As I’m sure you can tell by the title, I read (and write) fanfiction. And while I won’t go in to the dark ages of early GeoCities websites and the knockoffs that followed those, or the wilds of, I will say that for all that it is otherwise, I really, really like the tagging system on Archive of Our Own (AO3).

Not sure what that means? Well, I’m glad you asked. Let’s take one that I’ve written, so I’m not pointing out anyone else’s tagging here.

Now, most of the information on an AO3 listing is pretty normal. Title, author handle, fandom(s). But it’s the next bit, above the description, language, and wordcount there’s this section:

While I admit that when I started out using this system I had very little idea what ought to go there, but now that I know how I search for new stories, I find the tagging system on AO3 to be immensely helpful when I’m looking for a story or browsing through. The tags give the author the chance to tell the readers what’s coming in the story. It sets up expectations, it gives a gentle warning of the contents so you don’t waste time reading (in this case) almost 20,000 words to find out there is or isn’t something you as a reader are looking for in a story.

Now obviously I didn’t mark out everything that goes on in the story, because that would be boring. Tags can certainly walk the line between decision-information and spoilers. They can also be somewhat redundant. For instance I mention the marathon in the tags, but then also state “insatiable libido” in the description. Both of those tell you the same thing in slightly different ways. I purposefully didn’t tag the emotional arc of the story, but that’s because I didn’t want to give too many spoilers for the story. (I don’t do well trying to write PWP. I’ve tried in the past, and the plot always seems to find its way in to the story no matter what.) The redundancy is ok, I think, because on AO3 you can search by the tags*. Sometimes that’s as simple as clicking on a tag in a fic that you liked to find a list of stories also matching up with that particular aspect that you liked about the fic in question. And the tags include the pairings.

So, in this instance, the tags alert you if you’re not interested in reading about the non-canon pairing of Inquisitor Adaar (female) and Cullen, then you know immediately not to venture into these waters.

I’ll be honest, when I started writing this post I realized I needed to update my tags for this story, and that’s on me, but I do certainly use the tagging system when I’m browsing for new fic to read. It’s a godsend, honestly. I save so much time.

Which is why I think there’s a vastly missed opportunity for books to be similarly tagged. I can already hear the resounding complaints about the joy of discovery when reading a book, and I get that. I enjoy as much as the next person finding out all the twists and turns of a story. That’s not what the tagging is for.

The tagging is to help with ease of finding the stories you want to read, and that’s why I like it so much. There’s a lot of fiction (fanfiction and original) out there in the world, and finding the next story you’re going to like is difficult. Frustrating, even. I think that if we extended tags from fanfic to books it would ease that process.

More on this later, when I’ve had the time to come up with a few examples of tagging that aren’t my own work. It’ll make more sense on all sides that way.


*It’s not just AO3, other sites do the same. tumblr, for instance, is very open with tagging and the tags are searchable, but the interface isn’t as focused on stories as AO3 is.