An alternate universe (AU), in both canon fiction or fanfiction, is a self-contained separate reality coexisting with the canon series, but different in some fundamental way.
There has been only one AU shown in canon: It's a Miserable Life in Beavis and Butt-head, where we see what Highland would be like if Butt-head had never been born. In it, the whole town is a nicer, more prosperous place, where Principal McVicker is a calm and happy man with hair, Stewart Stevenson is assertive, and Beavis is nice - and most importantly, Daria is a happy, well-adjusted girl who volunteers willingly, and has a boyfriend from her class because Butt-head's antics hadn't put her off boys.
The alter egos in the Daria credits show AU versions of the characters for a laugh: Daria as a happy cheerleader, O'Neill in Vietnam, Kevin as a punk rocker.
Deliberate AU stories are seen more often since the show went off the air. A number of fanfics done while the series was ongoing - like Daria/Trent shippers in which they actually date - have ended up as de facto AUs due to divergences in canon, but may or may not have been intended at the time to be an AU. A notable exception is Kara Wild's Driven Wild Universe, which was deliberately intended to split away from the ongoing canon.
A system for naming fan-created AU worlds is described at Daria Multiverse.
Types of AU
One can make a distinction between two types of Daria AUs.
In the first, the alteration to events is made only to events internal to the series—i.e., not to the larger historical setting of the United States or the world. An AU in which Daria does not come to Lawndale High but instead attends Grove Hills ("Regifted" and "Grove Hell on Earth"), for instance, is not assumed to be a consequence of a historical event outside of Daria's family; her parents had a choice of which school to send her to, and they chose Grove Hills. An AU in which an event happens later in the series, like Daria falling pregnant by accident ("The Longest Year"), would be similar but would be able to draw on specific canon events in its backstory as well. A great change could happen to Lawndale, like the town never being founded ("Anywhere But Here") but this would not impact on the 'real world': the show's characters are the only ones affected.
Three particular points in the series are often used as the diverging point in this AU. The first episode of the series in which Daria arrives in Lawndale and meets Jane, "Esteemsters," has received enormous attention and has been re-written many times. (See "Esteemsters" and Daria Fanfic - examples are "Victory Lane" by Brother Grimace, Iron Chef: Real Esteem.) The circumstances and fallout of The Kiss have also had great attention, being a significant (and divisive) moment in canon (see Dye! Dye! My Darling and Fanfic). Daria/Trent shipper tales that strengthen the crush into mature love and the entire Daria-Tom-Jane triangle have also been revisited on a regular basis, though the former less often of late - examples of this include "Vengeance" and "Out of the Slushpile" by Nemo Blank.
An alteration to the family dynamic of a character can also cause an AU: a family member may be absent entirely ("Malice of Absence" by Renfield), have a different job or social circumstance ("Jacob Morgendorffer, Esq" by CAP), or simply have turned out different due to a small change.
A popular subdivision of this AU are stories in which the sex of a major character is reversed (assuming the usual 50/50 chance of having a boy or girl with each birth); the John Lane series, Finn Morgendorffer series, The James Lane Chronicles and "Darius" are examples, but earlier tales along this line have been told, such as MMan's "Brother, I Asked for It," in which Daria dreams Quinn had turned out as Quint. It's most common to see a male version of Jane - there've been John, Jake, James and Zane Lanes - in order to see how the Daria/Jane dynamic would be with Jane as a male (and thus a potential love interest). Notably, when Daria or Quinn's gender is switched, the siblings are usually shown to have a better relationship than in canon, under the assumption that they'd be less 'in competition'; the Finn Morgendorffer series is a notable exception, with the relationship being far more vicious and ugly.
A specifically targeted version of this AU is the Alternate Ending, where an author will often rewrite the ending of an episode to show what they'd have preferred to have happened. One of the earliest, "A Desperately Needed Ending (to "Depth Takes a Holiday")" by Kara Wild, was to make the then-recent "Depth Takes a Holiday" fit into the show's semi-realistic tone.
In the second type of AU, a change to world history has taken place—the Confederacy wins the American Civil War, Nazi Germany wins World War II, etc.—and the story describes the possible consequences of such a change. "Gone" by The Angst Guy (Cuban Missile Crisis turns nuclear) and "The Other Side of Time" by The Sidhe (Confederacy wins) are two such examples. This kind of story is called alternate history or counterfactual history in mainstream science fiction. For details, see alternate history SF.
A subdivision of the second type is for the Daria characters to live in a clearly fantasy-based universe, either a crossover with another fiction or an original story. A key example would be the crossover "Esteeminator: The Daria Morgendorffer Chronicles", where Daria lives in the universe from the Terminator franchise. There are many stories in this second subdivision about Daria characters as superheroes. Various canon characters are assigned roles as heroes or villains, depending on their behavior in the series. "Legion of Lawndale Heroes" is the longest running of these, though "Lawndale's Finest" (an explicit DC Comics crossover0 also has notable length.
An increasingly popular type of this second AU is one where the Daria cast exist in a different time: "Rocket Girls" by The Angst Guy moves Daria and Jane to the late-1940s, "Import/Export" by Brian Taylor is set during Prohibition. Some fanfics move the show forward from the 1990s to the present day - or what was the present day when it was written - to examine how things might be different as a result of the change, such as "Daria 2007: The Girl from Hope" by The Angst Guy or "God Save The Esteem" by Charles RB. (Many fanfics have also placed Daria in the present, but not as an attempt at an AU but the writer's preference, as the show was meant to be "present-day" rather than a period piece.)
It is also possible to find two types of AU combined in a single fic, such as in the Daria Von Doom Series. Within events of the show, Daria breaks up with Tom early, during Is It Fall Yet? This occurs after Daria discovers that Tom hadn't included her in decisions about attending Sloane family activities, like the Starry Night Ball. In addition, the common history is different from the AU is different from regular Daria continuity by occurring within the Marvel Universe, making the series a crossover as well.
Fanfics will sometimes have the 'regular' Daria cast crossing over with an alternate universe: "The Other Side of Time" revolves around this, as does "Through a Closet, Darkly" by Brian Taylor. See Dariaverse crossover.
Attitudes towards AUs
In the broader science-fiction field, alternate-history stories have tended to support the idea that the present world represents the best of all possible outcomes in history. This view has been used in Daria fandom, too, though less stridently; Brother Grimace's "Victory Lane" is representative of this approach. The John Lane stories by Richard Lobinske, however, reveal a Dariaverse better overall than canon, as does Mystik Slacker's "The Butterfly Storm." Worlds in which events change but the overall pro-and-con outcome is almost like canon can be seen in The Alchemist's "Jane on the Side" and The Angst Guy's "Click, Click, Boom". Some of these, like "The Hallowed Halls of Fielding" by Roentgen, have the alternate universe drastically different to canon but with a 'normal' pro-and-con outcome, just with different pro's and cons to the mainstream universe.
Still, an idea persists that, as the series shows, Daria did more good than ill, and her removal would cause more trouble than her presence (e.g., "It Slipped Through My Hands, Like a Shadow, Like a Dream," "Daria's Addition," and "After the End" by The Angst Guy).
CINCGREEN once proposed a division of AU fanfiction into "organic" and "inorganic" groups. Organic AUs are those in which the divergence flows from a multiple-outcome event that is part of Daria canon, such as the near-accident Daria experiences in "Boxing Daria." An inorganic AU is one that flows from a unique event not present in canon, such as a car accident that takes place after the conclusion of the episode "Road Worrier," resulting in Trent Lane's death and Daria's mourning for him.
One problem in writing AU fanfics is the knowledge that the episodes of Daria were not necessarily shown in chronological sequence. It is commonly assumed that the episodes from seasons one and two show Daria's first year in Lawndale, seasons three and four (and Is It Fall Yet?) show her second year, and season five (and Is It College Yet?) show her final year. However, the episodes within each season are not always in sequence. Most famously, "Road Worrier" from the first season shows Daria and company attempting to go to Alternapalooza, a rock concert that takes place in mid-August (per The Daria Diaries) but is sandwiched between episodes showing portions of Daria's sophomore year at Lawndale High. The same problem is seen with the episodes of Season Five and events in Is It College Yet? Occasionally an AU fanfic incorporates the out-of-sequence episodes as still being in sequence with a tidy explanation as to why (e.g., "Deus Jane," by The Angst Guy).
While many AU's are one-off stories, it is also common to see an AU be the basis of a series of fanfictions. In the more fantastic AU's, these stories will rarely be based on specific episodes, as the world is highly different to canon and the cast may not even be at Lawndale High.
A few of the "canon-based" AUs, like the Driven Wild Universe, Jacob Morgendorffer, Esq, or The Hallowed Halls of Fielding, also have entirely original stories: either due to the type of AU or to personal decision by the writer, the events of Daria episodes do not take place at all or take place "off-screen".
A more common approach by many authors with "canon-based" AUs is to show alternative versions of specific episodes, and how they've been changed (drastically or with minor elements) by the AU's diverging point. Often, these series start directly with Daria's arrival in Lawndale (John Lane, Finn Morgendorffer, God Save The Esteem, The Jake Lane Chronicles) but can start later in canon (The Longest Year). The further the series lasts, the more divergent the AU-episodes might get until you end up with a wildly different end point (Finn Morgendorffer). Some series may mash up multiple episodes into one story (Jake Lane).
Alternate universe agencies and characters
Due to a widespread interest in sci-fi & fantasy among Daria fans, fanfic writers have created a number of organisations that look out for and patrol the various universes: often, they will be staffed by alternate versions of known characters. Several of these groups have become shared universe concepts, open to all writers: they include DELPHI (a covert intelligence organization within the U.S. Government on various worlds with inter-dimensional travel capabilities), the Corps of Ringbearers (a pan-dimensional group similar to the Green Lantern Corps and the Lensmen, but with a focus on threats of supernatural origin, humanitarian relief efforts and covert intelligence-gathering operations), The Agency (another pan-dimensional organization that acts to maintain temporal/universal integrity, in the same vein as the Voyagers and Project Quantum Leap), and The Foundation (mystical group trying to keep the omniverse intact).
A vast amount of original characters exist in these fics (for a DariaWiki list of original AU Daria characters, go to Alternate Universe Characters) and a number of them are either specific, highly divergent AU versions of canon characters, or a family member that only exists due to the divergent universe. Examples of the former include Judith, a sociopathic supervillain Daria who crosses over into other universes; and Lynn Quinn Michaelis, a Quinn distorted to ludicrous effect in "Joel Schumacher's" Daria the Movie. Examples of the latter include Veronica Morgendorffer, a third Morgendorffer sibling who is younger than Quinn and is irritated that Daria keeps forgetting about her; 'Evie' Morgendorffer, another third Morgendorffer sister who is unseen because she is a boarding student at Grove Hills; and Darren Appleton, a Morgendorffer sibling who was stolen at birth and given to a wealthy couple.
Several of the original characters have appeared in fanfics set in different AUs and some have been used by several different writers, becoming shared universe characters.
Essays on Fanfiction AUs
AUs in Daria Fanfiction
- “Alternate History” fanfic index for Outpost Daria (a good overview of the field)
- “Sci-Fi, Fantasy & Horror” fanfic index for Outpost Daria (many of these are also AU stories)
- IC: What would Lawndale be like if... (PPMB)
- First March 2005 interview with Glenn Eichler on DVDaria, in which the out-of-sequence nature of Season Five episodes is discussed