Story Update: Chapter 47: Untitled.
06/02/22: Rereading old chapters
01/01/22: I want to write, unfortunately, my brain is still refusing to cooperate.
08/02/20: Chapter 46 posted.
12/21/19: Chapter 45 posted.
08/06/19: Chapter 44 posted.
07/02/19: Chapter 43 posted.
The following is written with an anal-retentive attention to Canon implied, so this does need a bit of revision since I have moved away from that, especially since Cursed Child came out. Nonetheless...
I am not one to give out even the most basic personal information except to those who are closest to me, though I suppose some vague details are called for. Even then, knowing such mundane trivialities like my age or where I live really won’t tell you anything about me. The best way to get to know me is to get to know my ideas and how I derived them.
Growing up as a middle child, and a bit of a wallflower, I spent a great deal of time People-Watching. I spent most of the time hanging back and learned what not to do by watching others get into trouble or make fools of themselves. Later, I was the one that people in my wide group of acquaintances would come to with their problems, for all this People-Watching had turned me into a kind of natural counselor. I rather enjoyed delving into a person’s past to figure out what their underlying issues were, why they acted the way that they did, and how it all developed.
Applying this natural aptitude while earning my degree in History, I was told that I have a great gift for Structure. I was able to look at a work, break it down to its fundamental elements and themes, and then analyze and reconstruct them, sometimes better and more relatable than they were before. Whether this detailed, ordered, yet organic approach was an outgrowth of my methodical and logical nature or background in computer programming, they nonetheless factored highly in developing my obsession in getting the Style, Tone, and Flow of my work correct.
These two aspects have converged to form the persona you’ll find here. Thorough comments are the norm for me and private messages often require multiple postings (the message being split due to routinely going over the 8,000 character limit). If I leave you a comment, or send you a private message (if what’s being said is far too thorough an analysis or would impact the plot too much to have as a comment for the entire world to see), I do so to provide constructive criticism. Sadly, some people do not take it that way. They accuse me of being mean, of wanting to rip apart everything they've done so that not even the smallest shreds remain, or endeavoring to prove that I am somehow better than they are. This could not be further from the truth.
I am a fan of storytelling. Or, to be more precise, I am a fan of good storytelling, which is so ever so hard to find. After being subjected to the painful products of so many wretched writers, particularly those in Hollywood, I have become a bit disheartened about finding it. My goal, however, is not to run people down but to lift them up, to help them improve. Any misunderstanding of my motives comes from the fact that I always expect an exceptionally high degree of quality that precious few are able to meet and thus my thoroughness comes across as condescending or mean-spirited. But, if I can think of a way to help those around me to come closer to that mark, I will continue to share it with them.
A few blessed writers start off well enough; for one reason or another they are able to prevail against the odds and create a perfectly cohesive and coherent story that is complete unto itself, with all the drama and adventure that we so secretly crave in our own lives, and to tell that story beautifully. Those are the stories that pull on the most communal and social part of us, the part from which our myths arise.
You see it from time to time in Hollywood, where those literary hacks, so often used to butcher our storytelling heritage for the mindless consumption of the unschooled public, manage to produce something of stunningly original quality. But though they start off well enough in the beginning, caught up in the sheer thrill of storytelling and spurred on, no doubt, by the reasonable assumption that they will have no avenue to delve further into this new world they've created once they are done, invariably end up undermining the very world and characters they created once further license is granted to pursue the subject. The reason is clear. The sequel that comes about afterwards is born not out of a storyteller’s love of the characters and the world they inhabit (which is the reason many moviegoers will return to watch a sequel), but out of the greed of their corporate masters.
Whereas the original is cohesive and whole, and in some effects timeless, what follows is a base degradation devoid of an independent narrative and enacted by characters that have become caricatures of themselves. A sequel in this fashion serves no purpose other than to tell precisely half a story, the production company becoming nothing more than cinematic crack dealers who reap the rewards of the high such unenlightened masses obtain from stunning visuals and explosions while lying that they had “always intended it to be a trilogy" leaving no doubt that there will be a third (or fourth, or fifth in some instances, until those with a critical eye become so disgusted by what these corporate sellouts have done to their beloved story that they simply refuse to watch any more).
I've noticed though that bad storytelling in print takes a somewhat different tack. The errors so many authors make in print stem from a lack of planning and what I call Unintended Drift. These authors start out with a rough plan, not for the events of one small book, but for an adventure that’ll grow to span an entire series of books. And while they may have notes scribbled on paper or images stuck in their heads, much of it, including the real interpersonal chemistry that only develops between characters when actual writing is done, is still left to chance.
This rough plan is really nothing more than sketch work lacking the necessary details, care, and refinement that those timeless stories I mentioned above require. This lack of care manifests itself by the stunning lack coherency and logic that becomes inherent in the world that the author creates. What is unmentioned in an earlier book is suddenly revealed to actually be quite commonplace. What is specifically mentioned as being impossible, for a specific reason, is used quite often later on by both heroes and villains alike, even though the underlying reason why it’s impossible to be used hasn't changed. And what the author throws in at the end of one book, to give the characters and readers a jolly good ending, would have catastrophic consequences if the villain, at the point in the series when they are meant to be their most powerful and triumphant, were to possess the same ability.
Likewise, there is such a lack of forethought that upon rereading the series even the most ardent fan could find plot holes the side of Buicks when they ask: “But why didn't (X character) do (something mentioned or used later on)?" The author, whose logical mind tells them that these things are a problem, then feels the need to explain away these events in some manner, only to discover (should they possess the insight needed to see it) that such an explanation doesn't strengthen their world but further diminishes it, for such an error never should have happened in the first place.
Unintended Drift, or the gradual deviation from the author’s original overall plot, which usually happens when the characters gain a personality independent of that of the author and the story gains a life of its own, only becomes a problem when the author refuses to revise their plans because of it. Rather than changing their overall plot to take these developments into account such authors instead focus so much on what they intended to see happen that in the end they force it to happen.
This is the most lamentable sin an author can commit for it stifles the organic nature of real life that they should be striving to emulate and kills the potential for future stories. Failing to realize that their characters, though fictitious, are nonetheless human and trying to combat this Unintended Drift in order to get their original plot back on its charted course causes the characters become flat and wooden, their actions becoming forced and alien. Likewise, the world they inhabit becomes nothing more than a pale farce of blunder and ineptitude rather than a rich, vibrant world full of the stories of profound individual and personal growth that mankind has found compelling since human speech was first uttered.
I've managed to compile a healthy set of guidelines and general rules of thumb to combat the most egregious sins that fan fiction writers invariably commit. I feel compelled at this point to thank the writer known as NorseGodLoki, or DarkWizardKiller, for getting the entire process started by writing such an abysmally bad story that I ended up inadvertently creating many of these, ex nihilo, in comments to his story. That said, this first section comes from reading a very interesting story, “Allegiance” by mugglehugger (A work-in-progress. You can find it in my favorites), which proves that even good writers can make mistakes.
Be mindful of the conversation you're in with your audience.
As a writer you are engaged in a conversation with your audience. Every word you use, every action your characters take, each new concept you employ sends a message. Your goal is to shape this conversation as they follow the characters’ journey; to walk hand-in-hand with your readers with a touch so light that the reader forgets that there even is a Writer at all. It should be as if the universe the reader finds themselves immersed in is illustrating your point as the story unfolds.
As such, you always want the conversation to remain on the level of subtext. Therefore, it is absolutely critical that the audience remain unaware that you, the Writer, are the one sending them those messages. You never want to draw attention to yourself. The goal in your writing should be to make your work appear as if it were Revealed rather than Written. Revealed works are, in a word, transcendent. A reader is more apt to trust Revealed works for they are seen as having no bias, no agenda, for they are not the product of human artifice but are simply made manifest. What the audience is reading is simply the way the universe is, and thus, is pure. Written works, however, have a Writer, and Writers are pitifully pathetic people with petty points to prove.
In other words, be wary of the Writer’s Heavy Hand.
The Writer’s Heavy Hand is a passage that, in an instant, draws the reader’s attention to the fact that your story was Written rather than Revealed. It is a message so blatant that the entire passage is no longer about the internal reality of the world you’re creating but the external reality that you, the Writer, are telling the audience what to think! Concepts like True Love, Love-at-First-Sight, and Soul Mates are, by their very nature, exceedingly difficult to mention in your writing without falling victim to the Writer’s Heavy Hand. Simply naming these concepts is often times enough to break the Fourth Wall, destroy the illusion of reality that the story’s had thus far, and rendering all your work, both before this point and afterwards, meaningless.
If I were to give advice about avoiding the Writer’s Heavy Hand it would be this:
1) Show how these concepts play themselves out in the characters' lives, don't talk about them.
It is the actions and interactions of the characters themselves that should show what the underlying meaning is rather than you taking the time to spell everything out. Talking about it explicitly not only pulls the reader out of the story, it removes the mystery and uncertainty surrounding the actions and interactions of the characters and makes the whole thing rather blasé.
By spelling everything out, by removing the subtext, by making the destination definite rather than implied, you've made your story straight-forward, and such a simple story is one that no one reads. Why? Because your audience doesn't want to passively sit there just reading the words you've put on the page, accepting, without judgment, everything that’s presented to them. Oh no, they want to be actively involved. They want to figure things out for themselves, before they become apparent to the characters.
This is why we, as readers, will twist and contort every little bit of information as soon as we get it to try and gain some new insight as to where the story is going. This is the conversation you are in with your audience. It’s a conversation not between you and them, but between them and themselves. It’s a conversation that explores the world they've immersed themselves in, the mysterious world that you silently shape. It is a conversation that you should never take an active role in yourself.
Explicitly mentioning what’s best left unsaid takes all of that activity away from your readers and leaves them with nothing to do, no mystery to think about. This type of direct action is essentially the same as going up to someone reading a murder-mystery and blurting out who the killer is. Do they thank you for doing so? After all, now that they know the ending they can have such a better appreciation of every little step along the way, right? Of course not! You've just ruined the whole experience for them so for them there’s no point in continuing it!
2) Don’t attempt to draw attention to how these concepts are happening in the characters’ lives.
This understandable impulse comes from your insecurities as a writer. It’s only natural to want your readers to be on the same page as you when it comes to your various Ships and thus you may feel the need to go back and review with them what’s happened thus far as a way of dotting all your i’s and crossing all your t’s. If you've spent the time to develop the relationships properly though then to do this would be folly. You should trust your readers to not only have followed where you've lead but to have already arrived at the conclusion you want them to reach. If you have doubts about how well you've handled your Ships then go back and reread your own work. Continuous revision and review is the best way to ensure a seamless narrative.
3) You may mention these concepts only as a way of furthering a general theme, narrative, or storyline.
Corollary: Do not have the main characters discuss it with each other.
Having the characters that are directly involved explicitly mention that concept by name immediately raises the issue from subtext to text and sends a message that comes across about as subtle as hitting us with 2x4s and shouting “Hey! Hey! Look! They’re soul mates! They’re soul mates! Don’t you think they’re soul mates?” This is bad storytelling. It is not clues the size of anvils that readers want but a trail of literary bread crumbs for them to follow.
Corollary: Remember to use your side-characters.
Functional reasons like these are, after all, one of the reasons you create side-characters in the first place! Rather unimportant casual acquaintances can bring up concepts like these to one of the characters, in an offhanded way (usually referring to themselves and someone else), and thereby force that main character to at least treat the matter seriously for a moment while having the issue as a whole remain at the level of subtext.
Having the main character be resistant to the idea, only to eventually agree that it may have some merit, is infinitely better than having the two main characters have a one-on-one conversation about it. The message you’re wanting to send comes across in a much more organic way through these side-characters while that one-on-one conversation removes the mystery for it denies any possibility that the couple will fail, effectively killing the story.
Having the story continue, with the audience engaged until the end, is the most important thing for it is the ending where the emotional payoff is made. It is at this point, and not before, that the main character who had the conversation before comes to realize what the side-character had been talking about all along, that not only do Soul Mates exist, but that they (the main character) had found theirs (the other main character).
This next section (courtesy of NGL/DWK) deals primarily with tone and continuity. The creation of new fan fiction does not mean severing ties with everything that’s gone before. Indeed fan fiction writers are deeply indebted to the original author, for without them there would be nothing for us to write about. We, as fans, must honor this debt and strive to have our work flow seamlessly from theirs.
The first and most important guideline one must acknowledge is:
There’s only a limited amount of change or invention that can take place in a short period of time without causing the reader to break their suspension of disbelief.
A good pair of rules to follow when dealing with this are:
If you don’t need to invent it, don’t.
If you don’t need to change it, don’t.
Many authors end a series with the hero triumphant, but world around them in ruins. There are sure to be dead lying around, many things that have been done that now need to be undone, not to mention a wealth of other mundane details to attend to. Don’t invent new places to go, new things to do, or new people to see in order to show the main characters taking care of all these in the immediate aftermath. The characters, and the readers themselves, are trying to process the emotional toll of what just happened and therefore aren't looking for something new at this point; they’re looking for something familiar. Recycling what the author’s done before in a slightly different way is just the thing you need to resolve these issues while keeping the tone and continuity intact.
Likewise many authors leave their characters battered, scarred, or broken at the end of their series. It’s not your job to undo that in a sentence! If they’re scarred or disfigured, leave them scarred and disfigured. Don’t concoct some magical or technological rigmarole to change these characters back to how they were when you liked them best. It removes valuable new character traits that can be addressed later on. The character may, one day, consider trying to repair the damage, but that day is not today. If and when that day should ever come, show them go about this process gradually.
No stories about gallivanting off to traipse around your home country or some idyllic paradise.
Many writers are drawn to the thought of taking these characters off exploring the other side of the world or to lift them into a new social stratum, to show them new sights and new things. But what they fail to realize is that by yanking these characters out of what they've always known they also yank the reader out of that comfortable world as well! Readers like what is familiar to them and that sudden change is very unsettling. Odds are they will stop reading immediately should it prove too jarring and no matter how brilliant you think the rest of your story is, if no one reads it, that doesn't matter, does it? While you may be more comfortable writing about things you are familiar with the story isn't about you, it’s about the characters and the readers. By keeping the character’s frame of reference small, it allows you, over time, and in subsequent stories, to slowly start to expand their horizons once proper groundwork has been laid.
A feather-light touch is needed when dealing with big changes and adequate time has to be devoted to it. Not sentences, chapters that span months and books that span years. This is the most important thing you can do for your reader for it allows them to see where you’re going and gives them time to prepare themselves for it. Show us the tiny baby-steps along the way so that the reader’s mind will jump ahead and be ready to pick up on where you’re going while still keeping the context of Canon events.
If your intention is to change a romantic pairing, there are a few things you need to keep in mind:
1) Do not bypass the obvious opportunity to have the future couple draw closer together. When it comes to laying the groundwork to reform future broken couples into something new, if one of them is going through a rough emotional time and their original romantic partner is either absent or neglectful, do not delay that new couple from having the kind of deeply personal moment that they could share with no one else!
That is not to say that you should force one to be there, or that an emotional issue that one character has weighing on them cannot be avoided a time or two in order to add tension by showing it is there but not addressing it. There will come a point though when the other side of the future couple will attempt to force the issue and draw the other one out. That is the opportunity that you cannot afford to miss. It serves to draw them closer together, laying further groundwork for later development, while further distancing them from their respective partners. It’s those kinds of moments that change the very foundation of relationships.
2) When the subject is breaking up the author’s couples, delay the inevitable.
No one likes breaking up. It’s painful, awkward, and you know that things aren't going to be the same between the two of you afterwards. Delaying the confrontation allows the reader to prepare themselves mentally for what’s coming. If you take the time to show a couple, even a reader’s favorite couple, slowly going down the path that we can all tell will end in a very uncomfortable split then we will be prepared for it. Delaying the split, while continuing the awkward interaction between the two, or having them start avoiding each other because of that same awkwardness, eventually has the reader not only accept the coming split, but to see it as inevitable. Indeed, they may go so far as to root for the split to happen, for going through a break up would be preferable to seeing the characters they love continue to live in such awkward misery.
3) When it comes to the actual act of breaking up, make the confrontation quick.
Don’t have a character say they need to talk and then delay the confrontation still further. Have them say what they've got to say when they finally choose to tackle the issue. By this time it should be obvious to both your reader and to the characters involved what’s going to happen and in cases like this a person doesn't want to be around or talk to the person they’re going to have to hurt any more than they absolutely have to.
4) Make the break-up happen on the aggrieved person’s terms.
Very few couples simply fall apart. Something must have happened; some action must have been taken, or not taken, to start them down the road to failure. Therefore, make the confrontation be on the aggrieved character’s terms. Give them a chance to stand up for themselves or to take a stand against whatever the underlying issue or mistreatment was. This gives the both the reader and the character a sense of closure. Doing otherwise only serves to show one character in a bad light while victimizing the other. Unless doing this is in keeping with that character’s personality it just poisons the well and runs the risk of pulling the reader out of the story and you never want that to happen.
This does not mean that you cannot be sympathetic to both parties involved because your reader most assuredly is. While you may have made your reader privy to the internal goings on and emotional turmoil of both characters involved, the characters themselves have no such knowledge of each other. Don’t be afraid to finally have them show what they've had to deal with. The separation by this point is already assured so the goal in this should be a degree of catharsis, for the reader at least if not for the characters involved, so if you wish to leave things nebulous as to whether the confrontation actually ended in a break, that is up to you. Things can simply fall apart afterwards now that you've established that there are irreconcilable differences or too much bad blood involved.
This next large section covers all the idiotic things bad fan fiction writers do. The kinds of things that make you want to pull your hair out in frustration. Some of these happen because the writer doesn't know anything, some happen because the writer thinks they know everything, the rest happen because the writer doesn't know how to tell a proper story.
Don’t introduce things that are out of context or anachronistic!!!
I cannot stress this enough. It is my biggest pet peeve. As a fan writing fan fiction it’s your duty to respect the context of the world you’re writing about and to know time frame that the story’s written in. You know what sorts of things should never be a part of that world; elements from our world have no place in theirs.
Likewise, don’t use terms invented by the fan fiction community within your story unless you go through the work of developing them within the world itself. This includes the names of particular ships (Harmony, Dramione, “The Good Ship”, etc.) and terms for a particular in-group (such as “The Marauders”, “The Golden Trio”, or “The Golden Age”). Also idiotic terms like “the witching hour” or references to modern movies that the characters have shown no knowledge of before are explicitly forbidden.
While some of you may yearn to bridge the gap between the fictional world an author wrote about and our own, making the actions and attitudes of the inhabitants thereof mirror the world in which we live jars so much with the pre-established character of that fictional world that the entire feel of those events will seem hopelessly contrived. Any attempt to make their world too much like our own is doomed to fail. The reader’s mind will recognize them as foreign elements and will recoil against it, pulling them out of the story. The worlds are simply too different. They were intended to be that way and you should respect that. It should be the goal of every fan fiction writer to seamlessly blend their work with that of the original, and that includes tone and character.
Don’t use prophecies!
Why is it that people insist upon using this trope? It doesn't make the plots you've devised any better or the villains you've created any greater, it merely points out the fact that you’re trying too hard! Invariably the prophecies that are used are transparent and puerile, spelling out everything your villain’s going to attempt to do in every pathetic detail. And if a stupid character can decipher it, it should let you know that your prophecy is stupid.
More important, from a storytelling view, is to look at the way in which authors have successfully used prophecies. They don’t spit them out at the beginning of the story, as so many bad fan fiction writers like to do. They use them towards the end in a very nebulous way. They do so to make the audience question everything they know, because surely a prophecy wouldn't be straightforward. Either that, or they do it to either tell the audience, “Hey, the ending of this story’s important for the overall plot, enjoy!” or to underscore something the reader already knew: in the final battle it’s going to be the hero versus the villain, no matter what.
Never associate a villain you created with the villain from the original work.
This shows a complete lack of respect for the main villain. No silent partners, no secret love child, and no shadowy person in the background who was really controlling events from behind the scenes. It doesn't make your villain more powerful or better by the association; you make your entire premise less. You weaken and undermine everything that villain was and stood for by doing so and you gain nothing out of it. It serves no purpose, so stop doing it.
Also, don’t show your new villain gloating or ridiculing the original author’s villain, especially to that villain’s face, specter, ghost, memory, or portrait. This is nothing more than a feeble attempt to make yourself look good by having your villain make theirs look ridiculous by saying “Nyeh-nyeh, you suck. You died because you’re dumb and you can’t do anything about it!”It’s childish and not worth the time to flame you for it.
If it doesn't further the mystery, don’t show it!
If there’s a personal problem that one character has (see the “many things that have been done that now need to be undone” mentioned above), but it doesn't further the mystery or adventure you’re writing about, make the problem into a non-issue.
Corollary: Don’t deal with the nuts-and-bolts of a problem if you don’t have to.
The character that you’re experiencing the world through, the hero, is above that or otherwise removed from it. They’re focusing on other things. If the character (mentioned above) wants to return to their family and rebuild their ruined home, let them handle it themselves away from everyone else. Have them say they’re leaving soon, show them packing their bags, show them leave, and that’s it.
Follow it up by having people miss them while they're gone or wonder what they’re up to now, have them hope everything will turn out for the best, but otherwise leave it alone and unwritten. Just make sure that character will be back in time when you need them with both a renewed sense of self and a very simple explanation of what went on with them or, better yet, a dour look on their face and not in the mood to talk about what happened until a slower part in the story when it’s suitable for further character development.
Corollary: Don’t show the villain when they’re doing their evil plotting.
This applies particularly for those of you writing Harry Potter fan fiction. Every year Harry, Ron, and Hermione spends the year intermittently trying to get to the bottom of the latest mystery, that’s a given. Buried in that is the reason Rowling doesn't show you who’s doing the plotting that year. Most of the time Rowling simply has them show up on the first day of term. Have you guessed why? Because if the reader sees them going through all their scheming to get to that point then there’s no mystery involved in uncovering who the bad guy is. The reader already knows who’s behind it all and what they plan to do! Congratulations, you've killed the mystery by chapter two, and need I remind you that a world of magic without mystery is boring?
By not showing where the villain comes from, how they got there, how they did what they did, or when they did what they did, Rowling makes the mystery harder for Harry and company to explain, thereby giving her more time for it to unfold until the Grand Reveal, what I call the traditional point in every Harry Potter book where the villain gives Harry the last few pieces of information he was missing out on and explaining how they did what they did.
Don’t overcompensate for the main character’s past stupidity; they’re supposed to be stupid.
There’s a reason most heroes don’t look before they leap and are a bit slow about the world around them. The reason goes completely over the head of most fan fiction writers and so they try to fix this stupidity by having them be competent for once. Unfortunately, the ignorance is as necessary as it is intentional. A general rule of thumb is that the length of time a series can continue is in direct proportion to how ignorant the main character is of the world around him.
In the beginning the reluctant hero who was scooped up from the back hills of nowhere was completely ignorant of himself, his past, his powers, and of the world around them, and thus, had the entire world to explore. If they’re in full command of their faculties, as many fan fiction authors like to portray them, then there’s nothing left for them to learn and the story becomes boring. What shuts the story down is the inability of side characters to do some exposition or introduce small tidbits of knowledge that will come to be useful later on. The trick is finding the balance, of having the hero be generally capable in those areas they use the most, but still mostly ignorant of the new things they’re being exposed to.
If it doesn't need to be explained, don’t!
Bad writers, for some reason, seem to think that you should have the characters explain everything that’s happened thus far, in detail, to another character that wasn't there when it all went down. That’s a horrible idea. It kills the story’s forward momentum, retells what the audience already knows, and drowns the reader in a quagmire of specifics or ad hoc explanations (based on the writer’s limited knowledge) that are more often wrong than right. Trying to explain things that we already know will only highlight how flawed your own understanding of the whole thing really is. And to top it off, all of that information will probably no longer be pertinent once your own story gets going. Specifics kill mystery, and a world of magic without mystery is boring.
Likewise, “Do use your common sense!”
Think through all the implications and ramifications, both for the past and future, before you write something. Think your villain’s plots through; investigate the characters’ backstories, attitudes, and likely course in life and don’t just throw stuff against the wall to see if it sticks. It will make no sense and your readers will hate you for it if you do.
Read the series you’re writing fan fiction about.
And I do mean the complete series, all of it. Very useful, if not crucial information could be included on the very next page that could make whatever you want to write look sophomoric and stupid. What’s the point of writing your little story if your concept is completely out of context in the first place?
That’s not to say that you should blindly accept everything that the original author wrote, only be mindful of it. The most common thing to do is to ignore a hated epilogue for being too out of context, but to have that hatred drive you to shun it completely deprives you of useful building blocks of extraneous information (including anything that was later released by the author) that can inform your writing. Be knowledgeable of the future the author envisioned for the world they created so you can have fully articulated reasons for each and every one of your changes. It’s perfectly acceptable to mine the author’s work for cues of where to take these characters next or to adapt such future-knowledge for your own use even as you’re changing that very future.
When it comes to the details of a character’s backstory, respect them and adapt your concept to fit it.
They are the reason that character is who they are. When you’re wrong don’t just say, “I can write whatever I want so you can't criticize!” because yes, I can, and I will, because you’re WRONG!!! When you've changed or ignored something and a critic points it out, that probably means that you either haven’t done your homework on the subject or that you haven’t properly laid the groundwork for that change. The goal, as I've said before, is to seamlessly blend your work with that of the original so that if someone were to read your work, after reading to a certain point in the original, it would bridge perfectly and develop naturally along the course you set.
Pay attention to underlying Societal and Institutional tensions within the author’s original story.
Make sure you know how the differing Institutions influence the mindsets of those in each. To do otherwise causes the characters and Institutions to swiftly and silently abandon the thought processes and policies that informed their earlier actions and to blindly accept a competing Institution’s norms and practices in a way that they've never done before.
Social attitudes towards an out-group don’t change at the drop of a hat.
Just because the hero wins doesn't mean everything has changed. Reintegration and reconciliation takes years, if not generations, to happen and quickly glossing over the topic deprives you of the opportunity to use that as a backdrop for stories later on.
Know the role of relatively unimportant side characters and the author’s purpose for creating them in the first place.
If they have a very specific purpose, such as adding some tension to a developing relationship by introducing a rival (see Victor Krum and Cormac McLaggen in the Harry Potter series), then to include that character in your story you must not only make their appearance plausible, but highly likely. Don’t make too much out of them or severely rewrite the history between them and any other character they’re usually associated with. They are unimportant side characters, a minor nuisance easily brushed aside, nothing more.
Keep the main character the reader experiences the world through the same unless you have reason to change it.
That is not to say that you can never change which character you’re showing the world through, only that you must have a good reason to do so (spin-offs, a story where another character takes the lead in their own adventure, come to mind).
There’s also a vital literary purpose that can be served by doing so. If you’re having the main character start to enact plans of his own for the future that you don’t want the reader to know the full details of you can subtly change the point of view in order to show events from someone close by but left out of the loop. This allows a writer to show that something happened but to keep the particulars hidden for a while.
Even a small change in the point of view lasting for only a few sentences would allow a writer to hide a character’s true actions and intents when slight-of-hand is involved and it plants the seed of curiosity in the reader’s mind as to what exactly is going on. That curiosity spurs the readers on and makes them eagerly anticipate learning what actually happened. As I said before, readers are looking for the familiar, so once you've accomplished what you needed to do in that different point-of-view, switch back and don’t mention what actually happened until you’re ready to do so.
You can’t mess around with the story’s internal time and have it make sense!
1) No flash-forwards!
Much hullabaloo has been made because of bad epilogues that you would have thought that fan fiction writers would have learned that lesson by now. Show us the future when we get there, not before. Don’t have us flash back and forth through time all higgledy-piggledy.
2) Never follow multiple characters’ simultaneous actions within the same story.
There’s a reason authors tend to stick with a single character as the means by which the audience experiences the world, it’s because it forces the story into a simple linear structure. An overly complex story can start to fragment and come out of sync when you choose to follow multiple characters’ simultaneous actions for too long. If you’re not careful one storyline will be days, if not weeks, ahead of the others, so it’s best not to do it. Building up to a moment where intense planning and split-second timing is needed to carry off some extraordinarily complicated feat may be thrilling to you, but it really is the domain of screenwriters. The visual medium is better suited for such things.
Yes, a good writer might be able to pull off things like that, but there’s a trick to it. They plan out those separate-yet-interweaving storylines in such a way that they begin to treat them as if they’re a separate story itself. It’s like French Braiding storylines; each strand is cohesive and whole and yet furthers the development of an even greater story. The author doesn't randomly pop from one character’s storyline to another, obsessing over every mundane detail they've gone through since the last time you read about them, they tell one story until they get to a natural stopping point and then pick up another storyline at roughly where they are then. They plan them out and refine the details until it’s all part of a seamless whole. Reading one storyline gives you an appreciation for, and hints at what’s going on in, all the others. But ask yourself this: Are you such a writer? Odds are that you’re not, and until you are it’d be best not try it.
3) Use restraint in your flashbacks.
Someone can reminisce, replay events in their mind, etc., but life can only be lived moving forward. No time jumps in your story for no reason.
If you plan to reinterpret everything the author’s ever written in the series, something I’d not recommend you do, there are two things you must do in order to make it work:
1) Plan it very, very carefully.
This task is Brobdingnagian and as such it’s incredibly hard to get it right. If you don’t do a thorough job in your research it’ll seem like a twelve-year-old wrote it. Be prepared to go line by line and book by book to make sure your reinterpretation will work the entire way through or don’t bother starting it at all.
2) Have the character showing this reinterpretation be someone other than the character the readers are used to seeing the world through.
The readers will have an easier time believing that what they’re being told, and what they’re seeing in flashbacks, is the truth if it is the first time they’re seeing the world through that character’s eyes. The reason for this, I would think, is obvious. Readers don’t like to be lied to.
If the main character has been secretly harboring affections for his best friend’s girlfriend the entire time and he’s just now mentioning it after you started writing your little story then the readers know that they’re being lied to by someone. It’s either the main character, who’s been hiding this from them the entire time, or it’s you, and neither answer is acceptable. It will pull your readers out of your story and they may never return.
By showing the events from a different angle it bypasses this problem entirely because everyone sees the world in their own unique way. Some characters might have picked up on subtle cues and clues that the main character missed out on or had never considered to be anything other than what they appeared to be on face value. By putting everything in that second character’s perspective you make your entire premise easier to accept, especially when that second character has always been shown to be trustworthy and dependable.
There is one last thing I’d like to say before I leave you. Never create a character with a god-awful Scottish accent! This applies not only to god-awful Scottish accents but any accent that prohibits most words from being written in proper English. They're almost impossible to understand, require far too much work on behalf of your audience in order to translate what they're saying into something coherent and so you’d do well to avoid them.
I may feel compelled to update this as time goes on but until then, write well.