Art & Literature

A bluffer’s guide to fanfiction

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Harry leant forwards and stared deeply into Snape’s coal-black eyes. “You’re beautiful,” he whispered, before slowly bringing his lips to the Potion Master’s soft cheek…

Don’t worry, that wasn’t a deleted chapter from the latest Harry Potter book but an example of fanfiction. Wish Harry would fall in love with Snape? Write about it. Annoyed that Buffy doesn’t have magical flying abilities? Write about it. For the uninitiated, fanfiction is a chance for fans to unleash their creative licence and write stories about their favourite characters from just about anything, from Super Mario to the Bible. The culmination of this seething underworld of dedicated fan stories comes in the almighty Fanfiction.net, with over 2.2 million users and stories in over 30 languages.

Fanfiction is a phenomenon that has been around much longer than the Internet, but has blossomed and grown a huge extent because of the power of the web. The reaction of the original authors themselves however can vary. JK Rowling herself has given her blessing to the 475,385 (and counting) Harry Potter archive of fanfiction.net, but other authors are sometimes not so willing. Anne Rice, the author of the immensely popular Interview With a Vampire and subsequent Vampire Chronicles, has forbidden fanfiction related to any of her characters and asked for any stories to be removed from the site.

Quality differs wildly and the author’s idea of a good story involving a Lord of the Rings and Teletubbies crossover may not be to your taste. Often though, the worst stories are the most entertaining, the most notorious example being the infamous Harry Potter fanfiction ‘My Immortal’, a 44 chapter epic that truly has to be seen to be believed.

Apparently meaningless jargon abounds on Fanfiction.net, and it often takes a while to realise what all the acronyms and fanfiction-specific vocabulary actually means. Do you know a Mary-Sue from an AU? Or your lemons from your OCs?

AU – alternate universe. This basically means that the author does not have to answer to literary canon as literally anything can happen. For example, Harry Potter is born to Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy in an alternate universe. Or has pink hair. Can either be good or very, very bad.

Canon – something that has happened in the book/film/game etc. and therefore can be proven to be a true event/characteristic. For example, Super Mario likes red mushrooms in the games. Therefore that is canon.

Crossover – also known as X/O or Xover. A story that involves characters from two or more different book series, films, games etc. Are very tricky to pull off but a guilty pleasure if you ever thought Artemis Fowl and Alex Rider would make a great love/hate couple.

Mary-Sue – a character created by the fanfiction author that is clearly a wish-fulfilling version of themselves. They will often be incredibly beautiful, have an unusual name and eye colour and have some sort of special power. All the canon characters will fall in love with them. The male equivalent is sometimes called a Gary-Stu.

Lemon – also lemony. For unknown reasons, lemon is often a keyword used to indicate that the following story is merely gratuitous sex scenes with little or no plot. For example ‘Edward and Jacob have hot angry sex, just a short lemon.’

OC – stands for Original Character. This will be a good version of a Mary-Sue, a character created by the author that is fairly well-written. Often included in the descriptions of stories as OCs are not usually liked in the fanfiction world.

Ship/shipping – the term for a desired relationship between characters. For example, “I ship Hermione and Ron,” means that you want them to get together.

Slash – indicates a story with homosexual pairings. Can refer to male/male or female/female. Femme slash is also used to indicate specifically female/female pairings.

This is only a short introduction to the weird and wonderful world that is fanfiction and the only way to truly understand it is to get reading!

Originally published on The Yorker 18th September 2010

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One thought on “A bluffer’s guide to fanfiction

  1. I love fanfiction! I remember writing my first fanfic when I was 12 and I was addicted to the first season of Glee…
    Look how far we’ve come.

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