Do you need a firm grasp of alliteration, plot construction, characterisation, and every literary trick of the trade before you can embark on your first Blake's 7 fan-fiction? Absolutely not (although a sound grasp of spelling and punctuation is pretty much essential, if you want to be read as well as to write!) The ability to analyse the plot structure, characterization and so on mostly comes afterwards, as a way of rationalising what you've learnt to do — the most important thing is that you have to tell a story. Tell it through someone 's eyes — see it as they see it (even when they see it wrong) — tell your hearers what you're seeing, and make them want to know what happens next.
It can help to identify the theme of your story, in addition to the plot. The theme is what a story is basically 'about', and can often be summed up in a single word, even for a complex plot; the action during "A Tale of Tw o Cities" covers twenty years and encompasses dozens of characters, but the recurring theme of the book is the simple one of self-sacrifice.
Don't go straight in for character wallow. It's self-indulgent, and fans need a lot of skill to get away with it. (Sadly, this never stopped most of them....) Take a tip from the pros: when Terry Nation does Avon-angst, he does it against the backdrop of a ticking bomb to keep the pace moving!
Read your dialogue out loud; better, write it out loud. That way, you won't be tempted into constructing turgid platitudes that no-one would ever say with a straight face. Emote by omission, by stillness and by sudden shock, not by adverbs. Don't let your characters gush - they never do so onscreen — and don't make them over-sympathetic (in both senses of the word). A certain cynical edge is what distinguishes Blake's 7 from Star Trek. Don't write Avon as a shining knight; you will only embarrass him :-)
If possible, work out what's wrong with the stories you don't like, and don't do it! (Trying to emulate the qualities of your favourite fiction is rather less likely to lead to success, since your own talents may not lie in the same direction.)
In fan-fiction rather than original work, however gripping your plot, perhaps the most important thing is getting the characters right. After all, the screen characters are what your readers have come to see, or they wouldn't be reading this genre. What would Cally do in this situation? — then that's what must have happened to her. What would Vila say? — then that's what he came out with. It's interesting to have people acting out of character, but it doesn't work unless you've first established them in-character!
Dialogue is important. Getting the dialogue right is the quickest short-cut to establishing character (but don't over-use cliches like "Well now"; use the speech patterns, not exact quotes). Getting the dialogue wrong will usually wreck the whole thing. I can only think of one writer who writes a good story and gets away with spoiling it by clumsy dialogue — Margaret Scroggs. And her only real 'crime' was an awkward addiction to exclamation marks.
If you're going to use original characters (and by all means do) then make them real, whole people, not just 'Rebel No.1' or 'Generic Brutal Trooper'. Think of the Federation officers monitoring the control-room in "Rumours of Death". Think of Kasabi in "Pressure Point", or Chenie in "Gambit". Their existence doesn't begin and end with their plot function. They have families, beliefs or loyalties before the episode ever starts (although given the average body-count among incidental characters, rarely do so after it ends!)
Describe surroundings. A tip I was once given: if you can't imagine a suitable SF location in detail, then base your setting on somewhere that you have been. In that case, large industrial buildings — while my description of the surface of the planet in "Not to Know" was actually based largely on deserted Welsh slate-mines.... If your scene takes place in the Liberator, then visualise where exactly people are. Don't just have 'talking heads'.
If possible, give descriptions through characters' own eyes: what they notice about a landscape will depend on their own past experience. Vila will be more comfortable in a grimy backstreet setting than in a pristine wilderness, while Dayna's reactions will be the opposite. Cally might see a field with an eye for cover and ambush; Jenna might see it as a good or bad landing site.
When it comes down to it, writing is surprisingly like poetry. The aim is to recreate for the reader the sensations of the writer's captured moment, as if he too were there — and to do this, the writer has to be there, even if only for an instant, as in a remembered dream. To be an author is to be a world-builder... a god of creation. :-)
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Last changed on 26th of June 2004