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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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Advice for Writing Trans Male Characters

Hi everyone, and welcome to our second guest post!  We approached a trans man, and fellow writer, to put together a list of suggestions for cis people who want to write trans male characters! He has chosen to remain anonymous. Always remember, there is no one trans experience, and no one trans person’s knowledge will reflect the range of ways that trans people live. Our post author writes from his perspective, based on his knowledge and research, and much of this is relatively specific to the modern United States. Always use multiple sources when writing a character with an identity or identities that you don’t share!

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    So you want to write a trans male character but you’re not a trans man yourself. Good! We need more trans male characters out there in the world. There are a few things to consider, however. This is not a perfect list (I would never claim to be perfect), but here are some thoughts from a trans man about writing people like me.

    Trans men are men. They talk like men, think like men, and walk like men, except where socialization as women has forced otherwise. By this I mean that descriptions should not include things like “he walked delicately, like a woman”. However he walks, it’s like a man, because he’s a man. Other characters should not note that he “thinks like a woman” or that he “acts like a woman.” If you talk about a trans man transitioning and you mention that he is working on ways to masculinize his speech patterns or walking, that’s fine, but make sure it’s done from his perspective, e.g. “Michael tried to lower his voice, attempting to sound more like his father.” Do not use “Michael tried to lower his voice, not wanting to sound like a woman.” It’s his voice and he sounds like a man. Also, many woman have deeper registers and many men have higher registers, and there’s honestly not that much difference between a woman who speaks in a low alto and a man who speaks in a high tenor. Avoid gendering voices, mannerisms, and other things. A good rule of thumb is that if it’s a concept, idea, or an inanimate or non-sentient thing, it is physically and/or emotionally incapable of having a gender and you should not assign one to it.

1. A trans man who has decided that all he needs to do is come out to be a man is still a man, with a man’s body and male genitals, because he says he’s a man. Even if he is not out, he is a man. He can be uncomfortable with his body, or with how others perceive his body, but it should not be described in terms of “womanly” aspects. 

        EX: David’s breasts made him uncomfortable, reminding him that others looked at him differently than how he would have liked. 

2. 72% of trans men do not ever want full gender reassignment surgery, and this doesn’t make them “less of a man.” The surgeries are expensive, invasive, and don’t always result in a fully functional genital apparatus. Also, there are a lot of them. A trans man, to have a full semi-working penis (one that will not be useful for sex but will at least be useful for urination), is looking at at least three surgeries: to remove the labia, to ‘bulk up’ the clitoris, and to move the urethra. There are also surgeries to remove the cervix and/or the uterus, to create a scrotum, and to add a pump inside the scrotum attached to a surgical implant in the penis to assist with arousal. Even if a man has all these surgeries, the penis he gets loses most of its sensitivity and won’t become physically aroused (as in, achieve erection) without medical intervention. He may also need electrolysis to remove pubic hair. Ultimately, many trans men opt not to deal with it. Many still want top surgery, or a hysterectomy, or both, and often testosterone is used to help deepen their voice and change their body shape (but, again, gendering a trans man’s voice by suggesting it’s “feminine” because he’s not on testosterone or because his voice hasn’t dropped yet is not a great idea). It depends on the type and amount of dysphoria a person experiences, versus their financial and mental ability to deal with the different choices. Some trans men are happy with no hormones and only top surgery. Others want or need everything. There is no “correct” way to be trans. 

3. Unless your story revolves around their transition (which, as a cis person, maybe it’s best you don’t do, honestly), there’s no reason to go into detail about your trans male character’s surgeries. If it’s not plot relevant, it’s probably not necessary. 

4. If you’re writing porn, make sure to always use male pronouns for him, even if he has chosen not to go through surgery. If he has gone through surgery, what he has will be indistinguishable from a cis male penis except that he may need  viagra or a surgical pump. 

5. Reactions to testosterone are different for every trans man. Some men never have their voices drop, never grow a beard, and/or never bulk up and get all muscle-y. Some men are on testosterone for two weeks and have a Gandalf beard with a voice low enough to sing bass. It just depends, mostly on genetics. If your character’s father is a super hairy mountain man who sings bass in his lumberjack quartet, then your character is more likely to end up similar. If your character’s father is basically an elf, then he’s likely to be similar to that. Also, for a number of reasons, a trans man may choose not to or may be incapable of taking testosterone. Most doctors won’t prescribe it if the man wants to carry his own children in the future, for example. 

6. Keep in mind that the order in which testosterone produces effects on a man’s body isn’t predictable, so don’t worry too hard about ‘getting it right.’ Even trans men can’t predict what they’ll look like after being on testosterone for a while. 

7. Also, a note: If your character is transmasculine and nonbinary, and taking testosterone, it’s likely they will be on a lower dose than a trans man. That’s not always true, but testosterone can be given at a few different doses, depending on how drastic a change a person wants and how quickly they want that change to occur. There’s still no guarantee: a trans man may never be able to grow a beard on a full dose, while a transmasculine nonbinary person might be on a very low dose and have a beard within the first month. But, generally, lower doses are meant to bring out smaller changes over a longer period of time, while higher doses are meant to bring out larger changes over a shorter period of time.

8. A non-fluid trans man is going to consider himself a man at all times, and always use he/him pronouns for himself, whether or not everyone else does. If you’re writing a trans man point-of-view piece where he’s not out or where he’s not fully accepted, make sure he or the narrator always uses the right pronouns when others don’t. That helps remind your audience that he’s not the person other people think he is.  

        EX: Daniel was frustrated. His grandmother insisted on calling him “Sarah” no matter how many times he corrected her.

9. Menstruation is a difficult topic for a lot of trans men. Some men lose their ability to menstruate when they take testosterone, while others continue to menstruate. If they retain their uterus, however, the possibility of a menstrual cycle is always there. If/when menstruation happens for a trans man, it’s often a time of major dysphoria. A trans man may have a lot of issues surrounding menstruation. Having a cervix also means yearly Pap smears, which can also be uncomfortable or dysphoria-inducing. Dysphoria can also happen during ovulation, when a person is most fertile. The body during this time is “getting ready for a baby” and the changes can be very triggering. 

10. Testosterone may stop menstruation, but it doesn’t necessarily stop pregnancy. Also, some trans men will go off their testosterone in order to carry their own child. During their pregnancy, it is important that they are still referred to as men. A trans man will generally prefer to be called “father” even if he carried the child, but some may prefer the term “mother.” If a cis person wishes to write a pregnant trans character, it would be better to err on the side of caution and use “father.” A trans man who has gone through top surgery will not likely be able to nurse his own children, but a man who has chosen to use a binder instead will be able to (probably – some people don’t/can’t lactate for other reasons). Whether or not he chooses to will be up to him. 

11. Gender Dysphoria is the medical diagnosis given to trans people who want to do any form of medical transitioning. Being transgender is not in and of itself a diagnosis. A person can be transgender and choose never to transition medically. Dysphoria is generally most clearly understood as a form of discomfort in the body you possess. Sometimes a person experiencing dysphoria is uncomfortable with their body no matter what. He doesn’t like his breasts, for example, unless they are bound, no matter what his setting is, who is looking at him, etc. His dysphoria takes the form of nausea at the mere sight of them. Alternatively, some people only experience dysphoria relating to how others see them. For example, a man may not mind his breasts when he’s alone, and he doesn’t usually bind, but on a specific day while he wasn’t binding someone glance at his breasts before calling him ‘ma’am’ and now he can’t uncross his arms in case someone else looks his way. For some people dysphoria comes and goes, and they have good days and bad days. Also, images can be dysphoria-inducing. For example, seeing a pregnant person might remind a man that he has a uterus, and make him extremely uncomfortable all day. Other people may go several days, or weeks or months, without experiencing dysphoria, but when it hits it affects them for a long time or very severely. Or a person might experience dysphoria every day, as kind of a low-level mental fog they can’t shake. 

12. Gender Euphoria is as valid as Gender Dysphoria. Gender Euphoria is the idea that a person might be content in the body given to them, but will never be truly happy unless they make a change. These people can live their whole lives as the gender assigned to them at birth without severe mental issues or physical problems, but it’s like living a life without color. They can do it, but if there’s a way to get color back, why wouldn’t they? 

13. Changing names is complicated and takes time. It also differs in every state/country, and may need to be re-done when a trans man moves. In some states, all they need to change their name legally is a court order. In other areas, a trans man needs to have lived using their new name for a period of time, or have doctor’s notes and authorizations. Once the character has changed their name legally through the courts, they need to change their driver’s license, banking information, insurance, work papers, social security information, passport, birth certificate, and any other documentation bearing their name. It can take anywhere from a month to a year or more, and is expensive, sometimes prohibitively so. It’s okay to have a trans male character who goes by “Mark” but whose parents or grandparents refer to as “Melissa.” The important thing is to make sure narratively you are confirming that those people are wrong.

        EX: “Melissa! It’s nice to see you come to visit!” Mark’s mom said. Mark cringed, hating the sound of his deadname, but he hadn’t yet been able to convince his mother to use the right one.

14. Do not portray a character binding for more than eight hours or with unsafe binders in a positive light. Just don’t. Binding, even with professional/high-end binders, is not safe. It’s a stopgap – safer than not binding at all for some people whose dysphoria is really bad. It constricts the lungs and can break ribs if not done properly. It can permanently alter a person’s chest cage if done for an extensive period of time. It’s a necessary evil for people who are waiting to get their surgery done, in order to keep them alive to have that surgery. It’s not a permanent cure-all. Binding also can cause dysphoria. A person who doesn’t have dysphoria surrounding his chest can develop it after wearing a binder. So, have your character bind safely, or discuss the issues surrounding unsafe binding. (And yes, this applies even in a fantasy setting or world where the technology may be different. A story is a story, but the impact it could have on a real trans man is potentially dangerous, so write with consideration, and if you do introduce a magical or technological solution to this, maintain awareness of the reality.)

15. Transitioning without an in-person support group is one of the most common factors in transitioning regret. Give your character someone to go to the doctor with them, someone to hold their hand when they get scared, someone to talk them through moments when they’re unsure. No one who goes under the knife is always completely 100% sure all the time. They need a community. Surgery and hormones are scary, even if a trans man knows he wants them, and trying to go it alone can spell disaster.

16. Given that a trans man will consider himself a man, it can be challenging to make it clear to a reader that he’s trans. If he’s the main/POV character, you can write him dealing with some dysphoria. For example, if you decide your character binds, mention that his breasts are bothering him particularly badly one day. Have him adjust his binder. Describe putting a binder on. That kind of thing. If he’s a minor character, it can be more challenging, but you can still have him do things like adjust a binder. You could also mention surgical scars, if a character takes off their shirt. Another thing you can do is just have the main character remember a time “before Mark went by Mark” (for example). Another way is to have the character mention some way in which they are fighting for trans rights, and acknowledge that the issue is personal to them. Try not to use the deadname unless he’s facing an actual microaggression by another character. The narrative or narrator character should never deadname the character.

17. FTM is not an accepted term anymore, as it implies that a person was one thing and changed. Generally speaking, if a trans man is not genderfluid, then he was never female or a woman. Likewise, the phrase “born in the wrong body” is not acceptable for use by cis people. The only real use it has is to explain dysphoria by transgender characters to cisgender characters who aren’t inclined to listen or try to understand. The accepted term is AFAB, or Assigned Female At Birth. Keep in mind that terms and labels change with time, so do your research. For example, if you’re writing a historical piece, different terms may be more appropriate, and if you’re writing a modern current-day piece, understand that in ten or twenty years the terminology you use will likely have grown outdated. 

18. The proper way to write the term is always “trans man” and never “transman”. Trans is an adjective describing a type of man, just like you might say an Asian man or a muscled man or a gay man. This comes back to the idea that a trans man is always a man, first and foremost.

19. An easy pitfall to avoid if your trans male character’s setting is modern or modernesque is: Don’t make the story all about their oppression. We are aware of the many ways in which the modern world is trying to oppress and harm the trans community, but trans men can still be happy and interesting people. They can have dysphoria without being depressed. They aren’t necessarily the “down in the dumps” character. Also, trans men have a long history of being activists, and are often erased in history, so don’t be afraid to make your trans men an out-and-loud activist. Yes, terrible things have happened and continue to happen to trans men, and any trans man who has done any research into trans history will know about individuals like Brandon Teena. Trans men know the dangers they face. Knowing that bad things can and are happening doesn’t mean a trans man can’t find his own joy in life, despite things not being perfect.

20. Keep in mind when writing in historical settings that trans men have existed for as long as people have existed. Many trans men were able to go through life completely “undetected” until they died and those around them conducted culturally-common burial practices. It’s not unreasonable to have a trans man in Regency England, Yuan China, or Roman times. If you’re writing about non-European-centric history, many cultures acknowledged those who didn’t present the way their AGAB (assigned gender at birth) would suggest, and do your research. Also, keep intersectionality in mind, and tread especially carefully when writing a trans man from a culture and period other than your own. This post is mostly applicable to trans men in the modern era, and especially in the United States. The trans male experience will be different in other places in the world, for people of different ages and of different religions and ethnicities and races, so the more traits your trans man has that are outside your own experience as a cis writer, the more you should consider if it’s wise for you write the story you have in mind, or if it might not be better to allow in-group members to tell those stories. And never forget – trans men can and are all things – all races, all religions, abled and disabled, etc. People have nuanced identities and multiple identifiers and trans is always only one of many.

21. In fantastical or science fiction settings, please always ask yourself if oppression of trans people or bigotry against them is even needed. Maybe a society doesn’t assign gender at birth, but waits until a child is old enough to tell the society where they belong. Maybe a society reveres those who are under the transgender umbrella. Maybe children are considered genderless until they reach puberty. You have a million and one options; why limit yourself to what modern predominantly Western white Christian society says? If you do make a society that doesn’t look anything like the modern world, for example they assign gender at age five, think about how that would affect society as a whole. What kind of pronouns would be used for children under five? Are young children genderless, or are they seen as genderfluid? What about people who age past five and are still genderless or genderfluid? What are the naming conventions for children? 

22. There are mixed feelings regarding how a science fiction or fantasy setting should treat transitioning. Should it be an easy fix, with magic or advance science doing it instantly or nearly so? Or should it be difficult, reflecting the modern situation where the process often years before a person can feel “finished?” That’s up to you. Trans people themselves are split on this, so there’s no pleasing everyone. Do your best, and whichever way you choose, make sure to tag it accurately or, for original fiction, be clear up front what approaches you’ve chosen, so people can choose not to read something that may make them uncomfortable at best or trigger them and profoundly harm them at worst. 

    Ultimately, your trans man is your character and you can do with him as you wish. Write responsibly, and do your research, and if you can, get a sensitivity reader or a beta who is a trans man. 

    So, go, diversify those stories, write the things, and present good representation! Happy writing!

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Top Ten Writing Tips: Aromantic Characters

Before we launch into this, let’s have a primer on what romanticism is!

What is Romantic Attraction?

Romanticism is perhaps best visualized as the conventional trappings of a relationship: if a character gets a warm fuzzy feeling of “yes, want, be with me,” when someone brings them cut flowers, or holds their hand, or stares longingly into their eyes while snuggling in a Ferris Wheel car, those are all examples of romantic attraction. That attraction may segue into sexual attraction, but they’re not the same thing, and someone can dislike those kinds of “romantic” set ups while still experiencing all other forms of attraction.

Also, be aware: definitions of romantic behavior are cultural constructs, so will be different in different societies.

So what is Aromanticism? 

Aromanticism is a lack of romantic attraction. The things described above don’t appeal to an aromantic person. This doesn’t mean they may not like those things, because they may, but they won’t be attracted by them. Many aromantic people (for example, me, writing this post) mostly find that kind of experience baffling. “Wait, I’m supposed to be feeling something right? This is supposed to be appealing? It’s just some dead flowers…” That kind of thing. Different people will of course experience it differently. It’s not a yes/no (circle one) prospect, it’s a spectrum. There are several sub-labels of aromanticism, including demiromantic, lithromantic, akoiromantic, gray-aromantic, quiromantic, and cupioromantic.

Are there other types of romanticism?

Yes, of course! The top-level division is between alloromantic and aromantic people – those who experience romantic attraction and those who don’t. Allormantic people can be heteroromantic, homoromantic, biromantic, etc. It mirrors sexuality…just, for romanticism! 

You can’t write an aro character without having a clear understanding of what romantic attraction is, as contrasted with platonic attraction (wanting to be friends with someone), aesthetic attraction (thinking someone is pretty), and sexual attraction (desiring physical intimacy with someone). Note that some activities may fall under more than one of these, and therefore appeal to people for different reasons. For example, some people find making out is sexual, for others it’s romantic, for some it’s both, and for many which it is will vary by situation.

Now that you have a basic idea what aromanticism is, here are our top ten tips for writing aromantic (aro) characters!

  1. Don‘t have an aromantic character just to cross off something on your diversity list. Like with all queer identities, aromantism isn‘t a token to use so your story look inclusive. Do you research and enlist the help of an aro sensitivity reader if you want to have an aro character. 
  2. Just because there‘s an aro character doesn‘t mean the story has to be about aromantism, or romanticism, or relationships at all.
  3. Aro characters can and should have close and loving relationships with their friends, family, and significant others. “Not experiencing romantic attraction” isn’t the same thing as “not being able to love.” Aro people get married. Aro people have children. Aro people have queer platonic relationships. Not all aro people, of course, but many do.
  4. A character‘s defining trait should not be aromantism. Lots of different people are aro. Some are nice, some are assholes. Being aro doesn’t automatically mean someone will behave in a certain way or present themselves in a specific fashion.
  5. If your story is long enough to support it, have more than one aro character. Show that there‘s a range of people who are aro (this is a good approach with any marginalized group!). Likewise, remember that most people aren’t just one thing – a character can be aro and BIPOC, or aro and disabled, or aro and trans, etc.
  6. Avoid common stereotypes about aromantic people. These include: that they sleep around, that they’re unfeeling, that they’re incapable of any kind of relationship, that they’re robotic, that they’re doomed to misery because romantic love is intrinsic to the human experience, that they’re heartless and cold, that they’re just “losers who can’t get a date,” that it’s a sign of mental illness, that it’s intrinsically linked with being neurodivergent, that they never marry, and that they don’t want children.
  7. Aromanticism is not the same as asexuality. Some aromantics are asexual, some are not. 
  8. Aromanticism is not something that needs to be fixed. Don’t assume that an aro character will feel like they’re missing something, like they’re less than others, or that they feel broken. Society has taught many aro people that they’re supposed to want certain things, so yes, some do feel a sense of being off, but many also are happy, healthy, understand themselves and are completely at peace with it. 
  9. Different aro people have different attitudes toward physical gestures generally construed as “romantic,” such as hugging, holding hands, kissing, and cuddling. Some may enjoy these activities; some may be averse to them. As with any orientation, there is no universal experience. This means you can absolutely write an aro character who loves hugs, or who hates hugs, and both can be accurate representation – and if anyone tells you “that’s not what it is to be aro,” they’re wrong, not you.
  10. Aro people can and often do still enjoy consuming and creating romantic content. 

And, a bonus 11th point: Please, we are begging you, don’t only write stories where an aromantic person and an alloromantic person have to navigate their differences to learn to make their relationship work. We’re so tired of that being the primary aro narrative.

Want to learn more? This article is a really good introduction to the basics.

This is a list by Duck Prints Press’s resident aros (there are three of us)! We hope you found it helpful.

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Our Top 3 Tips for Writing Unreliable Narrators!

Unreliable narrators are a wonderful way to create an immersive, compelling story full of surprises for a reader, but they can be very difficult to write. Fortunately, we’re here to help! Here are our top three tips for writing an unreliable narrator – read on!

Have a writing-related question? Want some advice on a writing topic? Feel free to send us an ask! The only thing we love as much as writing is writing about writing!

On to our tips…

Tip 1. Everything, literally e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g, has to be seen through the lens of the narrator’s unreliability. It’s not just their inner monologue. It’s how they perceive the entire world, and their challenges or delusions will and should color the entire story – what they notice, how they describe things, how they engage, what they choose to say, how they interpret what they hear, what decisions they make, etc. It’s not enough to express their unreliability through inner monologue or relation of their thoughts. Especially if you’re writing from a first person or third person limited point of view, if you want an unreliable narrator to work, you’ve gotta go “all in.”

Take depression as an example. If the character is depressed, they’re not going to look out on a sunny day and describe it as lovely and bright – unless to contrast it with their own unhappiness.

Or, suppose your character has hallucinations. Odds are, they’re not going to know they’re hallucinations, especially as they’re happening. In order to “sell” the events to a reader, it’s essential that there not be any obvious tells in the narration or descriptions…at least until it’s time for the character to realize they’ve been hallucinating. The first time it happens, especially, there’s absolutely no reason that a reader should realize it’s a hallucination – and after the first time, the way the first was written should have been immersive enough that the reader will always have to wonder, in the back of their head, “is this another hallucination?”

If the character believes something, your reader should believe it, until evidence starts to stack up that maybe something is off.

If the character sees something, your reader should be reading a description of that thing as the character sees it, until something changes that affects that perception.

In first person and third person limited PoV, your character is the reader’s avatar in the world, and the world should be seen through that character’s PoV…even if that character’s PoV is a card castle of lies about to be blown over. Write what your character experiences, sees, feels, interprets – not what’s actually around them.

Tip 2. Even as you sink the reader into the narrator’s headspace by writing through that lens, you have to keep track of what’s actually happening. In my opinion the hardest part of writing an unreliable narrator is making it clear to the reader that the narrator is unreliable, and clueing readers in to what is actually happening, without breaking out of the unreliable narration. Have a plan for how you’re going to do this going in, and be aware that no matter how careful you are a minority of readers will likely completely miss the point and your work will just not be for them. 

There are a lot of ways to get that across. Some will be very subtle (for example, a character believes in magic, but reading between the lines will make it clear there are normal explanations for everything), some easily misunderstood and heavily reliant on metaphor (for example, nightmares, PTSD or flashbacks, that show another angle on the character’s situation), and some are obvious (for example, switching PoV to someone who sees things differently). 

In some stories, you may never want to make it clear. The entire point may be to keep the reader unsure – to maintain the uncertainty of what was real and what wasn’t. Or maybe you’ll make it clear just by the preponderance of events that don’t make sense – people saying one thing while the unreliable narrator consistently reacts as if they’re saying another, for example. Like, if your unreliable narrator has a rival, and that rival is constantly saying things like, “hey, do you want a hand with that? I’d love your advice on this! Maybe we could work together!” it’s going to be clear to the reader fairly quickly that no matter how negatively the unreliable narrator is interpreting these statements, something isn’t matching up.

Use whatever tools you’ve got in your toolkit to leave a little trail of breadcrumbs about what is real and what is delusion/misperception…but don’t be afraid to leave a little mystery, either. 

Tip 3. Every narrator is an unreliable narrator. All aspects of a person’s personality and background will contribute to their view of the world not matching objective reality (is there such a thing?) and will help the reader to learn about that character. As an author, if you’re writing from a narrow or limited point of view, it’s essential to keep in mind that the PoV character sees everything through the lens of their life experiences. This can and should be communicated through phrasing, word choice, description, inner monologue, dialog – everything. A doctor will know terminology that a mechanic won’t, and vice versa. Some characters will step into a room designed for a specific function and recognize everything in it. Others will be clueless and recognize nothing. This should be in the back of your mind with everything you write. 

Of course there is a question of degrees. A character with severe depression who thinks they are worthless is going to be a much less reliable narrator than, say, a patient who doesn’t remember what a stethoscope is called. The more unreliable your narrator, the more their viewpoint will skew, but everyone is shaped by their world and everything they experience will be described through the lens of their personal experience and knowledge.

Take education level as an example. A character with a low level of educational attainment isn’t going to bust out thesaurus words when they’re looking at the world around them. They’re not going to look at their beloved’s eyes and think, “oh wow they’re viridian.” What they will think, exactly, will depend on who they are and on their background. If they’re a farmer, maybe those green eyes will remind them of fresh sprouts in spring. If they’re an alien, maybe those green eyes will remind them of the color of the atmosphere on their home planet. If they’re ancient China, maybe those green eyes will remind them of jade.

If you aren’t changing your narrative approach based on whose PoV you’re writing from, you’re missing out on a huge number of options available for fleshing out a character and helping immerse your reader in the story.

Know your character.

Imagine how they perceive the world.

And write your story through their eyes and knowledge level.

And your reader will see the world exactly as they do, and man, will they be in for one heck of a story!

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