AU's, and You! When is an alternate universe not an alternate universe

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Title: AUs, and You! When is an alternate universe not an alternate universe?
Creator: LJC
Date(s): January 19, 2001
Medium: online
Fandom: multifandom
Topic: AU
External Links: online here, Archived version
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.
Other Essays by ljc

AUs, and You! When is an alternate universe not an alternate universe? is a meta essay by LJC that seeks to explain and define alternate universes.

It was originally posted at and later online here, Archived version.

Some Topics Discussed


An argument has been made of late that all fan fiction is Alternate Universe simply because as fan fiction, it is not canon. However, it should be noted that the classification of "Alternate Universe" refers to the fiction's relationship to series canon. Yes, we know that only what airs is canon. That is has never been in question. However, what makes fan fiction alternate universe is whether or not it adheres to series canon.
In the case of a What if? story, the purpose of the story is to explore that universe, particularly the differences between the canonical universe and the alternate universe. This sub-genre is not unique to fan fiction. For decades, speculative fiction has been enamoured of such What if? stories, particularly regarding historical events such as the fall of Rome, the American Civil War, and the outcome of WWII. The fact that such stories have been told with such frequency, and by so many, assumes that it is a very popular "gag" or plot to write and read. The motivation is simple: take the characters we know and love, and see where they would go, what they would do, and how different they would be if one thing about their world was different. It could be a seemingly small thing, or it could be a vast sweeping epic change. But at the heart of these stories is the appeal and lure of the idea of "what if...?" It is as much plot driven as it is character driven, and rather than being an emotional response to the source universe is an intellectual one. By contrast, in the denial scenario, generally the author has created an alternate universe in order to rectify what she or he sees as a "mistake" on the part of the series and preserve the characters at a specific place in their evolution out of personal preference. The appeal of this type of story is to excise the universe of a character, fact, or character development that changed the source universe in such a way as to motivate a writer to want to erase that change. It is generally an emotional response, rather than a plot-driven one. The driving force behind it is to maintain the writer's inner status quo, in "denial" of the canonical universe. Denial fan fiction became very popular in Highlander fandom after the death of fan favourite character Richie Ryan, and is now a common subset in any fandom where a character death or major change has taken place that the authors feel was detrimental to the series. Such stories are often written as a kind of stage in the grief process, and vary in quality quite widely.