This guide is not officially on the site. I first wrote it in 2005-ish, then some years later took it down and started to rewrite it but never finished. The new guide comprises the sections "Welcome to Writing", "To Write Pokémon", "The Fundamentals of Storytelling" and "It All Starts with an Idea" below, while the rest is the old guide that I was keeping around for reference, hence why it contains a lot of discussion of basically the same topics discussed in the work-in-progress new guide.
I hope to complete the new writing guide, or rewrite it again from scratch, sometime in the future, but it is not actively being worked on. You can read it, but not all of the advice in this guide is good, particularly the old guide. Some links are broken and various statements are grievously out of date. Take it with a grain of salt.
Welcome to the Cave of Dragonflies writing guide, where the short stories are placed alongside the novels on the library shelves.
Table of Contents
Please note that the parts criss-crossingly refer to each other all over; sorry about that, but I'm a little bit disorganized (I wrote the parts in a completely different order).
- Welcome to Writing
- To Write Pokémon
- The Fundamentals of Storytelling
- It All Starts with an Idea
- The Plot
- The Characters
- The Setting
- The Structure of a Story
- Narrative Manner
- The English Language
- General Writing Advice
- Closing Words
Welcome to Writing
So you have decided to join the ranks of the many who enjoy writing stories? Great. Make yourself at home.
But you should ask yourself an important question first. Why are you thinking about starting to write? Would you like to get some attention in hopes of one day becoming well-known? Were you bored and thought, "Hey, I could try writing something and seeing if anybody likes to read it!"?
Don't make yourself discover the hard way that writing is more difficult than just writing down random things that happen to random people until you can't think of any more. Too much fanfiction is abandoned after a couple of chapters because the writer was never really interested enough in the first place. Do you have a passion for it? Is there a story you really, really want to tell?
If not, you're setting yourself up for wasting a lot of your free time and your readers for disappointment when you abandon the work. It always saddens me how often writers just quit. Don't be one of them.
Don't just start some random story for the heck of it. Start it because you truly, passionately want to finish it.
To Write Pokémon
Firstly, I should note some of the things that set writing Pokémon fanfiction apart from writing original fiction or fanfiction in other fandoms. This writing guide applies to original fiction as well, but it will take Pokémon-related examples and be all in all assuming that the piece you are planning to write is a Pokémon fanfic.
When you write about Pokémon, it is fanfiction, a term which means that you are writing stories that borrow concepts, characters or settings created by somebody else (in this case those responsible for the Pokémon games/animé/manga/whatever in particular inspired you). When writing fanfiction, it is important to respect the canon, which is the original work you borrowed from. It is, after all, only natural that if you use somebody else's ideas in your story, you don't then go and make your story contradict whatever the original author created that happens to get in your way, as this is very disrespectful and then you have no right to call yourself a true fan. In Pokémon canon, it is for example impossible for a Scizor to use the attack Crabhammer, and therefore, to decide for your story that it can simply because that is more convenient for your story is disrespecting canon, and this is frowned upon.
In most fandoms, the primary elements borrowed from the source material in fanfiction are characters and settings. A character in fanfiction who is the author's own creation rather than being derived from the original work is called an original character, and in many fandoms people are generally wary of using them at all. However, Pokémon is slightly unique in this respect, because as it happens Pokémon is in its essence purely a concept-based franchise. The Pokémon games feature characters who never speak or get any character development at all, and to boot those characterless characters are different in each game. Each generation also brings a new region. This has considerably trivialized both the characters and the settings in canon: the concept of Pokémon is ultimately mainly the existence of Pokémon, creatures who enjoy fighting one another with each species' various special powers, and how the humans of the Pokémon world interact with the Pokémon (e.g. Pokémon training, coordinating, etc.). Even the Pokémon animé, while retaining Ash as the main character, constantly changes its cast of major characters and makes them travel to different regions. The message we are being given is that the characters and settings are really of no importance, and this is why stories featuring entirely original characters and settings using only the basic concept of Pokémon are much more generally accepted in the Pokémon fandom than in many others. If you wrote Lord of the Rings fanfiction about your own made-up characters in your own made-up land featuring no connection at all to the plot or settings of the books except happening to be inhabited by Tolkien's races, you would most likely get shot down in flames and told to go write original fiction if Middle-Earth and the characters of the books don't interest you, and likewise if you wrote Harry Potter fanfiction about original characters going to some other wizarding school never mentioned in the books. This is different in the Pokémon fandom, and the reason for this is simply that neither Harry Potter nor The Lord of the Rings replaces the major characters and puts them in a completely different place between the books, where the new characters have roughly the same adventures as the characters of the previous book as if nothing were more natural.
That is not to say there is not Pokémon fanfiction following a more traditional model of fanfiction. An overwhelming majority of that is fanfiction of the Pokémon animé in particular, and is usually about the main characters of the animé. There is quite a noticable gap between the fics discussed in the above paragraph and these: while the former emphasize the concept, i.e. the existence of Pokémon, the animé-based fics (for lack of a better word, I will include the few other fanfics that also go within the group in that term) mostly range from involving it in the same way as the Pokémon animé itself does to not including it at all. The latter happens mostly with shipping fics (stories centering around romance between canon characters), where any discussion of Pokémon is sometimes completely absent as the author is absorbed in making Ash and Misty realize how much they love each other. I must personally confess that I have no experience with animé-based fics and actually a personal bias against them, so they will not be discussed specifically to any degree here and I will assume that you are mostly planning to write with original characters, although there will also be advice on how to handle canon characters.
Then there is also alternate universe (AU) fanfiction which deliberately ignores or changes certain parts of canon in a kind of "What if...?" manner. If you for example wrote a piece of fanfiction in which Misty was killed while she journeyed around Kanto with Ash and Brock, it would have to be AU because we have already seen in the animé that Misty didn't get killed.
AU is sometimes used as an excuse to get around things in canon that didn't happen just how the author would have wanted it, and for this reason, AU is generally not viewed in a very positive light. There are pretty much three categories of AU that are generally accepted in the Pokémon fandom: "What if..." fanfiction that purely hypothetically places the canon characters in a different setting or situation to imagine how they would deal with it (keeping the characters themselves intact), fanfiction that tweaks the Pokémon world mythology by reinterpreting the legendary Pokémon (which in fact is so generally accepted that it is rarely even labelled AU at all, since the canon is so vague and often contradictory on this), and fanfiction in which there are no humans in the Pokémon world. Using AU as an excuse to change the characterizations of canon characters is sure to get you shot down in flames, and for good reason. It's not Ash anymore if he abuses Pikachu, after all. Canon characters who are written as behaving in a manner they never would in canon are said to be out of character, or OOC, and to write the canon characters OOC is one of the worst sins a fanfiction writer can commit.
The core of the Pokémon fandom is the Pokémon trainer's journey. Whether stories of the Original Trainer genre, or trainer fics as they are usually called, interest you personally or not, their importance is undeniable. Pokémon trainer fics also provide a very solid ground for new writers to start, as they come with a ready-made plot skeleton while at the same time allowing you a lot of freedom in the exact direction you take its development, have premade opportunities for action scenes, and let you develop your own characters rather than trying to write existing ones right and possibly butchering them in the process. Additionally the trainer fic gives you the kind of ready-made plot skeleton that automatically means it will be of quite some length, giving you plenty of time to post your writing, get feedback and improve as you go along. My trainer fic has stayed with me for five years and counting, and is without a doubt the best thing ever to happen to me as a writer; although you are probably not the kind of perfectionist I am and will probably not take that long to write your fic if you are decently dedicated, I do highly recommend Pokémon training fics as a starting point for aspiring writers.
The Fundamentals of Storytelling
In order to be able to write a story, you need to know the fundamental elements that the art of storytelling involves, and this section is here to briefly explain those fundamental ideas.
In basic terms, you could say that the conflict, essentially, is what the story is actually about. There is no story without a conflict, except perhaps stories intended for children of a very young age - and honestly, children are pretty young when they start sensing that stories with no conflict are boring.
The conflict, in its most basic form, involves a protagonist and an antagonist. The protagonist is usually the main character, a "hero", while the antagonist is a "villain", but it is dangerous to think of the protagonist and antagonist too strictly as the "good guy" and the "bad guy", because honestly "protagonist" and "antagonist" are extremely broad terms. To illustrate my point, you could for example write a story about a man putting on his shoe. It would be a boring story if it just has him putting on the shoe and that's it - but as soon as the guy starts getting frustrated because of the difficulties he's having putting the shoe on, you have a conflict. Who are the protagonist and antagonist? The man and the shoe, respectively! The shoe does not need to be anthromorphized to be an antagonist; all it needs is to stand in the protagonist's way, in this case in the way of the man's intention to put the shoe on. Of course most conflicts are a more traditional type where the antagonist is not a shoe, and the man-vs.-shoe fic would not be likely to work if it were to be of any considerable length; while the concept could perhaps, if written well enough, keep the reader amused through a short story, the joke would quickly wear itself out.
Trainer fics often suffer from a weak conflict in their most typical form (as does the Pokémon animé itself, in fact), because there is never anything really at stake for most of the fic: Gym battles are just excercise that can be repeated should the protagonist fail (not to mention that the protagonist has nothing personal against the Gym leader antagonists nor vice versa, creating little emotional tension); whatever interference Team Rocket or other villainous organizations might have if any is usually limited to comical appearances where they never pose any real threat to the protagonist, and even when it finally actually comes to the League, the only thing at stake is the title of League Champion, which although it is of course something is simply not important enough to make us really care by itself. This is why it is often recommended to back trainer fics up with either a stronger additional plot to make for some real antagonists (either by adding new ones or by making some of those already there into truer antagonists) or extensive characterization and subplots to keep the reader hooked and, most importantly, caring what happens. If you can make the reader truly root for your trainer to be the League Champion and feel the tension all the way from the starter Pokémon to League finals, you've succeeded.
While the exact number of categories varies depending on who you consult, I prefer the splitting of conflicts into the following five according to the identity of the antagonist:
- Man vs. Man
- The most common, and most basic, of the five conflicts. Do not let the word "Man" confuse you; the name would perhaps be better reworded as "Character vs. Character", because that is basically what it is. You have two individuals (or groups of individuals, for that matter) who act intentionally against one another in some way. This covers anything from rivalry between two characters to Team Rocket's world-takeover plot which young Bob from Pallet Town must stop.
- Man vs. Supernatural
- A variation of Man vs. Man in which the antagonist is basically a higher power. This can extend to all conflicts where the antagonist has vastly more power and often of a different nature than the protagonist, even when it is not strictly supernatural. The many stories portraying legendary Pokémon as godly, demigodly or at least immensely powerful would have any conflict against them fall into this category.
- Man vs. Nature
- The fundamental difference between this and Man vs. Man is that in Man vs. Nature, the antagonist is not an individual acting intentionally against the protagonist, but instead an inanimate object, a nonsentient creature or the forces of nature themselves which just happen to work against the protagonist in the given situation. By this definition, our weird short story about the man putting on his shoe is Man vs. Nature! The antagonist can also for example be the weather, the landscape the protagonist is travelling through or some wild animals/Pokémon (provided their actions are not portrayed as being fueled by sentient malicious intent) in the area. If "nature" is personified, however, such as by implying that a supernatural being or god intentionally made it rain just when the protagonist was walking by, the conflict turns into Man vs. Supernatural (or Man vs. Man, if the cause is not supernatural or a higher power).
- Man vs. Society
- Here the antagonist, instead of being a specific character or characters, is a society's rules, laws, traditions, etc. The society can be large or small, but the antagonist is not just a character upholding the rules of society but the rules themselves. (Thus, if it is a perfectly fine society with one particular character abusing its rules, it is Man vs. Man.)
- Man vs. Self
- Usually considered the deepest of the conflicts. It is when the protagonist has an internal conflict, with him- or herself playing the role of the antagonist as well. It is usually associated with difficult decisions or the battle between the Id and Superego, to put it in Freudian terms - basically the raw instinct controlled by longings versus the higher morality of the intellectual mind. This will be further discussed in the characterization section.
Almost all stories have multiple conflicts and most of them conflicts of many different types, too. I can find at least one example of each of them in my own Quest for the Legends, for example. However, there is usually one central conflict to the story, with which the story begins and ends.
A storyline generally follows this basic format:
The different parts are explained as follows.
The man had gotten dressed and eaten his breakfast, and only one thing remained to do before he could head off to work...Where the story is introduced. We meet the main character, the protagonist, and get to know him or her. Perhaps there are hints towards the plot here, but nothing has quite started happening yet, until...
- Inciting Incident
He picked up his shoe and pushed his foot into it, but somehow his heel refused to slip in......something happens to push the plot into action. The inciting incident must not be too late; if the exposition is too long, the reader will get bored because there is no plot in sight. This incident basically shoves the main character into whatever the plot is about.
- Rising Action
He growled, throwing the shoe into a wall with some swear words before patiently trying again...This should take up the majority of the story. This is where the plot progressively thickens and gets more and more interesting. Although the graph doesn't show that, the rising action will often contain minor climaxes here and there as minor conflicts are resolved. All this while, the story should be gradually getting more exciting for the reader; if it is overly long or jerky, readers will get bored.
- Point of No Return
"All right," he panted at the shoe, "this will require some extreme measures." And with a decisive movement of his hand, he picked up a shoehorn lying on the floor...Occurring somewhere late along the rising action or at the very end of it, this is where there is truly no turning back - generally one of the minor climaxes spoken of in relation to the rising action itself. Not particularly important.
He crudely held the shoe open with the silver instrument, squeezing his toes inside...As the climax draws closer, the rising action intensifies. This is where the situation has really gotten dangerous and the reader should be on the edge of their seat - note that on the graph I portrayed it as rather too long, which I can't be bothered to fix for now.
And his heel slipped inevitably down the smooth surface of the shoehorn into the rogue shoe...The moment of truth that decides success or failure for the protagonist and thus the result of the conflict. This is where you go for the most exciting it can possibly get. Whatever you do in the climax, do not end the chapter for a cliffhanger in the middle of it. You got the reader excited; they'll just be annoyed not to get a resolution, and not get excited again when the next chapter begins. Ending a chapter right after the climax provides the most dramatic effect. Of course, that does not apply to one-shots.
- Falling Action
"Gotcha," he said with a triumphant glint in his eyes, pulling the shoelaces with the pride of a victor and tying them, securing his foot inside...A usually very short part; from the climax to the point where the conflict has entirely unwoven itself and the reader can breathe again after all is resolved.
Breathing a sigh of relief, the man turned to his other shoe.The part that tells the reader a bit about what happens afterwards, what the ultimate fate of the characters ends up as and leaves them feeling that all loose ends have been tied up (no pun intended). It is important to make the reader truly feel that the story has been resolved. If you're about to write this part and your story is long, stop for a moment to try to recall all the minor conflicts you have introduced throughout the course of the story. Have they all been brought to a conclusion? Have all the mysteries been tied up? Also note that although the denouement is represented by a horizontal line on the graph, it is deliberately placed higher up than the exposition, because things can never return to just how they used to be. The events of the story should always at least leave their mark on the characters involved, or the reader will feel like the whole story was pointless, and you don't want that. Generally the denouement should show how things have changed; most commonly, the main character's worldview is shown to be notably different from what it was in the exposition.
The occasional story deviates from this. My own Quest for the Legends, for example, has a very nonsensical plot structure in the first half thanks to the way it was conceived of - its structural graph would start off normally in an exposition, rise just a little bit with a kind of "faux inciting incident" to have regular minor climaxes for a very long "warm-up action" period, then suddenly (in the real inciting incident) go into the real rising action when it's already nearly halfway through. This is not a good way to structure your story. The Quest for the Legends starts far too slowly and only does so because I didn't know what I was going to do with it at the time I started it. Don't make my mistake.
Sometimes a story begins in media res, essentially not starting at the beginning but somewhere in the middle of the action or even after it to evoke interest, but then going on to the exposition as normal in a flashback or something of the sort.
Also note that even if your story is out of chronological order, it is still best to follow the basic plot structure in the order of events as you present them with a possible exception of an in media res beginning. Thus, whenever the climax actually occurs chronologically, keep it happening at the end of a long period of steadily intensifying action, even if that action happens to actually have happened after the climax or whatever. If you have ever seen the film Babel, it is an excellent example: the movie has several slightly connected storylines which occur at slightly different times, but nonetheless all the storylines are coming to their respective climaxes at the same time in the film, giving it technically a traditional structure anyway.
The characters of a story are its heart and soul. They are the people (in the broadest sense of the word) involved in your plot, however minorly or accidentally.
Characters are usually classed into at least two ranks in order of importance. However, I'll use four here for convenience in explaining my points later on:
- Main characters
- The absolute central character or characters - in most stories only one. A main character is the person that the story actually revolves around and controls the reader's sympathy. To take the Pokémon animé as an example, Ash is its sole main character.
- Major characters
- The various characters that are very important and usually present or of significance throughout the entire story, but not quite the main character - include for example any people who happen to travel around with the main character and help him or her, such as Ash's traveling companions in the animé (Brock, Misty, Tracey, May and Dawn, of course only for their respective seasons) and Jessie, James and Meowth. They are often classed with main characters, but I still feel that there is a fundamental difference between the two classes so I like to keep them separate.
- Minor characters
- The characters that have substantial roles and usually recurring appearances, but are not present throughout the entire story and the reader does not get to know them particularly well.
- Background characters
- Characters that are really of absolutely no importance whatsoever beyond being plot devices and generally only appear once - such as the random trainer your guy battles on Route 22 or the Nurse Joy in this particular Pokémon Center. Whether even to call them characters at all is debatable.
The lower you go down the ranks of importance, the less characterization you can get away with. You're pretty much screwed if the main character isn't solid enough, and the other major characters need a lot of thought in their characterization as well, but you can work with minor characters that are a little Sueish (see below) or slapped together, and once you get to background characters, nobody really gives a damn what they're like as long as their behaviour makes some slight bit of sense. Of course, your story is likely to be better if you try to make the minor characters round and interesting, but it is just about guaranteed that some hardly-appearing background characters are just so tiny and unimportant that there truly is no real need to put any thought into them.
Because of this, you should be wary of making your casts too large - if you have multiple main characters and/or a sizable collection of major characters, keeping track of all of them and keeping them all distinct in personality at the same time can be hard.
But how do you make a solid character, anyway? The number-one rule is that a character needs to be realistic. It needs to be sensible for a hypothetical person to think like your character thinks and do what your character does in the fic, and "sensible" includes being consistent both with the character's other actions and thoughts and with the character's background and experiences. This is the core of characterization. I highly recommend that at least for main and major characters in your story, you make up the character's background story in your head and maybe write it down if you're not good at remembering things like that, whether you actually feel it necessary to include that background in the story or not. Then you just need to go psychological: how would the things that happened to your character in the past affect the way he or she is at the time the story happens? You need to realize that events have consequences on the people involved and they interact in a complex way to form the sentient soul. People are fascinating things.
Sometimes people write character profiles - little lists of facts about each character. This is okay when done in moderation. Writing down physical descriptions so you won't forget is a good thing. It becomes dubious, however, when people write down the personality of the character with a few words, often split into "Strengths" and "Weaknesses".
That's not how people work. They don't have "strengths" and "weaknesses". They have personalities, wholes, which sometimes function in the character's favor and sometimes not. Do not think of your characters in terms of lists of meaningless words. Think of them as wholes. I'm one of those fortunate enough to never really have had a problem with this, so I can't tell you much about how to manage this. Your ultimate goal when it comes to characterization, however, is to have a feeling for your characters. Their lines should come to you naturally as if they were separate entities existing in your head. You should be able to easily take personality tests as them, answer questions through them, and immediately and effortlessly know how they would react given some situation - and of course, it is a grave warning sign if all of your characters would react in the same way.
An important concept of character writing is the Mary-Sue, sometimes shortened as just Sue. The exact definition of a Mary-Sue will vary depending on where you look, but the one I prefer is that a Mary-Sue is a specific category of unrealistic character that fails because the author who writes the Mary-Sue (sometimes jokingly referred to as a Suethor) too obviously expects all readers to love the character. The Sue is usually beautiful and fashionable (and even if the bullies in her hometown find her ugly, it doesn't mean she is), intelligent and caring, modest and a quick thinker, and often with special powers that other people don't have. Her male counterpart is the Gary-Stu, sometimes Marty-Stu, who generally leans more towards being "cool" or "badass", although the term "Mary-Sue" is generally used collectively for both and here I will use that word, along with the pronoun "she", to refer to characters of both sexes.
There are many different types of Sues, but I think the whole spectrum is more or less covered by three basic variations: the Wish-Fulfillment Sue, the Sympathy Sue and the Perfect Sue.
The Wish-Fulfillment Sue is characterized by being basically the author as she wishes she were in a world she wishes she lived in. This is pretty broad. In many places you will in fact find a Mary-Sue defined as a Self-Insert, namely a character intentionally based on the author, and a lot of people will warn frantically against making your characters have the same name, sex, hair color, eye color, et cetera, as yourself. This is really not accurate, because self-inserts are not at all necessarily Sues, as long as the author is writing herself and not a Wish-Fulfillment Sue. The core of the problem is that it tends to be awfully difficult to make a distinction there in between, especially for inexperienced authors.
Basically, it is not necessarily bad to have a character with your name or appearance. It is, on the other hand, very bad to have a character with your name (or even an alias you use) but instead of your own appearance, the appearance you wish you had. If you wish you were tall and blonde with deep blue eyes and a perfect body who is really an immortal angel named Valanea and proceed to write a piece of fanfiction about Valanea the tall, blue-eyed, blonde, perfect-bodied angel who happens to think exactly like you except faster, you have a Wish-Fulfillment Sue on your hands.
You also do if you write yourself pretty faithfully, but instead of being an unpopular loner with two nerdy friends as in real life, everybody instead likes you and understands you in the story, and your greatest skill of Pokémon battling truly shines to make you the envy of your school as you leave on your Pokémon journey (on which it does at no point matter in the slightest how horrible you are at math or how forgetful you tend to be, and which eventually ends with your battling genius being internationally recognized as you win the Pokémon League, and incidentally you are Lance's daughter and end up married to Ash Ketchum). This is a case of putting yourself in the world you wish you lived in. Both are bad and make for Wish-Fulfillment Sues.
These Sues are most often written by girls in my experience (actually, I think most Sues altogether are written by girls; that is most likely because boys don't write as much fanfiction and boys generally are less interested in characters and therefore inexperienced males have more of a tendency to write cardboard cutouts than Sues), and therefore are most of the time female themselves. However, there are Wish-Fulfillment Stus too. As said above, the emphasis is more often on making them "cool" than harping endlessly on about their physical attractiveness and popularity as often tends to happen for the female Wish-Fulfillment Sues. The Stus more often tend to be something like assassins or Team Rocket members, are frequently loners (and don't feel any need for company), wear dark capes, have no emotions whatsoever and like to brood moodily in cool places. Of course, the gender stereotypes do not always apply; there are "badass" Sues and "handsome" Stus. They're just not as common.
Why are Wish-Fulfillment Sues bad? Because wish-fulfillment is not what you should be using your writing for. Wish-Fulfillment Sues are ultimately just rather silly and childish; they tend to be excessive, have ridiculous powers and abilities and are horribly good-looking (they're often the kind of Sue whose gorgeous looks the first paragraph of the story describes in excessive detail). Above all, they're almost always utterly shallow and unrealistic. Real people aren't loved by everybody except some bullies who are repeatedly portrayed as TEH EBIL; real people aren't devoid of all emotion (unless they're seriously messed up, which the badass-Stus never are).
Wish-Fulfillment Sues are also the type of Mary-Sue that suffers most from the "black hole syndrome" as I call it: often you can't see them on their own, but once you place them in a world with other things in it, they become easy to detect because you can see the world around them get warped, distorted and torn apart as it gets near them. The world revolves around the Sue while at the same time being sucked permanently into her shadow. Basically, often the story seems to exist solely to exhibit the wonderfulness of the Wish-Fulfillment Sue. The entire story is about how Valanea the angel saves the world all on her own and how all the males she meets are drooling over her at the same time and how all the canon characters go blatantly OOC when they see her and how her beautiful hair ripples in the wind. Essentially it's less of a story and more of an exhibit of the Sue's speshulness. Her amazing powers are there for their own sake with at most a short explanation tacked on somewhere, but not because it is of any true significance - and if any, the significance was made for the powers, not the powers for the significance.
The Sympathy Sue is a character the author loves out of her life and wants you to love too. This is then made blatantly obvious by riddling her past with absurd amounts of tragedy that seem to serve little purpose beyond making the character appear more sympathetic to the reader. There is frequently a scene where the Sympathy Sue is crying or wakes up screaming from a nightmare (their tragic pasts are invariably something they have never gotten over, even if it was something that happened many years ago, because if they got over it it wouldn't make the reader feel as sorry for them) and her Potential Love Interest™ sees it and comforts her. (This is often followed by delcarations of love, random make-out sessions and possibly sex, depending on the rating of the fic, after which the tragedy tends to be entirely forgotten about thanks to the power of twu wub.)
It's okay to have a character with a difficult past, a character who is an orphan or a character who has been raped. Having them at all doesn't make a Sue. What makes the Sympathy Sues what they are is that there might both be an excess of it - she's both an orphan and she was abused and raped by her stepfather and she had to live on the streets and her best friend died and she's blaming herself for it - and the way she deals with it will be entirely unrealistic. The author pulls out all the clichés - crying, nightmares, possibly self-mutilation, being afraid of men - but that's the extent of it, and it's all only there so the author can repeatedly write about it in detail and make everybody feel sorry for the Sue - it is all ignored when that is convenient. There is no such thing as getting over it over time; the only way the Sue will ever get over anything that has ever happened to her is through true love, which steps in and saves her and makes everything good at last. Finally, all the other characters of the story (the good guys, anyway) will always sympathize, regardless of how irrationally the Sue might handle her tragic past. They'll never get tired of her flagging it all over the place if she does, they'll never get frustrated when she refuses to tell them anything (or if they do, they will immediately forgive her when she does tell them) and nobody will ever think it's a poor excuse for whatever she may be excusing with it.
Let people sympathize with your characters on their own grounds. Don't shove the sympathy down their throats. Only give a character a tragic past if you're going to write the character like somebody who has had a tragic past, and even then, don't overdo it.
A common definition of a Sue seen around the Internet is that she is "perfect", that she lacks flaws. I rather disagree with this definition because I find it to be an oversimplification. Souls are complex things. You don't have a little list of "good points" and a little list of "flaws". You don't need to have a list of "flaws" that is at least as long as your list of "good points", as some people are suggesting. Some people write character profiles and think that because they can put a "Flaws" category on it, the character is immune to being a Sue. Not true.
The Perfect Sue can have as many "flaws" as you like. The important thing is not how many negative words you can write down in a character profile, but what actually happens in the story. The core of the Perfect Sue is that she may have a ton of flaws, but everything works out for her just fine. Your character doesn't stop being a Sue if she is bad at math. She does stop being a Sue if she is bad at math and this actually hinders her in the story. If she goes to a Pokémon trainer school where you must pass all subjects, including math, in order to become a qualified trainer and then fails thanks to her utter mathematical incompetence so that she is driven to steal a trainer license, she is most likely not a Sue (unless, of course, you first have all the good guys harp on about how unfair it is that people's math grades should determine whether they can become Pokémon trainers and make it clear that you think stealing the license was entirely justified). If your character is afraid of the dark, it doesn't make him one bit less Stuish if we never see it affecting anything; on the other hand, if the villain exploits this and the climax of the story has the villain having stolen all the candles and taken the electricity off the kid's part of town so that the hero is screaming his wits out somewhere in the dark while the villain does whatever it is he's been trying to do throughout the story, the fear of the dark has shown itself to be a true weakness. Basically, the flaws don't matter; how difficult they truly make things for the character does.
The way real people in the real world work is that sometimes it is convenient to be them and sometimes it is not. It is very good to be me when I have a problem at hand that can be solved through creating a simple script, because I can create simple scripts. It is not good to be me during social occasions or debates in real life, because my scripting abilities won't help the fact I'm a horrible real-life speaker. This is the way it works with real people: sometimes their traits will help them, sometimes they will hinder them, and sometimes they will just plain not help. The Perfect Sue ignores this. In the story, it is always convenient to be her. The world is elaborately woven around her to make her the ideal life form. There will come no time in the story where the Sue would have a good reason to wish she were somebody else - a good reason from an omniscient point of view, of couse, so that we know that the Sue's seemingly more difficult alternate way into the villain's castle that she has to take because she can't swim over the moat will in fact result in her finding the object of her True Love™ and discovering that if she had swum over the moat she would have been killed by the guards and everything would have been lost.
Like "flaws" don't always redeem a Sue, you can have a non-Sue without any. My best friend has no "flaws" to speak of - she's smart, nice, liked, pretty, funny, artistic, you name it, but I can't think of anything that would make her downright unlikable - but that doesn't make her perfect because she obeys the laws of the real world and as with all people, it is not always convenient to be her. Any trait or quirk whatsoever can be convenient, inconvenient or just useless depending on the situation - there are just some things that tend more often to be convenient or inconvenient than others. Just write it realistically without rigging every situation in the story in your character's favor somehow, and she will magically stop being a Sue. Have her get misled, be wrong, make mistakes - without having it all work itself out perfectly again anyway. Make something bad actually be her fault.
The prose is the actual words of the story, and this is perhaps the part about writing that needs the most practice, although some people start off with a better feeling for it than others. Nonetheless, it may be the single most important part of writing, because a good writing style can make practically any story at least somewhat enjoyable, and bad writing can ruin even the best of stories.
Of course, this is not entirely true - painful plot holes are painful plot holes and Mary-Sues are Mary-Sues while solid plots and characters are solid plots and characters, no matter how the writing is. The feeling that good prose can make anything good and bad prose can make anything bad may just be bias stemming exactly from the fact that prose takes practice to get right - basically, people who write horrible plots and characters aren't likely to write very good prose either, creating a positive correlation between them and making it feel as if the prose is magically making everything work. Nevertheless, the main point still stands: no matter how good your plots and characters are, you are screwed if your prose is not.
The first rule of prose is to have good spelling, grammar and punctuation. There are no exceptions to this. If your spelling and grammar are horrible, readers won't even give your story a chance after reading the first sentence, which is why it is important to either a) if you have good spelling and grammar already, use a spellchecker and proofread every chapter carefully after you finish it, or b) if your spelling and grammar aren't that great, find yourself a beta-reader who would be willing to correct your spelling and grammar before you post your chapters anywhere.
Otherwise, the prose consists of paragraphs, which are divided into sentences and in turn individual words.
A paragraph should deal with one main idea. For example, the three first paragraphs in the "Prose" section here each deal with one main idea: the first one introduces what is meant by "prose" and why it is important, the second one considers the relative importance of the prose compared to other elements of a story, and the third concerns the importance of spelling and grammar. This very paragraph you are reading is about how a paragraph should deal with a main idea. During conversations, every line of dialogue (along with its dialogue tag, if any) should have a paragraph of its own. Each paragraph should have some structure within itself: it starts off with a sentence at the core of the main point of the paragraph, then elaborates on it, and finally comes to a conclusion which also links the paragraph to the next one.
Generally, admittedly, you won't be consciously thinking about any of this. After having been writing to any extent (in fact, if you've been reading to any extent), you'll get a feeling for when to start a new paragraph and how to structure each paragraph in itself. It is of course technically best to have acquired this feeling before you start writing, and this is best done by doing enough reading. In fact, just about everything in the technical aspects of writing is best learned by reading enough, so even if you're more of a video game sort of person, you should read plenty of fiction if you want to spend your life writing it.
The paragraph is generally a pretty unremarkable thing that largely comes from feeling, and the most important thing to say about them, really, is to emphasize the importance of avoiding 'block-paragraph fics' in which the entire chapter/story is one huge paragraph. However, it also has a use as a tone device: making a sentence a paragraph of its own, separated from the rest of the story, or just making sure it is the last sentence in the paragraph before it, gives the sentence added emphasis and impact (it becomes the "topic" of an entire paragraph rather than just a sentence) and thus makes it more dramatic (or amusing, if it is comedic; most punchlines, in fact, need to be at the end of a paragraph to properly work out and give the reader that split second of break they need to get the joke and feel amused). "Scary" moments also become a lot more scary with this technique employed. Observe the difference between these two fake excerpts:
He walked along the corridor, becoming increasingly nervous. The strange smell seemed to intensify as he neared the Professor's room. He put his hand on the doorknob and then slowly opened the door. The daunting stench filled his nostrils as he looked inside. On the floor lay the Professor, face-down and motionless. An icy chill trickled down his spine as he closed the door again and took a deep breath. Okay. The Professor was dead. He couldn't get himself in a knot about that. He had figured it out already. He had smelled the body from the other side of the building. No need to get any more worked up than he already was.
He walked along the corridor, becoming increasingly nervous. The strange smell seemed to intensify as he neared the Professor's room. He put his hand on the doorknob and then slowly opened the door. The daunting stench filled his nostrils as he looked inside.
On the floor lay the Professor, face-down and motionless.
An icy chill trickled down his spine as he closed the door again and took a deep breath. Okay. The Professor was dead. He couldn't get himself in a knot about that. He had figured it out already. He had smelled the body from the other side of the building. No need to get any more worked up than he already was.
Here it is very important to the second example that the sentence "On the floor lay the Professor, face-down and motionless" is in a paragraph of its own. It makes it stand out more and causes the reader to take a short break before and after it, allowing the sentence more time to sink in.
This can work especially well for the last sentence of a chapter and sometimes the first as well, as a single sentence in a paragraph of its own can pretty easily set a mood to either begin or end a chapter. Do not overuse this, however - only do it when the sentence really needs the emphasis for the right effect.
The Point of View
There are several different points of view that can be utilized when writing a story.
- First person with second person
- In first person, you write directly through a certain character's eyes. There is an "I" in the narration who is telling the story: "I went to the store and bought a liter of milk." Furthermore, there are two variations of first person, which seem to be rarely discussed, and they define who the narrator is addressing. In first person with second person, there is not only an "I", but also a "you". The narrator is telling the story to some particular person or perhaps group of people (if the "you" is plural): "When I was in the store, you called my cellphone to tell me I needed to buy flour as well." Technically, the narrator doesn't need to be actually directly telling the story to "you" - one or both of them may even be dead - but then the idea is usually that the narrator, at the end of the story, wishes he could tell the story to that "you". Additionally, to really count as this POV, the "you" needs to be an actual character in the story, i.e. "you" is doing something in the events of the story and not only being addressed. This point of view is rare outside of short stories and is often used for "accusatory" stories: the narrator is angry at "you" for reacting to the situations described in the story in the way "you" does, and describes what he or she was thinking during the events. Generally it is only appropriate for stories where there are two primary characters and one of them (the narrator) would sensibly want to communicate his/her thoughts during the events of the story to the other ("you") despite "you" having been present.
- First person with third person
- Again, you are writing directly through the main character's eyes, using the pronoun "I", but this time there is no "you" character; all other characters in the story are referred to by third person pronouns, and the narrator does not address any of them in his or her telling of the story. This point of view is fairly widespread in use and some consider it to be the easiest POV. It works best for stories where there is exactly one focal character who witnesses every event in the story that the reader needs to know of and whose thoughts and feelings are the only ones that need to be explored. First person in general is also useful for unreliable narrators, where the narrator may be biased; you can get away with all sorts of subjective description, as long as it's in character, and the narrator may exaggerate, leave out details or even flat-out lie when it is convenient (although you should note that this can get confusing if you do too much of it where the reader is not expecting it, so unless part of the point of your story is the unreliable narrator, I recommend not using it).
- Second person
- This is a tough one and not much used. It is when the main character is "you", but there is no "I" at all. It is primarily used in "Choose your own adventure" novels and other interactive fiction, and in fact any use of it outside of that is so rare as to be practically nonexistent. However, there is at least one author in the Pokémon fandom, Saffire Persian, who specializes in second person fiction, and her one-shot The Ties that Bind (highly recommended, as a matter of fact) is a prime example of how this is done. Basically the point of using second person POV is to create a main character so generalized that anyone can identify with him (here I use "him", but the character's gender is rarely specified) and in a way insert themselves in his place. In a way you don't actually create the main character, but merely insert him as a placeholder when the character in fact "could be anyone". The primary reason to use second person POV is to utilize this effect and concentrate on making the reader empathize with the main character, as Saffire Persian does in The Ties that Bind.
- Third person limited
- Here there is no "I" or "you"; every single character in the story is referred to as "he" or "she" (or "it", if we go into that). However, despite being third person, third person limited nonetheless focuses heavily on one particular main character: the narrator follows them around and peeks into their head. In third person limited you can get some of the benefits of first person (some narrative bias, bring the reader closer to the main character by showing their thinking) without some of the drawbacks (here it is much easier to briefly switch POVs if you want the reader to know something the main character doesn't). This is my personal favorite point of view to write in, and it is the POV of The Quest for the Legends.
- Third person omniscient
- Here the narrator can get into everyone's heads. Different characters' thoughts are frequently shown, with the POV often switching between chapters or even individual scenes. This is a necessity if you have more than one actual main character and intend to show any thoughts at all, as then all the characters need to have something written from their point of view; third person limited would force you to favor one particular character by making them the POV character. My own Morphic is written from a third person omniscient point of view, if you want an example.
- Third person objective
- Basically, here the narrator does not get into anybody's head and simply flies somewhere above describing objectively what is going on. Here it is extremely important to be objective; you can't describe one as pretty or even technically as "looking angry" or something in that direction, because that is personal interpretation. Because nobody's thoughts or feelings can be shown directly, it is extremely important to make the characters' personalities apparent through their dialogue and actions when writing in third person objective.
The tense of a story is the grammatical tense in which the prose is written: is it happening now or then? Basically, a present tense story goes something like "He walks to the shop and opens the door carelessly", while a past tense story goes something like "He walked to the shop and opened the door carelessly."
In English, tenses should never be mixed. As a general rule, pick one tense and then stick with it. There are situations where you'll want to switch the tense if you want to give a scene a completely different mood than the rest of the story, such as in a prologue or a flashback, memory or dream sequence of some sort, but then your mind must make a very clear and conscious distinction between the present tense parts and the past tense parts and they need to be sensibly of a different nature than the ordinary narrative. Writing some verbs randomly in past tense and some in present tense within the same sentence or paragraph is a no-no.
So which tense to use? Most stories, you'll know if you've read much, are written in past tense, and because most of the stories we read are in past tense, it generally also feels more natural to write in past tense. It's pretty much the default. Use past tense unless you have specific reason to want to use present tense.
Present tense is very rarely used for longer stories except as a possible supplement for dream sequences and such as I mentioned above. Present tense differs from past tense in its effect on the reader primarily in that it kind of brings the reader closer to what is happening, which is sensible enough; after all, past tense feels more like someone is reciting the story to you after it happened, while present tense gives you the feeling that you're standing somewhere in the middle of it watching it happen here and now. This makes it particularly useful for emotional short stories, making the reader feel the emotion in the story more intimately. Second-person stories in particular just don't really seem to make any sense in past tense.
It All Starts with an Idea
So what is the story you want to tell? How should you be pulling it off?
An idea doesn't have to be a whole, solid, elaborately constructed plot - in fact, I think I can say already that you will hardly have such an idea. Usually ideas are just vague, cloudy somethings that you can sense as later becoming a story, and whatever your idea consists of usually becomes the central element of your fic.
This is it for many authors, and the most straightforward type of idea: you think of what sort of plot your story would involve, and go from there to create what usually becomes a plot-centric fic. For example, you could suddenly have an idea about, say, Team Rocket deciding to cook up a plot to capture a legendary Pokémon in order to rule the world, and your hero must stop them. That particular example would be a rather clichéd, unoriginal idea, but I hope you get my point: you think of what conflict your main character will land him or herself in exactly, and work from there. It is a very sensible way for a story to be conceived of - after all, most traditional stories are plot-centric.
Sometimes a plot idea comes in the form of a scene idea: the first thing you think of is a scene or situation from a story, at the time of course just containing placeholder characters and having no explanation for how that situation occurred, but then you build around it to discover how and why that scene happens and who the characters participating in it are.
Characters are my favorite part of writing, and similarly my ideas sometimes consist of characters rather than plots. The Quest for the Legends began as the character of Mark who at the time was little more than just "a guy who, unlike Ash Ketchum, knows stuff about Pokémon at the beginning of his journey". A while ago I had a fic idea of a trainer who due to longtime exposure to a Haunter from since he was a baby does not dream in the night, which has in turn limited his imagination and adventurousness to the point where he is uninterested in going on a Pokémon journey; he would go on a journey anyway more to escape the life he's been living isolated in a mansion with his rich aunt his whole life than to actually be a dedicated trainer. I had no idea what the plot would actually be after this, and thus this was a typical character idea. A character idea basically involves simply the existence of one or more characters who are generally in some way unique (such as my trainer who does not dream). Character ideas are much rarer than plot ideas, and can be difficult to deal with as you will need to think of a plot to fit the character into in a relevant way, which, depending on the character, may or may not be a considerable challenge to do.
Another difficulty of character ideas is that someone being unique is always a Mary-Sue danger-zone. If you just got this fabulous idea of Ash Ketchum's daughter who is chosen by Mew to have special psychic powers that are mysteriously connected with her eyes (of which one is red and the other purple) and then has to run away from home after Team Rocket brutally murders her family... let's just say you need to be extremely careful if you want it to work out.
Character ideas often end up as character-centric stories, but not always; it depends on what sort of plot you end up thinking of to involve your character in.
Still other ideas are in the form of concepts - I'll bet you that Satoshi Tajiri's first inkling of what would later become the Pokémon games we all know and love was a fleeting idea of the concept of fantasy monsters that people can battle with. Perhaps a slight variation, but it was definitely the concept, not "Hey, I've just thought of this plot about a guy who... journeys between cities!" or "I just had this amazing idea of a character named Satoshi after me!" This is shown by what I spoke of earlier in the To Write Pokémon section of this guide, namely how obviously Pokémon revolves around the concept of the franchise.
The bad thing about concept ideas is that then you'll start off with no plot and no characters. For example, I once when I was little had a concept idea of this island inhabited by fiery animals and one blue water dragon. I gave it a huge backstory and a set of laws, but then didn't really know what I'd do with it, and the entire story from the whole explanation of the backstory and the laws to where a couple of fiery animals managed to kill the blue dragon was only four pages. I suppose it was partly a plot idea, because I did know that the story would involve the killing of the blue dragon, but it was primarily just a concept I thought of and didn't know what I could really do with.
Without an idea to work from... well, you could be in trouble. It generally won't do to just start writing if you don't have an idea of anything to do with the story - although most importantly, it is hard to stay motivated if you don't have an idea to work from. Technically you can take the trainer fic skeleton, nab the region and main character from the latest Pokémon game and try to think of something while you write yourself through the events of the game, but unfortunately that is just not interesting - while a good writer can certainly hold a reader's interest even when the whole plot is stolen from the game, you as a writer are going to have a lot of difficulty feeling motivated to write if you don't have the passion that follows a good idea.
But you can always try, if you're desperate. Who knows what might become of your trainer fic when you've really gotten going with it? You can even make up your own region to set the story in, if you can do that sort of thing off the bat, which might always spice things up. And trainer fics with no additional plot can always become great if the characters are endearing, the subplots interesting and the writing style solid.
Ahh, the plot. Probably the very most important part of your fic, and most likely what you first thought of - an idea for a fic usually consists of an idea for a plot. Your plot has to be interesting, drive the reader on to the next chapter in order to see how it ends, and most important of all: original.
Every story needs a conflict of some sort. Otherwise it's simply boring. There must be at least two 'parties', a protagonist party consisting of the main character(s), and an antagonist party usually consisting of the villain(s), between which there is at least some sort of 'disagreement'. Both the 'parties' and the 'disagreement' are only figuratively necessary, of course - the parties can be a man and his shoe and the disagreement simply that the shoe won't fit on properly - but they must be there in some form. Nobody wants to read a story where everything goes perfectly and everybody agrees on everything.
There is usually one main conflict, and many side conflicts and sub-plots to support it. To take The Quest for the Legends as an example, the main conflict is the upcoming War of the Legends and the attempt to prevent it. However, alongside it are Pokémon battles, Gym matches, rivalry, etc. that are all smaller conflicts to go along with it.
There are five types of conflicts:
- Man vs. Man, which covers any conflict between the protagonist(s) (from here on I'll talk about one protagonist even though there might be many) and another person or party (regardless of whether the party actually consist of men or not). This is the most basic conflict, and covers for example all of Mark's Gym battles in The Quest for the Legends (him vs. Gym leader, or if you want to look at it that way, him vs. the Pokémon League). Generally, Man vs. Man alone can't really stand on its own, making for a shallow and dry story, so include something else too.
- Man vs. Supernatural is the conflict between the protagonist and some sort of higher power. The power doesn't technically have to be supernatural - it could for example simply be the authorities or some other party that is dramatically more powerful than the main character in every way. This covers for example a part of the main conflict of The Quest for the Legends - Mark's struggle against the powerful Legendaries in order to prevent the War of the Legends.
- Man vs. Nature is when the protagonist has to face the perils of nature, perhaps being lost somewhere. There is no real villain who wants to hinder the protagonist - the 'antagonist' is only natural forces that are aligned with no one. Many of better trainer fics out there, such as Tangled Web by ChicRocketJames, include scenes where the new inexperienced trainer struggles with traveling alone in the wild. In The Quest for the Legends, the War of the Legends is apparently caused by a natural cycle of creation, preservation and destruction, and therefore the struggle to prevent it is Man vs. Nature.
- Man vs. Society is the conflict between the main character and the whole society that he or she lives in and its rules. The society can just be a small group or the whole country, but the antagonist, rather than being a specific character, is simply the society itself, which usually is unjust. The story is then about the protagonist's attempt to make a better world and revolt against the system. In The Quest for the Legends, Scyther's conflict with the Scyther swarm and his former friends that takes place in chapter 29 is Man vs. Society.
- Man vs. Self is the inner conflict of a person. The person then has to make difficult decisions, debate with themselves on what is right, and generally struggle against themselves. They will mature and change throughout the story. This is the deepest conflict, and more or less necessary to create a deep character. Scyther's constant mood swings and changes of mind in The Quest for the Legends are parts of his Man vs. Self conflict.
These conflicts (as made evident by the fact that they are all present in The Quest for the Legends in some form) can be combined and many of them used in one story - in fact, having only one of them usually makes for a shallow plot.
The protagonist does not always have to be 'good' and the antagonist 'evil'; in fact, it usually makes for a more interesting story when the reader doesn't know which side should win.
A typical trainer fic has an extremely basic plot: it's a Man vs. Man (Pokémon league), and additionally, the 'men' don't fight because of an actual disagreement between them, but simply because that's how the Pokémon league works. A trainer fic like that is basically a no-no; the very least you can do is to make the Pokémon league into better antagonists, add some Man vs. Nature/Man vs. Self/Man vs. Society (Man vs. Supernatural isn't particularly deeper than Man vs. Man, so it won't make the fic much better just to add that) and have some side-conflicts. (No, the main character's love interest in the first girl/boy that he/she met on his/her journey does NOT save the fic.)
One idea by itself isn't the whole plot. You need to make it into one, and usually you don't do that all at once.
It is important when making a continuing plot to find your strengths. What way to make a plot serves you best? I have an odd way of making a plot - I write unexplained mysteries, intentionally or unintentionally, and much later make up an explanation for them that makes sense. (I'm good at that, though I say it myself - I've always gotten neat ideas to clear up things.) This has both good and bad points. The good points include that there are always plenty of mysteries, and I don't need to be afraid of the solution being glaringly obvious since I haven't even thought of it myself. The bad points are for example that it takes horribly long for all the mysteries to be solved, you might accidentally leave a mystery or two unexplained, and you need to be very careful not to contradict anything.
Some people might prefer writing down all their ideas in the computer and using them later on, which is a lot more organized technique. You might also write the basic events down before you start writing, if you're the kind to want to have the whole plot before you begin. There is also a guide called Two Magic Words, written by Topaz, which can be useful for some. It all depends on yourself and what your strengths are.
Plots can vary incredibly much, but one thing is especially important: Make it twist. Make something unexpected happen; reading something where everything is predictable isn't as fun. Add in character backgrounds that nobody could ever guess, turn the plot 180 degrees and grab every opportunity to make a plot twist. You want your readers to have a rollercoaster ride when they read your fic.
Saving the World
Saving the world is rather overused overall, although of course you could technically add a twist to it. Just preferrably avoid "Chosen Ones", since they make you know the character is going to succeed and make it a bit more boring. (Of course, in save-the-world fics, everybody always automatically assumes that the protagonist will succeed, but making it fail would be an original twist if you really feel like making your characters destroyed in the end of the world.)
When you've got your plot, the next thing is usually to think of the characters involved in the plot.
The definition of a Mary-Sue varies depending on where you look, but the basic definition is really that she's an unrealistic character. This includes:
- Self-inserts, characters who deliberately share various traits with the author. These aren't necessarily always bad as long as you make sure to make them what you are, not what you wish you were. Basically, do not glorify yourself in a self-insert, ever. In fact, try to exaggerate slightly the things that you don't like about yourself. Usually that brings the character to approximately how you come across to others.
- Characters who have had a tragic past of rape/murdered parents/orphanage which nonetheless does not seem to affect them permanently in any realistic way.
- Characters who are always noble and caring and do the right thing, no matter the situation. This is more of a problem the more you emphasize these traits; the Sue-alarm will be turned on every time your character saves a life, sacrifices own comfort for others, or stops somebody from committing suicide/joining the evil team/whatever not-so-nice thing.
- Characters who always win (in this case, usually Pokémon trainers who always win battles and often end up as Pokémon League Champions). This is not necessarily always bad either; of course, there is one winner of the League every time it's held, and nothing is stopping you from writing about that exact trainer. But be realistic - if a ten-year-old competing in his first Pokémon League is going to defeat a much older and more experienced trainer, you'd better have a good reason for that.
- Characters who are described as attractive and have their outwards appearance described more than that of other characters or even the setting by an unbiased narrator.
- Characters with cool special features or abilities, without any real reason for having them and realistic consequences of having them. This includes oddly-colored eyes/hair, psychic powers and other stuff - of course, it has to be strange in the fic universe, not just ours, so if there are tons of people with naturally blue hair in your fic, that won't make them all Mary-Sues.
- Original characters with family or love relations to canon characters without any real reason apart from making them look cool. Writing about Ash's children is not necessarily bad, as long as being Ash's children matters to the story and realistically affects them. Writing about a woman Ash marries is fine as long as their relationship is clearly developed. (Just be warned that writing a fic like that will get a ton of angry shippers raging up against you.)
- Characters who are all mysterious and dark for no particular reason except that that's cool.
Do not by any means fall into the trap of making up flaws to weigh against Mary-Sue traits. It comes out very fake when characters have flaws for the sake of having flaws. Instead just avoid what I mentioned; I was specific enough about exceptions to leave only what makes for a definite Mary-Sue anyway. Oh, and if your character is Ash's noble and caring attractive daughter with special powers, a tragic past and your name who wins the Pokémon League, you ARE going to be told she's a Mary-Sue, no matter how good your reasons for all of that are and how realistically you portray her.
Technically, Mary-Sues are female, so the male equivalent is the Gary-Stu (or sometimes Marty-Stu). They have more or less the same traits.
"Pokémon are not tools of war..." - The Elder, Pokémon Gold, Silver and Crystal
There are too many trainer fics out there that use Pokémon as battling machines. But Pokémon don't just sit in their Pokéballs until their trainer calls them out, obey every order and then go back into their balls - they're living creatures with personalities and feelings. Don't portray them otherwise, unless something actually did take their free will, like Dark balls. "Pokébots" is what I call robotic Pokémon like that. (By the way, as far as I know I invented that term. Somebody else may have thought of it, but don't think that's like the "official" name or something.)
Pokémon can be made into characters in various ways. In The Quest for the Legends, I solved that problem by setting it twenty-seven years after the Pokémon animé and making kids learn Pokémon's language at school in that time. Admittedly that's the cheap way out. The real challenge is to make the Pokémon into real, participating characters without making them talk in some way or another.
How do you make them into characters without making them say anything, you ask? Well, the first thing to do is have them a bit out of their Pokéballs. I'd assume that most Pokémon trainers occasionally let their Pokémon out of their balls for fresh air. It's amazing how much character development you can fit into a short out-of-Pokéball scene. The way the Pokémon battle can also be adjusted to their personality. You might decide that your character's Taillow battles fiercely, dodges a lot but ends up exhausted after a few minutes, while Shellder prefers withdrawing into her shell until the battle's over. Some Pokémon might be ill-tempered and attack a lot on their own before getting orders. Some might just disobey their trainer out of thinking he isn't worthy; others might be loyal.
And when you have your developed Pokémon characters, this is very important: Don't refer to Pokémon as "it" if their gender can be known. The more developed Pokémon characters are, the more awkward it is to call them "it". Of course, a wild Pokémon or something doesn't really need a gender since it's a Pokémon that appears once and nobody can really know its gender, but Pokémon that are characters need one and an appropriate pronoun.
We Are All Different
This is an important thing to remember: All characters need to be somewhat different in order to be realistic.
You can write down information on your characters in a character bio, but you don't need to. If you do make them, remember that they are there for you, not your readers. Posting character bios instead of properly inserting the characters' personalities and history into the story is a big no-no. Also, by all means remember that personality is not something you can write down in a few words. Personalities are complex. You should never give your characters one aspect of personality which you exaggerate to the max, such as talking all the time or something, either; that's not what real people are like. People speak differently, too; adults generally have a bigger vocabulary than kids. Some people are sarcastic all the time, others are honest. The optimistic person will say the glass is half full, the pessimistic one will say it's half empty and the engineer will say that 50% of its capacity is currently occupied. The mean character might snap, snarl or spit some of his lines, while somebody else could prefer whining, moaning and complaining. Keep this in mind as you write. Oh, and insecure people might use a lot of "Umm", "Er" and "You know" in their speech.
But whatever your characters are like, you should have a feeling for them. The lines should come by themselves; you shouldn't need to think about if they positively fit with the character who's supposed to say them. It is good for practice to take some personality tests (you can try mine) as one of your characters.
If you've written some of your fic and aren't sure about your characters, try this: take a not too generic, not too specific line said by a character, and imagine another character is saying it. Then just ask yourself in all honesty: Does this work? It generally should not work unless the two characters have a good reason to speak alike.
So, now that you have your plot and characters... time to decide where your fic happens. Kanto? Johto? Hoenn? Orre? The Orange Islands? Made-up world? If so, what's it called and what does it look like? The real world, perhaps, and Pokémon appeared there all of a sudden? Or maybe you take the place where you live and imagine it's in the Pokémon world? The possibilities are endless.
A small warning: Just about the only thing that can make a plain trainer fic really interesting is the setting. Meaning that if you're writing one, be careful when you choose where it happens. Use a made-up world or something else that has not appeared in the animé or games.
I like made-up continents myself, but you may prefer existing ones. It's up to you. Maybe it involves a journey around the whole world; then, if the world is made-up, you should make all the main places up first. Maybe it's a one-shot fic that happens in a character's thoughts under a single tree. Then you don't even need to make up what world it is, but you should be able to picture the tree and what the character might look at while sitting there. As long as you can picture the place the fic happens at, you should have a setting. It's fairly easy - usually your imagination will handle it automatically.
The Structure of a Story
That refers to, basically, how you usually build up a fic. This is probably going to be one of the most helpful parts of this guide.
Prologues usually serve the purpose of introducing the plot or some aspect of it. Prologues have turned into a fad, with almost every chaptered fic suddenly starting with a prologue, but prologues are meant to be something separated from the main story. They're usually short and mysterious, leaving the reader asking questions which will be answered throughout the story. Often the main character isn't even involved in the prologue at all, or it happens many years before the main story.
If your fic doesn't need a prologue, don't make one.
One-shots (see Length) will get away with not having much of an introduction, as you aren't really supposed to get any information about the characters, plot and stuff like that before the action begins, but chaptered fiction must have one. During the introduction, you tell the reader something about your characters and setting, while not yet touching upon the plot. In a trainer fic, the introduction will usually last from the start of chapter one until the protagonist heads out on a Pokémon journey.
A story can be started in media res, which means that it starts at some point and then tells the story through a flashback.
I'll be using a typical trainer fic as an example here. The exposition would last from where the trainer is introduced and until he or she sets out on his or her Pokémon journey with his or her first Pokémon.
The Conflict Occurs
This is where the first 'disagreement' between the protagonist and antagonist occurs (or in some cases, when the protagonist learns of it), and basically where the plot begins. This is where The Quest for the Legends completely fails; it starts one conflict where it should, when Mark goes on his journey, but the main conflict isn't mentioned or learned of until much later. Basically it's not very well structured. Don't learn from me there, I'm setting a bad example.
In a trainer fic, this moment is when the trainer leaves his/her hometown for his/her Pokémon journey.
The Rising Action
This is the longest part of the story. This spans all the way from when the conflict is introduced until it is ultimately solved. In a regular trainer fic, this spans the whole journey until the Pokémon league. See what I mean by this being the longest part?
The climax is the moment where the conflict is resolved, whichever way it goes. In a trainer fic, this is the Pokémon league; in fact, one could say the Pokémon league is rising action until the last battle the trainer has in it, which would mean it's probably either the final battle or the battle he/she loses and gets him/her disqualified from the league. Either way, the climax should be the most dramatic and intense moment of the story - be very careful when you write the climax, as it can make or break the whole thing!
The Falling Action
This is where the story starts to calm down after the climax, and things start to return to at least somewhat the way they were before for the characters (those who still live, that is). Only somewhat, however - if your plot doesn't change the characters in any way, it means either the plot is too insignificant or the characters too flat.
The conclusion is the very last part, where everything has calmed down and life goes on. The conclusion should have everything solved - even the smallest side-conflicts. Even if you plan on making a sequel, this story should be able to technically stand on its own without the sequel.
Epilogues are final conclusions of a sort - they often happen far in the future from the end of the story, just like prologues often happen in the past. They usually serve the purpose of finishing the characters' stories after the conflict of the story is over. So if you were writing some romance and the story ends where the characters finally get together, an epilogue could just be a short scene with them grown up with a kid. Of course, like prologues, epilogues are entirely optional and not at all necessary. They shouldn't be what is resolving the conflict, either; they should simply satisfy the curiosity of those readers who want to know what happened later.
There is more to perspectives than just first and third person...
This is when the main character speaks; basically, when there is an "I" in the narration who is describing everything.
In first person, the camera is always inside the main character's head. The reader will get to know this main character throughout the story. In first person, the most important thing to remember is to write like your character. This includes being completely biased towards his/her views and opinions - even if it means being inaccurate - and adjusting the wording and vocabulary to your character's style of speech.
Additionally, you can't know anything that the main character doesn't know - no "Behind me, a suspicious shadow with a knife lurked in an alleyway."
First person with aid of second person
Actual second person fics are pretty much nonexistent; however, it's not too uncommon for first-person one-shots to be a kind of "first + second person" narrative; basically, the narrator, "I", is telling the story to or for another person, "you". Taking for example a passage from my own one-shot Last Defense:
A long time passed. Probably a year or two. I didn’t keep track of it. Every day was the same: you would send me out of the Pokéball, and I would block all sound from my ears but your voice, obeying its every command without hesitation. I sought to please you, but you were somehow never happy. And I, the fool I was, just tried harder and more robotically. I gradually got obsessive about pleasing you, so that no thought would occur to me, in battle or not, except Have I done right? Will Master be satisfied with me?
The Pokémon in the story was abused by its trainer, and the story is told like the Pokémon is simply thinking about what it would say to the trainer if it could talk to him now. Therefore, the trainer is "you".
Third person omniscient
This is where there is no "I", and the narrator knows everything that everybody is thinking. The narrator is accurate in all details. It's a rather easy perspective to write, but I personally prefer using third person limited.
Third person limited
This is where despite being third person, the narrator only sees inside one character's head similar to first person. It may switch to another character's point of view temporarily, which can be useful to convey information that your main character doesn't know. My personal favorite.
Third person objective
Here, the narrator does not know anybody's thoughts. The narrator is completely unbiased and will not interpret anything at all - this includes when it is, say, fairly obvious from somebody's expression that they are angry. Sure, the character is angry, but the narrator is not going to tell anybody so, and will merely say that the character for example narrowed his eyes and turned sharply away. This is hard to write - it is very tempting to slip into interpreting something - and be prepared for some younger readers to say, "I don't get it," but in the end it also makes for something interesting that the reader can form an opinion about.
Script writing is difficult to pull off well (and to be honest, I've never been able to). It's generally not a format very suitable for fanfiction; it is only really appropriate if the story is intended to be something TV-show/movie/play-like, such as a talk show, character interview, etc. Be sure that if you write script, it's not pure dialogue, but has stage directions and such (which, as a matter of fact, are always in present tense).
In past tense, everything is written like it happened some time ago, such as "he said", "I did" and "she walked". In present tense, everything is written like it is happening now, e.g. "he says", "I do" and "she walks". Never mix the two. When you proofread, be sure to have decided on one tense, and correct any verbs that might have slipped into the wrong one.
Past tense is much more common than present tense, and generally easier to write - exactly because most fics and books that people have read are past tense, they have a better feeling for it. If you think you're up for writing in present tense, though, go ahead. The only real difference is that at least I tend to feel that present tense brings the reader a bit closer to the story.
The Serebiiforums, which I go to, have extraordinarily much emphasis on description. If you post a fic there, you're guaranteed to get at least one comment about your description, either that you should describe more or that your description was excellent. Many reviewers with set 'categories' they score you on will have a special one for description. I have even been driven to make a special section of this guide about description.
Now, I do not like this much emphasis on description. In my mind, at least, description serves three purposes:
- Telling the reader what is going on so they won't have to read the sentence again and ask themselves, "Wait, what? Who the heck is Steven?" or "Where did that flower come from? Are they outside?" - basically, to allow the reader to visualize the scene approximately how you are visualizing it.
- Setting the mood to be more dramatic - descriptionless text sounds careless, which is not the feeling you want to give the reader of your dark fic.
- Fleshing out a scene where not much is happening to give it the length it should have.
Otherwise, I don't care much for description personally. If it does not seem to me like describing something will contribute to any of those points, I usually don't.
How to describe
Now, let's write an opening scene for a dark, serious fic in third person objective and past tense:
A Ninetales sat on a rock, waiting and watching a single spot.
Suddenly, she leapt off the rock and dashed off towards the horizon.
At the moment it is definitely bad, and as it happens, it has absolutely no description. Let's find the effects of the three points I mentioned above as the purpose of description.
Firstly, the reader is likely to wonder exactly what is going on. That's pretty much obvious; there is no relevant detail that could help us at least interpret the scene (since that is what third person objective needs the reader to do) and wonder about a possible reason why the Ninetales would have suddenly leapt off the rock. The Ninetales' outwards appearance isn't particularly important in this scene, but it might be in the one after it or sometime later in the story. We need to fix that and add some relevant detail.
You can probably already see my point about setting the mood - it doesn't sound very dark or serious at all. It's just two dull, confusing sentences.
It also seems far too short; if it were in a movie it would be two seconds long. That just doesn't work at all; even though nothing is happening in the scene, we want it to be of some substantial length to keep up the flow of the story.
Now, let's assume somebody tells us we need much more description, and thus we obediently write something like this:
A Ninetales sat on a rock, waiting. She had a creamy yellow, thick fur and her eyes were red. She also had nine long, thick tails that were the same color as the rest of the body. Her head had a tuft of long fur on it. Her muzzle was doglike. Her legs were rather long with dog paws.
Suddenly, she leapt off the rock and she dashed off through the grass. It was tall and dry. She headed towards the horizon, which was red because the sun was now setting there.
But no, no, no, no, no. This won't do at all. Sure, we know what the Ninetales looks like, but the description is dull and boring, still failing miserably at setting the scene, and still very short. Additionally, we are still left in the dark concerning why she suddenly leaps off the rock.
Now, with the three points in mind, let's rewrite it again.
She waited, her muscles tense underneath the thick creamy fur. Her ruby red eyes refected the colorful sunset in the far west while her long, delicate legs stood firmly atop the rock. Every now and then, she would flick one of her nine long, elegant tails impatiently around. But that was the only part that ever moved. Her gaze was fixed towards another rock, far off near the horizon.
Suddenly, her triangular ears turned forward. She leant forward a little bit to squint, but then shook her head, the graceful mane on top of it flashing back, crouched, and leapt into the sea of dry grass below. She dashed towards the blood-red horizon, her graceful tails trailing behind her like nine silky ribbons.
Much better. Now, I won't claim I'm good at this or that that passage is actually an example of particularly good description, but it's good on my scale and at least it should give you a vague idea of what I'm talking about either way.
But that was a scene where the point was that the Ninetales was waiting and not moving or doing anything, which gave us plenty of time to describe her. How about during normal flow when people are moving and doing things? Then it's best not to waste entire sentences (the less whole paragraphs) on nothing but description. Such sentences will make the flow jerky. You can briefly describe something with adjectives in the sentence where an object is introduced to a scene (example: A tall and lanky brown-haired boy hurried into the Pokémon Center, looking around), and then you can add in more adjectives and adverbs as something happens to the object (example: The boy sat down, flicked his large, deep blue eyes nervously around again, and started straightening his bright green T-shirt absent-mindedly). In those two sentences, you've described the boy and his shirt completely without stopping the flow of the story.
The English Language
How ironic of me to teach people correct English when it's not my first language...
Anyway, I do know my stuff, so don't worry about that.
Misspellings and word confusion
There are many common mistakes that I see over and over in fics. I'll try to cover most of the common ones.
Loose is the opposite of stuck. When you lose a battle, it has one O.
There is a big difference between sight and site. Sight is either the ability to see or something that you see, so maybe Pokémon evolution is an amazing sight, or something like that. Site is like a website, construction site, etc.
You're stands for "you are". Always. It is NOT the possessive form of "you", so you can not "improve you're writing". You can, however, improve your writing. Likewise, "your" is just the possessive form and can not stand for "you are". They're is another commonly confused word. Like with You're, They're always stands for "they are". If it's the possessive form, it's their. The word there is like "Here and there" and "there's a man over there", and is completely unrelated to the word they. Finally, we're stands for "we are", but were is a form of the past tense of the verb "to be".
It's stands for "it is". It is not the possessive form of "it". This might be hard to remember, especially since nouns form a possessive by adding 's to the end of them, but suddenly we have "it's" which is exactly against that rule. The correct possessive form of "it" is its. So we say "It's eating its food." Also, nouns do not ever form a plural with the 's ending. They just use an S, and if the word ends in -s, -sh, -x or -ch (or sometimes -o), an E is added between the ending and the plural S.
People tend to misspell Pokémon names, the top ones being Ninetales (as "Ninetails") and Feraligatr (as "Feraligator"). To see a full list of Pokémon names correctly spelled, go here.
I haven't seen this that often, but breath is the noun, and to breathe is the verb.
No is when you say no. Like "Just say no to drugs" and all that stuff. It is not used when you know something. Thankfully I've never seen it the other way around. People also like to type new instead of knew, which is the past tense of "to know".
Two is the number. To either comes before a verb, such as in "to be" or "to say" or "to shout", or like when you go to school or something like that. Too is the one with a similar meaning to "also", or to imply an excess of something, i.e. "There is too much sugar in this tea."
Through is like "We went through the tunnel." When you're throwing something away, the past tense is threw. They never mean the same thing.
Affect is the verb, and effect is the noun. You can affect something, and that means you have an effect on it.
Pokémon fanfiction regularly uses various irregular verbs, the most commonly misspelled one being caught. It has an A, not an O, unlike for example thought.
First off, commas are usually used when a sentence is added into another sentence (such as "The man, who had a Pidgey sitting on his shoulder, rolled his eyes.") The commas would not go there, however, if the part about the Pidgey on his shoulder was there to tell him from other men, as in saying that the man who rolled his eyes was the one with the Pidgey on his shoulder, not the one with the mustache or the one who was chewing gum. That, of course, requires you to have mentioned those features before, while the case where you use the commas should be the first time you mention that.
Commas are also used to separate two small sentences with two main ideas that have been combined into one sentence, such as "He pretended to be reading, but was actually spying on their conversation." Here the sentences are very connected - the latter couldn't be without the other one. Then you have to use a conjunction and a comma. When the sentences could each stand on their own, however, you use a semicolon, not a comma, and ditch the conjunction, so you'd write "He didn't say anything; he wanted to hear more." If you wrote "He didn't say anything, since he wanted to hear more," you'd use a comma. If you have two unrelated sentences, it is best just to use a period (rather than a semicolon or a comma + conjunction).
As we all know, a period ends a sentence. Exclamation and question marks only belong in direct quotes, whether of speech or thoughts. They don't belong in narration (except for first person, since first person narration basically is speech or thought).
Now, for the evil... PUNCTUATION AROUND QUOTATION MARKS!
Now... who can tell me which of the following is correct?
- "I know." He said.
- "I know." he said.
- "I know," he said.
- "I know" he said.
The answer is the third one: "I know," he said. Why is it so? Well, you're still continuing the same sentence.
Imagine that direct quotes were not enclosed in quotation marks. Then these examples would look like this:
- I know. He said.
- I know. he said.
- I know, he said.
- I know he said.
Now, don't the other three just look kinda wrong now? In the first one, "He said" is made into an individual sentence, suggesting that what he said is completely unrelated to "I know". In the second one, we have the same problem, except that the H is lowercase, which is obviously wrong because we always use a capital letter after a period. In the fourth one, it sounds like you know he said something, which is again not the intended meaning. Only the third one works.
But what about this?
"I'm hopeless." He sighed.
Now, isn't this just like example one above? No, it's not. When we punctuate it like this, we're saying that he said "I'm hopeless," and then sighed. If we punctuated it the other way, we're saying that what he sighed was "I'm hopeless." Basically, he sighed can serve as a sentence on its own, while he said can really not.
General Writing Advice
This part contains general writing advice which I hope you will find useful.
Setting the scene
Anne stepped into the mansion. The eerie light finding its way through the broken windows and between the torn curtains illuminated the red carpet on the floor. Cobwebs were in every corner. One of the Spinarak that had spun them crawled quickly across the dusty floor. She flinched.
After having closed the door carefully, she stepped forward. A floorboard creaked. She jumped.
Oh, come on. It's just an old mansion, she thought to herself and walked on.
Now, how do you feel? You just know that something's going to happen now, right? You just know that now she will be attacked by all the rest of the Spinarak, or the floor will crumble under her, making her fall down into the basement. This is because of two things: The mansion is described as creepy, with cobwebs and "eerie light", and when a character reassures him/herself of something, they're normally wrong.
Also, it is a general rule when you're writing that the shorter and more separated from the rest of the text a sentence is, it stands more out and therefore gains more of a meaning. If you want to make a specific sentence as dramatic as possible, make it short and put it in its own paragraph. Making very long, somewhat grammatically incorrect sentences can imply confusion and chaos.
"Said" is not a word that should be avoided at all costs.
The reason you really should not overuse "said" is that text with only "said" becomes dull and emotionless - and if you write an emotional line followed by "he/she said", it sounds like the characters are just really bad actors. There are two ways to get around that: Either using an appropriate alternative (emphasis on 'appropriate'; never use a thesaurus to think of alternatives for "said" unless you know exactly what the word you finally decide on means) or add an adverb after "said" such as "he said gloomily" or "she said sternly", giving it added emotion. However, if somebody just says something normally and without any special emotion, just using "said" is fine. Don't go out of your way to put alternatives everywhere.
Levels and stats
Levels can exist in fanfiction. They have been mentioned in the animé (The School of Hard Knocks). Therefore, one can assume that gameboy stats technically also exist. However, of course you must still remember that a battle in a fanfic doesn't work the same as a battle in a gameboy game. You know the deal, just use your common sense instead of what would happen if you were having that battle in a game. Of course, it also isn't very likely that people go around bragging about how their Charizard has 316 Special attack. Levels might be mentioned every so often, but the stats very little. Things like Effort Values should never be mentioned at all since not even NPCs in the games acknowledge their existence.
Of course, a fanfic can also leave all the levels and stats out completely.
A very important part of getting readers for your fanfics - give it a good name that you feel would make you curious and want to read the fic, even if you had no idea what it was about. An experienced, known writer who already knows he/she will get a lot of readers can make a lousy title and it won't harm much, but if you're a beginning writer, nobody will notice you unless you make a good title. Some advice about titles:
- Long, uncommon (or just not very common) words make a title that sounds more professional, and therefore gives a better impression for the fic. A title like for example "Joe's Journey" shouts out "newbie fic", even if Joe's Journey is the best piece of literature that has ever been written. "The Quest for the Legends" is a bad title in this aspect, since both "quest" and "legend" are severely overused title words.
- Some words work a lot better in a title than others. Something that suggests something eerie or a plot is good. If you make a trainer fic, I really advise you not to name it "Journey through Kanto" or something like that. Or "The Quest for the Legends".
- Famous quotes and figures of speech often make good titles - as long as they have something to do with the fic, of course. Which brings us to the next point...
- Making your fic's name sound like an animé episode is a big no-no unless that's what it's meant to sound like. That's mainly when you take a figure of speech, movie/song name, etc. that has nothing to do with the fic, turn a word into a Pokémon that is in the fic with a similar name to the word, and make that your title, ignoring how grammatically incorrect it probably is and how little it tells anybody about your fic. Like the episodes "Good 'Quil Hunting", "You Can Never Taillow" or "Nerves of Steelix". While it doesn't exactly give a newbie impression, it makes your fic sound short, like an episode, aside from just being a bad-sounding title. If you're going for a true animé feel, it's fine, though, as then it's parody in a way.
- Make your title non-cliché (so no "The Quest for the Legends") and preferrably not too long (so STILL not "The Quest for the Legends").
Point: DO NOT EVER LEARN FROM MY EXAMPLE, THE QUEST FOR THE LEGENDS IS ONE OF THE WORST TITLES EVER MADE.
One-shots are basically short stories, but the basic definition is that the fic has no chapters, but is rather just all in one part - it doesn't really necessarily have to be particularly short. One-shots are often deeper than chaptered fics, with less of a plot but more of a meaning. They can be philosophical, express your opinions, or whatever. One-shots aren't made to have a plot, really, since you can't room much suspense, mystery or whatever in something too short to be chaptered. They're more to express something or to bring forward an interesting idea or something of the sort.
One-shots often happen in only one certain place and consist greatly of thoughts or description. Usually they don't have very many characters either.
The actual length of a one-shot can vary very much. I've seen a great fic that was, if you squeezed all the paragraphs together, six lines in Microsoft Word and was about the twisted thoughts of a teenage Molly (the one from the third movie). On the other hand, one-shots can also be pretty darn long.
Chaptered fics are basically, uh, fics divided into chapters. Each chapter's length can vary, but a chapter must contain enough so that it would technically serve as a story of its own (ignoring, of course, the fact that the reader would probably be very confused about what is happening; just think it like each chapter is an episode of a TV show). Basically, it should contain a minor conflict of its own (see The Structure of a Story). An exception is a cliffhanger, where you end the chapter abruptly at a suspenseful part and begin the next chapter at the exact point where the other one ended.
The number of chapters depends on the fic. You should decide how long approximately the fic is going to be. It depends on the plot, of course, so I can't really give you advice on the subject. It all depends on what is appropriate for the fic in question.
Strengths and weaknesses
My reviewers, even since my worst and oldest work, usually seem to say my characters are good. This is something very weird for me because I've never really put a moment of thought into my characters. The way I make them is seriously just thinking, "Okay, I'm going to make a guy called Victor who trains Dark Pokémon, and he's going to be here," and then their lines come on their own. Basically, it seems to come naturally for me, more or less.
As I wrote more, I improved in most aspects, but the description sat there in almost the same place. Either it would be extremely little, or a lot that would sound forced and jerky. The description was my weakness. And actually, it still is - I just worked hard to attempt to cover it up. So basically, I went from writing Pokémon battles like this:
"Oh, it's a Rattata! Go, Charmander!"
"Char! Man! Der!"
"Raaatt!" Rattata used Tackle.
"Charmander, just keep scratching until you win!"
"Charmander! Charmander! Char man der!" Rattata fainted.
"That was easy!" They went on.
“What’s that?” asked Charmander, pointing. A purple tail, curled up at the end, stuck out between the grass blades to their left.
“I think it’s a Rattata,” said Mark thoughtfully, “but I don’t really want one, they’re pretty puny…”
The Rattata seemingly took high offense to this comment, as it immediately leapt out of the grass, baring its fangs.
Mark had never really liked Rattata, but seeing one in real life, he found it kind of cool-looking. The shiny, bright purple fur of its back blended smoothly into the pure white of its belly, paws and head below the nose. Two long whiskers vibrated on either side of its face, sensing small changes in the air; shimmering red eyes full of determination stared hatefully at his face and then turned to Charmander with a low growl.
“Rattata!” the Pokémon cried in a high-pitched voice, leaping at Charmander, who quickly swished his tail forward into the purple rat’s face. Smacked sideways with a burn mark on its cheek, the Rattata let out a cry of pain, but nevertheless stood right up again and raced head-first towards Mark’s fire lizard.
“Dodge!” Mark shouted, suddenly now remembering that he was supposed to be giving his Pokémon orders. Charmander ran to the side, more of instinct than obedience. The Rattata followed angrily, and finally took a well-calculated leap at the lizard’s tail, biting it firmly.
“Charmander, try scratching it,” Mark suggested, Charmander already raising his claws. With an angry “Mander!”, he slashed the Rattata across the face.
“Raaat!” screeched the rat Pokémon, stepping a bit backwards as it started to wag its tail rhythmically. Charmander’s eyes followed the curled tail end; left, right, left, right…
“Don’t be distracted by it, it’s trying to catch you off guard!” Mark called. It was too late, though; the Rattata leapt at Charmander with a triumphant battle cry and tackled him to the ground. Growling, Charmander slammed his tail flame into the Rattata’s face again; he was still too inexperienced to use proper fire attacks, but the fire on his tail tip was always there. The rat Pokémon screamed in pain, but then retreated into the tall grass.
Mark shrugged. “Well, I didn’t want to catch it, anyway. At least, you did great, Charmander.”
He said the last words in an attempt to sound cheerful, but he couldn’t help thinking that his own part in this battle wasn’t big.
That battle description may or may not have been good - I'm not one to judge for obvious reasons - but at least I think everybody will agree that it's one heck of a lot better in the new one than the old one. And that didn't happen by itself - I decided to improve the description, I thought about how description works, and in the end I put together what you can now see in the form of the description part of this guide and started trying to describe the fic according to my own guidelines.
So if you were wondering what the point of all that was, it is that even if people tell you that some part of your writing is horrible and you think you absolutely can't do it (which was the case with me and description), improving it really isn't as hard as it seems. Don't stop trying.
Pokémon battles take place in a majority of Pokémon fanfiction, so I thought I'd make a little guide to writing them too. Not that I should be, considering mine aren't particularly good, but oh well.
As I said before (see Characters), Pokémon don't just come out of their balls, do what their trainer tells them and then go back in. Well, sure, perhaps they can, but it generally makes for a dull and boring battle. Try to put little twists into each Pokémon's battling techniques, and it will spice up your battles and make them a much more enjoyable read.
A rule of thumb is that bigger and stronger Pokémon are generally more confident, and battle more aggressively than smaller, weaker ones. Of course, this doesn't apply to nearly all Pokémon; it's just a general guideline.
Now, imagine you've got an enemy Pokémon facing your main character in a Pokémon battle. The enemy Pokémon is never going to appear again, but it's wise to give it somewhat of a personality anyway. Pokémon can be characterized simply by whether they just obey their trainers or fill in the blanks with their own ideas and strategies, remember that. You can also make small twists out of some wild Pokémon's personality; in The Quest for the Legends, there's a random wild Pidgeotto that picks up the main character's Charmander, flies over a lake as a joke and basically threatens to drop Charmander in. There, some random Pidgeotto made into a participating character. Not hard.
Now, as I said when I was talking about about levels and stats, Pokémon battles in a fanfic are not going to work the same way as Pokémon battles in the games. Take real-life logic over game-logic. Be creative when your Pokémon use attacks; for example, I've made Gyarados' Splash a decent attack once, because Gyarados is so big that it can splash a lot of water around and drench a Fire Pokémon. It's also logical to make a Taillow afraid of a Persian or something like that, because small birds and cats are natural enemies in real life. And, most important of all, a Pokémon is not going to stand there and get hit, waiting for its turn to come. Pokémon are going to try to dodge, defend themselves, or just counterattack in hopes of making the opponent too weak to perform the attack (like so many other things, it depends on the Pokémon's personality).
A wording to avoid: Squirtle "used Water Gun". Charmander "used Flamethrower". Bulbasaur "used Vine Whip". Charmander is perhaps going to inhale deeply and then breathe out a tongue of flames. Squirtle might spray water from its mouth at high pressure. Bulbasaur could beat the opponent up with two vines that extend from the base of its bulb. I remember when I first started describing my battles; I was always afraid of making the attacks "wrong". Don't be; there isn't really a "wrong" way to describe an attack. Your inspiration for how a Pokémon performs a move can come from common sense (such as Bite), Stadium (2) or Colosseum, the animé, or just good old imagination. Either way, you need to show the reader what happens when a Pokémon performs an attack; otherwise it will be impossible for the reader to visualize the battle. Also, keep in mind that Pokémon can do more than just use their actual attacks. For example, I made Charmander in The Quest for the Legends battle a bit by slamming his tail flame into the opponent before he gained control of the Ember attack, as seen in the example I put just above.
Also, be extremely careful not to overdescribe in the middle of a Pokémon battle. It's supposed to be an action scene; freezing it in the middle with some description will wreck the whole battle. An exception, though, could be when a Pokémon has been sent out, and the character whom the focus is on looks carefully at the Pokémon before deciding what to send out. That's a case where the Pokémon actually will stand there and breathe for a few seconds. Otherwise, avoid describing Pokémon too lengthily in the middle of a battle.
Writer's block is a dreadful thing. You will most likely experience it sometime - you are writing, and then you suddenly hit a wall, and go through a phase where you will sit for half an hour and write half a sentence and then decide it's rubbish and erase it again.
Well, that's the kind of writer's block I get. I like to have a distinction between that and "plot block", as I call it, which is when you can't think of what's supposed to happen next - what I usually get is that I know perfectly well what's supposed to happen, but I just can't write it for no apparent reason. So if we stick to calling them "writer's block" and "plot block", writer's block is more annoying because you feel like you shouldn't be having a hard time writing this scene, but plot block is more serious and lasts longer. Writer's block is like a mosquito that's small and annoying, but if you bring out the flyswatter, killing it probably won't take too long. Plot block is like a gigantic, mosquito-like alien that's there to suck out your brain, and sure, you'll see it coming long before it actually comes, but when it's there, all you can do is hope for heavenly inspiration to save you.
When you get writer's block, you'll usually get over it by yourself. Here are some tips to make it go away faster, although you should keep in mind that what works like magic for me might not help you.
- I've heard it can help to listen to a song that fits the scene you're trying to write.
- Read your favorite fanfic ever again, at least your favorite part of it.
- Do the opposite of writing your fic in some way or another. You can stop writing fiction for a while and write a walkthrough or guide or something else. I've been writing this guide, for example, mainly while I had writer's block; writing something non-fictional is nice and fresh and you might even get inspired (you have no idea how much my description improved just from thinking about the description part of this guide). You can also just go and make a new layout or skin for your website or draw something, basically not writing, or even write a complete other genre, so if you're writing humour, you'll write something serious, etc.
Plot block, of course, is much harder to deal with, and very few things will actually help you if you get it. You really just need to be well inspired. Usually I get inspiration in the shower, or just if I'm walking in the rain. Water seems to have that effect on me. I think of some plot twists and stuff, sometimes twenty chapters before they happen, sometimes just one or two. This, however, requires me to think extremely much about the fic, so if you only think about it while you write it, my method won't help you. Try thinking about it in the shower and see if you think of something. I've gotten inspiration from lots of things, too, even just innocent-looking reviews.
If you're not familiar with the world of fanfiction, you are likely to be left puzzled over some of the odd terms used in relation to it that you may not be familiar with. I've got a rough list of some of them here.
- Written, fictional material which borrows ideas, characters, settings, etc. from published work by another person, such as the Pokémon franchise.
- The "official" stuff. For example, it is canon that Brock falls in love with every girl he sees, and that Charmander evolves into Charmeleon. Going strictly against canon, such as by making Brock gay or making Charmander evolve into Ivysaur, is usually not a good idea.
- Unofficial detail that many people include in their fics, sometimes mistaking them for canon simply because of how frequently they appear. It is fanon, for example, that Misty's surname is Waterflower.
- Stands for Alternate Universe. Basically, a fic in which canon events are purposefully ignored or changed. For example, a fic in which Misty went with Ash to Hoenn rather than May would be AU.
- Stands for Out Of Character. In role-playing, it is used to indicate that you are not speaking as your character, but just as yourself; in fanfiction, however, it is used for when canon characters act strange given the situation they're in and their canon personality. For example, it would be OOC if Ash grabbed Pikachu by the neck and forced a Thunderstone on him unless something big changed.
- Stands for In Character. Basically, the opposite of OOC; the characters act like they really would if they were in the situation that you're writing.
- The belief that certain characters have a romantic interest in each other. For example, believing that Ash and Misty are in love is called Pokéshipping, and believing that Ash and May are in love is Advanceshipping.
- The community of fans, such as Pokémon fans.
- Canon rape
- A harsh way to refer to something that basically throws canon completely out of the window.
My final advice for any aspiring writer: No writing advice is sacred. There are exceptions to absolutely everything, and that includes everything in this guide. Don't take it as some kind of a holy Bible of writing, because it certainly isn't - I'm not even particularly good. Everybody will give you different advice - this is just what mine looks like. It's your fic, so you're the judge; do you agree with me or not? If not, you are absolutely free not to follow anything I said here. It is just my two cents.
Good luck writing!
Page last modified August 12 2016 at 22:34 GMT