shea's Once Upon a Time columns were especially helpful, and are linked to in various places below.
Wendymr from the L&C message boards, who kindly looked over my checklist and gave me all sorts of editing tips, ideas, and examples.
Introduction and Preliminaries
2. Grammar & Word Choice
5. Writing Flow
6. Plotlines & Realism
8. Publishing & Enjoyment
Appended Links and Resources
Introduction and Preliminaries
When you think your fic is ready for the K-Site boards (or anywhere else, for that matter), you can run it through this checklist if you'd like. If you find enough mistakes that you think you'd have to rewrite it, that's OK--it happens to everyone, even the best. That process will help you grow as a writer. In the long run more people will enjoy your work that way. And who doesn't want to be the next Chiriru, LJC or Paperbkryter? ;)
Preliminary question: Do you have a beta reader? If not, you really ought to find one. Few people, if any, can write perfectly and catch all their own mistakes (I certainly can't, and I'm a walking spell checker). Betas are a writer's saving grace. They spot mechanical errors, point out areas that need more development, suggest ideas sometimes, and pretty much do a large variety of things, depending on who they are and what the writer needs (I suggest working this out ahead of time so there are no misunderstandings). You don't have to go along with everything they think; if you're absolutely positive that a certain sentence HAS to stay in the fic, by all means, go with your instinct. But many times they will suggest some change that hadn't occurred to you before, but that you realize is necessary.
Some people only need a beta primarily for one purpose or another. For instance, I usually only work with a plot beta (she catches the occasional grammar error I make, but I tend to make very few mechanical errors, so I don't need someone to inspect for those). A good writer who doesn't speak English natively may have an excellent plot but need help proofreading (grammar beta.) The following are tips on what to look for in each particular type:
On finding a grammar beta: A grammar beta needs to be fluent in English (usually English needs to be his or her native tongue, unless you find one of those rare people who masters a second language very very well). They also need to be good at spotting grammar and punctuation errors. English majors tend to be particularly good at this. If they are the sort of person who goes around saying, "They misspelled that word in the sign there," they're probably the sort you want.
On finding a plot beta: A plot beta is often a good writer. They need to have a good sense of flow in a story, what is likely to happen next, what feels rushed or dragged out, etc. They do not need to be a native English speaker, though that is always helpful.
One last beta note: Although face-to-face beta discussions are most helpful (if you happen to know another fanfic fanatic in real life, you're fortunate!), beta discussions can work quite well over IM. I've had experience with one beta where I sent her a Word document with the fanfic section, and she would add comments and notes in red and send it back to me. Then we discussed her comments over IM, as I tweaked, fixed, and otherwise improved the fic per her suggestions.
a. Have you run the spell-checker of the word processing program you use? Keep in mind that electronic spell-checking will miss most homonym errors (words pronounced the same but spelled differently), and some misspelled words are closer to different words than their originals, so you should not assume that it's fixed all of them correctly, but it will help eliminate some errors.
b. Have you had a beta read it for spelling mistakes the computer can't find? They should be good at spotting spelling errors. Special attention should be given to commonly confused homonyms, such as "you're/your" and "they're/their". Mistakes involving these can be very irritating to a reader.
c. Have you capitalized words at the beginning of sentences? Remember that there are two companion sets of letters to the English alphabet, and that the capital letters are used for beginning sentences and for the first letters of names, places, organizations, and other proper nouns. It is not, however, considered proper to use them for entire words except when trying to make a point, and in a fanfic, I recommend using italics or underlining for that word to make your point rather than all caps.
2. Grammar & Word Choice
a. Have you used the grammar checker to make sure there are no subject-verb disagreements? It should also pick up mistakes such as wrongly structured phrases and extra words. It's not perfect, though; it may completely miss the point of why you phrased it the way you did. (Microsoft Word is particularly dumb in this respect, lol.)
b. Have you had a beta read it to spot any errors with tense or phrasing? Does your fic stay in the same tense all the way through? (Past is preferable--most stories are about something that already happened. Though you may wish to use present for a sense of immediacy, this works best in very short fics--one-shots, as longer ones are obviously not immediate. I doubt you'd be writing a fic in future tense, unless as a joke; even then, I'm not sure of the wisdom of that idea. ;))
c. Have you begun a new paragraph each time someone else says something? It is highly recommended to start a new paragraph for each new speaker. This makes it easier for people to follow what's happening, and is a standard convention in published books.
d. What dialect of English are you writing in? (I assume you're writing in English since this checklist is in English.) How that will affect the characters' speech? If you're British, and your characters are distinctly American, they're not likely to be using British slang, unless, of course, they're trying out some words they picked up on their latest trip to London. If you're writing a character who has a particular accent or dialect, do your research on the words they would use, but try to go lightly on the dialect. This essay is excellent in giving you advice on how to represent an accent. Also, whichever spelling system of English is your native one, you're free to stick with it, but try to be consistent. There's nothing wrong with spelling "behaviour" and "analyse", even when writing a fic set in the United States. ;) However, if the next paragraph contains "behavior" and "analyze", it might look slightly odd . . .
A good word processor will pick up on some errors in punctuation, but most punctuation errors can only be caught and properly fixed by a good beta.
a. Have you used commas properly? They are used to separate different parts of a thought in a sentence, and connect one or more sentence fragments with a standalone phrase. However, they aren't used to combine two separate standalone phrases into one sentence. They also come before and after a piece of dialogue when it is in the middle of a sentence, except if the dialogue is a question or exclamation.
From the L&C Archive Grammar Guide:
Punctuation should go inside the quote marks when writing dialogue.
EXAMPLE: "Lois, I love you," whispered Clark.
EXAMPLE: "Jimmy," Perry called, "where is my coffee?"
Note that this site is distinctly American; British and other varieties of English use slightly different rules in certain aspects.
b. Have you used periods properly? They come at the end of every declarative sentence (anything that is a statement). They aren't used at the end of a question or when a character is shouting dramatically.
c. Have you used question marks properly? They should come at the end of every question, but nowhere else.
d. Have you used exclamation marks properly? I suggest using sparingly, but they can be perfect for a sentence said by a character who is shouting or excited. Only one is used at the end of a sentence.
e. Have you used quotation marks properly? These surround any piece of dialogue. They are placed on the outside of ending punctuation such as a question mark or a comma.
f. Have you made sure there are no sentence fragments or run-on sentences? If you need a review on what those terms are (especially helpful if you haven't been in English class for a while), go here for a quick lesson on seeing and correcting them. You can combine sentence fragments with a full sentence using a comma, and correct run-on sentences by using either a semi-colon, or turning them into two separate sentences with a period.
a. Do your characters speak like they do on the show? I.e. Lex gives carefully crafted speeches, often using Greek or Latin mythology. Chloe is snarky and knows lots of odd details. I recommend paying attention to the way they talk on the show and comparing it to your characters' dialogue. If it's not realistic, try asking yourself how you could improve it.
b. Do your characters act like they do on the show? People are motivated by various things, and each have their own boundaries on things they will or won't do (though if you fiddle with the circumstances enough, you can get them to do just about anything). Don't hesitate to ask on the if you have difficulties naming these.
c. Do you have an original character? Maybe you could run it through the Smallville Mary Sue Litmus Test. If s/he scores too high on it, you could change some things about her/him to make sure they're realistic enough. In general, steer clear of exotic names, backgrounds, or looks (silver-haired Eléan who comes from a long-lost Native American tribe is an extreme example ;)), try to keep them from being related to main characters (as a long-lost twin sibling or cousin, for instance), and try to give them a good mix of strengths and weaknesses, just like the rest of us have. Another good essay to read on this topic is Tara (LJC) O'Shea's When is a Mary Sue not a Mary Sue? This shows times when you can get away with using those characteristics. And lastly, for some humor, you really should read A Mary Sue Alphabet. It's as hilarious as educational.
5. Writing Flow
a. Do you describe very much? Detail is key to drawing readers in. You want to make them feel in their minds what the characters are experiencing through their five senses. You don't have to use half a page on description alone, but I suggest giving just enough detail so that readers can form pictures in their heads of what's happening.
b. Do you show what the characters are feeling in other ways than saying it outright? Try to show the characters' feelings through indirect description or inner thought rather than to tell it directly.
Clark was miserable.
Clark dragged himself out of the chair. He really didn't feel like doing anything at all. Right now, life wasn't worth living.
The first one is very direct--and not nearly as interesting as the second, which draws the reader into Clark's mind and emotions.
c. Do you (and/or your beta) feel that the writing is rushed? Maybe try rewriting it, then. You could add more detail, slow things down, and see if there wasn't some scene you're overlooking. No one comes up with all the ideas overnight, saves the world in one day (even if you're Clark), and gets in a romantic relationship in a matter of hours. If Lex is coming up with some sort of plot, he'll need some time to develop it, and if you drop a few hints before it actually happens, half the readers will be anticipating it, and the other half will be flabbergasted by your outstanding writing (that left clues they didn't pick up). If another FOTW is causing problems, it'll take Clark a good thirty minutes of show time to fix it (spread over several days in SV-time), so I recommend having it take him a roughly equivalent amount of time in your fic. And although some people might spontaneously decide to get in a romantic relationship, Pete wouldn't get in a serious one that fast, and everyone else would spend forever thinking it over ahead of time. Try showing the warm-up, the slow growth of attraction, or at least, of the awareness of that attraction. (That's my favorite part--watching them slowly get closer.) The best marriages start on solid friendships, and the same goes for any pre-marriage relationship. Build-up may take a long time, but don't give up! You will get there eventually, and if you decide to pace yourself (and the fic), it'll be more than worth it.
d. Do you think your writing is suffering from "writerism"? Check this essay out if you think it is, or if you don't know what writerism is. This is something you don't have to fix the first time through, but someday if you want to work on it . . .
6. Plotlines & Realism
a. Are you using a standard plot that many others have done? If so, maybe you can find a new angle to it. Originality is important, and you especially don't want to be accused of plagiarism if you choose a slant too similar to that of a previous writer's fic. Try to be careful with hurt/comfort plots, the standard "boy meets girl and falls in love" plot (especially if it involves a main character and an original one), the "Clark is found by someone besides the Kents" plot, the amnesia-related plots, and the "Clark is captured and placed in a lab" plot, among many others. One good way to check if your plot is overused is to ask in the FFQ thread if there are any fics using your idea already. If there are, find something about yours that will make it unique, and interesting even for readers who read those fics. This list is full of SV clichés to avoid. If you do want to write one of those plots, you could
incorporate something in your fic that will make it stand out from the rest. Don't hesitate to write a plot you want to write if the other stories written using them are all poorly done. You will be appreciated for writing it well.
b. In your fic, does someone get hurt, physically, mentally, or emotionally? Do research to make sure you describe the condition correctly, from a concussion to amnesia to schizophrenia to depression. Be very cautious when using rape as a plotline; if you are sure that it is necessary, do your research to make sure the victim and his/her friends and family react realistically. You can visit this page and read the answer to the question “What is hurt/comfort?” if you don't know.
c. Have you checked to make sure your SV-related facts are all correct? The FFQ thread is a good place to confirm details regarding ages, first meetings, family backgrounds, characters' interests, etc. This page might have the resources you need, though it is behind in a few areas. Credibility hinges upon correct facts. It can be lost if someone writes a fic using a fact that is blatantly false, unless it's specifically stated they are writing an AU, and have a special set of things that are all different. I.e. if you love Pete, and want him to stick around for 4th season, you can say that your fic is an AU where Pete never left. But saying that Pete and Clark met in the 8th grade, for instance, is something different. If you have a good reason for why they didn't meet earlier, you can try that (i.e. Clark was home-schooled till 8th grade), but if they both attended SV schools from early days, they would probably have been friends from then. Try not to mix up canon and fanon; you can make an author's note if you are going to use fanon, and ask permission from the people who created the fanon first. This essay may help you figure out which is which, and what you're using in your particular fic.
d. Have you checked to make sure your other facts are all correct? For instance, are you using some sort of science in the plot? It never hurts to do your research; even if you're writing a story about a FOTW who is affected somehow by the meteorites, you can find information about the condition the meteorites are affecting. I.e. if your person is going to have some sort of special ability like an animal, I suggest studying that animal's mechanism and how it works so you'll be able to work with the meteor mutation "realistically". You might also pay attention to geographical, historical, or mythological details. If you're writing a story in which the characters travel to some part of the world and participate in the local festivities, you can search the web or get library books, whatever you need to make sure that those details are accurate. The work will really pay off by giving your fic a realistic feel, and making it easier for readers to feel like your story is almost canon. Tara (LJC) O'Shea's essay on the importance of research is something you can read on this topic. The list of links at the end of this checklist contains several to groups where you can ask questions in various areas. (Hint: I learned a lot from research that might just be useful sometime in my life; you never know.)
f. Are you writing an AU story? Believability is important. This essay has a LOT of good points on how to write a successful AU, even though it is for another fandom. Read and increase in knowledge. ;) If you need a quick FAQ on AUs, this essay should help.
g. Are you writing a songfic? Please read Tara (LJC) O'Shea's essay My Heart Will Not Go On, Thanks. It doesn't mean you can't write a good one--I have read some very well-done songfics. Just think about why you want to write it and what you're trying to show through it.
h. Are you writing a sequel? I recommend reading this essay before doing so.
a. Are you writing a long story? Try to plan out future ideas in some sort of outline. It can undergo major revision, but it is usually helpful to have some sort of goal in mind as you write. You might get discouraged; that's OK. But try to keep going; give yourself a break for a bit, letting it stew in the back of your mind, and come back to it when you're ready. You can ask people to bounce ideas off of you to help. You can visit the writer's block thread if you would like extra help.
b. Are you writing a short story or a one-shot? This is a perfect size for a first fic, and is well-liked by many who have only short amounts of time to read. I recommend giving the ending a satisfactory finish, and keeping the plotlines to a bare minimum--this will make it less of a hassle to work with. If plotlines keep sprouting and taking the story in a variety of directions, you might need to write it as a longer story, and come up with an outline to keep the growth somewhat corralled. Be careful about doing this with your first fic; the long development time tends to cause some impatience and you might be tempted to give up on the fic, which is not a good thing to do (readers sometimes get cranky--you took their drug away ;)). I suggest keeping your first ones short, focusing on developing skills in areas you are weak in, getting even better in your areas of strength, or exploring various ideas. You'll find it easier to work with longer fics when you're more comfortable with writing.
8. Publishing & Enjoyment
a. Has your fic has gone through the checklist, and you think it's been written pretty well? Then all you have left to do is submit it as a new thread in the correct category under the Fanfic forum here on K-Site. You may also wish to submit it to other archives you know about, like Fanfiction.net. This will expand your reading audience (and give you opportunities for more feedback ;)). You'll want to credit your beta for their help (that keeps them happy and ready to work more), and have a disclaimer to the effect that you don't own Smallville or any of its characters that you borrowed. You can even be creative with it; I've been hooked just by witty disclaimers before. I suggest including a rating, and a warning for any spoilers (the last episode they should have watched in order to read your fic). I recommend writing a summary for your fic so people will know what it's about before they watch; including the secondary relationships is a good idea, unless they're a surprise (please do mention any slash you may have--some readers are very against that and would want to be warned before they run across it). Anything in your introduction might also do well with a quick spelling and grammar check.
b. Are you open to any constructive criticism you receive? Most people may review with nothing more than "Great! I liked it!" and "PPMS!" That is good to hear; however, it's the ones who will point out specific well-done things, and specific things that need work, which will help you improve. There is never a point at which you're then a "perfect writer"; you can always improve somehow, and a mark of professionalism is how willing you are to grow as a writer. There is a difference between constructive criticism and flaming, as follows: Constructive criticism consists of comments on your story, both positive and negative feedback which tell you what you've done right and what you need to improve, but flaming consists of personal attacks. Tara (LJC) O'Shea's essay on critical feedback is something I suggest reading, both to understand why you want to ask for constructive criticism (and know what to expect when you do get it), and why you want to give it yourself. The classic essay The Mannerly Art of Critique is also excellent, and I would highly recommend it to all writers and readers.
c. Are you having fun? This is one of the biggest things, and possibly seems a bit odd of a question after all the "rules" before. But seriously, if you're not having fun writing the story, chances are your audience won't have much fun reading it. On the other hand, if you're overflowing with excitement as you write, passing the fic through this checklist will only help boost your audience. Don't get discouraged too easily; writing is hard work (as are most things in life, unfortunately), but it pays off when you have a well-written fic and others are falling in love with it. :D
Appended Links and Resources
Other links I strongly advise you to check out when you have the time (though the above points are the essential ones):
Smallville Fan Fiction FAQ
Dr. Merlin's Guide to Fan Fiction
The Fanfic Symposium
L&C Fanfic Archive Grammar Guide
This page covers punctuation, tenses, non-existent words, and frequently misused words.
Tara O'Shea's (LJC) Tips for writing fanfiction
Yes, this was written for Star Trek fanfiction. ;) But it's still helpful.
A Formatting FAQ for Fanfic Writers
A Way With Worlds (a column on writing fictional continuities)
Paradigm Online Writing Assistant
Forward Motion for Writers
I advise you to especially check out the Workshop articles.
Purdue University's Online Writing Lab
Fanfic question discussion groups:
Copied from Dr. Merlin's Guide to Fan Fiction: "Each list is geared toward a specific subject matter. This is how it works: someone has a specific question on a topic. They post the question. Someone answers it, or doesn't. If you have a useful answer or an addendum to a previous reply, you post. You don't chatter."
End note: Is there any mistake I've made, whether it be in mechanics or content? Do you know of a link you think should be added somewhere in this checklist? Feel free to e-mail me at doranwen @ yahoo . com (spaces removed) with that information, and I'll be glad to modify this accordingly, and acknowledge your help. :)