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Five Things... is a writing form or structure that requires a set of multiple scenes that are related to each other in some way without being in the same chronological timeline.
While not labeled or defined as such, "Four Preludes, and One Short Epilogue on Han Solo or After the Empire Struck Back" by Marcia Brin (1981) in Carbonite Maneuver is a very, very early example of the form. The story is a collection of pieces exploring the possible fate of Han Solo, and was discussed in Han and Leia in Fanfiction.
After Basingstoke's story, "Five Things That Aren't True," was posted, the form exploded in popularity, prompting numerous challenges (including this one at SGA_flashfic) and other stories based on the theme.In 2004, Basingstoke answered a fan's question and commented on her part in propelling this form of fiction:
[ladyvyola]: Sure, AU stories have always been around but you've coined a very specific phrasing and style that's moved from fandom to fandom and people who've never even heard of you know what it means. So, what's it been like to see the spread of Five Things That Aren't True stories (and its various mutations)?
[basingstoke]: It's been amazing.
No, I mean, it's been AMAZING.
I didn't pop that story up there intending for it to be anything but a freshman effort. I was a writer in a shiny new fandom only a few months old; I took a look at my lj snippets, realized what they all had in common was that they would never be shown on the actual show, and gathered them together with pretentious subtitles under the heading Five Things that Aren't True. (The subtitles are all things that aren't things: a tisane isn't tea, a viceroy isn't a king, etc.) They weren't meant to be AU, exactly, apart from the first and last vignettes.
What happened next was that a stranger in another fandom decided that was a good format for a Spike story and put together five AUs under the header Five Things That Never Happened to Spike. She then issued a challenge based on the format, and that's how things exploded. I don't take credit for the spread of the idea or any of the permutations.I just one day looked over and there's all these amazing stories giving me credit and I'm all whuh? Huh? COOOL.
With popularity came evolution of the form into multiple interpretations, the most common of which is five separate sections that all share a similar theme, such as snapshots of alternative universes, or other moments that never happened in canon, but may be five moments in an over-arching narrative. A popular form is "Five Things That Never Happened to X," in which generally the only thing the sections have in common is that they are all AU and all feature the same central character; another common variation is "Five Times X Didn't Do Y... and One They Did," e.g., Five Complaints that Ianto Jones has Thought About Registering Concerning Torchwood (and One that He Did) by strangecreature (9 March 2008).
Later evolution includes changing the number of separate snapshots being utilized from five. Examples include Three Smallville Fairytales by Koimistress, which included a Clark adopted by Lionel Luthor AU (I. Julian), Martha as a government agent charged with raising Clark (II. Petrie Dish), and a universe where the South won the Civil War (III. Bleeding Kansas).
Another variation begins with four or five snapshots on one theme, and a final snapshot that is different, which can either be known as 4+1 (thus adding to five) or 5+1. Examples of each include The Four Times Michael Almost Called Mia from Tokyo, and Once He Decided Not to Call in New York by aimmyarrowshigh, a The Princess Diaries 4+1 fic, and The Dust of a Hundred Cities by antistar e, a The Curse Workers 5+1 fic, summarized as "five postcards that are never signed, and one that is."
- Family Business: Five Things that Never Happened to Dick Grayson by Lucy Gillam (Accessed 4 August 2008)
- Five Moments of Clarity: Ianto Jones by misspamela (Accessed 4 August 2008, now locked)
- Five Things That Never Happened to Mr. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John H. Watson by prof_pangaea (posted 1 January 2005)
- Five Things BtVS/Angel archive containing 158 stories as of 28 March 2010.
- 5 Things tag at Archive of Our Own.
- Five Times, Starsky and Hutch collection at Tagging Bay City
- basingstoke: already with the questions!, Archived version, posted June 23, 2004, accessed 10 August 2013
- ClarkLex mailing list, (Accessed 04 August 2008), posted November 30, 2001
- basingstoke: already with the questions!, Archived version
- Te, Five Things That Never Happened To..., Updated August 1, 2003 Accessed October 11, 2008
- The challenge was posted before March 23, 2003, since that is when it ended. Anyone know when it was issued?