How to Construct Alternate Universes That Work as Fanfic

From Fanlore
Jump to: navigation, search
Title: How to Construct Alternate Universes That Work as Fanfic
Creator: Rat Creature
Date(s): August 2, 2001
Medium: online
Topic: Fan Fiction, Alternate Universe
External Links: How to Construct Alternate Universes That Work as Fanfic/WebCite
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

How to Construct Alternate Universes That Work as Fanfic is an essay by Rat Creature.

It is part of the Fanfic Symposium series.


  • Why some (even weird) AUs work as fanfic, and others don't
  • What kind of AUs there are, and how they differ
  • Why this classification is useful when constructing an AU
  • And the purpose of all this?


In this and other forums there are regularly discussions about the merits and pitfalls of "Alternate Universe" fanfic. Usually the focal point of those discussions is how far one can diverge from canon without the story ceasing to be fanfic that is still true to its source, and thus to its nature as fanfic opposed to original fiction -- sometimes with the implied charges that something is only thinly "disguising" as fanfic in order to "trick" and attract the readers. At first the theory behind this seems reasonable: fanfic is about the source, so the more you change the source, the more you drift away, until the connection can't be found anymore, and the story doesn't work as fanfic any longer.
The three basic ways to create an AU in the narrow sense are to put the characters into a different universe (e.g. transplanting the characters into space, into the Middle Ages etc.) , to change the fundamental rules of a universe (e.g. everything is like in canon, just magic works), or to change something about a character fundamentally without a certain point of divergence (e.g. everything is like in canon just character X is a werewolf). Depending on the canon universe changing one of those things will make other changes necessary to preserve internal consistency, e.g. making Mulder a werewolf wouldn't require universe rules to change, since they exist in XF, whereas making Jim Ellison a were-panther would definitely change universe rules. But if one change is supposed to be the focus, that will impact the story, so there are still AUs which are primarily about changes of either setting, rules, or character. Of course it is also possible to give the change of several parameters at once equal attention, but the less clearly defined the extent and nature of the initial changes is, the more likely it is that they loose their function in exploring canon, causing the AU eventually to fail. So keeping the initial changes simple and clearly defined increases the chances of a successful AU, i.e. successful as fanfic that explores canon rather than disregarding it without reason. This isn't the same however as the "surface" of the AU not being wildly different from the source, it only is about the clarity and justification of the initial premise.