Alternative universe (fan fiction)

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An alternative universe (also known as alternate universe or alternate reality), commonly abbreviated as AU, is a type or form of in which canonical facts of setting or characterization in the universe being explored or written about are deliberately changed.

Stories that fall into this definition are usually what-ifs, where possibilities arising from different circumstances or character decisions are explored. 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.

The author gets an established audience for their story: the fans of the original, and then subsequently altered, universe, which they would not get if they wrote it as an original story instead of fan fiction. Some of the best fan fiction writers, who aspire to be published authors, can take advantage of this inversely by developing a loyal audience, the readers of their fan fiction, for books with original storylines that they might publish at a later date.

Types of AU fiction[edit]

Authors and readers of AU fan fiction enjoy it for diverse reasons, but there are several shared impetuses that exist regardless of fandom:

Alternate timelines[edit]

Stories in this category of AU 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 Harry Potter is placed in a relationship with Draco Malfoy, and they carry out their lives as partners instead of enemies. Other "Harry Potter" fan fiction stories include ones where instead of Ginny Weasley, it is Cho Chang who ends up with Harry Potter, whether after Cedric Diggory dies or else simply through choosing Harry over Cedric.

The Pokémon series has had its fair share of alternate universe fanfictions. One notable example is "Blue Tears"[1] a story in which the rival (Blue) gets revenge on Red after his actions on the S.S. Anne led to the death of his Raticate. Popular among fans, it is known for being spawned from a popular fan-rumor about Blue's presence at Pokémon Tower when you face him in the original games, and has gained a cult following among Pokémon fans. Another AU fanfic is "Paws for Alarm"[2] in which the filler story of "Hocus Pokémon" never happened, and Ash Ketchum turns into a Pikachu by other circumstances, while trying to fight his newfound feral instincts. The story has been praised[by whom?] for its darker and more realistic interpretation of Pokémon, and is currently in the stages of a more detailed rewrite.

Possibly the longest completed Alternate Timeline story is the Babylon 5 epic "A Dark, Distorted Mirror",[3] by Gareth Williams. In this saga, which runs to well over a million words, Delenn chooses a different Starfury pilot (not Jeffrey Sinclair) to bring aboard the Minbari cruiser during the Battle of the Line. As a result, the Grey Council do not find out about the human/Minbari soul connection, the Minbari do not surrender, Earth is destroyed, and the war continues. However, despite the dark and desperate struggle that ensues, the eventual outcome offers hope for a better future.

Some alternate timeline stories are called "denial-fics" because they ignore certain events in canon. For example, many Harry Potter denial-fics pretend Sirius Black never died. An example is "You Don't Belong Here" by Hieirulesall; the author's notes say that the author wants Sirius alive but does not want to find a way to bring him back.[4] Others are called "fix-it fics," because they rewrite the story so that the events in question did happen, but the fan fiction undoes the consequences. An example of this is "Extenuating Circumstances" by SarahtheBardess, in which Sirius Black is returned to life.[5]

Others seemingly involve the twisting of the Final Battle in Deathly Hallows, returning to life characters that had formerly been killed off. Fred Weasley, Remus Lupin, Nymphadora Tonks and Mad-Eyed Moody are examples of people whose death has been ignored. An example is the story "Starting Anew" by cutewolf97, in which Remus Lupin and Nymphadora Tonks are alive and raise Teddy in a war-torn world.[6]

Contextual reassignment[edit]

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.[7]

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.[8]

Swapping the characters with the actors who play them[edit]

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"[9] "Visit To A Weird Planet, Revisited"[10]). These fan fiction stories were eventually published in official Star Trek books. This trope has been used in other places, such as the film Galaxy Quest.

This concept was used in an episode of Supernatural, "The French Mistake" (Season 6, Episode 15). In the episode, Balthazar transports Sam and Dean to an alternate universe where they are actors named Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles, respectively, on a television show called "Supernatural".

High school AUs[edit]

This is a common AU idea where the characters of a work attend high school, normally an American one. They tend to not have any powers, skills or experiences that they possessed in the original work, making it slightly controversial as some argue that it makes the characters into entirely different people to what they were in the original without them.


Two fictional universes, or the real universe and a fictional universe, are placed in a situation in which they interact. Such stories sometimes involve comparisons and 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.[11] Sometimes these stories involve characters from one universe substituting for the characters in another universe and playing out the second universe's storyline, as in "Return of the Aurors" by Anne Walsh. The 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.[12] A third example would be the protagonists from multiple works of fiction uniting to stop a threat resulting from the antagonists of those same works of fiction teaming up, as in Lyoko Warriors in Space, a crossover between Code Lyoko and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by deviantART member human-groveback. The story involves the Lyoko Warriors teaming up with the Heart of Gold crew to stop the Infinite Improbability Drive on the ship exploding due to XANA taking control of the ship and teaming up with Humma Kavula. Crossovers like this tend involve certain characters from one work of fiction getting along best with characters from the other work of fiction.[13]

Predictive fiction becomes alternative universe[edit]

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 series, so that fan works are written before further canon arrives. For instance, much Harry Potter fan fiction 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 Albus Dumbledore's death, which did not happen in Order of the Phoenix, but, coincidentally, did happen in the following Harry Potter book, Half-Blood Prince.[14]

Changing canon[edit]

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 for a different plot.

On occasions, a fan fiction writer creates a character that is supposed to be there from the beginning and 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.[15] It is also not uncommon for fan fiction to deliberately explore what could have happened in the original fictional universe had certain events played out differently. Changing canon can also mean taking a canon couple that was hinted at, but didn't actually happen, and expanding on it.

AU controversies[edit]

Many fan fiction readers and authors dislike AUs because some AU writers disregard the canon of official work by or approved of by the author. However, some authors specifically write AU fiction instead of textbook fan fiction to explore issues not fully addressed in canon, and may present a meticulously researched canon universe that then veers away from actual events in ways that logically proceed from the changes the AU author introduced.

Another type of AU that authors and readers have problems with involves the storyline of a well-known movie or video game, played out by original characters or by characters from another series. An example is "A Different Sort of Adventure" by ImLucky, in which original characters work through two of the Pokémon game adventures.[16] Finally, some people have theorized that because AU authors are already radically changing the story as it is, they find it far easier to add a Mary Sue, or, in other terms, a wish-fulfillment character.[17]

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[edit]

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[18] which, while not integral, was revisited for another storyline.[19] As stated above, the What If and Elseworld series have original fiction stories taking place in an alternative universe, e.g. Red Son, a Superman graphic novel in which Superman landed in the USSR instead of the United States.

In the many Gundam anime series, there are 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). Tenchi Muyo! and El-Hazard utilize the more traditional alternative universe concept, each beginning with an OVA series and followed by a television series that utilizes many of the same characters and locations, but with alterations made to both (some minor and some drastic).

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.

The Stargate franchise has included episodes in which characters interact with alternative versions of themselves.

In Star Trek, several episodes feature a "Mirror Universe" containing a very different history of events.

In Supernatural, there have so far been eight AU storylines including "What Is and What Should Never Be", "The End", "The French Mistake" and "My Heart Will Go On".

In the Lego Bionicle storyline, there are many alternative universes, which are created whenever a character makes a decision or an event happens. For example, a universe was created when 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, transforming the other Toa into secret police. These alternative dimensions can be visited using a 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 Hinamizawa.

Toei Company's celebration of the tenth anniversary of their long standing tokusatsu franchise Kamen Rider was honored by the creation of their 2009 series Kamen Rider Decade. The series crossed over with previous Kamen Rider series in the form of alternative universes and worlds, with each world having its own Kamen Rider. A crossover episode with the Super Sentai franchise also ensued as Kamen Rider Decade traveled to the world of the Samurai Sentai Shinkenger and teamed up with them.

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.[20][21]

Big Finish Doctor Who has alternate universe stories called "Unbound", which explore alternate Doctors. For example He Jests at Scars... shows what would have happened if the Valeyard had won, and Sympathy for the Devil shows an alternate Third Doctor who was exiled to 1997 Earth, which has faced alien invasions without the Doctor's help.

While not exactly being an AU, in the anime Axis Powers Hetalia, there is an example of the High School AU - the W Academy. There was also a true AU in the form of Gakuen Hetalia, an unfinished dating sim project set in 'World Academy W'.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "BLUE TEARS, a pokémon fanfic". FanFiction. 2010-09-14. Retrieved 2015-03-04. 
  2. ^ "Four Fur Feet: A Story of the Paw Saga, a pokémon fanfic". FanFiction. 2011-05-26. Retrieved 2015-03-04. 
  3. ^ "The Babylon Five Parallel Universe Story". 2003-02-21. Retrieved 2015-03-04. 
  4. ^ "You Don't Belong Here Chapter 1, a harry potter fanfic". FanFiction. Retrieved 2015-03-04. 
  5. ^ "Extenuating Circumstances Chapter 1: A Chance, a harry potter fanfic". FanFiction. Retrieved 2015-03-04. 
  6. ^ "FanFiction". FanFiction. Retrieved 2015-03-04. 
  7. ^ "FanFiction". FanFiction. Retrieved 2015-03-04. 
  8. ^ "Charmingly High School Chapter 1: The First Day, a charmed fanfic". FanFiction. Retrieved 2015-03-04. 
  9. ^ Lorrah, Jean; Hunt, Willard F. (1968-09-01). "Visit to a Weird Planet". SPOCKANALIA 3. Archived from the original on 2007-01-27. Retrieved 2007-03-08. 
  10. ^ Berman, Ruth (1976-03-01). "Star Trek: The New Voyages: Visit to a Weird Planet Revisited". Bantam. Archived from the original on 16 March 2007. Retrieved 2007-03-08. 
  11. ^ "A Thin Veneer Chapter 1, a tv x-overs fanfic". FanFiction. Retrieved 2015-03-04. 
  12. ^ [1][dead link]
  13. ^ Style Skin: Change skin (2011-09-27). "human-groveback's DeviantArt gallery". Retrieved 2015-03-04. 
  14. ^ Arabella and Zsenya. "After the End". Archived from the original on 15 May 2007. Retrieved 2007-04-26. 
  15. ^ Anne Walsh. "Dangerverse: About". Archived from the original on 4 March 2007. Retrieved 2007-03-08. 
  16. ^ "A different Sort of Adventure Chapter 1: Introductions, a pokémon fanfic". FanFiction. Retrieved 2015-03-04. 
  17. ^ [2][dead link]
  18. ^ "It's The Wrong Torg, Grommit! - 05/10/1998". Sluggy Freelance. Archived from the original on 13 March 2007. Retrieved 2007-03-08. 
  19. ^ "Along Came (another) Bunny - 05/19/2004". Sluggy Freelance. Archived from the original on 13 March 2007. Retrieved 2007-03-08. 
  20. ^ Mohit Sharma. "Trendy Baba Series by Mohit Sharma — Reviews, Discussion, Bookclubs, Lists". Retrieved 2015-03-04. 
  21. ^ "Heroes in Real Harsh World Series - book profile from the WritersNet books and publications directory". Retrieved 2015-03-04.