Recursive Fanfiction

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Synonyms: fic of fic, fiception, fan fanfiction
See also: Blanket Statement, Fannish Tie-in, Fanon, Parafandom, Remix, Responsefic, Shared Universe
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Recursive fanfiction is fanfiction of fanfiction, where a transformative fanwork is itself treated as the canon for further transformative works. Some parts of fandom still just call this fic of fic because recursive fanfiction is a relatively new term coined on TV Tropes in 2011.[1]

Popular fanfiction is more likely to have a fanbase primed to read recursive fanfiction, for example Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, the Naruto fic Dreaming of Sunshine, or the Boku no Hero Academia fic Yesterday Upon the Stair, but any work with an engaged fanbase may be recursed, especially if it diverges heavily from its own canon in terms of theme, premise, worldbuilding, cast, or characterization.

Unauthorized sequels may be considered recursive, but many recursive fanfiction authors only proceed with permission.


A recursive fic "is when a fanfic directly draws from another story that is in and of itself a fanfic"[1] and most recursive fanfiction depends on the recursed fanfiction in the same way the recursed fanfiction leans on its original canon.

Characters who were original characters in the recursed fanfiction are now treated like (and sometimes referred to as) canon characters. Any canon divergence — often divergence from the stations of the canon (TV Tropes link) — or world building present in the recursed fic is not just accepted but assumed, so readers familiar with the recursed fic's original canon but not the recursed fic are likely to be confused, especially if the recursive fic isn't clearly marked.

Some things that is not typically considered recursive fanfiction:

  • Fanfiction authors who write sequels or AUs of their own work. A key part of the recursive process is that the fannish relationship to canon is reapplied to a fanwork, and generally an author can't be a fan of their own work or write fanfiction for it.
  • Fanfiction written about extended universe content, which is considered a kind of canon or at least on the level of Word of God, even if it's written by someone new.
  • Fanfiction written about professionally published fanfiction like Neil Gaiman's A Study in Emerald (link to the PDF on Gaiman's site) isn't thought of as recursive, but does fulfill most of the requirements. The general inaccessibility of the author or perception that the author isn't a fellow fan may have something to do with it; when discussing whether further transformation of fanworks needs permission, some fans highlight that they feel professional authors aren't a part of the fannish community the way the typical fannish author is and so there are different rules of engagement[2] often having to do with the notability and for-profit or professional status of the author's work.[3]

Relation to Other Fannish Terms


The main difference between recursive fanfiction and fanon is that fanon usually involves keeping just some of the same details of another work, while recursive fanfiction is likely to seek to preserve all or most of the details from the recursed fanfiction.


Remixes are alternate versions of a preexisting fic, usually (but not always) written by a different author. Some aspects of remixes fall easily into the category of recursive (such as rewriting the remixed fic from a different perspective, or writing additional scenes) while others do not. Remixing shares a lot of conversational space with recursive fanfiction, as both activities involve drawing from other fanworks for material. The older the discussion of further transformation is the more likely it will have happened before either term came into use, as "remixing" was given its current fannish usage in 2003 and "recursive" is perhaps even younger than that.

Rewriting a scene or an entire work from a different point of view could go either way (or both ways) but remixes are often written to stand alone — one could read the remix first, then the remixed fanfiction — while recursive fic tends to rely on the recursed fic it's drawing from. Recursive fanfiction is also more likely to cover only one scene, or part of a scene. Remixes sometimes switch genres (between gen, het, and slash) or change the ending of the remixed fic. Some remixes don't keep any continuity at all between the remix and the remixed, or keep only some.

This is perhaps best explained via example.

A remix that is not recursive fic:

  • The remix, Strange Lands (No Good Man Remix) by Unforgotten, involves Eric finding a time travel device in Charles' possession while visiting his lab and accidentally using it to travel back in time. Erik sets out to complete the same task Charles aimed for in The Cost of a Good Man.
  • Both fics involve the same characters and cover about the same span of time, but there's no continuity between them even before the time travel. The method of time travel is different. The relationship between Erik and Charles pre-time travel is different. Strange Lands (No Good Man Remix) does not treat The Cost of a Good Man as a canon source, not even one to diverge from to create an alternate universe.

A recursive fic that is not a remix:

  • In Silver Queen's Dreaming of Sunshine, a SI/OC Naruto fanfiction, the main character is reincarnated as the twin sister of Nara Shikamaru. In Dreaming of Sunshine, Shikako's father broke a betrothal with another woman to marry her mother and was disowned from the Nara clan by Shikako's grandfather, the clan head. Shikako's father is only a Nara again by the time she and her twin are born because her grandfather and uncle — original characters created by Silver Queen — died just before the end of the Third War, and Shikako's father was the only one left to lead the clan.
  • The recursive fic Shadow Under Water by wafflelate explores what would have happened if Shikako had been born 8 years earlier, to the same parents. Her father is still disowned, but it happens much earlier. Her grandfather and uncle still die in the war and her father still returns to be clan head, but Shikako is old enough to interact with the clan at large and notice that the clan still doesn't approve of her mother.
  • Shadow Under Water strives to hang on to every bit of Dreaming of Sunshine's world building, even though it's undoubtedly AU, including minor original characters. The author's one divergence from the canon set out in the recursed fic is to age Shikako's mother up a couple years off screen so that Shikako was born to a pair of 17-year-olds instead of a 17-year-old and a 15-year-old.[4] Shadow Under Water is not a remix; it's tagged "Alternate Universe - Canon Divergence" and has "Dreaming of Sunshine" in its fandom category right along with Naruto.

Shared universes

Shared universes exist on a sort of sliding scale of recursion, depending on factors like which fics are considered canon, who decides what's canon and what isn't, and how cohesive the shared universe is. Highly collaborative shared universes where no particular fic or group of fics is held up as the authoritative canon may operate heavily on fanon conventions and their authors may not consider their fanfiction to be recursive. The Magnificent Seven's fandom uses the term "establishing story" to indicate which fic founded a given shared universe and inspired recursion.


Fanart and other transformative and fannish practices may be described as recursive if they're applied to a fanfic, especially if they depend on context from the recursed fic, for example fanart of a scene that happens in the recursed fic but not in the original canon. "Recursive fanart" might also mean fanart of other fanart.

For some fans, especially on the forum quests, the term omake has a lot of overlap with recursive fic; although traditionally omakes are bonus scenes or art provided by the author, the term has also come to apply to any short recursive scene written by the fans who are following along. These omakes are often thread-marked (a sort of bookmarking that lets readers see that they can jump to a particular post that has story content) by the original author so that they're easy to find.

Also related is Camille Bacon-Smith's concept of story trees in Enterprising Women. The original fic is considered a "root story" that other fic writers "branch out" from.[5]

Some people may call a recursive fic a metafic, but others consider it to be a misnomer.[6][7][8]


Recursive fanfiction is a relatively new term but not a new practice. In the DailyDot's 2014 article A guide to fanfiction for people who can't stop getting it wrong, the section Myth: Fanfiction is plagiarism opens thus, hyperlink included:

No, it’s not. Where to begin with this frequently leveled accusation? Let’s start with the basic fact that recursive literature and remix culture stem from centuries of telling and retelling stories that are living, breathing parts of our heritage and culture.[9]

The hyperlink leads to a post by Aja, I'm done explaining why fanfic is okay., where she lists a large amount of profic and when it comes to the topic of Sherlock Holmes she points out,

also, most notably, the tale of Arsène Lupin, the gentlemen thief created by Maurice Leblanc as a character for Sherlock Holmes to do battle with in "Arsène Lupin versus Herlock Sholmes" and many other books. 50 years later, Boileau-Narcejac would publish five more books based on the Lupin IP, official fanfic of what was already fanfic. The Lupin mythos has spawned countless movies, the most recent in 2004. In 1967 Kazuhiko Kato, a Japanese manga writer, began Lupin III, the story of Lupin's grandson and his gang of thieves: i.e. fanfic of fanfic of fanfic. It was also hugely popular, with the original series running for 5 years and spawning three cartoon series, six movies. and twenty video games.[10]

In fannish spaces, early examples of fanfiction of fanfiction can be found in shared universes like the Star Trek shared universe Kraith, started by Jacqueline Lichtenberg in 1969. Lichtenberg kept careful control of which stories were considered canon and what their contents were and Kraith attained quite a following, including a writing manual for those that wanting to contribute and a reference zine. Some might consider fics approved by Lichtenberg more akin to extended universe content. There were also alternate universes of Kraith, some of them done without permission, such as the zine Variations on a Theme. In A 2007 Interview with Valerie Piacentini the author said,

Often an idea came from another writer’s story; many of us wrote what we called “creative responses,” though it was considered courteous to ask the original writer’s permission first. I did once make a bad mistake, though. I wrote what was intended to be a short story based on Kraith, inspired by a version of Spock who appeared briefly. I didn’t ask permission, thinking it was too minor, but the short story grew into what became the Variations on a Theme series. (That’s another of my favourites, co-authored with Fiona, but as it’s gen, I didn’t include it.) Some years later I received a very gracious letter from Jacqueline Lichtenberg saying she would have allocated it an official Kraith number.

The term was coined on TV Tropes in mid-2011 by TV Tropes user MadMitsu.[1] "Second Generation Fanfic" was proposed as possible alternate name for the trope,[11] but was ultimately not chosen because, like "fic of fic", the term would be too narrow in its scope to capture more than one level of recursion:

Well, technically, "Second Generation Fanfic" would only work if the following is true:

Fiction -> Fanfic -> Fanfic

If the following condition occurred instead, such as:

Fiction -> Fanfic -> Fanfic -> Fanfic

Then the Fan Fic that be at the end would be a "Third Generation Fanfic" rather then second. That's why I used the term "Recursive Fanfiction", since, to be fair, Fanon is actually developed and perpetuated when fanfics can and do influence other fanfics, all in a recursive cycle. "Recursive Fanfiction", therefore, is when a fanfic directly draws from another story that is in and of itself a fanfic (ideally, said fanfics would state that it actually does so and what fanfic(or fanfics, as the case may be Crossovers that some how do this, but let's not get ahead of ourselves) that this story is based on, but I would not be surprised if some writers might forget some of those details), regardless of how many "generations" have come before it.[1]

"Recursive" means "characterized by recurrence or repetition" and in mathematics refers to "the repeated application of a rule, definition, or procedure to successive results"[12], so recursive fanfiction is any fic where the author has taken the process of writing fanfiction and applied it to something which is already a fanfiction, no matter how many levels of recursion came before.


See also: Unauthorized Sequel for more depth on this topic.

Some fans believe recursive fanfiction should only be written with permission from the author of the fanfiction one desires to recurse. Others believe this is a double-standard, as fans do not ask TPTB for permission to write fanfiction in the first place.

In A 2010 Interview with Brenda Antrim, she comes down on the side of allowing fanfiction of her fanfiction, but always believed asking for permission first was required etiquette:

I do it all the time, only the writers I'm rewriting get paid for their stories... I don't care if someone wants to write a story based on something I've written. I'd like it if they told me, because I'd be interested in seeing what ideas they came up with from what they read. I DO care if they copy wholesale from my story and stick it in theirs -- that's not rewriting, that's plagiarism, and it pisses me off. That's happened a few times, and I've registered complaints with archives and had the stories removed. But using my story as a springboard? Hey, go ahead, dive in. The one time I wrote a sequel to another person's story (in X Files), I did ask for permission beforehand. Just like when I wanted to scan a fan art piece, I called the artist and asked for permission. It's only polite.

A Pros fan in 1991 offered,

I just feel that if I created a universe and someone else started writing in it, that wouldn't bother me. I'd just write something else if I didn't like the way they had done it — the official version. If something you write generates ideas and discussions (verbal or written) isn't that something good? I like for people to think about what I write even if it's only a little dumb humor. And if they feel compelled to write, what's the harm?[13]

Many authors use blanket statements to cover permission these days, sometimes giving permission freely and only asking for a link to be sent to them so they can read it.


See also


  1. ^ a b c d MadKitsu, Recursive Fanfiction trope launch discussion. Posted 07 July 2011. Archived.
  2. ^ from transcendeza's comment at An Archive Of One's Own (post by astolat), 2007, where they bring up the "six-or-less degrees of separation" they feel makes remixing fanfiction different from published work.
  3. ^ The Sundry Times, So, as a long-time lurker in fandom, but not..., Archived version, a Tumblr ask and a response by copperbadge where he says, in part, "So if we can do it to canon, why can’t we do it to each other? Well, mainly because our remixing of canon is a Warhol glorification — everyone knows the foundation idea isn’t ours, and that we’re playing in the sandbox, not charging admission to it. " (March 2015)
  4. ^ wafflelate, Shadow Under Water's chapter 1 author's note. Posted 09 July 2018. (Accessed 22 July 2018.)
  5. ^ Enterprising Women: Television Fandom and the Creation of Popular Myth by Camille Bacon-Smith, pg 63
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ See also a Fanlore discussion in 2019: Talk:Meta#"Recursive fanfic may also be called metafic"?
  9. ^ Gavia Baker-Whitelaw and Aja Romano, A guide to fanfiction for people who can't stop getting it wrong, posted 17 June 2014. (Accessed 14 July 2018)
  10. ^ Aja, with thanks to flidgetjerome. I'm done explaining why fanfic is okay. Posted 03 May 2010. (Accessed 14 July 2018)
  11. ^ Recursive Fanfiction trope launch discussion. Posted 07 July 2011. (Accessed 22 July 2018)
  12. ^ jacksgreyson on, Anonymous asked: I see a lot of fics that are associated with DoS that have 'recursive' in the description, but I myself have no idea what that means. So... uh what does it mean? Posted 02 August 2017. (Accessed 14 July 2018)
  13. ^ from Cold Fish and Stale Chips #9 (1991)
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