Category Archives: The Art of Writing

Thoughts on Fanfiction

Two trends have been going on recently. They’re similar, yet not so similar. The title may have given away the first trend: there’s been much talk and discussion lately about how to deal with fanfiction, its perks, its pitfalls, how authors should react to them, if at all, etc. The other trend you may not be aware of so much, because it has to do with a certain art website I’m a part of. For the past month (if not longer), there has been something of a “witch hunt” going around over finding and pointing out artists who trace or paint over photographs who, all the while, claim that their final art piece was an original drawn with talent. Sometimes their work includes not even crediting their reference photos.

These are my thoughts.

  1. Tracing in and of itself is not wrong. Every artist begins somewhere, and while some may get more out of it than others, it is a typical method of beginner (and mediocre, and even professional!) artists to trace any or all subjects for practice. There are other means of working on skill, I won’t get into them, but tracing is one way.
  2. Tracing a stock photo is not wrong, dependent on the stock photographer’s wishes with his stock images. Tracing an artwork is not wrong, either. After tracing, then claiming that they did not trace and that the artwork is an original thought and creation, then that is wrong.
  3. Making money off of something traced is where it gets a little more complicated. Like point #2, tracing another person’s artwork and claiming it as their own is wrong, and therefore making money off of said traced artwork is wrong. Tracing a stock photo and painting it in (which can possibly be likened to trying to sell a paint-by-numbers piece) and making money off of it — technically, the stock photographer will determine that right. Is it wrong? It’s misleading and possibly touting false talent and effort, so to me, this is morally wrong and a dishonest practice. Some may not think so, some may actually not care at all, and some may get their panties up in a super-tight bunch over it.
  4. Painting over a photo does not require much effort. Painting over a piece of artwork does not require much effort, either. Both hardly require talent or skill. I have seen both done, both poorly and well. Either of these, in my most humble of opinions, I frown upon.
  5. I use references for my paintings. Sometimes I like to capture exactly what I see, and sometimes I like to use a reference photo as a guide for something I want to capture in my mind. Is this wrong? No: I am a realism artist, bordering on hyper-realism, and oftentimes I need that stock photo or pose to achieve that realism. Real life is my guide for creating art, so I take and transform things to create something my own.

Now replace artwork with book or story, and you see where I’m going with this? Painting over a photo or artwork is likened to plagiarism. You don’t do it. And you won’t get away with it. Tracing a photo or piece of art is likened to taking the same elements of a story and mimicking its style, elements, subject, etc., or in the case of writing: characters, setting, backstory, etc. The practice is questionable, but it achieves the same effect: you’re using a crutch to hone your craft.

I don’t feel that there is anything wrong per se about fanfiction. I used to write fanfiction, and I’m certainly not alone in that department. It helped me develop my writing skills, explore different genres, and generally ease myself into writing my own original stories. In the writing world, there is hardly any opportunity at all to generate any kind of income for writing fanfiction. It’s a violation of copyright laws, and no publishing company wants to deal with that.

Now that I’ve moved on from writing fanfiction (though sometimes I fancy doing it again in my leisure time), I see it as a means of a creative expression of how much one loves the story/game/movie/show. However, one must consider what it would be like to be in that author’s position. Would you be flattered? Would you be insulted that fans are skewing their characters or world, or whatever else? I think it has to do with how the author approaches their work. Some may be possessive of their creations, and thereby wish to deny any fanfiction whatsoever. Anne Rice and others have denied places like to publish fanfictions of their work. I understand, and to be honest, I think I share her sentiments for my current work. It is not an easy task to create a world, its creatures, its politics, its magic, and everything else. Writing a story using someone else’s creation saves them a whole lot of work, sweat, aggravation, brain-racking, and tears that go into creating a world.

But others don’t have a problem with it. They love that others do more with what they’ve created, that they’ve found their work so inspirational. However, like the incident with Marion Zimmer Bradley, I don’t think that authors should delve into fanfiction until they’re definitively finished with the book or series. In Bradley’s case, she interacted with her fanfiction fans and read their work while still writing in her book, and at one point, seeing that a plot line was similar to something a fan writer wrote, requested her permission to use that idea, while giving her some credit and some money. The fan writer wished for more than just that, and in the end, Bradley was unable to publish her story. The moral of that story for my fellow authors, in my opinion, is: don’t read fanfiction. It will give you ideas, turn you off, or worse, disable your story for you altogether.

Whether or not you allow fanfiction of your work is up to you. Ultimately, of course, you could never prevent it if it happened, but there are steps that can be taken to prevent fanfiction from surfacing. As for writing fanfiction, I would give this challenge: change things around. Make it your story. You can start with initial ideas, concepts, and general characters from another, but with love and dedication, your work will blossom and transform into something completely different. And potentially offer a decent monetary bonus!


Articles of the Week July 24-30

Unmotivated Block

This hideous lull in my writing is awful, absolutely awful. It’s been going on for more than a month now – for the most part. I did begin Book 2 last week and the first section of the chapter was shorter than expected, like 500 words.Getting to write those 500 words took about three weeks of self-coercion, though.

I thought that starting with a new perspective might get me back into the groove, but that proved misleading and depressing. Then I sat back and said, well I’ve hardly outlined anything yet and maybe I’m just unsure of where I’m going. So I spent about two weeks making a checklist of what needs to happen in this cantankerous section called Book 2. That was fun and interesting and certainly useful. And I even outlined to chapter 12! (Book 2 starts at Chapter 10) The ideas flowed awesomely, although I noticed that it’s becoming more information and “why” heavy rather than just letting a series of events occur. Yes, it’s true, I need to begin to introduce and establish way more back story and world building than I did in Book 1. Enough with the introductions already.

So I get to writing and nothing comes.

Read a book. That always inspires me to write. Apparently, an 800 pg fantasy book and 700 page YA novel later, nothing. Not even a spark of stimulation. It’s curious, because usually after reading a long novel, the urge returns. Maybe I have to read something good. Maybe only Dostoevsky possesses that unique essence that rubs off on me and makes me want to write. After all, his works inspired the first book I ever finished. Granted, the first novel I finished was in the literary genre and therefore was a tad bit easier to write than a full-blown epic fantasy.

But I LOVE fantasy, what is wrong with me? These things come naturally to me.

So I watched a favorite movie of mine. Nothing. Defined the list of vocabulary words I’ve accumulated over the past couple of months. Maybe an intriguing word or two would catapult me into wanting to write that one impressive and articulate word into my story. Nothing.

Interact in writing forums. Nothing. Read nothing but blogs on writing and books. Nothing. Just watching the world pass me by. Tried writing long-hand. Nothing on the page. Decided I wouldn’t stress myself about not writing. A week went by and I didn’t even think about it once. Nothing.

Maybe I should read in a different genre. I even took a short break to muse over another story idea I had, and actually write some of it. It did me no good. Actually, now that I think of it, that’s what kind of got me here in the first place.

There is only one other solution I can think of that I haven’t tried yet. A push from Svedka might just give that slight amount of “to hell with it” to just start typing. That alcohol-induced sense of false assurance and assertion might be the catalyst to make me not give two craps what I’m writing or who’s going to read it.

It’s a freaking first draft, after all!!

I refuse to diagnose myself with writer’s block. It’s unmotivated block.


How do you get out of unmotivated block? Caffeine? Deprive yourself of things until you pass that annoying hurdle? Just set it down indefinitely? Pretend you have a deadline?

The Elusive Word Count

I’ve kept on with my writing like a good little writer should, but for the past two weeks, I’ve been struggling with and getting aggravated over what may seem, and probably is, trivial.

Word count.

For writers just starting out, you may have realized that there are set guidelines for the average amount of words in an MS (manuscript) for any given genre. Heck, they’ve even incorporated a general word count for book genres in Sims 3! And it’s fairly accurate for the most part, though I’ll beg to differ on their length for “Romance” fiction. Speaking of trivial…

If you’d like a list of standard word counts by genre, here’s a decent and relatively up-to-date list. I want to focus upon the current genre I’m writing: high fantasy to include epic fantasy. The typical word count for high/epic fantasy is 100k-120k words.


I began my story with a word count goal of at least 180k. Why? Because I read a lot of long high fantasy and sci-fi novels, to include the Dune series, Martin, Erikson, Goodkind, Williams, etc. and I did an average word count of their novels. They reached 200k and above. So I, being the typical uninformed self, thought I can do that too. And after 30k words into my story, I really thought I could. I still think I could make this a 180k+ word novel. But then for reasons unknown (I really don’t know), I thought, “I’m not a published author. And wait, I hear agents have word count limits. I know I’ve looked into this thing before, but that was a long time ago. Wait, let me look into this again.”

So I began looking up and kept arriving at the numbers 100-120k words. I was crushed. Devastated. Maybe I’m delusional, that my story really wouldn’t be that long, I’m just hoping it’ll be 180k words. But seeing that Book 1 of my story is going to end at around 50k words, it’s possible, or not. I’m not sure. And that’s my problem. Agents give leeway to authors who have a proven track record, which applies to most of those authors I just listed up there. First-time authors? Much less leeway. There are always exceptions, but they are so few and far between that you won’t be able to disprove what I just said up there.


  1. I’m thinking much too far ahead. I haven’t even finished my story yet! I’m not even halfway through it, and I’m already fretting about an imaginary word count!
  2. This is a first draft. I’m sure there will be a lot of condensing, merging, deleting (*cringe*), and other methods of reducing that word count.

What I learned from this sad episode is: Don’t worry about technicalities while you’re writing. That’s the whole point of a first draft.

Worry about all these things when you complete your MS. This doesn’t mean I’m going to make the 120k word mark, I might miss it by a long shot (note I’m still confident about making it a super-long novel — I’ll get a good laugh at this when I finish at 90k words!), but it won’t prevent me from querying it. Not that I’m a phenomenal writer, but I’ll never forget what one writer told me: “Write a good story, let your agent worry about it’s length. Especially if you are a first time novelist, the most important thing is quality. Tell a gripping tale and it will find a home.”

ps. For kicks and giggles, I did a word count of a couple fantasy books in my library:

“Wizard’s First Rule”  Terry Goodkind; random page: 366 words. TOR Fantasy, 1994. 836p x 360 = 300,960 total words*
“Otherland River of Blue Fire” Tad Williams; random page: 374 words. DAW Books, 1998. 675p x 370 = 249,750 total words

How’s them numbers?

*total words is average. Could be more or less!

pps. Just look at the fretting and the frustration over word count … there’s more than one page of this! It’s just awful.