A topic that’s been coming up in many of my fan fiction posts recently has been how slow the Chuck activity has been at fanfiction.net recently. Well that, and the large number of stories that never seem to get finished. Recently, while e-mailing a fan fiction writer whose work I’ve recommended here many times, ersk4, we got on this same topic. He offered an article he had written on this topic. Many of you may be familiar with his work, he was most active during season two. Like many of us, he was discouraged by season three, which led to him not writing for a while. But he’s recently been active again with the excellent “Chuck vs The Jill Ride”. What you all may not know is that he was a journalist by education and profession for many years, and has been published in newspapers and magazines. Fan Fiction is his only foray into fiction, but his background and writing experience give him some interesting insights.
So here, in its entirety, is “Why We Don’t Write” by ersk4.
You find a good story in Fan Fiction. You can’t wait for a new chapter to get posted. Those postings come regularly. Then, the chapter postings lessen and take longer. Then those postings stop. Weeks, months pass and no updates. That story that you enjoyed so much never gets an ending and you are left hanging there, wondering how the story would have ended, how it all would have turned out for your favorite characters.
What happened? Why did that writer abandon the story? Why didn’t the writer finish it? How could that writer leave that story in the Fan Fiction Unfinished Limbo?
Well, the sad fact is that the odds of a Fan Fiction story getting finished are really low.
Lots of reasons.
For one thing:
WRITING IS WORK
So many people think that writing is easy.
It isn’t. It’s a lot of hard work.
One of my favorite examples of explaining how writing is work are the words of author John MacDonald, probably most famous for writing the Travis McGee detective series, who said in the introduction to Stephen King’s “Night Shift”:
“I am often given the big smiling handshake at parties (which I avoid attending whenever possible) by someone who then, with an air of gleeful conspiracy, will say, ‘You know, I’ve always wanted to write.’
“I used to try to be polite.
“These days I reply with the same jubilant excitement: ‘You know, I’ve always wanted to be a brain surgeon.’
“They look puzzled. It doesn’t matter. There are a lot of puzzled people wandering around lately.
“If you want to write, you write.”
MacDonald is exactly right. Becoming a brain surgeon takes a lot of work. Becoming a writer takes a lot of work.
You don’t believe me? You think writing is easy?
OK, then do this. You have an idea for a Chuck fan fiction story? Sit down at your computer, load up your word processing program and write chapter one to that great idea for your Chuck fan fiction story.
See how far you get into that one chapter. See how long it takes you to write that one chapter. See if you think writing is easy after that.
A lot of people say that they’re going to write a story. And it sounds easy. But to actually sit down at the computer and WRITE IT? That’s work. Hard work!
Which brings us into another reason why fan fiction writers sometimes give up on a story. It’s because there can be little reward.
You have a job. You get paid to work at that job. Writing Fan Fiction is work. And it would be great if you got paid money for writing Fan Fiction. But you don’t. It would be great if you won Oscars, Tonys or Emmys for writing Fan Fiction. But you don’t. It would be great if the people who work on “Chuck” or any other series that you write Fan Fiction for noticed and praised your work. But they don’t.
You do get reviews IF someone reads your story and takes the time to post a review. I don’t know the percentage of people who read Fan Fiction and take the time to review. But I bet it’s not a high percentage.
So you have a lot of work to do in writing a story. That can wear on you. And if you’re lucky enough to get reviews, there can be some reward.
But as far as some payment or great reward for writing Fan Fiction, not likely. So, going through the work of writing without any big reward can wear down on you. And then you may not be so motivated or inspired to finish that story.
And speaking of reviews….
Another reason why Fan Fiction writers don’t finish their stories….
WE HAVE FEELINGS (OR BAD REVIEWS HURT!)
One time I wrote a Chuck story and eagerly posted the first chapter. I was excited about the story. I thought I had a really good story and eagerly awaited the praise and accolades that were sure to come. The next day, I had about 10 reviews to the first chapter. I opened the first review. Negative and critical. I opened the second review. Also negative and critical.
Boy did my ego and self-esteem take a blow. I couldn’t believe it. I was so disappointed. The rest of the reviews were positive and complimentary but those two negatives still hurt.
Haunted by those two bad reviews, I questioned what I had done. Should I have done this story differently? Should I have done this chapter differently? Should I have changed this? Should I do something different in the next chapter? Should I even finish this story?
I changed my plans for future chapter postings. The story originally had more and shorter chapters. I changed it all by combining chapters. That way I could get this story all posted and done and out of my life a lot quicker than originally planned. Those bad reviews bothered me that much.
I didn’t get any more bad reviews from future postings for that story. But those two haunted and bothered me.
And bad reviews haunt and bother all Fan Fiction writers. I’ve seen some writers even quit a story after getting some bad or negative or critical reviews.
And yes, any Fan Fiction writer can expect bad reviews. Sure it’s part of the game. And yes, if a Fan Fiction writer can’t take it, then that Fan Fiction writer shouldn’t do it. All true.
And that’s exactly what some Fan Fiction writers did. They couldn’t take the heat, so they got out of the kitchen.
Am I saying, don’t post bad reviews? No, not at all. Everyone is entitled to their opinion.
But bad reviews can hurt.
And for some Fan Fiction unfinished stories, it’s all about planning. Or more specifically, a lack of planning. Meaning:
YOU NEED A PLAN
One time, another Fan Fiction writer sent me chapter one for a Chuck story he wanted to do. Now, to avoid embarrassing anyone, I will not mention his name and I will make up the plot of this Chuck story for this example. So, any resemblance to any Chuck story in this example is purely coincidental. This is all made up on my part.
In this first chapter of his story, Chuck woke up in a room in which there was nothing in it. He was alone in the room and there wasn’t any furniture or anything. And the walls, floor and ceiling were painted white. And Chuck couldn’t find any entrance or exit or any way in or out of the room.
It was a good, mysterious, and suspenseful opening to a story, I thought and told the writer that.
“Great!” he responded. “I’ll post it on the Fan Fiction site.”
“Wait a minute. What about the rest of the story? Have you figured it out yet?” I asked.
“Oh, I’ll figure it out as I write it,” he replied.
“Wait a minute. Do you know how this story is going to end? Do you know why Chuck is in that room? How he got there? How he is going to escape or be found?”
“I’ll figure it out as I write,” he repeated.
“No, no, no, NO! Do not, not, NOT write and post a story until you have outlined it, mapped it out, figured out how it ends!”
When you are writing a story, you need to know how it ends, where your characters are going and what is going to happen BEFORE you start writing.
OK, in this story, Chuck wakes up alone in this room. How did Chuck get into that room? Did the RING or the government put him in there? Why did they put him in there? How is he going to get out? Sarah will rescue him? OK, how is Sarah going to find out where this room is? And what is going to happen after she rescues Chuck from the room?
You need to figure out all of this before you start writing. Otherwise, you’re just going to end up with nowhere to go and no idea how to do it. Planning your story is just as important as writing your story. If you don’t have a plan, you may not have any idea what you’re going to do in the story and then abandon it because of that. Before you tie up Chuck and Sarah and suspend them over a pool of sharks, you need to figure out how they are going to escape!
I cringed when I’m reading a Fan Fiction story that has a note from the writer saying that he/she hasn’t figured out yet how to end the story or they haven’t figured out what they’re going to do.
They didn’t make a plan to the story. They just started writing and putting in all of these scenes and difficulties and then they painted themselves into a corner and now have no idea how to get Chuck and Sarah out of the mess they are in. And then we end up with an unfinished story.
And another reason, a story never gets finished? Simple?
WE HAVE A LIFE
When we’re not writing Fan Fiction, we’re at school, we’re at our jobs or doing other things. Writing Fan Fiction is not our main purpose in life. It would be nice to be able to spend our time writing Fan Fiction but unfortunately we have to pay our bills, we have to put food on the table, we have to do our homework and our assignments, we spend time with our significant others….
You get the idea. Writing Fan Fiction doesn’t help us with any of those or other real life tasks. We have to write Fan Fiction in our free and spare time and sometimes we don’t have as much free and spare time as we used to. Sometimes a new job, new addition to the family or something else spells doom for our doing any more Fan Fictions.
And still another reason, a story never gets finished. We get discouraged because…
SOMETHING HAPPENED ON THE SHOW
During season three of Chuck, with Shaw and other things happening, I found “Chuck” depressing and a downer for about the first 2/3 of season three. What happened to this fun show? This is so depressing, I lamented frequently. And as a result, my enthusiasm for writing Chuck Fan Fiction plummeted. Sure something can happen on the show that will inspire Fan Fiction. But something can happen on the show that will retire Fan Fiction!
Or Fan Fiction writers cease because…
A NEW LOVE COMES ALONG
Back when the show the X-Files was on, I knew a Fan Fiction writer who was doing an epic time travel story with the characters. She started the story and then the TV show “Smallville” started. This writer got hooked on that show and the Clark-Lana relationship. And with that, her allegiance switched. Clark-Lana occupied her mind and interests and Mulder-Scully faded away. Her X-Files story took a backseat to Smallville stories. And eventually, Smallville replaced X-Files entirely for her and she wrote Smallville Fan Fiction solely. She never finished that X-Files story. She was too into Smallville to go back it.
So sometimes, our interests change.
WE GET DISTRACTED
You’re writing a story. You’ve been working on this one story for a while and as the weeks pass and the chapters get posted, slowly but surely, the level of fun in writing that story lowers and the level of work in writing that story rises. It kind of becomes more work than fun. And while writing, an idea for another story takes shape in your mind. And then you start to get more ideas for that other story. That other story sounds much neater and much better than the one you’re currently working on. Why not take a moment and write a chapter or two on that new idea and why not post those chapters?
And if you’re not careful, you may just stop writing that first story entirely and then concentrate on the new story. And then while you’re writing that new story, you get a great idea for another story. Hey, this idea for a new story is even better than the last one. So why not take a break from the second story and write a chapter or two on this new one.
You get the idea. I call it “Inspiration Illness.” You’d be surprised at how ideas for other stories just pop up like crazy while working on one story. It happens. The inspiration for that other story just gets too great to ignore and the writer ditches the one story and starts writing the other story. It can be a vicious cycle because I’ve seen many fan fiction writers do this repeatedly and have multiple unfinished stories.
It can get tough to ignore that tempting call of what you think is a better idea for another story and stick to writing and finishing the first story.
And that goes back to what I said earlier: writing is work. It takes work and discipline to write and finish a story.
So you see that there are a lot things going against Fan Fiction writers and their stories. And that really lowers the odds of a Fan Fiction story getting completed, especially a long epic story. So the next time you read a completed story by a Fan Fiction writer, consider all of these things that they have going against them and that they overcame to finish it. Pretty amazing, don’t you think?
THE “TOP THREE LIST” OF THINGS YOU NEVER WANT TO HEAR FROM A FAN FICTION WRITER.
“I’m sorry for the long delay in updating. But things are now back on track and I should be able to update quicker and more frequently now.”
Translation: I fully intended to update regularly but by posting a note saying this, I have just now jinxed myself and won’t be able to do that. Because now real life or something else I didn’t anticipate is going to interfere.
“I haven’t figured out how I’m going to end this.”
Translation: I didn’t plan nor do an outline for this story and I’m winging as I go along. So I have no idea where I’m going with this and I have no idea what to do next. I’m stuck!
“I promise that I will finish this story.”
Translation: WE’RE DOOMED!
Ersk was kind enough to answer some of my questions about this article. For starters, he is of course well aware no list can ever be comprehensive. Each writer will likely have some of their own issues and circumstance when their writing slows down. I know from my own experience here that writing is often like work. Some of you old-time visitors to this site may remember the early days when we often had no schedule or agenda and each of us sort of wrote whatever we wanted. That was fun, but erratic and not very organized. As we got our act together, and started scheduling certain types of posts and assigning duties (Joe is a tough master!) it has become even more like work. We all still love what we do here, but sometimes the actual writing is far more about discipline and not letting each other down than it is about fun.
We talked some about the season three issue in particular. While ersk, and some other writers lost inspiration at that time, others were clearly more motivated to write. The desire to “fix” what was happening on screen may have influenced many. I know as a reader, and ersk acknowledged the same feeling, I was more motivated than ever to find fun Chuck stories to my liking. I can still think of several that I wish were canon instead of what actually is.
As far as why fan fiction is slowing down now? Well the biggest issue would seem to be that Chuck and Sarah are now together. That was a central theme of most fan fiction written through season three, but for any story going AU after “Chuck vs Other Guy” its already a done deal. Perhaps its not surprising that so many stories that have started in the last year and a half are either complete AUs or set prior to episode 3.13 (Just like ersk’s current story “Jill Ride” is set mid-season two).
I hope you all found this topic as interesting as I did. And thanks so much to ersk4 for taking the time to comment on this and answer my many questions. I expect to post again in a couple weeks, right about the time Chuck returns for season five, with one of my more normal fan fiction review articles.