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OutsideTheLines' Guide To Fan Fiction Writing

Assembled by David D. Amaya
Version 5.0 November, 2000

So you wanna be an Fan-Fiction Writer
The World of Fan Fiction Writing
Lighting the Spark
Getting Down to Business
Idea = Foundation
Plot = Framework
The Characters
The Character Chart
The Story
Definition of "The Writer"

Back to Top


This guide is dedicated to four types of writers.

To Stan Lee founder of Marvel Comics,
Thank you, for your vision.

To all Fan Fiction authors,
Thank you, for your love of writing.

To all new budding Fan Fiction writers who look to these words,
Thank you, for your courage to try something new.

And most of all . . .

To the writer who introduced memorable characters like the Lorax, the Sneeches, Sam I Am, the Grinch, and the Cat in the Hat, to this world.

Characters who helped a young dyslexic kid from East Los Angeles fight to learn, so he may write characters just as memorable one day.

To Dr. Seuss,

Thank You.

So you wanna be an Fan Fiction Writer?

Click here to skip over the introduction
If you are like most people who discover Fan Fiction, you've seen your favorite heroes on TV, or read a storyline from the comics and said;

"That ending sucks!"

Or "WELL, what happened next."

Or "Just what DID happen in Episode 364 to make him so upset?"

Or if you are like me you woke up one late night after eating too many chili dogs and saw a story that couldn't be told in the regular comic world.

You now have an idea in your head, and you have the resolve to write it down. Well, good for you! You have fulfilled the First Commandment of Storytelling.

"If there is a story which you'd love to read, but is not written, then you must write it."

So, you have the idea and the resolve, but you are having some trouble putting your idea to pen and paper. Fret not.This guide will help you to build upon your idea and resolve to write your story.

The World of Fan Fiction Writing
If you are new to the world of Fan Fiction, welcome. If you have been a veteran reader, and are now about to take that next giant leap to writing, may I congratulate you on your first step to joining a growing community of on-line authorship.

Meet your new peers and audience

For you first-time Fan Fic writers, let's get to know what you're getting into.

Fan Fiction writers come from all walks of life, the youngest is a four-year-old who recites stories to her father, who posts them for her, the oldest I ever contacted was a 78-year-old grandmother who stumbled upon the genra to see what her 17-year-old granddaughter was reading, and was hooked ever since.

The distance a story can travel stretches over thousands of miles across the globe.

From across the United States, and Canada, Australia, Great Britain, Ireland, Finland, Poland, Sweden, Singapore, Brazil, South Africa and Germany, just to name some of the homelands of people I have personally contacted through the special magic of fan fiction.

And the list grows like a wildfire, each and every day!!

And like the readers, the stories themselves run the gauntlet.

Some stories are of the same stuff you can find in the comic section of your favorite bookstore every month, but, not every story on this thread is about some evildoer hell-bent on takeover of the world, or a hero who single-handedly put the whoop-ass on a legion of Sentinels.

Some deal in the everyday slice of life, some talk about the private love, life and pain of our heroes, and even erotic, yet exceptionally written, stories for older readers, plays a big part, just as does silly, slapstick humor. So what ever your taste in reading or writing, there is room enough for you to join in all the fun!

This guide is written with the novice Fan Fiction writer in mind, but not that is not to say that you have to have some writing background.

What Fan Fiction is, is NOT limited to pen & paper, or typing a copy on the net. Fan Fiction is storytelling, With the range of writers, some are not great spellers, others have less that perfect grammar, some do not type well, and for a large number, English is not their primary language. Heck, I'm dyslexic and I failed English is High School three times! Yet here I am, giving advice on how to write!

Then there is, of course, stories that you may not enjoy as much as others, for the reasons above or maybe you do not follow that category of fiction, or dislike the works of a certain author

But every story found on the net, or elsewhere around the world, follows the Second Commandment of Storytelling:

"A bad story is as much a labor of love, as a good one; it comes as sincerely from the author's soul especially yours." -Aldous Huxley

So whatever your "skill" level, do not ever feel that you are not up to the task.

Take this advice to heart, ALWAYS

Recruiting, or Lack Thereof

If you have been reading some of the outstanding works to be found here at OTL and think, "Wow, the comic book companies must recruit from this group like the Minor Leagues." Well, take your bat and glove and go outside and play ball.

Most publishers, from the comic heavyweights like Marvel, DC, and Dark Horse, to major novel publishers like Pocket Books and Bantam-Doubleday Publishing, do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

As the legendary Stan Lee once said to a budding young writer himself;

"Maybe on a good day, If your lucky. Then you may have a chance, probably."

You may have the tools and the talent, but many, if not all of us, do it for the fun of it, and others, like me, live for their byline.

If you have not been discouraged by all these facts and still want to write X-Men fiction, or Spider-Man fiction, or Superman fiction, or Star Trek fiction or SWATKat fiction or..., You have taken the next important step to writing.

The actual writing.

Ok. Now you have an idea in your head, a love for comics, and you are serious to have your stuff read by thousands, upon thousands of Fan Fiction fans from around the globe, let's see if we can help make your idea a masterpiece.

End of intro.

Lighting the Spark

One of the oldest cliches about writing is that it is a talent that can't be taught.

As novelist Phyllis Whitney said, "No one can light the spark that will make you a writer, make you want to write. You must supply that yourself."

If you have the spark, you will find people, through books, classes, newsgroups and even me, to help you fan that spark into a blaze of glory.

Some words of advice

The first piece of advice I will give you I received from fellow Fan Fiction writer, Owner of the Comic FanFiction Authors' Network web site and Fan Fiction Hall of Fame writer, Kielle, who writes in The ACFF Styleguide;

"Read and read and READ!!! The more you read, the more of a 'feel' you'll get for what's right and what's wrong in your own writing."

The second is that a little research never hurt anyone.

You know where Madripoor is on a world map? Can you name all the months of the Krypton calendar?

Do a little background work; even on the characters that you think you know.

For some of the mainstream genras, the internet and even the local library and bookstore are full of stuff about TV and movie genras, like Star Trek, Star Wars, and so forth, time-lines, episode guides and such, can be great help in your writing.

For the rest, a quick search through many of the archives on the net will land you plenty of background information on your characters.

Now that you know a little more about your heroes and villains. Let's start writing!

Getting Down to Business

Building an House of Words

In Cathleen Phillips' book, "How to Write a Story," She equates writing with building a house.

A master carpenter would start out with a solid foundation, a strong framework that will hold up the walls and roof and then at last adds doors and windows trim and paint.

The storyteller needs to start with a foundation and framework that is dependable enough to support the details of a story. The story house might look a little like this;

To give you a better idea on how this "Fiction Floorplan" works lets break them down, one at a time.

Idea = Foundation

Ideas and Were to Find Them

"Were do story ideas come from?"

The answer is; EVERYWHERE!!

You can find ideas in almost everything you see or read, or hear. Your favorite song, ads in the personals section of the newspaper, or like me, at an ice hockey game.

Sometimes the ideas come quite unexpectedly. Reading a story reminds you of a person, something that happened on your last family vacation to Palm Springs, the experience of your first flat tire with no spare, or starts you on a new train of thought.

All of those ideas are great stuff to write a story about.

I was taught in Beginning Journalism that many professional writers and journalists carry pocket-sized notebooks, to jot down ideas as they come, for two reasons; First, the act of writing down one idea often sparks new ideas and second, the greatest idea in the universe is of no use to you if you forget it within the hour.

I still carry one to this day. Try it for a few days, you will never know how you managed without one.

Plot = Framework

The Story Planners Guide to Math

When you have decided on an idea you like, it is time to think of a plot.

There are many ways to explain the plot, as there are writers. Some of the basic examples are:

The best way I was taught to describe a story plan is with math;

+ a complication
+ what the character(s) do/does about it
 = The Story Plan

The Flash Flood if Ideas

While attending a writer's workshop, I learned that just about any plot has been used in one way or another.

Now you can't just recycle a plot, they aren't beer bottles. So the trick is to look at the same thing as every one else and think about something different. That's a technique called brainstorming.

The first thing to remember about brainstorming is to come up with a key word or idea and speak up with anything that comes to mind. This is even better, and a lot of fun, when you have some friends over to help brainstorm an idea!

Second, is that no idea or suggestion is considered too silly or absurd. Great ideas bounce off the wild ones and some ideas will make everyone laugh. This is good, as humor helps increase your creativity.

The Spiders Guide to Brainstorming

The best way of brainstorming is a technique called webbing and just like a spider it branches out in a similar way.

(ADD Scanned Web)

What IF? and What THEN?
First we need a piece of paper, or a large chalkboard, or Post-It notes to stick on the wall, (or whatever turns you on).

I will use this idea to get you going;

Start with a main idea, put it in the very center (Wags - talking dog)

The next step is to come up with what problems the character might have as a result.

The first idea from the Main, is that the owner thinks she's imagining things - you draw a small line from the Main to the first What IF? (Owner thinks she's imagining things).

Now ask yourself What THEN?

In this example, the owner is worried and sacred that she is hearing things. So you draw a small line from the first problem, (Owner thinks she's imagining things), to the What THEN? (Owner worried and scared)

Another idea from the main is that his owner hears Wags only, so you connect the next What IF? (is heard by owner only), and ask yourself What THEN?

Two ideas come to mind in this image, one is that her friends do not believe her and laugh at Wags' owner [Connect (is heard by owner only) to (laugh at Wags' owner)] . Another is that her parents scold her for making up stories. [Connect (is heard by owner only) to (parents scold owner)].

And so on, and so on, this is how webbing helps you with the story plan.

You don't have to figure out all the details of your story at this point, but do have a general idea of where the story is going and how it will end. ( ... and so they lived happily ever after.)

{OK this one is weak, but who came to whom for help??}
So now you have the three components that add up to make the story plan (the character(s), the complications, and the outcome), this is the framework on which you'll build your story.

Shooting from the Hip

If you're itching to begin writing, you may be tempted to skip working on a plan for your story, and shoot from the hip.

Even I do, too, sometimes, but give some thought and care to make a strong framework for the general idea of the story, before you start on the details.

In the long run, a plan will save you time and makes your writing easier in the end so you don't wind up with a story that's in danger of falling to pieces because of carelessly prepared groundwork.

The Five W's

In writing anything from an autobiography to a football story in the sports section of a high school newspaper, you will come across six questions you must ask about your groundwork ideas, they are known in journalism circles as the 5 W's they are;

(Ok, there is six, but - the 5 W's & an H doesn't roll of the tongue as well)

The Characters

A Day in the Life of ...

Who are your characters?

Why do they behave the way they do?

If you want your story to come alive, your readers must be able to see and hear them, to view how they go about their daily lives and understand why they act and react the way they do.

The more you know about your characters, the easier it will be to make your readers feel that they know them too.

And the best way I know how is by using a Character Chart.

Thoughts and Feelings, Hopes and Fears

The best way to get in the know with your characters is with a Character Chart.

The chart is to help you learn more about the characters.

Knowing what they look like and where they live is NOT ENOUGH alone. You need to get inside their thoughts and feelings, share their hopes and fears.

When you have completed the chart below, or similar ones, you will not only know who they are, you will also know why they are who they are.

The more important the character is in your story (Or even sequels and subsequent stories), the more details you will want.

Many of your readers already know about Rouge, Gambit, Captain America, Storm, Batman, Spawn, Jean Grey, and most of the other super-powered characters, so writing about them may be easier, but still try to write a chart for them as well.

You can find about the general stuff (Age, physical description, powers and abilities) from your observations or from Bio pages on the net.

If you are using characters of your own creation, GREAT.

I prefer to use my own characters because I will know what is going on inside their heads, but that is AFTER I wrote charts on each of them.

So write a chart on each of your new characters, too.

Personality and a love of Spaghetti O's

The character's name is one of the first things to enter on this chart, but the names are not always the first thing you learn about your characters.

Finding the right name is often a matter of trying again and again.

In the example I will show you I use one of my characters from my first fan-fic "Opening Night".

He is a 17-year-old from California, that can absorb physical energy, named Jason Delano (in the story, I don't even state what his power is! But instead draw upon how he acts and reacts in this story)

If you want to know more about your characters, you can answer personal questions like, What is their,

And so on...

Here is part of the chart I used on Jason Delano (I will not fill everything out on Jay for you. That is for the readers to learn) I will explain each description.

Click here to skip the Character Chart

The Character Chart

Type: (Is your character a man, woman, boy, girl, animal, gnome?)

Name: Jason Delano (Give your characters names as soon as you begin writing your story, but feel free to change them if you think of better ones, BTW this was my eleventh name for this character.)

Nicknames or Code names: Nickname; Jay, Code Name' Argonaut (only add nicknames if they are important. For super heroes, it is important to have a code name, the best ones is to play off your heroes powers, i.e. Storm can create, well, storms)


Age: 17 (Give the actual age of children and teenagers, and a general idea for the age of adults - i.e. early twenties, middle aged, elderly.)

Height and Weight: 5'9" 165 Lbs.
Eyes: Brown
Hair: Brown and cut short (Color or baldness is necessary. Length is only needed if necessary.) Super Powers: (Try to narrow down your heroes' powers right away because they may have to use them in a story, but feel free to change what powers they have, especially if you can come up with cooler ones.)


This can be just story specific, but I add it here as it can have an effect your character.

Time Setting: Present Day (the Middle Ages, Post-WWI, Pre- Age Of Apocalypse, the French Revolution, etc.)

Place: Long Beach Harbor, CA (Mars, southern France, Metropolis, Chicago, the Savage Land, Genosha, the Bat Cave, a Montana cattle ranch, etc.)

Home: House in the suburbs (Castle, apartment, wigwam, etc.)

Who Shares This Home: Three Friends (Family, elderly uncle, 76 cats, etc.)

Immediate Family relationships: None (Parents? Brothers or sisters? Grandparents? No immediate family?)
Place in Family: Emancipated Minor (head of home, middle of six children, only child, foster child, etc.)

Friends: Alea, Yoink & Nuff (Name any and all you may need, You don't have to name all of their friends in the world, if you don't plan to use them in one particular story)

Pets: (if needed)

Occupation: (if appropriate.)

School: Junior in high school goes to public school in the suburbs (if appropriate. What grade? Does character go to school in the inner-city, a private school, a one-room country school? )

Hobbies and Special Interests:


Disposition: (happy, nervous, curious, etc)


How Does Character feel about (him/her)self:

How Does Character feel about Friends:

How Does Character feel about Family:

How Does Character feel about School or Job: (Include feeling about teachers, best-liked and least-liked subjects, fellow employees, and employer)


What is Character's Dominant Personality Trait:

What is Character's Secondary Personality Trait:


Does Character Change Ideas, Beliefs, or Attitudes as a result of Experiences in the Course of the Story:

In what ways: (You may not be able to answer this until you've worked on your story for a while)

End of Character Chart

So after you know that your character wears glasses, sports a mohawk, and she loves cold Spaghetti O's straight out of the can you can begin to make them as real as family. (But you don't have to buy them birthday gifts!)

Animal, Mineral, or Vegetable

Another way to find out more about your characters is to play a game I learned when I was in the 5th grade, relearned in college, and use for my characters.

What would your characters be if they were a; Vegetable? Flower? Animal? Gemstone? Song? Color? Instrument? Piece of Furniture? Or an Article of Clothing?

This game will help you understand what's your character's, character.

Character tags

A great way to help readers get acquainted with your characters is to describe the way they look or act or talk in a story, in a way we call Character tags.

This Morning Alea was dressed in a green University of Hawaii sweater. The rainbow logo matched her personality, colorful and beautiful.

Jason didn't like surprises, and the street survival instincts he honed on the mean streets of East LA were kicking into high gear.

Even trademark speech is a way to identify characters.

"Oh, geez," said Jubilee. "Here we go again! We're facin' a whole army of goons!"

"... Luck had nothin' to do with it, darlin'," Logan replied. "... And let's just say it was a lessen she won't forget anytime soon," he growled, popping one of the claws that extended out of his hand. " 'Specially anytime she looks in the mirror."

Other effective ways to help your readers know a character include comments and reactions from others, and the character's own statements or thoughts.

I didn't come to Utah to be the same boy I'd been before. I had my own dreams of transformation, ... dreams of freedom ... and taciturn self-sufficiency. The first thing I wanted was to change my name ... I wanted to be called Jack, after Jack London.

The Story

From Poems, to Epics, to Serials

Ok, you have the basic storyline in mind, you brainstormed and now you know your characters better that your own little sister. Now its time to consider other details about what you plan to write.

As I had mentioned above that Fan Fiction is not limited to pen & paper, it isn't limited to stories either. Just as there is so many way to write there is many types of writings.


What's in a Name

Ok, you have built a skyscraper of a story. now you need a place mat that makes all the readers come in through the front door.

Your title is the first chance to grab your reader.

Often it is brief, almost easy to remember, and easy to say.

Look at other titles. Look at the books on your shelves. Glance at the table of contents in a magazine. Which ones catch your eye? The subjects you're interested in of course, but do some of them stoop you, even if you're not -at least you thought you were not- interested in the subject?

Big business invests fortunes into eye-catching packaging, so think of the search for the perfect title as an investment in your story.

The Name's The Thing

"Where do titles come from?"

The answer is; Yep, you guessed it... EVERYWHERE!!

But most come from an idea, or a quote from the story itself.

My first fan-fic story is about four young mutants who go to the Opening Night for a pro hockey team.

Another of my story about a mutant that lives in the White House, the First Mutant.

Another way is to find a title is to borrow one.

No, that doesn't mean you can name your story "Gone with the Wind," and expect a best seller, but plays on titles are popular, for example a Pinky & the Brain crossover by David J Warner is titled "Of Mice and Mutants," a twist on the Steinbeck classic.

The most often used sources for titles, other than the story itself, are the Bible and the works of William Shakespeare (the title of this section is an example of Shakespeare's Hamlet, Act II, scene II). Using the names of popular songs, a favorite verse, nursery rhymes, and proverbs are also popular for titles.

The 'old standby' is to use Bartlett's "Familiar Quotations" or other books on famous or modern quotes and look up one that can sum up the story, a major moment, or the character's feelings, thoughts, and reactions.

The best example of this is the title of a fan fiction work by the internet fan-fic author, Milissa Nolan, a story that examines the unique relationship between Jubilee and Wolverine, a story who's title is a quote from the Rudyard Kipling story "The Thousandth Man" (the title is in italics;)

"One man in a thousand, Solomon says,
Will stick more close than a brother.
But the Thousandth Man will stand by your side.
To the gallows foot -- and after!"


Golden Opportunities

So now you have written the last word of a masterpiece of fiction, but don't think you're finished just yet. Now cones the hardest step in writing (or so thinks my old English professor), the step called Revision, and as the name implies it is a matter of re-vision, seeing your story another time. This is the place the real writing begins.

Revision is not to be confused with proofreading. (My first work had many typos and grammatical errors.) It is, as my English professor called it the "... golden opportunity to make the not-so-good, good, and the good, even better."

When my English professor once herd an exceptionally gifted student (who looked a lot like me, but only an inch too overconfident in his abilities), tell him that he never did any rewriting, he told me ... er, rather, that student, that he was one of three types of writers.

  1. The could-be writer who believes they cannot do better because their ability is poor.
  2. The would-be writer who believes they cannot do better because their work is so damn good.
  3. The experienced professionals who are able to create many mental drafts before they begin their actual writing.
There are very, very, few of the third type of writers. The aforementioned student thought (at the time) he was of the second. But if you think you are of the first type of writer, take it from me, or that students' mistake in thinking, there is always room for improvement.

How to be Your own Best Enemy

A great way to start to look over your own writing, is to put it out of sight.

My English professor always said it's best to forget all about it for a few days, or overnight at least overnight. Place it in your sock drawer, next to the cookie jar, or even place it in a freezer bag and place it in the freezer overnight. That way you can start looking it over your story cold.

(That was a journalism joke, BTW)

All kidding aside, the best way to look it over, is if someone else wrote it, and gives it the thoughtful looking over you would expect from your English teacher.

Drifting back to the house-building analogy I use in the begging of this guide, this is the scene where the building inspector would show up.

As you go through your story, after it has thawed of course, use the tip I got from Kielle, and that is to "read your work aloud. If it sounds wrong, it IS generally wrong. If dialog sounds unnatural, it probably IS unnatural. And if you have to gasp for air in the middle of a sentence, the sentence in question is too long."

You may be surprise at what you might have missed the first time around, sometimes you may make so many marks on your story it may be an ink stain, good, that is the Third Commandment of Storytelling,

"Every writer has to be his own best enemy. To tear apart a paragraph that even an Pulitzer judge would have left alone is what a good writer must do."

Beta Readers

Even after tearing your own stuff to shreds, you may still want to have your stuff looked over by another person.

I would suggest your English or creative writing teachers, for those of you in school.

The drawbacks of this, though, may include the fact they may only look to the technical writing aspect and not always the comic-style (accents, non-English and slang). Dialog by Gambit, Rouge, and Nightcrawler, are prime examples, and besides you wouldn't think THEY would read comic books, Would they?

If you would like to have someone that has written fan fiction read-over your fiction, ASK THEM.

You can post a message asking for the help, many are just itching to give you.

The best place to begin is the "Beta Readers Board" over on CFAN. There you will find a listing of experienced Fan Fiction readers & writers (many of whom have editing and proofreading backgrounds) that are asking to help with new writers!

Another place to look, (if you have access to E-mail) is to send a request letter to our parent Mailing List, OutsideTheLines@Topica.com

You need to post a message asking for Beta Readers (in compu-speak, a beta is like a sneak preview, although the term beta means second, yet another computer contradiction).

In the body of the message, tell them that you have written a story, and you would like to know if someone would like to look it over.

Say something about the story. The basic plot, which heroes may be in it, if you have created any characters of your own, and what you think is the finer points you would like them to focus on, (is the Cajun accent ok? Is this what would Scott do?), or if the characters would behave a certain way (would Robin say that? Would Captain America do this? etc.)

In Opening Night I needed help on how the X-Men in my story would have reacted to the situations I put them through in the story, and I got a lot of help on my story.

In Closing

Now that is all the tips I give on the preparation that goes into writing. Now I do not give advice on technical aspects of writing, (Subject, verb, somthingorother) or the nuts and bolts of writing. Or what to do to cure Writers' Block. (That's because I'm still looking for that one myself!) I feel that if you use these simple tips, the ideas will flow and your story will begin to take shape, then it is up to you to determine if the story is progressing as it should.

If you feel that you and your work can benefit from professional instruction. Please feel free to turn to the Writer's Resources page at OutsideTheLines.MainPage.Net . There I list some great titles on Authorship and Creative Writing, as well as some great Resources for writers!

If you need some more help, or if you have any more questions, comments or cusswords about this version, you can drop me a line at my E-mail address, DavidAmaya@hotmail.com.

I hope that after reading this guide it has been a little helpful in your writing of fan fiction, but it is only a guide, as you still have to write the story yourself.

In closing, the last piece of advice I'll give you is what sits upon my desk. The words I looked upon when this dyslexic kid placed his AA degree on his wall, when my first manuscript was flatly turned down, and the day I began this journey called fan Fiction. I call it;

The Definition of The Writer.

"All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you: the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and the sorrow, the people and places and how the weather was. If you can get so that you can give that to people, then you are a writer."

-Ernest Hemingway

All characters & publications mentioned in this document are trademarks of their respective owners, and all copyrights are held by them as applicable.

This information is not endorsed in any way or form by; Marvel Comics Group, DC Comics, Dark Horse Comics, Image Comics or any other publishing entity.

The OutsideTheLines Home Page, its parent mailing list, Topica, Inc., Tripod Corp., nor those who own or assisted those groups, will be held responsible for any problems caused by information contained within this document.