This world has shrimp but no cocktail sauce.

This morning I was delighted to notice that epic_recs has reviewed one of my personal favorite stories, "Dust on his hands from the sky". This is a long and angsty season 6 left turn Giles/Xander story. Definitely check the tags & the content warning for character death on this one (but not death of the principals, I note).

One thing that surprised me about the review was the comment about how the story isn't labeled as AU but the reviewer considers it to be so. This got me thinking about the definition of "AU" and how I rarely use it. I suspect I use the word differently than the reviewer does.

"Thusia" is definitely an AU to me, because I make drastic changes from canon about what the Watcher's Council is and the religious history of the world where the story is taking place. "Dust" isn't. To me, at least. I seem to reserve the word for big shifts from canonical setting: everybody's human, or Giles never went back to the Council, or Buffy never moved to Sunnydale, or the Watchers all worship Apollo. Worlds without shrimp kinds of changes, the way the Wishverse is in canon. I think the Buffy fandom in general uses the word this way and other fandoms might consider the AU tipping point to occur sooner.

There are some stories I write that could nestle right into canon without change, but most of my output would be AU by the reviewer's definition, if I understand it. The fun is all in cluing the reader in exactly how it wanders away. One of the tricks to writing good fanfiction, for me, is establishing for the reader the story's ground rules as soon as possible. When in canon is it set? Where does it differ from canon right from the outset (if at all)? What are the key plot points the reader has to know in advance? Which ones can be revealed to good effect as the story progresses? This can be done in author's notes, but I consider that cheating. The story has to contain all the important clues in the text. At least in the version of the fanficcy game that I'm playing.

The other thing I was doing with "Dust" was remixing aspects of canonical season 6 and 7. There are a number of plot points from those seasons that I borrow and use differently, or give very different outcomes. Willow's magic addiction. Buffy's potential attack on Anya-the-demon. Xander breaking up with Anya. Buffy & Spike's dysfunctional season 6 relationship. So yeah, I want you to think about canon as you read and get something out of the contrasts of how things worked out in the story versus how they worked out in canon. But then, I think fanfiction always gets energy from that comparison going on inside the reader. This story just trades on it more than I usually do.

This might be one reason why I never get the idea of reading fic without knowing the canon. I know lots of people do, but it always confuses me when I try it. Who are these people? What's the joke here? Am I supposed to know that incident or is the writer dropping a clue for later exploration in this story? I feel I lose a lot of the pleasure in fanfic when I don't know how canon is being tweaked around, because I'm losing what makes it fanfic instead of origfic.

End of spoileriffic digression.

Random: How Pinboard weathered the Delicious exodus. A successful scaling experience. I've been pleased as punch by the service as a back end for giles_watchers. Also I was pleased by the helpful & friendly inquiry on Twitter about how my migration was going. I didn't need support (yay well-done API!) but they offered it anyway in the middle of that apocalypse.
  • Current Music: We Will Spin Forever : The Echelon Effect : [BadPanda072] The Echelon Effect
AU is one of the hardest definitions in fandom. It's also the one I have to police the hardest at the SunnyD Awards. There, we define AU as "All human or parallel universe, NOT simply UC Pairings (het or slash) or saying so-and-so never showed up/left/died, or re-writing an episode". You'd be surprised how many people consider a story AU simply because the pairing is unconventional.

I'll have to check out "Dust". I've been on a bit of a Giles/Xander kick lately and have been slowly checking out authors I know who write the pairing.
Seems like it's a term with a lot of different usages, judging from comments here! You're sensible in giving it a clear definition for the SunnyD awards, because there's less consensus than I thought there was.

I recommend highly the entire works of drsquidlove for some solid, chewy long-form Giles/Xander reading as well as light prawny fluffier reading. Can't go wrong!
I just skimmed through the other comments and it is always very interesting to see how different people have different definitions for AU.

I recently spent a solid week devouring The Giles Thing, and then the rest of drsquidlove's stories.
Personally, I consider a story AU the minute it departs from canon. I think I'd distinguish between stories where the background of the universe is different (all-human, for example) and stories where the background of the universe is the same up to some definable point, and then splits off into a what-if. That what-if can be character falling in love/lust with someone they didn't in canon, a character dying or not dying at the point tyhey did in canon, Buffy deciding to have ham and swiss instead of peanut butter for lunch, etc. And what-ifs are the kind of story I like best. I respect the skill it takes to write fill-in-the-blank fic that slips into canon without a ripple, but that's not what interests me about fanfic.
Yours is the most expansive definition of AU I've encountered. I more often see what the_emu describes below. I guess what I have learned is that the term has no clear definition right now in fandom. It varies not just from fandom to fandom but from fan to fan.

There's another genre of fanfic I love that's more canon-compatible than the what-if: the exploration of the areas that canon leaves sketchy. For example, background stories for characters canon gives us little information about. You can do a lot of fun invention there and still leave the character ending up at his or her canonical destination. In our mutual fandom, Giles's background is a big blank canvas. I always want to fill that one in in a dozen different ways.

[edit for grammarz]

Edited at 2011-03-10 09:37 pm (UTC)
Yeah. From my TPM background, I'd call 'Dust' Alternative Reality (minor changes to this universe), not AU (entirely different universe). There, if it was the Jedi galaxy we knew but Obi-Wan had never become a Jedi, and instead Qui-Gon found him prostituting himself on a rim world, that was AR. If the Jedi organisation was actually an interplanetary brothel, then it was AU.

And congrats on 'Dust'! It is indeed worthy.

Even if while I in some ways love epic_recs, in other ways it bothers me, in a way, which I don't have time to go fully into. It sort of imposes its views in a non-reviewy way. Most pointed example, it spoils without consideration. I was really annoyed by how Giles Thing was spoiled (while also very grateful for the rec) and I've been annoyed at stories I wanted to read being spoiled before I even decided I wanted to read them.

The Buffy fandom doesn't seem to use AR much, does it? But I've seen other fandoms use it a lot, mostly in the way you're using it from TPM. Practically everything written in the last few years would be AR. You got the episode tags and missing scenes thing while the show was on the air and not at all afterwards.

Epic Recs is opinionated, which I like in a review comm. I might disagree at times, but that's fine; reviewers should come with points of view. I like the quirky. Spoilers, on the other hand, are generally uncool. There's an art to writing a review that entices somebody into reading a fic while giving them enough information to decide if it's for them or not. You need to hold back the story's heart sometimes and expose it other times. And you never spoil big plot points.
I'm not sure how I missed seeing "Dust" the first time, but thank you for pointing it out. Delightfully written! I'm not a G/X shipper most of the time, but the way you wrote their personalities and the surrounding plot devices was riveting. Beautiful, compelling, and heart-rending/warming all at once. *applause*
Thank you very much! That was a story that surprised me a lot as I wrote it, because I didn't intend at the outset to go where it went. But I'm glad in retrospect that it went there with those two characters.
I use the term "Alternate Reality" for fics in which the characters and setting are basically the same as the TV series, but with a different plot, pairing, etc. (For example, a fic that's set in AtS Season 5, in which Nina's still a werewolf, Angel and Spike are still vampires...but Nina and Angel never date and Fred survives Illyria's possession.)

I use the term "Alternate Universe" for fics in which the characters have the same names and personalities that they did in the TV series, but with a setting and plot that has nothing to do with the TV series. (For example, Faith and Anya are ordinary humans with no superpowers, in a world without demons or magic, and they live in Nashville and are country-western musicians in the 1950s.)

That's just my own personal interpretation of the two terms, though. As you said, other folks' definitions may vary greatly. Confusion ahoy! ;D
I like your definition of AU! Though getting consensus on it is probably both impossible and pointless. It is jargon and should be ignored as soon as it's not being useful jargon.

I am terrified by the idea of Faith and Anya as country-western musicians. Faith is the hard-drinking one with the 2 pack a day habit who can't decide if she wants to sleep with the drummer or throw him out the motel window. Anya is constantly fighting bitter wars with the evil managers who attempt to bilk them out of their rightful earnings. Then one day...
I am terrified by the idea of Faith and Anya as country-western musicians. Faith is the hard-drinking one with the 2 pack a day habit who can't decide if she wants to sleep with the drummer or throw him out the motel window. Anya is constantly fighting bitter wars with the evil managers who attempt to bilk them out of their rightful earnings.

*sporfle* LMAO!

Then one day...

...they try out for American Idol and attempt to kill each other during Hollywood Week.

There's another genre of fanfic I love that's more canon-compatible than the what-if: the exploration of the areas that canon leaves sketchy. For example, background stories for characters canon gives us little information about.

Oh, I like those, too! I even wrote one myself, using Jordy, the off-camera little cousin whose bite on the finger made Oz a werewolf in the BtVS season 2 episode "Phases." I included Aunt Maureen and Uncle Ken, too, although I didn't flesh them out as much. My story gave some background on how Jordy came to be bitten himself and how his parents contained him each month, and now Jordy's a semi-regular in my post-Not Fade Away fanfics (the fics ignore the comics.) I gave him a distinctive personality and many "thought balloons", to give readers an idea how it might feel to be in Jordy's small shoes.
There are, of course, things that get inevitably tied up in the what-is-canon question that gets asked in every sufficiently large fandom. Most of the Buffy seems to have made a silent agreement to ignore Season 8 as canon, for instance; is it still AU to write post-Chosen fic? I know the same thing has happened in the Firefly fandom; almost everything that I've read is post-Serenity, but only sporadically taking into account the comics in that franchise. Could be worse, I guess. Could be Star Wars.

For a good time, call 1-800-Mass Effect (or Dragon Age) fanfic. Have fun building canon out of that. And you can tell, reading it, that some authors are trying to keep their Shepards (or Wardens) fairly bland, and some are tailoring the in-game character choices around the characterization they've settled on, and some are just using whoever they played. Who's to say what, of that, is AU? Maybe it all is.

As for Pinboard: good post-purchase service is one of the hallmarks of people who take their product seriously, especially when there's no ongoing subscription. Every customer, after all, has friends.
I have a working definition of "canon" that's idiosyncratic but useful: Canon is what I can count on my readers knowing.

For BtvS, that's the 7 years of the TV show. It does not include the tie-in novels. I sometimes borrow details from the original comic series that ran while the show was on the air, particularly the Buffy origins storyline. Whedon said that was the canonical version of Buffy's origin, repairing how the movie mucked up his story. (Sometimes I wonder how easy Whedon is to work with. He seems to have a lot of stories just like that one. And to get booted from productions.) And yet, my readers mostly don't know it, so I have to footnote it or borrow only lightly. The season 8 comics definitely aren't canonical in any useful way for me, because I know that my readers haven't read them and have no plans to. And that most Buffy fans are surprised to hear of their existence.

Star Wars has a messy pile of tie-ins that could be canon, but I bet it's nothing compared to what your average comics superhero has to deal with. Multiple conflicting storylines in progress from the publisher! Reboots! Retcons! AUs and AUs of AUs!

I've been playing Elder Scrolls: Oblivion recently and having a fun time imagining a storyline for my character. Last time I played a thief who stole everything that wasn't actually nailed down. This time I'm playing a paladin-ish dork. I can't imagine writing fic for him, though. I know people in WOW who write fic for their characters. (My guild's main tank through Wrath self-published a novella about his mage, who is a total raven tresses Mary Sue.)
Pinboard gave me a free account because I am a librarian, so that endeared them to me right off the bat, but I really do like it. I still use delicious and my delicious tags go automatically to my pinboard, so I feel pretty safe having everything backed up there. I wish I could switch over full time, but there are simply not that many people on pinboard yet... maybe someday.
Yeah, the cool thing about delicious was the giant community and their shared tag pool. You can spend ages browsing through other people's links. It's gonna die, though. Yahoo canned the entire team and as the Pinboard guy wrote, it's a ghost ship right now. I'm still completely baffled about that. Yahoo had a popular well-liked service that had eaten all its competitors, and they *still* couldn't figure out a way to make money from it? What the heck is wrong with them? Gah.
I am sorry to have to use your last post to comment but my yahoo account keeps deleting your email - re the notifications spam black void of stupidity. I see your email but it gets deleted before I can open it. ARGGGGH Don't know how else to contact you.