Fan Fiction Terms Glossary
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The community surrounding modern fan fiction has generated a considerable number of unique subgenres and literary terminology over the past several decades. This subarticle serves as an introduction for the reader to the most notable terms that originated in the fan fiction communities, many of which either generally or only appear in the context of fan fiction. Because most or all of the truly notable terms from the fan fiction community (such as Mary Sue) have their own articles, this article will naturally provide only a general overview of the terminology with very brief summaries. For more information on fan fiction, see the main article, fan fiction. For more information on the terms listed here, please visit their main articles or the respective see alsos.
Not included are many terms that are used within the fan fiction community, but are not considered notable or unique to fan fiction. For instance, terms relating to erotica that are commonly used in reference to erotic fan fiction, but far from exclusively so, are generally not included here.
For ease of use, the terms are separated first by subject (the subjects themselves being alphabetized save for "General terminology"), and then alphabetized under that subject. In the event that a term fits under more than one subject, it has been defined in its first occurrence on this page, and referred back to in any further occurrences.
Fan fiction norms
A handful of key terms are applied cross-fandom and related to fan fiction norms.
In fan fiction communities, especially online, generally fandom refers to people who enjoy a specific story, character, game, etc., and actively interact with others; that is, a group of (however scattered) individuals who share interest in the same media. The term also sees occasional use as a synonym for the canon work.
Though now used in the aforementioned contexts amongst readers and writers of fan fiction, the term "fandom" itself actually pre-dates the modern usage of the term "fan fiction"; the Oxford English Dictionary traces the term's existence as far back as 1903.
A more rarely-used synonym for "fandom" in modern times is "fen", a playful faux-pluralization of "fan" that mimics "men", the plural form of "man".
Canon (derived from the term's usage in the Christian religion and popularized in this context by the Baker Street Irregulars) refers to the "official" source material upon which fan fiction can be based. In recent years, some fandoms have engaged in lengthy debate over what is or is not "canon", usually due to multiple writers in various media creating contradictory source material, such as in metaseries like Doctor Who or Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
It is important to note that something that is regarded as "canon" is regarded as being essentially a verifiable fact in the given fandom. Details as complex as the laws of physics in a given story universe or as minute as how a character's name is meant to be spelled can be referred to as "canon" details, so long as they are specifically shown or otherwise directly revealed in the source material; this includes character behavior as well, though debate over what can or cannot be considered "canon behavior" is often a point of contention in fandom. On occasion, authors (such as Joss Whedon or JK Rowling) also expand on what is shown in the original story in other media, especially personal websites or blogs. Comments on the nature of a story or character directly from the creator are often considered statements of "canon".
In short, "canon" in the context of fan fiction is both the accepted "official" material itself, and a concept or detail promoted by the original work and/or in accepted "official" material.
Though it is distinct from canon, fanon is an interrelated concept in that the term encompasses invented (non-canon or not verified as being canon) facts or situations, especially those which are used so frequently in fan fiction that they become seen by many as an extended part of the canon. They become memetic within the fandom as many writers and fans adopt the same fanon, often within a relatively short time frame.
One of the usual purposes of fanon is to fill in perceived contradictions or gaps in the canon by answering (or asking) questions that the source material either will not or cannot address or simply hasn't addressed before. Prime examples include the first names of Uhura and Sulu in Star Trek or the belief that the acronym NCC means something, which were "fanon" long before official adoption.
Alternate Universe, or AU, refers to a story set in a different universe from the canon. This universe can be different in a few ways, such as AR (Alternate Reality), AT (Alternate Timeline), or AH (All Human). The last applies to fantasy or science fiction stories which have non-human characters.
A story can also be termed AU when the author makes major changes to the canonical storyline or premise, such as killing off a major character, changing characters' motives or alliances, annulling major events or changing the setting. Some popular AU Harry Potter stories ignore the death of Dumbledore or Sirius Black.
They may also involve a "what-if" experiment in which the author wishes to explore what might have happened if a certain canon episode had turned out differently — if, for example, Romeo had not stepped between Mercutio and Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet or if Harry Potter had sorted into a different House at Hogwarts.
AU (alternate universe)
This means the world (universe) is different. The physics, geography, technology etc. are different, e.g. no magic in Harry Potter, no chakra in Naruto. Popular in this category are HS (high school) and college fan fictions, where the canon characters are written as students in real world school.
AR (alternate reality)
This is where the world is the same, but some (or most) basic canon facts are different, e.g. for Naruto, Namikaze Minato never died and is Hokage, or in Harry Potter, Harry never goes to Hogwarts, instead being tutored by his godfather. AU and AR are often used interchangeably, with AU being more common in most fandoms.
AT (alternate timeline)
This refers to fan fictions that take place in another time than the canon (e.g. in Ancient Greece, when the canon is in present time), or change the time line itself. A special case of this is TT (Time Travel), where characters travel back or forth in time.
This is used for fan fiction where canonical non-human characters are depicted as human. For instance, if the animals in Narnia were all humans. Usually in such cases the characters retain their names and personality, despite the change in species.
A collection of fan fiction produced as a magazine, either in print (printzine) or online (webzine).
An expression commonly used in comments or reviews. It is an abbreviation of "Favorited" to indicate that the commenter has added the story to his/her favorite stories list.
Commonly used as the plural of fan instead of "fans", by analogy with the plural of "man" being "men". This term is more common when referring to specific subgroups of fans, such as Slytherfen (fans of Slytherin house), and has been coming out of use in recent years.
Filing off the serial numbers
To render a fan fiction of copyrighted material suitable for mainstream publishing by removing any specific references to canon.
A term used to describe someone who enjoys commenting or reviewing a person's story harshly, only pointing out the faults, often using heavy sarcasm. The comment or review left by such a person is known as a "flame."
A term that refers to a fanfic made incompatible with canon by later changes to the canon postdating the authorship of the fiction. After Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
A term that refers to a fanfic made compatible with canon by later changes to the canon postdating the authorship of the fiction. After Eric Kripke, creator of Supernatural.
An unusually powerful or favored-by-the-author character. This character may represent the author's own wish-fulfillment fantasy. Often the Mary Sue character will rescue the nominal main character from a series of impossible situations, or nurse him back to health after he is seriously wounded or driven to the edge of insanity. The term can be used derisively by saying a story is contaminated by "Mary Sue-age" where the "Sue-age" is a homonym of "sewage." A male Mary Sue is sometimes referred to as "Marty Stu" or "Gary Stu". Though "Mary Sue" is not exclusively a fan fiction term, it is strongly associated with fan fiction due to the frequency with which Mary Sue characters appear in fan-created works. Several nicknames for specific subtypes of Mary Sues exist, such as "God Mode Sue" for overly powerful characters or "Mary Tzu" for unrealistically good tacticians.
A "name smoosh" is one way to denote the relationship pairing in a fanfic. Whereas the traditional notation is "First character's name / Second character's name" (sometimes using "X" instead of "/"), a smoosh creates a portmanteau by combining elements of each character's name into a single word (not unlike "Brangelina" and other celebrity smooshes). For example, a shipping between characters named Nick and Jessica could be name-smooshed as "Nissica".
While particular smooshes may appear strange to people outside of their respective fandom, the fandom and couple is usually quickly recognizable by those familiar with the fandom, even if they weren't previously familiar with the particular smoosh.
A variant common in Japanese-based fan fiction is to combine the first two syllables of each character's name, producing smooshes like "SasuSaku" and "IchiRuki". It is traditional to put the seme, or aggressor, first, such as in the popular yaoi pairing "SasuNaru". Occasionally, these differ slightly from the original names, such as "AkuRoku", a popular pairing from Kingdom Hearts between Axel and Roxas, neither of whom have the letter "u" in their name. This abbreviation is a smoosh of how their names are pronounced in Japanese (Akuseru and Rokusasu, respectively).
A oneshot is a fanfic that consists of only one chapter and/or is first published in its completed form, as opposed to a fanfic consisting of multiple chapters which are published over time.
In contrast to squick, squeeing is encountering stories or elements of stories that are especially entertaining, an onomatopoeia for a high-pitched squeal of delight. Elements that can make a reader "squee" include meta references, inclusion of OTPs, or pop culture references. Compare fanservice.
A woobie is a character that elicits the sympathy of the reader, often because the character has experienced excessive abuse or misfortune.
Acronyms and abbreviations
The common usage of many fan fiction terms has resulted in their usage being reduced to acronyms or abbreviations, which are widely used instead of the full term.
Author's note, when the author wants to create an aside to explain something. Traditionally, these notes are placed at the beginning or end of the chapter and are used to explain everything from research they've done to create the chapter, to apologizing for the long wait between chapters, to stating when they believe they'll update again. In some instances, however, the A/N will be in the middle of the chapter (usually distinguished by bold or italics); this practice is widely considered the mark of an immature writer and is frowned upon, not only because a mid-story A/N disrupts the flow of the writing but because it goes against the established convention of beginning/end notes (i.e. readers who expect to be presented with a reasonably polished piece of work may be annoyed as much by the writer's unprofessionalism or inexperience as by the technical disruption of the story).
Short for "collaboration", this is a fanfic written by several authors working together. A collab may involve different authors for different chapters, or all authors working together on the entire fic. Collabs in which each part is written exclusively by one author are called "round robins".
ConCrit or Concrit
Short for "constructive criticism". Within the realm of fan fiction, "constructive criticism" nearly always refers to criticism of a specific work, rather than a general criticism of the writer.
"General" or non-romantic, used as an official subgenre category on many archives, including fanfiction.net. There is some controversy about what qualifies as a "gen fic", but usually it denotes a story in which any and all romance is a background element of the story and there is no sex, while the main plot centers around non-romantic themes.
"Gen fics" also tend to lack a specific focus of any kind. They are not focused around any particular genre (romance, comedy or humor, tragedy or angst, adventure, drama, fantasy, horror, mystery, sci-fi, suspense, etc.). If the author can't fit his or her story in to one (or sometimes two) of those categories, he or she may label it a "general" fic.
"Hurt/comfort" in a plot framework in which one character experiences pain (physical or emotional) and another character offers comfort. If one character is being comforted from severe trauma, an HC fiction may also be a darkfic depending on the origin and amount of focus on the "hurt" aspect of the story. HC fics may also qualify as a lemon, lime or PWP if the "comfort" is provided sexually; fics in which sexual comfort leads to the injured character's immediate recovery (especially when the sexual "comfort" is given after a rape or similarly traumatic event where it would be realistically inadvisable to initiate sexual contact at all) are sometimes called "healing cock" fics.
"In-character" is a term that refers to the behavior of characters which is consistent with their previous behavior in canon (see: OOC), and occasionally in fanon.
MPreg or mpreg
Short for male pregnancy. Stories that involve this trope will either provide an explanation for the male pregnancy that is reasonable within the bounds of canon (only applicable in canons that include magic or fantasy elements, or for canons set in a future where medicine may conceivably enable male pregnancy), attempt to provide a pseudo-scientific explanation (for canons that are otherwise subject to real-world laws of biology), or provide no explanation whatsoever. Explanations in the second category can be extremely thin; fics which fall into the third category are often considered crack. Mpreg is a common squick and will almost always be warned for.
MSTs, also known as MSTings and sometimes called MiSTings, are commentaries on fan fiction stories, written in the style of the television show Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K). In MST3K, a man and some homemade robots trapped on a spaceship watch bad movies and make humorous comments about them. For written MSTings, bad fan fiction is used.
Some archives have banned the posting of MSTs, commonly citing that they include writing that is not the work of the author of the MST. Their existence on FanFiction.net is hotly debated. Some fans consider them rude, while others enjoy what they see as witty commentaries.
In some cases, the writer of a fanfic will offer their own story up to be MSTed by another. This is more likely to be viewed in a positive light by fans who might otherwise disapprove of the genre. Other times, the writer who does the MSTing will do so without the permission of the original fanfic's writer. These are more likely than volunteer-based MSTings to be met with disapproval.
"Non-consensual": a character in the story is forced or coerced into sexual activity. Precise definitions of this term vary; it may be considered synonymous with 'rape', or may be distinguished from rape by the fact that the character, though not having wanted the sex, does experience pleasure. There is also "dub-con," or "dubiously consensual", in which the character's consent is at least questionable.
Original character fiction refers to a character created by the author of the fan fiction, as opposed to one already existing in canon. OMC is an original male character, and OFC is an original female character, though the more general and gender-neutral OC label is more prevalent. OMC and OFC may also—less commonly—mean "other male character" and "other female character", respectively.
"Out-of-character" refers to stories in which the personality or actions of a character does not conform with that established in canon. The term should not be confused with its usage in the online role-playing community, where it is often used to denote comments that are made to be read outside of the context of the game's story (such as notes about when a player will next be available). Its usage in fan fiction is closer to the original literary meaning of the term Out of character, referring only to the behavior of (usually canon) characters in the story itself regarding whether or not they seem "in-character" (see: IC, above).
One true pairing is a term used by fans to indicate their favorite pairing in a particular fandom. It can refer to a canon couple or two other characters that the fan would like to see in a romantic relationship. OT3, a variation on OTP, stands for one true threesome. It describes a similar situation in which three characters (usually all from canon) are romantically and sexually linked. The term can be expanded indefinitely, as OT4, OT5, etc., although higher numbers tend to be parodic. OT3 is more likely to appear in fandoms with multiple canonical characters operating in an ensemble.
Point of view , much like the acronym's usage elsewhere, establishes the perspective in which the story is written, whether it be that of a character or a literary viewpoint (e.g. third-person omniscient). It is sometimes also spelled with a lower case o (i.e. PoV).
"Porn without plot" or "Plot? What plot?" are terms used to indicate that a story contains little or no plot, and instead contains little more than sexual interactions or pornography; PWP is also called smut.
"Read and review" (or "Rate and review") can also be written as "R/R", "R'n'R" or r&r. It is meant as an encouragement for the reader to read the story and review it afterward . C&C or critique and comment is also sometimes used, though not as often.
Rec or recpage/reclist
A rec is an abbreviation of “recommendation”, as in a fan fiction recommendation. Extensions of the term include "recpages" and "reclists" and are, thus, pages and lists of recommended fan fiction. Typically these sources are a collection of links redirecting the reader to the original hosting site of the story, and do not seek to re-host the work. Lists will often include just the title of the work, a direct link, the author, the rating, and a brief summary, or any combination thereof.
Real person fiction is written about real people such as actors, politicians, athletes and musicians. Due to the nature of the stories—being about real people as opposed to fictional characters—there are some people who disagree on whether or not RPF is genuine 'fan fiction'; most RPF does seem to be written by fans, but some believe true 'fan fiction' requires a fictional canon. Additionally, historical fiction featuring famous historical figures is not generally considered to be (or at least, referred to as) RPF fan fiction, despite featuring real people as characters. Some major fan fiction archives (such as fanfiction.net) have a moratorium on RPF, usually citing legal concerns or a definition of 'fan fiction' that requires a fictional source for its canon. Possibly the first modern RPF (predating the term by a considerable margin) was written by Charlotte Brontë and her siblings, who beginning in 1826 created a lengthy series of novels, poems and short stories based on the imagined adventures of the Duke of Wellington and his two sons, Arthur and Charles.
Also referred to as author character, SI stands for self-insert or self-insertion. It refers to an author writing him or herself into their story. The resulting "character" is usually referred to as a self-insert or SI in the fan fiction community. It is a common mistake to confuse the terms 'Mary Sue' and 'Self-Insert', especially since generally Mary Sues are seen as being the kind of person the author wishes they could be and often are a form of idealized self-insertion. The two terms have distinct meanings, however.
Stands for Time? What time? and is used when the author of a fanfic has no particular time line in which the story takes place. This is likely a pun on the term 'PWP' and has been adopted in multiple fandoms.
Stands for “unresolved sexual tension” and refers to the lack of full or sometimes even partial resolution of sexual tension elements within a story. May refer to the content of the fan fiction story, or to a particular interpretation of the original canon story, or to both, if the fan fiction in question is intended to address sexual or romantic subtext in the original story.
Stands for "warm and fluffy feeling" or "warm and fuzzy fic" and is applied to stories which are intended to invoke those feelings in the reader, i.e., "feel good" stories. Also referred to as "fluff" or "schmoop." Fluff often refers to a short story, chapter, or part of a chapter in which readers get a soft, heartwarming feeling.
Subgenres based on relationship to canon
Another fan fiction subgenre is the crossover story, in which either characters from one story exist in (or are transported to) another pre-existing story's world, or more commonly, characters from two or more stories interact.
While the crossover genre is extremely popular amongst fan fiction writers, it does sometimes occur in canon works – examples of this include the video game series Kingdom Hearts which crosses numerous Disney works with those of SquareSoft, "Super Smash Bros.", which crosses various Nintendo universes, and an episode of The X-Files which featured Richard Belzer as his Homicide: Life on the Street character John Munch, who also later began to appear as a main character in Law and Order: SVU.
"Dark" refers to plots which introduce elements such as death, violence, rape, betrayal, or loss. "Dark" fan fiction builds upon preexisting emotional attachments that readers have with the characters for dramatic effect. It may also refer to fics where the main characters—when heroes—turn evil or just more aggressive (example: Harry Potter becoming a Dark Wizard, Luke Skywalker becoming a Sith Lord, etc.)
"Movieverse" as a term refers to the film adaptations of books, games, etc.; the term is used both in the context of comparison/contrast between different versions of canon (for example, in Jurassic Park and many comic book movies, where the storyline and characters may differ greatly between book and movie) and to mark stories which are based explicitly and exclusively on the film adaptation.
Fan fiction also exists in the form of independent, fan-produced pastiches and parodies of established works, including fan-produced film and video. The first such parody was 1978's Hardware Wars. One of the best known is Troops, a parody of the reality television show Cops, depicting Star Wars Imperial stormtroopers on patrol.
Sherlock Holmes, the Cthulhu Mythos and several of Edgar Rice Burroughs' fantasy series have fan fiction pastiche communities. This tradition comes from the establishment of literary societies, dating back to the 1930s and 1940s. These societies attracted both professional and fan writers. They practice a semi-professional level of publication of fan fiction of a specifically sophisticated literary nature, both in print quality and community expectations. Star Trek fans quickly developed a pastiche community around the Kraith series, which began appearing in fanzines in 1967 and had about thirty contributors. Probably the best-known example of such a community as of 2006 would be the followers of Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover series.
Virtual Seasons/Virtual Series
The Virtual Season, or Virtual Series, is a solo or collaborative effort to produce a compilation of scripts portraying episodes of an entire season for a television program; either an original creation, or one based on a series that has been cancelled or is no longer producing new episodes. Often, these writers will elect members of their group to be the producers, head writers, editors, and other traditional roles to aid in the coordination of the virtual season's material, direction, and continuity. Every effort is made to adhere to the standards of real television scripts, and to reproduce and carry on the details of the program as professionally as possible.
Subgenres based on character relationships
A ship (short for "relationship") is a romantic pairing in a particular fandom. A fan fiction story may feature one or more "ships". Many fans may consistently favor a particular character pairing (or more than one), and such a fan is referred to as a "shipper." Popular couples may have a special name or portmanteau to refer to their ship; for example, in the Superman fandom, Clark Kent and Lois Lane (as a ship) are called Clois.
Lemon and lime
Lemon features explicit sex stories, and they sometimes fall under the broader PWP distinction (see above). The name derives from a term which comes from a Japanese slang term for "sexy" that itself derives from an early pornographic anime series called Cream Lemon. The term lime denotes a story that has sexual themes but is not necessarily explicit. Authors may call their stories "citrusy", indicating that their story is a lemon or lime to varying degrees.
Slash and het
Slash fiction is, depending on one's preferred definition: a subgenre of romance fan fiction which exclusively deals in homosexual relationships; a subgenre of Alternate Pairing that addresses a romantic relationship between characters of the same gender, especially males. The expression comes from the late 1970s, when the "/" symbol began to be used to designate a romantic relationship between Star Trek characters, especially between James T. Kirk and Spock.
Stories with male homosexual pairings are the most common. Lesbian relationships are often referred to as "femslash" or "femmeslash" to distinguish them from the male/male pairing stories, though some fans prefer to use the term "Saffic" (a portmanteau of "Sapphic" and "fiction"). Fans of Japanese manga or anime tend to use the Japanese terms relating to the subgenres, referring to male homosexual pairings as yaoi or shōnen-ai and lesbian pairings as yuri or shōjo-ai. The former term for each typically represents the more sexually explicit stories, while the latter generally represents more romance-centered stories, though they are occasionally used interchangeably.
"Het" is a subgenre classifying a romance and/or sexually explicit story which has as its main focus a heterosexual relationship.
Sometimes when a pairing is written in the name/name format, it follows either a male/female convention (for heterosexual pairings) or a dominant/submissive (or in-charge/following) convention (for either heterosexual or homosexual pairings). This one applies mostly to Eastern fandoms (anime and manga), and only very occasionally to Western ones (usually by fen from Eastern fandoms).
Named after the drug to imply that it can only be the product of a deranged mind, crack fic is identified by its absurd, surprising, or ridiculous premise. The plotline might be twisted into a knot, the fic might be a thick parody, or the fic might feature an unlikely or rare pairing ("crack pairing"). Sometimes random, nonsensical, or stream-of-thought fics are termed crack, but other crack fics proceed logically, in character, and with internal consistency from their bizarre starting points. The former is generally derided by fandom as badfic while the latter is often praised. Generally these are humor pieces. One variety of crackfic is wingfic, which focuses on the implications of a character gaining wings.
A genre indicating heavy and sometimes depressing themes, and characters suffering emotionally in some way. Relationship break-up, character death, and hurt/comfort are all forms of angst stories.
A story in which a character, usually one of the main ones, dies. They also will occasionally deal with things like funerals, characters recovering from people they love dying or, usually after the death of a loved one, the character committing suicide.
A genre in which the story is devoid of angst and takes on a mood of light-hearted romance, see WAFF, above. While the terms "fluff" and "schmoop" are interchangeable in the broad scope of fan fiction, individual fandoms tend to adopt one term or the other for this genre of fic.
A genre, defined by its distinct format, in which an author takes an existing song and uses the lyrics to generate the theme of his or her story, or to add emphasis to certain aspects of it. "Songfics" are usually one-shots though there are exceptions, including lengthy series that either include various songs, or utilize the songfic format for only select portions of the work.
Though more common in fan fiction, it is not unheard of to see "songfic" appear in original fiction on occasion, and while most songfic authors use lyrics to others' songs, some do write original material instead. Some archives—most notably FanFiction.net—currently forbid the posting of songfic with lyrics not in the public domain to their archives in their Terms of Service or explanations thereof, generally on the basis that it includes copyrighted material not owned or legally usable by the author of the work.
Though unheard of to date, it is in fact technically possible for a fan fiction author—and possibly even a given archive which allows it—to be legally sued for the unauthorized posting of song lyrics which are still under copyright, as demonstrated when the Recording Industry Association of America attempted to sue a number of websites for listing complete lyrics to their artists' songs. This is sometimes credited as the origin for the songfic ban on some archives.
Bandfic is a type of RPF in which the characters are musical artists or members of a band. These are most commonly based on rock bands, with few exceptions. The phenomenon is still largely an underground community despite rapid expansion within the last few years. Though more popular archives such as Fanfiction.net prohibit all RPF, including bandfics, websites such as Rockfic.com deal exclusively in the genre. Quizilla is also a popular site to post bandfics.
Within the context of fan fiction, squick generally denotes a story somehow dealing with, generally sexual, taboo themes such as incest, pedophilia, an underage aggressor, underage sex (both people are under the legal age of consent), fetishes, and bestiality. Non-sexual themes are generally from the point of view of a drug user, killer, self abuser (cutting, eating disorder, etc.), or someone with a mental disorder. The squick theme is not always central to the story, but is usually noted as a warning to readers, that they won't be entirely unprepared for something potentially uncomfortable. These stories can portray the theme in either a negative or positive light. When the depiction is negative, the fic often falls under the larger category of darkfic.
Also known simply as whump. Describes a style of fic in which the plot or events focus on physical (or sometimes emotional) violence done to the lead character or characters. Whumpage overlaps with darkfic, but is not synonymous, as whumpage can focus on the character's endurance or survival as well as on suffering. Whumpage differs from H/C (Hurt/Comfort) in that the "comfort" side of the dynamic is rarely present. The term may also be used to describe a story element in a fanfic that is not otherwise specifically focused on violence and suffering.
See all literary glossaries:
Published - February 2011