I’ve written so many “dear author” letters for exchanges now, and copied my lists of likes and dislikes from one to the other with minor alterations, that I think it’s time for a master post. I’ll still give “hard” DNWs in signups, of course, otherwise they’re not enforceable. But the fact that you’ve reached this letter probably means that (a) you’re going to write for me and (b) you want to make me happy. So I’ll NOT be brief.
This is the easy part. Don’t feel yourself limited to things in this list! There are lots of things I like that I’m not listing because if I listed everything in the world that I liked, there would be literally no end. Any of these will make my face light up with joy, though.
- Friendship. Unexpected, uncomplicated friendship is good! Complicated friendship too, I like any story with friendship better than one with only antagonism, but my very favourite stories are about people becoming friends, or people who are already friends, doing something together or turning out to have something in common which neither of them would have planned for. Peter and Harriet combing the beach for clues in Have His Carcase is one of my favourite scenes. Also the scene in which they decipher the code letter.
Friends-to-lovers is okay but it’s a pity if that’s the whole point of the story.
- Happy ending. I’m a sucker for happy endings, especially other happy endings than “people getting together as a couple”. It’s okay when people get together as a couple! But that’s not by far the only way to be happy. I like open(ish) endings too when they imply the possibility or expectation of happiness. The ending of The Goblin Emperor is a good example: Maia and Csethiro are likely to end up very happily married, but at the end of the book they are friends and allies and partners, and for now that’s enough.
- Autistic characters (canon or headcanon; Dairine Callahan comes to mind) who either come to terms with being autistic in the story, or have already figured it out and can handle it. Bonus points if they use their autistic traits to get things done.
- More generally, disabled characters who work with their disability rather than “overcoming” it.
- Kidfic. Canon characters’ kids, canon characters when they were kids, canon characters who happen to be kids (Matilda), original canon-compliant child characters. Either POV or secondary characters.
- Fluff. Domestic fluff, married fluff, established-lovers fluff, friendship fluff. Don’t worry if there seems to be no plot. One of the great strengths of fanfic is that it doesn’t necessarily have to have plot or conflict or any deeper meaning, though it may of course have any or all of those.
- Discovery and detection. Plain detective work, casefic. Adventures in which people (children, for instance) find out things. People finding out things about themselves when they do something they didn’t know they could do.
- Learning. Give me a good training montage any day, or let someone teach themself. Achieving mastery by hard work.
- Competence, intelligence, problem-solving, clever escape, clever (preferably non-violent) thievery.
- Missing-scene fic, interpolation, pre- and post-canon. (How did these characters get here? What happens after the canon says The End?)
- Cats, mice, donkeys, mules, elephants, birds (either as characters or supporting). Not “animals” as a category but specifically those.
- Worldbuilding, with or without characters involved.
- Fantasy nonfiction. Recipes, guidebooks, gazetteers, encyclopedia entries…
A note about crossovers
I used not to like crossovers at all, mostly because when I first started reading fanfic it was all about “I want to read more about X” and then I didn’t also want to read about Y. But I got better! I love crossovers between fandoms I’ve requested or with adjacent/compatible fandoms, like The Great Mouse Detective with The Rescuers, or Lord Peter Wimsey with Miss Marple, when I’ve only requested one.
The greatest problem with crossovers is that if I know only one of the crossovered fandoms, the point may be completely lost on me, and it might spoil the whole story. I don’t know many of the really popular fandoms (Doctor Who or Supernatural, for instance). I don’t know many films, or any TV that’s been aired after, say, 1975. I don’t know anime or manga except Miyazaki, and not much of that.
To be on the safe side, find my profile (I’m sinkauli on ao3) and check my fandoms list and my gifts. If I write for it or have ever requested it, I’m bound to know it.
A lot harder because I don’t want to give the impression that I dislike everything. (But there’s enough that I do like in the list above that that impression is unlikely.) I’ll try to categorize.
I don’t dislike sex! But I also don’t want any surprise sex sprung on me so I tend to request gen-only unless in very specific circumstances. I’m very picky. I’ve read some smutty stories that I liked but they were mostly joyful consent and vanilla sex. (Note that vanilla is a spice, a subtle and intense one, it doesn’t mean “bland”.) I’m not listing dislikes of particular kinks because, to be honest, for most things people request or put in their likes or DNWs I don’t even know what the words mean. I’ve looked up some kinks and almost invariably shuddered.
- Rape, non-con. This is one of my hard DNWs. I consider it excluded when I exclude all sex, even though rape is usually not about sex but about power. I also dislike powerplay, hate-sex, and sex between people who are vastly disparate in age, power or experience.
- Fellatio. (Makes me gag, even when it’s just words.) *deletes a sentence that’s all too explicit*
- Casual sex without friendship. Includes PWP, I think. Casual sex in general, even between friends, is mostly a no-no.
- Seduction for any other reason than that one person is in love with the other and is trying to get it across to them elegantly.
- Love triangles. A fully explicit and consensual triangle falls under “polyamory” and see next bullet point.
- Adultery, infidelity. This includes contradicting, ignoring or breaking up a canonical pairing for the sake of a ship.
Polyamory is okay but I don’t really prefer it.
- Incest. I don’t care what Boromir and Faramir were up to in their shared bedroom when they were boys.
- Enemies-to-lovers. Even if it’s enemies-to-friends and then friends-to-lovers. Reconciling with your enemy: okay. Cautious friendship between former enemies: okay. Hopping into bed with someone who was once your enemy: nope.
- Bigotry of any kind, unless fighting against it is a plot point. That includes homophobia, TERFness and other transphobia, sexism, racism, ableism, ageism and anything I’ve forgotten.
- Pranks, practical jokes, humiliating people for the sake of it. Hard DNW.
Disability, body issues
- Pathological/medical view of autism or other neurodivergence, portraying it as something that needs to be fixed rather than as a characteristic of the person.
- Disability as punishment, teaching-a-lesson or inspiration porn. Just let disabled people be people!
- Discussions of disordered eating or weight (it’s completely okay if someone’s body type is part of the description, like mentioning that the person has dark skin or blue eyes or wears glasses or uses a wheelchair, but no fat-shaming or other judgmental language about weight please).
- Gluttony, gross drunkenness (tipsy/merry is okay, maudlin is not), vomiting (whether from illness or overindulgence).
- Body horror, torture, mutilation, gore, cannibalism.
- Monstrous pregnancy, monster birth. Hard DNW.
- Mpreg, which is a species of body horror in my book. Such a hard DNW that it will make me throw the virtual book against the virtual wall. (Ordinary pregnancy and childbirth is okay.)
- Horror. Body horror is the worst, but any other horror is also a turnoff.
- Unhappy endings, unresolved tragedy.
- Plague, pandemic. There’s enough of that in the real world that I don’t want to also read about it, not even about overcoming it.
- Climate catastrophe, extinction, (post)apocalyptic anything. (Ditto, in fact.) Imminent/unavoidable destruction of a whole world or a significant part of it. A random natural disaster is probably okay if it’s not part of a pattern of impending catastrophe. (My 2020 Yuletide writer got that exactly right.)
- Worldbuilding DNW: extra information about a setting that makes it less pleasant (“… but you didn’t know these sordid details”).