Saturday, April 11, 2009

Column: Pastiche Pen's Advice On The Newbie Power & The Fandom Tower

Taboos and “I think NOT” Errors in the Fandom

Some fic just scares people—fannyfickers won't even read a story because of the summary content. You, the boundlessly imaginative writer, might stamp your foot and say, “But they’re yellow-bellied eels!!!” While you may not be in total error in your judgment, it is also true that many readers are yellow-bellied eels FOR A REASON.

When you first start out as a reader in fan fiction, you are very open-minded. You read what seems like half the internet. You are adventurous! You try all sorts of tales—but then you realize that some crap is weird but not… “good weird.” Original characters start to possess creepy vamp powers that you’re not even sure the author understands. For some reason Aro always seems to be a homosexual or a violent sex fiend (or both) in Volturi fics. Leah just whines all the time. People write Emmett, and he just… isn’t funny. Jasper puts Alice in sexual positions that a Cirque de Soleil contortionist couldn't manage... The collective insanity makes readers become more wary, and as readers become more wary, the fandom narrows.

I’m telling you this not to discourage you—but to prep you with knowledge. As a newbie, you’ll have an uphill battle getting readers if you so dare as “to step out of line.” What is the line? I went ahead and defined the status quo below:

The Standard Twilight Fic

Pairing: Bella x Edward
Most Popular Category: All Human, followed by AU (Canon, you say? Fuck you.)
Genre: Romance
Standard Characterizations:

1. Bella Swan is a sweet but cool and “fer real” chica —unlike all the plastic bitches that surround her, and Edward is a hardened badass who for whatever reason “drops the act” when he falls head over heels for the “class act” that is our beloved heroine. Bonus points if Edward is (a) an actor (b) a king (c) a model or (d) a do-nothing, filthy rich socialite.

2. Edward is a tortured virgin, and Bella, while dealing with her own tendency to hate men in general, ends all of that bologna because (like “Oh My Jane Austen!”) Edward Anthony Cullen is a sexy mofo. Edward gets to break her shell and then her hymen—Ta Da! Bella and Edward have triple orgasm virgin sex—the end.

3. Edward and Bella are lifelong friends until some grave catastrophe happens in which Bella (a.) kisses (or screws) Mike Newton and/or Jacob Black (b.) oopsy! gets pregnant (c.) confesses all—and Edward fails to grasp his soul mate-esque feelings for her or (d.) they just never admit their feelings to each other—they’re SHY. So, miscommunication after miscommunication ensues, and then finally there’s the big reveal.

4. All of the above—but mix and match! Replace virgin with whore! Pick and choose among your favorite disorders and phobias—or better yet, make up your own! Hate Jacob? He can be a rapist! Throw in a gnome or ferocious pet jaguar named “kitty” to spice things up!

The standard plot for any romance is always hero and heroine meet, dramatic realization of love ensues, but then for whatever reason, this epic love “just cannot be.”

Oh, no! —whatever will happen?

*Pastiche twirls her finger in the air*

Hero and heroine overcome the “insurmountable” conflict, and they live on happily ever after and have strangely named babies.

Now, I’ve classified 98% of the fandom—and if you think I insulted you, get over it (and yerself). There’s a reason there are two hundred different versions of Pride and Prejudice (of which the BBC miniseries remains the BEST), because women are perfectly happy to reread epic romance over and over again. Finally, I am mocking myself along with the crowd—‘cause wouldn’t you know? That story of mine that falls into the parameters outlined above has a couple thousand reviews…


Certain topics, such as race, sexuality, religion, war/violence, and politics just tickle our skittish spots. Many readers won’t touch. And yet some of the most important works in English literature deal with these very concepts—so if you feel strongly, my writer friend, forge ahead—just do it with the knowledge that such topics require sensitivity. Of course, there is a “clever” way to ease your burden: you can stick with the fantasy, e.g. the vampires. Yes, there’s a reason Meyer was wildly successful with using vampire bloodlust as a metaphor for human lust—it’s why J.K. Rowling was capable of inserting race relations into Harry Potter: fantasy allows readers some emotional distance. Of course, I say this, but I love both fantasy and the grittier stuff (with actual meaning). Anyway, I let others talk…

Thallium81/Jfy, author of Sanctuary and Earthquake
Religion: I knew this was a major hurdle when I started Sanctuary, and I almost didn’t post the story—not because I thought no one would read it, but because I thought readers might burn me at the stake. It turns out that readers actually just avoid what they think they won't like, which is very wise. As Sanctuary has grown (slowly) in popularity, though, I’ve begun to get PMs from potential readers asking me to reassure them before they take the plunge. They just won't be able to handle a story that ends with "There is no God" or "Father Edward fucks Bella on the altar and pours communion wine over her bare, heaving breasts." (NEITHER OF THOSE THINGS WILL HAPPEN, BY THE WAY.) I’ve learned that if you want to tackle a subject that is personally meaningful (like faith), you must handle it with care, and if you aren't prepared to do that, you will fail—horribly. You’ll be run out of the fandom on a rail.


Humor and Smut and Angst. Double-edged swords—and yet some of the most popular stories have excessive amounts of each, so you might think giggles and lemons and yearning are the secret to success.


Ironically, getting folks to review a brand-new fic by alleging it to be “funny” or “full of lemons” is a hard sell for the first time writer. Now, once you have a few reviews, it gets much, much easier—because folks are lemmings, and it’s like one reader doesn’t wanna admit you made her laugh your tail off or fan herself until the rest of the pack all nod their heads in unison along with ‘em.

(1) Humor. People LOVE humor, but what people hate more than anything else in the whole world is a not-funny story that professes to be "hilarious" in the summary. This trend causes folks to actually not click on such stories unless they know that an author is truly funny. Thus, it's often better to put a funny line or bit of description in the summary for a comedy, rather than labeling the story as "full of hilarity."

(2) Smut. So yes, there are many readers that specifically seek out smut, just as there are readers who avoid it, but let me tell you, people are PICKY about smut. You could almost give the seasoned reader a checklist:

You can’t really change set opinions on someone’s comfort with the NC-17 stuff…

And then, It’s like folks won’t read your story until it’s popular—and then EVERYONE reads your story—because then the “dirtiness” is now socially acceptable, so but of course peeps are going to indulge their curiosity—because why not? Everyone else is doing it…

Yet again, I bothered Isabel0329, author of Skin Deep and Comfortable because I like her stuff...
I expected a bit of blowback when I ventured into non-canon pairings—I just didn't realize how violent it would be. Reviews ranged from something like "Wow, this is different. Interesting ...." to "HOW COULD YOU DO THIS?! I'M NEVER READING YOUR STUFF AGAIN!" I've had people question my sanity and my morality because I write poly-amorous couples and lesbian pairings. But then I've had readers comment that the characters’ sexuality no longer seems so farfetched after they understand the characters and their emotions. My more unusual pairings receive lower reviews, hits, favorites and alert numbers, and I think that's understandable. Not everybody is ready to read slash or non-traditional pairings. I generally advise people who may be on the fence to give something unusual a chance. At the same time, if the whole idea of reading one girl being sexual with another makes you queasy, I suggest avoiding it altogether. Gracefully bow out at the beginning, and save the author the heartache of reading a violently negative review. I put disclaimers in Skin Deep and Comfortable and found that people were generally nice about it and thankful I'd given fair warning.

(3) Angst. Why do people groan over angst? In part because it’s emotionally painful at times—especially when you’re waiting on takes-forever-and-an-age updates, but also because there’s nothing worse than a crazy angst story THAT DOESN’T FINISH. You’re just left there, always wondering… A lot of seasoned readers only take on such fics if they trust the author to finish or if the fic is in fact, already finished.

AngstGoddess003 (oh, what genre does she write in?) author of Wide Awake
Angst is simultaneously the greatest and most frightening genre out there. Sometimes we can spot bad angst from chapter one (content consists of fifty percent song lyrics, by paragraph three Bella is an aficionado at cutting, bulimia, and/or hair pulling, and Edward is so emo, you wonder if it’s a crack fic). Sometimes however, the writing is actually very good… so… in these cases, we have to give an investment of time to assess quality. There are those fics worth every second of your time, and then those others… that scar you for life. For example, you read thirty chapters only to discover: Bella, who’s become a violent sex addict by this point, dumps Edward for angry Jane Volturi… but only after Edward has killed incestuous-child-molesting Charlie and raped Bella… It’s not that these stories can’t be done tastefully—but they’re hard to do well. With Wide Awake, I didn't get many readers until enthusiasts of the genre began reccing it to their friends. In conclusion, authors should rely heavily on word-of-mouth because as readers, we have become distrustful of the great and frightening angst.


If it's not Edward-Bella, the fic won’t be as popular. It will be in a “niche” category. Why? Because it supposedly ain’t Bella-Edward epic love. Some people think Rosalie is a bitch. Emmett is stupid. Carlisle and Esme together are boring... and then there are the Breaking Dawn characters... “But Jake and Nessie are an imprint!” you argue, to which I reply, “Half the fandom hates Breaking Dawn.” For whatever reason, AlicexJasper and QuilxClaire seem to be considered the most acceptable “other pairings.” Again, I prattle on not to discourage you, because there are a sizable group of readers who crave and seek out such non-standard fics, especially slash and certain non-canon pairings (Carlisle and Jasper fetishes take the cake), and frankly, such niche readers are effin’ awesome, because these are the folks that are bored with the ordinary and seek out the new and undiscovered.

The other way to bring in readers to a fic that's not EdwardxBella is to become a really popular author and gain a fan base that allows you to experiment; however, these readers will be harder on you. Like, don’t be surprised when people tell you, “You made me like Jacob Black!”
…like that was an impossible feat or something?

Hopeful Wager author of Will you be ready when it comes? and Twice as Long as Yesterday
So Juliette said "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet," to which Anne Shirley replied, "I don't believe a rose would be as nice if it was called a thistle or a skunk cabbage." But it would. So when an anti-BD reader sees a fic and the characters are "Renesmee/Jacob," they cry out, "Well, that's a skunk cabbage for sure!" and don't even bother to take a whiff of the splendorous perfume that may be therein contained. When I wrote Will You Be Ready When It Comes?, I knew I had to tackle the "demon spawn" name prejudice. So, I took Jacob completely out of the story for 20+ chapters and set about making "Ren" out of Nessie. Then, when readers accepted her as a character worth her own salt, I brought back Jacob. Seeing Ren falling in love with some random fellow (by the 27th chapter, he seemed a stranger) who happened to be named Jacob Black—they didn't even recognize that the bouquet of roses they had been drinking in all along were those same skunk cabbages they had claimed to disdain earlier. Call it a bait-and-switch, if you must. Yet, I've had so many readers who relayed to me that they normally didn't go for the R/J pairing because "Ya know, it's the R/J pairing," but my story changed their minds. WYBRWIC's readership is/was not sizable, but those who follow are passionate about the story and dedicated to its plot.

(And yes, Pastiche wrote a JakexNessie fic of which she's very proud—and DOUBLE yes, she happily sees Stephen Strait in her head when she imagines Jacob Black…)


“Originality” in FanFic—always praised but best to be avoided.

Fanfic gains so many readers for a reason. Familiarity breeds comfort. Knowing what to expect, means readers are willing to try new stories with greater frequency. When they reach the unknown… they often turn away. Again, more foot stomping from writers, but on the other hand, go take a peek over at Fiction Press—NO ONE REVIEWS. Authors post completely original material and it just sits there…

There are other factors, too. There’s the Mary Sue phenomenon. (See: The Official Mary Sue Manual) There’s the fact that there are sooo many characters and personalities in Twilight it often seems like authors are being original for the sake of being original, instead using fandom material, which is sort of annoying. Also, creating new characters takes some skill—if your characters are boring, they get no benefit of the doubt from a reader—unlike when you use the Twilight characters.
Readers seem less deterred, however, if the original character plays a peripheral role, e.g. badass villain or bored office receptionist or an amusing feline...

Once again from Jfly/Thallium81 [And because Pastiche referenced kitty in the intro...]
As for "kitty" my quirkily little OC in EARTHQUAKE! —readers don't let the writer off the hook for ANYTHING. I’ve had countless reviews asking for details on kitty's origin, and why she doesn't chow down on Edward and Bella. Luckily, I have those answers, but if you plan to create a fun OC, you'd better have them as well. Nothing can be done half-assed for your readers. They want to feel safe inside your world when they suspend their disbelief for it.


Now, you may still scoff. A lot of writers think that they'll be somehow able to do what other writers have not and surmount the odds—but that's just silly. Be realistic. If you're going to write off the beaten path, you should do it for YOU, your ART, and the STORY that’s clunking about madly in your head—not reviews. Do so, and you'll be joining a class of writers who write in spite of the knowledge that they'll receive less praise and commendation for their work—so, yes, other authors with less heart and infinitely more cliché may get more praise and back patting, but you will be real McCoy.

Just keep yer head on straight about it.

Pastiche's Pen Tip:

More News:
1. Jizz... on my Uterus (Bad Smut) contest, deadline is April 15th, rules on DanBan.E's profile
2. That's Mr. Hot Bitch to You (Carlisle one-shot) contest, deadline is April 12th, rules on kittenmischief's profile
3. 'My Happy Birthday,' A 'Dreams Do Come True' contest, deadline is April 21st, rules on magan bagan's profile
4. Twi-Con's Happily Ever After Contest; End 5/30
5. Sign up for the Twilight Big Bang, a long-fic challenge, rules and info on the LJ community page
6. Temptation Twilight Podcast Contest

Pastiche Pen is a propagator of fanfic reader and writer love and a fellow believer in fandom hippie values. You can find her here. Go review her. Become her friend and others, because she would agree that it's all about spreading the love. But not that big, grossly gratifying inbred orgy love. That's just wrong.


  1. "Edward gets to break her shell and then her hymen—Ta Da! Bella and Edward have triple orgasm virgin sex—the end. "

    BWAHAHHAHAAH. This is so trufax. Then, if the author tells it realistically and it doesn't end up flowers and unicorns... it's a cockblock wankfest. Sigh. Great article, though I've already doted on it so you already know this. Everything you do is epically win. How do you manage that?

    Also, Hopeful Wager now makes me want to read a post BD fic nessie fic. HOW THE FUCK DID YOU DO THAT? Seriously, it's an impossible feat. I'm officially intrigued. Dang it all.


    "There’s the fact that there are sooo many characters and personalities in Twilight it often seems like authors are being original for the sake of being original, instead using fandom material, which is sort of annoying."

    You know, I get the opposite. People accusing me of being original when really, I'm not. I mean, given one slight change of circumstance, a character's personality can flip a total 360. I mean... in WA... assume that one little thing had happened between Renee and Charlie that set the future events into motion, and then in turn, effected Bella. She's OOC because of the events that altered her, but not necessarily "Original". And Edward... move his existence a hundred years and suppose that one little electrical spark changed everything for him. His experiences in the system molded his tough-exterior, etc. Again, OOC, but not necessarily original.

    On the other side of the copper coin... these characteristics they began with could belong to anyone, and are often common traits in the literary world anyways (self-loathing, self-sacrifice, shyness, insecurity, etc and so on...)

    Why am I ranting on this? See what you're making me do! I'm gonna stop now. :)

    "People LOVE humor, but what people hate more than anything else in the whole world is a not-funny story that professes to be "hilarious" in the summary."

    BAHAHA. I've sooo seen this. In the summary, they'll say like, "Really Hilarious!" And I'm like, "Errr, kay? Why don't you let the reader be the judge of that?" Those fics usually aren't funny. At all.

    I <3 your standard twilight fics. It is so win. I might frame it...

  2. Hey Pastiche,

    Great write up you have here. You have me laughing me ass off at 8 oclock on a Saturday morning, a feat that isn't too often accomplished.

    Everything you said was so absolutely true! And, I just wanted to mention how funny it is when in the summary the only thing the person writes is "I am bad at summaries, just read." I'm just like hmmmmm WOW, okay I'm totally going to do that considering you aren't even creative enough to write something here.

    "People write Emmett, and he just… isn’t funny. Jasper puts Alice in sexual positions that a Cirque de Soleil contortionist couldn't manage..." BAHAHAHAHAH I swear I read a few fics like this in my beginning reader days.

    And, I loved how you said people will definitely be PMing authors and saying "Wow you actually made me like Jacob Black" because that is the PMs my inbox is constantly flooded with and I mean, I suppose that's a compliment?

    Reader's reviews can be the best part of a writer's day. They can be funny, insightful, and ego-boosting. However, they can also be cruel and perhaps calling the writer an "effin bitch" because she didn't write the plot you wanted isn't really necessary. At all.

    Anyway, before I go off on a rant and tangent like AG above (haha look at the affect you're having on us) I just wanted to say great job with this. You tickled my funny bone and I'm excited to read the next write ups from you.

    And just a side note...AG (don't you just love how this is how you are referred to now BTW?) it makes me giggle excessively when I read people that accuse you of trying to be original and writing a story that isn't even close to Twilight--like that's supposed to be some kind of bad thing. Have they no concept of the sole purpose of fan fiction??

    Happy Easter ladies, try not to eat too many peanut butter eggs (this is coming from a girl that eats a foot-long hollow chocolate bunny in one sitting...oopsie).

  3. This was ridiculously true. I was nodding like a FIEND through every sentence. I love people who are just honest for the sake of pointing out a legitimate, sensible point. It's what makes a good writer, actor, comic, etc.

    So basically I adored this. So much I copy/pasted into my files of unfinished fics because if nothing else, this was some damn good writing.

    Also, THANK YOU for flying the flag for non-canon. I don't mind that those stories won't ever achieve the kind of vaulted status that the B/E epics inspire, but I do adore the original and the odd pairing, and there are so few writers who venture out and write FINISHED (god help the number of unfinished fics sitting on my alert/favorites list right now) strange pairings.

    "...readers will be harder on you. Like, don’t be surprised when people tell you, “You made me like Jacob Black!”
    …like that was an impossible feat or something?"

    LMAO. This happens to me so often I just kind of blink and nod at my computer screen like some sort of demented owl that has ruined the canon characters if so-and-so is likeable or GASP not likeable.

    For example, a review I got yesterday:

    "First of all I have to say I absolutely love your story! Yes it did take a few tries of reading it to really get into it but that was mainly due to my dislike of who the main characters. Also I must add I hate how you portayed Bella and Jasper in this story but still its amazingly good. the only one other thing I didn't like about the story was how you didn't mention who's POV it was in because at the begining of each chapter I'd have to process who it was about. But over all this is one hell off a story and have to say you have some serious writing skills. Thanks for creating such a wonderful story :)

    How the hell do you enjoy my story if you hate two of the main characters????

    But that's the beauty of wandering into the wily world of non-canon to me. I gave Jasper a brother, I made Bella a lunch lady of sorts, and I gave canon-ites a heart attack in the process. It's not for everyone, like you said. It's me and my crazy little head.

    So thank you for putting this awesomeness on paper for all to see.

  4. ^--------God forbid a reader would have to process anything. One wouldn't want to have to think about what they've read. Just put EPOV or BPOV at the top and treat everyone like the retard they apparently are....

    Fools. My hope for society in general drops a notch with every review like that.
    Well said PP, as usual.
    Back to the cave...

  5. To all the BEA-UUU-tiful ladies who contributed, you rock m'sox.

    AG-Heh. You know my rant on originality in fan fiction; however, for every one else who hasn't had it screamed at them: ALMOST NOTHING IN LITERATURE IS ORIGINAL. Like, every story that Shakespeare wrote was copied and simply made better - making shit better is awesome. Now, when we skip to FAN FICTION, you can imagine how original, I think we are all being...

    Originality comes from the human experience - so write fun details.

    Live720 - I'm glad I made you laugh. Especially so early. Like you had coffee and everything, right? I cannot laugh without coffee... and now that you mentioned it, I'd really like a peanut butter egg - must go buy some.

    FoG - (your abbreviated name is almost as funny as Hour of Lead's (HoL) Heh.) Yeah, it's sort of hilarious how people review, but they do mean it as earnest compliments - like typically they're suprised at themselves - so surprised that they somehow neglect to realize they're giving you a lefthanded compliment of sorts...

    And SiDEADde makes me laugh. FOOLS. The best general insult ever. Mostly because it's not that insulting, but highly satisfying to the declarer.

  6. Oh PP, how you break my heart.

    Wonderful article, as always, but I fear you have written the words that predict my doom.

    I have tried a fic with E/B as my main characters. And it just...didn't fly. Perhaps it is my nature to be picky about voice, but I couldn't get it right and so I threw it away.

    And started anew with OC pov. And I love it. To my fic's death, I love it.

    Well, as I said, thanks for the article. I'll go sigh into my soup now. I'm the king of this pity party with my jewel encrusted crown. ;)


  7. I saw this post this morning and saved it to read on the subway. I then proceeded to break one of the cardinal rules of subway riding by showing emotion and laughing out loud in a crowded car while reading this. You have this fandom down and I love that you call it out on its weaknesses.

  8. Anonymous... I think laughing on a subway is actually a very good defense strategy. I shun the giddy.

    AG: Damn straight. If you don't read mine, you should read PP's. Really, that's your penance: one post-BD story. As PP's and mine are the best (no, I'm not conceded at all), I suggest one of those.

    Generally: What's wrong with triple orgasm virgin sex? Nice work if you can get it, ya know?


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