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'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)