Feel free to skip to whichever section you need to read. If you don’t know anything at all about the subject, I suggest you start at the very beginning.
Why all these terms?
If you’re anything like me when I first started out reading stories online, you’re baffled by the coding. Acronyms, ratings…they’re all just a bunch of unheard-of letters. Who cares anyway!? YOU should. Why? Because it just might save your psyche.
What do I mean?
I mean that if you’re very conservative, there are certain codes you should look out for–certain key phrases that you should avoid. Same goes for minors. We all know (or should know by now) that if a minor wants in to a place where they don’t belong, they will not rest until they find a way. But the reality is that the “I’m curious” half of minors probably have absolutely no idea where they’re treading when they stumble into a fanfiction ring.
That was me once–a conservative minor whose friends told me to “go look it up” whenever I asked a question they couldn’t answer in polite company. So, like any growing young mind would do, I went and looked it up…and got stuck. Some would say I tread where I did not belong. I might argue, perhaps, that my mind already had those tendencies, and thus I followed them–meaning not only are the consequences entirely on my own head, but my footsteps were also inevitable.
Regardless, as someone who now writes the kind of story I was “banned” from reading as a minor (yet read anyway), perhaps I can shed a little light on the subject–enough light so that you, as an impressionable reader, may make an educated choice about what kind of knowledge and fantasies you want to fill your head with.
What is a “rating”?
A rating tells you how high of a maturity level you need to read the story.
Movies, television series, video games, manga–these all have their own rating systems.
American movies typically don’t go above R for “Restricted” (for ages 18 and over), which contains censored nudity and implied sex, profanity, and blood and guts. When a movie surpasses “R” expectations, raters chicken out and call it NR for “Not Rated,” meaning expect porn, or at the very least profanity practically every other uttered word (and maybe graphic dismemberment). TV series hit their max at TV-14 typically (as in, the viewer should be age 14 or older), and everything above that is NR.
Video games and manga are a little more careful. Manga start taking on strong romantic insinuations at T for “Teen,” and you’re riding the lust line at OT for “Older Teen”–which can get really close to sex, and might even depict a censored version of sex toward the end. (Violence does not seem to be as much of a concern.) Video games start to get sketchy at M for “Mature”–and I’m not talking about RPG characters’ revealing clothing. Once you get to MA for “Mature Adult,” you know that there is realism, brutality, body parts (probably dismembered), and in the case of RPG you should probably expect law-breaking and/or implied sex.
If you’re already a gamer or an otaku, you should already be able to infer what half of the fiction ratings mean.
If you don’t know what either of those things are, then rest assured that you are definitely not one, and should probably proceed with extra caution, until you feel out where you stand.
What do the ratings mean?
Beware that fiction ratings differ per site. Just because you recognize the codes on one site, does not mean they will be the same on the next.
Here are some examples (some may be doubles or near-doubles):
- A | All Readers
Translation: E for “Everyone.” You could probably read it to your baby.
- K | “Content suitable for all ages” (ages 5+)
Translation: E for “Everyone.” You can read it to your small child at bedtime–that’s how tame it is (or should be).
- K+ | “Some content may not be suitable for small children” (ages 9+)
Translation: We’ve got some conflict, and we picked up some slang (and maybe a few bad words), but we’re all good. No scarring morality crises here.
- P | Pre-teen
Translation: We’ve got some conflict, we picked up some slang (and maybe a few bad words), and we’re just starting in on insinuations (because our hormones are starting to change).
- T | Teen | “Contains content not suitable for children” (ages 13+)
Translation: PG-13. Some pretty scary stuff can happen, and we probably have profanity and sexual tension…because we’re teenagers, and we’re not quite innocent anymore. Usually deals with more emotional and peer issues, especially acceptance and warring against social rules, societal dictations, and other authorities.
- Y, YA | Young Adult | “Not suitable for readers under 16”
Translation: Age range of late teens to 20’s. Now we’re acting on our rollercoaster feelings. We’re definitely sketchy, but we can slip by without an explicit rating. Can cover making out, groping,…all the way up to just shy of actual sex. Might even be able to sneak some sex in there, if it’s not your entire graphic focus. How graphic the rest of it gets depends on the author, and the crux of the story. Don’t be surprised to find death and some gore, or deep psychological issues.
- M | Mature | “Contains content suitable for mature teens and older” (ages 16+)
Translation: OT. Painting a graphic picture. Could be anything from psychology, to profanity, abuse, sex, and all ranges of violence. The broader allowances draw a different crowd of readers, looking for profound depth, sex, violence/gore, or any combination thereof.
- MA | Mature Adult | “Contains explicit content for mature adults only” (ages 18+)
Translation: Writers’ free-for-all. Explicit sex scenes are pretty much a given, only matchable by extreme and gory violence (i.e. torture or dismemberment). Not for the faint of heart.
- X | Adult | “No readers under 18; contains graphic adult themes and/or extreme violence”
Translation: KEEP AWAY, YOU CURIOUS YOUNGSTERS! Your mind will be polluted forever! Most people are here to read about one thing and one thing only: sex. If there is not sex in the story, then wow, that violence must be excruciating.
Translation: Equivalent of the movies’ NR, or perhaps fiction’s X. It’s pretty safe to say this means extensive explicit sex, though I suppose it could refer to extensive explicit gore.
Etiquette dictates that authors writing M- or MA-rated stories warn you of their questionable content by specifying what kind of content they contain that may make a potential reader uncomfortable. This serves to draw a specific kind of reader in, as well as ward off flamers.
Please note that since some sites do not allow for an MA rating, writers are forced to rate their stories as M, making the M stories into the reigning big-bad “explicit” rating on the site.
- WIP | “Work In Progress”
Translation: The story is not finished yet. Not all chapters are posted yet, and all chapters already posted can be revised or deleted at any time.
- Complete, Finished, Fin, Finis, End, Owari
Translation: The story has officially ended, and there will be no more chapters posted under this title.
- Being Revised, Under Revision, Undergoing Revision
Translation: The story is being edited, and is subject to alterations. The story may or may not be complete when this occurs.
Translation: The story has been edited, and the editing process is complete. This usually connotes that the story is complete as well.
- On Hiatus
Translation: The story is on hold indefinitely, and will not be continued unless the author states otherwise. The story has been abandoned, which may or may not be initially intentional, and may or may not be permanent. Do not expect revisions or new chapters. You may petition the author, but do not hold your breath.
You really have to know these to get around. Mostly these are abbreviations or acronyms.
- Fic | “fiction”
Translation: A fictional story, usually written online
- Fanfic | “fanfiction”
Translation: Fictional stories fans write based off of pre-existing fictional works. These most commonly include movies, television series, anime, cartoons, books, and manga. Fanfiction is written about fictional characters or worlds, NOT about the actors who play them; no real people are involved, unless the author inserts themself into the story. All fanfiction requires an anti-plagiarism disclaimer giving credit to the author of the original story.
- Orig | “Original” story
Translation: The story, poem, play, or manga came out of the stated writer’s own head, so all credit for the characters, setting, and plot belongs to them exclusively. Copying any of these aspects is considered plagiarism, and will get you flamed and kicked off sites.
- OC | “Original Character”
Translation: The same character from the original work of fiction is used for the fanfiction author’s own purposes.
- OOC | “Out Of Character”
Translation: The character is not acting the way they would normally act. Oftentimes this refers to a fanfiction author changing aspects of someone else’s fictional character’s personality to fit the goals of their new story. However, this coding may also be used in a review or A/N to warn that a particular character is not acting or speaking as they “should.”
- SI, Self-insert | Self-Insertion
Translation: The author inserts theirself into their story as a character, scripting out their own words, actions, appearance, etc. While fun for the author, this may be difficult to follow for those who do not know them personally if the author does not do a sufficient job of self-depiction from an outside view.
- AN, A/N | Author’s Note
Translation: This is the author speaking to the reader in first person, separate from the story. I repeat: THIS IS NOT PART OF THE STORY. Etiquette dictates that the author refrain from comment during the course of the story, because it tends to irritate readers by disrupting the flow of the story. For this reason, authors’ notes may only be found at the beginnings and/or ends of chapters. Usually sites take measures to prevent authors from creating a “new chapter” that only consists of an author’s note. Authors’ notes may contain disclaimers, content warnings, information on future updates, and sometimes responses to readers’ reviews. Some authors may directly address their characters as though they were sitting in the room with them, discussing the story–this is NOT a self-insertion.
- R&R, R/R, RR | “Read and Review”
Translation: The author is begging potential readers (that means YOU) to read their story and write a review. A “review” is simply feedback on the story/poem. These comments help the writer know whether or not to continue writing their story, and/or how they could improve. Most writers hope for constructive criticism (even though it may be hard for them to embrace certain suggestions), but even an honest “I loved it” or “I was confused” (or whatever) can be a helpful indicator to the author. Reviews may also help the author estimate how big of an interest people are taking in their story, and/or how many people are reading it. Some authors may discontinue or lose interest in their stories if they do not generate enough of a reader response.
- Flame, Flamer
Translation: Fiery hate-mail. In the common slang, a flamer would be considered a “hater.” This is when a reader (or even another author) verbally tears down the author of a story or poem. This is different from constructive criticism, because it does not actually help the author to improve upon the faults, but rather condemns them instead. It’s like yelling at someone, but in a review.
- WAFF | “Warm And Fluffy Feeling”
Translation: The kind of romantic content that makes you say “Awww…” and want to cuddle…or makes you want to barf at the cheesiness, depending on your personality.
Translation: Sex. Most of the time, if someone is using the word “lemon,” it means that it’s descriptive sex–as in, they’re actually going to write out in no uncertain terms what that sex looked like. Most prohibitions and age checks on sites are geared toward steering minors away from lemons, due to national laws of exposure. Some stories will have lemons throughout, while others will work up to a lemon. Lemons can be consensual or non-consensual.
Translation: Leaning toward sex, but not quite there yet. Making out can sometimes qualify as a lime, because it often involves copious amounts of groping, but usually a lime is classified by at least one character reaching a non-penetrative orgasm. Limes often lead to lemons (i.e. foreplay), but not always.
When looking for a romance story especially, you need to understand pairings. By pairings, I mean codes that tell you whether the relationship is between a man and a woman, two women, two men…for all you know, it could involve an animal or an alien! Be aware that not all stories are limited to a pairing; the story may switch to a different pairing halfway through, or may actually be a three-some (or more?).
- MF, M/F, M-F | “Male-Female” relationship
- MM, M/M | “Male-Male” relationship
- F/F | “Female-Female” relationship
- F/M/F | “Female-Male-Female” relationship
Translation: Three-way relationship between two women and a man. (I’m sure you can figure out from this what any number of similar combinations mean.)
- Het, Heter, Hetero | “Heterosexual” relationship
- Homo | “Homosexual” relationship
- Slash | relationship between two men
- FemSlash | “Female Slash”; relationship between two women
- Shonen-Ai, Shounen-Ai | Japanese manga-related term for a relationship between two guys, though probably not too graphic
- Yaoi | manga-related term for an explicit relationship between two guys
- Yuri | manga-related term for a relationship between two girls/women
- [Name] / [Name] | two characters’ names conjoined by a slash
Translation: The story will be pairing those two (or more) characters together. This is common practice to denote which characters a fanfiction will focus on.
- Beast | beastiality
Translation: Pairing with an animal.
- Xeno | xenophilia
Translation: Pairing with an alien.
Genres: Sci-Fi vs. Fantasy vs. Supernatural
Some genres are hard to figure out, because the lines have been blurred in literature and in media. One such realm is in fantasy and the supernatural.
If the characters live in a different world than our reality, or they live in a similar world with different natural or societal rules, or on another planet, or they can go through a portal, then the story is Fantasy. Obviously all these stipulations are vastly different from one another, so there are many sub-genres. But the overarching genre is definitely fantasy.
The Supernatural usually deals with ghosts, vampires, werewolves, zombies, witches, angels, demons–unnatural or preternatural forces at work in the real/natural world (and we are not talking about magic as the main component, because that would be fantasy).
Sci-fi (Science Fiction) has to do with scientific or technological advances. Virally-created zombies would be a prime example of this, but so would space travel, time travel, artificial intelligence, biological enhancements, and most things futuristic. Changing the natural laws of the physical world may also be considered sci-fi.
If you’re not reading anything with sex in it, then everything you need to know about basic online fictional romance terminology is probably already listed above under “Pairings” or “Basics.”
If you are reading stories with sex in them, however, the terms to learn are endless–as lengthy as people are creative. The average person, however, should not need to know all these codes. So let me just list the most commonplace, the ones you want to watch out for if you’re easily spooked, and maybe some that are relevant to my story and its genres.
- H/C | Hurt/Comfort
Translation: Pain-pleasure combo. Can be emotional or physical, intentional or circumstantial. May involve the healing process after heartbreak or after self-destructive behavior, or may involve intentional outside affliction (hard to tell; different for each story).
- BDSM | Bondage, Dominance/Discipline, Sado-Masochism
- dom | dominance; dominant
Translation: Can refer to an overarching theme, or to the controlling character in a pairing.
- sub | submission; submissive
Translation: Can refer to content, or to the “receptive” character in a pairing.
- seme | Japanese manga-related term for the “receiving” male in a homosexual sexual relationship
- B-mod | body modification(s)
- con, consen | consensual sex
- non-con | non-consensual sex
Translation: One character forcing the other toward a sexual persuasion. May or may not be rape.
- inc | incest
Translation: Relationship or sex with a family member, often but not necessarily a sibling.
- Mpreg, m-preg | Male Pregnancy
Translation: Often in slash fics, if the author wants the couple to have a baby, then they will use their creative license to somehow enable one of the male characters to conceive a child.
- oral | oral sex
- anal | anal sex
- rim | rimming
Translation: Involves butts and mouths.
- tent | tentacle
Translation: Think octopus/alien.
- toys | sex-oriented toys (not kiddie toys…necessarily)
- spank | spanking
Translation: Spanking with sexual connotations.
- water sports
Translation: Playing with urine.
- MediaMiner’s Definitions of Fan Fiction Genres and Types
- AdultFanFiction Story Codes
- Wikipedia’s List of Literary Genres