The following are standards set by the Archivists and approved by the community to govern aspects of quality that the Archivists use to evaluate the merit of a featured work nomination. For more details, see below.
Disclaimer: These are not hard and fast requirements but rather criteria. And, as with any criteria for judging literary works, they are, by nature, subjective and will be treated as such by Archivists.
What does all this mean?Edit
Greetings, fellow Fanoneers! As the most recently-elected member of the Archivist review board—and with a number of recent successful Featured Works nominations, I
was shanghied was drafted volunteered to write a tutorial on how to bring your own work up to Featured quality so that it could be displayed for all to see on the Star Wars Fanon Wiki's main page.
As you may or may not know, the community recently passed a measure that refined the definition of what constituted a Featured Work (as you can no doubt see in the gray box above). As an Archivist, I participated in the discussion that led to the propositioning of this measure, and I am happy to say that it passed with flying
colours colors unique properties as perceived through the visible spectrum of light. You may ask, and with good cause, what some of these guidelines mean, and how they can be implemented within your own writing. Thankfully, help is on the way.
Let's take this one step at a time, shall we?
- Your work needs to be polished. This means that the spelling and grammar should not be active impediments to the reader.
This one is actually deceptively simple. While spelling, punctuation and grammar might be obvious to most folks, some of us don't actually speak English (whether we're natives of English-speaking countries is also, oddly, not a factor). My advice: before writing anything, try to have a basic knowledge of English grammatical peccadilloes and spelling idiosyncrasies. That may seem a little harsh, however, so at the very least have someone you know who is proficient in the minutiae of the wiki's Mother Tongue go over your stuff.
- Your work needs to have adequate description. That could include both the physical setting as well as the thoughts of your characters.
Here's where the meat and potatoes get served, so we're done with the salad. Description is proportional, actually, to a number of things. The least of these factors is the length of your story; if you're writing a 3,000-word story about, say, a fifteen minute walk in the park, then you would probably want to cram in as much descriptive prose as you can. This brings up the second factor, the purpose of the story. If this fifteen minute walk culminates in the accidental discovery of a two-ton nugget of gold, then you'd probably want to spend less words describing the flora and fauna of the park and more on describing whatever reaction the discovery prompts.
Conversely, if your story is novel-length and covers a span of weeks, months, or years, then you should not feel obligated to go into detail about every setting, situation, experience, or plot element that goes into the work in question. Oftentimes it might be a good idea to just skip ahead, only loosely describing what goes on in the time between segments with a general reaction from whoever might be narrating the story at that time. Economy of words is a good principle to follow; basically, you spend the most number of quality words on the settings, events, thoughts and dialogue that are the most important to the overall story, and the least number of words on those things that are least important.
- Your work needs to be paced appropriately. If it goes too fast, the reader is lost and is forced to fill in too many blanks without knowing or appreciating what's happening. If it is too slow, then the work becomes difficult or boring to read.
Basically, this means that writing is not a race, nor is reading. You don't pick up a book and start skimming through it just to see how fast you can get from page one to page seven hundred fifty-four, you pick up a book so that you can enjoy the experience that the story was intended to provide. As a marathon runner paces themselves in order to maintain the energy necessary to keep in the race for the whole twenty-six miles, so should an author be mindful of how they propel the story forward.
As an exercise, let's pick a genre and see how it can be done, first with poor pacing and then with good pacing. Let's use the horror genre for our example, more specifically the psychological thriller variety, which depends on good pacing to keep the reader anticipating (or dreading) the next action or sequence of events. Poor pacing in this regard could be illustrated by skipping from horrific event to horrific event, without giving the reader time to either recover from the shock of the last incident or to appreciate what the character(s) have just gone through or their feelings on the matter. Good pacing would involve spacing out the nasty stuff, leaving ample time for the reader to catch their breath and the character(s) to try and figure out what's going on. This goes back to the idea of using appropriate description as well.
In most cases, slow but steady is the way to go. While this is by no means always the case, it's best to save the experiments for when you've got a solid handle on the basics.
- Your work should be detailed properly so that the reader understands what is occurring in the story, but without slowing it down with too many flowery sentences.
This is, in essence, a refinement of the adequate description guideline. Your goal here, however, should be to flesh out whatever might be going on with sufficient detail that the reader understands what is going on. Having a character say that somebody was “lightsabered to death” is fairly vague and, let's be honest, insulting to the reader. How does the person saying that know that the victim was killed that way? In this case, by elaborating on the fact that the poor sap was deprived of their limbs and head with precise, clean, and cauterized cuts.
On the flip side, it is surprisingly easy to go overboard on detail. You may want to impress upon the reader that you know every single one of the 174,000 design flaws of the Mark II Imperial-class Star Destroyer, but that doesn't mean the reader wants to know them as well. Overdoing the detail can kill potentially good literature as surely as skimping on it. It's a balancing act that one seldom masters on their first go.
- Your work should be original. The storyline should be yours. It might be influenced by other works, but should have a distinct element of originality.
I have to come clean with you here and admit that this guideline is one that you can blame squarely on me. The long and short of this guideline is this: don't import stories. While we can all agree (well, most of us anyway) that 2001: A Space Odyssey was a fantastic film (or book, however the case may be), that doesn't mean we need a Star Wars version of HAL 9000 hijacking a crewed intergalactic probe ship (Outbound Flight II, for example) after its conflicting orders have driven it bonkers. That's just one example, really.
On the other hand, inspirations derived from certain works can be quite well-done and you are certainly welcome to take such thoughts to heed. All of us have favorite books, films or video games that have influenced both our writing and our thinking and even, sometimes, how we live and treat other people. Drawing inspirations from certain aspects of these works is certainly not a bad thing, but taken to extremes this can result in almost outright copying. That's called plagiarism, and is actually against policy and could result in your work being deleted.
- Your work should have believable dialogue, meaning that if your story has dialogue, that it should be natural and flowing.
This is, quite possibly, one of the trickiest things for an aspiring writer to nail down. Oftentimes I find that writing appropriate dialogue necessitates me forgetting, for a moment, who I am and donning the persona of whichever characters I'm writing for. Whenever an author writes a story that does not revolve around themselves, they are writing about someone else. This is a critical factor to keep in mind, because dialogue plays a huge part in establishing who a given character is—at least on the outside. Are they authoritarian and cruel? Are they warm and loving? Are they “just a simple man, trying to make my way in the universe”? These questions, whether they be about your character or someone else's, are key to crafting appropriate dialogue.
Dialogue should also be consistent for your characters, even if during the course of your story they experience a fundamental change in their thinking or worldview. Coming to an alignment shift might happen fairly swiftly (for example, a character falling to the dark side), but it takes time for that shift to manifest itself within a character's patterns of speaking. It is also important to recognize what a character might and might not say during or in response to a given event or situation, particularly given how story plots typically pan out. An example that has suited me well in the past is to imagine certain characters possessing the voice patterns and tonal inflections of certain stage, television or film actors or actresses. Assign them a general personality beforehand and, when it comes time to write a specific line, imagine that line being voiced by your handpicked actor. If you've done it right, then you'll automatically know if what you've written is in keeping with the character or not.
- Your work should have sufficient development of characters and plotlines. This will allow the reader to understand the story better, and characters should be developed sufficiently as befitting their role in the story.
In a nutshell, your story should go somewhere; beyond that, it should also take your characters along for the ride. While this might sound obvious, it is more difficult to bring off than one might initially think. Generally-speaking, however, if you already know where the overall plot is going to end up, you've already got your map out and the destination marked down. The key to development is in marking out the path that your story will take to that endpoint in a believable fashion, even accounting for any surprises or plot twists you might want to incorporate (“I just knew I should've taken that left turn at Albuquerque...”).
Extending this to your characters is also important. If something monumentally wonderful happens to your lead character during the course of the story, they should of course react to it in a plausible way, but this event should also plausibly influence how they behave for the rest of the story or, if this is the endpoint, how they might behave in the sequel if there is to be one. The same goes for supporting characters; for example, if the good thing that happened to your lead protagonist came about at great expense to the primary antagonist, then the antagonist should develop in a logical manner given their personality as it has been established thus far. For example, a calculating antagonist wouldn't just pop off and start overtly gunning for the good guy, and a hotheaded one wouldn't suddenly cool off and let the hero have their moment in the sun, so to speak.
- Your work should have necessary decency as required by the content policy. Works or content solely based on shock value is not fitting of Featured Work status.
This one's so simple even a labor droid could figure it out. Such things as gratuitous acts of violence, lewd depictions of sexual interactions, or even overly vulgar language should be avoided. Even if such things are plot-critical, such as establishing the wanton cruelty of a character by depicting them slaughtering a bunch of folks, keep a lid on it. Even when Li'l Annie killed a bunch of kids during the final third of Revenge of the Sith, it was kept implicit. In other words, all you see is his lightsaber igniting, a startled look on a kid's face, and then a fade to black. Simple enough, really.
- Your work should not impede the suspension of disbelief. Fanon it might be, but at some point, the work becomes too impossible for even dedicated Star Wars fans to understand or appreciate. There is ample leeway with this, as this guideline is mainly intended as a provision against Mary Sues.
Sigh. Yeah, this is the part where anyone else would be sorely tempted to engage in a thirty thousand-word rant about 260-kilometer long warships, Sith that can survive a lightsaber to the gut and still kill many Jedi, a Mandalorian who can assassinate Sith Lords with impunity, and other ludicrous fanwankery. Not me, though. I'm content to illustrate the temptation and leave it be. Suffice it to say that if you've got any of the above in your story, it is not Featured Work quality.
- Your work should be intended as a story. It should primarily be for entertainment and not a vehicle for commentary, criticism, or satire on any person, organization, or concept, fictional or otherwise. Such things are acceptable in moderation only.
Simply put, a Featured Work should not be a soapbox. Social or other forms of commentary, whether directed at the real world or the Star Wars galaxy, can be acceptable if they're within reason and/or help to enhance the telling of the story. However, a novel that follows the adventures of a Republic Navy captain during the Clone Wars should not try to bemoan how imperialistic the United States of America is, even if that's the case in the real world. If you absolutely must vent your liberal/conservative/atheist/Christian/Muslim spleen in a story, approach it obliquely and for the love of Katarn, keep it to a minimum.
- Your work must have a purpose-driven plot. Your story should go somewhere and it should chronicle something important within whatever world or galaxy it takes place.
To paraphrase fellow Archivist Atarumaster88, your story should not be about a couple of characters taking a caf break. Unless that caf break is punctuated by the Death Star showing up, or Darth Vader walking into the cantina, then you'd be better off forgetting the whole thing and starting from scratch. One rule of thumb is this: ideally, the character(s) should be at one location for the start of the story, and by the end should be somewhere else or at least have gone somewhere else during the course of said story.
- Your work should follow the Manual of Style, as applicable. The actual story should be on a subpage and the main article laid out as dictated by the SWF rules on articles of that type. This includes a behind the scenes section appropriately detailed for the work's length and complexity.
Hopefully these words of
lunacy wisdom have helped you in your quest to write a story worthy of Featured Work status, or else to get one of your previously-written stories up to the level of awesomeness that we so dearly love. One of the few things that really upsets me is when it is beholden to me to impart criticism, no matter how justified it might be, onto a person's efforts be they literary or in other realms. I honestly don't like it, and it's never easy to have to point out where something within a story just flat-out doesn't work and needs to be fixed. Perhaps this is my saving grace as an Archivist, or perhaps it's just me being an overly-sensitive knucklehead. Either way, I leave it for you to decide, in addition to whether or not this entire essay was of any value to you. Hopefully it helps, but if it doesn't, I won't hold that against you.
Remember, the Force will be with you, always.