I do not pretend to be a perfect fanfiction-writer. I haven't written any for quite a while, actually, and I hardly ever read them, but I find writing Jane Austen fanfiction great fun, and publishing it on www.fanfiction.net almost as much fun. I also really enjoy reading fanfiction that is fun and well written, but unfortunately that is so scarce that I don't really search for it that often. However, today I went onto the Jane Austen section on Fanfiction, and was so moved by what I found there that I was inspired to write the following list, which I beg you to follow:
When writing fanfiction...
1) Think very, very carefully before writing a modern retelling of a Jane Austen story. Half the stories in the Jane Austen section are modern retellings, and I don't think I have read a single one yet that wasn't terrible. Example: I saw one today entitled One Drunken Night in Vegas. Imagine! A story dedicated to Elizabeth and Darcy marrying at the Little White Chapel after drunken revelling and a drunken proposal! How very Britney Spears, and how very classy. Just don't do it! So there have been modern retellings of Jane Austen stories that have worked; witness the greatness of movies like Clueless or Bride and Prejudice. On the other hand, these do not involve drunkenness or a feisty "Liz" meeting old-money "Will" at law school - which seems to be the gist of most of these stories.
2) Please, please, don't make the characters behave completely differently to how they would act in the original text. This is just too depressing to cope with. I remember a Harry Potter fanfiction once that described Ron as "bashful", and this just seemed so wrong to me that it actually stuck with me and ruined my next reading of a Harry Potter book. Another time some abandoned wannabe Jane Austen wrote a fanfiction in which Mr Darcy had seven mistresses and lots of illegitimate children. Avoid smutfics. For a fantastic example of this, see this amusing parody of a smutfic on Tilneys and Trapdoors.
3) Likewise, don't make horrible, terrible things happen to the characters of what is supposed to be light fiction. Example: I read a sequel to Pride and Prejudice once that killed off Jane Bennet with leukaemia six months after her wedding, and had Elizabeth refuse Mr Darcy's proposal, to end up a poverty-stricken old maid, looking back with regret. How pointless is that?! I don't want to read it! No one wants to read it! Don't do it!
4) Don't, when you find some of your subject matter overlapping, simply repeat whole passages of the author's original text! Don't!!!! It is not yours to use! Added to that, it also doesn't fit in with your writing, for however much you feel you have stayed in tone with Jane Austen or J. K. Rowling or whoever, you have your own style and it cannot help but feel like an unwelcome blip in it. The reader doesn't want to read whole pages of things they have already read. Be original! It's worth it! Try writing from a different perspective, or summing the whole scene up in two sentences - anything but using the author's own text.
5) Choose names wisely. Real people are not called Luciforia Maelonia Wcjkslzski. Or if they are, you could bet a large amount of money that the people surrounding them have names like Jane and Bert. So if you have an entire family or society of people with outlandish names (especially if they are set in nineteenth century England), it just comes across as if you particularly like those names, and realise that you can't call your own children that - not that the characters suit the names.
Now, on writing reviews:
One of the nice things about the Fanfiction website is that people can review your stories and give you suggestions and feedback. Once or twice I've had some really helpful ideas for a story. But on the other hand, if you write me a review, please:
1) Don't assume that because you have seen the Keira Knightley Pride and Prejudice movie, you know everything there is to know about Jane Austen.
2) Don't come out with silly myths that you have learnt from other fanfic writers, such as "in those days, they didn't say didn't, but did not" - you are only displaying your ignorance.(Explanation: just because Jane Austen didn't write with contractions doesn't mean she didn't speak with them.) Likewise, with social conventions of the day, don't willy-nilly puff off your imagined intelligence by saying "that would never have happened", because more often than not, you're wrong.
3) Don't accuse me of plagiarising another fanfic. This happened once and annoyed me no end. Likewise, don't tell me I'm "bitter" because I indulged in some satire that you evidently couldn't understand. (Again, real life story.)
4) Don't post a review every three days whining about how I'm not writing updates fast enough. While this is initially flattering, it soon becomes tiring, and only makes me decide never to update again, ever.