A new year brings with it new resolutions—and for many of us, that includes reading resolutions. It’s a truism that resolutions tend to fail. A local radio announcer here said that 67% of Americans have never completed a resolution in their life, and if you can’t trust a random local radio announcer in the mountains of North Carolina, who can you trust?
I think part of the reason resolutions fail is they feel like work. And that’s especially a shame when it comes to reading resolutions. Reading is wonderful! Sitting down with a good book makes my heart sing, even when (especially when) the book makes me cry or rage at the injustice of the world or stare out the window wondering how I’ll ever be the same after reading it.
Thus, I’m afraid that resolutions to read more diversely don’t do justice to the wonder of diverse books. There are whole worlds out there that racism, homophobia, ableism, transphobia, anti-semitism, and other forms of bigotry keep from us. It’s amazing that we live in a time where we can peel back that dusty film between us and the wonders of reality.
That’s all well and good to say, of course, but how do you put that principle into practice? How do you resolve to read diversely without turning all that wonder into just another box to be ticked?
I think we can start by acknowledging that, as Danika Ellis puts it, “books” and “reading” are two different hobbies.
Thinking about books, listening to reviews of books, browsing bookstores, talking about books…these are all, in some ways, the hobby of books. These funnel into the hobby of reading, but it’s not a one-to-one connection, as my piles of unread books can testify. (Both hobbies run into a third hobby of buying books, which is a topic for a different post.)
In the hobby of reading, you’ll run into limits, whether they be money, time, or the physical number of books you can carry from the library in one visit. The beauty of the hobby of books is its lack of limitations. You can dream big. This is the two-story library I would have in my home, were I rich as sin. This is the cozy window seat in which I would read this million-word fantasy series.
So, how do you diversifying your reading hobby in 2023? First, seek out diverse books in the infinite playground of books as a hobby. Search phrases like “Best fantasy by black authors,” “Best BIPOC-authored books of 2022,” “Most-anticipated queer fiction of 2023”… you get the idea. Browse them to find what sounds good to you. I keep a TBR list—have for almost 10 years—but you don’t need to keep a literal list (though you might find one helpful if you don’t already have it!). Make a wishlist on your preferred book-purchasing website. Remember the books that sing to you. You don’t need to have a responsible goal in mind, like a resolution or a book bingo, unless you want to give yourself that extra challenge. Pick books based on their covers, or because they have a cat in them, or whatever gets you interested.
When you incorporate diverse books into your book hobby, it transforms the reading hobby too. When you’re back in the real world with all its limits and you can only grab two books, you won’t think, “Oh, I really want the two books Brandon Sanderson has magicked into published existence this month, but I have to tick a checkbox.” That way lies stacks of unread books chosen nearly at random solely because of the representation they contain or appear to contain. Instead, you will face the much better and much worse problem of thinking, “Oh, I really want the two books Brandon Sanderson has magicked up, but also Rust in the Root by Justina Ireland, but also Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, but also Dear Senthuran by Akwaeke Emezi…”
(You think you know what it means to have too many books? You have not yet begun to comprehend too many books!)
Aside from the emotional turmoil of choosing between even more books when transitioning from your book hobby to your reading hobby, though, diversifying your book hobby has no downsides. It becomes part of your life. It lets you explore the world in full color.
And yes, it makes it easy and fun to read more diverse books.
Want some additional support in figuring out ways to diversify your reading? Here’s some other blog posts we’ve done that relate, at least tangentially, to this topic!
Who We Are: Duck Prints Press LLC is an independent publisher based in New York State. Our founding vision is to help fanfiction authors navigate the complex process of bringing their original works from first draft to print, culminating in publishing their work under our imprint. We are particularly dedicated to working with queer authors and publishing stories featuring characters from across the LGBTQIA+ spectrum. Love what we do? Sign up for our monthly newsletter and get previews, behind-the-scenes information, coupons, and more.
Through the month of January, 2023, all new monthly backers on our Patreon andko-fi can claim a merchandise freebie in addition to all their backer rewards – which, depending on your backer level, could include a free copy of this story! Why not take a peek at what we have to offer?
Our monthly “created works round-ups” are Duck Prints Press’s opportunity to spotlight some of the amazing work that people working with us have done that ISN’T linked to their work with Duck Prints Press. We include fanworks, outside publications, and anything else that creators feel like sharing with y’all! Inclusion is voluntary and includes anything that they decided “hey, I want to put this on the created work’s round-up!”
fiction || naruto || no ships, platonic or familial || teen & up || no major warnings apply || 940 || complete
summary: Hold it together had been Sakura’s mantra for far too many years. Existing for others, surviving a war, forcing her mind to endure just one more day, just one more mission, just one more battle.
But as Naruto and Sasuke fight their final fight, Sakura slowly has no more reasons to hold it together.
Sakura’s pov of manga chapters 696-699. As per my view and poetic liberty.
other tags: Final Battle, POV Haruno Sakura, Angst, Chapter 696-699 (Naruto), Building anxiety, Sakura’s pov of the Final Sasuke/Naruto fight.
fiction || arcane: league of legends (2021) || platonic or familial, f/f || caitlyn/vi (league of legends) || teen & up || no major warnings apply || 5,639 || complete
summary: > “You’ll have to excuse Vi,” the skinny kid with big eyebrows drawled. “She’s a punch first, ask questions later sort of girl.”
Caitlyn goes down to the undercity after Jayce’s workshop is destroyed and meets Vi and her gang. This doesn’t change anything. But then again, it might change quite a lot.
Written for Fandom Trumps Hate 2022
other tags: Alternate Universe – Canon Divergence; Alternate Universe – Different First Meeting; Arcane: League of Legends Season 01 Act 01; POV Caitlyn (League of Legends); Pre-Relationship; Pre-Femslash; Enforcers (Arcane: League of Legends) – Freeform; background Caitlyn & Jayce; Team Up; Privileged Character Unlearning Biases; Making Bureaucracy Work For You
fiction || red, white & royal blue || m/m || alex claremont-diaz/henry fox-mountchristen-windsor || explicit || no major warnings apply || 18,743 || complete
summary: “I hope you know that I am literally never going to stop reminding you that you said that. I’m going to, like, take out an ad in the student paper. Maybe hire a skywriter or something. I am definitely telling Pez.”
“I hate you,” Henry tells him.
“Lies,” Alex says, still laughing. “You know you love me.”
Henry lets out a heavy sigh. “Well,” he says softly, “that’s rather the problem, isn’t it?”
“What, you think we’d be better off if we still hated each other?”
“I think,” Henry says slowly, “I’d be better off if I could figure out how to stop being so stupidly in love with you.”
It takes a few seconds for the words to really register, as distracted as Alex is by the heat of Henry’s breath and wondering how much it would cost to actually hire a skywriter. Once they do, it takes a full minute before Alex can move. Can breathe. Can think.
Finally, he forces out a whispered, “What?”
When that gets no response, he tries again. This time, his voice actually cooperates. “Wait, what?”
The only response he gets is a soft snore and Alex realizes that Henry, the utter fucking asshole, has passed out on his shoulder.
other tags: Alternate Universe – College/University, Roommates, Drunken Confessions, Communication Failure, Idiots in Love, Pining, Jealousy, Light Angst, References to Depression
fiction || 全职高手 – 蝴蝶蓝 | quánzhí gāoshǒu | the king’s avatar – húdié lán || platonic or familial, queerplatonic f+m (just in case: this is distinctly separate from the platonic relationships!) || queerplatonic chǔ yúnxiù & yè xiū, chǔ yúnxiù & shū kěyí, chǔ yúnxiù & team misty rain || general audiences || no major warnings apply || 36,613 || complete
summary: Here are two truths and a lie:
Chu Yunxiu is Misty Rain’s captain.
Chu Yunxiu is dating Ye Qiu.
Chu Yunxiu is happy to have the Shu twins on her team.
Of course, a lie can become true if you believe in it enough…
(A Chu Yunxiu character study.)
other tags: Aroace Characters, Mostly Canon-Compliant, Post-Canon, Team Feelings, Women-Centric, Fake Dating to Queerplatonic Marriage
fiction || teen wolf || poly (one gender: male) || derek/stiles/jackson || teen & up || no major warnings apply || 6,143 || complete
summary: When Jackson’s ambo is called to the building where he lives, he’s terrified it’s Derek. But no, it’s the guy next door, who has crowds of noisy people over all the time, and plays his TV loud enough to bother Derek into getting noise-canceling headphones. Jackson and Derek are more than a little surprised to discover exactly who that person is.
other tags: Panic Attacks, Canon Divergence, Future Fic, Polyamory Negotiation
All of this month’s shared works are fanfiction – so if you’re in the market for something new to read this New Year’s Day, why not check them out?
Who We Are: Duck Prints Press LLC is an independent publisher based in New York State. Our founding vision is to help fanfiction authors navigate the complex process of bringing their original works from first draft to print, culminating in publishing their work under our imprint. We are particularly dedicated to working with queer authors and publishing stories featuring characters from across the LGBTQIA+ spectrum. Love what we do? Sign up for our monthly newsletter and get previews, behind-the-scenes information, coupons, and more
By a member of the Duck Prints Press staff who has chosen to be anonymous.
Note: Punk genres are diverse and always changing. Duck Prints Press is not trying to give a complete explanation of aetherpunk here but rather a bit of inspiration. Take what you want from it to create your own aetherpunk worlds!
On January 5th, Duck Prints Press will be launching recruitment for our next anthology: Aether Beyond the Binary, a collection of stories featuring main characters outside the gender binary living in modern or near-future aetherpunk Earth! This begs the question: what IS Aetherpunk? Well, read on and learn all about it…
Prologue: From the Aether
Scenes from the Aether #1: Bloomington, Indiana, 2013:
Lin steps into the café down the street from their apartment. The lights of the shop glow a pleasant green, reminiscent of the owner’s own magical aura. Soon, when Del opens the shop for customers, they’ll turn a more standard blue, but for now Del’s shop is cozy and quiet. Lin smiles, looking forward to seeing their friend.
A shower of blue sparks flies from the kitchen’s open door, and Del scrambles out, cursing. When he sees Lin, he breaks into a wry smile.
“Breakfast on the house?” he offers, his shorthand for pleading.
“That’s the third time this week,” Lin chides, barely holding back their smile. They roll up their sleeves to go tinker with Del’s new, “improved” baking oven. “Why not use your old one?”
“The aether this model uses is supposed to be more efficient!” Del exclaims. Then, with a sad smile: “Plus no one trusts my powers. They still think the color’s associated with… you know.”
“Yeah.” Lin knows. They think of Del’s infamous brother, the deadly alchemist. “I’ll help you, but this is the last time.”
“Mhm,” Del says, nudging Lin’s shoulder, and adds telepathically, You say that every time.
You could try not being so smug about it, Lin half scolds, half laughs.
“Why wouldn’t I be smug? My handsome, brilliant friend, the undisputed genius of the IU School of Aetheric Engineering, is fixing my pipes for free.”
Lin blushes but maintains their chiding tone as they say, their warm face hidden behind the stove where the power supply has once again leaked from its pipes, “Not for free. For breakfast.”
-anonymous Duck Prints Press staff member
Part One: What’s in a Punk (genre)?
There’s been an explosion of punk genres since Bruce Bethke’s 1983 story Cyberpunk launched the genre. Though Bethke’s story may have given a name to this phenomenon, in his Etymology of “Cyberpunk” Bethke credits William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984) for really defining the core tenets of the genre (Bethke, 2000). He also marvels at how the cyberpunk character trope (“a young, technologically facile, ethically vacuous, computer-adept vandal or criminal”) has stayed remarkably stable over the years since his story was published. In 2022, when I’m writing this, it’s still very similar. The cyberpunks in the cyberpunk genre are the sorts of lone heroes who often arise in the isolating environments fostered by advanced computer technologies.
Why am I rambling on about cyberpunk? Because, dear readers, cyberpunk is the progenitor of all genrepunks. As the most widely explored and utilized punk setting, it has provided the blueprint on which other punk genres are built. In essence, every punk after cyberpunk is a reaction to cyberpunk, either embracing or pushing back against its ethos. After cyberpunk came steampunk: a retro, adventurous answer to cyberpunk’s gritty and dystopian futurism. Then came others: dieselpunk, sandalpunk, biopunk—even the very meta “mythpunk” to which Neil Gaiman’s work is often attributed. These days, even non-punk fantasy is often punk-adjacent.
So what makes punk stories… punk? For a story to be classified in a punk genre, it typically requires two key elements: a distinctive type of technology (whether social technology like myths and lore or physical technology like steam engines, diesel-powered airships, or nanobots) and a point of view about that technology.
The technological distinctions can seem fairly obvious: atompunk features tech powered by nuclear energy; nanopunk, tiny robot technology; biopunk, genetic engineering and biotech; dieselpunk, diesel-powered machines. But focusing on only the tech aspects can make people miss the point of having multiple different punk subgenres.
Take this paraphrased version of a forum conversation, circa 2015:
[User 1]: Hey, I’ve been hearing more and more about this genre called ‘aetherpunk,’ but I can’t figure out what it is. How is it different from just steampunk but with magic?
[User 2]: Sorry to tell you, friend, but it’s basically just “steampunk with magic.”
[User 1]: Ah. So, completely useless, then.
This view is common but misses the point. The tech alone does not make punk punk. The second necessary element is the cultural context of the technology: how does it affect the people who use it every day? How dissociated do those people feel from their environment? From their government? From the inevitable march of society, driven at least partially by technological advances using the genre-specific tech? Punk genres live and breathe for their exploration of the intersection between technology and culture.
Genreunk is a response to the world we live in. Cultural evolution happens when technologies—lore, steam engines, printing presses, atomic bombs—intersect with cultural habits and traditions and shake them loose. We don’t live in the only, or the best, possible world. When we write punk, in some ways, we’re rewriting cultural evolution. We’re asking for a new way of thinking about the past and how that carries forward into the future. How we would be different. How we would be the same.
Punk isn’t just a genre. It’s a tool for understanding humanity.
Part Two: Clear Air, a History of Aether
In the beginning, gods breathed their essence into the emptiness of space, and aether entered the universe as the material through which the stars and planets moved. Humans in ancient Greece, attuned to this invisible presence, named it “clear air” and declared it the fifth element, along with earth, water, air, and fire. Other cultures gave this energy different names or didn’t name it at all but nonetheless knew it was there. Over a thousand years later, medieval Europeans called it “quintessence” and hypothesized that this element, rare on Earth, could be distilled in order to cure mortal ailments. Aether was a substance that could make rocks burn and lights glow. It became a key ingredient in classic alchemical experiments in the West.
Aether has always been the bringer of light, the unchanging medium through which energy travels in waves from its source to the lenses of our eyes, to the leaves of hungry plants, to everywhere on the planet and throughout the universe. Indeed, it was so recently believed in and well-known that late 19th-century spiritualists took photos of ectoplasm and declared that ghosts could send messages through the aether.
Then, a mere hundred-odd years ago, we lost faith.
The idea of aether seems preposterous now, when we know about electron fields and the theory of relativity which states that nothing in the universe is stable or unchanging (and we certainly don’t need a special medium that exists to move light around)—but is it really so much harder to believe in aether than in electron fields? Or in dark matter?
Why shouldn’t we be swimming through aether like a fish swims through water?
Part Three: What is Aether/Punk?
Aetherpunk, the genre, explores what the world would be like if, rather than finding out aether was simply a confused explanation for how energy moves through space, we discovered that it was a real element, something we could both detect and harness. The nature of the aether isn’t what makes aetherpunk what it is. Rather, it’s the exploration of the development of society from the turning point when we discover that the aether is real—how that changes the world, the people, the past, and the future.
Aether, the invisible force, can be everything and nothing. It can be magic, or it can be material. In some disciplines, like alchemy, it’s both. Aether is made of faith. It’s ephemeral, often immaterial, and only visible once the viewer knows what they’re looking for. It can cause disaster or provide beautiful, clean energy for wondrous technologies. It can be a source of progress or of fear. But in the end, it’s still a thing that must be discovered and cultivated. It can’t be forced into existence.
Aetherpunk as a genre is more naturistic than earlier punk genres like steampunk or cyberpunk. Natural materials find their way into clothing and buildings and weapons and tools, and the shapes of these man-made elements are designed in ways that enhance their ability to harness aetheric power. There might be constructs of stone or finely-honed metal held together by aetheric energy, beautiful steel weapons that cut through stone using atom-thick edges of pure aether, skyships and buildings of gold, or of clear stone, or of glass and crystal. And the technology bathes its surroundings in a luminous glow of aetheric light.
Like solarpunk and lunarpunk, aetherpunk is a hopeful punk genre. When aether is discovered and harnessed, it brings about flourishing communities and can help to heal the world. Of course there are dark sides—the dangers of a volatile power source that not everyone can control, the frustrations of the people who are unable to use that power for themselves—and anyone is welcome to write a dark aetherpunk story. But aetherpunk doesn’t come with the same inherent baggage as steampunk or cyberpunk. Likewise, people can write utopian steampunk and cyberpunk, but that’s the opposite of the “standard” core of the genre. Aetherpunk wants to explore humanity in a universe where we don’t struggle simply to light our homes. Where the power that runs everything suffuses the universe, and therefore everyone can reap the benefits. A world where our source of power doesn’t send millions of people to an early grave. What sorts of stories would emerge in this sort of world?
Part Four: Steampunk but with Aether?
Now that we’ve described what aetherpunk is, let’s return to that dreadful forum post, and ask for ourselves: what makes aetherpunk more than just “steampunk but with aether”?
In short, everything.
First is the nature of the energy that powers the technology. Steampunk is a retrofuturistic genre that centers on the era when steam, fueled by wood and coal, was the main power source, around the turn of the 1800s during the Industrial Revolution. It harkens back to the aesthetics of the era, with wood and steel and glass materials, wooden ships that ply the air, clockworks and rivets and tangible, heavy things that work through sheer force. Steam is a thing with weight. It will melt your flesh from your bones, and it’s born not of faith, nor internal strength, nor the careful distillation of spirits down to their quintessence, but instead through fire. Another resource needs to burn to make it. Entire lives are spent feeding coal into the voracious maws of steam engines.
Aetherpunk, as we’ve described, is born of magic, and thus the technology to use it focuses on cultivation and focusing energy rather than on producing something by force. Even the most cursory look at the nature of the energy source shows us how every aspect of society linked with producing that energy is different between steampunk stories and aetherpunk stories.
There’s also a very important cultural distinction between aetheric stories and steam-powered stories. In steampunk, the adventures of sky pirates and nobility are built on the efforts of a vast lower class who are systematically shut out from steam’s benefits. It may not matter to the story at hand, but the underlying class tension is always there. Like cyberpunk, steampunk takes inequality as a given, and places singular heroes into that world.
Aetherpunk is more utopian and egalitarian. There’s no assumption built in that in order for a person to use their magical flying ship, someone else must suffer to create the energy needed to fuel it. This distinction makes all the difference in how aetherpunk and steampunk stories are told.
In either case, the power source can be wonderful or terrible, can fuel dystopian nightmares or hopeful solutions to the troubles that ail the world. But the fundamental nature of these technologies affects the way characters think and speak about the world they inhabit. Is it a place of smog or of shimmering lights? Is it a place where magic competes with technology, or is it a place where magic is the technology? The answers to these questions are different in every punk genre, and those differences should have a profound impact on the story’s narrative.
Where will your aetherpunk story take you?
Epilogue: From the Aether
Scenes from the Aether #2: San Francisco, 2043
Shining, multicolored bridges bend but do not break in the powerful earthquake that, in previous eras, would have shaken buildings from their foundations and dropped bridges into the bay. Drivers and pedestrians cling to whatever safety they can as the structures sag and sway and finally, after all is done, snap back to form as though the past minute was only a bad dream.
Trill breathes a ragged sigh before stepping back onto zir motorcycle and kicking the starter. A blue glow and a warm hum are the only signs that the bike is powering up before Trill finishes crossing the bridge, a little jumpy from the unexpected shaking but no worse for wear. Ze has a long way still to go before ze arrive at Heloise’s house. Ze can’t wait to see zir friend, who is finally home after her long trip to Lima where she was training magicians to harness their power.
Trill rides north into the mountains while the sun sets to zir west, out above the ocean, and the world glows orange and pink. By the time ze powers down zir bike, the sky is silky black and filled with stars. Trill climbs toward Heloise’s small house, which is built into the slope; the soft blue glow of natural aether in the rocks lights the way. Ze knocks on Heloise’s wooden door; Heloise answers with a hug around Trill’s waist, her face pressed into Trill’s chest. Trill laughs, something in zir heart finally relaxing.
It’s been a long eight months.
She pulls Trill inside, into this warm place she’s made in the lonely hills above the bay, and even though ze doesn’t deserve it, Trill revels in her welcome. It feels like coming home.
-anonymous Duck Prints Press staff member
Examples of Aetherpunk
As aetherpunk is a young genre, examples are sparse, and there are many opinions on what “counts” and what doesn’t. For example, some people consider Lord of the Rings to be aetherpunk, due to the way it brings magic and technology together (especially in Mordor and in Sarumon’s plot line) and the way the magic interacts withsociety. The below list should not be considered exhaustive, just as this post shouldn’t be treated as The Last Word on the nature of aetherpunk.
Duck Prints Press LLC is an independent publisher based in New York State. Our founding vision is to help fanfiction authors navigate the complex process of bringing their original works from first draft to print, culminating in publishing their work under our imprint. We are particularly dedicated to working with queer authors and publishing stories featuring characters from across the LGBTQIA+ spectrum.
Want to support the Press, read about us behind-the-scenes, learn about what’s coming down the pipeline, get exclusive teasers, and claim free stories? Back us on Patreon or ko-fi monthly and read your fill!
fiction || our flag means death (tv) rpf, new zealand actor rpf, new zealand comedy actor rpf || various relationship types || various ships || explicit || creator choses not to use warnings || 28,690 || complete
summary: Kinktober 2022 – RPF Edition
31 (short?) fics featuring all kinds of kinks!
The chapter summaries will include the ship and tags for each fill because everything is rather fluid in this.
other tags: (Tags and ship are included in each chapter description)
summary: It’s the first time Shin has ever seen so much of Yankumi’s skin. Predictably, his body reacts. Unpredictably, his regular brain takes a back seat to his second brain for a moment when he offers to throw away Yankumi’s cheerleading outfit for her. Instead, he does something else with it. Something she would probably hit him for. A lot.
other tags: Unrequited Love, Unrequited Lust, Masturbation (male), angst, Shin is 18 years old
fiction || scum villain’s self-saving system || m/m || luo binghe/shen qingqiu, mobei-jun/shang qinghua || explicit || no major warnings apply || 126,603 || complete
summary: In a world that is a story come to life, bringing fanfiction tropes into play can lead to unexpected concequences… Especially if the fanfiction author had no idea what those tropes were supposed to mean!
A post-canon story of love, humor, hurt, healing, and most of all TROPES.
other tags: crack treated seriously, humor, hurt/comfort, happy ending, identity reveal, onscreen injury, animal endangerment, explicit sexual content, fix-it of sorts
I frequently see people tag their works things along the lines of “sorry I don’t know how to tag,” and I also frequently see people tag badly while at least appearing to know what the they’re doing, so it’s been on my mind to write up a post like this for a while, and with the influx of Twit-ugees, now is as good a time as any I suppose.
Advance warning that I’m the most long-winded bitch up in this place and just neurodivergent enough to never know how much to cut/what details don’t matter so apologies that this just goes on and on, and I just hope that if you bear with me you’ll learn a thing or four.
Also note that any time I say “A thing will work this specific way” that is always subject to Tumblr’s spontaneous habit of breaking and I can never guarantee that things will actually work at any given moment.
I’m gonna start at absolutely baby, sorry. The first thing you need to know is where tags go. You don’t tag in the “type text here” box where you’re talking about whatever. Tumblr isn’t like twitter, where if I start going “hey everyone I’m writing a post about how to #tag things on #tumblr,” everyone will see it if they go to #tag and #tumblr. Nope, you gotta put your tags in the box thingy at the bottom if you want people to actually see them when they use tag-search-related options.
You can write #whatever in the body of your post til the cows come home and it won’t do anything unless you put it in that bottom #add tags box. So. Do that.
Once you know how to tag, the two most important things to know about tags are:
1. Anyone can see your tags. Everyone can see your tags. Not just your followers. Not just OP. Any random stranger who pokes around in a post can see them, AND they’ll appear in the OPs “new activity” notifications, AND they’ll be in the “view all reblogs with comments and tags” button that anyone can select, AND, if it’s an original post and you’re the OP, they’ll appear in the searchable tags on Tumblr. Like. Seriously. We can all see you. So always bear in mind that anything you say in a tag is subject to public scrutiny. (ETA: in the PAST this wasn’t always the case; Tumblr has greatly increased the visibility of tags over the years, and may do even more in the future)
2. If you use a tag on an original post, your post will appear in that tag search. Anyone can search by tag in Tumblr. You go to that bar up top to search. (Note that I’m using MDZS as my example for this post, but you can easily substitute your fandom of choice). (Reblogs that use a tag do NOT, EVER, appear in the tag searches.) So yeah, you’re searching for a tag…
…and you get three types of search results. The first, with the #, shows the tag-ified version of your search, and clicking that will take you directly to tag search (and therefore show you posts that have that tag, and specifically exactly that tag – if you go to #mdzs, you won’t see #mdzs fanart, because tag search is narrowly defined). The magnifying-glass marked searches are common and related searches, and will show you posts that have those words in their text AND in the tags, so a magnifying-glass search for MDZS will show you things tagged mdzs, and also #mdzs fanart, and any random-ass post that includes mdzs anywhere in the main text or tags. You’ll get a lot (and you’ll have the chance to narrow that search by top posts vs. latest posts, recent vs. ever, type of post – as in picture vs. text vs. video etc., etc., though note that these searches are always busted and always lean heavily toward recent stuff). If you know you want the tag, you can click #mdzs, but even if you go to search instead (for example, if you just hit “enter” it’ll take you to search, not the tag), you can still see related tags:
Now, see how that says 21k followers? On Tumblr, you can follow tags! Anyone can follow tags! Popular tags often have tens-of-thousands, and occasionally hundreds-of-thousands, of followers! What exactly following a tag means depends on how any given individual sets up their feed, but for many people it means that random posts from that tag will appear on their timeline. Which means that if you tag your original posts (NOT reblogs – this applies to posts for which you are the originator) with a given tag, anyone who visits that tags and/or follows that tag can see it and might even have your post appear on their feed even if neither of you knows or follows the other.
Anyone who visits a given tag will be able to see your post.
Or, well, almost anyone –
if you have them blocked or they have you blocked, they won’t see – though if you block a main blog/side blog, and they post from a different side blog, you CAN still see – if you really want to block someone you’ll need to block all their alts too, which is often a challenge since people tend not to be super public about their alts;
if the tag is in the last 5 allowed tags on a post – more on that later – it won’t show up, uh, basically anywhere, good luck with that;
if the tag search is broken, which it basically always is at least a little, welcome to our duct-taped hellsite enjoy your stay).
If you want people to see your post, this functionality is fantastic! It gives you a lot of ways to get your content out there. If you don’t want people to see your post…well. It is absolutely critical that you understand that there is absolutely nothing private about tags, and that even though we all frequently clown in tags, you need to be aware of the potential consequences of that clowning, namely that people will see you clowning, including complete strangers, and so you might not want to clown quite that hard.
Personal Blog Organization
But, I hear you say, I want to organize my own blog! If I don’t tag my mdzs posts #mdzs (because I’m trying to avoid everyone seeing them because I Don’t Want That), how will I find them when I want them later?
Well, first, don’t expect to ever be able to find things easily on Tumblr, lmao. We do have search and tag organization options (more later!) but in the end always assume things you post might become unfindable; if you really want to be sure you can find something again, find another way to store it (I personally keep “things I don’t want to lose” in drafts; some people use likes, or private side blogs).
That said, this is one of the main reasons a lot of people use personal tags to denote their own content. For example, if I want to post something but I don’t want it to spread too far, I will avoid using the fandom tags and stick to my personal blog organization tags. I personally use “unforth rambles” for my “whatever the fuck this is” kinds of posts, “whine whine whine” if I’m complaining, “unforth writes” for my fiction, etc. Lots of people have one or more personal tags, and not only do they make it easier for you to find your own stuff, they also make it easier for other people to find your stuff.
Want to post about mdzs, want to be able to find it again, but don’t want it in the tag? Try “yourname’s mdzsthoughts” or something similar.
Do you create a thing, and want people to be able to actually find it if they come to your blog, instead of it getting buried under a billion other reblogs and shitposts? Try “yourname art” or “my yourfandom fic” or whatever. Trust me, as someone who routinely tries to find art on people’s blogs? People who have specific tags make it much, much easier, and believe it or not I guarantee there is SOMEONE out there who’d like to be able to interact with your stuff more easily, and if you make it impossible you’ll never even know they wanted to.
Likewise, of course, a personal tagging system can make things utterly unfindable cause sometimes that’s Goals. Take this knowledge and use it as you will.
Aside to the above: queue tags. If you’re on Tumblr for more than 5 minutes you’ll see that a lot of posts have tags like “my queue” or, more often, ridiculous “queue”-related pun tags (when I used to use one, it was “#q hoo hoo”). Why do people do this? Well, there’s surely a lot of reasons, but as far as I know the main one (my own reason, at least), was pretty simple: Tumblr has a messaging system, and a lot of us use it, and if we post something, people will think we’re online and might message us and then get upset that we don’t answer. Using a queue tag makes it very clear “this posted when I wasn’t actually present.” Then, you can (like me) go back to ignoring your messages for days and pretend you haven’t been on Tumblr until you’ve actually got the whatever to answer them.
ETA: it’s been pointed out that, depending on what search settings someone is using, using “my thing tag” may still show up in searches, so if your goal is to keep your posts out of the main tags, you’d be better served to avoid using the same full text as the common tag(s).
It’s also important to know that you don’t have unlimited tags, and they can’t be of unlimited length. Tags have a character limit (…I never remember how much it is, though, maybe 200-something?) and you can’t have more than thirty tags on a post. Conventional wisdom is that if an important tag (such as a fandom tag or character tag that you WANT people to be able to find) isn’t in the first ten tags, it won’t appear in search, though I’ve definitely seen things in tag search that had the tag farther down than that. That said, if you put anything in between Tag 25 and Tag 30, don’t expect to ever be able to find it again. Trust me. I’ve tried. Tag 25 to Tag 30 are a tag black hole, and anything in that range might as well not exist because it won’t be findable. (Sometimes – but only sometimes – search will be able to find things in that hole, subject to all the bugs that normally make search nigh unusable). Note that on mobile, at least, Tumblr yells at you if you try to tag more than 30; on desktop I honestly don’t know if it does cause I always use XKit reblog features instead. (more on that later!)
A couple other tag limits include:
various punctuation breaks tags, though which has varied over time. For example, currently if you try to make a tag with quotes (#I told him “shut up”) you will NOT get a tag that says that, you’ll get two tags: #shut up and #i told him. And, they’ll be in that order – the tag in quotation marks will end up first, before anything else. For a long time, hyphens also just absolutely murdered tags; theoretically they fixed that recently though in practice I’ve noticed it being hit-and-miss, so if you want to be sure things work well don’t use a hyphen. Further, at least on desktop, a comma tells it “this is the end of the tag” so if you enter a comma it won’t put in a comma it’ll just end your tag and take you to the next one. Honestly, if you want to be sure that your tag doesn’t break your best bet is to stick to…not. Forget grammar. Surrender to the void. People will figure out what you mean…or they won’t. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ We never said this was a great site.
you can’t edit tags. They recently teased that they’d introduce tag editing, but at least as far as I’ve been able to tell it’s never actually been unrolled, or maybe it’s only been unrolled to some users (we often only get features for some folks, or only on mobile or only on desktop…). An addendum to this is the simple rule that no matter how careful you are you will inevitably make a typo in your last word, often the last letter, right before you hit enter. I’m sorry. It’s a law of nature. On the plus side everyone knows that tags can’t be edited so no one’s going to care if your spelling is janky. (ETA: just to be clear, since it was pointed out in the notes: you CAN delete a tag and retype it. so, it’s up to you if you feel like doing that. I meant you can’t go back and edit the text entered as a tag, you can only delete it and make a new tag.) (ETA 2: some people apparently do have the tag editing functionality on desktop. yay for them. I don’t. You might. Can’t hurt to check?)
Do not censor tags. ESPECIALLY trigger warnings. Sometimes people will censor letters intentionally so things won’t turn up in the tag search options (for example, if they’re saying something negative), and while I think that’s valid I also think there are better ways to handle it (like just use a different fucking tag). But if you censor tags, and especially if you censor warning tags, you make it MUCH HARDER for people to consistently blacklist. Just call things what they are (except n s f w – more later), and tag accurately (so if you want to post anti use “anti thing” tags instead of censoring), and make it possible for people to ACTUALLY avoid things and blacklist. Please. I’m begging you.
Finding the Tag for The Thing You Want
Often, finding a relevant tag can be super easy, especially if what you like is common. If you’ve been in online fandom at all, even on other platforms or forums or wherever, you likely already are familiar with common abbreviations for The Thing, and those are usually a great place to start (for example, #mdzs, #mcu for Marvel movies, #spn for Supernatural, #lotr for Lord of the Rings, etc.). However, since people do often use multiple tags (like, they may tag #mdzs AND #mo dao zu shi, AND #grandmaster of demonic cultivation, AND #gdc) you can always try putting in The Full Name For The Thing, and then seeing what tags are on the posts that pop up. Then, once you see that, you can click through a few and check them out. Every tag’s page will have a box like this:
…and it says right there how often the tag has been used “recently” (no, I have literally NEVER figured out how “recently” is…recently). If you want to find the most popular tags for a given fandom, the easiest way is to just poke around in the tags people are using and see which ones have the biggest number in that “XXX recent posts” box. Those are the ones people love and use, and emulating them will lead you in the right direction (assuming you want people to be able to find your stuff).
On the other hand, what if you like something rare, something obscure, something that doesn’t have a consistent naming structure, etc.?
That can get a little harder, but the challenges can be cut through fairly easily.
search for every variation of The Thing that you can think of and look through the results until you find The Thing You Actually Wanted.
see how that post is tagged.
check those tags for more of The Thing You Actually Wanted.
keep doing this until you find the tag where people who are into The Thing You Actually Wanted congregate.
Creating Tags and Space
…okay but what if that last step 5 ended with losing instead? Well, BE THE CHANGE YOU WANT TO SEE IN THE WORLD.
A lot of people on Tumblr use personal tags for their own blog organization…but many also use tags and tag-tracking to create a personal tagmeant for public use. So, source blogs (blogs that act as “clearing houses” of stuff for a specific fandom, character, ship, etc.) will say “we track #thisisourhashtag, use it so we can see your post!”
You can do that! If you really love something narrow and specific, you can at least try to get the word out. It takes a lot of work though – because you’ll need to get the word out yourself. “Hey, I love This Obscure Thing! Do you also love This Obscure Thing? Come join me, use #thisisyourhashtag!” is a start. But just “building it” won’t be enough – you’ll also need to do the leg work to find more of The Thing, reblog it, interact with the people making it, etc. Often on Tumblr, the difference between a really vibrant small fandom community and a small fandom that’s absolutely dead silent is one person taking the initiative to say “I’m going to do whatever I have to, community-building-wise, to find other people to talk to about this.”
(The best example I know of for this is the Daomu Biji fandom. Like seriously, they’re a fucking case study on how to take a tiny group of people who are Really Into A Thing and turn it into a vibrant, supportive community that is, frankly, a joy to be a part of. If someone wants more info on kinda…how this works…I think it’s outside the purview of this post but I’m willing to babble about it some other time.)
Navigating Tumblr, Your Own Blog, and Other People’s Blogs Using Tags
One of the cool things about tags on Tumblr is that every tag has a static, usable link, which – if your own blog or a blog you’re trying to access has a consistent tagging format – can make it much, MUCH easier to find things. ESPECIALLY because static tag links are constant and consistently work about 80 bajillion times better than “search.” Posts that are unfindable using “search” WILL (usually) be findable using the tag’s link. (Exceptions include if the OP has blocked you or you’ve blocked them, and if the tag is in the 25th, 26th, 27th, 28th, 29th, or 30th tag slot.) So, how do you do this?
For all of Tumblr: the link you want is https://www.tumblr.com/tagged/(THE TAG)?sort=recent (or ?sort=top for them in order by most popular. Note that this is one of the cases where what’s after the ? ISN’T A TRACKING LINK ffs it’s not ALWAYS tracking you can’t ALWAYS delete it without consequences sometimes the internet is exhausting).
For your own blog: https://yournamehere.tumblr.com/tagged/thetagyouwant
For someone else’s blog: https://theirnamehere.tumblr.com/tagged/thetagyouwant
A lot of people use this for personal blog organization, and it’s especially common for source blogs to have very structured tag lists to help with navigation. For example, in the art sideblogs I run, anyone can look up any tag using links like this, and it’ll enable them to find every post with that tag. See? https://www.tumblr.com/mdzsartreblogs/tagged/mod%20post
NOTE: Tumblr, in the last few weeks, changed how this feature is set up. As you can see, the link is now structured differently than what I typed, BUT the original link formatting still works, just how it appears has changed. That said, because Tumblr can never change a thing without breaking it, there’s now sometimes a problem where if you type the link in, it’ll replace a space ( ) with a plus (+) instead of with a fake-space (%20 is how browsers classically translate spaces into Internet Speak so that the urls don’t break). If your space gets made into a +, Tumblr will say there are no results, so you’ll have to manually go into the link and change it back to a space and THEN it will work. Yes, really. No, I don’t know why. Also, if you try to get rid of the plus in the search bar instead it will NOT work correctly, because if you remove the plus, put in a space, and then hit “enter” on text written in the search bar, it’ll switch you from “show all posts with this tag” to a standard search (which will have all the bugs that standard searches usually have in Tumblr).
But, basically, once you know the tag that someone uses for a thing, or have established what tag YOU want to use for a thing, navigating your own or other people’s blogs to find Every Post Tagged With The Thing is really easy, and can be a great way to find niche content, a user’s own creations, or That Thing You Posted Two Years Ago That You Need Again For Some Reason.
ETA: Someone mentioned in the tags that if you add /chrono to the end of these links, it’ll show you all the same info BUT it’ll show the OLDEST posts firsts instead of the newest and I did not know that and that is A.MAY.ZING and thank you to the person who told me and now y’all know too.
You’ll see me talk a lot in this post about the ways that Tumblr is broken and how that can make it harder to accomplish whatever it is you’re trying to do. There is one notable exception to the brokenness. At least in my experience, and in the experience of basically everyone I’ve ever spoken to about it, Tumblr’s internal/built in blacklist works pretty darn well.
Don’t want to see a tag?
Go to Account Stuff -> Settings. Scroll down to “Content you see,” which is where Filtered Tags and Filtered Post Content are.
Filtered Tags will only filter The Thing if it’s literally #the exact tag you put in filtered tags.
Filtered Post Content will filter any post that mentions the thing.
Note that Tumblr blacklist is actually over assiduous. I personally ONLY use filtered tags, and I’ve found that it will often filter a post even if the current reblog of that post doesn’t HAVE the tag – like, if anyone has EVER tagged The Post with The Thing, it’ll get blacklisted. Also note that while theoretically, filtered posts will still show up as a box you have the option to show, in practice some will just. Not show. I’ve absolutely had blacklisted things just Not Even Appear. Which can be annoying, if it’s actually a post you want to see, but there’s no perfect system.
Also, never EVER let anyone tell you that “blacklisting is only for things you hate.” Look, you curate your own experience. If your bestie is posting about a fandom you’re not in, and it’s clogging up your dash, you’re not obligated to scroll through their 80 posts about that thing. Just blacklist it. It’ll make your experience using this website much happier. (if your bestie doesn’t tag the thing…you can try post content filtering. But yeah that’ll make it harder). I personally blacklist a fuckton of fandoms that I’ve got nothing against, I’m just not IN them, and seeing content for them is of zero interest for me, and if I blacklist them then I have more time to interact with the things I DO want to see.
And yeah I know I prefaced this section by saying blacklist actually works. Take this entire section as what my ten-years-on-this-site ass sees as “functional” on Tumblr.com.
Making Tumblr Actually Vaguely Usable
Do yourself a favor and download XKit. (It’s on Chrome too. Y’all Chrome users can go find the link yourself sorry not sorry). XKit includes a fuckton of REALLY DAMN USEFUL functionality for making tumblr (on desktop, not mobile!) function better…
…and especially, Quick Reblog, Quick Tags, and Tag Replacer can help with tagging and tag management. Quick Reblog gives you the ability to rapidly reblog things without having to click through to the reblog window, and it gives you a box to type in all your tags when you quick reblog. Quick Tags makes all existing posts on your blog and sideblogs have an extra little button that lets you add new tags to it without having to open the edit screen for the post. Tag Replacer lets you swap a tag you no longer want to use for a new tag. Get XKit. It’ll help you. I promise.
Okay, so now you know something about how tags work, time to learn some tag etiquette.
The most important thing to remember when trying to figure out how to tag an original post is that people follow tags because they want to see The Things About That Tag. This has some obvious consequences, namely:
They won’t want to see things that Aren’t About The Thing.
They won’t want to see someone Hating The Thing.
So that leads to…
Tagging for Fandoms
DO: tag fandoms that are relevant to your post. Feel free to tag variations on that fandom – you can tag #mdzs and #modao zushi and #mo dao zu shi, or #spn and #supernatural. No one will mind.
DON’T: tag fandoms that aren’t relevant to your post. Yes, even if it’s a fandom by the same author (looking at you, people who tag #mdzs, #tgcf, and #svsss on every mxtx post you make, I see you and I seethe). Yes, even if it’s a different version/adaptation of your work. If you create a sub-fandom-specific work (for example, to stick with MDZS for now, if you create a work for The Untamed that includes the Yin Iron, don’t tag it MDZS; there’s no Yin Iron in MDZS, and while yes some people who follow the MDZS tag will want to see it, there will also be plenty who don’t. This is especially true when there’s a popular adaptation that a lot of fans of the original don’t like. People who adore the BOOK of the Hobbit? May be pretty reticent about seeing things about the MOVIE if they didn’t enjoy it!) Try to maintain awareness of this; it’s courtesy not to just tag Every Vaguely Relevant Fandom. You won’t make people happy they’re seeing your stuff. You’ll make them annoyed that you spammed irrelevant tags.
Tagging for Ships and Characters
DO: tag the characters that feature in your work. Doing variations of their name is fine as long as those variations are relevant. So, if you make a piece of “wei wuxian” for example, you can absolutely tag that “wei wuxian” and “weiwuxian” and “wei ying” and “weiying” and “mdzs wei wuxian” etc. But.
DON’T: tag every single iteration of a character. If someone is following a tag for a specific variation of a character (to stick with MDZS, maybe they follow the “yiling laozu” tag) then they want to see that variation, not…NOT that variation. So don’t post your, idk, fluffy Lotus Pier Wei Ying pre-canon thing to the “yiling laozu” tag. And I know this sounds like gibberish to people not in this fandom, but like. Just extend it to your own fandom. Lots of characters have different fandom nicknames or self-presentations for themselves at different points in canon. People who specifically follow the “pre-serum steve” tag isn’t going to want to see “post-serum steve.” That’s the entire point of following a specific tag instead of an over-arching tag. So, when you tag your original stuff, stick to the ones that actually have something to do with your piece.
DO: tag the ship in your piece in multiple ways. Like, to use a non-MDZS example, does your piece have Destiel? Go ahead and tag Destiel and CasDean and DeanCas. It’s okay. WITH THE ADDENDUM THAT: in some fandoms and in some parts of the world, it is common that writing Character A x Character B is actually NOT the same as writing Character B x Character A. Especially for East Asian and Southeast Asian fans, people often list them in a power-dynamic related order. Whether you think that’s a good thing or not (I personally think it’s silly but whatever, they can do them, it doesn’t effect me) is irrelevant; you need to understand that if you tag every order of a ship, you might have people ??? you over it. (Yes, really. It’s happened to me.) And that doesn’t mean don’t do it! Just. You should know. Knowledge is power. Or something.
DON’T: tag ships that aren’t in your piece. I don’t care if Wangxian is the most popular ship in the fandom; if your piece doesn’t show Wangxian, people who like Wangxian don’t need to see it in the tags. You’re doing no one any favors. Often people will say “if your piece doesn’t feature a ship PROMINENTLY don’t include it,” but that one imo is a bit more flexible. It depends on what your work is “doing” with that ship. Which leads to…
Sharing Your Negative Opinions
Please. For the love of fucking god. Do NOT post hate in the main tags. Yes, it’s just your opinion. Yes, you are absolutely entitled to your opinion. But it’s fucking rude. People go to tags because they enjoy the thing being tagged. You’re just being a dick if you therefore use that tag to shit all over that thing.
Now, this is NOT to say “don’t post negative shit,” but rather more importantly: if you want to tag negative shit, find the tag that people use to tag that specific negative shit and use that tag instead. Like. if you hate Jiang Cheng from MDZS (you’re wrong and I will block you) you do you! But don’t tag your hate #jiang cheng. People follow #jiang cheng because they LOVE the angry grape. Instead, do a little tag research (see above on how to find tags for That Thing You Like, and yes it applies even if it’s “That Thing You Like to Hate”) and find out what tags people who Hate The Thing use. Often just “anti (thing)” is a good start, though commonly the biggest groups of haters/”popular” anti opinions will have a tag they favor that’s different (for example, “canon jiang cheng” and “grape hate” are the common anti-Jiang Cheng tags; “destiew” is a commonly used anti-Destiel tag, I’m sure there are loads more but those are the ones that spring to my mind after a decade on this hellsite).
Using an anti tag is a MUCH better way to handle your hate, anti-ness, negative opinions, etc. You can find other haters to wallow with, and everyone else (like me) who just want to enjoy our shit in peace can do so. And like, I’m personally very against antis, but I also absolutely respect the right of people to have negative opinions AND to share those negative opinions, which is why I’m explaining this. It really does help like-minded people come together, and also enables people who want to avoid the vitriol protect themselves. It’s a win-win.
Tagging Trigger Warnings and Other Warnings
Tagging triggers and other potentially challenging material (such as flashing images) is a courtesy. It’s not required, but it’s certainly polite. There are some standard rules (for example, don’t use “tw epilepsy” because it’ll show up on epilepsy-related searches which is the exact opposite of the point of tagging it; tag “tw flashing” or something similar) but there’s generally NOT a “one size fits all” tag system. Instead, most people just establish their own system and make it clear somewhere “this is the system I use” so people can blacklist. Alternatively, you can see what tags your mutuals are using, and use those. Alternatively, alternatively, people will sometimes put “please tag X tw” in their pinned posts or bios – though always remember that there are risks involved in publicly advertising what someone with bad intentions can do to hurt you!!!!
Standard trigger warning formats on Tumblr include: “tw thing,” “thing tw,” “thing,” “thing for ts,” “cw thing,” “thing cw.”
Note that tw – “trigger warning” – is usually used for things that are likely to be triggering (such as blood, gore, etc.) whereas cw – “content warning” – is often used more for things that some people may want to be aware of (such as flashing or depictions of food) but that isn’t necessarily a common “trigger” per se, especially in cases like food where even calling food a trigger can often itself be triggering for people who have are recovering from ED-related challenges.
Also as an aside, the “ts” is generally a sign that someone is a Tumblr Old, as it stands for “Tumblr Savior,” which is a blacklisting extension a lot of us used before Tumblr had built-in blacklisting features. So if you see “long post for ts” (which is when I see it most) it’s like seeing a fossil, a tag that’s become so standard for a type of post that a lot of people still use it even though the use of Tumblr Savior isn’t very common anymore (at least…I don’t think it is???)
When in doubt, if you want to respect people, listen to them – see how people are tagging The Thing you’re worried about, and follow those tagging conventions. Don’t reinvent the wheel if you don’t have to – someone who triggers to something will already have the most commonly used tags for it blacklisted (and may not follow you if you aren’t willing to also tag for it) – so you make the site more usable for everyone if you use “tw eye trauma” instead of “this is my personal eye trauma tw tag”.
Also also as another aside, don’t use n s f w. Don’t even type it in your posts. They’ll get buried. They’ll go where tumblr posts go to die, and none of us even know where that is, because they’re that gone. They won’t appear in regular searches. They won’t be in tag searches. They won’t even be discoverable on your own blog. Yes it’s fucking annoying. Yes it makes it harder to avoid explicit material. But. Find another tag. “lemon” is a common one, as is “nsft” (not safe for tumblr).
Tagging Systems and Spoilers
For the most part, if anything has been out for a month or so, you should assume that no one will tag spoilers. Don’t get me wrong – a minority of people still will, definitely! – but if, for example, you’re in the first chapter of MDZS, and you don’t want MDZS spoilers…don’t go into the MDZS tags. Just don’t. You’ll see everything you don’t want to see. (Unless like me you WANT to see spoilers, in which case HAVE AT.)
For fandoms that still have new content being released, spoiler tags are often determined by community consensus, and a lot of people will put up posts saying “this blog isn’t spoiler-free for Thing. Blacklist #spoilersforthething to avoid spoilers.” It’s generally fairly standard to have a spoiler tag be “#thing spoilers” or “#episodenumber spoilers.” When in doubt, yet again, look at what everyone else is doing and emulate that.
There’s probably more, but I think I’ve said plenty. Feel free to drop questions in the comments!
Omegaverse, also known as Alpha/Beta/Omega Dynamics or a/b/o for short, is one of the most baffling paradigms that fandoms have ever invented. Even within fandom, most peoples’ reactions on discovering a/b/o range from bemusement to disgust to fascination. I’ve had some non-fandom friends ask if it’s related to the alpha male/beta male concepts that have become so popular in certain corners of Reddit; I’m very glad to say that no, it is not—that is an example of convergent language evolution. At best, they both call back to the same misunderstanding of wolf pack dynamics, but the typical “Alpha Male” would be cast as a villain character in most a/b/o stories, if he’s present at all.
At heart, a/b/o can best be categorized as a science fiction sub-genre. Yes, really. It’s speculative fiction that examines current societal assumptions, problems, and fears through a lens of alternate physiology. If you thought a/b/o was just an excuse for porn, well… being honest, most of my best and deepest stories start out as “an excuse for porn.” My thoughts on that are best saved for a future blog post.
The most common defining feature of a/b/o is right in the name—humans are biologically stratified into two or three sub-, or secondary, genders: alphas, sometimes betas, and omegas. Alphas are typically described as socially dominant, physically strong, and they have certain physiological traits that we’ll get into later. Omegas are generally assumed to be socially submissive and physically weak, though in most a/b/o stories there is some element of challenging those assumptions.
A/b/o has its roots in the “kink meme” days of the late 2000s and can more-or-less be traced back to tropes common among people writing werewolf erotica. Lots of early a/b/o has a significant focus on pack dynamics and more “wolfy” characteristics. This is still an element of a/b/o as it’s currently written, but it makes up a smaller percentage of the overall works produced than it once did. A reader can see these roots in genre tropes such as children being referred to as “pups” in most a/b/o stories. The first a/b/o fic—as far as anyone in my social circles has been able to determine—was a Supernatural RPF AU story, and, even in the genre’s inception, there is an element of challenging assigned gender roles. The assumed roles of an omega are present and accounted for: that they belong barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, that they should be relegated to caretaker roles, that they shouldn’t work, etc.—think every stereotype of a 50s housewife. Similarly for an alpha: that they are hyper-sexual and domineering, to be feared by most omegas, inherently predatory, etc. But the characters who are the focus of the story deliberately and obviously go against these trends, expressing their individuality and bucking what their society expects of them. In a very 2010 sort of way, they are “not like those other girls.” There are critiques to aim at that trope as well, but the point stands: subversion has been a part of a/b/o since moment zero. Not every author chooses to lean into this aspect of the genre but, in my opinion, subverting the genre tropes makes for the most interesting a/b/o stories.
It’s tempting to describe a/b/o as a setting, but that’s not accurate. It’s more like a toolbox from which an author can pick and choose elements to add to any setting they are writing their story in, then use those elements to help them tell their particular stories in a unique way. I’ve read historical a/b/o, fantasy a/b/o, modern-day a/b/o, canonverse a/b/o, science-fiction a/b/o, western a/b/o… you name it, it’s probably been combined with a/b/o. And not all authors will apply the same level of focus to any given aspect of a/b/o: just because you add some cinnamon to your chili doesn’t mean you’re suddenly making a dessert. Every author puts their own spin on the world—that’s part of the fun.
So, keeping in mind that hardly any a/b/o stories will use every single genre trope, here’s a list of some of the most common features that make a story recognizably a part of this genre.
Societal stratification: To varying degrees, societies in most a/b/o stories are divided by secondary gender. This can mean anything from “omegas experiencing easily recognizable misogyny or other discrimination,” to “cultures that have strict hierarchical structures in which omegas are segregated, barred from certain social opportunities, or kept as property.” How many people are born each designation (a term often used to refer to the types of sub-genders in the genre) varies widely depending on the story. Sometimes, all humans are either alpha or omega and there are no betas; sometimes, alphas and omegas make up only a small minority of the population. Sometimes only men are divided and women are all betas, if they’re incorporated in the sub-gender system at all. (If there is one major weakness to a/b/o, it’s the lack of focus on how women are affected by this social structure, but if I get into that, we’ll be here all day.) Depending on the author’s goals with the story, these social structures may be used to make commentary on our modern society, to create obstacles for our heroes to overcome, or it may be leaned into by people who enjoy the power dynamics and differentials that result from the a/b/o set up. Other works have egalitarian a/b/o societies in which the different genders are treated equally! Oppression and discrimination are not a requirement of the genre, it’s just an often-seen element.
Pheromones/Scents:One of the many physiological differences often present in a/b/o is that humans give off pheromones or some otherwise-defined personal scent. These scents serve a variety of purposes: they’re linked with attraction; they often indicate where an individual is in their mating cycle (see the next paragraph!); they aid identification since each person has their own individual scent; and more broadly one can usually tell who is an alpha, an omega, or a beta) by their scent. Often, someone’s scent gives clues to emotional state, especially extreme distress or sexual arousal. A compatible pair may know instantly that the person they are scenting is their “true mate,” or may be particularly attracted to this person’s scent. Betas may or may not be able to pick up on these scents and may have a “neutral” scent or no scent to speak of. Scent blockers may or may not be used in polite company, and even if scent blockers exist in a specific a/b/o ‘verse, they may fail at narratively appropriate moments. It’s a frequent genre element that scents emanate from a “scent point” on the characters’ necks, and that the spot in question is especially sensitive to touch/kissing/etc.
Mating cycles: Likely the most well-known aspect of a/b/o is the hormone- and/or pheromone-driven mating cycles. Omegas experience an estrus or “heat,” and sometimes alphas also experience “rut” though this is somewhat less common. A person’s secondary gender is often a mystery until they “present”—usually marked by going through their first heat or rut—sometime during puberty. Pheromones given off during these times can have a disproportionate effect on people of the “opposite” secondary gender who happen to be in the vicinity; in some stories they provoke such a powerful reaction that omegas cannot leave the house during heat for fear of sexual assault. This is where the genre starts to display some of its more non-consensual elements, which are not always present; sometimes heat just makes them horny. But sometimes they absolutely must, er, resolve their heat with an alpha, which leads to a “Fuck or Die” situation—a trope as old as slash fanfiction itself.
How frequently heats and ruts occur varies by story; the most common are monthly (mirroring human menstruation cycles) or every three months, six months, or year, mimicking various animal species (for example, dogs go into heat every six months, so stories that emphasize the wolfy aspects of a/b/o often have heat cycles on a six-month pattern). Trying to figure out how to navigate a life/job/family while working around mating cycles is a frequent feature of a/b/o stories.
Mpreg, which is genre-speak for “male pregnancy:” In most a/b/o stories, omegas of any primary gender have the ability to get pregnant and carry children. It’s a mainstay of the genre, but like any other trope in the a/b/o playbook, the level of focus on it varies from author to author. Sometimes, it’s glossed over entirely or deliberately omitted. Sometimes, it’s only suggested for the sake of—for lack of a better phrase—“breeding kink.” But some authors use this genre to tell stories about familial relationships and explore the emotional and physical journey of pregnancy through the eyes of their favorite (generally male) characters. Mpreg stories can also incorporate lactation and may follow the characters’ post-pregnancy lives to segue into the kidfic genre. The extent of the omega male character’s feminization often increases in proportion to the focus on mpreg in the story (though, as with all of these tropes, I am wary of making sweeping generalizations because a writer is absolutely free to write an mpreg story where the pregnant character remains thoroughly masculine throughout). Note that a story including mpreg doesn’t automatically mean the fic is a/b/o. There are other fandom tropes that can result in mpreg, but the most common trope that leads to mpreg in modern fandom is a/b/o.
Medicines: As part of mirroring regular society, it’s also common for a/b/o stories to incorporate elements of genre-appropriate birth control and other types of medication. For example, scent blockers have already been mentioned; scent blockers are often incorporated to enable an alpha, beta, or omega to navigate society without people judging them based solely on their scents, or to enable them to present themselves to the public as a sub-gender different than their birth sub-gender. Another common medication is “heat suppressant,” which is what it says on the tin—an omega on heat suppressants won’t go into heat (until they fail at a narratively appropriate moment, anyway…noticing the genre trends yet?). On the flip side, “heat inducers” are also absolutely a genre feature, with obvious results.
Related Genres: As said earlier, a/b/o can be combined with any other genre. But it does have some sibling tropes that are more often coupled with a/b/o for fiction-writing purposes. When I first started reading a/b/o, there was a heavy emphasis on the power dynamics inherent in the existence of “dominant” alphas and “submissive” omegas; that made it feel close to the biological Dom/sub genre (a sub-genre where being a Dom or being a sub is inborn and is essentially a sub-gender in a similar way to a/b/o). That seems to have been a feature of that particular fandom, though, which leads me to wonder how different a/b/o looks in different fandoms. (Full disclosure, most of my experience has been in the Supernatural fandom.) A/b/o stories set in modern/contemporary settings tend to be more common than other types (such as science fiction, fantasy, etc.), though that’s been changing as a/b/o continually ripples outwards into more fandoms. In stories where omegas are considered property, they heavily overlap tropes with slave fic; some more romantic a/b/o can read like a soulmates au, with people recognizing “the one” immediately by scent and a focus on true mates and/or the formation of a strong mating bond, usually for life.
Of course, coupling a/b/o with these tropes isn’t required. Nothing in a/b/o is required. These are all simply options; as I say, it’s better to look at the aspects of a/b/o as toys in the toybox—play with the ones that appeal to you, ignore the rest.
Other Anatomical Differences: This is where I cannot avoid getting sexually graphic, so for those who’d rather avoid an explicit rating, I’m putting this section at the end (under a Read More on platforms that include that functionality).
So, what’s the point of all this?
If you ask a hundred people why they like a/b/o, you will get two-hundred answers. Some people come to the genre for the primal, animalistic appeal of heats and ruts, pheromones, and the, uh, anatomical differences. A lot of people enjoy the “he couldn’t help himself” trope in fiction; non-con fantasies are extremely common, and the fantastical elements of a/b/o make it a great way to explore them at a safe remove from real-life situations. Or perhaps you’re drawn to the opportunity to explore pregnancy in a safe way with your favorite characters, or maybe you really enjoy the strict societal structures and the obstacles they create. Maybe you love that moment when the omega realizes that this handsome alpha is his true mate and they live happily ever after.
For me, as may already be clear, a/b/o is strongest when it’s used to shine a light on the oppression of marginalized classes and the ridiculousness of strict gender expectations. Over and over, a/b/o stories focus on omegas overcoming their oppression and empowering themselves. But my favorite corner of a/b/o that I’ve found, my weird little a/b/o niche, focuses not on alphas or omegas, but on betas.
There was a time when I wondered to myself, why would anybody focus on betas? Why would you write an a/b/o story and then focus on the people who don’t experience heats and ruts and mating cycles? Who don’t have a scent? In a world where all interpersonal relationships are defined by this rigid structure, why would you focus on the people who are outside of it?
And then I realized that I had to write a story about betas.
The result is the most personal story I have ever written, which gets deep into my experience of being nonbinary (or genderqueer, or gender fluid, I’ve used all those labels at different points of life) through the lens of somebody who is neither alpha nor omega, but is instead distinctly “other.” The joy of using a/b/o to tell this story, and what makes a/b/o such a strong vehicle for telling subversive stories of all stripes, is that it magnifies everything about gender and sexual attraction, making it all bigger, brighter, more obvious, which lets you dig into the nuance of an character’s experiences when they don’t fit the status quo.
The number of people who have read this story and said “I’m not genderqueer, but I relate to Dean’s struggle of feeling other” has been hugely rewarding. In the end, that’s the story I was telling, through my own experiences but with the personal “serial numbers” filed off, which allows it to be a story accessible to anybody. That’s the beauty of using a fantasy or sci-fi language to tell a real story: when it doesn’t directly reflect anybody’s exact experience, it’s easier to see yourself in the mirror.
Whether you decide to dive into this genre or not, I hope this has been useful in understanding the, er, ins and outs of this strange little world that we, as a community, are continually collectively creating. Happy reading!
Did you scroll down to read the naughty stuff? *cough* As it were. We’ve got you covered. Be forewarned, there’s NSFW text describing unusual genitalia ahead:
THE PORN PART:
Okay, so let’s talk about knotted dicks and self-lubricating asses.
…that’s it, really.
Alphas generally have a “knot” of extra erectile tissue at the base of their penises that inflates and becomes firm during orgasm with the intention of locking their penis inside the omega’s penetrated hole (which is usually, but not always, the anus). This is where the werewolf origins of a/b/o are the most obvious, because yes, this is modeled after canine genitalia. The knot inflates to a size that makes removal impossible or highly painful for the omega, although if left it where it is, being knotted is generally described as highly pleasurable. Most of the time, the alpha can enjoy multiple orgasms while he’s in there, and ejaculate tends to be, uh, copious. This lasts for as long as the author decides is narratively appropriate and provides a great opportunity for post-coital conversation, either awkward or heartfelt depending on the story. Because the knot means the penis grows quite large, a common a/b/o sexual trope is size kink; less common but still fairly frequent is “inflation” or “bulge” kink—which is a kink related to the feeling of being “full” of a partners ejaculate to the point of feeling swollen (in a good way), and also being able to feel or see the penis moving within the bottoming partner when looking at the bottom’s backside and/or belly.
Omegas, on the other hand…
There’s much more variety in omega biology. On one end of the spectrum, you have male omegas who are written as having both a penis (sometimes smaller than human average) and (usually) testicles and a vaginal opening located somewhere around the perineum. Sometimes, a male omega won’t have any penis at all. More commonly in the a/b/o that I, personally, have enjoyed, the omega has a fully functional penis and testicles (sans knot), but when aroused, he will produce personal lubrication in his anus, which is the intended orifice for sexual intercourse. This personal dampness is usually called “slick” and has a habit of popping up at the most inconvenient of times and staining one’s underwear and/or being noticeable by scent. When an omega is in heat, this slick becomes copious and uncontrollable, often to the point of requiring rubber sheets on whatever unfortunate bed the omega has confined himself to. Generally, slick is described as having a similar aroma to the omega’s scent, but more concentrated, and also as being delicious to the alpha. Rimming is thus quite a common sexual act in a/b/o fics, more common in a/b/o than in other mlm genres.
It’s also worth repeating, while discussing sexual kinks in a/b/o, that due to the “uncontrolled sexual need” aspect of omega heats, consent issues are common in a/b/o. Rape/non-con are mentioned above, as the omega-in-heat becomes irresistible to the alphas around them; however, even in a/b/o stories that don’t utilize that trope, omegas in heat will often desperately plead to be sated. Consent can be dubious at best for either or both partners; it’s common that the couple settles those consent issues after the act, when they’ve both calmed down enough to discuss what happened and offer up their mutual expressions of “no, you didn’t hurt me, I would have wanted you anyway.”
In spite of all the relatively high-minded ramblings above, there is a huge amount of totally valid a/b/o that is pure, unadulterated smut, and if you happen to enjoy these kinks, you have a plethora of options to pick from. (Trust me, they are much hotter in context than when laid out bare like this.) The beautiful thing about fanfiction is that we don’t have to choose between interesting, empowering, subversive stories and sizzlingly hot filth. They frequently go hand in hand, and in no genre is that more evident than in the wide, wild world of a/b/o.
fiction || all for the game by nora sakavic || m/m, poly (one gender: male) || kevin day/neil josten/andrew minyard || explicit || no major warnings apply || 1,645 || complete
summary: A locker room threesome set during the part of The King’s Men that is after the first kiss but before championships ramp up, in an AU where Andrew and Kevin have had an ongoing thing before Neil got there.
other tags: established relationship, blow jobs, kissing, mild D/s vibes, porn with feelings
fiction || teen wolf || m/m || stiles/jackson || teen & up || no major warnings apply || 6,779 || complete
summary: When Jackson was eleven years old, his famous father was directing a commercial about a wedding and the flower girl fell sick. Peter wanted Malia to take her part, but when Malia refused, Jackson ended up in a dress and in front of a camera with the ring bearer played by Stiles.
Ten years later, Stiles is now famous, but he’s happy to do a followup commercial. His only condition: if he reprises his role, he wants Peter to bring back the original flower girl.
No one knows that Jackson’s the girl.
other tags: Actor AU, Soulmates, Crossdressing, Alive Hales, Mistaken Identity, Background Relationships
Do you love A. L. Heard’s work? Have you read Hockey Bois and can’t get enough of Brady and Nick? Well, this month’s fluff story – free to all our monthly backers on Patreon and Ko-fi – is a Hockey Bois high school AU straight from the source!
Title: Brady Jensen vs. Haunted Houses
Author: A. L. Heard
Rating: General Audiences
Character Features: character feature: athlete, character feature: high school student, profession: hockey player
Tags: alternate universe, fanworks, first kiss, friends to lovers, halloween, past tense, pov third person limited, setting: high school, setting: haunted house, setting: sports
This work is an alternate universe take on the characters in A. L. Heard’s stand-alone novel Hockey Bois, which is currently available on Amazon and will be available on the Duck Prints Press website in the next few months.
“Don’t give me that look,” Gail teased. “Just because your crush texts me and not you doesn’t mean you should be jealous.”
Brady offered her a constipated smile and let her pull him through the crowd. He didn’t argue with her, and he was thankful she’d misunderstood his unease. Yes, he was a little jealous about the Nick thing. Brady’s crush on Nick was well known to their teammates even though Nick (thankfully) remained unaware. Over the years they’d played together on the ice, Brady had never worked up the courage to ask him out.
But no, that wasn’t why his hands were clammy and butterflies danced in his belly. The unfortunate truth was… Brady didn’t like haunted houses.
This story is a free bonus to all our monthly backers, no matter their backing level – and our monthly backers get a new short story every month! And, if you back now, you can also get access to all nineteen short, fluff stories we’ve posted for our backers since our Patreon and ko-fi started!
For our next anthology, Aim For The Heart: Queer Fanworks Inspired by Alexandre Dumas’s “The Three Musketeers,” second in our Queer Fanworks Inspired By… series, we are looking to recruit up to 20 artists to do full-page black-and-white or grayscale artworks. If you love Dumas’s d’Artagnan romances and have ever thought, “MAKE IT QUEER YOU COWARDS” about the existing adaptations, this is your chance to do that queerifying yourself!
WE WANT YOUR ARTWORK! This is an open call for artist applicants to create a black-and-white or grayscale artwork of A4 size, taking inspiration from the source material, transforming them, and queerifying them for the delight and enjoyment of all! You must create fanart (of any fandom, doesn’t have to be this one!) to be eligible to apply for this anthology! And – this is a paid opportunity! We’ll be paying a minimum of $50 per page of artwork – and there may be opportunities for artists to do more than one page, and there may be a pay increase (dependent on crowdfunding success).
Interested? Fascinated? Intrigued? You and Milady both! Read on to learn more…
Did you miss our crowdfunding campaign for And Seek (Not) to Alter Me: Queer Fanworks Inspired by William Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing”? Was there merch you wanted that you didn’t get? Have you been eagerly awaiting it’s arrival in our webstore (haven’t we all been?)? Well YOUR TIME HAS COME!
In And Seek (Not) to Alter Me, 16 authors and 16 artists have come together to create an exquisite, full-color collection of artwork and stories inspired by William Shakespeare’s play Much Ado About Nothing. We encouraged contributors to stretch their imaginations, think outside the box, and put their own unique—and queer—twists on Benedick, Beatrice, Hero, Claudio, Don Pedro, and the whole gang! In true Shakespearean fashion, our creators utilize gender, sexuality, romanticism, and a host of costume changes to tell unique artworks and stories—some featuring original characters, some characters from the play—that show Shakespeare’s work in a whole new light.
We’ve also listed four merchandise items from the original crowdfunding campaign that we have extras of – if you want ‘um, you’d better grab ‘um, because once these extras are sold out, we will never be making more!