Wikipedia:Manual of Style/Writing about fiction

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Wikipedia contains numerous articles on subjects related to fiction, including fictional worlds and elements therein. When creating these articles, editors should establish the subject's real-world notability by including several reliable, independent secondary sources. This approach will also ensure enough source material is available for the article to be comprehensive and factually accurate. If notability is established, the topic will generally be suitable for inclusion on Wikipedia.

Once an article about fiction is created, editors should consider: (a) what to write about the subject, and (b) how to best present that information. These questions are complementary and should be addressed simultaneously to create a well-written article or improve a preexisting one. Although this page is not a policy, following the basic notions laid out in this guideline is generally considered good practice.

Real-world perspective[edit]

Articles about fiction, like all Wikipedia articles, should use the real world as their primary frame of reference. As such, the subject should be described from the perspective of the real world, in which the work of fiction (work for short) and its publication are embedded. To achieve this, editors must use both primary and secondary information.

Important aspects of real-world perspective include:

  • Careful differentiation between the work itself and aspects of its production process and publication, such as the impact it has had in the real world (see also below)
  • Careful differentiation between narrated time and fictional chronology on the one hand, and narrative time and actual chronology of real-world events on the other (of particular relevance to all film and TV-related topics)
  • The presentation of fictional material
  • Description of fictional characters, places and devices as objects of the narrative
  • Mentioning the creator's intention (if references cover such information)

Real-world perspective is not an optional criterion for quality, but rather a basic requirement for all articles. See below for a list of exemplary articles that employ a consistent real-world perspective.

The problem with in-universe perspective[edit]

An in-universe perspective describes the narrative (or a fictional element of the narrative, such as characters, places, groups, and lore) from the vantage of characters within the fictional universe, treating it as if it were real and ignoring real-world context and sourced analysis. Many fan wikis and fan websites (see below) take this approach, but it should not be used for Wikipedia articles. An in-universe perspective can be misleading to the reader, who may have trouble differentiating between fact and fiction within the article. Furthermore, articles with an in-universe perspective are more likely to include unverifiable original research due to reliance on the primary source. Most importantly, in-universe perspective defies community consensus as to what we do not want Wikipedia to be.

Features often seen in an inappropriate, in-universe perspective include:

  • Describing aspects of the work as if they were real.
  • Using past tense when discussing the plot or any of its elements (except backstory), rather than the historical present tense.
  • Presenting backstories of fictional elements as real-world historical accounts. For example, an in-universe perspective would describe the history of Starfleet from the Star Trek franchise in a manner similar to that of the US Air Force, giving extensive detail to topics such as creation, fleet composition, battles, and key events. Instead, descriptions of Starfleet should cover only the most essential details and mention the specific works (TV episodes, films, books, etc.) in which these details were included.
  • Fictography – a character description that is written like a biography, placing undue emphasis on fictional traits (titles, birthdates, etc.) that are unimportant to the plot or interpretation thereof. For example, instead of introducing the character as "Gandalf was a powerful wizard", write "Gandalf is characterised as a powerful wizard", or "Gandalf is a wizard who appears within the works of J. R. R. Tolkien".
  • Labeling fictional characters with descriptors such as "deceased" or "formerly" (see also WP:LABELFICTION).
  • Attempting to reconcile contradictions or bridge gaps in the narrative, rather than simply reporting them as such.
  • Giving undue weight to a fictional topic's appearances in obscure spin-off material.
  • Placing spiritual successors in the same continuity as the works that inspired them.
  • Using in-jokes and references that require knowledge of a work's plot, its fictional elements, or related works.
  • In the plot summary, giving undue weight to a work's most memorable scenes or lines in relation to their importance to the rest of the plot. Elements that have entered popular culture should be covered in a "Reception" or "Legacy" section. Example: Monty Python and the Holy Grail has jokes and phrases that have entered popular parlance but have little effect on the story's actual progression; however, the murder of the historian in one scene is a sight gag that is actually plot-relevant and should be described briefly.
  • Using infoboxes intended for real-world topics.
  • Referring to the fictional events or dates that occur in the story, rather than the fictional works themselves. For example, instead of writing "It is the year 34,500 AD, when the Trantorian Empire encompasses roughly half the galaxy", write "The Currents of Space is set in 34,500 AD, when the Trantorian Empire encompasses roughly half the galaxy", or similar.
  • Making connections to real-world people, places, or events that are not clearly established by the work. Editors can include material about historical events and figures when writing about historical fiction (e.g., how the fiction diverges from recorded history), but they should not assume connections for speculative fiction. For example, the 1988 film Akira takes place in Neo-Tokyo on the eve of the 2020 Olympics. By happenstance, the real-world Tokyo hosted the 2020 Summer Olympics; do not conflate or compare the fictional event of the film with the actual event. However, when a prediction has received coverage in reliable sources or entered the popular culture, it may be discussed in a separate section from the plot. For example, the predictions made about the year 2015 in Back to the Future Part II, cited to secondary reliable sources, can be discussed in a designated section.
  • Ordering works by their fictional chronology, rather than the actual order in which they were published. Articles should give precedence to a clear real-world chronology, while the in-universe order of events can be summarized in a prose plot summary. For example, although the story of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace is a prequel that represents the beginning of the Star Wars narrative, it should be defined by release order because it was the fourth film released in the series.

These restrictions also apply to serious satire such as Gulliver's Travels, Candide, and many stage plays, in which the fictional elements camouflage the political or social criticism within the work. In such cases, it is legitimate to use reliable sources to examine the fictional elements and the design of the storyline when such sources attempt to decipher the author's original intent. Also, exemptions might apply to other special forms of literature in which the fiction/non-fiction categorization is disputed, such as the possibly historical elements of religious scripture.

Please review the sections on fair use, accuracy and appropriate weight, and templates.

Sources of information[edit]

This section deals with the incorporation of information in articles about fiction, specifically in regard to primary and secondary sources.


Primary information is gathered from primary sources about the fictional universe, such as the original work of fiction or an affiliated work (e.g., another episode of the same TV series). Even articles with the strictest adherence to a real-world perspective still source the original work. According to the policy WP:No original research § Primary, secondary and tertiary sources, "A primary source may only be used on Wikipedia to make straightforward, descriptive statements of facts that can be verified by any educated person with access to the primary source but without further, specialized knowledge. ... Do not analyze, evaluate, interpret, or synthesize material found in a primary source yourself; instead, refer to reliable secondary sources that do so."

Examples of information in primary sources include:

  • the birth and death dates of fictional characters;
  • performance statistics or characteristics for fictional vehicles or devices;
  • history of fictional locations or organizations;
  • background information on fictional creatures; and
  • the plot itself.

Additional details are in the sections on fair use and templates.


Secondary information is external to the fictional universe; it is usually taken from secondary sources about the work or the fictional world it describes, or from primary and secondary sources about the author and the creation of the work. Publications affiliated with a particular work (such as fan magazines) are mostly not considered suitable secondary sources about the primary works. However, such publications may be suitable primary or secondary sources in an article about the fan publication itself or other related topics.

The rule of thumb is to use as much secondary information as necessary and useful to cover the topic's major facts and details from a real-world perspective – not more and not less. Another rule of thumb is that if the topic is notable, secondary information should be available and possibly already in the article.

Examples of useful information typically provided by secondary sources about the original work, or primary and secondary sources about information related to the work, include the:

  • author, creator, or other key figures in the creation process (e.g., the cinematographer for films or notable translators for novels);
  • production company and/or publishing house;
  • design and development (at all stages of the work's creation);
  • real-world factors that influenced the work (or an aspect thereof);
  • actors who portrayed a character (and their approach to the depiction);
  • foreign translations;
  • sales figures (for commercial offerings);
  • reception by critics and the public;
  • critical analysis, including discussion of themes, style, motifs, and genre; and
  • influence on later creators and their projects.

Contextual presentation[edit]

Generally, there are two possible issues to be considered: the context of the production and the context of the original work. Whenever the original work itself is the subject of the article, all real-world information needs to be set in the context of that original work (e.g., by including a plot summary). When the article concerns, e.g., a documentary about that original work, it is not necessarily important to discuss the content of the original source material.

For fictional elements, details of creation and other relevant real-world information are more helpful if the reader understands the role of that element within the work. This often involves providing succinct plot summaries, character descriptions, or direct quotations. By convention, these synopses should be written in the present tense (known in this use as the narrative present), as this is how a real person experiences the story (see also WP:FICTENSE). At any particular point in the story there is a "past" and a "future", but whether something is "past" or "future" changes as the story progresses. It is simplest and conventional to recount the entire description as continuous "present".

Plot summaries and similar recaps of fictional elements (like a character's biography) should be written in an out-of-universe style, presenting the narrative from a displaced, neutral frame of reference from the characters or setting (see, for example, § Plot summaries of individual works). Although an in-universe style may be more engaging for prose, it may also create bias, introduce original research, and be overly wordy. For example, instead of starting a plot summary with "It is 2003", which puts the reader in the frame of reference of the work, start with "In 2003", which extracts the reader from that frame.

Plot summaries should be written as prose, not as lists or timelines. The length of the prose should be carefully balanced with the length of the other sections, as well as the length of the story itself; simple plots may require only short summaries. Strictly avoid creating pages consisting only of a plot summary. For some types of media, associated guidelines may offer advice on plot length; for example, WP:Manual of Style/Film § Plot says that plot summaries for feature films should be between 400 and 700 words.

Wikipedia does not hide, avoid, or take effort to mark spoilers in plot summaries or similar material, but spoilers should only be included when an encyclopedic purpose is being served by presenting the complete plot.

Plot summaries of individual works[edit]

In articles on individual works, the plot summary is usually described within a section labeled "Plot", "Story", or "Synopsis". This heading implicitly informs the reader that the text within it describes the fiction. For conciseness, it is thus not necessary to explicitly incorporate out-of-universe language, particularly if the work is presented in a linear, direct presentation, such as E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. It can be presumed that the work, as presented by the plot, involves fictional elements and proceeds in a straightforward manner. However, care should be taken to avoid incorporating elements of an in-universe perspective. For longer, singular works, subheadings based on the natural divisions in the plot (for example, the three Books within A Tale of Two Cities, the acts of a play or musical, or the seasons and episodes of a television series) can be used to provide real-world framing. Because works of fiction are primary sources in their articles, basic descriptions of their plots are acceptable without reference to an outside source. References should be provided if a plot point is ambiguous (e.g. Gaston's fate in Beauty and the Beast). References also may be required in non-linear works such as video games and interactive films, where key elements of the plot may not be seen by the viewer due to how they interact with the work. For example, some of the core backstory to the video game BioShock is provided by optional audio logs, so Wikipedia's plot summary references these when they are relevant.

A singular work itself might necessitate a real-world perspective due to its structure. Works that incorporate non-linear storytelling elements, such as flashbacks (Citizen Kane) or In medias res (The Usual Suspects) presentation, or other narrative framing devices such as breaking the fourth wall (Ferris Bueller's Day Off) or inclusion of self-referential humor (Monty Python and the Holy Grail), may require inclusion of out-of-universe language to describe how the work is presented to the reader or viewer. For example, a summary of Citizen Kane should establish that much of the film is an extended flashback that is bookended by scenes in the film's present; the entire plot summary should still be written in narrative present tense. Summaries written in a real-world perspective do not need to stay true to the fiction's chronological order if going out of order improves and condenses the summary. A work with two concurrent, interchanging storylines is likely better told by summarizing one storyline in full, followed by the second storyline. If the narrative device is a significant feature of the work, such as with the films Memento and Run Lola Run, then this structure should be explained to the reader.

Where there are narrative ambiguities, for example as a result of an unreliable narrator or storytelling technique, the plot summary must not present interpretations of the creators' intent. In such cases where a true narrative is not immediately obvious, this can be avoided by the use of out-of-universe language to describe the context of how the events are presented. Interpretation of the plot taken from reliable sources can be included elsewhere in the article to provide additional information.

"Teaser"-style or incomplete plot descriptions (e.g. ending a plot description with "In the end the family makes a shocking discovery…") should not be used.

Plot summaries of serial works[edit]

Real-world perspective is the preferred style for plot summaries that encompass multiple works, such as broadly describing a series of novels, describing key events that might have happened in earlier works that impact the present work, or the biography of a fictional character over multiple works. This can often be aided by provided appropriate section headers for each of the works as to delineate the divisions of the series.

Characters and other fictional elements[edit]

When characters or other elements from fictional works are notable for their own standalone article, it is acceptable and often necessary to include a narration of that element's role in the events of the work(s) they are a part of. However, such narration must employ out-of-universe style and include real-world descriptors. Characters should not be presented as if they are real persons, fictional settings should not be treated as a real place, and so forth. Since such articles are presented with a mix of elements related to the fictional narrative alongside elements related to conception, development, and reception, editors must be sure these articles clearly define the fictional aspects with out-of-universe language to avoid confusion. Often, using section labels such as "Fictional description", "Fictional biography", or "Appearances" can help to segregate the narrative elements from the real-world elements in the rest of the article.

Summary style approach[edit]

When an article gets long (see Wikipedia:Article size), a section is sometimes developed into its own article, and the handling of the subject in the main article is condensed to a brief summary. This is a normal Wikipedia procedure called summary style. The new article is sometimes called a "spinoff" or "spinout" of the main article. For fictional works, these spinout articles are typically lists of characters or other elements that usually rely on the coverage of the parent topic, and may lack demonstration of real-world coverage through sources dedicated specifically to those elements (see Wikipedia:Manual of Style/Lists). Very rarely should such spinout articles be about a singular topic (e.g., character, plot item); either that topic has demonstrated its own notability, or should be merged into the main article or existing spinout articles.

The spinout article should concisely provide details of the topic or topics covered in the work – just because the spinout article is given more space to grow does not mean that excessive plot summaries or fictional character biographies are appropriate. As with other fictional works, the spinout article should be written in an "out-of-universe" style, with an appropriate amount real-world information included. As with all Wikipedia articles, the spinout needs to be verifiable, must possess no original research, and must reflect a neutral point of view.

Sourcing and quotations[edit]

The plot summary for a work, on a page about that work, does not need to be sourced with in-line citations, as it is generally assumed that the work itself is the primary source for the plot summary. If a plot summary includes a direct quote from the work, this must be cited using inline citations per WP:V. Editors are encouraged to use and cite secondary sourcing, when available and comprehensive, to allow readers to verify the content and to prevent original research. Otherwise, using brief citations from the primary work can be helpful to source key or complex plot points.

Analysis and interpretation[edit]

Presenting fictional material from the original work is allowed, provided passages are short, are given the proper context, and do not constitute the main portion of the article. If such passages stray into the realm of interpretation, per WP:PRIMARY, secondary sources must be provided to avoid original research. Plot summaries cannot engage in interpretation and should only present an obvious recap of the work. For example, we cannot state anything about whether the top remains spinning or topples at the end of Inception. Even small details that might be clear on a word-by-word or frame-by-frame analysis – steps well beyond the normal act of reading or watching a work – should be considered original research and excluded from such articles. If a vague plot element is later clarified by the work's creator, this can be included in the summary as long as a citation to this clarification is provided. Independent secondary sources that make analysis or interpretation of a work but without any correlation with the creator should be discussed in a separate section outside of the plot summary and not confused with the presented plot summary.

In many contemporary works, it may be possible to easily identify real-world locations, stores, brands, vendors, and models of tangible elements within a visual work, such as where the work was filmed based on landmarks, or the make and model of a car or a gun by observation of unique features. Incorporating this into plot summaries may also be considered interpretation and an element of original research. It should be omitted, as typically the work of fiction does not rely on these specifics: the story may take place in an unnamed city, or the hero drives away in a fast car. However, when those elements are essential facets of the narrative plot or sourced analysis of the work itself, then they should be included; this usually means that the work of fiction has specifically identified these, or that secondary sources have made reference to these in relationship to the plot or work itself. For example, Back to the Future specifically alludes to the time machine being built from a DMC DeLorean, and the car has become iconic with the series so its inclusion is appropriate. In many James Bond films, the car Bond drives and other gadgets based on real-world products are part of the film's marketing, and can be identified that way within the plot. On the other hand, while the setting of Seven can be identified as Los Angeles from various landmarks, the film never calls out the name of the city, nor is the city's specific elements essential to the narrative, and thus should be omitted from that section. Instead, label it in another section concerning filming locales, which usually appears with a more relevant section on behind-the-scenes information.


Generally speaking, a fictional topic that does not meet the notability guidelines should not have its own article on Wikipedia. However, a collection of fictional topics, such as a setting or cast of characters, may be more notable as a whole. As mentioned earlier, the rule of thumb is that if the topic is sufficiently notable, secondary sources will be available and will ideally be included on article creation.

Accuracy and appropriate weight[edit]

Articles must be written from a neutral point of view and must give due weight to all aspects of the subject. Editors should also give appropriate weight to all elements of the article (e.g., images and text, as well as infoboxes and succession boxes). The goal is to attain the greatest possible degree of accuracy in covering the topic at hand, which is also the basic rationale behind discouraging disproportionately long plot summaries and in-universe writing.

Fair use[edit]

As the Wikimedia Foundation is based in the United States, Wikipedia articles must conform to United States copyright law. It has been held in a number of court cases that any work which re-tells original ideas from a fictional source, in sufficient quantity without adding information about that work, or in some way analysing and explaining it, may be construed as a derivative work or a copyright violation. This may apply irrespective of the way information is presented, in or out of the respective fictional universe, or in some entirely different form such as a quizbook or "encyclopedia galactica".

Information from copyrighted fictional worlds and plots of works of fiction can be provided only under a claim of fair use, and Wikipedia's non-free content policy requires minimal extent of use. Many works of fiction covered by Wikipedia are protected by copyright. Some works are sufficiently old that their copyright has expired, or the rights may have been released in some way, such as under the CC BY-SA license, or into the public domain. In these cases, the works themselves may be hosted at a Wikimedia project like Wikisource, but the Wikipedia should still cover the work tersely.


When writing about fiction, keep the following in mind.

  • Write from a real-world perspective: the principal frame of reference is always the real world, in which both the work of fiction and its publication are embedded.
  • Use a balance of primary and secondary sources: both are necessary for a real-world perspective.
  • Avoid original research: unpublished personal observation and interpretation of the article's subject and primary sources are not acceptable on Wikipedia.
  • Reference all information and cite your sources: information needs to be verifiable and derive from and be supported by reliable sources. All sources (including the primary sources) need to be appropriately cited in the article.
  • Maintain balanced coverage: all relevant aspects must be given due weight in all elements of the article, including text, images, layout, and even the article title. Avoid lists of fictional events or trivia. Instead, incorporate relevant information into the article as prose, and discard information that is either redundant or unnecessary to understanding that topic. If a fictional topic is not covered in several independent, reliable, secondary sources, then it probably should not have its own article.
  • Put all content in the correct context: readability and comprehensibility are key, and the reader should always be able to differentiate between real world and fictional content.
  • Use copyrighted work sparingly: check with the image use policy before adding images to any article. Ensure the article complies with Wikipedia's fair-use policy.

List of exemplary articles[edit]

Here are examples of fiction-related articles that follow the real-world perspective. Editors should use these as a guide when writing their own articles. This is a brief selection; for other equally exceptional examples, see the lists of articles that have been rated at Good and Featured status.

List of articles as of 22 May 2024:



If you notice an article that predominantly describes a fictional topic from an in-universe perspective, or even provides no indication that a fictional subject is fictional, preferably rewrite the article or section yourself, or use the {{In-universe}} template to bring the issue to the attention of others. Be sure to leave a note on the article's talk page explaining your objections. The template looks like this:

{{Cleanup tense}}

One of the most frequently occurring errors associated with an in-universe style of writing is incorrect use of past tense when discussing elements of the plot. Works of fiction are generally considered to "come alive" when read. As with all other article issues, preferably fix it yourself, or alternatively you may use the template to supplement and specify the {{In-universe}} template's call for a consistent real-world perspective.

{{Primary sources}}

If you notice an article featuring only primary sources and sources affiliated with the subject, preferably find and add suitable sources yourself, or use the {{Primarysources}} template to bring the issue to the attention of others.

{{No plot}}

When the article is missing a plot summary entirely, use the {{No plot}} template. If you feel qualified to write a basic plot summary, consider giving it a shot. Succinctly summarizing a plot and deciding which elements to mention and how to describe and weight them can be a challenge, but it's also a rewarding experience; plot summaries can be entirely based on primary sources and in many cases no complicated cross-reading between various sources is required.

{{Hook}}, {{More plot}}

When the plot summary is present but insufficient (for example, if it summarizes the conflict but omits the resolution, or consists only of a blurb or "hook"), use the {{Hook}} or {{More plot}} template.

{{Long plot}}, {{All plot}}

A plot summary should be succinct and focused on the main plot. What to cut can sometimes be a difficult decision. If you have the time and energy, please consider tightening overly long and overly detailed plot summaries yourself.

When the article contains little more than a plot summary, use {{All plot}} to raise the issue. Since this is a crucial issue which may eventually lead to the article's being nominated for deletion, consider improving the article yourself.

Alternative outlets for fictional universe articles[edit]

Many fictional universes have dedicated wikis that may feature more comprehensive coverage of the in-universe aspects of the work, without the need to establish real-world perspective. If a universe is not available in the above link, please try a search engine.

Infoboxes and succession boxes[edit]

Infoboxes, usually placed in the upper-right portion of an article, give key data about the article's subject in tabular format. For entities within fiction, useful infobox data might include the creators or actors, first appearance, an image, and in-universe information essential to understanding the entity's context in the overall fiction. What qualifies as essential varies based on the nature of the work. Where facts change at different points in a story or series, there may be no appropriate in-universe information at all to add. By contrast, an infobox on a character in a fantasy work with multiple warring factions may warrant data such as allegiance.

As with all infoboxes, trivial details should be avoided. An infobox for a real-life actor would not contain items such as favorite food and hobbies; these details do not aid the reader in understanding the important characteristics of the subject. In the same way, infoboxes about fictional entities should avoid delving into minutiae, such as information only mentioned in supplementary backstory. For this reason, infoboxes meant for real-world entities should not be applied to their fictional counterparts, since, for example, information important to a description of a real-world company may be tangential to a fictional one. It is important to identify the revenue of Microsoft, whereas the fact that fictional MegaAcmeCorp makes 300 billion GalactiBucks in 2463 is probably unimportant.

Another common type of template, succession boxes, should not be used to describe in-universe relationships in articles about fictional entities. Succession boxes assume continuity, which may not exist. Furthermore, they may invite the creation of non-notable articles that fall under the fictional succession. For articles about works of fiction themselves, the story that each work of fiction depicts does not change despite the continuation of stories across serial works or sequels, and as a consequence, the events within one work of fiction are always in the present whenever it is read, watched, or listened to. In-universe temporal designations such as "current" or "previous" are therefore inappropriate. For character articles (which cannot be bound temporally), it may be acceptable to use customized templates to summarize information from the perspective of the real world, such as connections between articles describing the same fictional world. Such templates should not invite the creation of articles about non-notable subjects.


A number of categories exist to sort works of fiction by their major themes and narrative elements which can help readers find related works. For example, works on Harry Potter should be categorized in Fictional characters who use magic. However, editors should be careful to use an excessive number of categories, and should only use the categories that primarily cover the work, where it would be nearly impossible to concisely describe the work or topic of fiction without broadly mentioning the category. While Category:Blood in fiction may readily apply to stories where blood is a major element such as works about vampires, the work should not be categorized into this category just based on the appearance of blood in the work. Overzealous sorting can diffuse the usefulness of these categories, as well as over-categorize certain works.

See also[edit]

Related wikiprojects[edit]

These are some of the larger wikiprojects that deal with fiction material. They may have additional suggestions, article templates and styles with which you might wish to make yourself familiar.

There are also numerous genre-specific and even franchise-specific wikiprojects; see WP:WikiProject Council for listings.