I think I understand the general idea of the term, but I don't know if it is precise enough, or if there is an established consensus about this. In particular, I'd like to know:

  • If the author of a book gives an explanation about something (say, in a magazine interview or a letter), and that explanation is not in the book, is it still in-universe?
  • What if, instead of a published interview, this explanation is given during a live event (book signing, for example)? Does it make it "officially part of the universe"?
  • Same with the writer or director of a movie, for example. If something is explained in the commentary from the DVD or a making-of, does it count as in-universe?

Etc etc.

As I see it, in-universe should mean the published version (e.g. the book you can buy in a bookstore or the movie you can see at the cinema) and not later material, but the consensus might be different.

3 Answers 3


I would say an in-universe answer is one that can be given without breaking the fourth wall. If you could describe the answer to a person within the story, and have them not be confused, it's probably in-universe. In-universe explanations assume that the universe in question is THE universe, not a story about another universe.

I would also say that the source of the in-universe explanation is irrelevant. It doesn't matter if the answer comes from an interview (like with several Harry Potter answers) or from the story itself, as long as it can be understood within the context of the universe the story takes place in, it is in-universe.

This question contrasts a speculative in-universe answer, with a speculative out of universe answer. Myrddin Emrys assumes a trope.


When I use "in-universe," I mean I do not want a lazy answer like, "Because the writers wanted it that way," or "There were budgeting issues." I want to know why the device works as it does or why a character acts like s/he does.

A lot of people forget that you can check DVDs and often find deleted scenes and most people don't know, or completely overlook, that there is a long process behind writing and if it's a film (or tv) script, there are often whole sequences that are cut out because they effect the pacing or timing or create other issues. If you're making a movie, you have to worry about the 99% that will see it and not spend 5 minutes explaining technical details. So explanations often get dumped, but the writers or other production crew members will often fill us in.

For example, a frequently asked question about the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode The Next Phase is, "If Geordi and Ro could walk through walls, why didn't they sink through the floor?" It's a legitimate question and it's not addressed on screen, but Ron Moore has gone on record as saying they had an explanation involving surface tension, but it got cut.

Some would say that explanation is not in-universe, but I think most of us would say it is, since, in that case, it's "Word of God," and it simply had to be cut because the producers had to produce something 44 minutes long and telling the story was more important than addressing a concern 99% of the audience didn't care about.

So, for many of us, "in-universe" is not just about what we saw on screen or in the books, but also what was intended or what was planned out but didn't end up in the final version for one reason or another.

  • Interesting. So indeed there are several uses. For what you say, "in-universe" in movies involves more than just what people see on screen.
    – Janoma
    Commented Feb 23, 2012 at 12:19
  • @Janoma - Correct. And as Pyrodante said, it's NOT restricted to movies. Commented Feb 23, 2012 at 16:41
  • 1
    @Janoma: Yes. While I'd like to restrict to only what you see on screen or read in a book, we have to remember that even in something like Harry Potter, where the author, at some point, has complete freedom to write what they want, it is still not possible to include everything the author wanted to say. People would have gotten bored if JKR included every explanation in the books that she's given in talks or interviews. And she, at one point, for example, said that Lee Jordan had a fascinating story we didn't get to see because she just couldn't include everything due to space constraints.
    – Tango
    Commented Feb 23, 2012 at 17:15
  • I would object to calling an out of universe answer "lazy". Perhaps it is definite and took a lot of research in order to find and verify. It's just not within the story.
    – jmoreno
    Commented Feb 28, 2012 at 2:19
  • This question has spawned a separate discussion: meta.scifi.stackexchange.com/q/1879
    – user1027
    Commented Jun 2, 2012 at 2:49

What you're describing is canon.

In-universe means something that is described in the story, that's part of the plot. For example, if the protagonist loses in a fight with his arch-nemesis, an in-universe reason would be that the protagonist tripped and fell, or that the nemesis took steroids. An out-of-universe reason would be that the lost fight was the conflict that set the protagonist on his path to adventure.

  • Excellent. Thanks for clarifying that.
    – Janoma
    Commented Feb 22, 2012 at 22:21
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    @Gilles - your answer seems to imply ("in the story") that the answer from author is not "in universe". Is that based on some official definition? I always used "in universe" term in a sense of Pyrodante answer - the exact source doesn't matter. Commented Feb 23, 2012 at 2:53
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    @DVK My definition is the same as Pyrodante. Yes, the exact source doesn't matter, it doesn't have to be in some work; it has to be part of the story whether written out or only described in something like an interview. An in-universe explanation can even be speculative, invented by a reader.
    – user56
    Commented Feb 23, 2012 at 9:51

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