Are you new to fanfiction? Do you feel lost in an impenetrable fog, bombarded by terms whose meanings elude you? Let Ms. Nitpicker shine a light through the fog--a very small, uncertain light, because fandom is large and fluid. What follows are generally accepted definitions--within an individual fandom, the meaning may vary. Furthermore, as newbies join fandoms they sometimes assign new meanings to old terms, disconcerting we oldsters.
AU or A/U: Alternate Universe. Although technically ALL fanfiction is AU, since it isn't canon, the term is reserved for stories that lift parts of the show out and put them in a totally different setting. For instance, if THE HIGHLANDER killed off Richie Ryan and continued for several seasons without him, and you object, you might write an A/U where Richie DIDN'T die and the succeeding seasons never took place. Perhaps you want to create a version of STAR TREK in which there was never a Dr. McCoy and Britney Spears was the ship's doctor--don't expect me to read it--or you want Buffy (the vampire slayer) to be a vampire and Angel (the vampire with a soul) to be a vampire slayer. These are alternate universe stories. Non-AU fanfiction tries to carry on within the limits of the actual show--perhaps showing scenes inbetween the aired events, or creating a story that could be an episode of the show without confusing anyone too much.
ACTOR FICTION: Also known as RL FICTION or Real People fiction. Fanfiction about the real-life actor who plays your favorite character on that show. Often said actor is portrayed as changing places with the fictional character. Although meant as a compliment, actor fiction is often extremely annoying to the victim, particularly when the actor is portrayed engaging in sexual acts which may not appeal to said actor. Writing actor fiction is neither a mature nor a kind act, and actor fiction is rightfully banned from many archives and mailing lists. (Sorry--Ms. Nitpicker has read and enjoyed some RL Fiction, but her somewhat harsh dictate still stands.)
ANIME: Japanese animation. A popular area for fanfiction. See Josei Ni for a glossary of anime terms.
AU: Alternate Universe. Maybe you want to do a story where Han Solo is and always was a woman, but everything else about the Star Wars universe is unchanged. That's an Alternate Universe. Generally you need to clearly label AU stories so readers aren't confused. See CANON, below.
BETA READER: A brave soul who will read your rough draft and provide proofreading for punctuation/spelling and/or criticism for characterizations/plot. Your story almost certainly needs one or more beta readers. The quality of beta readers, alas, varies widely. The term "BETA" is also widely used alone; you may post a beta version of a story, or belong to a beta mailing list that will proofread your story as your post it.
CANON: Anything which appeared in the actual series/movie and therefore can be "proven" to be a genuine aspect of the show or character. If we saw the character eating cats in an episode, it is canon that he/she/it eats cats, no matter how much we dislike the idea.
CON: Ms. Nitpicker cannot avoid snide thoughts about the similarities between "conning" or tricking someone out of money and holding a fannish "convention," but she will spare you her wisecracks. A con is a gathering of fen, and may be tiny or as immense as the WorldCon (World Science Fiction Convention). Some cons focus on a specific fandom; others, like the fanzine convention MediaWest, are media-wide. Some have websites on the Internet. Most cons include some combination of a dealer's room where you can purchase photos, fan art, fanzines, jewelry, costumes, and so forth; video rooms that air movies, episodes of TV shows, or fan-made video clips; panels, or mixed lectures/discussions about aspects of fandom ("Can Vampires Get AIDS?," "Sidekicks," "Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex"); costume contests; dances; and/or plays related to fandom.
CROSSOVER: Sometimes this appears as X/O or Xover. A story which involves two or more different shows. For instance, Jane Leavell's "Quantum Island" crosses QUANTUM LEAP with GILLIGAN'S ISLAND. A good crossover is difficult to produce, as first you must have a good combination and secondly a reasonable excuse for the two of them getting involved--they can't just happen to stumble across each other. There's no reason why Horatio Hornblower would meet Starsky & Hutch, for instance, and "Because I wanna!" is no excuse, but if one of the shows you're crossing involved time travel, it might work.
DISCLAIMER: Also known as HEADER INFO. Traditionally put at the top of the story, a disclaimer may include a legal disclaimer announcing that you don't make money at this and don't want to infringe on the creators' rights; SPOILERS (which see) and warnings such as "character death"; a brief plot summary; a mention of distribution--what archives can post this piece without asking you for permission; a dedication or thank you to beta readers; something about story length; which chapter this is (with the format 1/5 meaning part one of five parts); and so on. Different archives and mailing lists may require different information.
DRABBLE: Writing drabble is similar to saying, "I've written some really cool dialogue, or conceived a neat scene that has no plot or point, and rather than come up with a story to put it in, I'm just going to post it and wait for praise." Similar to PWP, except limited to one hundred words.
F/F: Also known as "Femslash." Designates a story or fanzine focussing on a homosexual relationship between women. The story itself may involve no actual sex scenes or 'offensive' content. Some authors use capital letters for adult protagonists and small case for teen or child partners. SEE ALSO: "slash" and "M/M."
FANON: "Fanon" is a detail about a particular show or character that was created by a fan but has now been generally borrowed/copied/accepted as canon by many other writers. For instance, in a story about THE SENTINEL, Susan Williams had Blair borrowing Jim's Cascade PD sweatshirt, and now sweatshirt-borrowing is often portrayed as Blair's habit in other stories by other writers, making it fanon. See also: CANON.
FANZINE: A fan-created "magazine," a printed (or in early days a mimeographed) collection of fan fiction, articles, and fan art. These are not as numerous or as popular as they once were, because they are expensive, and most fen are busy downloading fannish items from the Internet for free. One advantage to a fanzine is that it may have a good editor and good beta-readers, with the result that the stories will be superior to ones blithely posted on the Internet by bad spellers/bad writers. Another advantage is that you can read them in the bathtub, which Ms. Nitpicker does not recommend for Palm Pilots or laptops or PC's. Fanzines can be purchased online but it's better to pick them up at a convention, where you can see the quality before shelling out big bucks. Mediawest, a con held at Lansing, Michigan, over Memorial Day Weekend, is a big fanzine convention--well, big in the historical sense, as the actual attending membership is deliberately limited to 500 fen--and they have a website with information about attending.
FEN: A plural form of "fan."
FILK: As a noun, this refers to a parody song with a scientific or science fiction leaning to the replacement lyrics. As a verb, to sing songs that parody a known tune but contain lyrics relating to science/sci fi/fantasy/media.
FLAME: When you viciously attack a writer for bad writing or for daring to write a story with a pairing or subject that repulses you, you are "flaming." There is a huge difference between thoughtful balanced criticism and outright flames, yet many fen confuse the two. (One problem is that e-mail, unlike face-to-face discussion, is impersonal and what is said in it often comes across as more harsh than the author intended. Flame wars may break out when friends leap to the defense of someone, mistaking a joking remark or a poorly worded observation for a vile slur.) Ms. Nitpicker recommends that before sending an impassioned complaint to an author, one should read the complaint ten times, hold it for two days, and repeat. A flame is never invited, and is never excusable. If you cannot stomach that subject matter or that romantic pairing, don't read the story--end of discussion.
GEN: A story or fanzine fit for general audiences, in the original usage, and therefore lacking in explicit sex of any kind. With the widespread popularity of "slash," the meaning is changing , and "gen" is often used to mean "may have porn, but no same sex stuff." Some fen are attempting to use "het" for stories that involve heterosexual explicit sex, thus leaving "gen" as "no worse than what you see on network TV."
H/C: "Hurt/comfort." One or more characters will be hurt (physically or emotionally or mentally), and one or more characters will suffer angst over this and try to comfort the victim. This is a popular category within fanfiction.
HET: Story or fanzine with explicit scenes of heterosexual sexual acts. See also: SLASH and GEN.
LOC: "Letter of Comment." Also known as "feedback." Supremely important to fanfic authors, yet often neglected by readers, an LoC can be as simple as "Loved it. More, please?" or as detailed as pages of critique. Praise can be offered without invitation; criticism should be delicately handled, perhaps not even offered unless the author specifically requests it somewhere in the header/disclaimer, lest the author mistake it for FLAMING. Ms. Nitpicker herself very much appreciates feedback and has gratefully corrected mistakes caught by observant readers. LOC is sometimes used as a verb, as in, "I feel guilty that I don't LoC more often."
M/M: Nothing to do with candy; in fact, it designates a story or fanzine focused on a homosexual relationship between two males. The story itself may involve no actual sex scenes or offensive content. Some authors use capital letters for adult protagonists and small case for teen or child partners. SEE ALSO: F/F and SLASH.
MARY SUE: A character who is clearly the author's alter ego and therefore incredibly perfect; incredibly beautiful--often with unusually colored eyes/hair; incredibly talented--often gifted musically and magically; has a tragic past; and is either related to or beloved by one or more of the show's main characters. Mary Sue may die in the arms of a series character, having given her all. Occasionally appears as a male, but because it's less common there is no commonly accepted name for the male: some references include Harry Sue, Barry Sue, or Marty Stu. In THE SENTINEL fandom, it's Blairy Sue, since Blair is often reduced to being a Mary Sue. Mary Sue as a term originated in fandom for the original STAR TREK series, when Paula Smith wrote a humorous piece about the incredibly perfect Lieutenant Mary Sue saving the Enterprise.
MST: Inspired by the cable series MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000, MSTing a story means taking someone else's story and adding in your own smart-alec comments, mocking it. One might consider it Ms. Nitpicker out of control. Unlike Ms. Nitpicker, an MST doesn't generally keep the victim anonymous. It can be very funny, but also very cruel. The standard version uses the actual narrators from the real MST 3000, mocking the story as they mock bad movies on their series, but other writers use characters from the story's universe--for instance, Harry Potter might insist he would never behave that way. Personal attacks on the author of the original badfic are sometimes part of the piece.
N/C: Nonconsensual. These initials warn you that the story will involve rape in some form.
OC or OFC or OMC: Original Character or Original Female Character or Original Male Character (less commonly used). Not to be confused with Mary Sue...unless badly written. Often included in headers so that people who dislike original characters (because they take away from "screen time" for the show's characters or for fear that they will turn out to be Mary Sues) can avoid reading the story.
OOC: Out of Character. This is a label applied when your story has someone behaving in a manner totally unlike the real character--Spock from the original Star Trek series laughing and joking with crew members on deck, for instance.
PAIRING: A romantic/sexual linking of characters within a show, sometimes indicated with initials ("K/S" would be Kirk and Spock from the original STAR TREK) and sometimes by combining the characters' names ("Tibbs" would be Tony and Gibbs from NCIS, for instance). Usually the reader is warned with these acronyms or combined names in the header or disclaimer so she can skip romantic relationships she doesn't like.
POV: Point Of View. See Ms. Nitpicker's guide for details.
PWP: Plot What Plot; also referred to as "Porn Without Plot". In other words, "I've written something that has no plot whatsoever and I think you want to waste some time and therefore will read it." Consider it fair warning that what you will read exists only for some obsessive focus such as hurt/comfort. This may run for dozens of page, if the author wants to linger on scenes of gratuitous sex between characters. See also: DRABBLE.
SHIPPER: Short for "relationshipper." The story is semi-romantic and revolves around a romantic pairing; the story itself may or may not involve graphic sex. Generally that pairing involves two series characters, not an original character paired with a series character. In some fandoms, a shipper story is strictly heterosexual; in others (such as BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER), anything goes.
SLASH: Originally taken from descriptions of Kirk and Spock as sexual partners; the stories were labeled "Kirk/Spock" and thereafter stories about homosexual pairings--whether male/male or female/female, and whether or not they involved graphic sex scenes--were referred to as "slash" stories. A few newbies (people new to fandom) have tried to stretch this, using "slash" to mean sex of any kind, but that isn't the generally accepted definition. See also: GEN and HET.
SONGFIC: Fanfiction inspired by/heavily laden with song lyrics. Ms. Nitpicker strongly recommends against this practice, outside of music wheel circles, since she is unfamiliar with 90% of the songs involved and therefore the intended impact of the piece is totally lost. Unless the actual music is unimportant and you only intend for us to be moved by the great lyrics, songfic is difficult to successfully churn out. However, this is a popular genre of fanfic.
SPOILERS: Often mentioned in the headers as warnings that the story may give away plotlines from a particular episode or particular season, so people who don't want clues about future events can avoid reading that particular story until they've seen the listed episodes.
SQUICK: Anything in fanfic which might make a reader queasy. What that might be varies between fandoms and even within mailing lists in a fandom. Character death is a major squick issue; sexual orientation, excessive violence or gore, or original female characters may do it for some.
TPTB: The Powers That Be. Generally used as a reference to the unknown bureaucratic types who actually own the movie or series we're writing about; often referred to in headers/disclaimers, which see. BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER appropriated the term--creator Joss Whedon is known to visit BTVS message boards--for the vaguely god-like beings who run the universe in his television series.
WIP: Work In Progress. In other words, a warning that it may never be finished, and that the author may not have edited it thoroughly or thought out the plot/characterization/point of the story.
YAOI: In anime, refers to PWP stories about gay relationships, often tragic ones.
YURI: In anime, a distortion of YAOI, referring to PWP stories about lesbian relationships, often tragic.
Visit MS. NITPICKER'S GUIDE TO WRITING MARGINALLY READABLE FAN FICTION.