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For All Intensive Purposes
Our Pet Peeves in Mag7 Fan Fiction

None of us believe in rigid adherence to ironclad rules of grammar in fiction writing.  Many of the rules we learned in high school really aren't rules at all - just guidelines.  Remember all that stuff about not ending sentences with prepositions or not splitting infinitives? The Elements of Style by  Strunk and White, a basic manual for any writer, has a nice section on such rules.  An excerpt:   "Years ago, students were warned not to end a sentence with a preposition; time, of course, has softened that rigid decree.  Not only is the preposition acceptable at the end, sometimes it is more effective in that spot than anywhere else.  'A claw hammer, not an ax, was the tool he murdered her with.' This is preferable to 'A claw hammer, not an ax, was the tool with which he murdered her.' Why? Because it sounds more violent, more like murder.  A matter of ear."  [See also http://members.aol.com/DangerMom/guide.html ]

However, there are some things that really aren't flexible.  What's important for the writer is that misuse of the language is likely to take many readers out of the story.  Below are some of our pet peeves commonly seen in Mag7 fan fiction, even in good fanfic.  If you have some, please send them to us at wordabuse@deathdogs.net

Loose Abuse:  When did people start feeling sorry for the "o" deficiency in lose and losing and start spelling them loose and loosing?  What do they use to describe something that's not securely attached?

Plight of Might:  When did "may" become king of the hill and banish "might" from use as may's past tense?

Dumb Blond[e]:  Chris is a blond.  Mary is a blonde.  This is one of the few adjectives in the English language to make this kind of masculine/feminine distinction.  For some reason it's more irksome to see Chris as a blonde than Mary as a blond.  Maybe blond will eventually take over for both.  In the meantime - well, Chris just isn't the type to be a cross dresser.

Harebrained:  It means flighty or foolish, taking its meaning from hare, the family of which rabbits are a part.  Hairbrained  has interesting visuals but it's  not a word unless intentionally used in a satirical manner.

Myriad  uses:  Myriad is a lovely adjective dating from 1791 meaning countless or innumerable and in that context does not take an "of" after it --  myriad emotions or myriad problems.  As an adjective, it also means having innumerable aspects as in "the myriad activity of the new land."  While some of us were willing to fight to the death for the "ofless" myriad, a reader wrote in and noted that it is also an ancient noun (1555).  The original meaning was ten thousand.  As a noun it can also mean "a great number" and therefore, we sadly admit an "of" would be appropriate.   We've seen beta readers strike "ofs" in stories (admittedly some of us have done so myriad times) and just as often we've seen others add "of"  where it wasn't needed.  So we'll promise to keep our mitts off the ofs if the betas who work on our writings promise not to add them in.

Slighting Sleight:  Because of Ezra's "tactile sensitivity," the term "sleight of hand" comes up often in fanfic.  And at least half the time it's wrongly spelled as slight of hand.   Since its use in the term sleight of hand is just about the only appearance sleight is called upon to make these days, writers should give the word a break and allow it that face-saving use.  Sleight is Middle English, coming from the Old English "sleghth" meaning cunning or skill from the Old Norse meaning "sly."  In the early 1600's, sleight of hand came into use to mean a conjuring trick requiring manual dexterity or a clearly executed trick or deception.  It also means "adroitness in deception."  Surely our gambler is entitled to have this word applied to him correctly.

Shuttered usually has to do with the condition of a window covered with shutters and is often used to denote a screened expression in the eyes.  When someone shudders, they quiver or tremble.  Fanfic ever so frequently has people shuttering in response to fear or disgust.  And occasionally their eyes are shuddered.

He was to the manner born.  (A dignified manner?  A slovenly manner?)  Actually  one might say Ezra was in a manner trained in order to pass as someone to the manor born - manor meaning mansion or the great hall of an estate, i.e. born to wealth.

Complement and compliment are not interchangeable.  We all know what a compliment is but writers seem a little shaky on complement.  It means something that completes or makes perfect as in "If fanfic writers could agree on what color Chris's eyes are, they could buy him a sweater to complement them."

Figurative v. Literal:  We can't tell you how many times we've seen something "literally" attributed to a character that is "literally" impossible.  He "literally" had butterflies in his stomach - not unless he was a corpse in a deleted scene from Silence of the Lambs.   He was "literally" walking on air - not unless he was skydiving.  Figurative means metaphorical or symbolic.   Literal means avoiding exaggeration or embellishment or limited to the nonfigurative.  Not that the word figuratively should be substituted for literally - it would bog the sentence down to say, "His heart was figuratively in his throat."  But there's nothing wrong with "his heart was in his throat" except that it might be trite.

Among v. Between:  Something happens between two people but among more than two (as in seven).   A soul-searing look passed between Chris and Vin.  As Buck sauntered toward the sheriff's pretty daughter, a look of resignation passed among his six friends.

Don't mix religion & politics:  Fiona reminded us of an irritating word switch that's becoming  more and more common.  Calvary is the site of the crucifixion and therefore has religious significance.   Cavalry  refers to mounted, bugle blaring, ride-to-the-rescue soldiers to which such  heroes and villains as Rin Tin Tin and Custer were attached and as such has political significance.

Jennifer sent in one of her pet peeves:  when a writer will say about a thunderstorm that there was a crack of thunder and 'lightening' instead of 'lightning'.  Well, okay, the sky did *lighten* when the lightning hit, so maybe I'm over-reacting here.... [Nope - we don't think so.]

That's that:  The overuse of the word "that" is one of those things we're vigilant about in beta reading.  We strike them left and right.  Denise wrote in and suggested we add them to the pet peeves page.  We're also adding her explanation of when "that" is needed and when it's surplusage:   Very often a sentence flows better without the unnecessary "that."  Needed:  The riverthat flows past my house (proper use of that).  Surplus:   She gave me the ball that I wanted (unnecessary - should be "She gave me the ball I wanted")  Denise added:  "Naturally this refers to the exposition part of any story.  A character speaking might naturally use incorrect language, including more abundant use of the word that, than a writer should."

Another problem with "that" is its frequent, incorrect replacement of who.  Buck is a man who loves women.  Not - Buck is a man that loves women.  When referring to a person [or named animal such as Peso] use "who."

Be tactful in taking the right tack.  Some writers have their heroes failing at one tactic and then taking a different tact.  Understandable but wrong.  When our hero is unsuccessfully wooing a lady or questioning a villain and decides to take a different tack, he is changing course in a word that has a nautical basis.  He, can of course, change tactics but that can't be shortened to tact.

Misused words - but not really a grammar issueDime novel.  There was no such thing as a Dimestore Novel for reasons well set out at http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.com/~poindexterfamily/ChristinesPages/Dimers.html  Unfortunately, the script writers in Mag7 apparently didn't know this (or Dale Midkiff had a slip of the tongue) because while inaccurate - it is, because of usage in the series - canon.

The words that should be but aren't [maybe]:  Alright and alot.  We're pretty divided on these words - for some of us it's nails on the blackboard to see them, for others it's heck, they should be official words.  We decided to add them to this list when Denise (see above) wrote us and named "alright" as one of her pet peeves.  However, the supporters of alright compelled us to add that according to Merriam-Webster, "Since the early 20th century some critics have insisted alright is wrong, but it has its defenders and users.  It is less frequent than all right but remains in common use especially in journalistic and business publications and is quite common in fictional dialogue."  Unfortunately for those of us who love alot there is no comparable leeway for that nonword.

The catch-all category:  Some errors we try to assume are typos - errors made by a slip of the fingers, not out of ignorance.   We believe a good beta reader should generally catch things like:  to/too, they're/their/there, bridle/bridal, passed/past and, the one we screw up the most, its/it's.  [The fact that we see these errors so often suggests there aren't enough good beta readers being employed by the writers  -- it must be those exorbitant fees they demand.]

Erroneous but at least amusing:

Chaucer snickered as Ezra entered the livery.  (Horses tend to do more nickering and whickering than snickering, but Chaucer was a wonder horse.)

Mary let out a blood curling scream.  (What exactly does curled blood look like?)

Ezra ran afowl of the law at an early age.  (Chicken theft?)

Buck was headed for the alter.  (Sex change operation perhaps?)  Could be Josiah was still renovating the altar.

Vin was reluctant to bear his soul.  (Ouch, no wonder.)

Chris kept a tight reign on his emotions.  (Chris was a leader, not a king.)

It suddenly dawned on JD where the problem lied.  (Having a problem is bad enough but when it lies to you, what hope is there of solving it?)

See also:  http://members.aol.com/kipler/grammar.html

British-isms:  There are lots of British writers in the fandom.  Many of them understand the importance of using an American beta reader when they're writing in anything other than a British AU.   However, too many otherwise good stories set up British stumbling blocks that cause readers to fall right out of the story.  We think most readers have read enough British fanfic and published fiction to have gotten used to British spelling.  We don't think differences like gray/grey, color/colour, realize/realise, plow/plough are enough to take a reader out of a story.  However, when American men start using British words and phrases like bum (for butt), queue for line, lift (for elevator), bloody, lorry, etc. it's like creating a big speed bump.  One of the worst "bumps" is having the men (usually in slash) call each other "love."  This might not be out of place between two macho men in Britain, but it sounds very odd to the American ear.  A writer in a fandom like Buffy/Angel can have any one of the three British characters call the others "love."  However, there are no British characters in Mag7 unless they're translated into a British AU (like KT's delightful RNLI AU).


There are some phrases, clauses, descriptions, etc. that are so trite many readers are going to find themselves outside the story thinking, I can't believe they used that.  Or maybe they'll just cringe.  Two we see frequently in the Mag7 fandom are:

"He let go [or let out] the breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding."

"with every fiber [fibre] of his being."

If you have a trite phrase that sets you teeth on edge, let us add to our collection at trite@deathdogs.net

Canon/Fanon triteness:  We've pretty much given up hoping that the constant overuse of certain descriptions of the Seven will ever be done away with, but a little reduction would be nice.  For example, writers make constant reference to Buck as Chris's "oldest friend" and Vin as his "best friend" (except those writers who think Buck is both).  They use these descriptions as identifiers even in contexts where the quality of their friendship is irrelevant.  And for God's sake, is there ever a reason to do it more than once per story.  We get it.  You don't have the skill to show the quality of the friendship in the context of the story so you have to tell us over and over lest we forget and think maybe JD is Chris's oldest friend.  It starts to sound like jr. high school with all that assignment of who is someone's best friend.

 And while Buck is certainly a ladies' man (and don't you slash writers forget it), he doesn't have to be constantly described that way even on occasions when his predilections are irrelevant.  Unnecessary but okay:  "The ladies' man kept a close eye on the disembarking passengers, hoping for a lovely young thing to brighten up his day."  But not, "The ladies' man took a sip of the tepid water in his canteen as the desert sun beat down upon him."

A lot of writers seem to think any Vin and Chris story - gen or slash - needs a mention of the "soul-sharing" nature of their friendship.  It's becomes such a trite standard, it's really time to retire it.  We're fairly sure  the first writer to use that description did it poetically and that it added a lovely image to her story - and she should be entitled to keep using it.  One source is a lovely old quote about friendship from Diogenes Laërtius (fl. early 3d cent.)  "He was once asked what a friend is, and his answer was, "One soul abiding in two bodies." [Attributed to Aristotle. xi. ]  Unfortunately, the allusion gets thrown into too many stories - almost as though it's obligatory.   It's become the stuff of satire and triteness.


CHARACTER NAMES:  Just Pick One - It's not a smorgasbord

We have no idea why so many fanfic writers (alas, even a few otherwise very literate ones) feel that it adds to their story to constantly alternate between first and last names when referring to the characters - canon and original.  This distracting habit screams "fanfic writer - not a real writer. " Don't be afraid to use the same name for the character several times in a paragraph - alternating with the appropriate pronouns.  And certainly there's never an excuse in a character's POV for him to think of himself or his friends (or even recently introduced strangers) by more than one name unless he's chiding himself for something, i.e. "Larabee get a grip.".

"USE PRONOUNS. Don't use character's names every time in dialog. Throw in a pronoun here and there for variety. When you do mention a character, always refer to him in the same way. Don't make your reader wonder who you're talking about because you've changed the character's name so often the reader's lost track. If you refer to a character in a different way make sure you've let the reader know who you're talking about. But, don't bend over backward to come up with many different ways to refer to a character in an effort to avoid repetition. Don't go overboard on pronouns or repetition will become a problem. Top writers average three pronouns to every time they use a character's name when two characters are involved."    from http://www.waynesthisandthat.com/writefanfic.htm[emphasis added].
See also:   http://members.aol.com/MacedonPg/writing.htm

Length is not a Sign of Quality:

We've actually "heard" people on lists bragging about the length of their latest story as though somehow the number of pages is a hallmark of a great work.  It ain't so.  Of course, there are some wonderful novella or even novel length fanfics - just check out SueN's In for a Peso, In for a Pound,  Estevana Rey's River Styx, Diamondback's Camino del Diablo, Mitzi's Friend to Me & its sequels, Painted Eyes For Faith and Moved by Silent Hands, etc.  But while these works are long, they also show the signs of good editing.  Plus, these stories have ideas, plot points  and characterization that justify the length.  In the wrong hands, they might be twice as long but certainly not twice as good.  It's interesting to note that the folks who seem the most pleased with themselves over their page count produce the works most badly in need of editing.  What might have been a good 150-200 page story turns into a bloated 500-700 page monstrosity.

Just a Little Research -- Please:

Be familiar with canon or have a beta reader who is.  E.g. If you have JD thinking how much he appreciates Vin not calling him "kid" as the others do, watch a couple of episodes.  Vin calls JD kid more than anyone but Buck and he was actually the first to do it - in the pilot.  And watching the episodes might let you avoid having JD tell Ezra to stop addressing him by his last name -- he didn't.  Ezra addressed him as son or JD not Mr. Dunne.

In a series with only 20+ episodes, writers should be near experts on the characters, their physical attributes and their histories as shown in the series, etc.  For example, one thing we read occasionally is the idea that JD wanted to be a cowboy.  And we often see Buck described as a tall cowboy.  Writers should remember that cowboys were not held in very high esteem back then.  JD wanted to be a gunslinger or a lawman, but never a cowboy.  After all, his hero, Chris Larabee despised the appellation (except when used teasingly by Vin - which he only did once).  Cowboys were low on the totem pole.  It was an occupation despised by this group of men who did not make their living pushing cows. [Ranchers yes, cowboys no.]  Of course, given the modern glamorization of the cowboy, JD might very well have a sentimental fondness for them in ATF and other modern AU's.

No one expects fanfic writers to be experts on firearms, horses, western history, etc.  However, we've seen some errors of fact so obvious it's clear the writer has made no effort whatsoever to do minor research - even to the extent of asking a question on a list, using a knowledgeable beta reader or doing some superficial internet surfing.    For anyone with a computer, some basic facts about firearms, horses, gear, cars, illnesses, injuries, geography, etc. aren't really hard to come by.  There are a couple of good Yahoo groups for questions:  Mag7OldWestWriters  &  Mag7WritersOfThePurplePage

To learn a little fanfic horse, check out:


Some interesting factual errors we've come across in Mag7 fanfic

A hurricane could not hit Four Corners (or the Ponderosa or the High Chaparral or Laramie or Denver).  A hurricane is an ocean based storm.

You can't make a rifle shoot farther (or is that further) by putting bigger bullets in it.  A firearm only takes one size bullet.  You might increase the powder load (or decrease it as Ezra did in the pilot).

Hardtack is a hard biscuit.  Beef jerky is dried meat.  They're not the same thing; together they make one hard-to-chew sandwich.

JD wouldn't  stand at a horse's head and stroke it soothingly on the flank - maybe Nathan or Buck with a very small horse.  (The flank is the fleshy part of the horse between the ribs and the hip.)

Anachronisms can be jarring to the knowledgeable reader when you want them immersed in the flow of your story.  Of course, every western TV series lets modern expressions or slightly out-of-time gadgets creep into the scripts.  (And we're not talking about Wild Wild West where the gadgets were purposefully fanciful.)  Most fanfic writers are better at avoiding anachronistic technology than anachronistic language.  We're pretty sure our Old West guys never got their panties (or knickers) in a twist and while they may have figuratively torn someone a new one, they didn't speak of it that way.  No one thought anything was "cool" in the 1870's, except maybe the pond on a hot day and even Buck didn't wear briefs.  For a site on the meaning and origin of phrases try: http://phrases.shu.ac.uk/meanings/index.htm  When putting fancy language in the mouths of of old West characters, you'll never be anachronistic using Shakespeare or the Bible.  http://phrases.shu.ac.uk/meanings/shakespeare.html

For someone who says all this much better than we do - check out Arduinna's Chrestomathy:  Writing on Writing.    She has lots of useful links too. (If the link goes bad, try her home page.)


Why would anyone post a story for the public to read without having it proofed or beta read?  Writers are notoriously blind when it comes to their own typos, omissions and misspellings.  (And we don't pretend those of us on our site are any different - anyone who's reading a page that's still under construction will find plenty, those reading after the construction signs come down will still find some.)

When we started this site, we were determined not to list stories with excessive typos because constant errors take the reader out of a story.  To a great extent we've stuck to that but we've found some stories with an  irritating number of typos that are still worth reading.  In those cases, the typos are genuine typos, not an indication that the writer doesn't know how to put a sentence together.  A lot of those stories come from challenge lists - we're guessing the writers feel rushed and don't take the time to have their stories proofed.


Because fan fic is "tolerated" not authorized by  the creators of the shows about which fanfic is written, writers have no ability to copyright their work.  Therefore, they have no legal recourse when someone plagiarizes their stories.  It is up to the fanfic community to police themselves and "shun" those who appropriate the works of others and repost it as their own - either in the same fandom or (with minor changes of character name) in another fandom.

It's important to note what is not plagiarism.  Using a general story idea is not plagiarism.  (If that were the case, TV producers would be constantly suing one another.)   Plagiarism involves using the actual words of the original author or taking a unique plot point for point.  Of course, if an idea is unique and was actually inspired by the work of another, the derivative work might properly be looked at askance by readers and by the author whose unique idea was borrowed.  At least it would be appropriate to thank the original author in the author notes for the inspiration.   However, it is more often the case that authors write stories using similar ideas by coincidence or because both were inspired by the same source - an internet joke, a published classic, a movie,  etc.  Generally, although the originating ideas were similar, the stories themselves are quite different.  We remember seeing two stories in which the Seven pose for calendars and another two in which Vin had chicken pox (or measles - something with spots).  The stories in question were completely different because despite the similarity of ideas, the actual stories (the words, the plot etc.) were quite distinct.

Although this site does not intend to get involved in inter-author politics and bickering, we will post links to web pages which demonstrate clear plagiarism.  Links to two such pages involving the same plagiarist are  posted below.   We are posting them partially to warn readers to be wary of this particular author whose plagiarism takes stories from one fandom and changes the characters to use them for another.  We also believe the side-by-side comparisons are good teaching examples for readers who might not be clear on what constitutes plagiarism.



Check the links below for a couple of really funny (and pathetic) emails sent out by someone who by strange coincidence makes the same hideous writing errors as Texas Aries but claims to be a journalism student using proper business English which (as everyone should know) is different from regular English.  You will find in one of the emails, a link to this alleged journalism student's site in which claims to be "investigating" the plagiarism issue for a journalism class.



For the "journalism class" report posted by TA under another wolf pseudonom this is an alternative addy:  http://wolfreport.tripod.com/index.htm

This same plagiarist started several lists - called  Magnificent 7 "Sanctuary" lists.  The list rules contained the same type of writing errors made by TA, an absurd definition of plagiarism that seemed especially designed to excuse TA's brand of plagiarism [i.e. only if the word for word borrowing constituted at least 50% of a story would it be consider plagiarism] and the "get a life" explanation of why bad grammar isn't a problem that seems to reflect her attitude about writing.  When confronted with questions about her identity, the "list mom" claimed to be TA's mother!!  After that yet another mysterious  identity was added -- someone who supposedly wanted to commit suicide when accused of being TA.  It was all an inconsistent, disjointed and unconvincing melodrama.  She closed the lists down after too many people uncovered her identity and questioned her motives.   The main reason we have this little section is so writers will be aware of the danger of having something they wrote "borrowed" and converted to another fandom.  [Tour of Duty is one.]  Plagiarism is apparently as hard to cure as kleptomania and perhaps for similar reasons - the thrill of getting away with stealing.  This person apparently desparately craves praise regardless of whether it's earned.  We have no doubt she'll be back in some other guise.

* * *


Stories are cross-indexed.  One story may appear in several categories.  Stories with two to four main characters will be listed under the names of each.  Stories with five or more will be listed under the All the Seven category. [We don't claim to be good at math.]  Stories with explicit sexual content are marked with double asterisks**.  Stories with no explicit sexual content but which are likely to be in the adult section of sites like Black Raptor due to reference to slash relationships are marked with a single asterisk*  If an author has her own website or an index of stories on a website [and we know about it] we'll provide a link to it.  Just click on her name.
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