Kpopalypse’s guide on how to write fanfiction (or any fiction) that doesn’t suck balls

Those of you who are regular readers of Kpopalypse dot com have probably noticed that I like writing fiction from time to time, and that I can write a bit, and as many readers will know I’m now working on a full-length novelisation of the most recent Kpopalypse fiction “Show Me Love” so writing fiction is very much on my mind right now. However I know it’s also on the minds of my readers – over the years many such readers have asked me “Kpopalypse, I write fiction stories but they kind of lick crusty assholes, how can I write fiction stories and make them better?” This post contains all the useful things that I think are important to know about and that I like to keep in mind when writing. If you follow it, it may make your stories better – or maybe it won’t. Read on and find out!

I’m going to present my tips in the order that I like to think about them, so you’ve got a linear pathway to start writing if you never really have, and a nice reference that’s easy to follow if you write already. If you’re already someone who writes a lot, most of this stuff probably won’t be news to you, so you can probably just cherry-pick this post for the good stuff. Note that these rules can be used as a guide regardless of what type of fiction you’re writing. I’ll use examples from my own published-on-this-site and yet-to-be-published fiction as well as other fictional content to illustrate points where relevant. Here we go.

THINGS TO CONSIDER BEFORE YOU START WRITING ANYTHING AT ALL

1. ALL CREATIVE ACTIVITY STARTS WITH AN IDEA

You can exchange “idea” for “concept” here. For k-pop fans, it may be helpful to think about “k-pop concepts” when thinking about story ideas. I’m not talking about “innnocent” vs “sexy” vs “girl crush”, that type of thinking is way too conceptually broad and not very helpful. I’m talking about “what is the creative piece specifically about?”

To call Le Sserafim’s “Antifragile” a “girl crush” concept, is frankly dumb because it doesn’t really describe anything in a way that is valuable or useful. What’s the real concept here? Fortunately it’s right there in the song, anti-fragility. The lyrics make this clear enough, but where the concept transforms into storytelling is in the music video. “Anti-fragility” is the starting point, and the video creator has thought about that and extrapolated from it – “how best can “anti-fragility” be demonstrated? What a about a video concept where the girls in the group are completely unbothered by an asteroid about to plummet to Earth in their area and demonstrate their resilience and coolness while the world around them goes to shit?” So you have imagery like the girls going on motorcycle joyrides while everyone else is crapping themselves, and when the asteroid impacts finally happen later in the video they literally ‘shake it off’. There’s all sorts of imagery in the video that reinforces this idea, like the scene of the asteroid falling cutting to a fruit falling into the hand of one of the girls, the implication “we have our lives under control, we got this”. Okay, it’s probably bullshit in reality, but it’s still a cool video concept executed very well, it functions fine as narrative material to match the song’s idea.

That’s just a small example, but you can think on a much bigger scale than that, and extrapolate in as detailed manner as you need. “Anti-fragile” could, if needed, be made into an entire series where you could throw the girls of Le Sserafim (or whoever else you wanted to) into a large precarious event, or maybe several, which they would then presumably handle better than others… or maybe they wouldn’t. It’s up to you, you’re telling the story. Which brings us to:

2. CHARACTERS CAN BE UNREAL, BUT STILL NEED TO BE REALISTIC

Thinking about characters as soon as you have your idea, is important. Characters rule the roost of any story, because anyone reading the story is a person, and people like to read about other people (or other entities that function like people) first and foremost. To this end, it’s important to have realistic characters. This applies whether you’re writing about someone trying to make friends at school, or a superhero saving the world – by realistic I don’t mean “scientifically accurate” because you could be writing the most whacked-out sci-fi that was ever written, I’m talking about “does the character have motivations that make coherent sense”. Not necessarily coherent sense to anyone else, but certainly to themselves. This applies to a story’s protagonist and it also applies to anyone operating against them. Good or bad, people have reasons for doing what they do, that are usually far beyond stuff like “I want love/money/fame/power/success/conquest because I like it”, even most “bad” people often walk around thinking they’re doing wonderful things. Nobody wakes up in the morning and says “I’m a bad person so I’m going to do a bunch of bad things today because I like being bad and evil, gosh I hope I’m not caught by any goody-two-shoes novel protagonists [insert evil laugh here]”. As crazy as it seems, [insert popular celebrity/political figure that you hate here] believes what they are doing is right, or they wouldn’t be doing it. All those people who voted for that political party that you can’t stand, they really thought doing that was a genuinely good idea, and if they didn’t, they wouldn’t have bothered. People who believe that nutty religion that you know for sure is all horseshit – they believe it for reasons that make total sense to themselves, and these are often very, very intelligent people who have rationalised their belief and think about it often. You don’t have to agree with them, but it helps to understand their motivations and think about what’s driving them, because empathising with someone else (real or fictional) makes it easier to write that sort of character in your story realistically.

The same applies to the actions of characters in any story that you write. People do things that align with their values, and they don’t do stuff that goes against their values unless they feel like they have no choice in the matter, or they have a change in values. People are also very resistant to changing their values, and generally only change their values when they want to, when they have what they consider to be a good reason to change, that’s powerful enough to challenge what they’ve had reinforced up until that point. We’ve all read or watched stories where the bad guy just sort of “becomes good” at the end, such things aren’t forbidden but they need a very clear reasoning behind them, a change like that can’t just happen without a very strong narrative justification or it’ll just look stupid. Sci-fi and fantasy/supernatural genres have some extra tools in the narrative toolkit they can deploy here (spells that can be broken, mind control technology that can be destroyed etc) but even those can come off as narrative cop-outs that might feel cheap to the reader unless they’re really well-written, and for anything else you’re going to need really good reasons for that type of character shift.

3. WRITING PERSPECTIVE IS IMPORTANT

The next thing you want to decide on is a perspective for storytelling. Your choices:

  • First person (the main character is also the story narrator, and refers to themselves as “I”)
  • Second person (the narrator is narrating the story at the main character, who is “you”, the reader)
  • Third person (the characters, the reader and the narrator are all completely separated)

All of my fanfictions are in second-person perspective (“you” as the main character). This is a highly unusual way to write, and probably the most difficult to do well, but I’ve used this format in the past a lot because it’s a great way to immerse the reader into a situation, it puts them right there in the action. Because I’m often covering content relevant to k-pop fans, I want to put them directly in someone’s shoes, usually a fan’s, because the point of each fanfiction is often tied to what this different perspective reveals that may not be obvious to an “outsider”. I don’t recommend writing your first fictions in second-person however as it’s very limiting for reasons I’ll discuss in a moment.

The “Show Me Love” short story is a strange one because the narrator is the main character (like in first-person), but “you” are still a character in the story and are the character who the story is being told to by the narrator (second-person). I wrote it this way because I wanted to imagine exactly who the main character would be narrating her story to, and why. The answer to this question forms the story’s final chapter twist. You could argue that this story is in either the first-person or the second-person. (The final novel version of this story will be all first-person.)

Third-person is by far the easiest perspective to use when storytelling, especially if you’re a beginner, and it’s also by far the most popular. There’s good reasons for this. You sacrifice some immersion in third-person, but what you gain instead is flexibility to tell the story in multiple ways that first and second perspectives don’t easily allow. A character can only tell a story from their own perspective and point of view. Think of it like the same perspectives in computer games. When you’re playing a first-person perspective computer game and you’re in room A, you probably don’t know what’s happening in room B because you’re not there. It’s the same for first-person perspective writing – your characters only know for sure what is happening right in front of them, and they can only report on this in the narration. Everything else, maybe they can guess it, or they might be told it, but they don’t really know. Now think about a computer game that provides an overhead view of the entire action – you know everything that’s going on in that field of view, all at once, and (unless there’s a “fog of war” feature) you can see into places your character can’t see, because you’re not having to look through their eyes. Third-person storytelling allows different points of view. The most powerful ability of third-person writing is that you can drop the main character very seamlessly and describe scenes that don’t have the main character at all, this is how almost all films use it, and why very few films are shot entirely in first-person. You also don’t have to think about meta-knowledge when narrating the story – you do still have to think about your characters’ meta-knowledge (each character doesn’t know what they don’t know), but you as a narrator are free to tell as much or as little to the reader about what you want the reader to know, as you want (although generally, less is better than more – I’ll talk about this in a moment).

4. PERFECT IS BORING – AND SO IS PERFECT IMPERFECTION

The classic mistake of any sort of fanfiction, and the reason why fanfictions are generally so awful and cringeworthy to read for anyone outside of their specific fandom, is the tendency for writers to write perfect wish-fulfillment scenarios for their characters. This generally means one of the following:

  • Characters who are perfect (fans usually can’t resist this when writing about their k-pop bias as a character)
  • Characters who are imperfect, but those imperfections are heavily romanticised (which is why vampires and the supernatural are very popular in fanfic)
  • Porn (nothing wrong with it but “I want to imagine a sex scenario” doesn’t lend itself to strong writing in most cases, more on how to write decent porn later)

Your main protagonist is going to be likeable anyway, because your reader is riding right along with them in the story and getting to know them a lot, this process tends to lend itself to likeability even if the main character isn’t a nice person. So you really shouldn’t put too much effort into giving your main character likeable traits unless it’s very important for story development. You certainly shouldn’t spend time fawning over likeable traits as a narrator just because you like the character. Don’t worry, the readers already know that you like Irene’s hair because if you didn’t you probably wouldn’t have written a whole fucking story about her, there’s no need to keep mentioning it.

When designing any character, you should think about ways in which you can make them more realistic, as people tend to gravitate toward characters with a realistic edge to their personality. If they have a special trait, you want to try and balance that out somehow with other not-special traits or even negative traits, because nobody is special at everything. Even a very super-special character like Superman had kryptonite, a crystal that would make him instantly weak upon exposure, plus a secret identity that he had to construct elaborate lies to hide. If Superman didn’t have those negative aspects he’d be frankly boring and one-dimensional, his character probably wouldn’t have even been a hit back in the day and he would have been likely forgotten. It’s the flaws and inconvenient, annoying things about characters that can sometimes give them a lot of depth and make them far more interesting. These don’t have to be obvious straight away, which leads us to…

5. PLAN YOUR STORY AND CHARACTER ARCS

You don’t have to literally sit there and write out a 5000 word physical plan or a bunch of fucking flowcharts (I sure don’t), but you should at least in your own head, have some idea of:

  • What do you want your story to tell
  • Where does your story start
  • Where does your story finish
  • How the hell are you gong to get from one end to the other

This doesn’t need to be precise at first, just a general idea is fine, I tend to start very general, and fill in the details later.  In “The Six Days Of Karina” my general overall story arc was:

  • Character is a mega huge aespa fan and wants to try the AI Karina app
  • AI Karina is more sentient than hyped
  • Cozy fan/idol relationship turns into psychotic loss-of-control hellride as app acts possessively and tries to exert control over the character’s life
  • Fucked up ending, generalised bad shit, happy Halloween cunts, also subtext about lack of privacy/moral responsibility in k-pop apps (which pre-dated Universe App’s appearance by a couple months – an app which featured overly possessive and creepy AI versions of idols. Yes, Kpopalypse called it once again…)

Then once I had this basic outline in my head, I just started writing and filling in details that fleshed out all the key ideas. How do the two main characters (the fan and the app) start conversing, how are the different tipping points in the story reached, when has it “gone too far” etc.

Characters have arcs too. They interact in various ways, and each character has their own perspective on each other character that they meet or know about. These perspectives may be true or false, or somewhere in the middle, but they are certainly always coloured by the character’s own perspective, their upbringing and past experiences, their age, other cultural factors perhaps or perhaps not, and they may also not remain static, they can change with time as characters find out more about each other or experience story events together. These sort of arcs can drive interest in your story. In a long story these perspectives can change multiple times! In “The Six Days Of Karina” the fan’s perception of the AI moves from “this is cool” to “this is a bit weird” to “this is the enemy”. The AI’s perception of the fan also moves, but differently, from “this is the customer that I will help” to “this is the uncooperative customer that I will control”. You don’t need to go apeshit with this. You don’t need to write a full backstory for each one of the 2561 soldiers who catches a bullet in your war novel. It’s okay to have bit-characters who we don’t get a full picture of, but just remember that anyone close to the center of your story should have some kind of decently fleshed-out reasons for being who they are and where they are at that point in time.

THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN ACTUALLY WRITING THE STORY

1. KEEP YOUR EGO OUT OF THE WRITING

Henry Rollins says it beautifully here, while quoting Hubert Selby Jr. – “You men writers always put your balls in the way of the story, get your fucking cock out of the way of the story. Just tell the story, get your ego out of the way. You guys, when you write you have too much ego. Destroy the ego, tell the truth, the ego is never the truth!”

To be clear, he’s not saying “don’t write about sex”, he’s saying “be mindful about how your own thoughts and feelings and agendas can colour the content in ways that weaken the story”. You won’t be able to write strong characters convincingly if you feel your own ego is threatened by them. You won’t be able to impress upon the reader the gravity of a desperate situation if you think such a situation is something all people should be able to ‘just handle’ as well as you (think you) can. You won’t be able to realistically convey a character’s motivations if your own moral judgement and sense of self-righteousness weighs too heavily on the narrative and you spend all your time judging your characters for their deeds. You won’t even be able to write good sex scenes if you’re so worried about what those scenes mean to you that you forget what they mean to the characters. Once you have your basic story setup and characters that fit, you should be able to keep you own ego, opinions, hangups, moral values etc out of the way and just let the characters do their thing without getting in the way. Don’t worry so much about deciding right from wrong (your readers will do that anyway), you should stick to deciding what’s true and false.

2. SHOW, DON’T TELL – OR AT LEAST BE VERY MINDFUL OF THE DIFFERENCE

You have probably heard this before – “show, don’t tell”. In the context of a story, this means whatever you can take out of a narrative context and put into an action/dialogue context instead, you probably should. This isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, there are exceptions. Often telling something with narrative is more convenient because it’s faster, and if you’re deliberately writing a short story or working with a word limit, this may be appropriate. Also small details can often be “told” if it’s a situation where you feel the reader must know those details but they’re not something you want to spend a lot of time with. However if those details are interesting, they probably should be ‘shown’ so the reader can figure things out for themselves, as opposed to just telling the reader, and if they’re not that interesting, consider whether they’re better off just left out of the story altogether.

This is an important point that a lot of writers of all types of fiction struggle with, so here’s a wordy-ass excerpt from my very first draft of the first chapter of the “Show Me Love” novel, that I’ll use to illustrate this idea:

So there I was, doing somersaults in gym one day and “SHIN HANA PLEASE REPORT TO THE GYM OFFICE” came over the loudspeaker. The school loudspeakers are really loud so hearing my name broadcast so loud got me by surprise and I immediately stacked it on the mat. I then got up and I was so nervous walking into the office that I tripped a couple of times on some of the other girls’ gym mats just walking over there, my mind was churning over as I was thinking, what could it be about? Surely that girl who I scratched in the face at recess because she pulled my hair didn’t dob me in, I mean I specifically told her that I would make her life hell if she went to the teachers, and I’m pretty sure she believed me, so would she dare? Or maybe it was the boy in math class who I threw a chair at the previous week who complained about me and now I was in trouble? I mean I was just trying to get him to leave me alone because he was being a dick, just getting in my face for no reason like boys do, so I just sort of half-heartedly flung a metal school chair at him to get a message across but the chair flipped up and one of the legs connected right with his balls and he went down instantly like a sack of shit. I mean that wasn’t the intended result but it was so great, he was on the ground bawling like a baby and clutching his groin, it was so funny, I laughed at him so much. Anyway eventually I got to the office, the gym coach was there sitting behind his desk and there was this other guy sitting on my side, I’d never seen him before. The gym coach motioned for me to take a seat on the empty chair next to the other guy.

“Am I in trouble?” I asked, as I sat down.

I’m in the habit of writing in a narrative way because I write so many short stories, so I often need to illustrate a scene quickly. The original “Show Me Love” short story has a lot of ‘tell’ for exactly this reason, but a longer story has more room for ‘show’. I didn’t think the above paragraph was terrible, but I thought after writing this paragraph and reading it back, “well, this is supposed to be a novel now – I’ve got 100k words to play with, at the very minimum – so rather than have Hana narrate to the reader quickly about her altercation with the boy in math class, why not flesh out this detail and make it a bit juicier and more exciting to read?” So the above was trimmed down to this:

“SHIN HANA PLEASE REPORT TO THE GYM OFFICE IMMEDIATELY. SHIN HANA PLEASE REPORT TO THE GYM OFFICE IMMEDIATELY.”

Hearing my name over the loudspeaker is uncomfortable and gives me a jolting sensation. I guess I’m in trouble again, maybe they found out about Dongjae and now I have to explain it all, or maybe it’s something else, but school office meetings are never anything good. I slide my mat back across the gym and hang it up on the hook I collected it from just seconds ago, and then walk unenthusiastically over to the office.

When I arrive, the gym coach who is supposed to be teaching my actual class is sitting behind his desk, which is odd. There’s another man sitting on my side of the desk, I’d never seen him before. The gym coach motions for me to take a seat on the empty chair next to the other man.

“Am I in trouble?” I ask, as I sit down.

And the altercation with the boy was added to an earlier chapter for a second draft:

Ms. Kang folds up her laptop and leaves the room immediately, leaving us students to file out unsupervised. I’m as keen to leave as she is so I get up quickly and move to the narrow exit at the rear of the class. Unfortunately, most of the other students have the same idea, and the isle between the desks quickly becomes clogged with people. As I push through and try to escape to the outside, one of the boys in the the group who was picking on me tries to slip into the line, right behind me, it’s Dongjae, a slimy idiotic oaf from my class. I know exactly what will happen next, but I can’t deal with it this time, I just can’t – so I have to stop him. I can’t get him join the queue, not right next to me. There’s no way.

“Hey Hana, mind if I slip in behind you?” asks Dongjae, although he’s not really asking, he’s telling.

“Try that shit again and I’ll fucking murder you!” I scream back at him.

He smiles. He thinks I’m joking, but I’m not. In fact I’m not even exaggerating. If this gross pig actually enters the queue behind me I will do my best to end his life in that moment. I probably won’t succeed, in fact it’s almost guaranteed that I’ll fail, but I would want to see how close I can get to my goal.

He moves along the horizontal gaps between the tables to try and intercept me in the queue. Looking around for some way to obstruct him, I think about sliding the tables together, but it’s too hard to do that and maintain my queue position, it’s probably more important that I just get away from him. I notice there’s a chair between me and him in the gap between the tables so I kick it across in his direction, hoping that it at least slows him down a little. The chair slides across the tiled floor and then falls over before it reaches his feet. I then look on as somehow one of the chair legs bounces up right between his legs, hitting him right in the balls, a lucky shot and definitely not what I expected to happen, I couldn’t have planned it better if I tried. He moans in pain and falls on the floor.

“Suck shit, loser!” I yell as I hear Dongjae groaning. I really want to go over there and kick him in the face a few times, because he completely deserves it, but I wouldn’t get away with it, he’s going to get angry and so are his friends, so it’s better that I just try to make my escape quickly before there’s a retaliation.

This is not final yet, but it’s better, because it’s more fleshed out, and it also shows the many benefits of “show don’t tell”:

  • The scene is relayed ‘as it happens’, not narrated later, making it more tense
  • The boy has a name (naming characters is generally a good idea)
  • We’ve clarified a more direct motive for Hana’s violence and why this specific boy was targeted, as a result it feels less randomly cruel and more like something we can care about
  • The outcome isn’t so boringly black-and-white: Hana “wins” this round but the established power dynamic as a whole doesn’t favour her, so there is now some tension as the stage is set for further potential conflicts

Also some tidy-up (see the “remove any bullshit” editing tip further down):

  • We don’t need two reasons for Hana to potentially be called to the gym office so the other altercation in the first draft with Hana scratching a girl’s face is removed, and saved as an idea for potential later use
  • Some of the slapstick stuff from the first draft with Hana tripping on the mats was also removed as it didn’t quite fit the mood of what I was going for
  • Some subtle language changes from past to present tense, also a device to keep the reader ‘in the moment’

Overall the mood is that now you’re more in Hana’s corner – you’ve ridden through more of the story directly with her, as opposed to ‘hearing about it later’, so you’re now potentially more invested in what could happen next in that gym office meeting, or elsewhere.

3. USE THE ACTIVE VOICE

One of the most important grammar points when writing story narration (other than just normal stuff) is to use “active voice” whenever possible. The way to think about this is “put the person first”.

“Lizzy threw the oranges out of the car window” – active voice.

“The oranges were thrown out of the car window by Lizzy” – passive voice.

If there’s two people, put the person who is doing something first, and the person who is having the thing done to them, afterward.

“Yua Mikami slapped Chuu across her pointy head” – active voice.

“Chuu’s pointy head was slapped by Yua Mikami” – passive voice.

If there’s no people, there’s usually still a subject, so the best order is subject-action-object.

“The runaway train crashed through the set of NCT’s latest box video” – active voice.

“NCT’s latest box video was demolished by a runaway train” – passive voice.

Passive voice isn’t completely non-useful, it’s often the best way of phrasing statements when writing instruction manuals, or when writing news articles, for instance. However in a story setting, active voice is almost always the best option, because it’s more engaging to the reader. If you read a lot of fiction writing you’ll probably find that using the active voice just comes naturally to you and you don’t even have to think about this point too much, but it’s worth keeping this distinction in mind especially if you struggle with storytelling flow or English usage.

3.5 – PAST OR PRESENT TENSE, KEEP IT CONSISTENT

I showed this post to my brother and he said “you should put something in here about not mixing up the past and present tense because amateur writers do that a lot” and he’s right, that’s really a thing. So keep your tense consistent in narrative. Are you talking in the present or the past:

“I give the apple to Chuu. She looks at the apple and sighs. ‘Blockberry says we’re not allowed to have apples anymore’ Chuu grumbles as she returns the apple to me.” – present tense

“I gave the apple to Chuu. She looked at the apple and sighed. ‘Blockberry says we’re not allowed to have apples anymore’ Chuu grumbled as she returned the apple to me.” – past tense

Note how the tense of the statement in the third sentence doesn’t change, because it’s a quote, but the other tenses are written differently depending on whether they’re present or past because they’re narration.

There’s no right answer to which is the better tense to use (for what I do, I prefer present as it’s more ‘urgent’, past is more of a relaxed ‘storybook’ feel) but it’s important to choose one. Like all rules, there are exceptions – switching up the tense may become appropriate within narration in a case such as when someone narrating a current event in present tense switches and starts reminiscing about something else that happened earlier. However outside of edge cases like this, pick a tense and stick to it.

4. AVOID CLICHÉ

You’re writing a story, not a meme. When narrating, use your own words, not other people’s stupid catchphrases. Some to watch out for:

Newsreader/public speaking cliches: are you actually writing the dialogue of a newsreader character, who is reading a news report live to air, as part of your story? Then use these if appropriate. Nobody who is NOT being filmed for a TV audience or giving a public speech says phrases like “rushed to hospital”, “first responders”, “thoughts and prayers”, etc, people in the real world talk a lot more conversationally than that.

Stupid sayings: “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” type stuff. Even if you character is the kind of buffoon who would actually sincerely say shit like this (and people like that unfortunately do exist), it’s still going to be boring to read. Any sentence that a reader can finish on your behalf before you’ve even written it is frankly not even worth writing, try to think up something a bit more interesting.

Ridiculous scene-setting details and other wank: “It was a dark and stormy night” type stuff, read this to get the picture. Excise from your writing any absolute crap like this that nobody is going to give a fuck about, bullshit descriptions of nothing important just wastes the reader’s time. We’ve all slugged though boring as fuck shit like this even in “classic” literature. If you really need a description for essential narrative reasons, pare it down as much as you possibly can. You don’t necessarily want no descriptions at all, but don’t go crazy. And no “this is a story about” openers either. This also goes back to “show, don’t tell”.

Other memey crap and corny bullshit: go to your favourite overly politicised and memey corners of the Internet, read as much there as you can possibly stand, which should only take you about one minute, at most, because any more and your brain will probably start leaking out of your ears from lack of use. Now just avoid writing anything that reads anything like any of that nonsense. People who can write really well don’t hang on out on places like that because they’re too busy writing and not insulting their own intelligence.

5. DON’T REVEAL WHAT YOU DON’T HAVE TO

While your character is having moments in their story, a near-infinite amount of other stories are playing out at the same time. You can’t tell them all, and you shouldn’t. You’re not trying to write a story about everything, and if you did, it would suck, so always consider what you don’t need to tell the reader. Some details might be better off left until later, or left unsaid completely so the reader can imagine them. You don’t need to describe the exact crest of a character’s nose in a fiction, unless they’re a massive cocaine addict it’s probably not that interesting or relevant a detail. If you’re writing a fanfiction about a celebrity you really don’t need any descriptors – your audience already knows what the person looks like, just tell them which one of their videos or public appearances they most closely resemble at that moment and that’ll probably do. Things like technical descriptors of objects, buildings, etc are massively uninteresting to anyone who isn’t a nerd unless they have a very specific reason to care. Don’t feel like you have to add endless detail in the name of “realism”, you actually don’t.

If you’re writing first-person, think about what the character would realistically want to describe, and also what they’d realistically choose to not give a shit about, and tailor your narration to it. In the above “show, don’t tell” excerpt from the “Show Me Love” novel, Hana describes Dongjae as a “slimy idiotic oaf” because that’s all she feels is relevant, the description ends there. She’s not going to describe him in detail because she doesn’t care about the details, just thinking about him grosses her out, he disgusts her and that’s where her concern for his appearance ends. Whereas later in the story, Hana meets the other girls in the group for the first time, and she has a little bit more to say about each one as she checks them out:

She’s a fair bit taller than me, with an oval face, soft facial features, and obviously foreign, or half-foreign maybe, but I can’t tell where from. Aside from the name, it’s mainly the eyes that are the giveaway, as even though she has dead-straight long black hair, she also has really obviously natural double-eyelids, not the surgically-created ones that I can see the girl on my immediate left has, there’s a pretty distinct difference between the two. As Caitlin scans down the page I see her eyes go even wider and her smile vanish, she’s clearly not that happy about what’s on her schedule.

Even with this longer description, there’s a lot that’s deliberately not in it. Hana only reports on the details that stick out to her in that immediate first impression. It doesn’t need to be super-long and flowery or explicit to perform its narrative function – it’s obvious already that Hana likes Caitlin more than she likes Dongjae, just from the fact that Hana gives enough of a crap to describe Caitlin with more than three words, none of which are insults. Maybe later on Hana will notice other things about Caitlin, maybe she won’t, but you don’t have to rush to encapsulate everything about a person in that opening introduction.

The likeability of a main character that is an innate part of all fiction writing is something to keep in mind as it can be manipulated. This is especially true if not writing in third-person. Readers tend to trust narration by its very nature, but if the character is the one narrating the story, their perspective may not be trustworthy, and they may misrepresent information to the reader deliberately or even subconsciously. Vladimir Nakobov’s book “Lolita” is the classic example of this in modern literature – the narrator is unreliable and not to be trusted, he doesn’t see his actions with an underage girl as child abuse or pedophilia, although they objectively are, and it’s up to the reader whether they are wise enough to reject the natural instinct to trust the narrator’s telling of events and read between the lines to see the inherent bias in how he chooses to tell his story. Hana is also an unreliable narrator in “Show Me Love”, perceiving the girls she doesn’t like in the group as way less competent than they actually are, and being annoyed when others around her don’t agree with her own biased assessment. In “Suzy’s Cuts” the main character is so unreliable that she doesn’t even have a firm grasp on her own reality, so the narrator reports on the warped reality that she perceives, not the reality that actually exists, leaving out or misrepresenting a lot of information that is only then reconstructed in the story’s epilogue. You don’t have to go to lengths like this however, just keep in mind that to make a story engaging to the reader it’s better to not add too much, fiction readers are imaginative by nature and will often fill in their own details in places where you leave blanks.

6. FEELINGS > APPEARANCES

“But what if I’m writing smut? Don’t I have to describe how things look?”

Not anywhere near as much as you might think. Think about violence in fiction. What’s more hard-hitting and has more potential to shock, the appearance of blood from a gunshot wound, or the physical feeling of a bullet entering someone’s body? It’s the same with sex. I’ve never really written literal sex scenes for any of my fictional content (simply because it’s such a tired cliche in k-pop fiction content that I deliberately avoid it to make a point, even my computer games that are explicitly about sex don’t have any sex scenes in them) and I’m undecided if I’ll continue to not bother, but if I were to write them I’d use very little visual descriptors. While porn is primarily visual, the visual aspect is only part of sex and not the most important part. If I were describing walking into an adult bookstore I’d probably go into visual detail but if I were describing sex I’d focus on what makes sex uniquely different to porn, which is the feelings it generates. Don’t worry, readers will imagine the visual component for you anyway if you get the feelings right, you can get away with the absolute bare minimum of visual descriptors easily.

This rule applies not just to smut but any other type of activity that has a “sensory overload” component. How a very extreme event looks is always going to be less interesting to a reader than how that same event feels to the characters experiencing it. Haunted houses aren’t scary because they look scary, they’re scary because they feel scary, so if you were describing someone entering one, forget about how rotten the wood looks, focus on how being there makes them feel, and how those feelings change as they explore. Same if writing about war, space exploration, the first day in a new classroom, or being in a k-pop group and finding out what your diet plan is.

7. Don’t go too crazy with points 1-6 above if it’s stopping you from writing

Wait until you actually have a full story before you edit crazily. If your story isn’t finished yet and you’re torn between writing and editing, flip a coin three times. If you get three tails in a row, edit. Otherwise, just write more. If you want to write, writing is always better than not writing. Your first few attempts will probably suck anyway and that’s fine because you’ll get better the more you do it. I look back at stuff I’ve written years ago and think to myself “if I wrote this again, I would have done x y and z instead” and you will have those thoughts too, that’s okay and part of the process of becoming a better writer. Try not to do a George Lucas and go back and fuck around with things you did decades ago, just learn the lesson and use the knowledge for your next project.

THINGS TO CONSIDER ONCE YOUR STORY IS COMPLETE

1. MARKETABILITY FUCK THAT, JUST READ IT BACK TO YOURSELF, DO YOU LIKE IT?

Anything you write has to please yourself first and foremost. Don’t worry too much about other people’s opinions until you are definitely happy with what you’ve written. That’s the first test that anything you write has to pass. If it passes, time to get it out there, otherwise, proceed to the other steps in this section.

There’s a trap you can fall into here though, which is that if you’re the type of person who is a mega-perfectionist, you can get held up at this stage forever, constantly tinkering and never being happy. So if that’s you, set yourself a strict timeframe – “I will set aside x days/weeks to edit, after that it’s going out, no matter what”. Caring about your work is good but too much caring can be paralyzing, at some point you need to let your piece of fiction be born into the world and move onto the next thing.

2. REMOVE ANY BULLSHIT

Read through it again and be critical, is there anything the story could do without? What you’re looking for:

  • Redundant descriptions, did you really need that whole paragraph about IU’s hair probably not, don’t write one-handed next time
  • Continuity errors, these can slip in by accident in a big writing session, the entrance to the hallway with the snack machine was on the left of the office in chapter 5 but by chapter 10 it’s on the right of the office, that kind of thing
  • Is there any character development stuff that just doesn’t seem right. Do the two main love interests fall in love too quickly with too little context driving it? Does a character care deeply about something that didn’t interest them five minutes before, without a convincing reason for the change? Etc
  • Tone shifts – do characters behave like themselves in a consistent manner, all the way through? Yes they can change their points of view but their entire personality shouldn’t do a complete 180
  • Anything else that just sounds too cringe to keep in on reflection

3. FIX REPETITIOUS OR BORING LANGUAGE

When writing a lot of dialogue it’s easy to fall into the trap of using the word “said” a lot, or signposting dialogue in a very repetitious way in general. Here’s a list of alternatives that will help make your dialogue sections more interesting so use it to mix things up a little if you need to.

Also try and mix up word usage in general. Try not to use the same word to describe the same thing all the time. Try not to use the same word multiple times per sentence, or very very often consecutively. Try not to always default to the same sentence structure (see how boring this part of the post is because I start every sentence with “try not to”?) Don’t string a bunch of ‘ands’ together. Don’t start sentences with “and” or “because”. None of these are hard and fast rules, there’s times when it makes sense to break them for characterisation purposes (see point 4 below). Also don’t use words you don’t understand – put the fucking thesaurus away, quit trying to sound smarter than you are, that shit will backfire hard. If the right word didn’t occur to you without a thesaurus, it’s probably not the right word. If you want to increase your vocabulary do it the long way by reading other books, you’ll thank me later and your writing will get better.

4. TIDY UP SPELLING AND GRAMMAR – WHERE APPROPRIATE

Use spellcheckers but don’t trust them. Some of them default to horrible butchered awful incorrect American English spellings instead of objectively true and correct and righteous British English spellings (if you noticed my biased narration here, good job), and all of them will miss words that are misspelled as other words in the English language including other words nobody on the planet uses. The same applies to grammar checks, take note of the advice but trust these tools even less. Keep in mind that you’re writing a fictional novel, not a university essay, and there are times when you will want to break grammar and maybe even spelling rules deliberately as part of characterisation, because real people don’t use language correctly all the time in everyday speech or thoughts. In “Show Me Love” Hana narrates in massive grammatically-fucked run-on sentences at times when her thoughts start racing due to describing a tense or traumatic situation. In “Five Nights At Ailee’s K-pop Vocal Fan Camp” a fangirl talks in similarly long run-on sentences to indicate her getting carried away in the excitement of meeting her k-pop heroes. It’s fine to take creative licence, just avoid writing some Finnegan’s Wake style unintelligible trash, at least make it semi-readable. Nobody wants to read that crap.

5. SHOW IT TO SOMEONE

Find someone who likes reading and get them to read your thing (I did it with this post – see “past and present tense” above). Encourage them to give feedback and to be as honest as possible about it. This doesn’t have to be detailed, the first piece of feedback that comes to a person’s mind is usually the most valuable. Keep in mind that they might just hate it because of personal taste so definitely listen to what they have to say but also don’t take their word as the gospel. Show it to more than one person if you don’t trust the feedback you’re getting, preferably two people who don’t know each other. If you’ve got nobody else, send it to me, I’ll give you brutally honest but hopefully constructive feedback, no charge, my email is here.

6. Go back to step 1. and repeat

Do it, caonima.

HOW TO PUBLISH YOUR NOVEL AND GET RICH

Sorry I have no fucking idea, go ask someone else that shit, then tell me and we’ll both know. Cheers.


That’s all for this post! Have fun writing, and Kpopalypse will return soon with more posts!

3 thoughts on “Kpopalypse’s guide on how to write fanfiction (or any fiction) that doesn’t suck balls

  1. I love how in-depth you’ve dove into writing. It’s my main hobby for the past 15 years. I’m two scenes away from finishing my novel so I really appreciate the reminders, especially not to George Lucas stuff (my co-author keeps yelling at me when I change things). Thanks!

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