The A-Z Shortcut
For well over a year now I have read fanfiction of all genres, ratings, pairings, and fandoms. After browsing through hundreds of fanfics, and writing several of my own, I have found many amazing pieces of writing. However, I have also found one consistent error in writing that not only disappoints me to no end, but also ruins the whole fanfic and often leaves me fuming for hours. Now, everyone makes mistakes. It’s a given, that when you read as much fanfic as I do you are bound to come across the odd error or two. Spelling errors- I can brush off, bad layout- not the end of the world, even someone being completely out of character and talking with an accent that they have never and will never have, is usually something that I don’t flip out over.
But the one thing, that I find can completely ruin a fic for me is what I call “the A-Z shortcut”. You wouldn’t believe how many stories I have read where the plot itself has amazing potential, the characters are laid out well, the spelling and grammar is great, but then a writer decides to take a “shortcut” in the plot and ends of squashing their story completely. I have found this most often in AU (Alternate Universe) stories, particularly ones of the romance genre; when the author is really only interested in the mushy/smutty/fluffy love scenes that they’ve planned out in brilliance and are full of drama, yet knows that they need some kind of story surrounding it to make a half-decent (and un-confusing) fic.
Now, I myself know what this is like. You have the “main event” almost written out to the smallest detail in your head, but then you realise that you have to GET to that point somehow and you suddenly question whether or not to write it after all: you’d love to write that scene, but you’re not at all interested in writing the zillions of pages it may/may not take to get there. This is when many writers seem to fall into the “A-Z Shortcut”.
An example of this is as fallows:
Beth is a High School senior. She and her friends are known as the ‘geeks’ and have been tormented by, and hated the ‘popular’ group for years.
Jack is also a High School senior at the same school. He’s known Beth and her friends for years and they have never gotten along. They have hated each other all their lives, and his friends ridicule anyone who hangs out with them.
One day, Beth and Jack are paired together for some kind of project in their class. Their teacher gives them all period to get together and plan out their project (say it’s a full investigation project, due at the end of the year, worth 70% of their final mark). Both Beth and Jack immediately groan at the thought of having each other as a partner, but the teacher refuses to let them switch, and since they both NEED to pass this class, they realise that they’re going to have to find some way to work this out. They begin to talk as usual (cold, spiteful), both silently predicting that this is going to be the worst term ever.
Now, we have a basic character and plot. There are usually a few more characters introduced, and the first couple chapters have been written very well; focusing especially on Beth and Jack and how much they hate each other.
The main ‘problem’ (or event) that the author wants, is that Jack and Beth fall in love, and have to deal with their friends (who also hate each other) and the abuse from others that comes along with their relationship.
So far, this seems like it could be a pretty great story. You could give insights to the characters’ growing feelings to each other, their friends, how everyone reacts to their relationship, how they realise they like each other (and how they react to that), etc….
This is where a lot of stories seem to go wrong! Instead of taking the time to explore the characters, slowly introducing their growing feelings towards each other, showing how and why they get together as a couple, taking their plot and expanding on it, we end up with something vaguely like this:
Suddenly, they both start to realise that they like each other, and by the end of the class they’ve decided to start dating. Within two days their friends find out about it, and start to give them a hard time. Beth and Jack say they don’t care and declare their true and undying love for each other, and tell them that they no longer want to be their friends, nor do they care about what other people say or think. They go on a couple dates, and their friends say they’re SO sorry (and that they too, have all seemed to fall in love), and they ALL LIVE HAPPILY EVER AFTER!!!
Now, can you honestly tell me that that sounds like something you would truly- 100% enjoy reading? That you would be totally satisfied with that kind of story and couldn’t improve on it if you tried?
This is the type of thing, which to me, feels like a disappointing and cheap rip-off to the reader.
In this example, you have two people, they both hate each other, and then just because they’re paired off for an assignment they suddenly want to date??? And then, a day or two later, without so much as a simple dinner and a movie night out, they’re suddenly in love and just forget about their friends, to be together??? And then, we find out that their friends all love each other as well for some strange reason, so everything is now just swell???
This is unlikely, unrealistic, does not follow with the characters that you have written so far! It goes completely against everything else that has been written earlier, and leaves a zillion questions unanswered. HOW did the two realise they liked each other? HOW did they tell the other? HOW did they both react to this? WHY did they suddenly start to feel this way? HOW did their friends find out? WHAT made them and their friends go from enemies to lovers overnight? The plot now, does not make sense and is so farfetched that it’s not even slightly believable! You have now gone from a story with potential to be amazingly-fantastic, to one that does not make sense and “rips off” your readers.
IF YOU DO NOT WANT TO WRITE THE REST OF THE STORY THEN DON’T!!! This rarely if ever makes a satisfying read, and if you’re going to write something anyway, you might as well do it as well as you can! There are so many other things that you could do with your idea!
1) Take the time and effort to write a reasonable plot, work on your character development, and so on, and slowly work your way up to the main idea to make a good story! Expand on your idea: make it longer, tell us what’s happening with the characters, WHY things are happening the way they are, include details, maybe even add a small side-plot, just do it as best as you can and be sure to use the “Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How” method, so that you’re covering all the points. You will get to your favourite part eventually, but this way you not only please the reader, but you may also become a better writer in the process and think of new plot twists that you wouldn’t have though of before!
2) You could jot down your idea (on a piece of paper, or as a document on your computer) and put it away for later. Maybe in a while you’ll want to write the rest of it, or who knows, maybe it will fit in just right with another fanfic that you’ve thought up!
3) You could find someone to co-write the story with! It’s a fun way to write and get new ideas. Tell them your idea, work with them on a plot, and start writing! It will lessen the workload and you may end up with a better, more complex fic!
4) Make it into a challenger of some sort and get it out there! It might be interesting to see how other people would interpret the challenge, and there’s no saying you can’t respond to the challenge yourself someday!
5) If you HAVE taken the “A-Z Shortcut” on some of your past fanfictions (or any story for that matter), why not do a re-write? It’s never too late to improve! And you may not even need to re-write the whole story. Like in the example, maybe you could hint that (Beth and Jack) like each other ahead of time and add a few more scenes between events. Maybe tone-down the drama a bit and work more on the story and character development! With a few slight revisions, you could improve that story so much!
These are just some of the ways to cure The A-Z Shortcut, if you put your mind to it, one could surely come up with plenty more! I’m writing this as a PLEA to writers out there to take the time and write something worthwhile! This is your piece of writing that your name is going to be on! If you’re going to put all the time and effort into writing something, why not do it as best as you can? Why not take those extra few days to make it great, so that you can really be proud of your work and know that you wrote it to the best of your ability? In the end, it is much more satisfying to your readers as well as yourself!
Just remember, you might know what’s going on in the story, but your readers won’t unless you tell them! They won’t know why or how something is happening if you don’t explain it, they can’t just read you mind! Your attitude will almost always be reflected in your work, so if you start to take shortcuts, people are going to notice and it will clearly show! They may get the job done faster, but it’s better to be a little late and do a great job, than to have it done fast and have something that’s not even close to as good as it can be!
So next time you get an idea, and come to that point where you want to take the A-Z Shortcut, suck it up and keep going the way you were. There’s a reason that there are 24 other letters in the alphabet, just like there’s a reason character and plot development were invented! Take the time, because in the end, it’s worth it!