Five Things

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You may be looking for the interview series Five Things Said, an interview series published by the Organization for Transformative Works.
Synonyms: 5 things, 5 times, 4+1, 5+1, 5+1 things
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Five Things... is a fanfiction writing form or structure that originated in Smallville fandom in 2001 with the fic Five Things That Aren't True by Basingstoke. It became increasingly popular throughout the early 2000s, particularly as a format for challenges, and remains a staple of fic writing two decades later.

The format requires a set of multiple scenes that are related to each other in some way, without necessarily being in the same chronological timeline. The number of 'Things' may vary slightly depending on the work (see Evolution), but five is the most common number. 5+1 Things is an enduringly popular variant.

Five Times is also a common variation on this format, 'Five times X almost happened and 1 time it did' being its most popular use.

Fics that use this format frequently use the "Five X" phrase in their titles, or as a subtitle: 'Title; or five times something happened...'

As of Sept 2021, there were close to 30k works tagged with the "N things" umbrella tag for the trope and its variations on AO3.[1]


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.

Another early example is Five Easy Pieces and a More Difficult One, a Blake's 7 story written in 1999 by Nova. It is online here.

"Five Things" fic as we know it in fandom, however, can be traced back to 2001 and a Smallville story by Basingstoke, Five Things That Aren't True.[2] It was read by Kita, who proposed the format as a challenge to fellow Buffyverse writers[3] and penned Five Things That Never Happened (To Spike) as part of the challenge.[note 1] Writers from other fandoms took up the challenge as well, and the format quickly took off. In the words of Te:

Once upon time, Basingstoke wrote a damned *koff* inspiring story. She called it "Five Things That Aren't True," and made the AU-lover in this little black duck sing. Then Kita saw the story and thought about doing something like it for Spike.

Then she told Jess W., who started having thoughts of her own... and a challenge was born.


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.[5]

Evolution & Variations

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 the vein of Kita's "Five Things That Never Happened to Spike". 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).

Even in the early days of the form's popularity, writers were varying the number of "things" from five: typically the number did not go above five, but early variations with four, three or even two scenarios/sections can be found, such as eliade's Four Corners (January 2003); Trinity: Three Things that Didn't Happen to Lionel Luthor by Jayne Leitch (not visibly dated, but archived as early as February 2003), and Two Things That Didn't Happen to Oz (January 2003).

Another evolution 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, or 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," or Five People Who Realized Catherine Is Fucking Awesome (and one person who already knew).


The number of fanworks produced and of rec requests for fics in this specific format prove how beloved the '5 X' trope is. a2zmom wrote in a 2005 reclist for Five Things fics:

...there is one challenge that stands head and shoulders above the rest. A challenge so simple in it's premise, a challenge that has lead to stunning flights of imagination, a challenge that keeps on giving, since to this day, people are still writing fic for it. At this point, it's crossed all fandoms, even found its way into a published work(!) and shows no sign of slowing down.[6]

However, it is sometimes viewed as a shortcut, allowing writers to post disconnected vignettes rather than writing 'complete' stories. Others see it as an overused format. See for example this 2017 discussion of the trope on r/FanFiction, entitled "Is the 5 Times trope lazy?"

[deleted username]: You've probably seen a fic that follows the "5 times a character did A and one time they didn't". It's obviously quite popular, but in some circles I've seen it derided as lazy or "amateur". Curious what the general consensus here is. Would you read a 5x fic if it included your favorite character or pairing? Do you avoid it on principle? Or do you just not care either way?

[deleted username]: Just like any trope, they can be well written or terribly written. There's nothing lazy or amateur about writing a story that's defined by a specific structure. Some stories have a beginning, middle and a end. '5 Times' stories have 5 mini stories which are all connected by a common theme. I actually have a hard time coming up with these kinds of stories, so I'm impressed when I see well-written ones (they're harder to write than people think). Many people already write these kinds of stories when they include lots of time skips in their work, but they might not label it as a '5 times' story. [...]

[u/SilverCookieDust]: I don't see anything wrong with them. They're fun quick reads most of the time. Sometimes it's nice just to get a snapshot look at your fave characters. [...]

[u/ClimateMom]: They're not necessarily something I seek out specifically, but I have read and enjoyed plenty of them and I definitely don't consider them "lazy". I think writing well within the constraints of a specific structure is often more challenging, in fact.

[u/shandytaff]: I avoid them. I'm sure some of them are great, but I'm sick of seeing that format everywhere. [...]

[u/andracute2]: I feel the same way.

[u/bwburke94]: It's a bit lazy at times, but it works if they actually connect to each other. If it's six separate oneshots, it doesn't work.

Is the 5 Times trope lazy? on r/FanFiction, 2017

Challenges & Memes

There have been challenges that use the Five Things... format as long as the trope has existed, beginning with the first "Five things that never happened" challenge that was proposed by Kita in Buffyverse fandom.[3] Other challenges in fandoms through the years have helped the trope to flourish.


Further Examples


Rec Compilations



  1. ^ The challenge seems to have been issued in 2001, as a January 2002 fic by Te references it as ongoing, but Kita's Spike fic contains post-s7 scenes, and therefore must have been published in mid-2003, after Buffy concluded.


  1. ^ N Things AO3 tag
  2. ^ ClarkLex mailing list, (Accessed 04 August 2008), posted November 30, 2001
  3. ^ a b Five Things: A Fanfic Archive (Archived link). After reading a story by Basingstoke, Five Things That Aren't True, written for the Smallville fandom, Kita saw the possibilities and issued the 'five things that never happened challenge' to Jossverse writers.
  4. ^ "Neep", Accessed November 28, 2021. Archived page.
  5. ^ basingstoke: already with the questions!, Archived version
  6. ^ Fic Recs: Five Things by a2zmom via Livejournal, August 26, 2005 (Accessed September 14, 2021).