This column is a reprint from Unwinnable Monthly #133. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for less than ten dollars, or subscribe and get all future magazines for half price.


Examining trends in fanfiction.


Tagging fics is both a conversation and a function in fanfiction.

Francesca Coppa, one of the founders of Archive of Our Own told SYFY WIRE that the tagging system at AO3 was a “curated folksonomy” and “the best library tagging system in the world,” and this isn’t false modesty. User generated and maintained by volunteer tag-wranglers, AO3’s tagging system is a complex web of everything from helpful trigger warnings to word salads.

Big tags in fandom are things like “fluff” or “hurt/comfort” or “angst.” Even things like “hanahaki” are likely to have a decent amount of traction in the community. But the best tags on AO3 are the ones that usually are hyper-specific, either tied to a single community or even to a single fic. (Take the “no beta we die like…” where each fandom with a character that dies early on adds their specific character to the end of that equation).

The Queen’s Gambit, the Netflix show that, as of this writing, has only been out for a month, has 49 works on AO3 and one really exceptional tag; “for personal reasons i’m not really going to get in the headspace of a russian man,” which has only been used once. When tags aren’t frequently used on AO3, they’re flagged as “additional tags” and don’t really show up in the system proper. “This tag has not been marked common and can’t be filtered on (yet),” is what AO3 will say. But every now and then, a tag will eclipse its humble beginnings and expand.

For the Charles Xavier/Erik Lehnsherr pairing, these almost conversational tags are so large that they have their own tropes attached to them and they are searchable. Two of the more popular ones are “Erik is Crushing Harder than a 12-Year-Old Girl” (which AO3 simplifies to “Erik has a Crush”) and “Charles Xavier has a PhD in Adorable;” which have 575 and 1092 works, respectively.

Or honestly like any of the tags on a lot of the works for the band The Mechanisms, whose tags include things like “when u pull ur bf out of a sun but like no homo,” “The toy soldier is happy to be a soldier again,” “also there are more relationships i haven’t tagged because they came up as myth and not mechs,” “Lyfrassir Isn’t Cis And I Will Die On This Grave,” and “everyone is much softer and also less motivated to end the world.” I did not hunt for these, this is literally off of the first six works I found for The Mechanisms on Archive of Our Own. It seems like a very conversational fandom.

These tags tend to roll together as though the author is almost talking to themselves, but also to you the reader as a kind of stream of consciousness. They are sort of informational, but only if you’re already in the know, and so they function as a sort of in-joke, a referential touchstone for someone who is already seeking the contents inside.


Amanda Hudgins is an occasional writer, former rugby player and wearer of incredibly tall shoes.

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