Friday, October 24, 2008

Halo Fanfiction Tips

Originally written for Halopedia.

Since the beginning of storytelling, authors have taken one person’s story and applied their own spin on it to transform it in their own image. This practice has continued into modern day, even within the realm of copyrighted material. While copyrighted works cannot be legally reproduced without explicit permission, copyright holders will often allow fans to write their own stories, known as fanfiction or fanfic for short, using characters and elements from the work, provided that there is no commercial gain. Halo is no exception to these stories and many Halopedians, including myself, are fanfiction authors. Although fanfiction is not allowed on the encyclopedia, it is more than welcome on our sister site Halo Fanon, specifically for Halo fanfiction material. I hardly consider myself an expert fanfiction writer, but I have had several years’ experience, so I feel obliged to share some tips.

First of all, it’s important to know the language. One can hardly expect to amass readers if most have trouble reading your story. If you aren’t comfortable with your knowledge of grammar and spelling, refresh yourself on the subject and/or use a word processor with an automatic spellchecker. It also helps to get someone else, referred to as a beta-reader, to look over your work and make sure everything makes sense. It can be very easy to write words like “your” instead of “you’re” that the machine doesn’t catch, so it helps to have another set of eyes.

Now, onto the Halo aspects of fanfiction writing. Most of the elements you need can come straight from the canon, which can be researched pretty easily here on Halopedia. However, I find it easier if I can draw from some more commonplace media to use as inspiration in conjunction with the straight canon.

For instance, the Sangheili culture strikes me as similar to the romanticized depictions of both European knights and Japanese samurai. To get inside the head of the Arbiter, I look to various movies and books depicting these subjects, including First Knight and Dragonheart as far as the knights go, with a bit of Star Wars as well for the Jedi – a knight/samurai blend in their own right.

For the dialog, you can observe the similarly old fashioned manner of speaking from a number of fantasy characters. I personally like Glory’s minions from the fifth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the “hobbits with leprosy”, not the crazy people). I think they match up pretty well in terms of prose. For those who don’t want to bother with other media, think “exaggerated prose.” These guys are well-educated and want everyone to know it. You can just take what an average person would say and make it a bit more complicated and dramatic (e.g. “The goddamned Brutes killed Bob! They’re going down!” becomes “Noble Bob has been slain by the wretched Brutes! They will pay for the blood they have spilt!”).

And speaking of Brutes, the Jiralhanae can be considered the Sith to the Sangheili Jedi. While the Elites are all about honor and discipline, the Brutes strike me as passionate and disorderly. I invite everyone to read the Code of the Sith at Wookieepedia, as I find it great for getting inside Brutes’ heads.

Star Wars aside, inspiration can be drawn from the sheer brutality of the human race. Brutes are brutal, after all, and as big gorillas they are excellent metaphors for the animalistic side of humanity. While the Sangheili are romantic samurai, I see the Jiralhanae (a Korean slang word for psychotic lunatic, by the way) as the Japanese war criminals at Nanking during the Nanking Massacre. If you are unfamiliar with the subject, I urge you to educate yourselves – although, a warning that it is pretty horrific. Bungie also compares the Jiralhanae to bikers and to Roman barbarians.

The Klingons of Star Trek can provide a source of inspiration as well. Although they are also based on romantic samurai, they’re far more brutal than other depictions. Their somewhat over-the-top dialog is also similar to Sangheili dialog. The following exchange from Halo 3 could easily have come from Klingons:

Major: “Brute ships! Staggered line. Shipmaster! They outnumber us, three-to-one!”

Rtas ‘Vadum: “Then it is an even fight…”

Moving down the hierarchy, we have the Kig-Yar. I find it useful to think of Jackals as a more domestic enemy: your typical creep. The sort of person is commonplace: arrogant, abusive, and thoroughly nasty if left unchecked. The Kig-Yar are relatively low in power, but they are space pirates and can present trouble to both humans and Unggoy.

While Unggoy are often seen as comedic due to their tendency to say silly things in gameplay, the characters presented in the novels are far more serious. Grunts are cannon fodder. They are relatively weak, but breed quickly and are just thrown out at the enemy en masse and can overwhelm. Although they are pretty much brainwashed, they realize that they’ve got a bad deal and often fake laziness just to keep from being sent out into the frontlines. When they get together with conviction, they can form a powerful fighting force, even against the Covenant as happened in the Grunt Rebellion.

I like to think of Unggoy as slaves. Technically, they are not because slavery specifically refers to people being treated as property to be bought and sold. However, despite a few who delight in serving the Prophets, the Unggoy are certainly in bondage. They occupy a very low caste and cannot leave the Covenant.

The Prophets, San 'Shyuum, are the ruling class of the Covenant. They are both religious figures and politicians, and many of them are corrupt. I find looking at a few especially disliked modern day politicians helps me come up with Prophet-type inspiration. The Prophet of Truth, specifically, I find similar to classic historical bad guy Adolf Hitler with their shared maniacal genocidal attitude (“Your destruction is the will of the gods! And I? I am their instrument!”), with the exception that Truth is lying to cover up the human-Forerunner relationship.

On that note, many of the Prophets have names with an ironic quality. The Prophet of Truth tells lies; the Prophet of Restraint doesn’t have any, etc. When coming up with a Prophet name, this aspect should be kept in mind.

When writing the UNSC, there are a couple things to keep in mind. The first is that the UNSC is highly Americanized, probably due to Bungie having designed it specifically for an American market. However, after the game’s international popularity, Bungie began trying to make it really seem like the product of a United Nations. So, although the series started out with the UNSC as essentially “America in Space”, it later turned into a big melting pot with things like a research station named Beweglichrüstungsysteme.

The Halo series has a few themes that come up repeatedly. While not necessary to include them, I find it adds some value to my fanfiction. These include but are not limited to transhumanism, religion, and heroism.

Transhumanism is a philosophy holding that the human body can and should be improved with technology, even to the point that the body is transformed to such a degree that it can no longer be referred to as human. Such advanced humans are generally termed posthumans, and although that term is never used in Halo both the Spartan-IIs and the smart AIs fit the definition. The desire to keep moving forward and become better is abundant in Halo, from John becoming a Spartan, to Catherine Halsey “becoming” Cortana via cloning, to AIs’ Rampancy, and to the Gravemind’s thirst for universal domination.

The most explicit instance is of the Covenant (and Forerunner) desire for apotheosis, or self-deification. The Covenant religion is built around the concept of mortals ascending to a state of godhood. Although not explained in detail, the Covenant notion of gods is implied to be of powerful entities that can affect the world to a substantial degree.

Religion in general is also a theme in Halo. In addition to the polytheistic Covenant, there are numerous biblical references as well as allegorical characters. There are obvious references in names such as Halo, Covenant, Ark, Flood, as well as a few paraphrases in the promotional transmissions. It is also likely in my opinion that John-117 is an allegorical representation of Jesus while the Gravemind is a representation of Satan.

Outside of the bible, religions such as Zen Buddhism are also present. For some reason, smart AIs have a thing for koans, which are spiritual conundrums in Zen. Catherine Halsey is able to get an AI to do what she wants just by intriguing it with a religious philosophical discussion.

Another theme is that of heroism. “Folks need heroes [to] give ‘em hope,” as Avery Johnson tells John-117. John being honored and practically worshiped as the savior of Earth (remember the Jesus thing, by the way) is a main theme in the Believe promotional campaign and isn’t exactly absent from the games.

Apart from the themes, there are a few generic items that are thrown in repeatedly. The most prominent is the sevens. Bungie is obsessed with the number seven and use it a lot in Halo. So, whenever I need some random number, I make it related to seven somehow to make it true to the series.

Another one of Bungie’s trademarks is repeated references to their earlier game series Marathon. I’m not an expert on Marathon, but I do like to throw in a few references from what I’ve read of the series. A main reference seen in the games is the appearance of the Marathon logo, a circle with a vertical bar running down from the bottom, producing a symbol similar to a lollypop in appearance. The symbol is difficult to describe in prose, but it’s a notable element worth including if possible.

Fanfiction has long been a part of the Halo community, and can be a good way to illustrate speculation or just intriguing ideas about the Halo universe. I hope my tips are worthwhile and this article helps inspire some of you to write your own Halo stories. Again, please keep fanfiction off Halopedia, but instead post it at Halo Fanon. We are largely the same community, though, so it’s not like I’m shooing anyone away.

"I think I'm going to tell a story now so I get in a happier place, and because Paul asked last time, and I said I would. This is not a game. I like games, but this is just the first chapter of a story I'm making up, now. I'll make up some more next time."
—The Sleeping Princess, prior to posting the first chapter of Perdita's Story

Short Glossary of Fanfiction Terms

  • AU (Alternate Universe) – Essentially, it’s a form of fanfiction in which elements of the original work are present, but the world is quite different. An example could be of a world in which the Covenant is entirely peaceful and they are threatened by the warmongering humans.
  • Canon – True elements of the Halo universe, those stated by Bungie to be factual, as opposed to inventions of fanfiction authors.
  • Fanon – While generally used to mean non-canon elements of fanfiction accepted by most fanfiction authors but not actually canon, on Halopedia it has come to mean another term for fanfiction.
  • Mary-Sue – An original character that is perfect, often a personification of the author themselves, to a point that becomes cheesy. The term comes from a well-known instance of such a character. Male versions can be called variants such as Marty-Stu or Gary-Stu, but Mary-Sue can be used universally.
  • OC (Original Character) – A character entirely created by the fanfic author and not present in canon.
  • Slash – A same-sex romantic pairing. The name comes from the way of identifying a romantic pairing as one name “slash” another name, such as Kirk/Spock, although this practice is common with all romantic pairings.
  • Songfic – A fanfiction containing song lyrics as a way to illustrate the story.

Resources

Some useful stuff I've been using for fiction.

Technical Info

Name Generators

Language and Culture

Military

Inspirational Quotes

2 comments:

Jennifer said...

Thank you for the tips and info. I am batting around some fic ideas now - the more I play, the more complicated they get it seems. I am interested in seeing what's already done though. Do you know of any Halo fic (preferably slash) out there? I'm weeding through the list on ff.net, but so far nothing good is jumping out at me.

Dragonclaws said...

There's not a lot of Halo slash out there. Is it worth it? by BlueBastard has some non-consensual Master Chief/OC Elite, and (to shamelessly plug my own stuff) Ascension's got a gay Brute relationship stuck in there. Then there's some Red vs. Blue slash out there, like What She Said (Church/Caboose) by Ze Strawberry Bunny, and Wish gone horribly wrong (Caboose/Everyone; pretty much PWP) by BlueBastard.

For Halo fics of the non-slash variety, The End of a War by Mr. Clark is pretty epic, and soulguard's series is pretty good too.