Bad Fanfic! No Biscuit!
Below is a list of common terms you may see in the fanfic world. If there are terms not included here that you think should be, let us know.
Please note that the majority of terms given below are not in any dictionary and, as such, their definitions are fluid. Different people in different subsets of the fanfic/fandom community may have different definitions of many of these terms. We have included here the definitions that we personally use and that are the most common in our experience.
- fan fiction/fanfic
- fiction written by fans about characters created by someone else. Generally, fanfic is written about movie or television characters. Fanfic is never written for profit, only for the enjoyment of fellow fans. Copyright on the characters (and anything else borrowed) is owned by the originator (usually the production company or studio that produces the show/movie).
- Depending on whom you ask, slash usually has one of the following two definitions:
A "slasher" is a person who reads and/or writes slash.
- Fiction involving sexual/intimate relationships between same-sex (i.e. homosexual) couples
- Fiction involving sexual/intimate relationships between two characters who don't have such a relationship on the show.
- (shortened from "General") The opposite of slash. Extrapolating from above, we see that gen can be defined as either:
- Fiction involving sexual/intimate relationships between opposite-sex (i.e. heterosexual) couples
- Fiction involving sexual/intimate relationships between two characters who do have such a relationship on the show.
- that which is sanctioned as being part of the storyline by The Powers That Be (q.v.). Almost by definition, all episodes of a TV series (or all movies of a movie series) are canon. Sometimes, the creator of the series will also declare that certain novels or comic books are also canon.
- that which is not sanctioned as being part of the storyline by The Powers That Be. Almost by definition, all fanfic is non-canon.
- beta reader
- A beta reader (sometimes just "beta") is a person who reads a fanfic before it is officially released (i.e. posted on the Web or mailing lists). A beta reader is basically like an editor, checking the story over for mechanical problems (grammar, spelling, punctuation) as well as for things like plot holes, characterization, and all the other stuff we talk about on our Common Errors page.
(The term "beta reader" comes from the software world, where software that is ready to be tested by experienced users, but not yet ready to be released to actual customers, is referred to as "beta." Software in even earlier stages of development is called "alpha.")
For a complete explanation of why you should always use a beta reader when you're writing fanfic, read Siubhan's essay on betas.
- fanfic involving characters from more than one fandom. Example: Mulder and Scully go to Sunnydale to investigate vampire activities, and meet up with Buffy.
- generic term for fan activities related to a particular show/series/movie/etc. For example, you might hear someone say, "X-Files is my main fandom, but I'm also into Highlander." This is not the same as saying "I watch X-Files and Highlander." The term "fandom" specifically refers to involvement in fan activities such as reading and writing fanfic, going to conventions, posting on show-related lists and websites and message boards, and so forth. The term "genre" is also sometimes used in this context.
- Feedback is when you contact the author of a fanfic to tell him/her what you thought of it. A common lament you will hear from fanfic authors is that they don't get enough feedback. Every fanfic author loves to get feedback. They love it if it's "I liked your story," and they particularly love it if it's "I liked your story" followed by ten paragraphs on why you liked it.
If you ever find yourself thinking, "This story was great," please take a moment to email the author and say so. Don't worry that a simple "I liked it" will sound silly. The author will be happy to hear it anyway. And don't ever say to yourself, "Aw, I'm sure that author gets lots of feedback, she doesn't need mine." Not true! Even if she gets fifty emails of praise per day, she will still be happy to see yours. She can never get enough feedback. Trust us. We know.
(However, if you really hate the story, don't flame the author into oblivion. You can offer constructive criticism, but it's usually a good idea to first find out whether the author is interested in hearing it. An author might not appreciate receiving unsolicited "how to improve your story" advice from a complete stranger.)
- Mary Sue
- A story where the author has blatantly written herself in as a romantic foil for one (or more) of the characters. A good Mary Sue explanation page is: Self-Insertion and Mary-Sue-ism.
- A combination of characters that are romantically/sexually involved in a fanfic. Although technically the word "pair" means exactly two, a fanfic "pairing" can often be a threesome or more (e.g. Angel/Drusilla/Spike).
- The Powers That Be (TPTB)
- a somewhat facetious term used to refer to the people in charge of putting out a given show. For example, the show's creator and executive producer(s); the executives at the studio that finances the show; the executives at the network who decide when the show will air, etc. Sometimes the writers of the show are also included in this; however, the actors usually are not. If you're feeling particularly annoyed with an executive decision, the alternative term TIIC (The Idiots In Charge) can also be used.
- round robin
- a story that is written by several authors in turn. One author writes a chapter (or a few paragraphs), then the next person picks up where that one left off, and so on. Like all fanfic, round-robin stories are of varying quality, but there's a lot of room for trouble especially if the participants don't write in similar styles.
- short for "relationship." This term first arose in X-Files fandom to refer to the idea of Mulder and Scully getting romantically involved. "X-Files Shippers" were fans who thought Mulder and Scully should get together on the show (as opposed to the fans who enjoyed reading fanfic about them, but didn't actually want them together in canon).
However, the term has evolved and now refers generally to any combination of characters. A 'ship is a pairing of characters, and a 'shipper is someone who enjoys that pairing. (For example, you might see someone say, "Buffy/Faith is my favorite 'ship.") Usually, but not always, "shippers" want to see a romantic relationship between the characters, as opposed to mere hot sex -- that is, if you like reading about Buffy and Faith settling down together and raising kittens, you're a shipper; if you just want them to screw, the term "pairing" is used instead of "ship." In this context, a fanfic that involves romance is referred to as "shippy."
Some self-styled shippers that we have encountered claim that the term should only be used for heterosexual pairings. These people strike us as rather homophobic; they don't want their shippiness associated with those nasty, dirty gay people. In this context, "slasher" is sort of the opposite of "shipper." However, we don't like that definition. We think of a shipper as someone who wants to see her chosen pair of characters in a loving, long-term relationship. So why shouldn't those characters be same-sex? Hey, some of us think Mulder could be a lot happier in the long run if he were with Skinner than with Scully.
- This term comes from literary analysis circles, where it refers to any element of plot, especially related to character psychology, that is not explicitly stated but rather implied. In fandom terms, it generally refers to anything you see in the show that seems to imply sexual attraction between two characters -- almost, but not always, used for two characters of the same sex. This term first arrived on the fandom scene in relation to Xena and Gabrielle on "Xena, Warrior Princess" when fans of the show began to see what they considered subtle hints that Xena and Gabrielle were "more than friends." (For example, many consider the hot-tub scene in the episode "A Day in the Life" to be one of the classic subtext moments between Xena and Gabrielle.) A scene, line of dialogue, or episode may be said to be "subtexty."
The opposite of subtext is maintext. By definition, any romantic/sexual relationship between characters that takes place onscreen is maintext.
What about all those pesky abbreviations I see in people's story summaries?
- 1/5, 6/24, etc.
- The first number tells you which chapter or "part" this is. The second number tells you how many parts there are in total. The slash symbol should be read as the word "of." For example, 1/2 ("one of two") means this is the first of two chapters. 3/7 means this is the third of seven chapters. 4/? means this is the fourth chapter and the author doesn't know how many total chapters there will be.
("7/9" means this is a story about the Borg Babe. Ha! Ha! I crack me up!)
- AU (or A/U)
- Alternate Universe. Often used in fanfic to describe a story that departs from canon. For instance, a story where Darth Maul doesn't die at the end of "The Phantom Menace", or a "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" story where Kendra is attending college with Buffy, etc.
- B&D, B/D, bd
- Bondage and Domination. Mind and control games, sometimes with humiliation involved. Fully consensual.
- Hurt/Comfort. A story where the author injures one character purely for the purpose of having another character tend to him/her, often leading to sex.
- Non-consensual (i.e. rape).
- "Plot, What Plot?". (Some people also call it "Porn Without Plot.") A piece that is purely sex with very little redeeming value.
- S&M, S/M, sm
- Sadism and Masochism. Involves actual pain and humiliation. Always consensual. If non-consensual, it's just sadism.
- Unresolved Sexual Tension. Specifically refers to any hint of sexual tension that you see on the show. This term first appeared in relation to Mulder and Scully of "The X-Files," between whom many fans saw a certain degree of erotic/romantic tension from the very earliest days of the series. (See also "subtext.")
- But wait, I saw "G/X" on a fanfic and you haven't explained that one!
- If you see two letters separated by a slash ("/") and it's not one of the terms described above, chances are it denotes the pairing involved in the story. The two letters are the initials of the characters involved. G/X could be Gabrielle/Xena, Giles/Xander, or something else depending on context.
Many fandoms also have special abbreviations for character variations; for example, "Buffy" fic authors use "A" for Angel and "Aus" or "A(us)" for Angelus. "Hercules" authors use "AGoL" for "Ares God of Love" (from the alternate-universe episodes) and "AGoW" for "Ares God of War." "X-Files" authors use "Sc" for Scully and "Sk" for Skinner, and so forth. If you're involved in a particular fandom, you just need to figure out the various abbreviations used for that fandom's characters.
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Last updated January 4, 2001