In my duties as part of the Snark Crew over at the Library of the Damned, I go through a ton of fics looking for just the right material to dissect for our audience. While I’m not sure how my fellow Crewmembers select their entires, I thought I’d share my process with you.

I start by selecting a section of that I’m familiar with – usually a show, movie, or game that I know a bit about but that I’m not a super-fan of. My earlier experience with a Portal fanfic taught me that if I really like the original the fic is based on, I quickly turn into an Angry Fangirl screaming “You’re wrong!” over and over again and no one wants that. For that reason I will probably never do a Batman fic, since I have a certain fondness for the Caped Crusader.

Once I’ve settled on a section and pulled up the listings, I’ll change the filters to list all the fics (the ones rated M are excluded by default) and head for the oldest fics first.

If you’ve never been over to, the fics are listed in chronological by fic title and author’s name, (if the fic has any reviews there will be a bright red REVIEWS beside the title) under that is the genre(s), (Western, Sci-Fi, Romance, etc) the chapter count, and overall word count. The author also has the option to list up to two primary characters so that readers looking for fics with particular characters or character pairs can search for just those fics. If the author has listed the fic as “Complete” it will state that as well – most of the bad fics are simply abandoned by their authors and lack this on the listing.  Under all of this is a brief summary written by the author and is usually the first step in picking out a bad fic. 

A good fanfic will have a short synopsis and if it has a restrictive rating like M or T (Mature or Teen) will often give the reasons for why the author rated it as such. (strong language and adult themes are the most common) A bad fanfic will either have a couple of horribly mangled sentence fragments or some variation of  “I suck at summaries, just read the fic” instead of a synopsis. I LOVE finding a “I suck at summaries” synopsis, it usually means the fic is so disjointed and nonsensical that the author couldn’t condense the stupidity down into a few sentences.

Once I find a summary that looks promising, I check out the fic’s stats. A high chapter to word-count ratio means that there are a lot of very short chapters, one of the hallmarks of a bad fic. If it’s a single chapter with a high word-count (2000+) you can almost bet money that it will be a Wall-O-Text. I will usually skip over any fic with more than twenty chapters, there’s only so much I can take.

If the summary looks good (and by “good” I mean “terrible”) I’ll open up the actual fic and give it a read. By now I’ve read enough fics that I can usually spot a stinker pretty quick, but not all bad fics are the sort of bad I’m looking for. Once I’ve determined that it is bad, I’ll give it a more careful reading to see if it meets my criteria.

  • Are the characters behaving out-of-canon?
  • Is the setting (if described) not one found in-canon?
  • Are the characters or settings described, or does it take place in a Formless Void?
  • Is there a Mary Sue or Gary Stu?
  • Are there any glaring inconsistencies within the fic itself?
  • If there is dialogue, does it sound natural or is it stilted and forced?
  • Is the grammar and spelling terrible?
  • Can I understand enough of what the author is trying to say enough to explain it to someone else?
  • Can I make this interesting or funny in some way?
  • Is this relatable to someone who is unfamiliar with the original work?

The last point is the most important and I’ve had to discard many fics because it was something that I or another fan of the original might find it funny if I joked about it, but someone who was not as familiar with the original would not and explaining a joke always sucks the funny out of it. The Library is staffed by people with a very wide and eclectic range of interests and we hope to reach readers that are just as varied, which means we try to do our riffs in such a way that even those unfamiliar with the original will find something humorous about it. While this does slightly limit our material, there is a vast ocean of bad fanfics out there and we aren’t as restricted as, say, a site that only riffs video games or movies.

If the fic meets my requirements I will do one of two things – I’ll stick it in my queue of riffable fics or I’ll post it to the list of orphaned fics the Library maintains. This list of unclaimed fics are things that we have found during our searches but not fics that we personally want to riff. Any Snark Crewmember can claim an orphaned fic – for example; when I found  BatPink I had no desire to riff it, so I posted it as an orphan and Lara jumped at it. (And did an excellent job, I might add.)

There are certain things that will make me instantly discard a potential fic – I will not riff anything with graphic  sex in it; there are sadly a lot of these and they read like the script for a particularly bad porno. I call them “monkey-spankers” since that’s probably why they were written in the first place. Graphic violence will also earn a fic a place on the discard pile, especially if it’s combined with graphic sex. There’s just nothing funny about those sorts of things.

After weeding out the blandly boring and disgustingly detailed, I’ll select a fic from my queue and start taking notes. There is a fair amount of research that goes into each of my riffs – unlike the original fanfic author, I actually care if I get my facts right.