Jurassic World is coming out in less than two weeks (!!!!) and that means there’ll probably be a practical flood of new fanfiction authors looking to write for this franchise. I couldn’t be more excited! We’ll get to see a lot more awesome talent and read some great stories. That’s why I and returning guest star Lord Kristine (author of the Silliest JP Fanfiction Ever Written saga) teamed up to write some advice for new Jurassic Park fanfiction writers. This is more of a beginner’s course and isn’t quite catered to the more experienced, but we hope every JP writer can find something useful here. The first list is Kristine’s advice and the second is mine. Enjoy!
- You can make anything plausible, if you try hard enough
No matter how silly or out-there an idea may seem, there is always a way to make people care about it. Perhaps you need to address the issue as it stands. A character reacting to something utterly insane can bring realism to the story, so that once the initial shock is over, you can get down to the implications of the event. The alternative is showing no surprise from the character whatsoever. This is used in magic realism, and often has the effect of alienating the audience. Usually, these stories are not plot-driven, but rather, allegorical and speculative. For example, Kafka’s The Metamorphosis centers around a man who wakes up as a giant insect. This is played for laughs only briefly, and not in the way you’d expect. The character views his transformation as an inconvenience, and after the first segment of the story, it is treated with the utmost seriousness. This style isn’t for everyone, and if you’re looking to emulate a more traditional plot, make sure that the characters behave as you would in the same situation. Granted, it’s sometimes hard to imagine what you might do in a surreal environment (depending on how crazy you want to go), but if you can make the reader believe that the characters are reacting reasonably, they’ll most likely forget the oddness and become invested in how the character will get out of their pickle.
- Use real experiences
If there’s a part of your life that you feel would make a good story, stitch it into the plot where it fits. If you can replicate the emotions or tone of your experience, your story will seem more real. This isn’t to say that fabricated experiences are any less valid, but sometimes, you have to go with a more personal take on the subject matter.
- Don’t mix your metaphors
Nothing kills your story faster than a mixed message. If you decide that (for instance) grapes are a symbol of trust, don’t show two enemies handing each other grapes if the scene doesn’t call for it. While symbols and allegories are subjective to the reader, it helps if you know what you’re doing. On the other hand, you don’t want to get stuck on an unfitting metaphor either. If, during the writing process, you think up a better way to make your point, don’t be afraid to change things up a bit. Just make sure it doesn’t interfere with the continuity.
- Show, don’t tell
This may be a basic point, but it’s still so, so necessary. If you envision people rolling their eyes at your obvious exposition, it might be time to throw in a couple of subtleties.
- Words can change everything
Just like the famous punctuation joke about eating grandma, a single word can make all the difference. Is your character blinking or batting their eyelashes? Is your character turning away or turning around? Even the smallest details can provide insight as to what the characters’ motivations are. Don’t waste a good opportunity to give a little wink to the people who are paying attention.
- Don’t make your characters “filler”
Unlike film, where you can show a secondary character standing quietly in the background, writing is more explicit in its approach. To acknowledge the presence of a person, usually they have to speak, and if they speak, they must have something important to say. If you feel like a character has no reason to be in a particular place at a particular time, maybe you should find a reason for them to be there, or else remove them from the scene entirely.
- Do your research
Just what it sounds like. It doesn’t take long at all—you have the whole Internet at your fingertips.
- Don’t be preachy
If you’re trying to send a message through your text, don’t be blatant about it. If someone feels that an idea is being forced on them, they’re less likely to buy into it.
- Biblical allusions are trite
If you’re gonna reference something, have a point. This is especially true for the Bible. Too often, people forget that simply addressing a parallel symbol does not make it insightful. If you’re going to compare a character to Jesus, for instance, ask yourself why you need to. Are you going to focus on the sacrifice? If so, maybe you should consider using another example of this, from a different religious text, perhaps. There are probably too many biblical allusions in literature for most people’s taste, so why not try slipping in a reference to Pseudo-Apollodoris or other ancient authors? If you’re really set on using the Bible, however, you can most certainly find a lesser-known passage. Apples and sheep are good and dandy, but why not try flipping through an ancient book and picking a random metaphor? You could change the way people think about the passage.
- No matter what it is, it always has to mean something for the characters
Whether you’re writing an epic novel or a throwaway piece, make sure that you focus on your characters. Sadly, even the greatest stories will fail if their leads aren’t interesting. When you have a character that the audience can relate to, it makes it so much easier to get invested in the story. Therefore, no matter what your goal is, make sure every action is saying something about the character. This is especially true for extreme violence and erotica. While these aspects of a story are designed to appeal to a very specific part of the brain, that doesn’t mean it has to be trash. You have to ask yourself what this is saying about the character involved. Are they insecure, bloodthirsty, proud? The audience needs to know.
- Crazy is better than bland
If you ever worry that you’re making your characters into caricatures, don’t sweat it. It’s far more admirable to rely on old tropes than to have nothing of value. Exaggeration is a useful storytelling device, because it makes the characters more memorable.
- Don’t have your female lead be obnoxiously kicka**
Part of the charm of characters like Ellie Sattler and Sarah Harding is that they are awesome without having to resort to explicit kicka**ery. Ellie, for example, manages to be fierce in a situation of extreme adversity, but she also displays fear while entering said situation. She doesn’t go around whacking raptors with fancy swords just for the fun of it; she does what needs to be done, even if she has reservations. Too often, one will see a bada** female protagonist who tries too hard to be awesome. Showing a girl running around in black leather and dark glasses only makes them alienating to the readers who, for the most part, can’t understand how they manage to be so nonchalant about extreme situations. Real characters have fears, hopes, dreams, and flaws. Again going to the example of Ellie, she is interested in having children. This is seen as a female trait, and yet it doesn’t diminish her character’s respectability, because we are not viewing her in the context of her gender. Unless your story is trying to make a statement about gender identity, don’t bother shoving it in the reader’s face. Treat your characters as characters, not as political statements. This also applies to minority groups. It’s fine to address the issues, but don’t try to fight the dogma by being overtly opposed to it. I’ve often called this “making ‘fetch’ happen”. You shouldn’t try to make fetch happen. Let it ooze into society on its own. Whether it does or it doesn’t, you’ll at least preserve the integrity of your characters.
- Death scenes
A good death scene will follow a few simple guidelines. First, if it is a slow death, make sure it isn’t slow enough to break suspension of disbelief. If you’ve ever witnessed a real death (natural causes or other), you know that a person won’t exactly have an eloquent speech prepared. In fact, it is very much possible that they won’t be able to speak at all, depending on how brutally they’re injured. It’s fine to have them say a sweet little goodbye, but don’t make it sound too planned.
- Reincorporation is gold
If you can bring back something from earlier in a story, go for it! Just make sure that when you introduce this idea for the first time, you don’t make it obvious that it will come into play later. For example, if you show a character holding a gun for no reason, the audience is going to put the pieces together very quickly. If you have a conversation that serves more than one purpose, however, you can make it work. Using the example of the gun, one might have the gun-holder discussing how he is paranoid because of a tragic accident. His conversation partner could joke about carrying a gun, and the gun-holder could give an awkward reaction, proving that he is doing just that. You not only learn about the presence of the gun, but you also understand an aspect of the gun-holder’s character.
- Make sure your romancers have chemistry
If two characters end up together simply because they are the leading pair, the audience is going to question it. Make sure to focus on their common interests, conflicting ideals, and quirks. If we understand why the characters find each other attractive, we are willing to root for them.
- OCs are characters, just like any other
Most Fanfiction tends to either glorify or shun OCs. Remember, an OC is neither a Mary Sue nor a useless background character. Treat them like the mains, and you may even forget that you made them up.
- Mary Sues
This is a fairly well-known trope, but here’s the gist of it, just to be clear: a Mary Sue is a character that, usually for the purposes of self-insert fantasy, is good at everything and is the most special, unique person in the world. There are some good Mary Sue litmus tests online if you’re worried about this, but don’t feel that having one or two Mary Sue traits is a bad thing. If a physical abnormality in your character is necessary for their development, go right ahead, but don’t make a super-hot-kicka**-brainiac goddess who knows kung fu and shoots laser beams out of her eyes [unless she has wings and is the grandchild of two gods :P].
- Boring words are not evil
Your third grade teacher lied to you. You are totally allowed to use words like “said”, “nice”, and “good”. It’s far better to have a million instances of “said” than a million instances of “exclaimed”. The latter sounds pretentious if you overuse it.
- Use the Oxford comma
Opinions vary on this, but it’s best just to bite the bullet and use it.
- If you have to break grammatical rules to get the message across, it’s okay
Creative punctuation. Preposition reordering. Sentence fragments. These are all fine, as long as you have a reason to use them. Sometimes, colloquialisms are the only route to take. It’s not good to have poor grammar, but the occasional sentence fragment can be quite effective. Trust me.
- Contractions are your friend
Have a healthy balance of “don’t” and “do not”. Neither one is practical for every situation, so try to vary your uses of each.
- If you’re adding in an OC, you’ll likely want to make him or her smart and likeable in largely the way the other main characters are, and that’s perfectly fine. However, the characters we know and love mostly all have Ph.Ds. They’re scientists. They’re smart and experienced, and they worked for their knowledge. Part of what makes them so realistically likeable is that they gained their knowledge and skills of deduction from years and years of work and life experience. That’s why audiences tend to dislike it so much when OCs are shoved in who are teenagers or in their twenties, but who just have a special talent or just know about dinosaurs/animals, and who are shown to be just as smart or smarter than the rest of the protagonists. Making your OC extra-precocious and on the same level as the other scientists without adequate justification is at least annoying and at most insulting. Don’t take the easy way out—no one, ever, will have more trouble relating to a smart and experienced twenty-nine-year-old than to a seventeen-year-old with intellect that just seems dumped on them.
- Stories from the raptors’ perspective will always get tons of reads, but it’s been done just enough that not many people will stick around unless you do something new with the idea. A lot of people write the raptor pack as if it were a warlike jungle tribe and that can be very interesting indeed, but there are lots of other possibilities to be explored. What if they were a lot more organized and militaristic? What if they were calm and docile animals whose trainers drove them to be angry and hostile, and now they have to cope with fear and a complete identity change? What if they’re more like a little band of sisters than a tribe?
- Stories from the perspectives of herbivores are woefully underdone. I would much prefer to read a story about what life is like for the Gallimimus flock or a lone ankylosaur trying to survive in the Restricted Zone than another one about a raptor pack. The herbivores’ narratives are largely about peaceful animals forced to work together with their families and constantly protect themselves or die; lots of people would jump at the chance to see that explored.
- If you plan to insert an OC into the storyline of any of the movies, especially the first, do so with great caution. A lot of (not all; this can and has been done well, though not frequently) writers tend to stick their OCs in the movies’ plot lines and rewrite the entire movies with them added in, and that gets very old very fast. Feel free to write this type of fanfic, but if you do, ask yourself a few questions first. We’ve seen this movie before—what can you do differently with your character in it that makes it more than a rehash of the plot with a little dialogue changed? Do you think people will want to read a long description of a movie they know by heart simply because your character is just so cool and they’re having a sweet budding romance with someone hot, so why wouldn’t that be interesting? (It probably isn’t.) If you feel confident enough to pull off a rewrite of the whole movie with your OC added, have you given readers enough time to genuinely like the new character and care what they have to offer?
- Almost every main human character is American and so they don’t talk too differently, but it’s still important to make their voices distinct. Keep in mind that Grant has lived in the Southwest for years and it’s seeped into his voice, but he’s still got strong New Zealand undertones; don’t be afraid to write his voice with just a tiny bit of British-like wording in it. Sattler is pretty Northern, and I might be mistaken but I think there’s a little Philadelphia in her voice as well as the obvious Montana. Malcolm lives and teaches largely in Austin, and Texas will trickle into anyone’s voice if they live there long enough, so you may want to give him a sprinkling of contractions and hints of Midwest dialect.
- If you’re writing about a human living among/ getting to know dinosaurs on either island, the animals will mostly have one of two reactions. If they’re older dinosaurs, carnivores will immediately think of any human as either a threat or easy food, no matter how young or good with animals said humans are. Herbivores may very well cower from them or act really defensively. (These get truer the closer to each movie that the story’s events take place.) If the dinosaurs are younger or have lived in the wild for a very, very long time, they’ll react to humans with a little curiosity at first, but carnivores will make up their minds very quickly about whether their new visitors are edible, and the verdict will more than likely be ‘yes’. Herbivores will probably act cautious around people and then completely ignore them. Either way, no fully-grown dinosaur will easily cooperate with strangers’ attempts to be the Dinosaur Whisperer.
- If you’re doing a post-Park story focused around the survivors, you can never do enough research on PTSD and how it varies between people. Some people with PTSD develop depression and some are fine; some are constantly upset by everyday reminders (like dinosaur documentaries) and some are triggered rarely if at all; some people deal with things by being fearful and others try their hardest to cover their troubles up, only letting their guard down when they’re alone. Keep each character’s personality in mind and try to see things from their perspective.
- Another woefully underdone (if not nonexistent) type of story is dinosaurs on the mainland. What would the world be like if InGen had succeeded and there were Jurassic Parks in Orlando, Tokyo, London, Paris, etc.? What if pygmy dinosaurs were manufactured and commonly kept as pets, like the first novel suggested? What if Biosyn actually did get a hold of InGen’s dinosaur recipe and started manufacturing dinosaurs after the fall of the first park—what would they do with the animals?
- Shipping stories can be a blast to read, but make sure to keep things realistic. Grant wouldn’t just run off with some girl (or guy) over the course of the weekend and risk losing Ellie, and she wouldn’t either. Malcolm or Nick van Owen would be pretty unlikely to be interested in a long-term relationship with someone they hooked up with on the island after everybody made it home, unless they had a really good reason to stick around.
- Don’t have Malcolm spout chaos-theory jargon unless you’ve done enough research to know roughly what you’re saying. For instance, it only takes a two-minute Wikipedia safari to know that a sentence like “I could’ve predicted that a Malcolm Effect would emerge from this strange attraction system” doesn’t make sense. Same with any other character and their area of expertise.
- It’s okay to have characters repeat quotes, but make sure you have the right context. Grant might use the exact wording he did when he gave his lecture at the beginning of JP3 when talking to a completely different crowd, but he wouldn’t quote himself verbatim for more than half a paragraph or so. Malcolm wouldn’t give his entire “so preoccupied with whether or not they could” speech word-for-word to someone, but he might use snippets of it.
- I don’t think there’s a single fan alive who doesn’t want to see feathery raptors in JP, but be careful when adding in scientifically-accurate dinosaurs. It’s totally plausible that wild raptors or carchardodontosaurs or whatever might have some feathers on them, but think long and hard whether adding feathers to the Raptor Squad or Rexy is worth doing a giant retcon/ setting up a whole alternate universe.
- Most importantly of all, have fun with it! Write about the characters you love and let your imagination run wild. This is a relatively small fandom and it doesn’t have a ton of fanfiction, so anything you could possibly write well, no matter how out-there, will be accepted with open arms.