FAN FICTION: "The Editor" of Thrilling Wonder Stories, writing in the department "The Frying Pan" in the June 1950 issue, complains that a fan who writes to the editor demands "the most rigorously limited pseudo science -- sneers at fantasy and the adventure story lifted to Mars." Then when he writes his own fiction or edits his own fanzine, he writes or publishes "the loosest and most untrammeled type of fantasy or the occult," or "the wildest sort of space or time adventure."

"The Editor" is going very easy on fan fiction. Most of it is very very bad. Not only is the plot and idea trite, which is the complaint of "The Editor" but it is also very badly written. Fan stories show little knowledge of the technique of fiction writing. How fans can read so many stories in the prozines and write so many letters to the editors telling them JUST WHAT IS WRONG with their stories and never find out the first principle of how to write a story is a mystery, but that seems to be it. I know, it happened to me.

Manly Banister, who edits The Nekromantikon invited fans to submit stories for his publication. He promised to publish the good ones and to write a criticism of those which showed promise. Banister is a professional writer with a number of years experience in the game. He knows weird fiction in particular, and has had stories published in Weird Tales. Anyone interested in some good fiction send a buck to Manly Banister, 1905 Spruct Ave., Kansas City, Mo.

I submitted a story. Banister did just what he said he would do. He sent it back with a complete criticism. It was a concise and easily understood course on how to write a story. This type of help from a professional costs up to $2.50 for a thousand words. He took page and line and showed just what was wrong. The wrong things in my story might be said of almost any fan written story.

There are two major divisions of story writing: plot and treatment. Plot is what you write about and treatment is how you write it. We have already pointed out that the plot of a fan story is liable to be trite. You might say that about many professional stories. Take "Sunday is 3,000 Years Away" by Raymond F. Jones in the June TWS. The plot is -- boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl. There is a little time travel thrown in and a gadget fountain pen that transposes thoughts to paper and that's all there is. Yet, this story has it. For a lesson of how to squeeze the last ounce of emotion out of this "boy gets girl" situation, read the last part of this story.

Fans will probably not think up better story ideas. Most of the work is needed on treatment. Good treatment can save an old idea. The writer should cause the reader to identify with the main character of his story so that the reader will care what happens to that character. The story should be written at a fast pace. Every few paragraphs should introduce a new element to keep the reader guessing. "Invent, invent, invent" says Banister, "and bleed every invention for all its dramatic worth until it is bone dry."

And last, and most important, "Do not let your hero do what the reader expects him to do." Reject first ideas and think up something different. And here is where YOUR personal experience comes into play. Weave experiences that have happened to you into the story. Since they have happened to you and no one else, your story will be different. Your reader will be kept guessing. It will then be your story -- not just an imitation of someone else's story.

Sounds easy, doesn't it? You try it. I have written my story over 1 1/2 times and torn them up. It is work! I have my story with marginal notes on just what will fix it and I still come up with stuff that sounds as flat as this paper. I intend to keep trying and produce the best story I can if it takes all summer. It takes a lot of practice to write at a fast pace and with the proper emotional punch. It is this treatment that makes a story.

John W. Campbell, Jr., in discussing story ideas (OF WORLDS BEYOND. edited by Lloyd Arthur Eshbach, Fantasy Press, 1947) states that a new or red hot idea is not essential to a good story. Don't misunderstand, it's wonderful if you have got one, but that alone will not make a good story. "... a worn-out old idea with holes in its soles and over-run heels, handled by an expert can make a very good, and even a very powerful yarn." It is the treatment of any idea, good or bad, that makes the difference. Campbell gives two examples of an old idea reborn by good writing. L. Sprague de Camp's "The Exhalted" was on the oldest idea in science fiction, the mad genius plot. Williamson's "With Folded Hands ..." was on the second oldest idea in science fiction, the robot and his helpful services. Both authors used the same technique in resuscitating these two old ideas. They looked a little deeper into the ideas than anyone had before and described exactly what they meant.

Fan story writers have one more obstacle that is not apparent to the unprofessional eye. Most fanzines are mimeographed and 5,000 words takes up a lot of space. Fan editors want stories of one or two pages, of about 1,000 to 1,500 words -- no one wants to fill his fanzine with one story. Yet it takes about 5,000 words to develop a good story. When you get down to the 1,500 word class it becomes the short-short story and this is the most difficult type of story to write well. It is a science all its own. The short-short story has its own experts and there are a number of books on the market devoted to the technique of writing it.

In spite of all the difficulties mentioned above, embryo science fiction authors have a wonderful opportunity to practice their "art" in the fanzine field; an opportunity not available to embryo love, western and detective story writers. Thomas H. Uzzell in NARRATIVE TECHNIQUE, a good text on fiction writing, states that it takes about one million words on the typewriter before an author can compose good stories. This is a long and weary trail, believe me. Art Rapp in "Timber" last month says that he already has his million words under his belt. And according to an expert comment I heard, he is ready to try the mails. Fan authors have a good opportunity in the fanzine field to try out their art on their fellow fans while trudging down this million-word road. But to gain the full benefit of this opportunity they should put out the best story they can produce. They should not toss in something they dashed off on Saturday afternoon. A little effort on fan stories could change the fanzine picture overnight. Instead of fan editors crowding fiction out of their publications, they would be asking for more stories.

A close study of the stories in the prozines is the best course in writing. Particular attention should be given the shorter stories because these are the stories the fan editors will want. The embryo author should ask himself: how did this author make this old idea fresh and alive; how come in this story the lead character is so real I can almost see him; what made this climax so gripping that I couldn't lay the magazine down? "The Editor" in TWS -- mentioned in the opening of the column -- states that a fan's reason for liking or disliking a story is often "amorphous" (without form, formless, uncrystallized -- Webster). If a fan writer likes a pro story he should find out why, and the next story he writes might have a better punch.

Better fan fiction could be a wonderful thing. We could have the pro editors scouting the fanzines for talent one of these days. New fantasy publications are hitting the news stands every month. Last night I picked up "Out of this World" a new Avon mag. It has a story by van Vogt. Some of these pro authors must be spreading themselves mighty thin. A newspaper article the other day stated that radio and television are very much interested in fantasy and science fiction plays -- crime is getting a cold shoulder from the censors. "Lights Out", a fantasy play, has the ninth highest Hooper rating in television according to VARIETY. It is the third highest dramatic program. Television is booming and eats up an incredible amount of material. The movies are going to have a new science fiction boom. Four pictures are now ready for release. Our pro authors are going to have a time filling up the new and old magazines, meeting the increased demand for fantasy on television and radio and putting out those motion picture scripts. The water's warm and waiting, fellows, get right in there.

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Text versions by Judy Bemis, page scans by Judy Bemis and Kim Huett

Data entry by Judy Bemis

Updated June 19, 2015. If you have a comment about these web pages please send a note to the Fanac Webmaster. Thank you.