Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Etiquette of Abandoned Stories

FiMFiction is littered with stories marked CANCELED or ON HIATUS (and let's face it, the latter means the former so often that most readers see the two as synonymous within the realm of fanfic).  It's also littered with stories marked INCOMPLETE, which haven't updated since 2012.

There's absolutely nothing unexpected about any of that.  As long as fanfiction is a (nearly) zero-barrier-to-entry, (mostly) remuneration-free field, authors will get in over their heads, start something they don't know how to finish, or just run out of the time, energy, or interest needed to finish their stories.  Abandoned stories aren't a problem that needs to be fixed...

...But it sure would be nice if authors could all agree to a few simple bits of etiquette as regards them.  My suggestions, below the break.

1)  Don't promise more than you can deliver

So, you've written the first thousand words of your epic tale, one which will span continents, centuries, genres, and anything else you can measure numerically.  Good for you!

Now, personally, I would advise writing a bit more (okay, a lot more) than just those first thousand words before hitting submit, but this post isn't about advice, it's about etiquette.  If you're only posting those first thousand words to "test the waters"--if you're planning on dropping this idea if it doesn't catch on with readers, say--be up-front about that.  Put it in the description, or in an author's note at the start of the story.  Give your prospective readers fair warning that they're getting on a ride that's subject to immediate cancellation.

Or say it's taken you three months to get those first thousand words on the page.  I know it's tempting to put "Updates every week!" in the description--and I'm sure you're planning to keep that promise.  But be wary of making promises you don't know you can keep.  Unless you've previously demonstrated that you can write at that pace, don't claim you'll deliver something at certain intervals only to fall short immediately.

2)  Don't give people false hope

This is challenging, because often the author isn't lying to his readers when this happens--often, the author is lying to himself.  But seriously: if it's been two years since you last updated, you can come back to the story and publish a new chapter.  You almost certainly have readers who would be thrilled to have that happen, in fact.  But this is not the junction to make a "hey guys, finally getting some work done on my story again!" blogpost.  At this point, unless you actually have a completed, edited, whatever-ed chapter ready to go up, don't promise anything.  Even if you have absolutely pure intentions (and again, I think most authors do in this situation), you're basically stringing readers along with this kind of thing.  They'll come back if/when there's a new chapter; don't try to hype them up when there's still any chance--which, whether you admit it to yourself or not, usually means "a very good chance"--that this is a false alarm.

3)  Dead fics suck, but they're better than Schrodinger's fics

A lot of times, an author won't want to switch their story from incomplete to on hiatus (or cancelled) because they don't want to disappoint their readers.  That's totally understandable, and even laudable.  However, if you know deep down that you're never coming back to a story--or, in the case of the on hiatus tag, that you won't be coming back to it for at least a few months--there's value in closure.  Readers will almost certainly be disappointed to see those tags coming out, but it's a lot easier to deal with than for those same readers to be clicking over to your profile every few months, seeing if you're still around and wondering whether they'll get some more of their story some day.

Nobody is saying that you have to have an itchy trigger finger with these thing, mind you.  But, if you know a story is dead or in the closet, don't withhold that knowledge from readers.  Let them know as soon as you know: it's the polite thing to do.

4)  Learn something from the experience

This is the biggest one for me.  Many fanfic authors have abandoned an in-progress story at some point--I know I have, though that was back before ponies.  But some people do it over, and over, and over.  At a certain point, this kind of serial fic-abandoning starts to reflect poorly on the author.

When you have to give up a story for whatever reason (unless it's because you're never going to write any sort of fanfic ever again, I guess), do a postmortem.  Figure out what went wrong that stopped you from finishing.  Think about if there's something you can do differently next time, if there is a next time.  Try to come away from your experience with some understanding of what you can do to make sure that the next story you write is one you can take to completion.

That last one's good etiquette, but it's also good authorial experience to look back and learn from when you've fallen short of your goals.  Sometimes, good manners and selfish motives can come together.


  1. The lack of closure of fics marked Incomplete is something that gives me despair nowadays. I wish I did not feel that way, that things should not feel that way. It is part of the reason why I am more partial to Complete stories. I am still hesitant to begin reading stories that are Incomplete sequels.

    It is difficult for me to put my time into a new story in the first place, particularly long epics. Which is why I am eternally thankful of Royal Canterlot Library. I am worried I am missing out on some diamonds in the rough myself though.

  2. *Whistles innocently while backing out of the room*

  3. I think it's time for me to kill my one hiatused fic. :B I still have the other two incompletes going because I'm thinking about them constantly, but Scope of Love? That was a lame attempt to jump on a bandwagon that didn't exist.

  4. This is mostly the reason why I always write the entire story before posting. That way you don't have this kind of problem.

    Learned that after cancelling my fair share of stories, however (out of Fimfic, back in my writing-in-spanish days), so yeah. Kind of a good point, that last one.

    1. My policy as well, but for a slightly different reason. I'm more motivated to complete the story if I won't publish it before it's done. To date, I've only published 2 multi-chapter stories (with another waiting in the wings and a fourth partially written), so it's less of an issue for me, but the one time I did publish chapters of an unfinished story, I eventually lost interest in it and was a little disappointed in its reception. So it took me over a year to make the final update and probably four months for the prior one. After that, I decided never to publish a story before the whole thing was written. Then to head off people's concerns about incomplete stories, I put something in the synopsis to say it's already written and post a publishing schedule.

    2. Back when I wrote a lot, "finish first," was my mantra too. Releasing little pieces may seem easier, or more timely or something, but if a story gets popular then the stress of keeping up the pace can make the task of writing a lot less fun. For me, the pressure of keeping up with a schedule actually made it so I wrote slower than when I went at my own speed, not to mentioned lowering the overall quality of the story as well. When I make up a story I like to really think things out first to try and make the best scenes I can, and if I don't have time to make good scenes, then that's not fun for anyone!*

      *Except my enemies, but I don't like them so they don't count.

  5. The word of the day is: Integrity!

    A lot of this advice, I think, applies to pretty much all situations in which one is trying to be professional. If someone is paying you to do something, then it's crucial for you to know and be straightforward about what you're capable of, because whatever you tell them is what they're going to expect from you! If you fail to deliver on a promise, then you lose their trust and damage your own reputation with them—and most likely anyone else they know—in the process.

    Even though no one pays for fanfic, or really... asks for fanfic to any great degree, the same rules and consequences apply. You're making a product, and people are paying with their time and attention. You have no obligation to them, but if you want to be a good fanfic writer, then you should obligate yourself, because in some ways letting people down when they're not paying with money is worse than if they were. When you share something freely, then it makes it a lot more personal, and people take personal connections much more seriously than those bound only in paper or plastic.

    And sure writing casually for fun is good, but I feel like that's more for personal enjoyment or comment sections. When you release something to the entire world you never know how many people will see it, and how many people will love it, and how many people will be crushed when the characters they invested so much emotion in are suddenly dropped because the author, for whatever reason, simply stopped. Only the author can tell the true ending of their story! Try as the internet might, that's a loose thread they can never fully tie up.

    I guess the moral is that if you want story respect, you need to be story respectful. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, because they do do to you what you do when you do what you do to the ones that aren't you. That's just a fact of life.

    On an unrelated note, does anyone else find the name "Mountain Dew," oddly dainty for highly caffeinated, extreme sports, stay-up-late themed soda?

    1. Nay! The Word of the Day is remuneration! So says me.

      Also, I disagree! Something about mountains just sounds... challenging.

    2. To address your first point: To each their own!

      And to address your second point: To each their own! Still though. "Dew." It's such a placid word. Why not Mountain Rush? Or Mountain Madness? Or straight up Liquid Mountain if that's what they're banking on? I'd drink Liquid Mountain.

    3. The generic version at Food Lion is called Southern Lightning. Take that!

    4. My friend got hit by Southern Lightning once! Talk about culture shock.

    5. I can imagine your friend recounting the tale...

      "I was wondering why that Southern Lightning was getting closer. Then it hit me!"

  6. Another thing that needs to be said: Don't be offended when people ask if the story has been dropped, or why it hasn't updated in so long, and specially when someone calls you out for not following through with your promises of updating.

    Fanfiction authors may be doing this for free, but that doesn't mean the audience doesn't have anything invested. In fact, if people are complaining about the lack of updates, you can be sure that they are emotionally invested. It is okay with you can't continue writing for some reason, but leaving them hanging without any explanation, or even building false expectations, is a pretty bad thing to do.

  7. I've done this. Before ponies, when the only thing I had was, I wrote anime fanfiction. Finished my first story and thought that was it. The itch to write had been scratched. Then I got another idea. A really BIG idea. One that would rewrite the entire series and introduce underused characters. I got 120K+ words into it...

    ... and then ponies happened.

    Lost all interest in the story. I still feel bad for getting that far and leaving it unfinished. My way of coping was uploading a synopsis of the rest of the story to let my readers know how I had planned the rest. It wasn't much, but at least it gave some sort of closer.

    Now I'm neck deep in my latest fanfiction project that doesn't have an end in sight. Why do I keep writing these long ones?

    I suppose the best advice I can give is to either write the whole thing out before posting, or stick to one-shots. The former means you won't get any feedback while writing it, something I find helpful in case someone spots continuity errors or flubs.

    Writing fanfiction used to be fun, right?

  8. Given my slow pace of writing, my plan was always to write only one multichapter story at a time, with the occasional one-shot in between. But I had an idea for a followup to one of my stories, and then I had two multichapter stories to update, meaning each updated only about once a month.

    I haven't abandoned anything on FIMFiction. But there was an ongoing anime fanfiction I will likely never write again. Of course, no one read it.