Help me procrastinate by opinionating at me.

I just did a pass through the stories on my archive, adding more content tags. If you want to read all stories in which somebody proposes to somebody else, for instance, you now can. How could you live before such marvels existed? I have no idea either. The task got me thinking about content tags and ratings, though.

I've been using the fan rating system on my archive site (FRC, FRT, FRM, FRAO) because that's what giles_watchers was using when I first began helping to compile that newsletter. It seems to be falling out of favor in fandom, however, and it's never really satisfied me. It requires explanation in a way that simple English words don't.

American movie ratings mostly satisfy that no-explanation requirement as well, because of familiarity. Four categories: general audiences, parental guidance suggested, restricted, adult. That feels like one too many categories to me. Fandom probably doesn't actually care about the teen or child audience distinction. Fandom ratings are like fandom warnings: labels that help us choose fic to read that suits our mood. Do we ever really worry about PG vs G?

What problem are we attempting to solve when we rate our fic? It's not the same problem movie ratings are intended to solve, of preventing young viewers from seeing content that society has decided they're not ready for. Fan readers are making choices for themselves. Fic ratings are trying to solve the problem of matching readers to content they want. Viewed this way, "R" is just another content label the way "fluff" or "hurt/comfort" would be, though a more vague one.

I'll bet that you as my readers usually don't care about anything other than prawny-intent vs no-prawny-intent, but let's find out. Do you ever pick something G-rated to read because of the rating? How do ratings affect your reading choices? Or are you more likely to look for other content, like "I want an angsty first-time story today"? (I realize that pairing is the single most important driver here, but let's assume that you're selecting among stories that have a pairing you like.)

I'm thinking of going with just general/mature/adult, in order of increasing difficulty of material. (Bah, my need for parallelism is not satisfied by that list.) Or I could be lazy and do nothing at all.

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I think the adult ratings really only matter on a public site where they are worried for being liable for minors seeing adult material. Also I'm more interested in the description of what the story's about, rather than the rating. Oh and the pairing if that's applicable.

Edited at 2010-04-12 10:42 pm (UTC)
To be very honest...I don't look at the rating.

The summary/description is what determines whether I read something (most of the time). That's why I tend to get really annoyed when there's no summary at all included.

Really, that's what I want...a summary and for God's sake list a pairing. One of my hugest pet peeves is when the pairing isn't listed.

Wait...if I'm to be even more honest...I do pay attention to the rating if it's an author I've never read before. This is only because I tend to read an author's non-smut fic before I give their smut a go.

But for the most part...

Ratings mean nothing to me. I read what I like.

And in my opinion...I never rate anything G because I don't think G really exists anymore. :)

How was that for a ramble? *LOL*
Yeah, I'm with you. I never use it when deciding what to read. Author, pairing, summary, decision made.
The fan rating system tripped me up when I first noted its use. For that reason I'm not pro. I like things that don't require effort.

I tend to rate my own fics in the four-stage (ish -- sometimes PG gets its own caveat, like PG-12 or PG-15) movie style rating system. I must admit, however, that I rate the content less because I think my potential readers are overly bothered by the sexual content/language/violence factor. I do so because I want to cover my arse. If I flag something as adult and use the LJ flag for explicit content before I post, then no one can accuse me of supplying 'inappropriate' material to minors. (I used to work in IT at a high school and I learned a little bit about the UK law on such things.)

To answer your question as a reader and not a writer:-

I don't give a damn about rating. I don't even look at it. Two reasons.

1) The fandoms I'm interested in reading aren't awash with a huge amount of quality fanfic. If I discover a writer who is exploring a fandom I love, focusing on characters I'm particularly partial to, I'll read it. And thank god for them. G or NC-17. Don't care. Just gimme.

2) I tend not to cold-read stuff anyway. These days I usually only read something that's been recced, or that has been written by a writer I already know to be competent.

So for that reason I may not be the best person for your poll. Which may make this reply a colossal waste of time...

Still -- you wanted opinionatings, and I'm always happy to provide those.
The FR system has always bothered me a little, and it was a huge relief when I dumped it earlier today.

I think you're onto something about the ratings being partly for butt-covering. Though I do also think that fans sometimes seek out the adult rating (whatever it is), because they're in the mood for that kind of experience. Or in the mood for its opposite.

And instead of being a waste of time, responses like yours are very helpful to me. I'm interested in helping readers find fic they'll like, whether that's my fic on my personal archive, recent Giles fic in the newsletter, or back numbers in the fic recs comm. Understanding how people make choices is helpful! So far from this conversation, I've been emboldened to dump the FR system for a simpler one that uses English words. Next I'll reconsider my terse-ish summary habits.
I usually go for pairings first too. I will look at ratings and then warnings. Cause sometimes the more mature ratings aren't just for sex, but for violence or such. That's what I do if I have a higher rated fic, I will say if it's for violence or whatever.

I sometimes look at ratings but it's not the only deciding factor in reading a fic. I go for pairings, authors and summaries more often than not.
Hrm. Stick with what you're doing, it's been working just fine. I do glance at the rating, but it means very little unless I'm in the mood for smut. I have a tendency to care more about content, I guess. I love a site like GFRs, because I can look for themes based on tags.
Tags are so much more useful and specific than ratings. Ratings (as Emu says below) could be for anything, and it helps to know why the movie/story/whatever got the R rating. As my husband says, "R for teen partying? Sounds great!" But R for Tarantino-ish violence requires me to be in a particular mood.

I guess the fic equivalent would be horrible things happening to a beloved character. Fic violence rarely squicks me the way film violence can.
I'm with you; the difference between G, PG, and PG-13 is negligible for me when I want things to read.

And bless your need for parallelism! I have to say, though, that unless one is already familiar with FRT, FRM, FRAO, I'm not sure one would recognize that "adult" is pornier than "mature." At least, I'm not sure I would.
I think you have to be familiar with the idiom that equates "adult" with "sexual" in certain contexts. Adult films, adult novelties, adult ... as not particularly a good thing, unless you're in fandom and have a more positive set of associations with it.

I went with non-parallel yet somehow comprehensible for my system. It's easy to change, though, if I discover something better later on.
I'd rather see rating done rather like a public library. There are really four categories of books...

The Children's Room-- a specialized collection of books that will appeal to those between the ages of 0 and 12. Generally the protagonist is often a child, or an animal acting in a child-like fashion -- at any rate, someone a child can relate to. Violence and death is usually at a level that a child is likely to experience, and sex is rarely mentioned, because, honestly? Kids this age just go "Ewwww," when there's kissing. Think of the first few Harry Potter books, Nancy Drew, Babysitters club, Ramona.

Young Adult Books. Another specialized collection of books that will appeal to teenagers. Main character is a teenageer, with teenage angst. Author assumes the reader knows all the bad words and knows about the facts of life, although they tend to be non-graphic. But let's face it? Have you been in a high school lately?

The General Collection. Everything else (except porn). All language is acceptable and explicit scenes of sex and violence and torture and death are fine, IF there is plot and characterization. And very few public libraries would tell a young person they CAN'T check out books from the general collection, but for the most part, kids prefer the specialized collections until they're older. It was a wonderful day for me when my kids (who were brought up on fanfiction) stopped reading Harry/Luna and began appreciating Snape/Hermione. But that wasn't something that was going to happen when they were younger.

Porn. (Not found in your public libraries). If all you are trying to do is arouse the reader, or write a "hot" scene, it falls into this category. This is what is illegal for younger kids to get their hands on.

In Movies, one bare breast, or one uttering of the "F" word change the ratings, but books don't work that way. One reason is that a viewer is more passive in a theater; reading requires more active participation from the reader. It's easy to put a book down, if it's not your cup of tea. The only warning I put on my stories is to say "This would not be found in the Children's Room of your public library."

I'd like to see summaries closer to the dust-cover blurbs. Something to entice me into reading it. There are so many fics out there, it's hard to pick the interesting ones. I suspect that is why there are so many communities that rec fics, but, interestingly enough, the reccers have to write a rather detailed summary.

The only thing that can cause me to stop reading in disgust is poor punctuation or grammar. But you can usually figure that out quickly enough.

I was thinking about the job of the reccer as opposed to the job of the author in summarizing fic. Reccers have more freedom than the authors do, I believe. First, their job is selling the fic, persuading a time-strapped reader that this one is worth the investment. They can take more space and use more words to do it-- authors feel some pressure to keep their header material terse. And the reccer isn't the author. More distance from the material, a different perspective.

For my most recent story, I used two fields in the header to signal to potential readers what they'd be getting. The summary says it's story in a loose series of stories (with links backwards), written in a tone that suggests the mostly-positive feel of the series. A slightly-jokey alliterative note says that this one is romantic fluff for the pairing involved. I felt I was coming close to stretching the bounds of how much header space I could use.

I wrote a different summary for my fic archive, where the story is always presented in its context within a series. That summary says more obliquely how it's related to the other stories and what its tone is. The tags clear up what questions remain. Or so I hope.

I like your children's room of the library approach. Children's library, YA shelves, general collection, restricted shelves.

Edited at 2010-04-13 10:33 pm (UTC)
I agree with General/Mature/Adult

Seems to cover all the bases that are important for me as a reader.
The only content tags or ratings I pay attention to are:

Characters involved
Pairing, if it's there
If it's an AU (automatic "click!")
With the trend I see going in these comments, I might reduce the rating down to an 'adult' marker only. Nobody seems to care about it other than as a gesture toward non-fans.
For what it's worth...
The only time I take into consideration ratings is if there's no pairing information and doesn't look like it's rated high for sex. But in that case, I've rather have just been warned for graphic violence.

Rating has bearing on how and why I choose to read a fic only in the absence of other information. I don't find it especially useful.
Re: For what it's worth...
Yeah, it seems like content tags are just generally more useful to everybody.
When I'm recording a rec I tend to feel that there's a need for a rating that indicates really explicit sex - something that's blatantly not work safe - so I tend to go with G (general), M (mature=violence mainly), R (restricted=sex but not explicit) and NC17. This is sort of a mish-mash of Australian (G/MA/R/X) vs the US. Plus I set the rec site as a whole to LJ's "May contain adult content" rating.

It's a pity that there's no universal standard but somehow I can't seem to summon up too much of a worry over it. *g*
"Work safe" might be the best encapsulation of the important concept I've seen in this discussion.

I'm just tired of confusing people with the FR system. Time to use something with a more obvious meaning!
I get really confused between R/FRM and NC-17/FRAO, because it seems like individual standards vary a ton.

As for me, I will look at ratings on occasion, if I'm looking for something to fit my mood. This is generally when I'm rereading authors, rather than reading the stories for the first time.
For me the differentiator is the word "cock". If that's in there, it's probably NC17. If it's not, and the sex isn't just as explicitly described with a milder vocabulary, then it's R. The story I posted yesterday is R because the sex is a little bit oblique, and the language stays clean. But I could see somebody else classifying it differently.

Mostly I think fandom expects really explicit stuff with the "adult" tag, so it's best not to disappoint by labeling things that way if they're milder.
I use R etc to find the porn when that's what I'm after. Nothing else.

Actually, I have been known to skip something because it was 'G'. I find it hard to believe there's anything of substance if it doesn't rate a 'PG'. Possibly unfair, but I've done it.

I like the American system because we all know it. The fannish one bugs me: did someone really think they could invent a system and make the cat-herd of fandom follow it, when something perfectly serviceable already existed? General' 'mature' 'adult' works, since it explains quite clearly what it is.

Australian TV does an addendum, which I really like, in which it explains what the rating is for: violence, sex, drug use, language which may offend some viewers, adult themes, graphic images of surgery. I'd make that the fandom norm if I could wave a magic wand.

Ha, I now have my next challenge: write G-rated fic that Emu decides has substance after all. Because I am *contrary*. (This is like the G-man thing. Surely, I think, there has to be a way to do it and make it work.)

I keep reading vague histories that suggest that the fans who invented it did so because the MPAA made threatening noises about use of their trademarked rating system. Note that FF.net has its own non-movie-ish rating system as well. I have no idea if this story is true or not, 'cause I couldn't find any primary sources, but I went with plain English words instead. I figure if you're reading my stories, you can probably understand the ratings I've chosen. Assuming you care at all, which many fan readers won't.

Tags follow up with the reasons for the rating, I think.