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Current Projects and Their Statuses

We received the following ask on Tumblr:

Hi, Friendly anon here! I was wondering if y’all had any updates on your projects? I found a reference to a Trello taskboard thing that looked like it might have some but I got waaaaay confused trying to understand it. How goes everything?

And, our answer!

Hey anon!

Yeah, we’ve publicly shared our Trello here but for someone who’s not familiar with how Trello boards are set up I can absolutely see how it could be confusing. So I’m figuring I can answer this Ask two-fold: first with what we’re actually up to right now, and second with a quick how-to that’d hopefully help with understanding the Trello in the future.

Current Projects and Their Statuses:

And Seek (Not) to Alter Me: Kickstarter fulfillment is complete except for people who haven’t done their backer surveys. We are planning to release the e-book and some surplus merch on our website on October 1st, so we’ve been doing work related to that: taking pictures, preparing shop listings, working on our controlled vocabulary, etc.

He Bears the Cape of Stars and She Wears the Midnight Crown: we’ve got virtually all the merchandise here and ready to go with a few exceptions; the bath bombs still need to be repackaged, the patches are currently shipping and are slated to arrive on Wednesday, and chocolates we won’t get until it’s time to ship, so they won’t spoil while sitting around waiting. We’re still hard at work on the books themselves and the stories. There are a total of 36 stories in the two collections; as of right now, 19 stories are completely done/edited/ready to go, and 7 more are close (at the final step before completion). The rest are in various stages of editing. We’ve ended up behind our originally (intentionally optimistic) projected schedule for a variety of reasons, but we’re well within the range of our more “pessimistic” projections, which had us fulfilling in March or so. As it is, we expect to be able to complete fulfillment/ship people’s purchases in early November.

Our Next Anthology: we’ve been hard at work on the planning for our second Queer Fanworks Inspired By… anthology. We’ve hammered out all the details, figured out a schedule, got a title, drafted and edited the websites and surveys that include the rules, guidelines, recruitment stuff, etc., and we anticipate launching recruitment (which will mostly be internal) on October 1st.

An Enamel Pin Campaign: we originally intended to launch a campaign featuring only enamel pins in September. We’re still planning to launch it, but we had so many ideas that we’ve struggled to narrow them down, and so odds are we’ll be launching this in October instead. Right now, we’ve narrowed it to a specific theme and right now we’re voting on which specific pins we want within that theme.

General Business Tasks: as we’re getting closer to finishing the stories for He Bears the Cape of Stars and She Wears the Midnight Crown we’ve been tackling a back-log of more general tasks. For example, we’ve opened up opportunities for authors we’ve worked with to publish their solo original works (as in, personal projects by our authors instead of themed anthologies) and we’re in the process of reviewing the interest checks people sent in, gathering more information from the authors, and getting the ball rolling on having more stand-alone/solo projects coming down the pipes. This is an essential step in widening the scope of what we publish, and we are aiming to start getting out roughly a novel a quarter starting this winter. Also, starting in October, we expect to publish a short story per week on our website, though we’re still getting the ducks in a row to make that a reality so consider that tentative, not official. We’ve also also been expanding the resources part of our website, preparing a style guide, an e-book formatting guide, a fandom lexicon, and more. Our resource-related posts have tended to be well-received, and also because the resources are free we consider providing them an important part of our mission of helping fanfiction author publish their works: even someone who never works with DPP can benefit from a public, free, thorough, professional-level guide that helps them format their story for e-book publication without needing any special/expensive software, for example.

That’s…all the basics I think? there’s also a continuous background buzz of Things That We Do – regular blogging, daily monitoring/upkeep on our social media, maintaining our Patreon and ko-fi accounts, accounting, end-of-month and beginning-of-month fiscal activities, etc. – all the day-to-day activities that keep a business (even a business as small and new as this one) running.

How to Navigate the Trello

So, while we’re still hammering out the details on how best to organize the Trello for utility both for us as we organize things and to the public – in particular, I’m going to need to tweak how it’s set up if we’re going to effectively use the built-in calendar functionality – here’s how it’s set up now.

LISTS:

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The highest level of organization on a Trello Board is the lists. We’ve currently got a whole bunch of different lists.

At a Glance: this is the “overview” lists. It includes all of our current projects, and all of our regular/general management. Those are organized on Cards – more on that next.

Merchandise: lists all the merchandise we’ve currently got in production/in process, and what their current status is. (it does NOT include merch produced for past campaigns/activities)

After those two, we have a whole bunch of lists that all serve the same function: they indicate what stage of editing we’ve completed for each of a number of stories we’re currently working on.

  • Developmental – Writing in Progress: first draft isn’t done
  • Developmental – Draft Completed: first draft is done, waiting for an editor
  • Concept Editing – First Pass Completed: a concept-edit run has been returned to the author and is pending their review
  • Concept Editing – Second Pass Completed: a second concept-edit run has been returned to the author and is pending their review.
  • Copy – First Edits Completed: a SPAG edit run has been returned to the author and is pending their review.
  • Copy – Second Pass Completed: a second SPAG edit run has been returned to the author and is pending their review.
  • Copy – Final Edits Completed: a final/clean-up SPAG edit run has been returned to the author and is pending their review.
  • Final Edits Approved, Contract Sent and Pending Signature: the author has approved the final edit run and has been sent their contract.
  • Story Completed, Contract Signed, Author Paid, Preliminary Formatting Done: what it says on the tin
  • Typesetting – First Pass: the typesetter has done the first run on formatting the story for print.
  • Typesetting Completed: what it says on the tin.

Not every single story ends up needing every single one of these, and sometimes stories need more concept or SPAG runs than this, but we thought this division reflected the process stories go through most often. We’ve given the stories basic anonymizing so that no author feels “called out,” though more often than not it’s the editing team that’s behind, not the authors.

Long-Term Ideas, Lists, Information We May Need Someday: the last of our lists is what it says on the tin. We keep track of ideas for future anthologies, potential merch, things we’ve thought of and went “we can’t do that now but maybe someday…” etc., and we just toss it all there so that the ideas don’t get lost.

CARDS:

Every List is composed of Cards. Each Card reflects one category of “thing that needs to be done.” There are a lot of ways to actually set up lists and cards (and we may change ours in the future) but currently, we have:

Cards for all our main projects/overarching “areas” in which we’re working. These are on the At a Glance List.

Cards for all currently in-progress Merchandise, on the Merchandise list.

Cards for all stories we have in-progress at the moment, on the appropriate Lists for their current status.

Cards for some over-arching categories of “things for not now,” on the Long-Term Ideas list.

All the Cards on At a Glance have the same basic structure. If you click on the Card, you’ll be able to see sub-tasks/checklists related to the items on that list. For example, here’s the Recurring Tasks Card:

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This is one of the most complex of the Cards, as it includes all the activities we engage in daily, weekly, monthly, and annually to keep the business running smoothly. Other “management” related Cards on this list include two related to our weekly management meetings and monthly all-server meetings, and the General Task Card, which lists a whole slew of background activities that we’ve been working on and/or intend to do (divided into separate checklists for each category, cause there are just so many).

Then, below the the general Cards the cards for specific projects. Here’s the one for He Bears the Cape of Stars and She Wears the Midnight Crown.

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This, and the other specific project Cards, list all the tasks we currently know of/have thought of that need to be done for the given project. The checklists give a quick idea of what the task is, and indicates the current status of that task. A few also have dates attached to them, though not most cause we don’t tend to treat deadlines as that “hard” internally – we prefer to maintain flexibility considering how many people are involved in these projects and how complex all our lives are and how the world just, ya know, is right now.

As we complete tasks, we move them into the Comments section at the bottom of the Card. Because we only recently implemented this public system (previously, we worked from a private Trello that looked a lot like this but was just a bit messier and not designed to be viewed by outsiders, like, we used a lot of shorthand, that kind of thing) it doesn’t include tasks completed before we implemented this system, but we’ve been doing our best to keep on top of it since we opened the public Trello a couple weeks ago. For example, here’s the completed tasks for our upcoming anthology that we expect to open recruitment for on October 1st:

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So, I think that’s the basic?

Because we want to use the Calendar more, we may end up breaking out more of the individual tasks currently listed on checklists on Cards into their own Cards, since the Calendar mostly functions at the Card-level, not at the checklist-item level. If we do that, we’ll likely make additional Lists for our main active projects, with cards for each task that is currently a checklist item. However, that’s not going to happen immediately just cause there are higher priority things to be done.

If there’s something more specific that you’re finding confusing, I’m happy to put together a tutorial – I tend to figure that if one person has a question and actually tells me they have a question, there are at least a half-dozen other people who had the same question and decided for whatever reason not to ask, and as you likely know, anon and everyone else reading this, we’re committed to transparency, and the Trello is one of the biggest, newest facets of that, so ensuring it’s navigable for new comers is really important to us. It’s hard to create a public-facing system that maintains a certain degree of confidentiality and still serves our needs for managing the business, and also just – we’ve got a lot going on basically all the time (and more and more as we grow), so there’s a lot that has to go on there, which means by necessity it’s kinda complicated. I do worry that if it’s really complex, it’ll serve to create obscurity instead of transparency, but…well, we’re doing our best, and we’ll keep doing our best, and we hope that when questions/issues/concerns/delays/etc. do arise, people will continue to be as patient with us as they have been! <3

Hope that helps, and thanks for sending an ask!! We’re always here to help. <3

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Received Asks: How Did You Pick the Name You Create Under and What Influenced that Decision?

A collaboratively written post by multiple members of Duck Prints Press. The input of every individual author has been used and lightly edited with permission and credited in the way they’ve requested.

Two days ago, a member of Duck Prints Press posed the following questions to our blogging team:

  • Whether you publish under a pen name or your given name, what factored into your decision to use one or the other?
  • Was personal safety the primary reason behind deciding to use a pen name, or were there other reasons? 
  • If you use your given name, do you feel safe? 
  • What’s your advice for [creators] who are thinking about publishing original [work]? 

A number of us replied, and we all felt that the compiled responses would make a good post to share, as “whether or not to use a pen name” is a recurring question we often get in-server, and is likely one many of y’all out there thinking of publishing your original work have pondered as well. 

Do you publish under a pen name or use your given name, and what factors influenced your decision to use one or the other?

@arialerendeair: I publish under a pseudonym and always will! I decided to go with names that riff off my fanfic name (Aria Lerendeair) – Aria L. Deair (for non-erotica) and Aria D. Leren (for erotica) because I’ve built a community and wanted it to be a bit of an in-joke when they find/buy my content. If someone were to find the story organically – they might get the name reference, they might not. It’s a fun way to create not-separation between the names and have one for the different genres! 

B. T. Fish: I (try to) stay anonymous aside from necessary contracts because of personal safety as regards certain family members. I honestly don’t worry about strangers knowing who I am, but if I am aiming for anonymity I have to commit.

Annabeth Lynch: I use a pen name, but I plan on taking at least the first name as my legal name when possible. I won’t share that or my pen name with my family because 1) they don’t know I write, and I’m not content to share that with them at all, and 2) I don’t want them to know I’m queer. They likely wouldn’t be hellish about it but I would certainly be mocked. Also, now I live in the south and while I live in a liberal section because of the nearby colleges, the place I want to move after my husband’s schooling is ~liberal~ in a vague way but definitely not as good as where I am now. It’s one reason why I’m hesitant to try and get my books in bookstores that might want in-person events.

Dei Walker: I went with a pen name for the erotica I wrote for DPP (and I’ll keep with that), but the first name holds a link with my real name in some ways. My husband’s a teacher at a fairly prestigious private school, and there’s a degree of “yeah my wife writes smut” that’s okay with colleagues but isn’t okay if the parents find out about it if they use search engines to learn more about me.

Willa Blythe: I chose to use a pen name. One, my real name is kind of weirdly spelled and I don’t actually even use my first name because it is a very popular name from the 80s that my parents left a letter out of… I go by my middle name but I spell it differently than what’s on my birth certificate, and I’ve gone by this name since I was 18. Everyone in my life knows me as (NAME) save my family, and they know I go by that. It’s not a nickname, it’s my name, and that’s fine. 

Anonymous: I decided to use a pen name for two reasons: 1) my name is incomprehensible to English speakers – not only is it hard to pronounce, but it also uses special characters; 2) I’m a primary teacher in a small town where gossip goes wild (for example, when I decided to go part-time so I have more time for writing it was going around that I was pregnant ) so I don’t want anyone to find out that I’m queer and write queer romance. There are idiots out there who wouldn’t want me to teach their kids because of that. I eventually came up with a pen name that is a word play on my legal name so it still feels like me, and the people I want to know would recognize it as me but strangers are unlikely to make the connection.

Nina Waters ( @unforth ): I publish under a pen name because people always mispronounce my last name and my understanding is that it’s better to make a pen name people can pronounce. Back when I was still considering trad pub, I was planning to use multiple pen names so I could write across genres. Nina Waters was gonna be spec fic and romance, but I love historical drama type stuff too and like. Those sell better with a male name on them? So I was gonna use either C. P. Houck (so, my actual initials and last name) or Charles (or maybe Chuck) P. Houck, since Charles is a family name (my uncle, my grandfather, and my great grandfather on my dad’s side are all Charles’s). That all said, when I decided to go the small Press creation route instead, there was basically no way to keep my real name out of things since as the owner I have to put it on all official paperwork, which means it’s filed with the government and a matter of public record. Since anyone could access it, there didn’t seem to be much point in keeping it a secret/separate. 

Was personal safety the primary reason behind deciding to use a pen name? What other reasons influenced your decisions?

(some authors included their answers to this in their replies above)

Nina Waters: Not really, though I did originally concoct the Nina Waters name for a really silly version of personal safety? I was writing a thing based on my unrequited feelings for someone and I obviously couldn’t put that under my real name without risking them figuring it out, so I needed a pen name. I never did finish that project lmao and now I would never bother but the pen name stuck. 

arialerendeair: Part of [why I use a pen name] is because I was doxxed (and received threats) from a non-writing community almost a decade ago. I’m not afraid of attaching my real name to my works – I’m proud of them! But with the very real possibility of that happening again at some point in the future, I didn’t want to risk it!

Willa Blythe: There was an additional reason that using a pen name was important to me, though. When I wrote fan fiction, I was the victim of a targeted hate campaign aimed at people who wrote fanfiction about a certain character. I wrote fic that I loved and I stayed in my corner, but I got aggressive and hateful messages constantly about not only myself but also my young son, for the crime of choosing to write about a young man of color instead of the overwhelmingly popular white m/m ship in that fandom. It was alarming, especially when people I didn’t know sent me messages about my workplace and my movements there. Prior to that, I’d been pretty open online. I’m not now. I take doxxing very seriously. My son’s safety, but also my own and my roommate’s, are of huge importance. I write about things people don’t love: complicated queer relationships, critiques of capitalism and white supremacy, critiques of religion and spiritual practices, etc. I have to do what is necessary to create distance between my real life, my fandom life, and my writing life. That said… I’ve done more to separate my fandom and writing identities than my real and writing identities, for a variety of reasons. It’s complicated, but as much as I love fandom, it does breed a certain kind of entitlement that my personal friends and family just don’t have.

If you use your given name, do you feel safe?

@owlishintergalactic: My wife and I had a huge conversation about the implications of me writing under my wallet name. I am quite politically involved in the Early Childhood Education and Early Childhood Special Education sectors in my county and state. This is a sector where being openly LGBTQ can cause problems with a particular subset of parents and voters. Yet, we don’t believe we should have to hide who we are and that we are LGBTQ – like many other parents in our state. We decided, in the end, that since I don’t write anything more racy than “mature,” it makes sense to build my platform using my real name. My writing is a part of me. It is a part of my advocacy. It’s my profession. But it is a risk, and it’s mitigated some because I live in one of the most open and inclusive communities in the US. For the most part, though, I do almost all of my online work under a variation of Owlish because it creates a layer of protection between me and the internet masses who don’t always have the best intentions.

Nina Waters: I. uh. Mostly? I definitely worry about it. I’ve been thinking about getting a P. O. Box for the business so I at least don’t have to use my real address all the time too. I worry that if someone took offense to the kind of work I do, they could go after my children, and that scares the crap out of me. In retrospect I wish I’d worked a little harder to keep my identities separate, but they were already mostly merged by the time I had kids and I’d have had to completely restart with new screen names and everything, so it felt like it was already too late by the time the business became public.

What’s your advice for [creators] who are thinking about publishing original [work]?

Nina Waters: The advice I give to people in the Press is if they’re even a LITTLE unsure, they should use a pen name. At any time when they decide they’re comfortable they can always switch to using their real name, but once the genie’s out of the bottle there’s no putting it back.

arialerendeair: There are a great many reasons to choose to use a pseud! For your own personal reasons, for reasons involving your spouse, your family, your activism work, because the internet is a scary place sometimes and many grew up in the web safety diligence era. If you are picking up a pseud for any reason at all – great! They can be fun, they can be punny, (is it a coincidence that D is the middle initial for my pseud that I write erotica under? Nope!) and they can be a chance to reinvent yourself for an audience that doesn’t know you yet. There’s a power in being able to shape a persona – and sometimes it’s fun to grab that and see where it leads!

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Do you – yes, you, the person reading this! – use a pen name for publishing your art, fiction, or other types of creations? Have you kept your fandom, creation, and meatspace selves separate? We’d love to hear your answers to the above questions, so feel free to comment and weigh in!

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Have a question? Feel free to drop us an ask any time!

Want to support what we do and get access to extras and behind-the-scenes information? Back us on Patreon or ko-fi!

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Wondering What We’re Working On?

Well, wonder no more!

A week ago (Sunday, August 28th, 2022) we held our second-ever all-server meeting – a now-monthly event inaugurated in July, where everyone involved with Duck Prints Press (authors, artists, designers, ko-fi/Patreon monthly backers, etc.) is invited to jump into a channel on our Discord, listen to some updates on our current projects and upcoming plans, and ask questions, comment, make suggestions, and generally get more involved! At the meeting, many people indicated that they wanted a better idea of what the Press staff are actually doing, on a day-to-day basis, and @hermit-writes (WordPress) suggested it would be easy for us to set up a public-facing Trello board, especially because we already use Trello to do most of our behind-the-scenes task organization/management. We opened that up to a general vote and the response was overwhelming, YES WE WANT TO KNOW! So, with Hermit’s help, the thing is now done – and y’all can see too!

As part of Duck Prints Press’s ongoing commitment to transparency, we present you: a Trello board listing what we’re working on and project status, available for everyone to see!

This Trello board includes all of our current projects and short-term plans (roughly the next quarter-or-so), and the status of individual tasks associated with the project. You do not need a Trello account to view it. We expect to add a calendar component to it too (transferring our existing, rather bare-bones, Google Calendar into the Trello so that everything is in one place). We encourage you to take a peek and keep an eye on what we’re up to and how we’re progressing!

As always, we’re here to provide information to our contributors, staff, readership, curious public, really everyone involved in the Press in anyway – so always feel free to let us know if you have questions, comments, feedback, etc.

(and – want to support what we do? we heart our monthly supporters on ko-fi and Patreon, and we’d love to have you, yes YOU, on board too!)

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FAQ: Does Duck Prints Press use #OwnVoices?

Long time no post – I (Nina Waters, the Press owner) have been away for a couple of weeks, and despite my hopes to keep things active, I wasn’t able to do so. But, I’m back now, and ready to catch up on things I did before or during my trip, and/or things that crop up now!

For starters – right before my departure I received a question in my e-mail. The below is paraphrased from the original ask, and my answer is slightly edited for readability.

Question: What is Duck Prints Press’s stance on the #ownvoices tag?

We don’t use #ownvoices, ever, because what was created as a tag to help highlight creators speaking on their own experiences became a bludgeon to bully people and force them to out themselves. We say publicly that we primarily aim to work with LGBTQIA+ authors to publish LGBTQIA+ stories, but we don’t actually require that our creators be any form of queer, nor do their stories/artwork/creations have to feature LGBTQIA+ characters or themes. No one ever has to disclose more about their identity than they wish to, nor does anyone have to use a real name (outside of contracts, which are of course not shared), link any social media accounts, etc. – since we only share the info our creators explicitly want shared, they can publicize as much or as little as they’d like to about themselves – then can go “full public” and use their actual name to write, share all their social media, etc., or they can deny the public access to them beyond a pen name, or anything in between. We use this approach to protect creators and make sure no one will be forced to out themselves, and while the Press is primarily aimed at LGBTQIA+ themes, we’ll of course apply the same approach to other aspects of author identity – race, ethnicity, religion, etc. In all respects, the creators themselves choose how much to disclose, and we will never share anything beyond what they’ve authorized.

Our views on the #ownvoices tag were primarily formed based on this blog post from We Need Diverse Books.

All that said, since we’re so explicitly a queer-focused Press, there’s always a danger that people will assume our creators are some flavor of queer whether they are or not, but we really can’t help what other people assume, and we never explicitly say that creators MUST be queer (nor do we require it privately – we have worked with creators who aren’t queer). If you’re ever wondering about a specific creator, we encourage you to check out our various author biography pages for our anthologies and the Press as a whole, and see what the creators have, and have not, chosen to share!

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Writing Quick Tips: Em Dashes + Spaces

This post was written in reply to an ask received on Tumblr. The ask:

Thank you for the quotation marks + punctuation post! That’s one of the top trouble areas I see when I beta read. (Understandable—there are tons of possibilities/rules.) I noticed in the em dashes section, example 2, there are no spaces between the dialogue and em dashes. Is that a hard-and-fast rule, or does it depend on preference/style guide? This is something I utilize in my writing so I would love to know if I’m getting it right, or if it’s simply a matter of being consistent. Thanks again!

The answer:

Ah! Yeah, whether to put spaces is a choice. Some places use hair spaces, some thin spaces, some non-breaking spaces, some full spaces. Duck Prints Press opts for no spaces around em dashes in most cases.* Out of curiosity, I just checked CMoS—while I couldn’t find a place that explicitly said “do it this way”…well, in all their examples of em dash use, they do NOT put spaces around the em dashes, so I’d say that at least in CMoS the most grammatically correct usage would be to not put spaces on either side of the em dash.

*In most cases = virtually always in narrative, one major exception in dialog. When we use an em dash to denote interruption, sometimes there will be a full space after.

Ex. 1: “No matter where you go—no matter what you do—I’ll always be here for you.”

Explanation: this is a usage of an em dash that mirrors em dash usage in regular narrative text—essentially a form of parenthetical/aside—so it gets em dashes with no spaces.

Ex. 2: “I just said don’t—”

Explanation: this is the end of the quoted dialog. It would be heckin’ weird to put a space between the em dash and the closing quotation mark.

Ex. 3: “Why don’t—why don’t we just not?”

Explanation: this is self-interruption but the sentence that continues is the same as/part of the same sentence that was interrupted, so we don’t use a space. Our intention is to denote that the part before and after the em dash are still part of the same, like, context/concept. It’s the continuation of the same idea.

Ex. 4: “Look, I just— Don’t start with me, okay!”

Explanation: here’s the case where we use a space (our space case? lmao). It’s self-interruption, but when the the speaker resumes, it’s neither a parenthetical aside nor a continuation of the same sentence. It’s a brand new sentence. To help make that clear, we use a space there (and a capital letter.

Bonus—Ex. 5: Just as he was about to speak, I cut in— “Don’t say it!”

Explanation: this is about the only case I can think of where I’d use a space after an em dash in narrative/descriptive text, and it’s also to make interruption clear. Stylistically, a lot of writers will never even use this kind of phrasing, but it’s a permissible stylistic choice to write narrative interruption this way, and when people opt to do it, we do put a space between the end of the description and the start of the dialog, for the same reason as in Ex. 4—it’s a new sentence and it’s clearer with the space.

Contrast with: Just as he started to speak—”I already know,” I expected he’d say—I interrupted him and said, “Don’t say it.”

In this one, though there is a dialog piece/quoted material within the em dashes, it IS a parenthetical aside, so there’s no space.

Bonus—Ex. 6: “Whatever you do”—he waggled a finger in my face—”don’t go in the forest.”

Explanation: when an action is inserted in the middle of dialog, it’s essentially a parenthetical aside, just it’s a non-dialog parenthetical shoved into a dialog chunk, so it follows the same rules as an em dash aside would in other cases—so no spaces.

Again, this is one of those areas where there’s no hard-and-fast rule, and I’d expect different Press’ internal style guides to handle this em dash + space usage in different ways, but this is how I’ve opted to handle it, as lead editor at Duck Prints Press.

(the key, in the end, is consistency—if you pick one way and always do it that way, I doubt anyone is gonna give you shit, though you should expect that if you then submit that to a Press, the Press will edit it to match their preferred style to ensure uniformity within and across their publications).

Thank you so much for sending an ask! It’s always exciting when we actually get editing/writing asks. As a reminder, y’all, anyone reading this, always feel free to send us questions like this! We are grammar pedants and we are only to happy to be pedantic on whatever SPAG topic you’d like to know more about!

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Transitioning from Writing Fanfiction to Writing Original Fiction

We received the following ask anonymously on Tumblr:

I loved your “what is a story” post! Aside from structuring stories, are there any other things you think writers shifting from fanfic to original works tend to struggle with, or would do well to keep in mind?

Hey anon! I’m sorry this has taken me so long to reply, but it’s such a big question, it required a big answer. Especially, it’s a challenge to address because, as a creation medium, “fanfic” is far from a monolith. From a “how hard might a transition to writing original content be” standpoint, there’s a huge range – from people who write canon-compliant short stories coda stories that feel like they’re a living, breathing part of the source world, all the way through people who write epic million word AU stories about their own OCs who maybe at most tangentially interact with canon. Some people see writing fanfiction as “canon, the whole canon, and nothing but the canon,” while others see the original media as a jumping off point to play with other settings, tropes, archetypes, and story elements (“canon? I love canon! It makes a lovely whooshing sound as I fly on by…”). What a fanfiction author prefers to write, to some extent, influences what challenges they’ll face when they try to transition. 

For those who specialize in “all canon,” their strengths will often lie in research, analysis, understanding metatextual themes, and finding holes or gaps to fill with new content. They’ll likely be weaker in world building and character creation.

For those who specialize in “what canon?”, their strengths will often lie in world building, character development, and recognizing tropes and archetypes and reapplying them to new settings. They’ll likely be weaker in analysis and recognizing plot holes.

These are obviously generalizations; an “all canon” author who does, for example, post-canon or uses OCs, might have lots of experience with world building or character creation. A “what canon?” author who, for example, writes historical works or field-specific ones (eg, a super detailed hospital AU) might be fantastic at research. And, further, hardly any author will be 100% one or the other; most writers will fall somewhere in between those extremes, writing some pieces that are canon, some that are AUs, some where they try to write the character IC-to-a-tee, some where they go “OOC is the new IC!” 

Regardless of where a given writer falls on this scale (from “all canon, all the time” through “canon? what canon?”), the best two things any writer can do are: write more and read more. Especially, focus on reading (note this doesn’t have to mean literally “read a book,” it can be, “watch a show,” or “read a comic,” or “listen to a podfic”) original stories you enjoy, and engage with them “like a writer” (how to do that could stand to have a full post written about it, and doing so is on my list…). Look at how the author(s)/creator(s) use language, what the features of their world and characters are, how their plot is structured and paced, all the elements of the story. If it’s too much to take in at once, read multiple times and focus on one thing each time. You need to learn to recognize tropes and character traits, to see them and interpret them and understand that any given story is simply an assemblage of these features, and you can take the ones you like, discard the ones you don’t, and recombine them in infinite ways to tell any story you want. Take notes as you read – scrawl down tropes you recognize, character features that engage you, plot elements. 

Having trouble? Try to tag the work like you’d tag an AO3 story, if you’re having trouble recognizing tropes and how to subvert them.

Would you tag it “angst with a happy ending?” “Emotional hurt/comfort?” “Mutual pining?” Congratulations, you’ve found tropes. 

“Engineer!Character?” or “Character Needs to Learn to Use Their Words” or “Character is a Bad Parent” or “Asexual Character?” Congratulations, you’ve found character features, traits, and archetypes.

“Slow burn,” “getting together,” reunions,” “arranged marriage,” hey look, it’s a whole bunch of plot elements!

Learn to recognize tropes, and see how different creators use them and subvert them, will also help you see that when you write fanfiction you already do all the things necessary to create and write an original story

It can help to take a step back and consider your own oeuvre. What kinds of works have you already done? Which pieces have you pushed yourself on? What do you feel your strength is? Write more. Read more. Read posts like this one – there are so, so, so many excellent writing resources on the internet. And, when you write your own work, experiment with different approaches – learn about yourself as a writer. What time of day do you work best? Does outlining help you? Do you need an alpha reader to help keep you motivated? Grow your experience by writing – any writing – and get a handle on what works best for you.

Still at a loss where to start? Read on…


Worldbuilding

Every world, whether it’s high fantasy, hardcore space opera, or modern contemporary, will require worldbuilding. Worldbuilding isn’t just the big, universal questions like: “how does the magic/science work, where are the cities located, how do people live?” Worldbuilding is also: “what does the corporation where they work look like, what is in the characters’ neighborhood, what are the places and things that will need to exist to make the story idea function?” You don’t need to treat this as “all the biggest stuff,” and I guarantee that, as a fanfiction writer, you’ve done worldbuilding – even if all you write is 1k coda fics. You may cut some corners, relying on context, on the “big stuff,” but the small stuff still needs to be in a story or it won’t make sense. What works in fanfiction, by and large, is the same as what works in original fiction. You should never be leading your reader through a lovingly crafted description of the surroundings/magic system/neighborhood/space ship while the plot languishes. You never need to have all the details up front.. If you’re a planner, go for it, plan the minutiae! But if you’re a plantser or panster, don’t feel you need to transform magically into a planner just to write original fic! You don’t. I’m a plantser. It’s fine.

You can often assume a reader will know what’s going on (even if they won’t!), especially if the character would know what’s going on. Weaving information into a story isn’t a “thing you don’t do in fanfic” – improving your writing in fanfiction will teach you how to do this as surely as writing original fic would. The writing itself isn’t different. Drop a reader in, and introduce them to elements as you go. 

Introduce elements gradually, avoid info dumps, make sure the characters act like…this is just the world…they’re not going to (for example) explain things in detail if they’re eminently familiar with them. Use all the same tools you’d use when writing fanfic. Indeed, I think one of the biggest challenges a fanfic author will face isn’t “how do I worldbuild?” but rather, learning how to do consciously and intentionally something that they’ve surely been doing all along, because no story can be done without worldbuilding! 

Thus, we circle back to “read your own work and the work of others and see what you’ve done and what others have done.” Force yourself to see that you do worldbuilding when you describe their surroundings, when you introduce story elements, when you say what they’re wearing. All the details that make your fanfiction rich and vibrant are worldbuilding. You build the world around the characters – whether they’re canon or OC – and then they interact with it to tell your story!

(Now, all that said, if you’re like, “that’s all well and good but how do I even start when I want to create a whole new world?” There are a lot of good articles on that; I’m personally partial to this list of questions by Patricia C. Wrede.)


Character Design

You create a character every time you write. Yes, if you’re creating fanfiction, that character already exists in some form, but you’re still creating: you’re deciding, in the context of your fanfic, what aspects of that character you want to explore, what behaviors of theirs you want to highlight, what things they do you’d rather ignore. You dictate their actions, decide how they’re established canon behavior applies to the unique and different circumstances you are exposing them to be. This is true even if the story is “all canon;” that said, the more AU a story is, the more likely the characters are to be essentially “original characters in a mask” – yeah, you might be using the names from canon, but when all is said and done what you actually are writing about is a new character, featuring the archetypes you chose from the base character and manipulated into a new environment. AUs change character ages, professions, surroundings, backstory, appearance, species, gender, sexuality, family, birthplace, native language, ethnicity, religion, intelligence, presentation type, I could go on…when you make them from Ancient Greece instead of modern America, when you decide they’re a half-octopus, when you say “oh, they’re ace,” when you go, “what if they were trans,” when you think, “I’m really in the mood for some pwp A/B/O…” you’re creating new character with aspects of the original character. The goal is often to keep them “enough like” the original character to be recognizable, but that doesn’t change that, in many AUs (and sometimes even in canon fics!), if the character names were swapped out with a find-and-replace, a reader coming in would be hard-pressed to recognize the source material. They might even guess the wrong ship (this sounds just like a Stucky story! they say, while you know it actually started as Destiel).

This is because characters are composed of archetypes and personality traits. They’re aggressive, they’re shy, they’re brave, they’re risk-averse, they’re selfish, they’re a martyr, there’s a huge menu of options, and any given character is rarely black or white…and when you decide how to portray a canon character in your fic, you’re automatically, often without thinking about it consciously, saying, “these are the archetypes and personality traits I want to focus on, these are the ones that’ll be paramount for this iteration of this character, the others won’t come up.”

So, much like worldbuilding, the concern you have when you transition to original fic shouldn’t be, “I’ve never had to make a character WHAT DO?” it should be, “I’ve been making and modifying characters all along, how do I bring myself to do intentionally what I’ve been doing anyway?”

I’ll give you one guess what the answer is, ha. Also, yet again, there are a lot of resources to help an author learn to do this “on purpose.” A Google Image Search for “character design writing sheet” turns up zillions of results, for example – look through, try a few, see what works for you, make some characters just for fun!

If you’re really struggling, try using one of those sheets to write up different “versions” of the same character you’ve written in multiple fanfics. Like, pick a canon fic you’ve written, and make a sheet for the main canon character, then pick an AU you’ve written, and make a sheet for that same canon character. You’ll notice pretty quickly that they each write up differently – they’ve got different goals, different motivations, different ways they react, even though they’re the “same” character. Pick the two “most different” versions you’ve written of that character, and compare, and it’ll start to be pretty clear: you’ve been making characters all along, so just…keep at it.


General Concept/Plot

“But what story should I tell?” can be a tough question to answer, especially for fanfiction authors who usually write shorter pieces, inserts, codas, and the like. The first thing to remember is…there’s no reason you should tell different kinds of stories! You can write a 2k fluffy meet cute between OCs. Not every original fic needs to be a 500k epic fantasy world saving adventure. There’s absolutely no reason you can’t write exactly the same kinds of stories. Yes, you’re not going to write a “fix it” or a coda for your OCs, but you can absolutely write “moment between” original pieces. You can write drabbles. You can write shorts, novellas, pwp, anything.

However, if you want something more involved…I think you’re starting to get the gist here but I’ll reiterate one last time…look at your source canon material and at the fanfiction you’ve been writing. What were the story elements you chose to incorporate when you made your transformative piece? What do you love about that source material that you’d like to emulate? Do you enjoy a good mystery? Do you like the agonizing drag of slow burn? Do you crave that “I COULD JUST SMACK THEM BOTH” of idiots to lovers? Do you want historical drama, political machinations, high adventure, space battles? Consider what story elements drew you to that fandom, what about it made you go, “THAT’S the one I want to write for!” Consider which story elements you most enjoy playing with when you write fanfiction. Then…do more of that. If you love a good plot twist, or an air of horror, or BDSM, or, or, or…that’s a good start for figuring out what story to tell. 

It doesn’t have to be what you’ve written the most of, to be clear – but absolutely it should be something you love and want to emulate. If you don’t love it, what’s the point in writing it?

Figuring out what story you want to tell with OCs isn’t magically different than figuring out what story you want to tell for fanfiction. Your best bet, truly, is to go about things using exactly the same strategy you use for fanfiction. If it helps, you can even plot it using fic characters – pretend it’s an AU, figure out the story you’d tell with canon characters in that AU. If you’re playing with archetypes as discussed above (spoilers: you are), and you’ve put together a world for them to play in, creating a story to tell in an AU using “established” characters is exactly the same as writing original work, except you give them different names, and you don’t throw in random references to canon or quotes that insiders will get.


The biggest mistake most writers make when they transition from fanfiction writing to original fiction writing is treating original fiction as some ineffably Different And Unique And New form of writing. It’s not. A good original fic and a good fanfic will have many, many elements in common (YES, even if the fanfic is set in the canon verse!).

The best advice I can give, honestly?

Do exactly what you’d do when you sit down to conceptualize a new fanfic, but every time you hit up against “Oh I can’t have them say that, that’d be OOC,” or “Oh, I can’t make that happen, that technology/magic doesn’t exist in that world,” or “Oh, I’m going to have to change that, there’s no canon character that makes sense for a role like that,” you can go “OH WAIT THIS IS ORIGINAL I DO WHAT I WANT!” and you make that thing you want them to say be IC for them, you change the technology/magic/whatever so what you need exists, you create a character that’ll fit that role.

Fanfic or original fic, the story is always your sandbox.

Now – go build some castles!


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