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I have recently started writing a fanfiction and I am posting it online as I write it. However, I often see in comments sayings 'This fanfiction gave me cancer','The writer of this crap should just kill herself.' and low ratings that accompany those comments.

What I want to ask is: How can I avoid doing things that will cause people to think of similar things about my fanfiction novel?

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    You have my sympathies. "I am posting it online as I am writing it." I suggest letting it sit for a few days without reading it, then editing it, then posting it, and seeing if you have the same comments in the same abundance. – DPT May 1 '18 at 16:26
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    Regarding the "cancer" comments, you could just reply with a 60 FPS gif. – Angew May 1 '18 at 17:39
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    Before everyone else chimes in with feel-goody comments about how it's so sad that you get such comments - Please clarify if those comments are directed at your work. As I read your question, these are comments that you have seen on other work, and now you want to preemptively avoid the same mistakes. – pipe May 1 '18 at 17:55
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    Obligatory xkcd. – reirab May 2 '18 at 19:11
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    Move over to original fiction? – AJFaraday May 3 '18 at 11:14

11 Answers 11

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Depending on the forum you post your fanfiction you will get those comments no matter what you do. It's a sad fact, but there are many people out there who just want to make others feel miserable and growing a thick skin when posting on the internet is a skill that you might need.

Other than that it depends on the specifics of your fanfiction. For example quite often fanfiction involves different love stories than the original story had. Many people will not like that and this kind of comments are basically standard phrases for "This is not my style. I prefer to read something different." Maybe they didn't like that you changed the typical boy-meets-girl story to a boy-meets-boy story or a girl-meets-girl story or something like that. But this is just one topic that is often chosen, it really comes up with every topic though. Maybe you changed the villain to the hero for your perspective or made the favourite character of some reader to a supporting character with a minor role and now they don't like the story. Maybe you changed the scenery in a way they don't like or you added a story-arc that they find to be too cliché. Or they didn't like your wording. There are lots and lots of different topics that could invite such comments.

The closer you are to the original the less likely such posts are. The more original you are in your writing the more such comments you will receive.

The best advice I can give you is to ignore them. It's hard and it probably hurts quite a lot but these poor folks have nothing better to do than trying to make your life miserable. They are the ones that need to be consoled and you should mentally filter their "feedback" out as it doesn't involve anything useful and is only trying to hurt you.

Ideally you would find a place where you can for example flag something with such vulgar language, but humans are not perfect and the internet tends to bring out the worst in some people, so be prepared for something like this - and be prepared to completely ignore it. Though, I guess, not going to a place where something like this occurs would probably be a better idea if you can find such a place.

Fanfictions are often a starting point for people who want to start writing, meaning that there will be quite a few mistakes, making it thereby quite easy to pick on the weak people, which is why trolls love such places. But there will always be people who think similar things about your fanfiction and sometimes they will voice their opinions in such a drastic manner.

You can't please everyone.

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    This answer healed my cancer. – user29032 May 1 '18 at 20:14
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    Only one thing to add to this: Most fan fiction sites let you add a synopsis. Use this space to call out anything out of the ordinary, like "Contains Wincest". This way, people know what they're getting into. You generally won't get comments from people who don't read your work, so let them decide they won't like it before they start. – IchabodE May 1 '18 at 22:13
  • +1 for 'grow a thick skin'. I look at it this way: if your fanfic doesn't have at least 3 "this stuff is cancer" comment then you're doing it wrong :P Evoking some reaction is better than being ignored. – Pharap May 2 '18 at 21:50
  • The more original you are in your writing the more such comments you will receive is a terrible thing to say! Obviously,if by "original" you really only mean if you subvert the rules of that particular universe you'll get criticism, that's reasonable; but as it stands it is far too sweeping a statement. Originality is not to be despised. What is objectionable is subversion: making a character behave in a way that contradicts his established behaviour, or pushing the main characters into the background to make someone else the star of the show. – Ed999 May 4 '18 at 1:35
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No matter how good your fanfiction is, no matter how good your fiction is, no matter how good anything you do is, there will be trolls using vile language to put you down. There's not much you can do about them except ignore them.

That said, the question of what things to avoid like the plague when writing fanfic is a valid one.

The Mary Sue is, I believe the most reviled fanfic trope. Mary Sue is the perfectly perfect character, who has all the answers to all the questions, finds a way to defeat all the monsters, is the strongest, smartest, most beautiful, and of course the sexiest character of the original work falls for her. She then solves whatever troubled issues he had, and they live in perfect saccharine happiness forever and ever. Eww. Note that giving a character one flaw wouldn't necessarily save them from being a Mary Sue. (While the link is to TV Tropes, which is a rabbit hole that eats up your time without you noticing, that page is really useful, detailing sub-species of the Mary Sue.)

Another issue that can occur is you making characters act "out of character" - you've changed them so much that they're no longer who they used to be in the original work. The extremes are turning a good character evil, or vice versa. People love the original work with its original characters because of the way they have been written. If you change it, they might not be happy.

And, of course, some criticism might be addressed not at particular things you do, but at the general quality of your writing. With that, the way to get better is to write more, read more, and work at it. Don't get discouraged by foul-mouthed schmucks.

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    I never knew what a Mary Sue was before, but I’m surprised it’s so hated given how pretty much every serial drama that features one main character has to have this mechanic to one degree or another. Jack Bauer always foiled the second terror attack. Gregory House MD always cured the patient in the nick of time (well, all but like three of them). Remember that case Sherlock Holmes failed to solve when he actually didn’t recognize the smell of some obscure tobacco? Yeah me neither, because he always knows. And people love him. – Todd Wilcox May 2 '18 at 3:51
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    There are really two ways the term is used (well, three, but "perfectly good female characters I don't like" isn't a productive one). Some people use it to mean a self-insert character, who proclaims the author's views and is treated as automatically correct, even if they have other huge character flaws. Others use more the definition above: a character who lacks meaningful flaws, whether in personality, combat, social skills...or whose flaws in those areas are glossed over for the sake of awesome. There's a lot of overlap: Richard Rahl from The Sword of Truth is a decent example of both. – Obie 2.0 May 2 '18 at 5:27
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    One way good serial works skirt this is by letting characters lose sometimes. On Law and Order, say, the detectives might solve almost every case - but they don't prevent every death, win every trial, catch every criminal, or avoid every work, romantic, or personal conflict. On Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy might never have failed to forestall the end of the world, but she frequently fails to save individual people, and not everyone reasonable is on her side or in love with her. – Obie 2.0 May 2 '18 at 5:39
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    @ToddWilcox Holmes might eventually solve every case, but his initial assumptions are often wrong, and he makes mistakes along the way, correcting them later. Nor is he "practically perfect in every way" - there are many aspects of his life that are less than perfect, and that affect his ability to do his job. – Galastel May 2 '18 at 7:22
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    @Galastel Treasure that ignorance, it's a blessing. – Chris Cox May 3 '18 at 20:38
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Negative comments that are not backed by actual criticism of your story are just trolling and should be ignored. I know it's hard, but try to focus on the positive comments you're probably also getting.

If you're still worried about the quality of your story, see if you can get a beta reader (possibly from the same fanfiction community) to catch the worst mistakes before you publish them online.

A lot of fanfiction sites also offer a variety of tags to categorize any story, so that people who don't like a specific character, pairing or plot point know to skip it if it really bothers them. Some of them will still read and still complain but like the others have said, you can't please everyone.

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In order to write well received fan-fiction it is important to determine the original author's policy on fan fiction.

If the original author is against it, your individual story may not be well received by fans of the original no matter how well it is written.

For example, some authors are explicitly against fan fiction based on their works. An example of this would be George R.R. Martin, the author of the book series that Game of Thrones is based on.

Note: the link above includes references to several other authors who are against this as well.

Here's a quote from his website's FAQ section

...don’t write in my universe, or Tolkien’s, or the Marvel universe, or the Star Trek universe, or any other borrowed background. Every writer needs to learn to create his own characters, worlds, and settings. Using someone else’s world is the lazy way out. If you don’t exercise those “literary muscles,” you’ll never develop them.

This answer is not to say that all fan fiction is bad and is not a judgement of you; however there are certain fan-doms that will react negatively to all fan-fiction due to their favorite authors' views on the genre.

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    In an ideal world, the people in those fandoms would actually tell the fanfic writers that the original author doesn't like fanfics and to respect their wishes, instead of just leaving abusive troll comments that don't help anyone. – F1Krazy May 2 '18 at 9:10
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    @F1Krazy I fully agree. If this is the case, then even a blunt "George R. R. Martin doesn't want fanfics in his universe, so just stop" would be by far more helpful than any variation of "this gives me cancer" or "go kill yourself". – a CVn May 2 '18 at 9:43
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    @F1Krazy agreed. But we both know that the internet is not an ideal world. – kuhl May 2 '18 at 11:58
  • This is weird advice! I can just see you phoning up JRR Tolkien (died 1973), or Gene Roddenberry (died 1992), or (fill in name of your favourite deceased author here)! If an internet forum for a particular fictional universe exists, it's pretty safe to assume that fans of that universe are expected - and welcome - to post fiction there. If other people have posted fiction on a forum, it's pretty safe to follow suit. – Ed999 May 8 '18 at 7:48
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Do not post online as you write it; even most professional writers do not like their first drafts, and IMO a beginner should never like their first draft, so you are just inviting criticism of something you would never actually try to call a finished product. I hope that is the case.

Next, review the other fan fiction in your same fictional universe, and see what is received well. What are people responding to?

Is it good writing? Classify it. For example,

Is it wish fulfillment (e.g. consummation of some implied relationship, explicit sexual content, resolution of some crisis not yet resolved in the fictional universe)?

Is it an actual new adventure that does NOT change the characters?

Perhaps the most important skill you can develop as a writer is being able to read your own writing as if it were written by a stranger. You absolutely cannot depend on other people to critique what is wrong with your writing, you must learn to do it yourself.

The easiest way to do that is to use such fan-sites the opposite of the way nearly everyone uses them! Use them to train yourself to find specific, exact things you do and do not like in other people's fiction. Narrow it down, to a "formula" you can generalize and copy when you do like it, and also to something you can generalize so you can recognize something you don't like if you should do it in your own fiction.

Some of those generalized problems you can find here on this site, with some advice on how to overcome them. How to show don't tell, or avoid walls of text, or avoid world-builder's disease, or purple prose, or avoid deus ex machina problems. Others can be your own; based on just writing you don't like when you realize they are bad in the same way in some sense, so figure out what that same way is!

It is important to become a diagnostician in this endeavor, so you can diagnose your own failures and not rely on strangers to do it for free. Be happy when you read something awful, it is a chance to find something obviously wrong. Don't just discard it, read it as many times as it takes to say "THIS is the big problem with this, THIS is why it makes no sense!" Or why the characters sound stupid, or like the author is forcing them into unrealistic actions (for those characters), or whatever.

It is much harder to pinpoint exactly why good writing is good (although you can begin by finding the line with the most impact and seeing how the author set that up to HAVE impact). It may be good just because there is nothing wrong with it! More likely, it has some poetry or imagery that appeals to you, and it is good to try and figure that out, too.

There are many other things to learn. How long sentences are in prose, versus how long they are in dialogue. How many details to provide in a description of a person / room / scene / landscape. How to effectively (or ineffectively) show various emotions; love, lust, anger, hatred, sexual excitement, joy, melancholy, relief, fear, terror, worry, etc. You may find 10 bad ways for every good one, but you will learn something.

The best approach for a beginner is to read analytically enough that you can refine away everything wrong with your writing, and leave something that at least doesn't inspire hatred, and if you are imaginative in the bargain, people may like it a lot.

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Rather than posting online as you write it, finish your story first. You'll have a better view of the complete picture of where you want it to go, the pacing, the arc, how the characters change, without others' comments to discourage or influence you along the way. By doing this, you'll also learn to finish things without receiving any positive feedback along the way. Having a complete story that no one has seen in your hands will make it easier for you to draft, too. You might see opportunities for large-scale edits that wouldn't have been possible if half the story were already out, and especially if you finish it and let it sit for a while it will be easier to find mistakes and cliches.

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What my experience from several read fanfictions is: Most of the writers and readers only like the bad guys, and especialy, if they are gay and sleep with their siblings or the good guy.

I don't see anything wrong in homosexual stuff, but incest is some other thing. The general problem in FanFictions is also, the lack of writing style. Many authors don't put any effort in the story and don't want to develop it any further. They lack the common sense.

What makes a bad story out of a FanFiction? Thats in pretty every case the ignorance about good willed advice and critique. I often commented on promising FanFictions with good advise and helpful tips to improve the writing style, only to get turned down, insulted or even threatend to get sued for insulting

Poorly most of the FanFiction Community is not very kind. So I would suggest you to ignore these comments and concentrate on the comments that tell you plotholes, story errors, styling helps and so on. Constructive critique is the keyword. Ignore everyone who just have to say that your story is shit, but don't explain why. You can only improve, if they say whats wrong.

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As someone who also occasionally writes fanfiction, my suggestion is to take a look at Sturgeon's Law. In short, it says that 90% of everything is crap. Consequently, 90% of all fanfiction is crap. That said, as someone who just started writing fanfiction, odds are that whatever you write falls into the 90% that is crap. You need to admit this if you want to improve.

As a general rule, the better your writing gets, the less insulting comments you will receive. However, no matter how good your writing is, there will always be people who want to leave comments like that behind.

So how do you deal with this? There are really three main approaches:

  1. Do not post anywhere people can comment on your work. This has the downside of you not being to receive constructive criticism either, and never improving
  2. Ignore all comments on your work. Once again, without constructive criticism you can't improve. Also, why bother posting online if you aren't going to look at people praising your work?
  3. Spend time finding the right place to post. As a general rule of thumb, the more anonymous people get to be, the more they are going to be assholes for the sake of being assholes. There are some forums (I'm not sure how appropriate it is to advertise here so I won't link any) where they have a subsection for posting your writing, but they also have other subsections.

    This is good, because usually forums have rules about what sort of behavior is allowed. So people saying "you should kill yourself" would simply be banned from the forum and you won't have to deal with them. On the other hand, since people are generally invested in their accounts to one level or another, they won't risk a ban just to insult you. Instead, if they hate your writing and can't say anything else, they will leave.

    This will result in two things. Either your writing is good and you would receive only positive reviews, or it actually has flaws, in which case people will tell you what those are. Of course how willing they are to tell you the flaws in your writing will depend on how willing you are to listen to criticism, but if you are, you can use this to get better.

Of course, one thing you should keep in mind is that you can't please everyone. I have had cases where I make a decision to include something in the plot and I got half a dozen people telling me it was a great idea and they loved it, and the same number of people explaining to me why they absolutely hated it. So don't try to please everyone. If everyone hates what you are doing that is a sign that you are doing something wrong, but if it is split half and half then just accept it and move on.

That said, if you really are a new writer, there are a few things I suggest you watch out for:

  • Grammar - enough spelling and sentence structure mistakes could make a great story unreadable. Always work on you have decent grammar
  • Adversity - there are story styles - crack pics, power fantasies, etc. - where the entire point is that the Main Character is an invincible, unchallenged juggernaut. If that is what you want, you should label this at the beginning of your story. If that isn't it, adversity is mandatory. Your character should face challenges. There should be people who oppose your character. Not all of them should necessarily be the bad guys
  • Flaws - tied into the above, your character shouldn't be perfect. They could have something they are perfect at, but they shouldn't be perfect at everything. Also, "they can do everything flawlessly, except can't socialize worth a damn" is generally considered bad writing, so don't pick that as a flaw. The point is, sometimes your character should fail. Sometimes, they should be wrong.
  • Idiot Balls - an idiot ball is when someone does something stupid - usually out of character for them, generally enough to break suspension of disbelief - to advance the plot. Or make the main character look good. Be very careful with these. The occasional comic relief character being an idiot might make sense. Beyond that though, each use of these is a flaw in your writing. You could have a few and still have a good story, but the more you have, the greater the rest of the story needs to be to make up for it
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The basic answer, which you've already been given, is: you can't avoid negative feedback. If you post any writing on-line, especially fiction, it will attract internet trolls, as sure as the sparks fly upward.

Most of the advice offered by the other responses is worthwhile. But I'd like to add a note about a "Mary Sue". This often refers to a character in a story who represents the author, and is typically used with reference to a female author.

Firstly, a Mary Sue is not necessarily a perfect character, who never makes a mistake, despite what one answer says. She - and it is normally a she - is a character through whom the author appears in the story in person. In a 'Star Trek' novella, for instance, she is often a new female Yeoman who has a crush on Captain Kirk: the deadly point being that Captain Kirk returns her affections, when he ought reasonably to be ignoring her.

I've even read published Star Trek novels by professional writers - of the female persuasion - who have written themselves into the novel. It always makes me cringe, so I can't honestly voice any criticism of a reviewer who finds it equally grating. If you must write in Roddenberry's universe, you must obey Roddenberry's Rules: and this goes for any fan fiction. If you subvert the rules of the universe, you are insulting its creator and its fans, and you'll get justifiable criticism. You are entitled to complain about a troll who criticises you for no valid reason, but not about a reviewer who has a legitimate reason to voice (non-abusive) criticism.

And you can do something positive about this, because you have a name that no one I know would recognise as a girl's name. If you are ambiguous about whether you are a girl, or at least are silent on the point, few trolls are likely to realise that one of your characters is a Mary Sue, even if she is one, because they simply won't realise you are a female author. Chances are then pretty good that you won't get criticised on that particular ground.

I'd like to offer you a point of view on style, too.

The most important aspect of your writing is your writing style. If you write fluently, without more than an occasional lapse in spelling, grammar or punctuation, your work will be easy to read, and so less likely to irritate the reader. Try to let your meaning come through clearly: there is nothing more irritating than a good story which is hampered because the punctuation, spelling or grammar makes it difficult to understand what a sentence means.

With fan fiction, it can often be helpful to read what other people are writing. If you read a fan-fiction story by someone else, and notice that something about it irritates you - for whatever reason - try to avoid doing the same thing in your own writing. That way you can learn from someone else's mistakes.

Reading a well-written story may be a pleasure, but probably you won't learn anything from doing so. You'll actually learn more by reading something badly written, because things about it will - hopefully - irritate you, and you can then make a note of something to avoid doing in your own writing.

All I am really saying here is, if you see something that irritates you, try to avoid doing that in your own story.

That requires you to, at the very least, finish writing your story before you post any of it online -- because the final step must always be to re-read it, looking for points that you would object to if it was someone else's story. This is called proof-reading, and no work is fit for publication until it has been proofread.

With regard to criticism, I tend to disagree with most of the other responses posted here. Positive criticism, or perhaps I should say positive feedback, is pretty much just as useless as negative feedback.

If a reviewer gives no reasons, then positive and negative comments are alike useless to you. And most people who post positively give no - or no useful - details of why they responded favourably. The only type of feedback worth a damn is that which gives you some indication of why the reviewer liked or disliked the piece.

Feedback that helps you write your next piece is worth having, even if it's negative. Feedback that doesn't actually tell you anything is only worth ignoring.

Good luck.

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I agree with the other answers, though I think it can be put a little more concise: As a rule of thumb, if it's a negative comment and it's not constructive, you can safely ignore it.

The comments you quoted don't even tell what they didn't like, much less how it could be improved. And since whoever wrote it didn't even put in the seconds of effort to tell you what you could improve, why would you bother puting in effort to please them? Just ignore such comments (especially don't take them to heart in any way), and either delete or flag them if possible (this depends on where you post your stuff and how well it is moderated).

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Adding to the great answers here, I think one of the best communities which give great advice on writing are Destructive Readers and Writing. Reddit is a great online forum for constructive advice on writing and moderators take care to remove negative feedback.

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