Pride Lands Online

WFFiaWoL (Writing Fanfic is a Way of Life)
by John Burkitt, The Gentle Kingdom

(C) 1997, The Gentle Kingdom.

"Think Big." That's on the vanity license plate hanging on my office door. Jimmy found it in a parking lot--he's very good at finding things. All humor aside though, yes I think big. Between David Morris and I, the Chronicles books average 160 pages in length. People wonder how we do so much in such a short period of time. Others simply wonder how we do it at all. I tell them we have a "system" but I donít elaborate. Now, like Lady Godiva, I plan to reveal everything! Here are my "Ten Commandments".

I) SEE THE BIG PICTURE: Find a central theme and develop it using a few key characters. Every chapter should contribute to that theme somehow.

II) CARRY A BIG AXE: You must be willing to discard perfectly good stuff that you poured your heart and soul into if it doesn't fit. Disney's Snow White originally had a scene of dwarves making a bed for Snow White. It had been completed at great expense only to end up on the cutting room floor. The same thing happened to the "Jitterbug" number in MGM's Wizard of Oz. Some material from my original stories is never expected to make it into the canon Chronicles for the same reasons.

III) DEVELOP BIG CHARACTERS: My characters are real enough to me that I can tell you what they would or would not do in a given situation. To avoid stock characters, paint with a small brush, not in broad strokes. One of my favorite moments happened when Uzuri was young in Shadow of the Makei. She was saying that Rafiki's facial stripes looked cute. He was relieved--last week it was his colored rump patches. As he was leaving the room, she was staring at his backside and grinning. "You're just jealous!" he said. That's known in the trade as "low key" humor, and it helped character development more than five paragraphs of "he thought/she thought". Lousy moods also come across well when they are done low key. Rather than Taka shouting, "I am so angry!!" or "I could just kill that brother of mine!!" I had him take his anger out on a rabbit which, as the scene unfolded, was almost incoherently pleading for its life. Oblivious to the pleas for mercy, Taka spoke to it-- or rather AT it. "He thought he was so cute, touching her DOWN THERE!" Then he used it as a prop to act out his fantasy. "I'll rip him like a gazelle!" he shrieked, then he nearly bit the rabbit in half, tossed it in the air and left it jerking spasmotically in the dust. Now THAT'S character development!

IV) KEEP INSPIRATION FRESH: Do not say, "I'll write this down in the morning." Do not say, "I'll change this chapter before I release it." When you get an idea, write it down right then, wherever you are or whatever you're doing. Keep a file of these things. Ideas are like freshly baked bread--they go stale quickly if not used. Keep paper in the car and by the bed.

V) ACT ON FIRST IMPRESSIONS: If you read something and some aspect gives you a brief unpleasant feeling, act on it. Write your work, then put it aside. Sleep on it, then read it the next day. When the magic of creation has worn off, you're left with the actual work that your reader will see, flaws and all. Then make it as good as it felt the night before.

VI) DON'T EXPECT MIND READERS: When you work on a long book, you develop ideas about how the characters look, act, and are motivated. You may remember whole incidents and aspects of a character that are very real to you. But if they have never been written down, no one else will know about them. It's very easy to think you've written it down somewhere and find you've forgotten to commit it in text.

VII) PACING IS EVERYTHING: I often kid with David Morris about winning the Civil War in one paragraph. I'll be covering a passage of text with him where it says, "Over the following months she outgrew her cub spots. Then having met a male and married him, she was soon expecting cubs of her own." I'll tell him that the lioness won the Civil War in one paragraph. He knows what that means--so should you. Pacing is difficult, but there are ways to help yourself out. For instance, if two things are happening at the same time, it helps to switch from one to the other periodically. Remember when Pocahontas was running to stop John Smith's execution? I quote from the lyrics to "Savages" by Stephen Schwartz:

  (Ratcliffe): This will be the day....(Let's go, men!)
  (Powhatan): This will be the morning...(Bring out the prisoner)
  (English and Indians):  We will see them dying in the dust!
  (Pocahontas): I don't know what I can do, still I know I've got to try!
  (English): Now we make 'em pay.
  (Pocahontas): Eagle, help my feet to fly.
  (Indians): Now without a warning...
  (Pocahontas): Mountain help my heart be great.
  (English and Indians): Now we leave 'em blood and bone and rust!

What a wonderful sense of action! It bounces, which is why I call this method of pacing action the "ping pong" system. You see it in Shadow Of The Makei when Gur'mekh is being led to see Ahadi. It allows you to slow down a quick scene without "padding" it with meaningless verbage.

VIII) DRAW LOGICAL CONCLUSIONS: Don't go overboard with your logical methods and have the end of the story entirely predictable. On the other hand, the way things end up should seem a logical extension of everything that went before by the time you get there. A good Sherlock Holmes detective story manages to surprise you at the end, but every element used in drawing the conclusion came from earlier story material.

IX) BE BRIEF: The main reason why I like tennis better than American football is simple: NO TIME OUTS! Don't try to turn a short story into a novel unless it has a distinct advantage. Fact is, there is far more to the Chronicles universe than any of you will ever see on paper. Dave and I work by phone, and we have lots of in-jokes and inspirations that never go anywhere. Oddly enough, some of them are considered canon. They just don't warrant being written down in whatever we're working on at the time. The reader pays a big price when they read your fanfic. They've given up part of their life to share your vision. Make them feel it was time well spent.



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