Posted in essay, fanfiction, writing

Fandom Writing Starter Kit: Terminology

Whenever you first start reading fanfiction, you’ll see various terms used to describe what you are about to read.  Its important to understand some of these terms, especially when you are posting your own stories.  People look for certain things when they are reading, and its always good to describe your story in a way that will make them understand what they are looking at.  Here are some multi-fandom general terms.


Gen is a short form of the word ‘general’.  These are fics where no romantic relationship takes center stage.  These are often found as stories their focus on a single character, an event or platonic interaction between people.


Ship is short for ‘relationship’, and in this case means romantic relationship.  What a reader ships is often what they are looking for.  So when you are including ship tags in your description or sorting tags, make sure to think if that relationship is in the story enough to be tagged.  I have gone into a story or two hoping to see a particular ship only to find out they were there about five chapters in for two seconds before they skipped right on out of the story.   It is usually denoated by the characters names with a slash mark between them or an x.  (Character X Character  or Character/Character)

Ship Subgroups

Ship fic can be divided into five categories

  • Het
    Het is short for heterosexual.  These are ships that involve a male/female relationship.  (EX:  Draco/Ginny)
  • Slash
    This is the category for Male/Male relationships and seems to be the most popular form of ship out there.  The name references the slash mark between the name, but I honestly haven’t really looked up the etymology of it completely. There is some debate in Fandom circles on what actually constitutes a Slash ship.  Some include all same sex pairings, others narrow it down to just couples that are not canon.  Personally, I include them all as I haven’t seen an alternative name for same-sex couples who are canon. (EX:  DiNozzo/McGee)
  • Fem-Slash
    This is the Female/Female equivalent of Slash.   Not entirely sure why people felt the need to divide slash into gender categories, but they did.  Fem-slash is not as prolific as regular Slash. (EX:  Elizabeth Weir/Jennifer Keller)
  • Multi
    This one is relatively new, and to be honest, I’ve only seen it used on Archive of Our Own.  If your character has relationships with both genders over the course of the story, or there is a mix group of ships in your story, this would be a good category to use.
  • OT3/Polyamory
    This is what you use for relationship that involve more then two people.  OT3 usually denotes three people, although I did see once an OT4 used.  Sometimes this tends to be popular among people who have two ships that converge and they think they all have chemistry together.  Other times they just like the three +  people together. (EX:  Illya Kuryakin/Gaby Teller/Napoleon Solo)


Canon is a word used in other places.  Here it means basically the same thing.  A canon is the source material.  Each fandom has different constructs as to what qualifies as canon.  For example, Star Wars.   Star Wars has 7 films. They are all considered canon.  They also have a healthy selection of extended universe novels.  Some fans consider these canon, others will only see what is in the actual films as canon.  With the release of the last movie, it seems those who only use the Films are probably the safest in regards to getting retconned out of their story.

I will go into more detail about Canon, the types of canon and the differences between Canon & Headcanon in my next post.

Retcon (Retroactive Continuity)

Any time a source material decides to change its path and ignore a item stated earlier is called ‘retconned‘.  This happens more often the longer the source material is continuously being added to or edited.  For example, movies aren’t often retconned because they are (usually) single-issue canon.  Television shows on the other hand constantly are adding new information, new backstory, new developments.  Thus you could write a story that takes place after an episode, then find out a few episodes later that they went on a completely different path with that story and your story is no longer canon.

Sometimes, over the years, the writers can forget that they said one thing and decided to change it unknowingly.  This happened in Star Trek a few times.  A character that had a sister could suddenly only have brothers.

Star Wars also brings  examples to this.  In the original novelization of Return of the Jedi,  Owen Lars was stated to be the brother of Obi-wan Kenobi.  Decades later, when George Lucas started work on Attack of the Clones, he decided to change that to Owen being Anakin Skywalker’s stepbrother instead.   (One day I will write a more indepth post about why this still bothers me)

In the television series Torchwood, they have a drug called Retcon which erases people’s memories of certain events, thus making them effectively never happen.

Another term coined for this is Jossed, which is a reference to Joss Whedon, the creator of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Firefly.  I don’t tend to use it as often since it has multiple meanings.

Part Three (coming Soon)


A thirty-something Graphic Designer and writer who likes to blog about books, movies and History.

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