Note: This is so totally incomplete. We can add more Necessary Tropes, we can throw in some Potential Subversions, suggest some Themes and Aesops, so on and so forth. But Wiki Magic doesn't work on nothing, so I feel it's better to have this right now and improve on it another day.
First, be sure to check out Write a Story for basic advice that holds across all genres. Then, get look over a rundown of the genre-specific tropes that will help you, hurt you, and guide you on your way.
Now, this page is called So You Want To Write the Next Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, but that doesn't mean that you have to write a Recursive Fanfiction or even a fanfic at all. Whether fanfic or original work, though, a lot of what follows will apply no matter what.
Before we begin, there are two things to discuss that don't really fall into tropes:
- Read the Major Sequences at Less Wrong. Then read them again for good measure. Love them, hate them, there's a lot to be learned there even if you disagree with some of it. And really, if you do disagree with some of it then you should at least have an idea of where and why you disagree, because Less Wrong is going to be a major audience for your story if you write it well.
- For those writing Rational Fanfic: If there's already a (well-accepted) Rational Fanfic in the universe that you're planning on setting your story in, Don't Do It. Because of the nature of Rational Fic and the number of both Rational Fics and their readers, the majority of people who read your fic will also have read the first one. This will turn you into Battling Shows and even if your fic is self-demonstrably superior there will be many who will dislike it because the other one was there first. Many people may even refuse to read your fic to begin with just because they think, for example, that you've stolen ideas from the first one. This is probably not a battle that you want to fight.
The very nature of the genre dictates that your material will fall under these tropes. Learn to use them well.
- Foreshadowing: Most readers of Rational Fic enjoy being able to approach the story as though it were a puzzle. They'll be speculating on this and that, and while they may not cry foul if you pull a fast one on them that they never could have predicted, you can bet that they'll be happier with a shocker that was there all along, but hidden too well.
- Smart Ball: Kind of; I guess that it's not really a ball when everyone's got it, all the time. More than "knowing lots of things," however, Rational Fic characters are successful because they "think things through." This means (1) you should probably show their thought process so that the reader can see that it's a, well, rational train of logic (but make it interesting!) and (2) writing this kind of story isn't as hard as you may be telling yourself that it is. If the character is more intelligent than most people then it's almost always a difference of degree rather than kind: they can think or learn faster than the average person, rather than think things that the average person could never think, no matter how much time and/or information that person was given. Oh, and the more characters that are intelligent in this way, the better.
These tropes cover a wide spectrum of choices regarding a certain element of your story, and you're going to have to pick a spot somewhere on that spectrum. Unless we've forgotten to include something, and you can spot it, because in that case you might actually surprise us after all.
- An Aesop: Is there going to be some deep meaning or lesson to your story, or are you just writing it for the sake of the plot?
- Genre Savvy / Wrong Genre Savvy: If the character is, say, a modern American who was dropped into a The Lord of the Rings kind of high fantasy world, then they should make the comparisons that such a person would naturally make. They may figure that
- Living Forever Is Awesome: Most, if not all, Rational Fic stories are written by transhumanists and read predominantly by the same. Are you going to bring transhumanist philosophy into the story? Whether you do or not, you should have a reason for it.
Watch out for these tropes! They're bad news - or, well, at least they're tropes you generally want to avoid - and they're particularly common in your chosen genre.
- Arbitrary Skepticism: The moment that a Rational Protagonist ceases to be rational Just Because (or for any reason, really), they cease to be a complete Rational Protagonist and are now just Mostly or Kind Of Rational.
- Author Tract: Make it a good story first and a sermon... never. Feel free to embed a moral into your story, but be careful about it.
- Idiot Ball: "It is a general law of MoR that no one is ever holding the Idiot Ball." If you want to make your story good, then you'd better make that your law too.
- Mary Sue: Especially Purity Sue. One of the biggest complaints that people have about HPMOR is that Harry Potter, to them, has been made into some sort of idealized I'm-gonna-show-you-how-you're-all-wrong Rationalist God. Whether it's true or not for HPMOR, it's definitely an easy mistake to make. See also Insufferable Genius.
- Viewers Are Geniuses: Not always a pitfall, but do be wary of playing this trope so hard that it's difficult for your readers to understand what's going on.
- The War on Straw: The more rational-thinking characters in your story, the better. This means that your characters, 'all' of them, should give at least decent arguments. Don't stage a debate just for the sake of showing how Right your protagonist is.
These tropes are in common use throughout the genre, so we'll forgive you if you use them - but if you can think of a good way to subvert, invert, or just plain avert them, then you just might be able to start a new trend....
Suggested Themes and Aesops
- How would the universe you're writing in appear to us (modern, regular people)?
- How would having all characters logical, intelligent people (...creatures) change the universe you're writing in?
Of course, you need characters that exist in the universe you're writing in. However, each of them needs a revamp. Throw away the Idiot Balls! Get rid of The Ditzes! Avoid Brainless Beauties at all costs!
- If you have The Ditz, try turning him into Ditzy Genius or - if you can't do it - at least Genius Ditz.
- Residual Cloudcuckoolander can be changed into Bunny-Ears Lawyer.
- If some character is unredeemable, just make him Spear Carrier. If your story is good, most people shouldn't note he's missing (unless he's member of Five-Man Band of Power Trio. Then try to keep him).
Now, if you're really looking to bring up the quality of your work, head off to your local library (or jump on your computer... wait, you're already there) to study how the best (and worst) have managed to make it work:
The Epic Fails
- Harry Potter and the Methods of Chaos by JBeann210 There are a lot of things that you can learn from this, most of them lessons that you could take from any poorly-written story. It emphasizes, though, the importance of not writing a Rational Fanfic in the same fandom as another well-accepted Rational Fanfic. I'm not even sure how bad it is, honestly, It's not Good, certainly, but the fact that I am comparing it HPMOR with every sentence that I read makes it even worse.
For a much more up-to-date listing of some of the genre's stories, go to Rational Fic. And feel free to add examples, especially to The Greats.