Sandy and the Bitkahs present:


The Big List of FanFic Peeves

I'm going to go out on a limb and say, "There is no such thing as an inherently bad idea in fanfic (not even Krycek/Scully), only poorly executed ideas."

But there are a lot of poorly executed ideas. Or, to put it another way, there are a lot of clever and interesting plots undercut by the author's inability to write a sentence, to stay faithful to a character, or to not be their own worst enemy.

And of all the things that lead to poor execution, the thing I hate the most is...

One: Epithets

What's wrong with swearing, I hear you say.

Epithets aren't usually swear words, but terms used to characterize a person or thing, such as "rosy-fingered" in rosy-fingered dawn, or terms used as a substitute for the name or title of a person, such as The Great Emancipator for Abraham Lincoln, or The Sentinel for Jim Ellison.

Horrific examples of how epithets are used in fandom:

"Harder, deeper," said the grad student.

The blond man kissed him and said, "I will always love you."

The Assistant Director held his cock against the FBI agent's mouth.

Unless these guys are doing it in the office, while going over paperwork, don't you think referring to either of them in the middle of the sex scene by their job title is a little formal? Having the AD fuck his agent wildly just doesn't work, unless Skinner has been added as a new member of the Village People and "the Assistant Director" is all he's going by, now.

The desire to set people off by their jobs or physical characteristics is even stronger in scenes with lots of people, but if you aren't very careful, it ends up like this scene from Blake's 7:

The little thief fucked the burly rebel so hard that he screamed as he came, waking up the emotionless computer expert. The Auron telepath had been awake for some time, and she nudged the blonde pilot, who woke with a big jerk. The big jerk grumbled, "My limiter is killing me."

Sure, there are times when epithets can make it easier to figure out who's who and what's going on. But if you're using them more than once a page, you're probably overusing them. Trust me -- we get used to the character's names; seeing them too many times on a page is not a problem.

In fact, while I'm mentioning this, one more thing: when you're in one character's pov, have him think of his partner using the same name each time. Decide at the beginning of the story whether Jim -- in his head -- thinks of his partner as Blair or Sandburg. Which ever one you choose, stick with it, and in sections of Jim's POV, change it only if the emotion of the story has changed, not because you think you need some variation, and you've already used Sandburg too many times on the page. (If you doubt me -- find a couple of non-fannish novels you like, and notice how they do it.)

Or, in other words, the use of surnames, given names, and epithets to subtly distinguish how one character thinks and feels about another character is too useful to waste. Imagine Mulder thinking of Walter, or of Skinner, or of the Assistant Director depending on whether Skinner is fucking Mulder, or they're talking over coffee, or Skinner has called Mulder on the carpet in his office. It could even happen in the same scene:

Mulder casually admitted that when he called in sick yesterday he was actually spending time with the Lone Gunmen, and Skinner's eyes narrowed. Suddenly the Assistant Director was looking at him in the warm confines of the bed. "What did you just say, Mulder?" (--hJc)

Last, there's not only what the character generally calls his partner but also what the character generally calls himself. So if you think that Duncan is "Duncan" in his own head rather than "Mac," then any narrative directly from his POV should be "Duncan."


Two: Fear of "Said"

Just like the reader's eye passes quite happily over the characters' names being used over and over, it also passes quite happily past multiple uses of "said." Do not be afraid of this word. On a single page of dialogue, there's nothing more fearsome than seeing:

"What do you mean," he ejaculated.

"I'm mad," he growled.

"Well, I'm mad too," he muttered.

"What? I didn't hear you," he yelled.

"Sure," Sandy expostulated, "in moderation, they are a quick way of telling tone of voice or volume, but overused, they can become ridiculous!"

And a special note:

Hiss has two meanings -- to make a hissing noise, or to say something quietly, but with force. Some of your readers will have the first meaning in mind, and will laugh if you have characters hiss words that don't have sibilants (s, sh, z) or fricatives (f, v). For example, say this out loud:

"Bodie," he hissed.

It's hard to hiss a 'b' sound.


Three: Excessive emphasis

Even good writers fall prey to this one:

   *Why* *can't* we have *sex* tonight, *Bodie*?

or worse, horrendously excessive emphasis styles like:

:::shrieking::::

~~sigh~~

I do #too# love you!

Stick with *asterisks*, or _underlines_ if you must, or better yet, use real italics, but please be sparing. Before you publish, read your story aloud (a good idea for any writer), and make sure the emphasis hasn't gotten out of hand.
 

Four: Other excessive use of symbols

Such as the use of // . . .\\, or /.../ or */    \* or italics or *asterisks* to indicate thoughts.

After years of reading badly formatted fan stories, I fear this might come as a shock, but... you don't need to offset thoughts with any typographical device whatsoever.

You can just make it clear that the dialogue is going on in someone's head:

As soon as Jim's lips touched his cock, Blair thought he'd gone to heaven.
--or--
I'm going to heaven, Blair thought as Jim's lips touched his cock.

Or if you'd rather, thoughts can be handled exactly like dialogue, if you present them directly:

"Fuck," Bodie thought, "he's going to gnaw it right off of me!"

 


Five: God in slash fiction

I was brought up proper, warned never to talk about politics or religion among strangers. But I can't seem to resist. Here are the three most annoying ways fan writers misuse the word God.

First: Writing G-d or G_d instead of God.

This seems to be a growing habit in fandom, one that I would mind less if I thought most people had any idea why they sometimes saw it done.

In Hebrew (though largely not in English), many observant Jews do not write out the whole name of God because of a belief that once you've written out the full name of God, the paper on which you've written it becomes sacred. This is not particularly desirable for ephemera like letters, so references to God are purposely defaced (by omitting the vowel) and thus the paper can be thrown away when you're done with it.

But we're not writing on paper here -- these are pixels. Even for observant Jews (and I'm thinking they're a pretty small percentage of slash writers), there is no reason in the world to use G-d instead of God when you write online. In fact, using G-d online could be seen as an affectation, as taking on a sacred custom of another culture. And you wouldn't want that, would you?

Second: writing Gawd, or Ghod, or some other hideous intentional misspelling.

This also could be considered part of a Jewish tradition of not using the full name of God even in sacred texts. But again...why are you, a slash fan writer, doing it? Do you think that your characters write "Ghod"? Think "Ghod" in their heads? If you do think that, what on earth gave you that impression?

Last but not least: Gods.

There are damn few of our BSOs who ever have ANY reason to say Gods instead of God. Xena, Gabrielle, Herc and Iolaus...yep, the older Caine on Kung Fu, Chakotay, maybe, (Methos, perhaps in a flashback, but come on; he's the master of fitting in -- he uses the terms of the dominant culture) but that's about it. And even those characters...have you ever heard them use "Gods" as an oath?

So, before you have a character say "Gods," ask yourself why you're doing it. And more importantly, have you supported your character's use of it? (And no, "Well, I say 'Gods' so I have my characters say it" is not a good enough reason.)


Six: Ellipses and other punctuation

First, ellipses, because they're easy. 

As Christy says, "Dots are social creatures, but they also tend to hate large crowds. You'll never see them in groups of more than four, and they will more commonly be seen in groups of three. It is unheard of for them to only travel with one other companion. On top of this, they are, in reality, not all that common in either grouping. For, like many of us, sometimes they just want to be alone. Therefore, you're best off leaving them to their solitary contemplations at the end of each sentence. They get cranky if they feel peer pressure."

    Or, the short version:

  1. Ellipses should be used sparingly
  2. When they are used in the middle of a sentence, they consist of THREE dots.
  3. At the end of a sentence, most authorities agree they can be followed by other punctuation (...? ....) but this should be used even more sparingly.
  4. There are no other exceptions.

Punctuation:

If you have finished a sentence, and you are starting a new one, please capitalize the first letter of the new sentence. If you are ending a statement by a character, but still have more to say outside of the quote, end the sentence within the quote marks with the comma, not a period.

"I hate you," he said.

However, if the statement by the character is a question or an exclamation, do end the sentence within the quote marks with the appropriate punctuation, and do not capitalize the first letter following the quote marks. In this case, there is no comma inside the quote marks.

"I hate you!" he shouted.

Question marks and exclamation points are even more solitary than dots, and get quite cranky if other punctuation gets too close.

Semicolons are so often abused in fanfic, they have their own essay.

Seven: Point Of View

Most fan fiction is written in limited third person -- this means that the story keeps a tight focus on the viewpoint character. This is a good thing, generally; it makes it easy for the reader to feel close to that character. But there are things you can't do with limited third.

If Blair is our viewpoint character, you can say

"Blair looked up into Jim's adoring face"
(though it's so sweet I wish you wouldn't...)

but you can't say

"Blair raised his incredibly beautiful azure eyes to Jim's adoring face."

Why not? Because although Blair may be aware he's incredibly beautiful and has azure eyes, that's not what Blair sees when he looks up. That's what Jim sees. And Blair is the person whose mind you're in. Only Blair's perceptions are perceptible. <g> Jim's aren't. If Blair really is thinking about the color of his own eyes, instead of how adorably adoring Jim looks, you have to explain why:

"Blair raised his eyes, knowing the effect their azure beauty would have on Jim."

And while we're thinking about things Blair wouldn't do...

Eight: Excessive displays of emotion

Think about it.  Most of our guys are on episodic television. At least once per season, TPTB put them through the wringer: they kill their wives (or fianceÚs), their children, their partners (or at least make them believe they're dead)... So, we know what they do when something really horrific and terrible happens to them, right?

Then we write fanfic where they sob (or even wail) at the slightest provocation.

Even the guys who have actually cried on screen (Mulder, Duncan, a few others) are not sobbers; as I recall, they're just the sort that crumple up and have a tear or two slide down their cheek.

If you really want them to cry, make sure that you've supported it.

In fact, Excessive displays of emotion is really just a subset of an issue big enough to have its own peeve list:

Characterization abuse in general.

Things our guys almost certainly do not do --

  • With few exceptions, they aren't pagan.
  • With no exceptions, they aren't media fans. (As Helen sez, they don't have time.)
  • With absolutely no exceptions, they aren't babies, or brain dead.
  • With two exceptions, they don't have teddy bears.
The only regular slash characters who canonically still own teddy bears are Julian Bashir and Hutch. Deal.
And as Merry Lynne says, there isn't a BSO in fandom that should ever "blush prettily." "He flushed red with embarrassment" is just a touch more manly, don't you think?
 

Nine: Exaggerated size (or more rarely, age) differences between the two guys

Some possibly shocking news about size:

  • Napoleon is only a couple of inches taller than Illya --and Illya is NOT built like a 10-year-old boy, thankyouverymuch!
  • Tom Paris is taller than Chakotay (and recently...nearly as chunky)
  • Avon and Vila are approximately the same height.
  • Blair's palms are as big as Jim's. (I know, I know, Jim's fingers are longer. So...?)
  • Blair's eyes are roughly on a level with Jim's mouth -- Jim can't rest his chin on top of Blair's head without standing on a box. Proof!
  • Bodie is only an inch or so taller than Doyle.
  • Krycek wears underwear! He has VisiblePantyLines in numerous episodes. (Ok, that's not a size difference, but while we're looking there...)
  • Most of our guys could never get a job as an underwear model. They're not that buff, nor that hard bodied. Deal. (For more on this subject, I highly recommend "Bodie's Bodies," an essay by Miriam, at the FanFic Symposium.)
  • Fraser is not particularly taller than either Ray.
  • Despite directing choices that seek to disguise this fact, Bashir is taller than Garak. (Check out the beginning of Our Man Bashir for proof.)
  • Methos is slender, but he's got broad shoulders and he's basically Duncan's height: Duncan's sweaters do not "hang off his arms as if he were a child."
  • Mulder is not Slight, nor is Skinner a Hulking Mountain of Man Meat.
Some possibly shocking news about age:
  • Skinner is not old enough to be Mulder's father.
  • Jim is not old enough to be Blair's father.
  • Although RDA is over 50, his Stargate character Jack is canonically 10 years younger -- i.e., not old enough to be Daniel's father.
  • Bodie is two years younger than Doyle -- not more, not less.

Ten: Yentas

If I could choose eight words I hope never to see in fanfic again, they'd be:

"Does he know you're in love with him?"

I swear to God and all the angels in heaven, if I never read those words coming from another character -- original or canonical -- again, it will be too soon!

Okay, okay, I admit it, there are some very entertaining "yenta" stories in fandom. (The Professionals story "Yenta" for one.) But for the most part, the character asking the question has no reason in the world to ask it. Either they are the sort of tough boss that would rather be boiled in oil before butting into their subordinate's love life (much less homosexual love life), or they're perfect (and usually suspiciously Mary Sueish) strangers who barely know the guys, much less have any reason to interfere in their domestic affairs.

Let's test this. How often has anyone ever said those words to you? How often have you said those words to other people? Assuming that in either case the number is larger than never, how often did they involve complete strangers, or your boss?

I thought so.


And a few smaller peeves -- peeve-ettes?

A. Grammar is NOT optional!

'Nuff said, right?


B. Excessive use of disembodied body parts to avoid possessives

This is an okay technique, even cool when used in moderation, for specific effect, but it's highly unpleasant when overused.

"Powerful hands gripped Mulder's shoulders. Moist lips slid along his throat."

I've read entire paragraphs like this, where the chief purpose seemed to have been to avoid using "Skinner's" and/or avoid using sentences like "Skinner gripped Mulder's shoulders." Aside from losing its novelty when overused, it's disturbing to me because I find it depersonalizes the scene. Very bad, since I encounter it most in sex scenes. The point of the sex scene, to me, is that it's Skinner and Mulder doing the gripping, etc., not that Mulder is getting anonymously gripped.

Unless the entire point of the scene is, we don't know who's gripping Mulder...


C. Misused homophones

No, not homophobes, though they shouldn't be misused either I suppose, but homophones -- words that sound alike, but mean different things (Mrs Malaprop sometimes finds it difficult to extinguish between different words):

their vs. there vs. they're
whose vs. who's
to vs. too 
pray vs. prey
elicit vs. illicit
fainted vs. feinted
taut  vs. taught
discreet vs. discrete
reined vs. reigned vs. rained
bare vs. bear
navel vs. naval
altar vs. alter

Near homophones are a problem too:

Nothing can wrench a reader out of a story faster than a word that means something very different than the author thinks it means.
prostate vs. prostrate
from vs. form
then vs. than
affect vs. effect
breath vs. breathe
Calvary vs. cavalry
lose vs. loose
sit vs. set

If you don't know the difference between these words, please look them up before using one of them; if you do, make a special effort when you proof your work to look for these easy to mistype and misspell words.

If you're an X-Files fan (and even if you aren't) you can't go wrong checking out The Elements of Phyle. She does the best job on the net of explaining problematic fannish grammar, punctuation, and frequently confused words. Check it out!

 

D. Expository lumps

The web can be considered one big multimedia zine. And any story could be the first one in that fandom that any particular fan ever reads.

But starting a story,

"Jim Ellison, a Cascade cop with especially sensitive senses, and his partner, roommate and lover, curly-haired Blair Sandburg, a doctoral candidate in anthropology, walked into the Major Crimes bullpen,"
or
"The beautiful chestnut-locked four-hundred year-old immortal, Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod, followed by his student, the young, but also immortal Richie Ryan, walked into the bar of his mortal watcher, Joe Dawson..."
should be a crime.

If you're really afraid that a casual or new reader in your fandom needs some information about the universe before they can get into the story, put the info in an author's note up front -- put pictures of the story's BSOs at the top of the page, with a "If you don't recognize these guys, go here first" with a link to major information sites in your fandom. Or just learn to slide the information in a little slower and more carefully.

Even worse are expository lumps of dialog.

The famous Expository Dialogue test is: scrap any line that begins "You know that ...." (unless what follows is "we can't do that!" and a look of horror.)

  • "You know I'm the Assistant Director of the FBI," Skinner said.
  • "You know that Liberator is the fastest ship in space," Jenna said.
  • "You know that I'm Russian," Illya said.
    ("Actually, I thought you were English," Napoleon retorted.)

If one of your characters is telling another character something that the first character knows the second character already knows... well, it's just stupid. Even if what you think you're trying to do is characterize the first character as someone who would do that, don't: much better to say "For two hours, Skinner lectured Mulder on the situation. Since Mulder already knew most of it, it was a struggle not to yawn."

Beware: some of the worst offenders are x-overs, have you noticed? The characters get together, and as Katrina says, all of a sudden it's a convention of Norse warriors, all reciting their mighty deeds.
 

E. Excessive quoting of lyrics

You know the thing about this one that confuses me? Just about every time this comes up at a convention or on a list, pretty much everyone agrees that excessive quoting of lyrics -- or the corollary, quoting of completely out-of-character lyrics -- is bad and wrong.

And yet, the quantity of stories with badly quoted lyrics continues to grow.

Don't get me wrong; quoting a song in your story is neither a crime nor a sin, but nine times out of ten, your story would be stronger without the lyrics. Using lyrics to do all the work of evoking a mood or emotion is a careless and untrustworthy shorthand. You're assuming that your reader

  • will remember the song from the lyrics alone,
  • will know the song
  • will have the same emotional response to the song that you did.
That's too many assumptions.

This problem is compounded by the fact that most quoted lyrics are from songs that most of our BSOs wouldn't be caught dead listening to.

If you're determined to have a character use song lyrics, a) make sure it's a song the character would listen to, then b) have the character listen to the song in the course of the story. Then you, as the author, can have the character exhibit whatever response the character has to the song, rather than leaving it up to all those dangerous assumptions.

  • For a fictionalized version of this rant, please read the Adoratrice's excellent A Tale of a Tape.
  • For a rare example of how to use song lyrics well, try Kat Allison's One for the Road
  • And for another discussion about song lyrics in stories, try the Adoratrice's natter, Sing a song....

F. Using 'literally' as an emphasis word when the action isn't literally true.

"The size of the AD's cock made Mulder's eyes literally pop from their sockets."
Ew.

The word you mean is "figuratively," not literally, and trust me, it should be used sparingly.


G. Speech patterns only an author could love

Or, do people really talk like that?!

  • American men calling each other "love."
  • Methos calling anyone "love."
  • Duncan using a Scottish accent in the present.

H. (Guest peeve by Amedia) -- Misuse of foreign languages in fanfic

Peeve #1: Foreign Language done wrong.

I cringe when I see people pasting together bits of half-remembered Latin or trying to write lines in a language they don't speak by looking up each individual word in a dictionary. It doesn't work that way, folks! There are plenty of experts and native speakers in fandom who have volunteered to help people with specific languages. I periodically issue pleas to be allowed to look over Latin or Ancient Greek in stories, and I once rewrote every line of French in an otherwise excellent novella that suffered from the dictionary problem described above (I had the author's permission, btw, and fortunately this happened *before* the novella went to press). I am lucky enough to have a couple of Rat Patrol fans in Berlin, native German speakers, who check all the German in my zine.

Peeve #2: Overuse of foreign language, right or wrong:

Most Americans (the chief market for U.S. printzines and a large component of Internet readership) don't speak or read any language but English. A few words of dialogue in a foreign language may give just the right feeling of being in an exotic locale. A sentence or two, with some kind of translation effect built into the story, can work very well. There are a number of ways to indicate what a sentence means: for example, you can have one character translate it for another, have the POV character figure it out by observing what happens next, have someone answer, in English, repeating part of the foreign-language sentence. But huge untranslated clumps of a foreign language make the reader feel ignorant and resentful, and break up whatever mood the author was trying to set within the story by reminding the reader that it *is* a story. Footnotes, to my mind, have the same effect.

(In fact, I don't think any footnotes belong in fan fiction--I find them distracting. If the author wants to credit the source of a really neat idea or an erudite quotation, she can put it in the introductory remarks, or in a non-spoilering author's note at the end. If she wants to cite a particular episode, a footnote is a lazy way to do it; there are other ways to handle it.)

I. Misuse of cock rings

News flash: Many types of cock rings do not stop most men from orgasming. Yes, you heard me. Let me repeat: Many types of cock rings do not keep a man from orgasming. (Think about it for a second -- many cock rings are solid rings of metal. If they didn't come, how the hell would they get the damn thing off?)

So why *do* they use them?

  • They might slow him down and make him last longer
  • They usually keep him hard for a longish time after orgasming
  • They will keep him hard even if he would normally (ahem) lose interest
    For example:
    • if being penetrated usually makes him lose his erection
    • if he's being tortured
    • if he suddenly has to stop having sex and start filing or making coffee or something
But many of them do not stop most men from orgasming. Or put another way, for many types of cock rings, they don't have to take them off in order to come.

Clear?
For more sex-related peevery, visit the Minotaur's s e x  t i p s  f o r  s l a s h  w r i t e r s

J. Misuse of dialogue (Guest peeve by "Lija" Fricke)

If dialog contains no description, highly emotional issues are reduced to trauma tennis:
    "I love you."
    "You handcuffed me to the bed."
    "Only because you wouldn't listen to me."
    "That's the dumbest excuse I've ever heard."
    "Besides, you look hot in handcuffs."
    "That's it. Get out of my apartment."
    "I'm not leaving you."
    "I'm calling the police. Wait; I am the police."
As Rogers and Hammerstein's King of Siam would say, "Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera." In real life, during emotional conversations, people vary the speed, volume, and emphasis of their words. They sometimes change their postures or their expressions. They may even gesture, pause, or interrupt the other speaker. It's nice to see at least a little description in dialog to indicate that the point of view character is not a Vulcan trying to seduce an android. Of course, if the point of view character is a Vulcan trying to seduce an android, this sort of dialog is appropriate as written.

I think I know, though, why many otherwise fine authors strip all description out of their dialog. I believe they are trying to avoid the antithetical problem, the hideous description-a-go-go:

    "I love you."
    He was beautiful, Police Officer thought. His blue eyes flashed and his boyish lips smiled as he uttered the words that Police Officer had most longed to hear. But wait; shouldn't there be a protest? Wasn't there an issue to be dealt with here? For the sake of their future relationship, shouldn't he mention how the handcuffs had chipped the bedpost? He gritted his teeth and thought quickly.
    "You handcuffed me to the bed," he said seriously, his voice soft and sad. He sighed.
By this time, of course, the point of view character is again handcuffed to the bed and the writer might as well dump all further dialog in favor of *hot* and *throbbing* description. However, such description is the the instigator of an entirely different set of peeves, and I have taken up entirely too much of your good time and patience as it stands.

Wishing you much felicity and a well-thumbed copy of Strunk and White,
L.A. "Lija" Fricke

K. ?? -- Send me your favorite fanfic peeves

Gh-d knows, there's plenty more to be ranted about.


This list of peeves was inspired by (and in many cases written by) the Bitkahs (especially, but not exclusively: Christy, Shoshanna, Gywneth, torch, Jane Carnall, elynross, Terri, and Keiko Kirin) and helped enormously by some folks at the Crossroads.

I also completely recommend Steering the Craft, a wonderful writer's book by Ursula K. Le Guin, from which I have borrowed some thoughts.

And if you're thinking..."who in the hell is she to say all this -- I bet her fiction ain't all that great," all I can say is, feel free to check it out and send me a LOC telling me what you think. I can take it.

Here's the map to the rest of my site.
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.main page | pros stories | eroica story | x-files stories | rants | non-con stories | jewels.
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Of course, we're not the only fanfic peevers:
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