ETA: My Muse is a real person (best friend, wardrobe consultant, purveyor of inspiration). Just wanted to assure you guys that I don't have multiple personalities or anything.
These basic tips were passed on to me by my high school creative writing and screenwriting mentor, Andrew, who was himself an awesome writer, and actually introduced me to fanfiction. I've put my own spin on these tips for fanfic, but they apply to original work too.
This is why writing fanfic rocks! You're able to take an existing rounded character and try to keep within that personality, and other fans who are familiar with the character can give you feedback on how you've done. We fangirls can be an opinionated and picky bunch. Staying in character over the course of months or years while writing a novel or series, as your own beliefs and life experiences change, can be hard to do. *koff koff* Laurell K. Hamilton, I'm looking in your direction! Writers who develop their style by writing fanfiction excel at both character constancy, or rounded static characters, and believeable character change taking place over time (progressive rounded dynamic). All the haters with their copyright infringement lawsuits are just jealous of our overall fabulousness, you know.
-Watch a TV show with a friend and try to predict what the characters will say or do next during the commercial breaks (the Muse is scary good at this, it's like her superpower or something).
-Start small, writing short fics with a simple plot. Keeping constancy is easiest to do in a humour piece, and you'll find that your writing has a better narrative flow when working on a piece with progressive rounded dynamic character change once you have mastered writing static for the same character.
-Write a bio for all your characters, even the ones that are characters we are already familiar with (canon characters in your fandom). If you and everyone else already know the basics, write the details of your personal canon, quirks and personality traits and secrets, like CHARACTER NAME can touch his nose with his tongue, prefers cats to dogs but doesn't know why, and went through a phase when he was thirteen where he insisted on eating every meal with chopsticks. The details make the characters real to you, and will help you stay in-character as you write.
-Constructive criticism is more precious than gold, and the more you give, the more you get.
Do you remember having to do outlines in junior high when you were writing an essay? Like, HAVING to do them? Do you remember how it was a really big pain in the ass? Yeah. Well. Sorry, but your teachers (probably) weren't doing it just to torture you. Writing a story with no outline is like trying to get from point A to point D and having no idea where B and C are. You can do it if point D is visible from where you are (a.k.a. a drabble), but writing longer fics without an outline is a bad habit to get into.
-If there is a specific major event you want to take place in your story, start there and work out (events leading up to, reaction, etc). Include detailed sketches of any pivotal scenes, and note down any dialogue or turns of phrase you've come up with that you particularly like. Don't make the mistake of thinking you'll remember them. You won't.
-Save your outline separately from your fic so you can have both windows open at the same time and refer back to the outline as you write.
-Outline where and when you want each scene to take place and which characters are in it as well as what's happening.
-Move in a linear fashion following the outline as you write. Resist the temptation to write the ending first, even if writer's block is plaguing you, as you will probably get stuck in the middle. In Chapter Seven. Twice. Can you tell this has happened to me? Note: This does not apply to a fic you are writing on a deadline, obviously.
Okay, a drabble? Probably does not need research. But longer works generally do. It can be as simple as re-watching a particular episode, or as painful as the massive amounts of reading janissa11 probably had to do for MRSA. /shameless pimp. Anyway. Even if you know zilch about the subject, you can learn. Google is GOD! Wikipedia, as much as we make fun of it, is pretty awesome too. I can't tell a transmission from a tailpipe, but the nice men at the Muscle Car Club love to talk about classic American metal. Big cities have tour books, and small towns often have websites where people blather on in great detail about why they love their small town.
-Librarians have a degree in library science. Help them make sure it doesn't gather dust. The words "I need to do research on _________ . Can you help me?" will magically fill your hands with books.
-For niggly, specific location details, if you've done all the research you can without actually going there, you can make things up (we'll forgive you), or if you e-mail the Chamber of Commerce or the Municipal Tourism Department (whichever they have) and tell them that you're writing a novel set in their town, and you'd like to know (insert fact), they're usually thrilled to help you.
-Online research is faster but it can be harder to guarantee the accuracy of the information. University and government sites are the most reliable, but for some things you can't beat a face to face. For particularly supernatural information, I ask the nice psychic lady at my local wicca store, who has a degree in the history of the occult. People who run independent specialty stores are usually more than happy to discuss their wares at length, be they music, comic books, or plants. For medical information, I ask my doctor (free health care, woo!), but if that's not an option, try WebMD or the CDC website.
-Typing _________ For The Complete Idiot into a searchbar will usually bring up at least one site geared toward people with the IQ of a geranium, which is a 10 minute crash course for the rest of us. It's how I learned HTML.
-Do at least three times as much research as you need to. Go to an MLS site and pick a house or an apartment for your character. Look into local history, schools, climate and geography. Go overboard. Way overboard. It helps you get a sense of the scene for your story, and it can provide you with some great ideas.
Ever heard the phrase, 'Writing is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration?' The thing about cliches is, they're usually kinda true. You can't sit around waiting for a Muse to descend from the heavens and present you with original ideas, snappy dialogue, and captivating narrative (my Muse is usually shopping anyway). What is written without effort is, in general, read without pleasure. Don't make the mistake of thinking you're not a good writer just because the words don't flow from your pen (or your keyboard) in a rush of perfection. In fact, anyone who tells you writing is like that for them is probably either a bad writer (and just doesn't know it), or a lying liar who lies.
-Set aside some time every day for writing. It should be a set amount of time during which you won't allow yourself to be distracted, or do things like check your flist, play Bejeweled 2, or even read other stories and review them. While this last one is madly appreciated Really. Truly. Love you forever. Have your babies. it does not count as 'writing time.' If you're blocked on a particular fic, write something else. Dust off an old project or write a one-shot to get the juices flowing. Try a creative exercise (see below). Or you can edit what you've written so far, or research.
-Even if you feel like what you're coming out with is crap, write anyway. Other people might think it's great, even if it feels stilted to you. And if you really hate it, you can always edit, rewrite, or delete it.
-Know when to take a break. This is not the same as being distracted. If you're really frustrated, throwing your laptop or monitor, no matter how appealing it may be at the time, will only make you sad when you have to buy a new one! Leave whatever room has the computer in it (unless you live in a studio apartment, I guess), and do something completely unrelated to writing, that will help you clear your head. For example-my dogs get a lot of walks when I have writer's block.
A good beta-reader is worth her weight in chocolate, and there are lots of communities to find them in. But spellcheck programs are an ok substitute on short one-shot fics, if you are (like me) impatient. All long fics should be beta-read. Period, full stop. Every mistake in a fic is like a slap in the reader's face. It jerks them out of the story. Too many slaps, and they'll stop reading. But don't worry too much about memorizing grammar rules if you kind of suck at learning by rote (though you should at least skim through some of the more common errors to make sure you are not making them). Reading books is the best way to learn correct grammar and spelling. Voracious readers know when something is spelled or phrased incorrectly-it just doesn't 'feel' right.
-Change the font on the piece once you're finished writing it in order to self-edit. Changing the font forces you to pay more attention to what you're reading and helps you pick out mistakes.
-A good Webster's Unabridged is a must for any serious writer. It has a thesaurus, every word in the english language, a timeline of major historical events, maps, a list of common grammar mistakes, a manual on editing and grammatical style, and crash course english-to-french, -italian, -german, and -spanish dictionaries. Plus it's so heavy, it can also double as a weapon (it is my life goal as a writer to one day kill off a character with it). You can and should get a good unabridged dictionary (the OED is also acceptable) from a secondhand bookstore if you can't afford a new one. Use it to look up words you don't understand, before using them in a fic. If you can't understand the definition either, pick a new word. Using words no one understands is pretentious and irritating.
-Don't use the beta community on ff.net. It's like asking someone who's colorblind if your outfit clashes. They may mean well, but it's unlikely they will be of any practical assistance.
-Check the User Info for a couple of the communities you would like to post in; very often they will have a list of available betas or even a link to a beta community for the fandom in the profile. If you can't find a beta specific to the fandom, or you would prefer to use the same beta for all fandoms, try The Beta Reader Directory at Perfect Imagination.
-Don't get defensive if a beta points out something wrong, or a phrasing that felt stilted to them, or an inconsistency in the action. Remember that you went to them for help, and they're not being mean, just honest. If you don't want an opinion on your work, just a standard grammar-and-spelling edit, let them know ahead of time.
Okay, these are a pain. I freely admit it. I HAD to do them, and I hated them with a firey passion, and I am a better writer for them. A creative exercise is similar to a challenge, but with very specific (and usually dull) limits, like 'write a descriptive paragraph about a desk,' or 'chronicle a day from the perspective of a taxi driver's little wobbly hula-girl.' Bo-RING. They usually have to be a specific length, about a specific subject, and a specific writing style (all dialogue, a rhyming poem, 2nd person POV, whatever). I spent a lot of time whining, 'How creative is it to have to write about something in a certain way?' But learning to be creative when writing with limits will help you be more creative when writing without them (weird, I know), and help you stick to a plot outline when writing, AND they give you, like, writer's block antibodies. Seriously.
-Get someone else to challenge you; your beta, your flist, etc. Let them be as weird and as specific as they like. You would not believe the exercises I get from the Muse (yes, I still do them. I tried to quit, and it was Writer's Block City and I was the mayor).You can also get quirky phrases from the Abstract Art Title Generator to use as prompts.
-Most of what comes out of a creative exercise will not be postable, so don't worry about that as you're writing.
-If you have a tendency to over-edit your work, or are being tortured by Count Rugen in the Writer's Block Pit Of Despair, try this stream of consciousness creative exercise. Close your eyes and take deep, even breaths for thirty seconds while you let your mind wander. Then open your eyes and write down all your thoughts as you have them with no editing for a specific length of time (set a timer so you don't have to clock-watch). Should be at least five minutes and no longer than thirty. Preferably done with a pen and paper, and you can scratch out and correct spelling mistakes if you absolutely HAVE to, but you should leave everything else. No one else has to read it, and you can throw it out as soon as you're done.
-You don't have to do the exercises within your fandom, but if you want to, most drabble comms run prompt challenges on a regular basis.
-It's like a workout for your brain, so just like going to the gym, aim for a minimum of 3 times a week.
This means 'putting it out there.' And by 'out there,' I mean post it already! If you've done the above, you probably have a really excellent fic on your hands (if I do say so on behalf of Andrew), and we would very much like to read it! Posting for the first time is scary, I know. But if you want to be a writer, at some point, you're going to have to (gasp!) let other people actually read something you've written. And only if you post, can you enjoy the pure crack that is adoring feedback for your work.
-Read brown_betty's How to post your fanfiction on LJ. Seriously. Go right now. I'll wait.
-Pick a moderated community that doesn't allow non-members to comment or post (or even a flocked comm not viewable to non-members, if you're really nervous), to prevent random flames and other assorted bitchery. You may want to disable anonymous comments on your journal for the same reason.
-Make sure to read the submission guidelines before you post (usually found in the User Info). Getting rejected by the mods will crush you (or, well, it would crush me, but I cry at Hallmark commercials), and it's usually for a silly reason, like improper formatting.
-Speaking of improper formatting, review your submission once it posts to make sure your links work and it didn't, like, turn into gobbledygook when you submitted it, especially if you don't know much about HTML.
-And please, oh please, oh PLEASE do not abandon a WIP once you've posted it. Put it on hiatus, rewrite it, put it up for adoption and let someone else finish it, but don't leave us hanging forever just because you don't like the fic, or the fandom, anymore.
-And, okay, this one is Andrew's, and I totally do not agree with it because the number-one fear in America is speaking in public, but they're actually his tips so whatever...Read your work out loud in front of a group. Inflection and tone can add a great deal to a story, they come alive when read out loud, and there are writer's groups and workshops in pretty much every town.
Slash - 3 Steps To Writing Good Buttsecks
Okay, I'm not going to claim to be the Queen of Anal or anything, but I have actually had anal sex a few times, unlike, I think, a lot of the slash writers out there. (Note: Significant Others are usually more than pleased to help with research when it includes orgasms.) So I have a bit of advice.
1. Your Character Must Use Lube.
I'm sorry, but this is a must. If you don't believe me, try to stick your finger up your ass without lube. Not a cock-just your finger. Kinda hurts, doesn't it? Try moving it. Hurts a lot, doesn't it? Yeah. Taking a cock without any kind of lubrication is for porn stars, not virgins. And even then I'm pretty sure they fake it.
The lube doesn't have to be lube. It can be come, or lotion, or oil of some kind. But saliva's iffy, and just precome doesn't work, and dry really doesn't work. And keep in mind that any lubrication not specifically intended for sex means extra friction, and extra soreness later.
2. Your Character Must Stretch the Anal Sphincter.
I know at least one person just thought, "eeeew!" But this goes with the previous bit. Remember how much it hurt to take one finger dry? Unless your characters have just had sex, or they've been using toys or popping amyl nitrate, taking a lubed cock without being stretched first hurts just as much or more, depending on width. And pain is not sexy (unless your characters are into that). The anus is a sphincter, it clenches-that's it's job. If it is not loosened before intense activity, pain and even injury can be the result. Anal tearing? Also not sexy, but without the caveats.
3. Your Character Is Not A Contortionist (unless he is).
Try to keep the fancy positions to a minimum, unless one or more of your characters are circus performers, or yogi gurus. Porn is better than no reference at all, but is not a substitute for real life, and I've noticed it's usually the bottom being contorted in impossible ways, so make sure you (the author) can get into whatever position you're describing before hitting 'post.' If not, try spooning sex (characters lying on their sides, back-to-front). It's under-utilized, and I think it can be really sexy when written right.
There you go! I'm not going to be a vocabulary nazi, although avoiding the phrase 'disco stick' is probably a good idea for anyone who isn't Lady Gaga. Just try to keep it physically possible, okay? All righty then.