1. What Is an Alternate Universe?
...Snape and Remus as childhood friends?
...Harry growing up happy and with a loving with family?
...a world without Hogwarts?
...perhaps it is just a world without Harry and Ginny as a couple?
Alternate universe can be any of those things or none of them. AU is possibility.
There are two kinds of fan fiction: canon compliant stories and alternate universe stories. Canon compliant stories stick to the universe according to J. K. Rowling. The books she has written, interviews she has given, and tidbits she has posted on her website all combine to make up canon. Alternate universe stories are stories that take at least one aspect of canon and change it.
Alternate universes (AUs) come in three distinct flavors: the alternate universe you should warn about, the typical “what-if” alternate universe, and finally, the grand sweeping alternate universe. We are going to address each form.
2.The Three Types of AU
First and most simply, the alternate universe that needs a warning— these stories are only alternate universes incidentally. Their other themes overshadow the canon change, making it a less significant detail. Such stories should use the AU warning option in our upload screen and post to their appropriate category. A good example of this sort of story would be a Hermione/Harry romance fiction in which the author chose to disregard the part of book six in which Harry and Ginny kissed and were an item. The fic focuses then on Harry and Hermione as a couple. This is obviously a romance fic that needs an AU warning. If, however, the Hermione/Harry fic does not disregard canon, and incorporates the plot and romance details of Half-Blood Prince, then it would not be considered AU and would therefore, obviously, not require the warning.
The rest of the AUs are candidates for MNFF's new and exclusive AU category. The more traditional AU is the of the “what-if” variety. These stories take an event in canon and change or disregard it. The story then chronicles the ripples that change wrought.
Some typical examples would be:
What if Harry was raised by his grandparents?
What if James hadn't been able to save Snape from Remus in their sixth year?
What if Lily loved Sirius instead?
”What-if” stories are the most common AUs. They are the backbone of the genre and belong in the AU category. The most important thing to remember when writing a “what-if” is to stay true to the characters. They are the same characters, just under new influences.
When writing a “what-if” AU, you still have to pay attention to canon. You've changed something important, but your story is about the same character from the regular universe. They have to stay true to themselves while responding to their new situation. This is probably the hardest aspect of the genre to manage well. It is an art, and it is fluctuant. Stay true to your characters and an AU can be as believable as any canon compliant fiction.
The final variety we are going to address is the grand sweeping AU. These AU's change an event so significant that the universe is fundamentally altered to the point of being almost unrecognizable. An example would be a story in which Hogwarts was never founded, and the schism between the “founding four” came earlier and Britain ended up with four individual wizarding schools, each competing for enrollment.
Does that story sound fun to you? Then you might be ready to write a serious AU, or at least read a few.
My favorite question in all of fandom is "What if?" I look forward to reading your answers to that timeless question.
3. Frequently Asked Questions
The Following FAQ answers some common questions. Please look over it, and feel free to e-mail me with any concerns you may have.
Question: I have been rejected for canon errors. Can I call my story an AU and then post without trouble?
Answer: An alternate universe story is not an excuse to be non-canon compliant. It isn't acceptable to place an AU warning on a piece of fiction and then not worry about canon any further. AUs define the canon they have disregarded specifically and with reason.
Question: I have an AU romance/DA/General fic, and I really like it in its current category. Do I have to move to AU now that there is a category?
Answer: If your story has ample grounds to be in its current category, there is no need to move it. AU can be an acquired taste and many readers avoid it. The AU category will help readers who enjoy these stories find them.
Question: Do all the stories that disregard book six have to move to the AU category?
Answer: No, moving to the AU category is optional for those stories, but not mandatory. It should be in the category that best describes the fic with all applicable warnings in place.
Question: The situation in my AU has altered my character's reactions to some situations, and I'm worried it won't be accepted.
Answer: The mods of the AU cat will and do take this into account. However, your character still has to retain his or her basic personality traits.