Glossary of fan fiction terms

Glossary of fan fiction terms

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 also"s.

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.

General terminology

A handful of key terms are applied cross-fandom and in a great many different contexts. These are listed below.


"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.


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) such 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 the plural form of "man" (which is "men").


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 frequently in fan fiction so as to become seen by many as an extended part of the canon, becoming a form of meme within the fandom as often 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, answer (or ask) 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", which were "fanon" long before official adoption.

For further understanding of this concept, please see the "Nature of fictional canons" subsection in Canon (fiction).


A collection of fan fiction produced as a magazine. Either in print (printzine) or online (webzine). [Sheenagh Pugh (2005) The Democratic Genre: Fan Fiction in a literary context p.242]

Filing off the Serial Numbers

To render a fan fiction of copyrighted material suitable for mainstream publishing by removing any specific references to canon. [Sheenagh Pugh (2005) The Democratic Genre: Fan Fiction in a literary context p.242]


(Of a fan fiction) 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 [Sheenagh Pugh (2005) The Democratic Genre: Fan Fiction in a literary context p.243]

Original fiction

The opposite of fan fiction; any fiction that is not considered fan fiction. For further understanding on the difference between fan fiction and original fiction - including the debate on what constitutes "original fiction" vs. "fan fiction" - please see main article.


Due to the popularity of fan fiction online, many terms exist as acronyms, or have a popular acronymic variation. These are listed below.


AU stands for "Alternate Universe". AT stands for Alternate Timeline.

An AU/AT story is one that 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 - for example taking the adolescent characters of a series and placing them in high school, even though there is no high school setting in the series canon, would be an "AU" story.


"Author's note", when the author wants to create an aside to explain something.


"General" or non-romantic, used as an official subgenre category on many archives, including There is some controversy about what qualifies as a "gen fic", but usually it denotes a story in which any sex or romance are minor, background elements of the story, while the main plot centers around non-romantic themes.Fact|date=December 2007

"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 their story in to one (or sometimes two) of those categories, they'll label it a "general" fic.


Stands for "Hurt/Comfort", a plot framework in which one character in a particular "Alternate pairing and "shipping"">ship" experiences pain (usually emotional) and the other character offers comfort. May qualify as darkfic depending on the origin and amount of focus on the "hurt" aspect of the story. May also qualify as a lemon or lime if the "comfort" is of a decidedly physical nature.


IC is an acronym which stands for "in character", and refers to the behavior of (usually canon) characters which seems logical given what is known about them and their previous behavior in canon (see: OOC later in this article). Its usage in reference to fan fiction is thus somewhat distinct from, but similar, to its usage in acting (see in character).


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 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 fanfiction's writer. These are more likely than volunteer-based MSTings to be met with disapproval.


Stands for "Original Character", i.e. a character created by the author of the fan fiction, as opposed to one already existing in canon. The term (especially in acronym form) is also frequently used by members of the fan fiction community to refer to their characters in original fiction (for instance: "I have an OC who learns sorcery in a short story I wrote yesterday."). 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.

OC also is known to stand for "Other Character". Used to describe a situation when a character who is not in the original story, is brought in for the purposes of the author to further manipulate his or her fanfiction as he or she sees fit. For more on this, see Original character


Stands for "Out of Character". The acronym form of the term should not be confused with the version from the online role-playing community, in which the same acronym is often used to denote comments made 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 different, and 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).


Stands for "One True Pairing". This means that the two characters mentioned are meant to be together. It usually goes entirely against canon, using an OC and a canon character or two canon characters that would never be together under normal circumstances. Sometimes, however, the pairing may be part of canon. An OTP also generally represents the favorite pairing of the author. By declaring their OTP, authors can meet other authors with the same pairing preference. On the downside, however, declaring an OTP can lead to debates and possible (though rare) flame wars.


Stands for "Point of View" and much like the acronym's usage elsewhere, refers to the perspective in which the story is written or meant to be viewed. It is sometimes also spelled with a lower case "o" (i.e. "PoV"), though the all-caps variation is common.


Stands for "Porn Without Plot" or more commonly now "Plot? What Plot?", and is used to indicate or imply that a fan fiction story contains little or no plot, but instead acts merely as a vessel for pornographic scenes.


Stands for "Read and Review" can also be written as "r&r" or "rr"Fact|date=December 2007. Is meant as an encouragement for the reader to read the story and review it afterwards. "C&C" or "critique and comment" is also sometimes used, though not as often.Fact|date=December 2007 Sometimes it is also used as "Rate and Review".


Stands for Real person fiction, RPF is fiction 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 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.


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. The term is often closely associated with "Mary Sue", but does not actually exclusively apply to the kinds of characters typically labeled a Mary Sue.

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 line? What Time line?" and is used when the author of a fanfiction has no particular time line in which the story takes place. This is likely a pun on the term 'PWP' and as been adopted in multiple fandomsFact|date=September 2007.


Stands for Unresolved Sexual TensionFact|date=December 2007 and refers to a 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 Fuzzy Feeling" or "Warm And Fuzzy Feelings", applied to stories which are intended to invoke those feelings in the reader, i.e. "feel good" stories. Also referred to as "fluff". "Fluff" is often a romantic short story in which the author's favorite couple gets together.


ubgenres based on relationship to canon


Fan fiction stories that are alternative versions of a specific section of canon are called "Alt- [Section of Canon] " storiesFact|date=December 2007. For example, an "Alt-HBP" story in "Harry Potter" fan fiction would be a different version of the sixth book ("Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince", popularly shortened to "HBP"). While these "can" include a story for instance told from an alternative perspective than the canon version, they also do not actually necessarily relate to the original plot of that portion of canon and in cases where the original canon is a series or gains a sequel, many "alt" stories were simply written before the new installment came out. For instance, if an author wrote a fan fiction detailing the events of Harry Potter's sixth year at school before the release of "Half Blood Prince", then the story would still be considered an "Alt-HBP" story - even if it is told from Harry's perspective.

There are two core variations of "alt" fictionFact|date=December 2007: If the story was written "before" the canon story came out, then it is also considered a "Pre- [Section of Canon] " story, e.g. "Pre-HBP". If the fan fiction was written "after" the canon story came out, then it is considered to be a form of "alternate universe" story; stories such as these are sometimes (though not exclusively) written as a form of literary protestFact|date=December 2007 if the new canon installment does not meet the fan author's expectations or introduces events which the fan author dislikes, such as the death of a favorite character. 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 school house.

It is worth noting that some fan fiction archives may actually have a policies that in effect forbid certain forms of "alt" fiction; those stories which are heavily derivative of the original canon (as is often the case with stories told from a different character's perspective) may well find themselves considered in violation of the Terms of Service of websites which have a particularly strict anti-plagiarism policy, such as for example Fanfiction authors often avoid issues with copyrights by putting a disclaimer at the beginning of each chapter stating that s/he owns no part of the originally published material, characters or otherwise, and the only thing they lay claim to are those aspects of the storyline that they have distorted.


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, and an episode of "The X-Files" which featured Richard Belzer as his ' character John Munch... who also later began to appear as a main character in '.


"Dark" refers to plots which introduce elements such as death, violence, betrayal or loss into series which generally do not contain these elements, such as Pokemon. "Dark" Fanfiction builds upon that preexisting emotional attachments that the readers have with the characters for dramatic effect.


"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, and to mark stories which are based explicitly and exclusively on the film adaptation. Fact|date=December 2007


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.


Uberfic is a kind of alternative universe fan fiction in which characters or events are portrayed closely to original canon but in a different time period, often featuring the ancestors, descendants or reincarnations of canon characters. The term originated in "" fandom.

Virtual seasons

The virtual season is usually a collaborative effort to produce a compilation of fan stories or scripts portraying episodes of an entire season for a television program – usually one that has been cancelled or is no longer producing new episodes. Often, these writers will elect members of their group to be the imaginary 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 reproduce and carry on the details of the program as professionally as possible. One of the first virtual seasons was for the TV series Forever Knight, which was canceled in 1996 and followed by a virtual fourth season ( [ 'V4S'] ). Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, which was canceled in 1997, spawned several virtual seasons, continuing the trend. The Unaired Fifth Season ( [ 'TUFS'] ) and Season 5 ( [ 'S5'] ) each "aired" on Sunday nights during the 1997/98 television season, while [ 'Season 6'] followed during the 1998/99 season. "Millennium" was canceled in 1999, six months short of its millennial climax, so a [ "Virtual Season 4"] completed the storyline for fans. [ "Voyager Virtual Season Project"] ran for 2 years, starting in 2001 and ending in 2003, extending "Star Trek Voyager"'s story an extra two years and into yet another "Lost in Space" adventure. The most dedicated of these virtual season teams sometimes produce fan films like [ "Star Trek, New Voyages"] .

ubgenres based on character relationships

Alternate pairing and "shipping"

In fan fiction communities, "pairing" refers exclusively to romantic or erotic involvement; never to mere friendship or team involvement. An "alternate pairing" story centers on a relationship between characters who are not involved nor seen as involved in canon.

Fans often refer to a pairing as a "ship" (short for "relationship") and people who are in favor of two particular characters pairing up are referred to as "shippers." See shipping (fandom) for more information. For example, in the Naruto fandom, there is konoha shipping, which refers to the pairing of the Sakura/Itachi heroine and the rival.

Lemon and Lime

Explicit sex stories in general, especially in "anime" fan fiction, are known as lemon, a term which comes from a Japanese slang term meaning "sexy" that itself derives from an early pornographic cartoon series called "Cream Lemon". The term lime denotes a story that has sexual themes but is not necessarily explicit. "Lemon" stories without much plot other than sex are also referred to as "smutfics"Fact|date=December 2007 or as PWPs ("Porn Without Plot" or "Plot? What Plot?").

These terms are also sometimes used now to describe original amateur fiction that is published online.

lash and het

Slash fiction is, depending on one's preferred definition: a subgenre of romance fan fiction which exclusively deals in homosexual or male homosexual relationships; a subgenre of Alternate Pairing that addresses a relationship between characters of the same gender, especially males; or the same thing as an Alternate Pairing. 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. Slash occasionally refers to any non-canon "ship" (including heterosexual ones), but most fans use it to mean specifically to same-sex pairings or even, to exclusively male same-sex pairings.

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 the opposite of "slash" (by most of the term's definitions) and femslash, yaoi, shounen-ai, yuri or shoujo-ai, classifying a romance and/or sexually explicit story which has as its main focus a heterosexual relationship.

Other subgenres

Crack!fic or Acid!fic

A form of fan fiction in which characters are put in very random, nonsensical situations, and most often are all OOCFact|date=December 2007. Its name, derived from the drugs, uses the irrationality from the drug high as an example of what to expect in the piece. Generally these are humor pieces. Also occasionally known as a "sugarfic"Fact|date=December 2007, probably from the common assertion in author's notes that the story was written on a "sugar high", or the stereotype of such.

"Crack!fic" should not be confused with "crack" being used as prefix (e.g. "crack pairing"). When used in this sense, the story may not be nonsensical or written with "OOC" characters at all, rather, it indicates that what is described with "crack" is not a commonly accepted or perhaps even thought-of element by fan fiction authors, or that the story may well be a work of parody.Fact|date=December 2007


A genre in which the story is devoid of angst and takes on a mood of light-hearted romanceFact|date=December 2007, see WAFF, above.

Religious fic

Also commonly called "conversion fic", these are stories in which the primary character or characters experience an emotional crisis and adopt religious beliefs not mentioned in canon -- almost invariably those of the writer.Fact|date=December 2007 These stories have a rather unfortunate reputation for being OOCFact|date=December 2007, and having little to do with the canon, as when Harry Potter suddenly abandons the wizarding world on being told that all magic is Satanic in origin, or when the central character in Sailor Moon becomes a Christian after a two-minute conversation with a perfect stranger. There is no inherent rule that says such stories must be unrealistic, however, and the term is used by many as a descriptor with non-derogatory connotations, especially on archives such as which have a considerable Christian presence.Fact|date=December 2007

Despite its alternative name of "religious fic", "conversion fic" should not be confused with a story in which the actual, "preexisting" beliefs of a character are examined, as the point of such stories is to show the religious conversion itself, or the results thereof.Fact|date=December 2007 Such stories have some precedence in original fiction, and to a lesser extent nonfiction works wherein similar conversions take place.


This is 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. The title of a songfic is usually the name of the song featured in the story -- but the title may use specific lyrics from a song or it may not have anything to do with the song at all. Fact|date=December 2007

Although there are plenty of fine works of fiction inspired by music, within fandom, seeing a lyric at the beginning of a story is often a warning that the fiction to follow will be sappy, or not well thought out. Therefore, "songfic" is sometimes used as a warning that the following story may not be up to standard.

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 - currently forbid the posting of songfic 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 this technically does not hold true for original song lyrics or public domain lyrics such as those of "Amazing Grace"). 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.Fact|date=December 2007

ee also

* Fan fiction
* Anime and manga terminology
* List of pornographic sub-genres


* Citation
last = Pugh
first = Sheenagh
title = The Democratic Genre: Fan Fiction in a literary context
publisher = Seren
year = 2005
isbn = 1-85411-399-2

External links

* [ The Fanfiction Glossary]
* The BBC h2g2 entry: [ Fan Fiction - a User's Guide]

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