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Fandomology! A Brief and Not-at-all-Comprehensive Guide to Fandom Concepts

This page is designed to be used as a brief Glossary of Terms, concepts, and references to places/communities within fandom that get brought up on Fanbatte! and elsewhere within the site.

This page is an ongoing WIP (work-in-progress) and will hopefully be updated as discussions of fandom turn out more terms and concepts that might not be familiar to everyone. If there’s a concept you’re looking for that’s not on here, we recommend fanlore as an excellent place to find information about fandom, written by fans.

The List:

Fandom is a community of fans (or “fen”). Mostly these days fandoms are online, active groups of fans, but often creators to their entire body of fans as a “fandom,” including fans who never interact with other fans.

Fanfic, aka “fic” or “fanfiction”: When someone writes a story based on someone else’s story, or based on an existing event or person in history, while still leaving the source recognizable in their own work.

fanart: same thing but with pretty pictures instead of pretty words.

Canon: the inspiration source for the new work.

Archives: websites that host works of fanfic, fanart, or other types of fanwork. Archive-based fandoms are primarily structured around people interacting on their own fandom archives, either in fan forums, mailing lists, or individually.

Fannish: an adjective that describes fan activity, or the experience or culture of being a fan. Something “fannish” can be anything related to fandom–e.g. “a fannish custom”–or it could be a person describing their own activity, e.g. “I love Death Note but I’m not really fannish about it.”

Monofannish: a fan who is only in one fandom, or only one fandom at one time.

Pan-fandom: a general description for trends that apply to all or many fandoms, or for people who interact with many fandoms at once. Tumblr, for example, has become a huge pan-fandom hub.

Community-based fandoms involve journaling/blogging communities that have high numbers of fans:,,,, and others. In many fandoms, fanworks may be housed in archives, but the fans themselves blog and interact with each other in these more open fan spaces. The primary difference between archive-based fandoms and community-based fandoms is that archive-based fandoms are more isolated: fans tend to just interact with other fans within that single fandom. In communal fan spaces, fans of all kinds of canons interact and come into contact with each other. More recently, Tumblr and Twitter have taken over many kinds of fan discussion, both individual and pan-fandom, that previously happened on blogging sites.

AU (Alternate Universe): When one or more elements of a story’s plot, characters, or settings are altered, but the story itself remains recognizable as being linked back to the original source material, e.g. “Shakespeare on the moon” or “Twilight with space vampires.”

Crossover, or X-over: fanwork that brings characters from one source text into another setting from another source text. Comics do this all the time; tv franchises do too, like David Caruso appearing as the same character on all the CSI shows, Cheers characters appearing on Frasier, etc. (Usually those stories are within the same universe; other examples of characters from outside the same universes crossing over would be Freddy v/s Jason or Alien v/s Predator. And, well, everything here.

Fix-it fic: this is fiction that attempts to fix something the fan feels that the original canon got wrong. A published example of this would be My Fair Lady “fixing” the ending of Pygmalion; in fandom, the most widespread example is the many, many fics that pretend the Harry Potter series epilogue didn’t exist.

Mary Sue (or Gary Stu). An original character (female; the male versions are known as Gary Stus) who is often inserted into fan fiction to interact with characters. A typical Mary Sue is unidimensionally perfect: too kind, popular, talented, lucky, smart, and beautiful to be realistic. The term Mary Sue originated in fandom, but can be found throughout original fiction as well. My two favorite examples of a Mary Sue/Gary Stu are found in Jean Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear and Pat Conroy’s Lords of Discipline.

RPF (Real Person Fiction). Stories about real people, e.g. The Tudors, The Other Boleyn Girl, Real Housewives of New Jersey (sort of), The Queen, The King’s Speech, Apollo 13, Ray, Charlie Wilson’s War, Island of the Blue Dolphins, The Iliad, all of the Shakespeare histories and most of the tragedies, etc. etc. etc.

RPF is a mildly controversial form of fanfiction, but in terms of narratives throughout history, it’s basically the most common type of storytelling there is.

RPS (Real Person Slash): slash involving real people, e.g. the RPS between Harvey Milk/Scott Smith in the film Milk.

Slash. Basically, fanwork that focuses on queer relationships, usually the ones the source text never got around to telling us about. But it’s okay! We figured it out anyway. :)


Fandom Websites We Reference:

AO3, the Archive Of Our Own, is a pan-fandom fic archive created by fans and run by members of the OTW., is a fandom-run blogging community created after Strikethrough as an alternative to Livejournal, which remains the largest blogging site used by fandom communities.

The Organization for Transformative Works, a non-profit organization created by fans to advocate for the legitimacy of fandom and fanworks, as well as to “provide access to and preserve the history of fanworks and fan cultures.”

Yuletide is a rare-fandom fic challenge that runs every year in late December. It is perhaps the largest pan-fandom fic challenge in the English language, with roughly 3,000 participants in 2011.


Writings About Fandom:

Fanfiction and the law: For breakdowns of the legal status of fanfiction in the U.S, please see the legal section of The Organization for Transformative Works; Kate Nepveu’s brief summary of case law concerning fanfiction; and this listing of legal articles on the subject of fanfiction.

Defenses of Fanfiction: For more defenses and explications of fanfiction and fan culture, see: Fanfiction is Not thought Crime; The Anti-Fanfic Bingo Card #1 and Anti-FF Bingo discussion; Fandom & charity work; Cory Doctorow: In Praise of Fanfic; The Ecstasy of Influence; Rebecca Tushnet’s take on Transformativeness; and finally Lev Grossman’s fabulous Time Magazine cover article, “How Harry Potter Became the Boy Who Lived Forever.”

Pro Authors Who Support Fanfic: Please see This fantastic list as a starting point, and feel free to update it with your own information about authors who support fanfiction. Also, I would like to ask that you please consider supporting the authors on this list by buying their works and letting them know how much you appreciate their support of and participation in fannish spaces and endeavours.

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