Rating the Pain and Smarm in a Story

Consumer protection through explicit labeling is the sign of the times, and with hopes of assuaging the public's inquisitiveness regarding the ingredients of its consumables, I hereby proffer the following system for rating the contents of fanfic. The system is non-judgmental, relying on objectively quantifiable criteria to establish a hierarchy of increasing intensity, and can be applied to any ff genre or universe. Using the format of the basic h/c (hurt/comfort)designation which applies to the main bulk of all fan fiction, the rating for each story would appear as two numbers separated by the virgule.

I freely admit that the "h" scale owes a few scraps of text and a deep bow to the ten degrees of Sadomulderism, which has been compressed here to enhance ease of use. This system goes significantly beyond that angst scale, however, in that it describes not only the damage done to a character but also the level of reactive comforting provided by the victim's partner(s) as a result of the bonking. Positive emotional displays of non-sexual affection (smarm) not dependent upon prior infliction of physical damage are also accommodated. The "c" scale and the concept behind this entire system are derived from the smarm ratings guide for Quantum Leap zines created for and published in my letterzine, The Imaging Chamber. If any fanfic author or archivist wishes to rate their stories while providing the explanatory reference for their audience, they are invited to link to this page or to capture the file and reproduce it on their own without the necessity of requesting permission.


The "h" (hurt or angst) scale

0: Absolutely no pain of any kind is involved.

1: Inconsequential booboos - one of the guys is punched badly, gets whapped on the head, twists an arm or ankle. They may feel mild worry, a passing concern over something, or a temporary sense of insecurity.

2: Sprains and fractures, concussion, cuts and abrasions-- anything that takes more than a week to heal. Anxiety over possible threats to their relationship or the daily security and acceptance they feel from and for each other.

3: Physical damage which requires a trip to the hospital to recover from: something broken, a nasty concussion, a knife wound. Overwhelming concern or worry about a personal issue or distress over moderate injury to the other. Outward emotional reaction does not progress beyond the eyes filling up with tears.

4: Ambulance trip to the emergency room-- a nasty break, deep knife wound, shot in the arm or leg, caught in an explosion. Full recovery will require some physical therapy. Deep depression and angst over the severe injury of the other, extreme fear of loss of their relationship through betrayal or inexcusable personal failure. One or both may cry openly.

5: Flight for Life to the ER for crippling injuries which will require massive physical therapy. Any rape or prolonged torture, and suicidal impulses may be acted on. Devastating grief over the perceived death of the other. Total emotional breakdowns as a result of either personally sustained injuries or stress over what has been done to the other.

6: Real and permanent death of one or both.


The "c" (comfort or smarm) scale

0: No evidence of anything past mere acquaintance. Anything written at this level cannot bear the label "smarm" with any veracity.

1: Ambiance of warmth as a background to more important events. Mutual teasing, unexceptional levels of daily support and sharing of activities such as food preparation or housework. Little to no physical contact or emotional reactions. Also not really smarm territory.

2: Standard displays of close friendship resulting in a normal level of physical contact and emotional openness over non-intense issues. Casual concern expressed over possibility of endangerment. Unremarkable gifts on expected occasions. Slight personal inconvenience borne or compromises made for the sake of the other. Approaching the area that can be considered "proto-smarm."

3: Frequent supportive touching or injury-specific tending. Special gifts and unexpected material support, instinctive protective gestures. Moments of strong emotion on the part of one which are not shared explicitly with the other. Basic expressions of sympathy without deep involvement.

4: One or more hugs,1 frequent supportive touching, verbal reassurances of support and commitment up to admission of strong feelings of affection. One may endanger himself to protect the other. Initiated emotional support leading to the sharing of intimate feelings and reactions.

5: Glomming.2 Epiphanies of friendship gained and shared, empathic experiences leading to mutual verbal admissions of love, possible brotherly kiss. One may offer his life in exchange for the other's safety.


(1) hug: An activity purely of the body, consisting of embracing another while remaining conscious of the contact.

(2) glom: A hug which has a component of pure soul, in which the embrace becomes an enfolding and fusing together where comfort is given without any consciousness of the touch intervening.

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