Destina's Fan Fiction FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

Note: The information in this primer was culled from numerous sources, and as such, there is always room for error. If you spot an inaccuracy or have a suggestion for a topic or definition to be added, please educate me and I'll fix the problem or add the item.
Many thanks to the Fannish Butterfly for helping me make the FAQ more accurate.

This section is laid out according to topic. You can either read straight through the guideline, or you can click on a particular topic and go directly there.

Go to beginning of the FAQ
1. Where did fan fiction originate?
2.Is it true the first fanfic was gay fiction!!?
3. Do the creators of the various shows support or discourage fan fiction?
4. What does the term "Mary Sue" refer to?
5. Slash fic is what, exactly?
6. What's (fill in the blank) mean? - common terms defined
7. Does the sexual content in my story matter, and should I warn the reader?
8. Can I use the original characters from someone else's story?
9. I have the best story ever written. How do I find people who want to read it?
10. You keep talking about formatting - what do I need to do?
11. My memory isn't perfect, but I don't think anyone will notice I left out some details of the character's history...should I fix it?

1. Where did fan fiction originate?
The first recognized and widely read fan fiction came into being as a result of the fan fervor over Star Trek. Fans were frustrated by the cancellation of their favorite show. As the groundswell of support gained momentum, fans began to imagine and write their own adventures. Privately published magazines (now known as fanzines or zines) soon popped up at conventions, featuring a wide variety of fan stories, and fan fiction was born. The first US mediazine/fanzine was Spockanalia; the first few were published before the show was off the air, around 1969, and the zines did include fanfic.
2. Is it true the first fan fiction was gay fiction?!!?
Though many people seem to have that impression, it's not correct. Kirk/Spock stories, dealing with previously unexplored (and definitely unimagined) aspects of their relationship, appeared in the late seventies. These stories dealt with male/male homosexual or homoerotic relationships, and soon became known as slash fiction, for the slash mark between Kirk/Spock. This distinguished these stories from other types of stories being published. Previous to that time, there was a great deal of pre-slash, without the line being crossed into explicit smut and so forth. However, there was plenty of fan fiction that dealt with regular mission adventures, male/female romances, and so forth, and that remains true today. Slash fiction, when well-written and true to character, is wonderful. So is het fic.
3. Do the creators of these shows support or discourage fan fiction?
It depends. Gene Roddenberry (the creator of Star Trek) was delighted by fan creativity, so much so that he wrote an introduction to the first official volume of fan fiction stories to be published by an authorized publishing house ("Star Trek: The New Voyages" edited by Sondra Marshak and Myrna Culbreath). He praised fans for keeping Star Trek alive with their pens and imaginations. This tradition of encouraging fans continues today, with the recent publication of two new volumes of Trek stories culled from the annual Stange New Worlds contest. The contest was specifically designed, in part, to ferret out and encourage new Trek writing talent.

In many cases, fan fiction appears to be acceptable if the author does not profit in any way from the story, and if a disclaimer is published or posted acknowledging the creative rights to the characters. Fan fiction thrives particularly in areas where it boosts or keeps alive a struggling show, such as in the early days of The X-Files. By the same token, fanfic is often shot down where money is at stake -- Rat Patrol fan fiction is virtually extinct from the web because of the threats and demands of the people who own the copyrights to the show and characters.

4. What does the term "Mary Sue" refer to?
A Mary Sue is an utterly perfect character. She stands in for the author and performs every heroic feat known to fandom, often outdoing the main characters of the story. She is beautiful, fit, wise, and incredibly intuitive. She is either the best friend, lover, or unrequited love of the most handsome and desirable male character. She often has psychic or supernatural powers, which she uses in the most predictable and boring ways. She is introduced without preamble, has not a single weakness or flaw, and can kick the butt of the most powerful person in the story. In short, she's annoying and cliched. Many first-time authors make this mistake (I know I did) and live to regret it. It's possible to introduce original characters with depth and intelligence, but they must be carefully drawn and FLAWED - that's the key.

5. Slash is what, exactly?
Slash is a genre of fanfic which deals almost exclusively with same sex homoerotic relationships. Research has suggested it is written and read primarily by heterosexual females. As previously stated, slash began in the 70s with Kirk/Spock fiction. The term "slash" came from the slash mark between the names of the characters. In this way, the particular pairing of characters is articulated. It has spread to all kinds of TV and movie characters. Once slash came to the internet in the 90s, more men began reading and writing it, and it is no longer the exclusive domain of females (although about 95 percent of what I see is written by women).

Slash fiction is a subgenre of fan fiction, and many people wonder why so many women are drawn to it. It's a good question. There are numerous theories, and even a few scholarly articles, about this. Some women look at a buddy relationship between two men and read more into it; they find it fun to write about the things they see. It's interesting to reinterpret an existing relationship and define parameters within new boundaries. This makes slash fic challenging to write, and a new challenge is always fun, creatively speaking. Women often imbue male characters with the traits and characteristics of female characters in terms of caring and sharing, and some theories say this is to make up for a lack of such characteristics in the real-life male counterparts. (Hey, it's a theory!) Conversely, writers often torture, maim and mutilate for the sake of bringing the macho men closer. Aside from all that, women seem to secretly like to see guys together almost as much as guys like to see two women together...

Some readers have asked if people will think they are weird or gay, or whatever, if they read slash. In a word, NO. What you read does not totally define who you are, and it shouldn't be an issue if you are comfortable with who you are.

6. What's (fill in the blank) mean?
These are definitions for common abbreviations and terms you'll find in fan fiction or posting forums.

H/C - hurt/comfort. The writer introduces a grievous injury to a main character so the other character(s) can nurse him/her through, all the while exploring boundaries, relationships, talking, comforting, etc. Some writers use this as an excuse to bring characters together romantically. It is a classic scenario that appears often as a plot device driving a relationship.

A/U - alternate universe. This device allows an author to either pretend certain events never took place, or to do things to chracters that would never happen in the "real" world. For instance, in a Highlander AU, Richie Ryan and Kronos can interact because Richie never died.

UST - Unresolved sexual tension. Two characters pine away and long for one another, but never consumate their feelings. Mulder and Scully's relationship was the very epitome of UST.

PWP - Plot? What Plot? Some stories exist simply for the sake of the sex scenes, or for one crucial conversation to take place. Therefore, the writer doesn't bother with creating a plot, since that's not what the reader really cares about.

het - heterosexual. Denotes a story where all the romantic or sexual relationships are between opposite sex partners, as opposed to same sex (see slash, above).

angst - Heart-wrenching drama. Trauma. Worry and trouble. Internal conflict.

beta reader - Someone who proofreads your story, picks out the punctuation and grammatical errors, points out your plot holes, and tried to help you make it better. A really good beta reader, who takes time to work with you extensively and is honest and thorough, is worth his/her weight in gold.

disclaimer - A statement at the beginning of the story which informs the reader that borrowed characters/scenarios and settings were not created by the writer, but were used and manipulated. Example: "The characters of Dana Scully and Fox Mulder were created by Chris Carter and are the property of 1013 and Fox television. This story was not written for profit." It's important to clarify that you haven't made money off the story, because selling fan fiction for profit opens the writer up to a lawsuit.

feedback - Giving or receiving opinions and constructive criticism. When you ask for feedback on your story, be prepared to get both positive and negative comments, and remember, an honest opinion is sometimes better than a large amount of gushing praise (though we all like the gushing praise).

relationshipper (or 'shipper) - a fan who is in favor of a romantic relationship between two heretofore platonic characters, such as Harm and Mac, Mulder and Scully, etc.

spoilers - details which give away the plot of an episode or movie. If you use these in a story, it's best to warn the reader up front in your disclaimer, or you'll be flamed.

flames - nasty, rude or angry comments about something you have done wrong (or that someone perceives you have done wrong), written in a way that does not have any consideration for hurting your feelings. Generally, it's a personal attack. The experience of being flamed is not pleasant.

troll - a newsgroup term which refers to a person who makes it their consuming passion in life to be as consistently obnoxious, rude, disgusting and otherwise offensive as possible, by posting ignorant comments and flaming others who post. Their primary objective is to get a rise out of the reader.

gen - general themes fan fiction, which doesn't fall into a specific category above, such as slash or AU.

POV - point of view. A story told from the point of view of one particular character.

songfic - A story built around the lyrics to a particular song, or inspired by it.

filk - Lyrics relating to fandom which are made up to the tune of songs we all know and love.

ABH - Anywhere But Here. A genre of fiction written in second person present tense, where the writer attempts to transport the reader into the shoes of the person who is telling the story and speak to the reader as though the choices are theirs. For example: You step into the room. Angel turns and stares at you, and he sees that you have bared your neck. His eyes darken. Blah, blah's a device that's generally badly used and not terribly respected.

ATG - Any Two Guys. A term used by slash writers to refer to a story in which the main characters display none of the unique characteristics that identify them, but instead could be any two men off the street thrown together. These stories are generic and show a lack of craft and skill on the part of the author; a search and replace on the character names would produce a story that could be any two guys.

OTP - One True Pairing. This refers to the belief that a show supports only one pairing of characters that works within canon. Good examples would be Qui-Gon/Obi-Wan and Duncan/Methos. Usually, fans have a preferred OTP in their primary fandom, and can cite examples why they feel the particular pairing is the one they believe in strongly.

7. Does the sexual content in my story matter, and should I warn the reader?
It matters a great deal, especially if your page isn't protected by SafeSurf or any other parental screening device, or if you post to a forum or list which can be subscribed to by minors. This is a crucial point if you are writing slash. Ideally, the warning comes in your disclaimer, plus at the start of the story, and maybe even in the index area of your page. The good ol' movie rating system is often considered sufficient; R or NC-17 stories are for adults only. If you explain what is objectionable (violence, sex, profanity, etc) in specific terms, this is very helpful. Some lists/newsgroups absolutely require this and will flame you or unsubscribe you if you don't do it, so be sure to read the rules.

8. Can I use the original characters from other people's fan fiction?
Nope. You have to get permission FIRST. In fact, to be technical, we shouldn't even use the main characters which we all "borrow" from the creators of the shows we write about, but producers/writers usually turn a blind eye because fandom is good for business. However, characters created on the web are copyrighted to their authors the very second they are written and the words appear on the screen. No formal patent or process is required. If you break this cardinal rule, not only might you end up in court, but you will be flamed and ignored by the online community, which requires honor among its thieves. For more on copyright (and I do suggest you read up on this), see Copyright Laws on the Internet and/or 10 Big Myths of Copyright Explained.

9.I have the best story ever written. How do I find people who want to read it?
Try subscribing to a fan fiction list such as X-Files-Fanfic, HLFIC-L or Buffyfic. Liszt, the Mailing List Directory, is a terrific place to find and subscribe to mailing lists. You can also find several unique and cool lists at Yahoo! Groups and Topica. Complete instructions are given regarding rules and posting guidelines (and story formatting) when you subscribe. Read and follow them! You can also try newsgroups, such as alt.startrek.creative or alt.x-files.creative, but I strongly suggest you hang around a few days, reading the stories and the FAQ, to get a feel for what's wanted and how they want it - nothing is worse than getting flamed for an innocent mistake in posting that could have been avoided by reading the guidelines or asking a quick question.

10.You keep talking about formatting - what do I need to do?
Whether you are posting to a newsgroup or list, there's a few general rules which seem to be universal. Save your story as "plain text" or "plain text with line breaks" or ".txt", rather than as ".doc" or a Word document. NEVER attach a document which must be opened by the reader; in this day and age, anything which might contain a virus will simply be deleted. When you save the story, turn off your "smart quotes", which appear as garbage in most newsreaders and mail programs. Make sure your story has no lines longer than 75 characters, and no story parts longer than 250 lines. Start each post with the title of your story (keep it short!) and part number (1/4, 2/4, etc). Post no more than five parts of a multi-part story at a time.

11. My memory isn't perfect, but I don't think anyone will notice I left out some details of the character's history...should I fix it?
Yes, and to post that story without making sure you have your facts and history straight will be death to your reputation as a fan fiction writer. The reason fanfic writers don't have to spend time building up characters for the reader to become invested in is because the work is already done in that department, and if you omit the very thing that holds a reader's interest, why bother to do it at all?? Canon matters. Fix it first.

Still have unanswered questions? E-mail me and I'll try to help.

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