WTF is an OTP? A Beginner’s Guide to Fanfiction Terminology

Jessica Pryde

Contributing Editor

Jessica Pryde is a member of that (some might call) rare breed that grew up in Washington, DC, but is happily enjoying the warmer weather of the desert Southwest. While she is still working on what she wants to be when she grows up, she’s enjoying dabbling in librarianship and writing all the things. She can be found drowning in her ever-growing TBR and exclaiming about romance in the Book Riot podcast (When in Romance), as well as on social media. Find her exclamations about books and pho on twitter (JessIsReading) and instagram (jess_is_reading).

Recently, we at Book Riot got really excited about fanfiction. Not because we had just discovered it, no–it was because we discovered EVERYONE ELSE LIKED IT TOO. So we thought we’d give a few primers to anyone who found it an interesting endeavor, but didn’t particularly know where to start. In the last segment of “So You Want to Try Fanfiction,” I gave a few pointers on the best places on the internet to start reading. Obviously, these aren’t the be-all, end-all fanfiction archives. But they are very popular collectives of nearly everything you might want. As I said then, if you have a particular fandom in mind instead, a quick google search can start you on the path to finding Your People.

But there is another aspect of fanfiction that people might find daunting. There are a lot of words and acronyms that are almost exclusive to fandom. Many of them are pretty straightforward or intuitive, but some could probably do with a little more explanation. So I thought I would make a quick beginner’s guide to fanfiction terminology.

Words and Acronyms You Should Know In Fanfiction

“My friend ships them as her OTP but I just read this crossover RPF WIP that introduced a new bit of fanon and my headcanons are exploding!”

Did you get all that?

If you did, huzzah! You may now proceed to your next fandom meeting.

If not, I’ll break down some of the terms you will probably see relatively often:

Ship (verb, to ship; noun, a ship): To place two characters in a romantic relationship, or, more generally, a romantic relationship. Other variations include FriendShip, in which two characters are placed into a platonic relationship.

OTP (noun, One True Pair[ing]): A personal, dedicated Ship, defended and advocated unto death. Other variations include OT3, OT4, OTMore (you can figure out what those mean).

RPF (noun, Real Person Fiction): A fic that features one or more people that exist in real life. These works often run one of two routes: the Cinderella dream, in which a regular jane or joe meets the Star they’ve always wanted; or the StarShip, in which multiple high-profile people work their way through a public (or secret!) relationship.

WIP (noun, Work In Progress): A fic that is still in the process of being written and/or posted to one of the online archives. Be wary if you see the dreaded “On-Hiatus,” as it is impossible to know when that might be picked up again. Enter at your own risk.

Crossover (noun): A fic that is a combination of more than one fandom. Extreme example is SuperWhoLock, a very popular crossover fandom combining television shows Supernatural, Doctor Who and Sherlock.

Headcanon (noun): An individual (or shared) concept, thought, or belief about a character, event or storyline. Can be anything from motivation for an action to what happened after a fade-to-black.

Fanon (noun): A collective concept or aspect of a character, whether it’s a regularly accepted given name for a character only referred to by their last name, or a character’s hometown and family business. Derivative of “canon.”


Slash (noun): A genre of fanfiction in which the featured romantic ship is two men, who are often canonically straight.

Femslash (noun): A genre of fanfiction in which the featured romantic ship is two women, who are often canonically straight.

So you want to try fanfiction. These are the key terms that you will probably encounter no matter which site you frequent, or what kind of fanwork you decide you like. I’ll hold off on common tropes like A/B/O or Soul-Identifying Marks for the time being, but if you’ve got a list of those you want to know about, your wish can be my command. If there’s a term you have come across pretty regularly that I didn’t cover in this post, toss it in the comments! New words, phrases and acronyms come up daily, so there is definitely a possibility I might have missed them.