It’s taken awhile (the term has been around since 1944, MW informs us), but at long last, fan fiction has been defined by an authoritative source—and for those employed in the U.S. publishing industry, it is the authoritative source; no other dictionary will do. MW defines the term as “stories involving popular fictional characters that are written by fans and often posted on the Internet.” The entry concludes with the note that it is “called also fan fic,” which is intriguing because this term is also styled as two words, although it does not have its own entry.
When I wrote the first style sheet for TWC, I struggled with the styling of this common term. I really, really agonized about it. Ought it be fan fiction or fanfiction, the latter a styling that certainly got plenty of usage? In the end, I styled fan fiction as two words, precisely because it was not in MW. (If a potentially compound word is not in the dictionary, then it is styled as two words rather than solid.) I saw the term as two words in print but as one word on the Internet—but online, it seemed to always end up referring specifically to fanfiction.net rather than just being a generic version of the term.
In addition to fan fiction, TWC (against OTW’s house style, you may have noticed) styles most fan words as two words rather than one: fan art, fan artwork, fan vid, fan film. Mostly this is a result of the two-words rule, as none of these other potentially compound words is in the dictionary. But mostly TWC decided to treat fan terms as two words because fan is not a prefix. Turning the two words into one elides the active work of the fan by making the entire word about the artwork: it’s fan fiction, a piece of fiction actively created by a fan. Styling fan fiction as two words foregrounds the active process of creation and keeps us—writers, artists, vidders, fans—in the linguistic picture.[/no-glossary]