In my last blog post, I detailed terms associated with fandom. In this post, I want to look at terms that are specific to writing and reading fanfiction.
Enjoying fanfiction often means finding and reading the right stories, and avoiding the wrong ones. Within fandom, right and wrong are not necessarily correlated with good and bad writing (although fans do tend to prefer well-written stories) but with the content of that writing. While some sites, like FanFction.net, have limited filters that can be applied to searches, Archive of Our Own (AO3) allows users to customize tags, making them very specific to the story. However, in order to navigate tags, readers need to familiarize themselves with the jargon of fic. Do you prefer het or slash? Do you want smut or a slow burn? Would you prefer an AU set in the omega ‘verse or high school (or an omega ‘verse high school)? Although “tag wranglers” will link similar search terms, fans need a shared code so that readers can find fics that best fit their interests.
Consider this story on AO3 by CaptainMercy42. The writer is providing a lot of very useful information, but readers need to have the vocabulary to decipher it.
Gen: Gen is a shorted form of “general” and refers to fic where the primary focus is not on romantic relationships. These stories might feature action/adventure plotlines or be focused on character friendships.
Het: Het is a shortened version of “heterosexual” and indicates a story with heteronormative romantic pairings.
Slash: The term slash originates from fans’ use of a slash to indicate a
romantic relationship in a story. For example, if I am looking for a Supernatural fic, “Dean, Sam” indicates a story in which both brothers are present, but “Dean/Sam” let’s me know that it is Wincest—Sam and Dean in a romantic relationship. Although heterosexual pairings are also indicated by a slash (Buff/Spike), the term slash refers specifically to same-sex, generally male-identifying, pairings. Slash fiction originates from the Star Trek fandom and the relationship between Kirk and Spock. It remains common today, especially in fandoms formed around male-centric stories, like Supernatural, Lord of the Rings, and Sherlock.
WIP: WIP is an acronym for “Work in Progress.” The publication of most longer fanfic is serialized, usually broken up into chapters. This practice helps readers, who might be overwhelmed by a 254,000 word fic, to read novel-lengthen works by segmenting them into more manageable chunks. It also helps the writer to attract new readers—the story refreshes at the top of the archive page each time it is updated. In many, though not all cases, the writer has not entirely finished the work when she or he begins publishing it. There are some stories that are abandoned by writers who either get stuck with the plot or no longer have the free time to write and remain unfinished (I have one or two of them kicking around). For that reason, some fans have an aversion to WIP stories.
OOC: An acronym for “Out of Character.” As Sheegan Pugh notes, because fanfic writers and readers are so invested in the characters of a media property, being told by other fans that a character is OOC is a fairly harsh critique. However, it worth noting that not all fans have the same interpretations of characters, so that characters that might seem OOC to some fans, will be in keeping with the interpretations of others (Pugh 70-71). Fans might indicate their interpretations of characters through story tags like “jerk!Xander” or “Dany is the Mad Queen.”
OC: Not to be confused with OOC, OC refers to a prominently featured original character. These are characters that do not appear in the source text, but are including in a fan’s fic. OCs can be used to present a new, sometimes outsider, perspective on the media property’s universe or might be instrumental to the plot of the story. Fans are sometimes reticent to put original characters in their stories because they do not want to risk writing a Mary Sue.
Mary Sue: The term Mary Sue originates from Star Trek fandom. Camile Bacon-Smith explains that a Mary Sue “is young and desirable, competent and moral. Her intellectual and physical attributes not only meet the writer’s standard for the perfect woman, but the people she admires appreciate her value as well” (97). A Mary Sue is an overly idealized woman: she is intelligent, beautiful, capable, skilled, and every male character falls madly in love with her. Often viewed as an author avatar, these characters are derided across fandoms. While the term originated in Star Trek fanfiction, on occasion, fans will use the term to deride canonical characters. For example, Bella Swan from the Twilight series shares many idealized characteristics with fans’ Mary Sues, and many people consider her to be an author avatar for Stephanie Meyers. A male version of this trope, Harry Stu, does exist, but the label is much more likely to be applied to original female characters.
AU: AU is an acronym for Alternative Universe, a label used to indicate to readers that the story will diverge from the source texts’ canon. There are two prominent approaches to this divergence. The first is to ignore or rewrite events in the canon, while maintain the canonical setting and world building. In these stories, writers ask “what if Buffy had never returned to Sunnydale after season two?” or “what if Harry’s parents had not been murdered by Voldemort?” Then based on what the writer knows about the characters and the world of the source text, they extrapolate an answer.
The second AU approach is to take characters from the setting and genre of one story and put them into a different one. The characters and their relationships stay intact, but fans have the opportunity to explore different facets of them. AU stories might remove supernatural or science fiction elements (called “all-human” AU) or introduce them a more realistic source text. Subgenres of this form of AU include Modern AU, High school/College AU, Historical AU, Coffee Shop AU, Fairytale AU, and Omega ‘verse AU (See below).
PWP: An acronym for “Plot? What plot?,” these stories tend to be focused on characters’ relationships rather than the events of the story. Initially, these stories could focus on any aspect of the relationship, but the term has now come to more specifically connote smut or erotica.
Real-Person Fic (Celebrity Fic): These stories are fictional accounts of real people. They used to be considered taboo in fandom, but have come to be more widely accepted. In these stories, fans fictionalize (and often sexualize) the relationships between celebrities, often the actors working on the set of a television show or film or musicians in a band together. Writers are clear that this is not what they believe is actually happening between these celebrities, but some members of fan communities object to these stories, viewing them as invasive. Others feel that they are relatively harmless, because it is unlikely that the celebrities they are written about will ever encounter them and they are recognized as fictional accounts. (See Kristina Busse, “My Life Is a WIP on My LJ”)
RPS: An acronym for “Real Person Slash,” the stories focus on same-sex romantic relationships between celebrities, generally actors on set or members in a boyband. Like Real-Person Fics (described above), these stories are about fictionalized versions of real people, not fictional characters.
Hurt/Comfort: Hurt/Comfort is a subgenre of fanfiction. In these stories, one character has been emotionally, physically, or sexually harmed, and the other offers care and comfort. This genre tends to use physical or psychological damage to make a generally tough and closed off character more vulnerable and open. Hurt/Comfort can be used to deepen friendships between characters, but it is more often a way to get characters to recognize (and even sometimes admit) the feelings that they have for one another. Sometimes Hurt/Comfort stories result in sex between the two characters; sometimes they do not. If sex is included, it is generally used to illustrate the increased intimacy between the characters. (See Bacon-Smith for a fuller discussion of the genre).
Slow Burn: The term slow burn is used to describe the pace of romantic development between characters in a fic. If a story is described as a slow burn, you can expect that it will take chapters and chapters for characters to discover their attraction, and even longer to act on it. This trope is in direct contrast with love-at-first-sight or insta-love clichés, and these stories also tend to include “mutual pining” and may also be tagged as “friends to lovers.” The slow pace of romantic development allows fans to explore characters more fully and to develop the reasons for and foundation of their romantic relationship.
Fluff: The term fluff is used to describe feel-good stories that focus on the affection between characters. Fluff often, though not necessarily, refers to romantic relationships, though the tag might also be applied to friendships. These stories often do not have much in the way of conflict or plot, but are meant to give positive, uplifting feels.
Angst: The opposite of fluff. In angst stories, conflict abounds. They might be dark, bitter, and depressing. Most longer stories will combine fluff with angsty misunderstandings, sometimes as a way to prolong the slow burn.
Smut: Stories that include sexually explicit scenes. In some cases, smut will be incorporated into a larger narrative as a way to explore characters’ growing romantic intimacy. In PWP stories, the entire story is smut. On sites like Archive of Our Own, fans will include additional tags to let readers know what kind of sexually content to expect from the story (for example, cunninglus, mutual masturbation, light BSDM, spanking, etc.).
Alpha/Beta/Omega (A/B/O; Omega ‘verse): Generally considered a kink trope, the Alpha/Beta/Omega tag refers to a specific genre of AU set in a ‘verse with a bio-socio-sexual hierarchy. One’s place within this hierarchy is biologically determined and dictates both social and sexual behavior. Same sex intercourse and male pregnancy are built into the Omega ‘verse, and tends to be associated with slash pairings and mpreg stories. However, women can also take on alpha, beta, and omega roles, and alpha women can impregnate omega men. Alphas tend to be dominant and aggressive; they are the ones doing the impregnating. Betas are subordinate to the alpha’s but dominant over omegas. In some stories they can impregnate Omegas, in some they can’t. Omegas are the lowest members of the hierarchy and can be impregnated by Alphas. Characters may also be tagged as alpha, betas, or omegas, as in “Alpha Dean,” “Omega Sherlock.” While often fans will assign the roles of alpha, beta, and omega depending on their interpretations of characters, in other instances, writers will pay with characters, making usually dominant or aggressive characters omegas. (For more information see Omegaverse Explanation and Guide.)
MPreg: Stories that feature male pregnancy. These pregnancies might be biologically, like what we find in the Omega ‘verse, magically, or technologically explained within the logic of the story. Tags will frequently also let readers know which partner is going to be impregnated.
Busse, Kristina. “My Life is a WIP on My LJ: Slashing the Slasher and the Reality of Celebrity and Internet Performances.” Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet, Ed. Karen Hellekson and Kristina Busse, McFarland, 2006.
Bacon-Smith, Camille. Enterprising Women: Television Fandom and the Creation of Popular Myth. University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992.
Pugh, Sheenagh. The Democratic Genre: Fan Fiction in a literary context. Poetry Wales Press, 2005.
Pupperlover857. “Omegaverse Explanation and Guide!” Deviantart.com, 18 March 2014, https://www.deviantart.com/puppylover857/journal/Omegaverse-Explanation-and-Guide-441250200.