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Character Development and Presentation
I need not mention the many stories that I've read where the characters were behaving in bizarre manners (or Out-Of-Character [OOC]) or engaged in questionable behaviour. Any fan-fiction reader would be able to point out stories that have left a sour taste in our mouths...be it with the main characters engaged in a killing rampage, or else, the characters might be cursing enough to colour the air blue, or...well, the list goes on.
I do not mean to disparage against OOC stories, but I think that an important aspect is that there should be enough background detail that would explain/demonstrate reasoning as to WHY the story might be considered OOC. I would point to Bouyer's Innocence in A Minor as one of the most celebrated OOC/darkfic stories of the SM-verse.
OOC-ness is related to the concept of suspended belief (or disbelief), it applies when we read fan-fiction. We are willing to ignore all of the physical and scientific trivialities that would demand that we question the 'basis' for the writer's assertations. In stories that have characters behaving OOC, we question the reasons why; if there is a logical disclosure of events that lead up to the OOC behaviour, we too, are willing to suspend disbelief to read the story.
What is 'suspended belief' (also known as 'Emotional Reality')? Ms. Jennifer Wand has offered a fair definition as:
Any story, regardless of character presentation, needs to display character development. What do I mean by development? Growth in emotional maturity? There are many factors that influence the concept of development: physical maturity, social development, emotional maturity. Stories that feature character development have captivated me simply because any story where the character has learned nothing does not capture my attention. A great part of reading fan-fiction is to see character development aim towards directions in which the canon story would never consider, such as: what-if stories, i.e., what if the Senshi had never defeated Beryl? or what if the relationship between Usagi and Mamoru never existed... We could never see the original TV or manga storyline take this direction but we explore these possibilities in fan-fiction.
There are other times where development of character might be shown in stories that extend beyond the scope of the canon story. These stories might be set before the awakening of the Senshi, i.e., within the Silver Millennium, or some pre-twentieth century time...or after the end of the canon storyline, both near and far futures.
Usually character development has also been seen side-by-side with story or plot-line development. Some of the best writings that have offered insight into various characters have little to no plot. The poetry by Ross TenEyck:
Reflections: Ten'ou Haruka Rabbit, little rabbit, little dumpling-head -- would you believe that I envy you? In all my life, I have truly loved only one other, and the fears of what may someday happen to her are lead in my heart. But you, little slip of a silly girl, how many do you love? Your guards, your prince from Millenia past, the children you meet at school... and me? No doubt; you love so indiscriminately. How can you bear to love so many? Little rabbit, how is it that you are so strong?
I will also point to the short paired limerick by Chris Davies:
There was once a girl name of Rei, Whose temper caused some folk to say, "If she hates her that much, Why doesn't she just clutch Hold of a mallet for to slay?" But these silly folk would not see The love that was within this she For the "sorta clumsy, bit of a crybaby," Meatball-head girl called Usagi. --Chris Davies
-- First posted to the FFML (Fanfic Mailing List) by Richard Lawson on March 17, 1998 as part of the First Annual FFML Anime Limerick Contest
This limerick describes one of Davies' most important views towards the Sailormoon universe in a fashion that is short and succinct.
Similarly, I draw attention to a phrase that has probably been hammered into readers and writers everywhere:
Quality, and not quantity, counts.
Not every large story has been a quality production, and it's much easier to enjoy a short, well-written story than one that is full of errors as well as being overly wordy.
We ask: what does 'well-written' constitute ?
Amanda Anderson points to:
-Grammar and spell checking are a must; as well as formatting.
Of the three requirements/expectations, grammar and spell checking as well as syntax and semantics are first on the list to be discussed. As fanfic readers, we have more often than not encountered an engrossing story (or not) that was riddled with grammar and spelling errors. Not only could we not decipher the descriptions because of spelling errors, but attribution of paragraphs never occured and we would not know who said what!
We don't need to drag out the stories that continually use CAPITALs or else use too much !!!!$#@! punctuation or too little which really makes reading sentences look like a Madonna song so that we are left quite breathless...^_^
Formatting is important to a story as well. I look towards not only the file format as either .txt or .html or .doc but also the presentation of the story. Most stories on the 'Net are saved and read as .txt (a Unicode Text File). Making a story HTML-readable will increase the time to upload and download -- something that is frowned upon by readers that do not read their stories online. One of the most difficult formats would be either .rtf (Rich Text Format) or else a file saved as a .doc (formatted document). Both types of stories cannot be directly read on line; requiring you to either carry the same word-processing program as the fan-fiction writer or else, to have a file editor/viewer.
Story formatting also extends to physical or virtual presentation -- 72 to 78 column format is the best. Any more than 78 and the text flows off of the page. For all of those that write their stories on a word processer, set the font to 'Courier' and the font size to 12. Save the document as 'text with line breaks' in order to keep it as the way it appears on the screen. Only the text and the carriage returns will be saved and no amount of 'fancy' text and formatting will be seen.
Grammar and spell-checking the fan-fiction (as well as having either pre-readers/editors) will go a long way towards making your work passable. A heavy dependence upon computer spell-checkers have meant that certain words will appear as errors and are automatically replaced with another word -- potentially changing the meaning of the entire idea. I offer words from the FFML Guide: How to Write Really Good Fan-fiction by Gary Kleppe (written in response to Richard Lawson and Joseph Palmer's FFML Guide: What Kind of Fanfic Should an Author Create?). [The Lawson/Palmer Guide has been posted to rec.arts.anime.creative as well as to the FTP anime archive].
IS SPELLING IMPORTANT? You bet. Stories with lots of spelling errors are a pain to read. Take the following example: "Oh, Gosunkuge!" Ranma pirred sedductively as she lesuirely stroaked the boy's cheste. "Shou me waht it meens to be a womman!" In the above sentence, the reader is distracted from the scene by the misspelling of "Gosunkugi." The cure for this is to *always* remember to run your fics through electronic spell-check before posting. The above example would be corrected to: "Oh, Gonophore!" Ranma picked selectively as she elusively streaked the boy's chaste. "Shout me want it meets to be a wombat!" Don't forget, its important too pay special attention to you're homonyms, as their awl to easy two get wrong.
While on the topic of proof-reading and pre-reading fanfics, I point to the importance of pre-readers. Writing, like most other activities, is a social effort. Even prior to release for general reading, getting feedback from a proof-reader or pre-reader can dramatically (as well as grammatically) change the story. As a proof-reader/beta-reader, I'll often ask for clarification of story points, or else suggest phrasing. Beta-readers are not only the 'Litmus test' for a fanfic, it's also the first opportunity to get response -- possibly setting in place a positive feedback cycle.
Mailing Lists such as the Fanfic Mailing List are plausible places for writers to request C&C about stories and to ask for editorial help. Other possibilities might include your own peers -- both Net-wise as well as in real-life. One important point is that the reader does *not* need to be familiar with Sailormoon (or any other anime). Independent of anime, the reader can call attention to structure, grammar and continuity questions. There is no magic number for the amount of pre-readers that a writer should have -- three has been said to be a nice number, but I've seen pre-reader lists that stretch for many more...
Sometimes, the C&C and MST's of a fanfic can be as much fun to read as the original work themselves. Postings to the FFML with requests for C&C/MST treatment have netted a site devoted to the MST works themselves: FFML Fun Critiques -- with snappy one-liners that are trademark of the various reviewing teams. If you're lucky, Chris Davies' EFR (Experts Fanfic Review -- consisting of characters from his Together Again stories) may take a look at your story, or else, John Biles and the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 (featuring Ami, Biles, and Bailesu along with a guest) will offer comments. Even among Sailormoon fan-fiction, there are MST teams: vis-a-vis, Sean Gaffney and his Senshi counterpart, Tomoe Hotaru reviewed Chris Davies' Together Again: 1996 chapters; Flashman and his team (his favourite Sailors: Pluto, Moon, and Sakura ^_^) -- reviewed Doug Helm and Will Wolfshohl's Mama's Hand (all twenty-five chapters).
Levar Bouyer noted that there were only two posted MST's of Sailormoon fan-fiction, as opposed to the many MST's of SM lemon/hentai fan-fiction. Megane 6.7 has taken aim at some of the poorer cousins of lemon fanfics (including Artemis' Lover). The latest addition to SM MSTs would be Sailor Mac and Mark Berger combined, they've reviewed and MST-ed the later works within the lemon archives.
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