User:Phil Sandifer/Fiction proposal

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For information about writing articles on fiction, see Wikipedia:Manual of Style (writing about fiction).
For the previous version of this page, see Wikipedia:Notability (fiction)/2008 proposal.
For specific examples where you may be able to help, see Wikipedia:Fiction/Noticeboard.

No hard and fast rule regarding the notability of fictional subjects has found wide consensus, and the issue remains deeply contentious. In lieu of such a general principle, this guideline attempts instead to address practical consensus - that is, the factors that often, in practice, go into keeping or deleting an article on a fictional subject. It offers a four-pronged test for whether an article falls into the category of articles we include, or those we do not, as well as offering some general observations on best practices in writing such articles.

This guidance attempts to remain a useful compliment to the general notability guideline, which states that an article on a topic should have significant coverage in reliable, secondary sources. Any article that passes the general guideline should easily satisfy these requirements as well, and visa versa.

Note also that this is a guideline for inclusion. The standards set here are merely sufficient to not delete an article - they do not represent the ideal of what an article on a fictional subject should be. An article that just barely meets this guideline is unlikely to be very good, and probably needs serious work. This establishes the absolute minimum for an article - not a goal.

This page is a guideline for subjects that are themselves fictional. For guidance on inclusion of a work of fiction, look for the notability guideline for the medium the work appears in - e.g. Wikipedia:Notability (films), or consult the general notability guideline.

Four-pronged test[edit]

For articles on fictional subjects that do not clearly meet the general notability guide, the following four-pronged test generally tracks community consensus. This test does not provide a clear and automatic answer - rather, it gives four factors, all of which must be considered and weighed against each other on balance. It is wholly possible (and indeed common) for an article to be kept because it is strong on two or three aspects of the test, even if it is weaker on another. However, an article is unlikely to be kept on the basis of one factor - all four must be addressed to some extent.

#1: Narrative complexity[edit]

WP:NOT#PLOT states that "A concise plot summary is appropriate as part of the larger coverage of a fictional work." For some works - particularly extremely lengthy serialized works -providing a concise plot summary in one article can be difficult or impossible. Where works have significant narrative complexity that requires considerable length to adequately summarize the plot, we are often more tolerant of spin-out articles that are focused primarily on plot.

Such articles should still endeavor to be as brief as possible without sacrificing thoroughness, and must adhere to all relevant guidelines for writing about fiction. This includes avoiding the introduction of original research and the bias in writing about a topic. Articles should also avoid excessive duplication of plot from other articles; for example, an article on a fictional character should not fully reiterate the plot of the work the character appears in.

This factor results in a tendency to keep more "artistic" works, including, for instance, episodes of television dramas, and a tendency to reject episodes of more narratively simple works such as video games or children's television. These are not, however, hard and fast rules - exceptions abound. However, generally speaking a work of fiction with a continuing, serialized plot that is focused on character development is more likely to have episode articles than a work of fiction with a more episodic structure, or one where the plot is more action-heavy.

This factor is closely related to the third factor, inasmuch as narrative complexity is often grounds for claims of artistic significance.

#2: Importance within the fictional work[edit]

We are generally more willing to have articles on important or central aspects of a fictional work than more peripheral ones. Major characters are more acceptable than minor characters, and particularly significant episodes are more acceptable than just having an article for every episode.

In addressing this aspect of the test, it is often productive to look to sources that would not be acceptable for establishing notability in other contexts. Once the notability of the overall work of fiction is established, for specific episodes or characters it is productive to turn to sources that are less-independent than would normally be ideal: DVD commentaries, interviews with creators, blogs or other writings by creators, etc. Similarly, significant review websites that might not be treated as reliable sources can sometimes be used here. (As a good general benchmark, if the review website itself is notable, its viewpoints are probably important enough to factor in this test)

#3: Importance of the fictional work[edit]

Similarly, we are generally more willing to include articles on specific aspects of a fictional work when the overall fictional work demonstrates great importance. For instance, we are more likely to have episode and character articles for a long-running and critically acclaimed television series than we are for one that was canceled after a few episodes.

In evaluating this, looking at the sources presented in the main article on the work of fiction is the best route. If those sources present clear claims for the artistic or cultural importance of the work of fiction, it is a good sign that the work of fiction is important enough to merit deeper coverage.

#4: Availability of real world perspective[edit]

An episode or character article is much more likely to be kept if it provides real-world perspective instead of just plot summary. Information on production and reception goes a long way towards making a quality article. In practice, this factor is probably the most important in determinations about keeping or deleting an article. Remember that WP:NOT#PLOT stresses that "Wikipedia treats fiction in an encyclopedic manner; discussing the reception, impact and significance of notable works."

As with the issue of importance for an episode, this factor is often addressed via recourse to sources that would not normally be considered for judging notability: DVD commentaries, interviews, production blogs, reviews, etc. Another consideration for this factor is how other articles from the same work of fiction have been developed and the presumption of sources. For example, if a majority of the episodes of a television series have shown to have good real world perspective including content gained from commentary on their DVD release, leniency is usually given towards episode articles that, at that moment, lack real-world perspective such as episodes that have only just aired.

In practice this is probably the most important single factor in decisions to keep or delete an article - an article with substantial real world perspective that uses sources to establish claims about production and reception will rarely be deleted.

Specific tendencies[edit]

Although the four-pronged test provides a good basis for evaluation of a given article, certain trends in inclusion and deletion can also be noted for general categories.

Episodes[edit]

Wikipedia sometimes includes articles on episodes of television series. Such articles may consist of a short plot summary, a cast and crew list, and available information about production or reception. Articles must conform to Wikipedia:Writing about fiction, and must not contain speculation or interpretation unless it is sourced. Articles that are overwhelmed with speculation, or that have excessively long plot summaries are often deleted. For guidance on writing an effective plot summary, consult Wikipedia:Plot summaries and Wikipedia:How to write a plot summary.

If it is possible, it is often preferable to cover multiple episodes via a list article instead of having individual articles for each episodes. Such lists are much less controversial than individual episode articles.

In other serialized works of fiction, similar attitudes exist, with varying tendencies. With comics, we tend to be more biased against articles on individual issues or storylines. WIth series of novels, we tend to be more biased in favor of them.

Characters[edit]

Wikipedia sometimes includes articles on major characters of fictional works. Such articles may consist of a short fictional biography, and available information about the development of that character or reception of the character. Articles must conform to WP:WAF, and must not contain speculation or interpretation unless it is sourced. Articles that are overwhelmed with speculation, or that have excessively long biographies are often deleted. For guidance on writing an effective plot summary, consult Wikipedia:Plot summaries and Wikipedia:How to write a plot summary.

For character articles, the second aspect of the four-pronged test, importance to the overall subject, is particularly important. Articles about fictional characters who are not deemed "major characters" are generally deleted or merged. Based on the third prong, articles on characters from a single work (such as a movie or a video game) are generally discouraged, while a character that spans multiple works (a television series, or a movie or video game franchise) are likely to be kept.

If it is possible, it is generally preferable to cover characters either in the main article for the work of fiction or in a list of characters articles. Such articles are much less controversial than individual character articles, which should only be created when the alternatives are not feasible.

Other fictional objects[edit]

Beyond episodes and characters, little consensus exists to have articles on specific aspects of fictional works that do not meet the general notability guideline. Exceptions exist, but are rare, and generally must demonstrate extraordinary compliance with all aspects of the four-pronged test.

Specific WikiProjects that deal with fiction works may also restrict such content. For example, the Video Games Wikiproject, in following the content guideline that Wikipedia is not a guidebook, discourages discussion of specific in-game weapons, objects, or levels, though does not prevent their inclusion when such topics meet the general notability guideline or the above four-pronged test.

Use of sources[edit]

Any article on a fictional element must be sourced to show verifiable information. However, the use of sources for articles on fictional subjects is a complex issue. In general, as with any article, significant coverage in secondary sources is a prerequisite for inclusion. However, for fictional subjects, often notability can be satisfied with sources that do not meet as strict standards as are required for other areas.

Semi-independent sources[edit]

Coverage of fiction often benefits from relying on sources that do not meet the strictest standards of independence. Part of this stems from the fact that the idea of an "independent source" was developed to deal with press releases, corporate websites, and issues of self-promotion - a very different issue than the one faced by works of fiction. As a result, notability can often be established for these articles by using sources that are not as independent as would be required for other areas, so long as they provide substantial coverage of the topic.

Often, very good sources exist that are not wholly independent - interviews, production blogs, writings (even self-published ones) by creators, officially licensed "behind the scenes" guidebooks, etc. Substantial use of these sources goes a long way towards improving an article to the point where it is likely to be kept, and although they do not meet the strictest available standards of sourcing, it remains the case that they are, in practice, often viewed as acceptable sources for establishing the viability of an article.

Self-published sources[edit]

Often, sources that would not meet the strictest criteria of reliability can provide important insights for fictional subjects. This is most true of reviews. Fan sites or popular culture sites that fall short of some of the criteria in Wikipedia:Reliable sources can often be used as primary sources for their own views on a work of fiction, as per the policy on use of such sources, WP:QS. This is particularly true if the sites are themselves notable, and thus if their viewpoints are significant enough to be included as part of providing a neutral point of view on the subject. As a result, substantial coverage in sources that are significant but not necessarily reliable sources can often be used to establish notability.

For example, although Television Without Pity (TWoP) probably fails to meet our standards for a reliable source, they notably provide detailed reviews of every episode of numerous television series. These reviews can be cited as evidence of what TWoP, itself an important site with an important point of view, thinks about shows. Use of such sources, though it does not meet the strictest available standards of sourcing, is often viewed as an acceptable way to establish notability in this area.

Editors should check specific WikiProjects for that type of fiction as they may provide a list of sources that have been determined to be reliable through community consensus. Editors should also remember that though such sources can provide evidence of a topic's notability, they are not, in the long term, sufficient to base an article on, and that more reliable sources should be actively sought.

Primary sources[edit]

Plot summaries are one of the areas where primary sources are most important for use on Wikipedia. Although it is often possible to find secondary sources that offer plot summaries, given the degree to which a plot summary consists of straightforward description, it is rarely preferable to do so.

On the other hand, it is important not to stray into speculation, interpretation, or commentary that is based on primary sources. Describing what happens in episodes, and even describing connections between episodes is an essential part of providing good coverage. However it is crucial to avoid speculative claims about what is merely implied. There is, however, no firm line between the two. Sometimes implication is perfectly obvious - for example, it does not require any difficult or controversial leaps to observe the ambiguity in the final episode of The Sopranos.

Bias towards commercialism[edit]

One problem that arises in covering fictional subjects is that the availability of sources is tied, at times, not to cultural importance but to the dedication that fans of a given work of fiction devote to it. If one were to judge purely based on the availability of secondary sources, one could be forgiven for thinking that science fiction shows are far and away the most important category of shows about television. After all, the number of books published on Star Trek, Doctor Who, and other shows is staggering. Often, more books exist on a low-rated, albeit critically acclaimed science fiction show such as Babylon 5 than exist on enormously popular shows like The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Unsurprisingly, this bias is often reflected in our coverage of subjects as well.

Closely related to this bias is a presentist bias — it is far more commercially sound to publish a book on a currently running television show than one that has been off the air for ages. The situation only becomes worse when the online sources that are most often consulted for Wikipedia are taken into account. Similarly, non-English language works of fiction are unlikely to see the same representation in English language sources as similarly popular English-language works.

There is no easy way to correct for this bias. Certainly we do not want to ignore the wealth of sourcing that exists for works with devoted fandoms — that sourcing makes it easier to write better articles with more real world perspective on them, and we ought take advantage of it. However, in the case of an older work of fiction, or one that does not inspire as devoted fans as other works, it is important to be somewhat more relaxed in standards to avoid excessively succumbing to this bias. As with any article, the threshold for inclusion is not whether notability has been established, but whether it is likely that it could be.

A note of caution[edit]

Deletion debates, and particularly those centering on fictional subjects, are among the most contentious processes on Wikipedia. Even the most well-intentioned of editors can be prone to assumptions of bad faith when, on the one hand, it is claimed that an article they worked hard on is unfit for inclusion, and, on the other, they are confronted with people clamoring to keep what appears to be unencyclopedic garbage. While the deletion process is sometimes - indeed often - necessary to deal with deeply flawed articles, it is important to remember that even a bad article can provide a useful foundation for writing a good article, and that working cordially and respectfully with editors whose views on inclusion you disagree with is one of the best ways to improve coverage in a given area. If it is possible to improve an article, it is always better to do so than to try to delete it.

Even if a fictional element topic fails to meet the four-pronged test or is deleted after discussion, such elements can almost always be described in the context of a larger work, and the use of redirect pages is encouraged to allow readers to search on these terms. For example, the one-shot character of Mr. Sparkle, which clearly fails the four-prong test, exists as a redirect to the Simpsons episode In Marge We Trust, the episode it appears in.

Editors should also take advantage of non-Wikipedia wikis that follow the GFDL that may provide more details about a given fictional work. These can not only be used to augment brief descriptions of fictional topics, or can be used to relocate material that has been deemed unsuitable for Wikipedia. Links to such wikis should placed as an external link to the articles in question.

See also[edit]

Category:Wikipedia notability guidelines