Fanfic Readers Hate It When You Do This

Ever looked at statistics for your fanfic and wondered: “Why don’t my hits match up with my reviews?” Why do people click on your fanfic and then… nothing?

One possible reason is that something about just didn’t hook them. If you lose a reader early on, it’s unlikely they’re going to want to see if the fanfic gets better. Likewise, they won’t review to let you know what they think.

I’ll admit, I’m somewhat nitpicky about the fanfics I read. But stunning authors have opened my mind to fanfic plots I never would have thought of myself. As an example, I’m still working on my Yu-Gi-Oh! fanfic What Doesn’t Kill You. I thought reading some romantic Yu-Gi-Oh! fanfics featuring Seto Kaiba and Anzu Mazaki could kickstart my motivation to write more.

So I went to both Archive of Our Own and and did a search. I searched for Yu-Gi-Oh! fanfics with any rating and in any genre. I filtered for stories in English, featuring Seto Kaiba and Anzu Mazaki. On AO3, many of the fanfics were ones I’d already read and that the authors had yet to update, so I went to FFnet instead. There, I saw a handful of new fanfics, some with intriguing summaries and titles.

What drove me away?

Misspellings in the title or the summary

Spellcheck yourself before you wreck yourself. It's important to spellcheck your fanfic before publishing it.
You did spellcheck that fanfic before you hit publish, right?

Not everyone cares so much about these spelling and grammar errors. For me, they’re an instant sign that the author hasn’t bothered to use spellcheck. But every browser has it built-in these days! So what does that say about the fanfic as a whole?

Spelling errors and other examples of bad grammar make a fanfic hard to read. Something that’s hard to read is difficult to understand and enjoy. There are a few easy ways to remedy this for your stories:

  1. Use your browser’s built-in spellcheck. If it’s not turned on, find out how to do it. Here’s how to do it for Chrome, Firefox, and Internet Explorer. If you use Opera, Edge, or another browser, do a search for your browser’s name and “how to turn on spellcheck.”
  2. Use the spellcheck built into your word processor. A lot of people type out their fanfics in Microsoft Word or similar before adding it to a fanfic website. Whatever program or application you use, it likely has built-in spellcheck like your browser. If it’s not already turned on by default, look for Tools, Options, or Preferences in the menu. You can also do a search for “spellcheck” in the Help menu to figure out how to turn it on. Make sure to set it for the language of the fanfic you’re writing in!
  3. Ask a friend. If you have friends in the fandom, ask them to read over the fanfic for you. Ask if they can catch any spelling or grammar errors. This is often called “beta reading.” You can also ask if someone’s willing to be your editor and also keep an eye out for other inconsistencies. Do you switch between Japanese and Americanized names? Are you consistent with how your characters speak? Editors can be great at catching these things.

If your spellcheck misses things or tries to fix things that it shouldn’t correct, then teach it! When it finds a name that it thinks is a word, right-click on the red line. Choose “Learn Spelling” or “Add to Dictionary.” Just make sure not to add genuine misspellings to the dictionary to save yourself time!

You can also do this for other words that don’t have a good English equal, or other pronouns, like place names. For example, the fandom Fushigi Yuugi is often written as Fushigi Yûgi. Don’t want to learn how to type special characters? Have your spellcheck make the correction for you! You’ll only need to type or copy-paste the version with the special characters once! But this tip only works for those words that you can’t confuse with other words. You don’t want to teach your spellcheck to replace every instance of Tea with Téa. That is, unless you want teacher, hot tea, and similar words to end up with an accented letter for no reason!

Summary doesn’t match the fanfic’s opening at all

Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Tin Can - Does your fanfic match with its summary? If not, why not?
Does your summary match what your fanfic is actually about? If not, why not?

I see it written so often, it must be true, right? “Summaries are so hard to write!” Except a summary is just that: a summary of what your fanfic is about. You don’t want to “give away” the plot of your fanfic. Formatting your summary as a question or an intriguing statement are two options. In a nutshell, you have just 1-3 sentences to draw people in and get them to click.

Once you’ve got their attention, don’t waste it! Don’t write a summary that refers to a part of the fanfic that’s chapters away. Don’t write a summary for parts that you haven’t written yet. Start by revealing the scenario from your summary, even if it’s only with small details.

Example: What NOT to Do in Your Fanfic

As an example, in Yu-Gi-Oh! there are characters who once lived in Ancient Egypt. Thus, they have different names than they do in modern Japan. Plus, there are name changes between the original Japanese series and the English dub.

I read a fanfic that uses the dub names for the characters in the summary. But in the fanfic itself, the author used Japanese names for characters in Ancient Egypt. Then the author used the dub names for characters in the modern day. Needless to say, I got confused.

Consistency is key. Make sure you’re being consistent with how you refer to your characters. Familiarize yourself with the names of all the characters. If you’re going to change how characters refer to each other, explain why in the notes before the fanfic.

The fanfic is completely predictable

Yami no Yuugi about to play Dark Magician - Don't make your fanfic as predictable as the card in Yuugi's hand!
You’ll never guess which card I’m about to play! – Predictability in fanfic

I’m loathe to do this, but have you ever heard of TV Tropes? If not, check it out– and maybe set yourself a timer so you don’t spend too long on the site. All your favorite media, including TV shows, books, movies, comics, and games have “tropes.” Tropes are recurring themes or motifs.

The sort of tropes you’ll find in fanfiction depend on the universe the fanfic takes place in. If you’re writing a fanfiction taking place in the Yu-Gi-Oh! universe, you’ll likely have some of the tropes that the series has, like Absurdly High-Stakes Game, an Amulet of Concentrated AwesomeCard Games, and so on.

Let’s say you actually don’t incorporate many of the predictable tropes of your fandom. Instead, you set up a fanfic in medias res, in the middle of the action. Your summary is good, intriguing, even… But when you start “telling” the audience what happened, people immediately realize what’s happening. When you “tell” instead of “show” what’s going on, you finish your story before you’ve started it. Keep up the drama and tension by refusing to “give it all away.” Don’t have the characters reveal what they’re thinking or going to do next.

Example: What NOT to Do in Your Fanfic

I’ll give you another example from my search for Yu-Gi-Oh! fics. One author chose to give their fanfic a startling title and an intriguing summary. The actual fanfic started in the middle of the action, with two characters arguing. But when Character A says something a bit too revealing, the tone of the conversation does a 180º. The second character realizes that the first is actually a relative. Instead of feeling suspicious or surprised,  he reveals what he knows! This prompts the first character to stop the argument. She then shows affection toward the second character, much to her friends’ confusion!

To make matters worse, the author opted to bold the whole fanfic and center the dialogue. There are also infrequent but bizarre spelling errors. I wanted to continue reading. But the fanfic had predictability, formatting, and spelling errors that made me click away.

There’s a fine line between predictability and mystery. It’s great to keep your readers guessing, even if it’s just “How will Characters A and B get together?” We know they will get together if it’s a romance; the question isn’t whether they will or not, it’s how.

You don’t want to turn your fanfic into an episode of Lost (unless that’s the fandom you’re writing for!) where every time you answer a question, you ask three more. It gets grating. Find the middle ground between revealing all and leaving readers hanging. Readers shouldn’t know what’s going on in the heads of every character, all the time. That’s your job as the author!

What turns you off from reading a fanfic? Let me know in the comments!

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