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A Long Strange Walk: A Guide to Fanfiction Writing


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Okay, class is now in session!
'Yes, I'm your teacher. And, no, I don't think my watching anime has
distorted my sense of reality.' - Elsa Bibat

    The opinions are by me alone. Hear that, me. So you might disagree, but I once again repeat this is just me and free speech is my middle name, so if you don't like it do with as you will. Oh, by the way, Andrew Huang's essays and posts were a great help as well with Mike Loader's essay and quite a few others. But mainly this stuff is by me and since I am not infallible I have the privilege to make a mistake. Please send mail to me privately if your flame is going to be as hot as
wasabi. If not, post it to the ML!


Essay written by Elsa Bibat, while in a state of writer's block

Intro (or, Got Your Backpack Ready?)

   Oh, hello there! To those who've been on the FFML for awhile you should know me. I'm the nut who reviews the fics that get submitted to the Synopsis List. To those who're new to this fanfic thingie, I'd like to introduce myself.
   The name's Elsa Bibat, sometime contributor of fanfics to the ML and reviewer at large. As I said I'm one of the resident nuts here in the FFML. To the new members who have the very unfortunate chance of getting this as there first post from the FFML, I give my sincere condolences. Anyway, as the byline says, the Block has hit me. Currently in my fanfics, Hotaru Tomoe is in a conversation with her father; Dark Mercury is doing something icky; Kaeri, the immortal gunslinger, is about to be blown to bits; Usagi Tsukino is about to drink a goblet of blood; Lina Yanazaki is dating Quincy's nephew and all the stuff that we fanfic writers like to do to the hapless characters of the anime world. And they're trapped in stasis for awhile as I try to get my brain unscrambled.

    So I'd like to take a little trip. Well, little may not describe it since I'm going to go look around at the things that comprise our little hobby which is fanfiction. To be exact, anime fanfiction. I'll also be answering the question of what the hell is a twenty-one year old college graduate doing this sort of stuff when they're better off going full time on a job.
    So I'll do something that Stephen King did for me quite a few years back. He asked me to dance. This time instead of asking you to a dance, I'm asking you to join me on a little trip. Yeah, that's a pretty big piece of real estate we'll be walking through. But, hey, you've got me with you. And besides I'm really cute if I wanna be.
    So, you've got your backpack hitched up? Let's go.
    By the way, don't forget Ryouga's umbrella.

Let Us Begin (or, A Slight Recap)

    To those seasoned professionals out there you might want to skip this chapter. This is a slight recap of the basics of the fanfic world.

    Ok, the oldtimers are off to the next section, so you newbies'll have to listen and listen good. Fanfiction is, to put it in academic, a branch of literature that is written based off of original ideas. People who usually do this are fanatic devotees of the idea. The ideas are usually from movies, books, or, as in our case here at the FFML, anime and manga.
    To put it in simple language, this body of work is entirely comprised of works by fans of the original work. Most of the time this is done without the permission of the creator. In answer to those who are saying that this is illegal, yes, it is.  So after this meeting you will be contacted by the FFML Moderators and they'll put you in a safe house.
    Sorry, just kidding.  But really, what we're doing is totally illegal. The only thing that is stopping the cops from breaking down our doors is the fact that we don't get any money from this.  So, another lesson for the nuts out there who think they can make money off fanfiction.  I have an interesting anecdote about that, but I don't want to embarass anyone.

    Now back to the lecture.  Fanfiction, as you already know, is based on already existing material and written by fans of the work. The quality of these works are usually decided by the those fans who choose to write it.  This is well and good, because of the diversity of the fans. You might get a fanfic which is intended to be a continuation of the original series to another which creates another timeline for the original work. Sadly, this also means that there is a possibility of total idiots making fanfics. Ask any of the oldtimers about Artemis' Lover; they'll tell you how evil it is.
    Fanfics are usually divided by genre. I have my own weird personal division system for all fanfiction. I divide them by these genres: Continuation, Original Flavor, WAFF, Alternate Timeline, Dark, Crossover, Unusual Setting, Self Insert, Parody/Humor, Original and the ever-popular Lemon. They are further subdivided into subgenres and the like, but these are the basics.  We'll be discussing these in a while, so hold on.

    Well, recruits, the briefing's over. Time to join the veterans.

What The Hell is WAFF? (or, Fanfic Genres)

   Well, now since everyone's up to speed time to get into business. I think the elders here will try to kill me for this, but hey my writer's block is still here so I might as well babble until it gets removed.
    The genres I stated above need some explanation, I think. Ok, here goes nothing. If I seem to go nuts in the following paragraphs please ignore me and just enjoy the scenery.

    I have decided to divide fanfiction into ten genres as stated above.   I'll try to explain each genre, give an example and explain some more.  I sure hope I finish before the sun rises.

   The first genre, the Continuation. It is mostly what the name suggests. It is a continuation of the original series. Such works are signs of great dedication. Hell, if you asked me to work on something as comprehensive as Kimagure Orange College or Daigakusei No Ranma, I'd probably threaten you with a BFG and say "Are you crazy?"  These works are signs of great love from the authors who work on these monsters. These are all multikilobyte works, ranging from at least 500 kb to megabytes. Hell, the guys who've wrote this have put in serious hours.  All of the Continuation works I've encountered are, I thank the heavens, very good. The two above are the descriptions of the college life of the characters of their respective series, though KOC focuses on Ayukawa and Kyosuke. Evangelion R is at the very least one of the best pieces of NGE fanfiction and fanfiction in general.  It doesn't hurt that their webpage is a visual treat and their work is used with permission. Yes, you heard me with. Though that would mean it isn't technically fanfiction then, wouldn't it?

    The next one, which is usually confused with Continuation is Original Flavor. This genre is by far one of the most popular. Fanfics are usually like this.  Original flavor keeps the flavor of the show but do not continue it. These are what you usually get from the normal fanfic writer. Yes, those fics were the normal hi-jinks of the show usually ensue sometimes with a new character added to the mix. Sometimes these are flashbacks to times and places that are not covered by the anime or manga. The difference between Continuation and Original Flavor is that the Continuation really continues the fic, a logical progression. That's the difference between, for example, DnR and Cris Angel's Siblings. DnR has new characters but the setting has changed drastically (Ranma and co. are in college), while in Siblings they're still in High School. DnR moves with time since it continues, Siblings stops at a set time.  The difference between them is kinda like the difference between an entire series and an OAV. Since the genre is popular you have tons of this stuff coming out. Usually most of the fics that come out are good enough, some even are classics. But as there are always a few bad apples, there are some terrible,terrible fics out there. I won't name names--you know who you are.

    On with the next. WAFF is an acronym for Warm And Fuzzy Feeling. That's what you get from reading this fic. You feel the urge to curl up with someone you love and cuddle. Since I usually don't have anyone, I usually use my pillow.  Anyway, prime example is the entire Seasons series and Colors series by Joseph Palmer. This guy makes you feel goooooood. Usually when I'm depressed I read his stuff and after that I'm all right. That's what a WAFF should be. Let's you feel the love oozing from each scene.

    OK, enough with that. Next, we've got Alternate Timeline. This means the fanfic writer pulled a fast one over Sailor Pluto and changed the original timeline to reflect his or her twisted needs. The Elseworlds series by John Biles and Shampoo½ by D.B. Sommer are prime examples of temporal manipulation. This is another favorite genre since people always wonder what would have happened if Genma died, Ranma was born a girl and all that stuff. There are some very good stuff like this but the situation is the same with Original Flavor.  There is some really bad stuff out there. Be afraid.

    Now this is a genre that I've come to mildly dislike. Yeah, unbiased as I am I usually hate it when some nut out there kills a character I like.  Yes, folks we've come to the Dark genre or more popularly as the Darkfic.   Anyway, a perfect example of this genre is Zen's Bitter End. I wasn't there when it was released but I bet the fans must have tried to hunt you down, Zen.  Anyway, this fic is also probably what made the darkfic vogue. Tons of darkfics have come out after Bitter End, but nothing has been able to match it , in my opinion. The darkfic is a very grim affair indeed. It is usually filled with death, insanity and tons of angst. To those who really don't like seeing their heroes slaughtered or emotionally and mentally scarred for life don't try to read anything with a [Dark] tag or warning.

    The next genre is another one of the favorites. The Crossover genre has a lot of classic fics under it's belt. It is also one filled with some of the most idiotic examples of fanfiction out there. To create even an average crossover fic needs skill. Lots of it. As someone once told me about writing crossovers, you better pray you survive the experience. Some crossovers have no logic behind them, no rhyme or reason to the crossover happening.  But in the hands of a master a crossover is a literary treat. Cris Davies' Together Again, Lurker's Onna: Red Side and, IMHO the best of all crossovers, John Biles' Dance of Shiva, are some of the best. Under expert hands a crossover becomes an epic of sweeping proportions. Under an idiot's, you get a twisted piece of sewn together parts that rival Frankenstein's Monster.
    We're not moving yet to the next genre since we really have to discuss the Crossover's subgenre, the Fusion. Fusions are what result if you throw in one series with another one into a blender and press "MAXIMUM PUREE".   The results are usually masterful like Curtiss Nelson's Night Sabers, but some are akin to the results of throwing mango, avocado and bananas into the aforementioned blender and pressing the button again.

    OK. NEXT! Unusual Setting is what happens if you put the characters into very unusual places. Mark Doherty's still uncontinued fic (take a hint, Mark), Knights of the Saber is a prime example. Putting the Knight Sabers in a medieval environment, NGE in a steampunk world and Ranma½ in the far future are just a few examples. My advice with this is the same with the Fusion. Try not to get Mangvocadonana on your shirt. It's really hard to clean off.

    Then something that we've all either consciously or unconsciously guilty of, the Self Insert. Come on, don't tell me you don't want to mess around with your favorite anime heroes lives? That's the basic premise of the SI. All of us have did it in our imaginations. The guys who do this stuff are just taking it one step further. It puts the author into the anime world. There are two types of this stuff: You're a god-like being that can kick anyone's ass or you're just an ordinary guy with some really neat talents. The first type I personally dislike, I go for the second one since I go for at least a little realism. Not that I don't like the SI's winning, I just want them to go through hell to win. Case in point, Bert Van Vliet's excellent fic The Bubblegum Zone. Bert is hurt physically,emotionally and mentally and that's what I want. That the SI get's hurt. I dont like it because I'm a sadist but because I like the fact that they jumped dimensions but that doesn't mean they can win everything. And a note about the SI genre, it is also the genre of a classic of the fanfiction universe, Undocumented Features.  Now that is a fic.

    Next is the Parody/Humor genre. To the new guys on the FFML here, you're in for a real treat. Go up in your Inbox. I'm willing to bet that there's something there from a guy named Ryoucilo. Read it. I'll wait till you finish. Ryoucilo is one of the best writers of short, funny and often really sick pieces of the Humor genre. I think you guys need more of an example. I think something bigger like John Biles' Lemon Sherbet would be it. It is one of the best examples of a really big humor fic. It must have been hard to maintain that humor for 13 chapters.

    The next one is a very tricky genre. It is the Original. It takes elements from an existing anime but it starts with totally new characters, totally new storyline and all that. This is a very rare genre, since people most of the time really aren't interested in the adventures of people they don't already know about. James Eade's Macho Caballo is a prime example. It borrows the Jusenkyo curse from Ranma½, modifies it and plops it down with new characters into Mexico. Kinda like Ranma without the martial arts, fiancees and it's a Western to boot. I recommend it to anyone.   But the rest of the Origs...well, let's just say there's an occasional gem, but hell, how in heaven's name could you find it in a mountain of garbage?

    The final one is the Lemon genre. To the newbies this is a kind of fic that makes you all tingly. Sex usually fills the entire fic (a prime example of that is Larry Mann and Kris Overstreet's sexfest Bubblegum Pink), but I personally prefer Caroline Seawright's Ranma Nibunnoichi series. And I do really like Cindy Toler's and Lara Bartram's lemon works. How good a lemon is dependent on the reader if you know what I'm talking about.

    Well, we've finished my rant on that. Onward!

Fanfic Writers Anonymous (or, A Brief Anecdote)

    Since you're stuck with me for awhile and since the block isn't going to suddenly disappear in a puff of magic smoke, I might as well tell you how I ended up on the FFML. By the way, got a cigarette?
    No? Oh well, that's all right. Anyway, where was I? Ah, yes. To really get into the roots of why I'm here is let's begin how I began watching anime.
    Awhile back, I didn't care for anime. I thought, it's just cartoons for heaven's sake! Heck, I didn't even know what anime was. Well, all that changed one Saturday afternoon. I was bored so I turned on the TV. Click. Drama. Blech. Click. Agricultural program. Boring. Click. Idiotic children's show. I'm too old for this. Click. That's when I saw IT.
    IT was a short skirted girl with really weird head ornaments fighting a monster. Yep, you guessed it. Sailor Moon. Here in this corner of the world they dubbed it. Usagi was called Bunny and she had this really whiny kind of voice. Anyway, I wasn't immediately interested but since there was nothing else to watch...hey, why not? After a few Saturday afternoons watching I was hooked. I had friend who were really into anime so borrowed from them a few times and I even managed to buy some anime stuff from a local comic store. Heck, I sweated blood for the anime picked up. Now how I ended up here on the FFML is next.
    After awhile, my family got an Internet connection. Well, I was delighted as I hooked it up and set everything up. When everything was OK, I started up and logged on. The very first thing I did was do a search on anime. One of my search results was the Anime Web Turnpike. I went there and went nuts as I went around looking at some of the stuff. Anyway, back then I was in a Ranma½ phase so I started another search on Ranma. What I got is something I never forgot. On my first search result were the words: Ranma 2096. Ranma 2096? That seems interesting. I'll take a look. And thus I was introduced to the weird realm of anime fanfiction.
    Yeah, it was kinda cool seeing all this stuff. So I got the files from the web page and started to read. Once again, I was hooked.
    I visited the Anime Turnpike and looked around for some more of the interesting stuff called fanfiction. Well, in the early days I went through Andrew Huang's page, Mark Doherty's and some of the others I forgot.I tried to visit Biles' page once back then but my browser was slow and stupid back then so when I waited for awhile and nothing showed up I decided to go elsewhere (nowadays, I can visit Biles' page anytime I want). Anyway I got on the FFML when I think I got a copy of Careful Destiny from its homepage. I saw something at the bottom of the page about something called the FFML. I decided to join since I wasn't getting much mail anyway and the idea was interesting. And that's how I ended up on the FFML.

    Not much of a story ain't it? Anyway that's to clear a few things in my head and my block is still there so this time I'll discuss on fanfiction again.

Are You Crazy? (or, Writing Fanfiction)

    OK, so you read a few of this fanfiction stuff and you think you could do better? Well, alright everyone's got a right to try, but fanfic writing is some thing to be taken a lightly. Well, yeah the Ryoucilo fic looked easy but you have to think of the hours that he must have put in to write something that sick and funny.   Yeah, it could have come naturally but not everyone has fics coming to naturally to him or her.
    Anyway, let us begin by deciding what to write. You could write about any anime or manga that you want, no matter how obscure it is. If you're a fan of it, then that qualifies. Anyway you should know about the series too. If you don't know anything about it, how do you expect to write about it?
    You've chosen your series then let me tell you about a few things. Always include a disclaimer. It may not legally get you out of trouble, but it's a sign of respect to the original writer if he or she ever read your stuff. Next is somewhat of a personal philosophy: if you're gonna do something, do it well! If you're gonna write something do it to the best of your abilities. That's something I hate. If you do something go for it with the best that you got. If you're just gonna write a so-and-so work if you could have done a masterpiece then you have no place here! If you're gonna write a fanfic, it's a show of love for the original work. Hell, it's an insult to the original if you don't put your heart into it. And putting your heart into it is something that makes a piece of fanfiction great. In the best fanworks you can feel that they love the original and they're showing it in their own way.
    Now on with the next thing. This is a common failing of fanfic writers. Make your work clean! What do I mean by clean? I mean that in a grammatical sense. Look, some of the works that I've seen come out here on the FFML are littered by typos, misspellings and all the things people consider as the little things.  Well, I'm someone who notices the little things. A fic is also judged by how visually presentable it is. Case in point: if you would notice some of the best fanficwriters out there have incredibly tidy fics. Nice format, only a few typos which are then fixed before they're posted or are unnoticeable, minor misspellings only and they're common mistakes. But that also works on the opposite. Some of the most pathetic and stupid examples of fanfiction are littered by misspellings and grammar mistakes that even a eight-year old won't make. And what's really sad is sometimes a very good fic comes out, original idea and all that but is plagued by the above mistakes.
  To everyone out there who usually make these mistakes, get a copy of Strunk and White's Elements of Style. If you're gonna write bad fanfiction at least make it a grammatically correct and presentable bad work of fanfiction.

    Well, I'll help you in the basics of writing. You should know a little plots and all that sort of stuff.
    First, let's begin with plot. There is a big difference between story and plot. Story is "Ranma died then Akane died". Plot is "Ranma died and in her grief, Akane killed herself ". Plot is made up of three C's: Causality, Character, and Complication. The first two are illustrated in my sample plot. Causality is the fact that Akane killed herself because Ranma died. You have a reason for the action. It means everything should be set off in a chain reaction of events leading up to the end; A must lead to B and etc.
    Character is shown by Akane killing herself in grief, it is a characterization of Akane. Everyting event in your chain should be logical that means it also depends on the character. Case in point, in Chris Angel's Shieldsman, Crimson does his suicide attack to protect the woman he loves, Sailor Mars. Chris' characterization of Crimson helps in giving this action a motive. If Crimson were portrayed as a total unfeeling bastard then his suicidal action would have not meshed with the plot. Thus a good characterization helps the plot in many ways.
    The final C is Complication. Or much easier to understand, it is the conflict in the plot. It is the problems that the characters face. Now, in a normal long work of fiction, when a complication is solved, the characters must face further complications getting worse until we reach the climax of the work. Like a staircase, each step is a complication and a goal and the top is the climax. For an example, we have John Biles' excellent Dance of Shiva. Each chapter new complications which are overcome until it leads to the final confrontation against SHIVA and his minions. See also Rob Barba's The Tales of Shampoo, Vol 2: The Phoenix Eye Saga for the masterful use of complications.
    Well, that is plot. Now let us go to plotting. Plot is the basic outline of the story. Plotting is how you tell the story. The three pillars of plotting are pace, point of view and continuity. Pace gives how fast you get from point A to point B in your plot. It gives how you set up scenes.   If you're gonna write a 50 page battle sequence where a 5 page one would have worked is wrong pacing. If you introduce a scene with a sentence when it needs a paragraph to setup is wrong pacing. Right pacing is setting it up so that the reader is neither caught off guard or bored by a scene. RpM's works are all excellent examples of pacing, especially his Act 2 of TPOH, The King of Nerima. Next is your Point of View. It relates to pacing in that the POV gives information out in increments influenced by the knowledge of the character. Andrew Huang's I Musn't Run Away succeeds in this by using Shinji's POV, enhancing the overall effect and setting the pace of the story to Shinji's POV.
    The two pillars above can be ignored or bended to one's needs but the final one can't. Continuity is the feeling of togetherness,wholeness of the entire piece of work. It's not just how tall the character is or what he wears, it's the weaving of the plot. John Biles' work are primary examples of continuity. Each plot point connects with the other plot points in a seamless tapestry of a literary masterpiece. Along with Chris Davies, Biles is a master of interweaving plots.

    Well, OK,enough with plot points. Let us begin on a subject that is very near to the heart of many fic writers, that is the characters and characterization. Let us begin with the characters from the series you're writing about and their characterization. As the hilarious How To Write Really Good Fanfiction says on the chracterization of the characters "You can't...just try to fake it." And that's good advice. You really can't be expected to make a perfect chracterization for characters you didn't create. Just do your best at what you interpret as their characterization. Heck, there are enough people here on the FFML who'll shoot you if you make a mistake, so why worry? The teeming masses will judge if your Ranma or Usagi is out of character or not--though please try to stick to what they're supposed to be.
    Well, next is we discuss original characters. Yes, those new guys that the authors introduce down the line. We're in luck today, by the way. See that pick-up truck? Hold out you hand like this and if it's who I think it is....
    Okay, Mike, we're gonna hitch a ride with you awhile then I'll explain some of your points in more detail.

How Not To Write An Annoying New Character
by Mike Loader

There's been a lot of discussion on the ML lately of new characters, self-insertions, and other things of that ilk. The topic's a pet peeve/concern of mine, and hence you get the following essay.

A disclaimer: I make no pretense of being the sole authority on fanfiction. This is all my opinion, and I reserve the right to be completely and totally wrong.

So you've decided to write your very own fanfic. You have the motivation. You have the talent. You have the spare time. You even have the plot: a mysterious teenager shows up at the Tendo Dojo one day, and...

Right. Stop right there.

There's nothing wrong with adding a new character to a fic. All of the greats have done it, to various degrees of success, and it helps add a bit of uniqueness to the field. However, be aware that this character will make or break the fic, and if you do it incorrectly you'll get autodeletes faster than you can say "Jusenkyo curse".

So how do you make a memorable character? Well, first, here's what NOT to do.

Don't have the fic revolve around the character. This is a horrible, almost always-fatal mistake. Your audience, as a rule, doesn't care one fig for the new guy until he grows on them, and if the plot involves him from the get-go you'll have your masterpiece consigned to the Great Fanfic Dustheap.

For an example, I offer The More Things Change by RpM, one of the greats of fanfiction. TMTC contains Ryo Muhoshin, one of the most famous and memorable new characters, with his very own fan base and art galleries.

And yet, TMTC and it's sequel are not about Ryo and his encounters in Nerima. It's a story about Ryouga and Ukyou. Ryo becomes a major factor in this, true, but it's a gradual process, and he never quite takes center stage.

Why should Ranma & Co care? Your new guy shows up. He says hi. He's a martial artist. Well, big deal. Ranma & Co have their own problems, and new martial artists usually mean trouble. They aren't going to immediately latch on to him, invite him to stay in the dojo, etc. By doing so, all you're doing is insulting the reader's grasp of character development.

It's perfectly possible for the Nerima regulars to get to know a new character. But, as in real life, it takes time.

For that matter, are you even certain you want your character to be best buddies with Ranma? It smacks of wish-fulfillment, to be honest, and it limits the plot to some degree. For a truly original character, try someone who Ranma trusts just as far as he can throw him, and vice versa. Good guys, after all, don't have to be on the same side.

Play with a handicap. Take a hint from Takahashi herself. Most, if not all, of her characters have a fatal flaw or two. Ranma is arrogant and too quick to talk. Ryouga has that little navigational problem, a quick temper, and is constantly taken
in by Ranma's ploys. Shampoo talks funny and has irritating mannerisms. Mousse is half blind, and makes a fool of himself over Shamps.

Perfect characters are boring, folks. I don't wanna read about a person who's good, nice, caring, considerate, and a decent martial artist. I want to read about someone like Lardizabal from DnR, who's an out-and-out rotter at times, can't fight worth spit while not drunk, and can be truly obnoxious. (Note that even the author admits, however, that his introduction could have been handled better.) Or Skeride from Ranma 2096, who's basically a good person but who'd kill Akane at the drop of a hat if she found she was a ghost. Even the pros have trouble with this, at times - ask Richard Lawson about the comments he got on his initial version of Nouma.

Personality flaws are what bring out the life in a character. Ability flaws help bring out plot. Would Mousse be as interesting if he wasn't constantly mistaking hatracks for humans? Don't be afraid to give your creation a defect that makes him seem, at times, like an idiot.

Keep in mind that, as a rule, a Jusenkyo curse is NOT a flaw. It's wish-fulfillment. Admit it, it'd be neat to be able to turn into something else with a splash of cold water, especially something impressive, like a hawk or a tiger or a wolf. Bleah. If you want to give your new guy a curse, make it something that truly is a detriment. Spring of Drowned Hamster, anyone?  SoD Banana Slug?

Why are we here? Don't just have your fellow show up at the dojo to train. I mean, please, at least make it look like you put some thought into it. Original characters need motives, and ones that don't make the audience hit the 'd' key.

Revenge? Well, it's been done. Repeatedly. By Takahashi and by fanfic writers. If you go this route, take a tip from a master and examine the introduction of Ryo Muhoshin in TMTC.

Ryo makes his plans. He makes his attack.

He gets the living spit beat out of him. There's no "why are you doing this? Let's work things out!" No, Ryo gets a royal thrashing from a very irate Ranma Saotome.

And after the attack, aside from a idle thought or two, no-one gives much thought or worry to why he tried to kill Ryouga. Because this is normal in Nerima. Another day, another wacky villain.

Your motive should fit into the larger plot of the fanfic.  It helps a lot if the character has a tie to Nerima somehow. One fic featured Kuno's cousin, who was very well presented. It doesn't need to be a blood tie either: Noriko, in Raph See's fic
Scoop of the Day, is the editor of the Furinkan newspaper. Make the new character an old one, someone who's been around the entire series but who we've never seen. One of Nabiki's henchmen. One of Kuno's Kendoists.

Resist the urge to make the character a tragic figure, bursting with angst. This, too, is the dreaded wish-fulfillment, to be avoided at all costs. It's in the same category as daydreams of how sorry everyone would be if you died, or went blind. Fine as daydreams go, but don't inflict them on the rest of us.

Power. How much of it should your character have? Ranma½ is a story about martial artists, so it's reasonable to expect that your new guy might be one himself. But how good?

Well, a lot of the answer to that depends on what sort of fellow he is. Villains, as a rule, are allowed to be more formidable. If your character is on the side of the angels, however, I'd recommend halting his power level around somewhere between Akane and Ukyou.

Why, you ask? Well... there's something about ultrapowerful people that get one's teeth on edge. Then too, remember, the spotlight isn't supposed to be on your new creation. He's supporting cast, not the star.

In the end, it's hard to pin down specific reasons for limiting the power level. But the results are there. Readers will sympathize a lot more with your character if he isn't the new God of Martial Arts.

In fact, are you even sure you want him to be a martial artist? Not that there's anything wrong with this, but non-fighters can be just as dangerous. Ratiko, from Ranma 2096, is out of shape. Heck, look at Nabiki. She outmaneuvers the cast on a daily basis without a bit of physical might to back it up. You want a villain, a scary one? Picture a Nabikilike plotter-
manipulator actively out to make life miserable for the rest of the cast.

Love and Relationships. There are plenty of single, attractive men and women in the Ranmaverse. It's tempting to pair up your creation with one.

If you choose to do so, do it over time. Large amounts of time. If Nabiki is glomping your character by the third or fourth episode, you're doing something wrong.

Why? Because relationships between a cast member and a new character are a source of scrutiny by the readers, who will be waiting to pin the dreaded twin flags of wish-fulfillment and OOC. The way you avoid this is by making the relationship as realistic as possible, something that is unsought for; which begins as friendship and slowly blossoms. And we do mean slowly.

Friendships may, at first, seem less worrisome than a romance. Don't be fooled by this. Avoid having Ranma & Co become best buddies with your new guy at the drop of a hat. Make it clear that although he may be likable enough, most of them will cheerfully ignore and take advantage of him if the situation calls for it.

Remember that in the Ranmaverse, your 'friends' have a habit of trying to kill you, trying to drug you, trying to erase your memory, etc.

Keep in mind that there are factions at work. If Shampoo sees the new guy talking with Akane, her first reactions will be unfavorable. She may even make the Takahashi Martial Artist Standing High Jump To Conclusions and label the new guy as a friend of Akane's and, hence, her enemy.

One sign of a poorly-done new character is a lack of people in the normal cast who aren't friendly towards him. If everyone likes the new guy, you blew it. Apathy and hostility should be the rule from this crowd.

Self-insertions. This is a genre that requires considerable care.

Take all the rules above, and escalate them. Extremely.

If you've been picked up and plopped down in the Ranmaverse, do not give yourself martial arts skills. None. Nil. They won't do you a whit of good. Even if you have them in real life, edit
them out.

Why? Well, simply because it's ludicrous to expect that you could beat any of the cast. Or even hold your own.

Let's look at the weakest of the regulars, Tendo Akane. This is a person who's been training since childhood in an advanced, family school. She has at very least a black belt, and very probably several Dan ratings. She breaks bricks with her bare hands for jollies. Before Ranma came, she defeated multiple attackers (some of whom were sumo types and kendoists) every day without them ever posing a serious threat to her.

I don't care what belt you have in real life. Unless people call you 'sensei' on a regular basis, Akane will wipe the floor with you. And she's years away from the level of Ranma, Ryouga, and Shampoo.

Besides, you have an advantage already, that being your knowledge of the series. Set me down in Nerima with only a knowledge of Japanese and the clothes on my back, and I could kill almost every cast member within five days. Face it, folks, it's a powder keg waiting for a few judicious sparks.

Avoid super powers. Self-insertion is will-fulfillment by definition, but there's no need to be blatant about it.

A note on gaijin protagonists. If the character in your story is one, everyone will automatically assume it to be a self-insertion. Whether it is or not. Just ask Greg Sandborn.

Self-insertion is best done with a sense of humor. There should always be a "we're not really serious here, this is a put-on" air about it. If your fic is funny, people will forgive a lot. If your character spews drama and angst, well, it's D-key

Never come across as wiser than the cast. It may well be true, but this irritates the audience to no end. Nobody likes to see people blow their own horns.

Try to keep romantic entanglements to a minimum. If you really must have romance, try another original character, or one of the background ones.

In closing. Not all of these rules, of course, are absolute. Greg Sandborn breaks several of them in Nabiki: New Horizons and still turns out a first-rate story. However, I humbly submit that following the above guidelines will produce not only a better fic than otherwise, but a greater positive responce.

    Thanks, Mike !
    OK, Mike Loader just told you some of the basics of the original character. Though intended for the Ranma½ series it also applies for any series. I once got some really interesting advice concerning characters to make them memorable from Chris Willmore, that is make them as weak and psychologically messed up as possible. This, he says, makes for more interesting characters. Taking a look at Chris' Ranma 2096 series, the most memorable characters there have really problems. That's what makes them memorable. Though you could do some other details that would make the character memorable; a strange hobby like collecting mushrooms or a distinct quirk like nyctophobia can go along way in making your character memorable. Remember, a balanced character has both good and bad traits. If he has a very good skill he also must have a  very big disability, kinda like Ranma's Nekoken.

   A subset of the original characters are the villains that you introduce. Yeah, you can make them bad to the bone like another run of the mill villain or you could do something to make them more memorable. 
    And what is that you ask ? Well, let us look at some of the most memorable fictional villains and I'll show the trait that makes them that. Hannibal Lecter is a cannibal but he is also a gentleman.  Don Corleone from The Godfather is a person who likes to play with his grandson and orders horse heads to be put into a person's bed.  Faber in Ken Follet's Eye of The Needle hates killing women. And to paraphrase someone's opinion: Lady Macbeth may be the most ruthless villainess of all time but she's not all that bad. She has a conscience. Yeah, it maybe as big as a spot but she still has one. And that's what makes her more memorable. In her closing speech as she scrubs her hand trying to get rid of the imaginary spot, she becomes, for a moment, an object of pity than contempt.
    In something closer to home, in Rob Barba's sidestory to TOS2, Mango (one of the villains) slaughters an entire village.  All that is left is one single girl. For a moment, a brief one yet the most powerful in the entire story, Mango considers adopting the child, raising her and living an ordinary life away from killing and death.  But the rage within Mango returns and she kills the child, in the most quick and painless way she can.
    Now that is a villain.

    What does that mean ? Make the reader like the villain, even for a brief moment give the guy a break and make him show a little humanity. RpM's Ryo Muhoshin and Mark Doherty's Emerald are prime examples of this principle for me. I like them, I really can't help myself but like them. And that applies also with the heroes.
    That's what I try to do: Every hero somehow has a small devil on his shoulder and every villain has a tarnished, sometimes very tarnished, halo.

    OK, I'm making a little section for beginning fic writers. I've noticed a few common mistakes by newbies, so I think I should help a bit. One is concerning modifiers, some of you new guys either describe too much or describe too little. You must learn to strike a balance.
    The next one is a common mistake about new characters. When you right a new character, you're not writing yourself, except if it's an insert.  Yeah, it all begins with the character looking like you then you'll end up with a thinly veiled otakufic. To practice, write up a character that's your total opposite. If you're man write a woman.   If you like chocolate, make the character allergic to chocolate. It's good practice for characteriztions, too. Heh, as a little challenge to you guys, try writing up a fic with a new character like that.
    Anyway, another one is the too quick shifting of viewpoints. If you're gonna change the POV, at least warn us in advance, with a marker like this




or whatever you like.

A Last Dance (or, In Conclusion)

    Well, see that place up ahead? Just set your backpack to the side  and follow me. By the way, give Ryouga his umbrella. He's inside, playing the piano.
    Well, here we are at the very last of our little trip. Do you know what I'm gonna conclude with? Well, why we're here of course. It's gonna  take awhile to explain and Ryouga is playing my favorite tune, so let's dance. Oh, I don't care if you're taller or shorter than me. <snap fingers> There, were the same height. Just put your hands on my hips and we'll talk as we dance.
    Well, there are many reasons why we're here, but the biggest is we love anime.  We love the flights of fancy they give us, the dreams they make us envision. The adventures of skimpily skirted girls fighting evil in the moonlight.  The dangers that women in hardsuits in the far future face. The lives and loves of martial artists in a small district in Tokyo.
    We love all of them in our own weird way. We love to see them face new dangers, meet new friends in the worlds that some of us create. There are many ways to love. John Biles and Chris Davies show their love of them by creating a magnificent world for them to live. The Eyrie guys and Bert Van Vliet showed their love of them by living with them. Heck, I bet even Zen and DDFA loved them when they created their respective dark masterpieces. All of us love them, each in our own strange and sometimes twisted way, as attested by some of the character churches I visited on the web.
    We wouldn't be here if we didn't love them.  We'd be out there,slaving away in the real world, beyond the realms of fantasy. Away from the fun we can experience in their company. All of us, I think are either still children (Yes, I know some of you guys and gals haven't passed the age of 15) or are still children at heart. That's nothing to be ashamed of. It's nice to be a child even for a little time, in these the realms of dreams and beauty. It's nice to see that there are people out there who still dream.

    Well, since we're about to say goodbye to each other, how about a kiss?

Smoking In Bed (or, The Afterword)


   The Writer's block is still there.
   Well, you maybe wondering what brought this on. Must have been that weird dinner I had. Anyway, you guys must have noticed the big time lapse down there? And where I used Andrew Huang's essays?
    Anyway, thanks to Mike Loader for the essay. And Andrew Huang, I think I should qualify for the Anime Overnanalysis page.

    As Ryoucilo would say ' Until I find better things to write about. Ja ne.' I'm off to sleep.

May 5, 1998 10:03 P.M. - May 6,1998 1:59 A.M.
May 6, 1998 10:30 A.M - May 6,1998 5:29 P.M.
Elsa Bibat
Somewhere in Asia

Re-edited for HTML - 98 May 09 0016
Rob Barba
Yokosuka, Japan

HTML Re-edit version 2.0 - 98 Nov 15 0045
Rob Barba
Aiea, Hawaii