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Hurt/Comfort Fanfiction: Why Do We Hurt the Ones We Love?

Before I ever knew what fanfiction was, I was already interested in the hurt/comfort (aka “H/C” – see my Fanfiction Glossary for more definitions) genre. Whenever I watched a tv show, read a book, or watched a movie, I always found myself a bit more interested if the hero basically got his ass kicked. The stronger they were, the more I liked to see them fall – emotionally as well as physically.

Once I discovered the wonderful world of fanfiction, I was surprised by how many people apparently shared my feelings. While searching through stories, I found many featured a favorite character getting hurt, dealing with tragedies, etc. Not only that, they also featured another character helping them through it all, someone who cared for them and comforted them while they were hurt.

Now that I am a writer myself, I have delved into this genre and continue to be fascinated by it. The first time I posted a hurt/comfort story, I wondered if anyone else would be interested in it or if I was part of a minority. Turns out I’m not, as the traffic and reviews to my stories have proven.

So what is it about the h/c genre that we like to write and read? Why do we like to hurt the ones we love?

We are not monstrous, cruel beasts.

You know, I used to wonder about myself. Back before I knew there were others who liked h/c as much as I did. I wondered if there was something “wrong” with me for liking to torture my characters. But now after writing a few of these stories, and talking to other authors who do as well, I know that it’s not out of cruelty. We are not horrible, terrible people, angry at the world and taking it out on our characters. We are simply people writing stories that we enjoy.

Let’s face it, anguish and pain are interesting.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for stories where everything is lollipops and rainbows. I’ve even been known to write the odd bit of fluff here and there myself. But there’s nothing quite like a story where you have to wonder if your character is going to survive. Where you feel their pain because you’ve been there yourself and you want them to fight back. Where you watch them go through an emotional trauma that makes them stronger. These are the kinds of stories that truly get my dander up, making me look forward to each chapter with so much anticipation that I practically stab at my keyboard as I click on each subsequent chapter. These are the kinds of stories that I like to write as well, for the same reasons.

Giving our favorite characters the limelight.

One of the things I love most about reading and writing hurt/comfort, is that it gives my favorite characters a chance to be the center of attention. Other characters worry over them, have long discussions (often emotional ones) about them and go out of their way to help. It’s awesome. If your character is part of a large ensemble cast, sometimes it can be the only way they get a lot of attention.

Taking supporting characters in new directions.

When I write fanfic, one of my main goals is to keep my characters in character. But writing hurt/comfort also allows me to stretch characters to the very edge of their personalities. My favorite type of h/c story features strong men – one of which is hurt and the other then has to help. I enjoy writing this because it gives me a chance to take these usually strong, macho-type men and weaken them to the point where they can show their soft little underbellies. I get to write scenes that, if written during a ‘normal’ point in their lives, may come off as out of character. They get to say and do things they may not normally, all because of the situation they are thrust into.

Wearing them down and then building them up.  

Taking a character down to the lowest depths, whether by physically hurting them or putting them through emotional hell, let’s us observe their journey back. As an author, I not only like writing the scenes where my characters are going through the tough stuff, I also like writing them coming back from it. By tearing them apart, we get to put them back together as well.

So what about you? If you’re a fan of the hurt/comfort genre, what is it about it that compels you to read or write it?

Want to know every time I add a new post? Be sure to subscribe to Moki’s Fanfiction Blog!


More on Moki’s Fanfiction Blog…

Moki’s Latest NCIS fic “The Cavalry Rides Again” – chapters 5 & 6

How Writing Fanfiction Prepared me to be a Freelance Writer

Fanfiction Tips: Writing a Good Action Scene

Fanfiction Tips: Keeping Your Characters In Character

Fanfiction: Your Dirty Little Secret?

The Friendly Writer: Using Fanfiction to Improve Your Writing

Fanfiction: What is it?

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  • http://emeraldsong.livejournal.com/ Steph

    Moki, this is one of the best explanations of h/c that I’ve seen. I’m the same way as far as having always loved this sort of thing, even before I knew it was actually a genre, or that fanfic existed, etc. I had the same “wonderings” as well; even now that I can pinpoint why I like it, I’m wary of trying to explain it to others.

    I love it for the same reasons as you do, and you identified them perfectly. I also love understanding what makes people tick, both mentally and physically, and what happens when something goes wrong. H/C lets me explore that from multiple angles, especially writing it – I’m a complete research junkie, so bring on the medical stuff! ;-)

    You’ve really got me thinking now…I may need to do some musing on this in my own journal. Thank you so much for posting this entry!!

  • Laine

    Very thought provoking topic, Moki.

    For me the lure of writing hurt/comfort stories is (as you say) placing these characters in unusual and oft times precarious situations and watching them rise to the occasion and beat the odds.

    My fave NCIS characters are Tony and Gibbs – two very strong and very stoic characters who have an obvious but VERY understated relationship. The challenge I always set myself is to keep these two in character regardless of the awful situation – to try to convey the depth of their friendship and loyalty, without having them get all mushy about it. It’s not always easy and it doesn’t always work but it sure is fun to try!

  • Keli

    Way back when I first ever heard of fan fiction, I asked this question of a group of people that were sharing stories (anyone remember Zines?). One of the answers that came our of the group (all women) was the the h/c stories brings out the Florence Nightingale in the author. Do you think that is a valid point? I’ve never thought about or paid attention to the gender of an author. Do guys write h/c stories? If the Florence Nightingale theory holds water, what is the male reason for h/c. I’d like to believe that it goes deeper than simply showcasing machismo, you know-the hero overcoming a good ass kicking and then giving better than he got.
    Great discussion material, Moki. Thanks and I’m looking forward to you next chapter!

  • Mokibobolink

    Thanks for all the great comments, guys! :)

    Steph – Whew, it’s great knowing I’m not the only one who had such “wonderings”. Oh I love what you said about knowing what makes people “tick”, that’s a good point as I like exploring that too. I’ll be sure to pop over to your journal to check out your musings as well. :)

    Laine – Yes, writing Gibbs and Tony’s relationship without getting mushy is a challenge, but have no fear, you do it very well!

    Keli – LOL Keli, yes I remember Zines. Though I never actually bought one, I do remember seeing some at the first Star Trek convention I attended. You know, I think the Florence Nightingale thing is a very valid point. When I write other characters taking care of my hero, I’m sure there’s a small part of me that is wishing I were the one there to do it. ;)

    I would love to hear from some guys who write h/c. I’m pretty sure they’re out there and it would be interesting to find out if their motivations differ from all us females.

  • Stacey

    Hey what a great blog and a very interesting topic!

    I don’t write fanfic but not for want of trying – just don’t have the talent. But I love to read it and love to read h/c. They hold some sort of fascination that is almost tangible and can hook my interest faster than any other genre.

    Judging from the stories that receive many reviews on fanfic and the episodes that rate well on tv – fear not ladies, we are not alone!

    Whilst I agree with Moki’s and Steph’s comments and (to a degree) Keli’s, I try not to over analyze it too much – life’s much too short.

    I’m with Laine on this one – it’s fun.

  • Mokibobolink

    Stacey – thanks! Glad you’re liking the blog. I love what you said about not over analyzing it and just accepting the fact that it’s fun. Good point. :)

  • http://www.friendlywriter.com Laura Sheman

    Hi! Interesting! This is a very well written piece.

    On the surface I first thought I wouldn’t like H/C, but now that I read through this, I realize that pretty much every story has to have some hurt to have a story (fanfic or not). Something has to happen. Rainbows and lollipops are a bit boring after the first page, right?

    I’m now trying to figure out what story would not fall into this category. Are there any? Romantic comedies would have to have some drama, where you think the couple will not get together (hurt). Harry Potter has lots of H/C and that’s a children’s story (well sort of).

    What would be an example of something that has no H/C?

    Thanks!

  • Mokibobolink

    Hi Laura,

    Yeah I guess it’s true that pretty much any story could fall into this category when you look at it that way. Specifically though, fanfiction has its own category that is different from the rest. On most fanfiction sites you can actually post stories under a category titled “Hurt/Comfort”.

    So to answer your question, I would consider things like romance stories, comedies, straight up action and basically anything not posted under the H/C label to be non-H/C. When an author posts a story under the H/C label, they are saying that in that story, a character will be harmed and also that the story will be mostly about that. It’s not a romance story that happens to have a character injured or go through an emotional trauma. It’s a story where the whole purpose of writing it is to hurt the character, which I feel is different than it just being included as part of another main storyline.

    This is a great point though, since I can see how most stories do have a bit of hurt/comfort in them, in one form or another. It also makes me once again feel that it’s not “weird” to read or write them. :)

  • Stacey

    Hi Moki,

    Am I becoming a serial “blogger?”

    Laura’s question was very interesting and I thought I’d add my two cents. I agree with you both and would just add that while the H/C stories may have elements of other genres, (romance, humor, thriller, drama, crime etc) they tend to be the backstory.

    The main focus of the H/C story is how the one or more characters would react to an injury, illness or trauma and how the other characters respond to that event. That is the primary focus of the story – not just hurt for hurt’s sake – but human interaction in the face of adversity. (Although, to be honest – there are more than a few writers who hurt for hurt’s sake.) :)

  • Mokibobolink

    LOL Stacey. Well if you are, then I’ll just say welcome to the club. I’m definitely a serial blogger, as y’all can see. ;)

    Thanks for adding your two cents. I was having a hard time explaining it so it’s nice to hear from another fanfic fan. :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/Sahar.M.L.U Sahar ‘Murphy’ Leto-Uzumaki

    There’s nothing more invigorating than whumping on your favourite “man-child” character XD
    E.g. Shawn from Psych, or Evan from Royal Pains :P

  • Mokibobolink

    I agree! LOL. I’m totally with you on Shawn from Psych, though I’m more a fan of Hank whumpage, but then again he’s my favorite character on Royal Pains. But I’d probably read some Evan whump, too.  ;)

  • http://www.facebook.com/Sahar.M.L.U Sahar ‘Murphy’ Leto-Uzumaki

    Ahhh! I don’t do Hank whump! But I can respect that :)

    Evan’s my favourite, mostly BECAUSE he’s the man-child of the show, hence why he’s so prone to whump!

  • Mokibobolink

    Well you’ll be happy to know that this conversation inspired me to read some more Royal Pains fic and I did find what looked like a really good Evan whump story. I also found a pretty good Hank whump story too. To each their own, eh? 

  • http://www.facebook.com/Sahar.M.L.U Sahar ‘Murphy’ Leto-Uzumaki

    I wrote a few Evan whump fics but I can’t seem to get anywhere with them. So far, my friend’s the most active on the RP site story-wise. Other than her, there’s not much activity. I’m going crazy without my fandom to read!

  • Mokibobolink

    What RP site are you talking about? Just curious as so far, I’ve only found RP fics on ff.net.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Sahar.M.L.U Sahar ‘Murphy’ Leto-Uzumaki

    Sorry, I meant to say the RP section of the site a.k.a the ff.net. I’m writing bits and bobs but nothing official enough to upload.

  • Mokibobolink

    Ah okay. Well when you do upload something, send me the link. I’d love to check it out. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/Sahar.M.L.U Sahar ‘Murphy’ Leto-Uzumaki

    I recently started a few, written about a chapter or two, but I’m not sure if I should upload yet…hmm…maybe I should. My username’s “Mrs-N-Uzumaki” if you ever wanna check out my fanfiction :)

  • Mokibobolink

    Whenever people ask me if they should upload a story they’ve written. My answer is always the same: Do it!  :o)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1275790133 Cuccussette Lilly

    I love hurt comfort. Everyone wants to be a hero, because usually we see powerful heroes, without doubts or pains. Cartoon for children cut out pain scenes or consequence of fighting. Children grow up without ideas on war or violence: they see only heroes, they belive you can became famous without sacrifice. Well, hurt comfort shows the pain and the perils of being a hero. So you understand why there are few heroes: their condition has a price to pay and most men don’t want to pay… 



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