note: I use my own fics as examples in this guide. I do this not so much because I am a total narcissist (er, but probably I am), but because I know my own fic well enough to find Willow/Giles-y examples quickly. :)

Willow and Giles' Guide to Grammar and Style

Commonly Confused Words

"Willow and Giles?




room, up


(They are)




beautiful," Giles said. "I could stare into


eyes forever."

(You are)




late. Put the book on


shelf and come to bed."

(it is)


Willow wore her


wedding ring on a chain so she wouldn't







of the love spell would


him for hours, unless she


a counterspell.


(do something to)

(carried out)

Since he gave flowers


her, Willow gave Giles







Still confused? Try!


Good dialogue is one of the backbones of fanfic. There are a few ways to ensure that your dialogue has more impact and reads more easily.

1) Do not fear the word "said." "Said" is your friend.

Sometimes, in dialogue, you need to identify the speaker. In cases of dialogue between more than two speakers, you often have to identify the speaker a lot. When you need to do that, "said" is absolutely the best word to use. Why, you ask?

Because "said" is invisible.

It's a magic little word that readers are so used to seeing, it slips right past them, and this is good, because you don't want the reader looking at the extra, functional words. You want them looking at what your characters are saying. That is where the emotional action is happening. If you use words like "retorted" and "explained" and such, you are actually just telling the reader what is happening, in a way that, more often than not, will not register with the reader emotionally, and will distract from the important parts of the text.

Really, the only time you need to use words other than said are for situations where a character is shouting or whispering, something that won't necessarily be clear from the dialogue itself.

2) If you get tired of "said," use tags.

A tag is something like:

Giles took off his glasses and began polishing them. "Oh, dear lord."

It is an active sentence used to punctuate dialogue and identify the speaker. Used carefully, tags can strengthen a dialogue scene immensely. They show the reader the characters' reactions, and they let the reader see the scene, rather than just hearing it, which is a risk when writing dialogue-heavy passages. Tags can ground the reader, reminding them of what else is happening in the scene, and reminding them that the characters are present in a room, moving around. Even in a phone conversation, tags can be used. People clear their throats, shift around, hear sounds in the background, etc.

3) Grammar in dialogue is more forgiving.

While you'll want to use proper grammar as much as possible in the narration of a fic, in dialogue, you can often get away with using much less strict rules. In fact, in most cases, you should use less perfect grammar in dialogue. People speaking use short-hand phrases. They almost always use contractions (it's, don't, etc). Xander, for example, uses bad grammar constantly.

Of course, not all characters do. Giles' grammar is much better than Xander's, but even he uses contractions. The only characters I can think of who don't are the less-human Star Trek characters like Spock, Data, and Seven of Nine.

4) Properly punctuate your dialogue.

Punctuation always goes inside quote marks. There should be a line break after each speaker finishes speaking. If a speaker's dialogue goes into two paragraphs, you should leave off the quote mark at the end of the first paragraph, but open the next paragraph with a quote mark. There is a comma before "he said" and usually a period afterwards. Dialogue from a speaker should go on the same line as a tag about that speaker, regardless of whether the dialogue precedes or follows the tag.

Example (from my fic Corpus et Sanguis, edited to fix my own bad grammar):

"Oh," she tried to say, but her voice had left the building, so all that came out was a small exhalation.

His voice was still working though, because he spoke, with the rough tenor of a rumbling fire. "Have I ever told you how beautiful you are?"

Whoa. Whoa. That... she had not been expecting that. "Uh... no... definitely no."

"You are," he said, and touched her heart line, followed its curve up to the sensitive skin between her index and middle fingers, then let his finger linger there, stroking between hers subtly, suggestively.

It sent a bolt of heat through her.

She jerked her hand away. "Hey! This- this is all wrong! You're not supposed to hit on me!"

"No?" he said. He was looking at her from under heavy lids, and that look alone was like a touch.

Her voice was shaking. She wanted it to be with indignation. But really, it was probably more like desire. "No! You're supposed to say, 'we can't do this, it would be wrong.'"

"I see," he said.

-ly Adverbs

Swiftly. Amusingly. Hopefully. Unhappily.

These are -ly adverbs. In short: Avoid them.

Why? Again, we come back to the old adage: "Show, don't tell."

-ly adverbs tell the reader things. They tell the reader how something happened, and they tell the reader how to feel about it. Generally, ordering the reader around is not the best way to make them feel empathy for you or your characters. The best way to do that is to show them what's happening, and let them feel their own feelings about it. Trust your ability to write, and trust your readers to understand you. If you tell them "He sighed, unhappily," they're not going to get the image. But what if you show them: "He sighed, and it seemed to drain all the air out of his entire body. He deflated, his head hanging, his shoulders slumped, his eyes downcast." Then they see him. They feel closer to him. They care.

More on "Show, Don't Tell"

To continue this theme, as much of a cliche as the phrase itself has become, it really does sum up the essence of good writing. The life and spirit of writing lives in the details. What if Shakespeare had written this?:

"Two children of rival families fell madly in love and secretly eloped, but then the young man got into a duel and killed one of his love's relatives, and was banned from the city. He left, and his love faked her own death in order to escape the city and rejoin him. Sadly, before he could be informed of her plan, he heard of her death, and killed himself. She awoke, and found him dead, and killed herself, too. It was very tragic."

People would not still be fascinated with his stories today.

In more fannish terms, for example, don't just tell us "Willow loved how Giles always treated her as an adult, not like a kid." Show us him treating her like an adult. Maybe show us a conversation between them, where he respects her opinion, and acts like she's his equal. In the case of Willow and Giles, a conversation like this may even involve you as a writer doing a bit of research to make it sound authentic. That's ok. That's even kind of fun, once you get into it, I promise.

Essentially, the more you show, the more the reader will connect with your story. The more they can see it, smell it, taste it, feel it, the more they will love it, and love your characters (or hate them, if that's what you're going for).

Point of View

There are three major kinds of point of view:

1) First Person

First person uses "I" and is strongly linked to the narrator. It should be written like dialogue, using the character's voice, as though the character is telling a story directly to the reader. Also, you are completely limited to what the character knows, and what the character sees and experiences. If any part of your story happens somewhere the narrator isn't, he won't be able to narrate it, unless he hears about it from someone else. Also, he can't tell you what another character is thinking (unless he's actually able to read minds), all he can do is observe how others around him are acting. Because of these limitations, it is very difficult to do first person well, especially in a long fic. It can be exhausting to continuously keep the character's voice in character, and to structure the story so that the narrator knows everything he needs to know to move the plot along.

Example (from my fic Let Us Never Speak Of This Again, Willow's POV):

So, ok, I'd just come out, right? And now all of a sudden, there's this kinky foursome with my best friends and my high school librarian. Ok, maybe not kinky, really, but kind of kinky by default. After me not losing my virginity until just before graduation, I was kinda wondering if this was some weird kind of sex karma. Is there such a thing as sex karma?

I was all focused on reading the spell, because that was so much better than actually looking at anyone.

But then, Buffy and Xander left to go get stuff, and I was alone with Giles, and that was even worse, in a way.

He kinda cleared his throat again, which he'd been doing a lot, so I peered up at him cautiously, kinda trying to look like I wasn't really looking. He was standing and looking down at the coffee table with his brow all furrowed.

"Uh. Something wrong?" I asked.

2) Second Person

Chances are, you'll never have to use second person. In second person, the narrator is "you," which is extremely difficult to work with, and awkward to read, leaving the reader wondering who, exactly, this "you" is. Personally, I would recommend not using the second person at all.


You go to the door and open it. You look outside, but don't see anyone there. Confused, you step outside, and that's when it happens. Vampires! They attack you and drag you away, leaving you wondering why you started reading this story in the first place. It's obviously hazardous to your health.

3) Third Person

Third person is probably the most common point of view you write from. It's the form where everyone, including the main character, is referred to as he, she, it, by name, etc. However, just because it isn't first person, doesn't mean you're free to jump from brain to brain with impunity. Even in a third person story, it's usually best to pick one character and stick to what they can see and feel and hear. We humans are limited to our own point of view, so it is most comfortable for us to read a story that sticks to the same limitations. Also, sticking to one person lets the reader develop a stronger connection to that character. If you want to change POV during a story, it is usually easiest and best to do it during obvious transition, such as in a new scene, or at least in a new paragraph. Be aware that if your point of view character is, for example, Willow, then writing something like "Giles could feel her hand on his cheek," is breaking that point of view.

Example (from my fic First Time, Willow's POV):

"Shall we?" he said, and he was half-turned away from her, the moonlight falling in sharp bands of silver and deep shadow across his face. The cold air between them was intolerable, and so she stepped close again, and looked up at him, watching her own fingers cut shadows across his cheek as she touched him there. He'd aged a decade in the last year. She didn't know how she'd missed it. But she had, and that made her ache inside.

His eyes questioned her as she traced her finger back along his cheekbone, found the deepened lines around his eyes under his glasses, then slid down to the corner of his lips. Then over his lips. His skin was soft there, a delight under sensitive fingertips. Her own lips parted with an audible click, and then so did his own, and she felt a hint of dampness there that sent a tingle through her, before she pulled her fingers away.


Essentially, there are two tenses (actually, there are more, but they're not something you'll commonly be writing entire fics with). These are past and present. Almost always, you'll want to pick one tense and stick to it for the entire story. Always check to make sure that your story is in one consistent tense before you post it.

1) Past Tense

By far and away the best and most popular tense to write stories in, past tense is made up of all those -ed verbs. Jumped, shouted, danced, etc. It makes logical sense to tell a story in past tense, because you'd imagine that if you're telling the story, it must have already happened, and thus, have happened in the past.


He walked along the shore. It was midnight, and above him, a thousand, a million, a billion stars shimmered in the black sky. The surf roared against the sand, and a breeze slipped down under his collar, chilling his throat and ruffling his hair. He hunched his shoulders and pushed his hands deeper into the pockets of his coat, smiling at the fierce world around him.

2) Present Tense

Present tense, with all those -s verbs, is much, much, much harder to write in. First of all, it demands that the reader suspend their disbelief that a character would be telling a story while actively engaged in it. Also, it is simply less common than past tense, and thus, more jarring for the readers to read.

That said, though, present tense, when used carefully, can give a sense of drama and immediacy to a story.


He walks along the shore. It's midnight, and above him, a thousand, a million, a billion stars shimmer in the black sky. The surf roars against the sand, and a breeze slips down under his collar, chilling his throat and ruffling his hair. He hunches his shoulders and pushes his hands deeper into the pockets of his coat, smiling at the fierce world around him.


Ok, if you made it this far, you totally deserve a cookie. Er. But I don't think I have any cookies. Sadness. *pats you on the back* Now, go forth and fic! :)

Back to Essays