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Lessons from Fan Fiction

Personal Background

I have been writing (with considerable time off), in some form or another, for the past 4 1/2 decades, no exaggeration. My initial writings were crudely drawn images in old calendar books that would have otherwise been discarded. Inevitably, they were all about more or less the same thing – anthropomorphized dogs going on adventures.

I used to own (many of them are still in my parents’ house) little plastic farm animal toys.

English: Two plastic animals (a sheep and a st...
English: Two plastic animals (a sheep and a st…

Many of these came from my father’s business trips to Munich, and they were fairly well detailed. When not drawing picture books, I would play act stories for these toys. Usually, it was some sort of journey.

The toys still exist, but the old calendar books are long gone, in some landfill somewhere (they were discarded before recycling was really mainstream).

As a teenaged girl, I had diaries, but all of those are also gone to a landfill. I did not get back to writing anything resembling fiction until my senior year in High School, when I had an AP English teacher who encouraged such things. I took Creative Writing in college, and a Law School boyfriend also encouraged me to write. Then I set it all aside until maybe 2000 when I did some short works and then started writing fan fiction in 2004.

After a few more short works, I set it aside until 2010. Ever since starting up again (with Reversal), I have written something pretty much every day, whether it’s Star Trek: fan fiction, wholly original works, blogging and/or fiction outlining.

Lessons Learned (in no particular order)

Write to keep writing

While I suffer from writer’s block, just like every other writer, I suffer from it less than I probably should, because I make an effort to write nearly every single day. This keeps it all going.

Take and Keep Notes

I have a large timeline for fan fiction, spanning a few millennia. I have other timelines for wholly original fictional universes. These are kept with MS Excel. Timelines are incredibly useful, as you immediately know things like ages, and if character lifetimes overlap.

Fiction Stacks
Fiction Stacks

I keep wikis (more like informal detailed outlines, as I am the sole contributor) for all major series, and separate ones for wholly original fiction. These are for world-building, and they contain everything from character heights to birthdays to naming conventions for various items. It’s all decided once and the references are at my fingertips.

I also keep a list of plot ideas, which also contains possible titles, species ideas, possible character names, etc. (Eriecho was originally going to be Klingon). This ‘parks’ new ideas so that I can concentrate better on the story I am trying to finish.

Don’t Throw Anything Away

Character names from 1986 have shown up in fiction written in 2011, no lie. A quarter-century later, and in a different universe, the names still work.

Your Work Should be Shared

I belong to several writers’ groups online, both for fan fiction and for wholly original work.

Fan fiction in the making
Fan fiction in the making

There are a lot of people who are terrified of sharing their work with others. These are not people holding back because it’s work they want to try to have published. They just plain aren’t ready to share anything.

And that’s unfortunate, as their work can stagnate with no feedback. Fiction isn’t meant to be hidden away, locked in a drawer somewhere.

 

Constructive Criticism is Gold

English: Crystaline Gold
English: Crystaline Gold (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Anyone providing constructive criticism of any sort is fantastic. Being told that I need to define a character better, or provide more details, or that a scenario is not credible – any and all of these criticisms makes me a better writer. Learning to take constructive criticism graciously was an enormous lesson I have learned.

 

Destructive Criticism is Dirt

While not everyone will love what I have written, I’ve learned to separate critiques into constructive and destructive, and can tell the difference.

Vermont dirt, up close.
Vermont dirt, up close.

There are those who go into reading a fan fiction who are biased against a particular series, or character or character pairing, etc. They might dislike a certain plot point (e. g. not everyone likes time travel), or they just might dislike all fan fiction.

Most of what these folks say is not worth reading, or repeating. Fortunately, I haven’t run into too many of these folks in my travels.

As for those who engage in personal attacks, they should be blocked without a second thought. No one needs to be trashed in order to be effectively critiqued. Ever.

Do Your Research

In one of my first-ever fan fictions (There’s Something About Hoshi), I misspelled MACO as MAKO, and was corrected by a reader. At the time, I was overly sensitive and felt it was petty. I have since come to realize that of course this person was correct, and they were only trying to help me get better.

Pay it Forward by Reading and Reviewing Others’ Work

Sitting back and expecting everyone else to do the heavy lifting of reading and reviewing is pretty selfish. Writers, of course, should take care not to steal from each other, or plagiarize. But the building, nurturing, and sustaining of writer communities means that you, the writer, need to also become the reader, and the critic. Always be a constructive critic.

Practice and Edit

Not writing does not make you a better writer. Only writing, and reading, can make you a better writer. So do both.

Don’t Crowdsource Your Ideas

I see this a lot, where potential writers, terrified that they have a bad idea, ask their peers for a judgment about whether something is a ‘good’ idea.

This is bass-ackwards. Instead, writers should be writing. Their ideas are, likely, perfectly fine. Why do I say this? Because most ideas are fine; it’s their execution that demonstrates quality, or the lack thereof. Consider the following story idea.

Kafka
Kafka

A suddenly disabled man is late for work one morning. Ignoring his new infirmity, he tries to go to work, as he is the sole supporter of his mostly ungrateful family. When they become, by necessity, more independent, they abuse and neglect him and, unappreciated, he eventually dies. They go on without him.

Don’t know that plot? It’s Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, easily one of the top 100 (if not 50) works of fiction ever written. Ever!

But that plot summary isn’t too promising, eh? It’s in the execution where Gregor Samsa comes to life.

Your ideas are fine, except for the idea that you need others’ approval before you can start writing. Nonsense! Write anyway.

You’re Better Than You Think

Unless you are out and out plagiarizing someone else’s work, there is probably someone out there who will like your writing. That leads to my next point.

Find Your Ideal Audience

Sites which cater to, say, only Star Trek: Enterprise will not appreciate Star Trek: Voyager fan fiction as well as sites that focus on it. That may seem obvious, but it’s a point that people sometimes seem to miss. If your work isn’t being read, try other sites. You might do better elsewhere.

Fix Your Technical Problems Before Posting

Always look over spelling, punctuation, capitalization, word choice (e. g. make sure you are using the right words, and they mean what you think they do), and grammar. A few stray errors are fine, but try to fix most of it before posting. This is a courtesy to your readers.

Not Everyone Wants to read your entire Saga

Readers’ time is as precious a your own.

Busy
Busy

Their not wanting to read your entire 10 million word saga is less a reflection on your abilities (or their love of your work), and more on their own busy lives.

Expecting your audience to read your entire saga is a discourtesy; you are not being respectful of their time. Respect their time by mixing in some short stories as most people can find the time to read something less than 10,000 words (even better, less than 5,000).

Compete With your Peers

This ups your game considerably. Put yourself out there, and don’t expect to win. Competitions are also a great way to get more people to read and review your work.

Keep Track of your Stats

You don’t have to be as analytical as I am, but it pays to at least have a handle on what’s popular, and what isn’t. These findings will probably differ from site to site, and having objective data means you’ll have a better idea of whether a story will go over well or poorly at a particular site.

Use Your Time Wisely

We all have lives, so writing time often has to be rationed. Determine what you want and need, and how well various sites satisfy those wants and needs. Do an informal cost-benefit analysis – does a site offer ease of posting? Better critiquing? A bigger audience? A better-matched audience to your work?

Build a Readership

Book reader
Book reader

When I learned I was going to be published, I told pretty much everyone in my network. A lot of people said they were excited about potentially seeing my wholly original work in print. This is not only ego-gratifying, it’s also, potentially, a source of reads (and even sales) and reviews for professional work. I’m not saying to become a writing mercenary.

Rather, cultivate and nurture your most loyal fans.

That doesn’t just mean being kind to them (which should be a given), and thanking them (another given); it also means listening to them. Do they want to see more original characters? A new horror story? More time travel? Do they think your last book dragged in the middle? Take them seriously. They are really trying to help you succeed. Let them.

Upshot

I have come a long way from picture books that I showed to no one, and stories that I left to rot in a trunk and are no more. Fan fiction has improved me as a writer, and has taught me to believe in myself. It has led me to becoming a published author. I owe it a lot.

Thank you.


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Recurrent Themes – Religious/Spiritual Leaders

Recurrent Themes – Religious/Spiritual Leaders

Spiritual leaders exist in my fiction.

Background

Religion is Star Trek canon, Barking up the Muse Tree | Janet Gershen-Siegel | jespah | DNA | Spiritual Leaders and of course it is also a very real and very personal human experience.

While much of Star Trek is rather atheist-friendly, I don’t believe that faith will ever, truly, completely leave us. In particular, the Enterprise era is bound to have characters who still practice religion. Hence spiritual leaders would be a nature offshoot of that.

In Between Days Spiritual Leaders

Leah Benson

First seen in The Light, Rabbi Benson is the official Starfleet Rabbi. She assists Ethan Shapiro in putting together a short service to commemorate the life of his great-aunt, Rachel Orenstein.

In Bread, she is a part of an official Starfleet set of meetings and banquets where all of the Starfleet chaplains have been brought together as a part of welcoming three new worlds to the nascent Federation – the Caitian home world, Denobula and the Xyrillian home world. Leah is cordial with the Imam, a Buddhist monk and others. Religion is very much alive, and she is a big part of it. While reminiscing with Jonathan Archer, she reports that Ethan would often ask her advice about Karin Bernstein, and she is delighted that they wed.

Yimar

In the alternate timeline in Temper, she is the spiritual leader of her people on both sides of the pond. When the timeline is restored, she is only the High Priestess on the Mirror side.

The role of High Priestess is not too well-defined, but Yimar has the power to summon her fellow Calafans, no matter where they are, and can even telepathically communicate with those in the Mirror Universe, a useful talent for a spiritual leader who, in an alternate timeline, leads her government in exile, too.

Yipran

In Reversal, she seems to be dying, but Yipran, the High Priestess of the Calafan people, is not going down without a fight. In Fortune, she reveals that she understands far more of the universe and its origins (and its eventual fate) than pretty much anyone.

Times of the HG Wells

Kaiwev

In Where the Wind Comes Sweepin’ Down the Plain, a Calafan temporal agent, Chellewev, has died in the line of duty. It’s up to Kaiwev, the leader of the Calafan unit, to lead prayers at the dedication of Chellewev’s spot on the Temporal Integrity Commission‘s monument to the fallen. Kaiwev is really just pressed into service and is not meant to be a priest.

Milton Walker and Members of the Eligian Order

About half of this order is composed of upstanding men who commit charitable deeds and are true believers. The other half is a front for the Perfectionists, including Walker himself. The legitimate monks are unaware of what is going on under their noses.

Interphases

Jonathan Archer

Because there are no religious or spiritual leaders on board, Captain Archer must perform those tasks. This includes everything from officiating at weddings

Recurrent Themes – Religious/Spiritual Leaders
Not just any old wedding

to eventually giving funerary orations.

It’s not much of a stretch to assume that he also presided over christenings and Bar and Bat Mitzvot.

He presides over Malcolm‘s and Jay‘s funerals in The Three of Us and both of theirs, Tripp‘s and Lili‘s in Everybody Knows This is Nowhere. About the only religious occasion he does not preside over is Nanette Myers’s conversion to Islam, which is performed by Ramih Azar, in the presence of Azar Hamidi and Maryam Haroun Hamidi as witnesses.

It is unclear who fills in when Jonathan finally dies, but it is not a stretch to assume that the successor captain would do so. In The Three of Us, that’s Charles Tucker IV; in Everybody Knows This is Nowhere, that’s canon character Lorian Cyrus Tucker.

Upshot

Faith abides and, in Bread, for the Mirror Universe and the prime, it’s one of the few things that survives. I believe there is a place for religion in Star Trek, even in the later series, and I am not afraid to show it. Faith of the heart, to me, means all hearts and, by definition, all faiths as well.

Review – Cobbled Together

Review – Cobbled Together

Cobbled Together was a fun introduction to Malcolm and his neuroses.

Background

I actually answered two prompts with this one. One was on Star Trek Logs, and it was concerning poverty. The other was on Ad Astra, and it was about the failures of technology. And so I hit upon a combination of the two, presenting it as a missing scene from the canon Catwalk episode.

Barking Up the Muse Tree | jespah | Janet Gershen-Siegel | Malcolm and Pineapple
Malcolm and Pineapple

My idea for this story was that Malcolm would be miserable on the catwalk. That’s actually in Star Trek: Enterprise canon. And that there would be a poker game (also canon). However, in keeping with his canon love of pineapple, I wanted him to be lusting after a pack of fake pineapple cobbler.

Review – Cobbled Together

It’s all he wants. This is his tiny spot of normalcy amidst the chaos and stench of the place, not to mention some possible claustrophobia. As people ante up, Malcolm eyes the pineapple cobbler, which the dealer, Security Crewman Tristan Curtis, is using for his bid. Navigation Crewman Sophie Creighton and Hoshi look on as Malcolm and Tristan battle over a hand, until finally ….

Rating

The story is rated K.

Story Postings

Upshot

I like the idea of Reed becoming slightly unhinged during the forced stay on the catwalk. He’s tired, he’s dirty, and he loves order, but it’s all gone to hell in a handbasket. For him, winning the fake pineapple cobbler is his only tenuous connection to normal life, and he seizes upon it desperately. I think the story turned out pretty well, and I was pleased to bring in a few below decks characters early, as they also show up in the E2 stories.