Writing for Fans (a very special genre)

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Title: Writing for Fans (a very special genre)
Creator: Marian Kelly
Date(s): June 1982
Medium: print
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Writing for Fans (a very special genre) is a 1982 essay by Marian Kelly.

It was printed in S and H, a Starsky & Hutch letterzine, issue #33/34.

The essay in context: it was written before fans had easy access to the episodes, hence the emphasis on canon details and trying to get source material.

The Essay

Writing fan fiction has such a set of built—in do's and don'ts that it is a wonder more writers aren't busy plying us with stories. Why is there such a dearth of good material? Surely, given the rather bountiful information at hand, there should be dozens more Starsky and Hutch adventures to thrill and chill us. Instead, many of the submissions are rather trite, rather underdone exercises in amateur writing.

Having said that, have the goodness to let me share what I believe are the reasons for this so-called dearth of stories. First, and I suppose most important, is TIME. A truly good story takes time to write, time to rewrite and then may sit in the publisher's file for an unstated length of time. The ads we read in the L/Z that happily announce the inception of a new zine will feature stories by this person and that person gives the reader and fan a sense of NOW, when all it is meant to do is announce the inception of a new project. In the first few months after an announcement appears, the editor is deluged with SASEs, all exhorting said editor to hurry, for the readers are starved for new material. And they are right. Fans are always starved, always insatiable, and nearly always not able to understand why it takes so long for a writer to finish a story. I would like to deal with the need to start a story moving on to how one finishes a story correctly and knows when it is done.

RULE ONE: Know your characters. Fandom, as I said in the first paragraph has a complete set of guidelines for the heroes that both aids and hinders imagination. Thanks to Spelling/Goldberg we have a canon, a set of absolutes from which a writer dare not deviate. OH, if she is clever, possessed with a natural ability to take those absolutes and give them a unique interpretation, then the fans can read, sit back and ex claim, "Why didn't I see that?" She has done her job well. Far too frequently, though, a writer will take the guidelines, write her story and then cringe at the invective hurled by dissolusioned readers.

What has happened? The writer has said that Starsky's dark curls tumbled across his brow, that Hutch's golden skin gleamed in the sunlight, that Huggy's skinny frame ambled across the room, and the Torino careened at breakneck speed down the freeway. Why didn't the fans like her story? Because all the writer did was mimic what went on on the screen, she never dealt with their reasons for behaving the way they did, never got beyond an occasional "He felt an ache in his chest when he saw the blood." When a writer deals superficially with emotions—or, conversely—seems to de scribe nothing but gut-wrenching agony, it is rather obvious that she has never done her homework. And just what does that homework entail?

Fifteen hundred words about each one of your main characters, folks. That is the recognised guideline for establishing a character's profile. If you know your hero intimately, and I mean down to the amount of change in his pocket (for instance, which one of the Dynamic Duo seems to always have change?), if you can state with certaintly that one of the reasons he'll be at Joe's Bar and Grill on Friday night, is because: he always stops there on Fridays, then you know your character. Give.. Hutch a back ground (using what's been gleaned from tv), send Starsky to the dentist (remember he hates them), buy new clothes, check out the contents of their kitchen cupboard...decide where they went last week, or ten years ago. Do it in the privacy of your own room, work and work until they have no secrets from you, then, when you want them to behave in a particular manner you will have solid footing for that behavior. The one thing that we each can do is sit and watch those episodes over and over, and then bring our own unique interpretation to their actions. At first it may seem like work, but soon you'll be busily filling out lists of relatives who figured in their lives, reasons and dates (Starsky's cabbie days—when did he do that?) It isn't a waste of time. If you don't have a VTR, then ask someone to share info with you..I don't know a more obliging group of people anywhere than S&H fans, and soon your files will be brimming with details that will help you.

Ah, so you have all the background on S&H, wonderful, but what about the other' characters? If you are going to feature Huggy, or Captain Dobey, work up about twelve hundred words on each of them. That also applies to your antagonists, if your story is going to deal with bad guys. How did they become killers? Or how did they decide that crime was more rewarding? Are they simply cop-haters? There is no such thing as a born cop hater, or a born murderer. Select a name, and give the character a birth date. If he was born during the depression years, then chances are he was influenced by those hard times. If he was a Vietnam vet, a whole new set of problems rise. Make you bad guys have some good qualities, such as being a loving father, a devout believer in charity. Dan t make them totally evil, humans are far more complicated than that. How infinitely more horrible is the man capable of slaying a child and sparing a butterfly. You will make your characters seem so much more alive if their feet have corns, if their armpits itch, if they got a rash from the latest aftershave...Think long and hard about the people you intend to play God with. If you have grown to understand them, and their actions, then when the time comes to write that story, no matter if it is simply ten pages or three hundred, you will have taken the single most important step. YOU WILL BELIEVE IN THEM. As a result, the chances are that the fans will too.