Alternative universe (fan fiction)
An alternative universe (also known as alternate universe or alternate reality), commonly abbreviated as AU, is the occurrence of canonical facts about the setting or characterization of a particular fictional universe being explored in a non-canonical way. These universes are often made unofficially, though elements of fan fiction are sometimes used in official, though usually non-canonical, storylines.
Stories that fall into this definition are usually "what-ifs", where possibilities arising from circumstances which do not occur in the original fictional universe are explored. For example, the premise of an alternate universe story may go something like this: "What would happen if character X was killed before event Y could happen?" Unlike regular fan fiction, which generally remains within the boundaries of the canon set out by the author, alternative universe fiction writers like to explore the possibilities of pivotal changes made to characters' history, motivations, or environment.
Types of AU fiction
Authors and readers of AU fan fiction enjoy it for many different reasons, but there are several shared story types that exist within manyfandoms:
Stories in this category follow the established canon before veering away at a crucial moment (similar in concept to many entries in Marvel Comics' What If series and DC Comics' Elseworlds series). An example of this is the Harry Potter story "All I Need ~ Drarry", by Wattpad user LostAllHope00, where the protagonist Harry Potter is placed in a relationship with a boy who is usually his enemy, Draco Malfoy. The Pokémon TV and video game series too has had its fair share of alternate universe fanfictions. One example notable for its popularity is "Blue Tears", a story in which the pokémon trainer Blue gets revenge on his rival Red after the later's actions on the S.S. Anne led to the death of Blue's Raticate.
Some alternate timeline stories are called "fix-it fics", because they rewrite the story so that, while the same beginning events happen, the consequences of those events are undone. An example of this from the Harry Potter universe is "Extenuating Circumstances" by SarahtheBardess, in which Harry's godfather Sirius Black still dies at the hands of his cousin Bellatrix LeStrange, but is returned to life. Others are called "denial-fics" because they ignore certain pivotal events in a given canon. An example of this type, also from the Harry Potter universe, is "You Don't Belong Here" by Hieirulesall; the author notes that they want Sirius Black to live, but do not want to resort to bringing him back from the dead.
Possibly the longest completed Alternate Timeline story is the Babylon 5 science fiction epic "A Dark, Distorted Mirror", by Gareth Williams. In this saga, which runs well over a million words, the alien ambassador Delenn chooses a different pilot (not Jeffrey Sinclair, a crucial contributor to both the battle and fictional universe as a whole) to bring aboard a Minbari warship during the final battle in a war between the Minbari and Earth. As a result, the Minbari do not find out about an important connection between themselves and humans, do not surrender, and successfully destroy the planet Earth and continue the war. However, despite the dark and desperate struggle that ensues as a result, the eventual outcome offers hope for a better future.
These stories take the characters from a series and place them in another time, place, or situation. An example is "Welcome to Hogwarts" by AD Miller, a Glee story that transfers the characters to Hogwarts, from the Harry Potter universe.
A subset of this type, called familiar contextual reassignment, takes the characters from a series and places them in a setting more familiar to the author. This type of context shift is one of the main sources of "high school fic", in which all the characters are written going to high school. An example of this is the Charmed fan fiction "Charmingly High School" by AlwayWrittinSomethin, in which characters who never met until adulthood attend high school together. AUs of this type are often controversial, as some argue that it makes the characters into entirely different people than what they were in the original story.
In this type of AU, usually done in universes which include movies or television shows, the actors may find themselves in the fictional universe, the fictional characters may find themselves in the "real" universe, or the story may feature both sides of the swap. This type of AU has appeared in mainstream publication as well. In Star Trek short stories from the early 1970s in which the actors from the Desilu set were swapped with the "real life" Starfleet officers via the transporter. ("Visit To A Weird Planet" "Visit To A Weird Planet, Revisited"). These fan fiction stories were eventually published in official Star Trek books. This concept was used also in an in-canon episode of Supernatural, "The French Mistake" (Season 6, Episode 15). In the episode, two characters named Sam and Dean are transported to an alternate universe where they are actors named Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles, respectively, on a television show called "Supernatural".
This type of alternate universe places two fictional universes in a situation where they interact, similar to reality swaps (which mix a fictional universe with the real world). Such stories sometimes involve comparisons or conflict between the combat prowess of the two universes, often involving the various strengths and weaknesses of the technology/magic of each world. An example is "A Thin Veneer" by AlbertG, in which Star Trek characters meet Babylon 5 characters, setting off a galaxy-wide war.
Sometimes these stories involve the substitution of characters from one universe for those of another, as in "Return of the Aurors" by Anne Walsh. That fan fiction recasts Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi with Harry Potter characters, like 'Ron Solo' (Ron Weasley as Han Solo) and 'N-3LO' (Neville Longbottom as C-3PO). The story is played out in a Harry Potter-themed universe, visiting, for example, Dursley the Hutt's home on the desert planet of Quidditchine.
A third example of crossover fiction would be when a team-up of heroes from multiple universes must defeat a team-up of villains from those same stories, as in the Phineas and Ferb television special Phineas and Ferb: Mission Marvel. In this TV episode, several villains from the Marvel universe team up with the show's usual villain, and a group of Marvel superheroes must team up with the show's protagonists to stop their plan to take over the world.
Alternative universes can arise inadvertently in fan fiction when the source material is released in a serial form (such as a multi-season television series or a book trilogy) so that fan works are written before further canonical information arrives. For instance, much Harry Potter fan fiction written in the nearly three years between the publication of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was written as "continuation" fan fiction, but became AU as soon as the new canonical material appeared. An example is Arabella and Zsenya's "After the End", made AU by Order of the Phoenix the day after the story's completion. In "After the End", Harry's fifth year ended with his mentor Albus Dumbledore's death, which did not happen in Order of the Phoenix, but, coincidentally, did happen in the following novel.
In alternative universe stories, characters' known motivations may vary considerably from their decisions in the canonical universe. The author of an alternative universe story thus can use the same characters, but send them down different paths to achieve a completely different plot.
On occasions, a fan fiction writer creates a character which does not exist in the actual story that inspired it. Gertrude 'Danger' Granger in Anne Walsh's Harry Potter AU series, the "Dangerverse," is an example of this, who is invented to serve as the wife of Remus Lupin, one of Harry's friends and teachers. Changing canon can also mean taking a romantic relationship that was hinted, but didn't actually happen, and expanding on it.
Many fan fiction readers and authors dislike AUs because some AU writers disregard the canon of official work composed or approved by the original author. However, some authors write AU fiction specifically to explore issues not fully addressed elsewhere, and may develop their own meticulously researched universe which follows logically from the original canon. Some also object to "wish-fulfillment" characters (aka a "Mary Sues").
A common mistake made by inexperienced fan fiction writers is to believe that writing an AU fan fiction means that the writer can acceptably and drastically alter the personalities of major characters; in fact, the point of AU fan fiction is that the characters' personalities remain as much the same as possible, and the only changes are those that could rationally be caused by the differences from canon.
AU in original fiction
Alternative universes are also used in original fiction works themselves as an integral part of the storyline. The webcomic Sluggy Freelance had an alternative universe storyline  which, while not integral, was revisited for another storyline. Many examples given above, in particular the What If and Elseworld universes, have elements of AU fiction built into their canon.
In the many Gundam anime series, there are often six major timelines that are independent of one another, and some fan circles (especially in North America) refer to the timelines created after the original Universal Century as "alternate universes". However, this does not truly fit the standard definition of AU, as the timelines share neither characters nor locations (aside from the solar system itself). Some universes, especially when presented in two different formats (such as an anime TV show and concurrent manga comic series), have two timelines which are similar but not identical, usually as a result of the difficulty of portraying certain scenes in both formats. Theoretically, both timelines are canon, but the differences sometimes escalate to the point where the two formats become essentially different stories.
The Star Wars: Infinities comic book series explores alternative universe fiction in a "what-if" style, diverging from the story of the original Star Wars trilogy movies at crucial moments, with a major impact on the evolving story. Exploring these questions from a different angle, the Stargate franchise has included episodes in which characters interact with alternative versions of themselves. In a similar fashion, severalStar Trek episodes feature a "Mirror Universe" containing a very different history of events.
In the Lego Bionicle storyline, there are many alternative universes created whenever a character makes a decision or an event happens. For example, a universe was created when the character Toa Tuyet betrayed the city of Metru Nui and was defeated; in the alternative universe, Tuyet is aided by her comrade, Toa Nidhiki, and takes over Metru Nui. These alternative dimensions can be visited using a special mask called the Kanohi Olmak (Mask of Dimensional Gates). The anime, manga, and videogame series Higurashi no Naku Koro ni (as well as its spin-offs) focuses on AU arcs and alternate settings to reveal the secrets of the village named Hinamizawa. Likewise, book series Heroes in Real Harsh World and Trendy Baba Series by Mohit Trendster explore multiple story angles of different Indian comic book superheroes with experimental backdrops and contrasting elements. Big Finish Doctor Who has alternate universe stories called "Unbound", which explore alternate Doctors.
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