hurt/comfort

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Fans often like to see their favorite characters get hurt, while the other characters tend to their injuries.

Introduction

Hurt/comfort (often shortened to h/c) is a fan-fiction genre where the plot is generally summarized by the name: one character is hurt, and at least one other character provides comfort. The injury can be minor but is generally quite severe and traumatic, and often life-threatening.

Hurt/comfort stories tend to be highly dramatic and many claim the popularity of the genre is from taking strong characters and putting them in situations where they are made physically and emotionally vulnerable--both the injured character and those who comfort him or her.

While any character in a fandom source can be the subject of hurt/comfort fic, there often tends to be one "favorite" character for writers to subject to physical torment. Often these are the "prettiest", "smallest", and/or most handsome character in the fandom, someone known for his or her looks, or someone with a strong bravado and tough surface. Quite often it is the most popular character in the fandom who is subjected to h/c, but that is not always the case. Some examples of frequent h/c victims would be:

Hurt/comfort can sometimes be written as a precursor to slash, with the one character's injury a reason for another to "re-evaluate" his feelings and the importance of their relationship to each other. Hurt/comfort often involves a lot of touching, cuddling, and close physical contact which can read as highly sexualized, though some avid hurt/comfort writers will deny there being any intentional slash content and may in fact object highly to the concept of slash. Hurt/comfort may of course also be written for het couples as well, again with the threat to life or extreme injury leading to changes in a relationship between two heterosexual characters. That said, the genre is still primarily popular when involving all-male characters, as it gives the writer the chance to explore one character's more nurturing, "feminine" side in providing comfort.

Genres related to hurt/comfort

Some related genres of fan-fiction include:

  • Angst - where one character suffers, but on a psychological/emotional level instead of physical. In some cases, angst and h/c can be inter-related in a story or series; for instance, an injury or trauma suffered in one story may be followed up in an angst fic dealing with the residual emotional issues for a character
  • Get'em - stories in which a character is injured or hurt, but there is no comfort component to the story
  • Rapefic - stories in which a character is raped. Rape may occur as part of a h/c fic or scenario as well.

Frequent ailments and tropes in hurt/comfort

Episodes of tv series which have hurt/comfort plotlines are often fan favorites, such as the A-Team episode "Curtain Call." In this episode Murdock is shot and the team struggles to avoid the MPs while getting him treatment in time.

Certain types of ailments and injuries are common in hurt/comfort fiction, sometimes to the point of cliche. These include:

  • Amnesia - often due to a head injury, or could be due to emotional trauma. Amnesia is popular in situations where a character may struggle with whether to "start anew" is preferable to returning to his old life, while his old friends and lovers try to bring back his memory, or accept his new personality.
  • Blindness (temporary or permanent) - although other disabilities may be brought upon in fanfic, blindness has long been popular as it forces the character to cope with a disability or limitation, but (in fiction) often is only a temporary injury.
  • Coma - due to whatever injuries or accidents brought it on, coma-fic is popular because it allows the other characters to sit at bedside vigil and reflect on their feelings for the comatose character, including facing the possibility that he may never recover.
  • Comforting The Widow [1]
  • Drug withdrawal - "especially if it involves Heterosexual Life Partners. Unlike most of the above, it's overwhelmingly written with a platonic or just open-to-interpretation slant—probably because the sufferer would be severely ill-equipped for typical romance. Often leads to Sleep Cute situations after the worst of the symptoms leave. " [2]
  • Forced drug-addiction - a popular revenge trope. Often an old enemy will return, capture a character, and as revenge or "punishment" force him into a drug-addicted state (heroin is popular in stories set in the 20th century. Upon rescue, the other characters must help the victim get over his addiction.
  • Giving a character wings. [3]
  • Gunshot or knife-wound - fairly self-explanatory injury.
  • Heartwarming Orphan [4]
  • Parental Abandonment - fairly self-explanatory. [5]
  • Rape - fairly self-explanatory. [6]
  • Torture - can lead to other types of injuries, or may involve emotional anguish, long imprisonment/separation from the other characters.

Historical Definitions

The following definition dates to 1997 in the Galaxy Rangers fandom:

"Hurt-Comfort" - Probably the most common fanfic out there. Basic idea is to take one of the heroes, beat the tar out of him/her, rescue him/her, and have one or more of the hero's friends offer comfort, deepening the relationship (keeping at deep friendship, usually, but slash or straight romance is also very common).
GR universe example: Killbane and the other Supertroopers catch up to Goose and hurt him badly. Niko goes AWOL to get him out. They manage to escape, and Niko helps him until they get back to BETA.[7]

The following definition dates to 1997 in the Transformers and science fiction fandoms:

Hurt/Comfort Stories: A type of story [...]in which one of a male-bonded pair of protagonists gets hurt while the other has to give comfort. The hurt can be physical, and it can be excruciating, while the comfort can be direct medical aid or psychological assurance.

The following term dates to 1997 and was written by JPayne:

Hurt/Comfort Stories: A type of story [...]in which one of a male-bonded pair of protagonists gets hurt while the other has to give comfort. The hurt can be physical, and it can be excruciating, while the comfort can be direct medical aid or psychological assurance.
Hurt/comfort stories can be grimly realistic when it comes to medical details; on the other hand, they come perilously close to slash in their depiction of the interaction of the male characters.
An interesting note: Although most of these stories are written by women, they rarely deal with female characters. Often the men are depicted as reacting to each other in so-called 'female' terms, providing nurturing, and so on. (Rogow, 158) [8]

The following definition dates to February 1999 in cmshaw's Fan Glossary as used in media fandom:

h/c, header. Acronym for Hurt/Comfort. Fanfic in which reaction to a character's pain is a central plot element.[9][
Hurt/comfort stories can be grimly realistic when it comes to medical details; on the other hand, they come perilously close to slash in their depiction of the interaction of the male characters.
An interesting note: Although most of these stories are written by women, they rarely deal with female characters. Often the men are depicted as reacting to each other in so-called 'female' terms, providing nurturing, and so on. (Rogow, 158) [10]

The following definition dates to December 26, 2001 in media fandom:

H/C - Hurt/Comfort. Fanfiction in which a character suffers some trauma to the body, soul or ego, requiring another character to tend to them. A popular introduction to minor or radical shifts in relationships, which in turn lead into 'ship, or possibly even slash fiction.
A specialised form of H/C is Stargate: SG-1's 'Danny Whumping', in which Daniel Jackson, the sensitive member of the team, gets beaten up or put through the emotional wringer again. [11]

The following definition dates to May 2003 in the Combat! and Nash Bridges fandoms:

h/c, H/C: hurt/comfort -- a style of story in which one character is harmed (physically or emotionally) and another must save them, make them feel better, or both. Though not often seen in comic fandom, this one's been around since the original Star Trek 'zines and is often used to encourage a hopeless romance or set the stage for slash. In Sentinel fandom, stories of this type are jokingly called "owwies." [As are Emergency! stories. Usually referred to as Johnny-owies, or Roy-owies.] [12]

The following definition dates to October 2003 and was written by Chantal Gouveia:

Hurt/Comfort: Best to demonstrate with a mini-fic here. Writer takes character A, strips him, strings him up from a tree, covers him in honey and sets a swarm of wasps on him. Character B wanders past, and says, “What’s happened to you then?”
A replies, “I’ve been stripped, strung up from a tree, covered in honey and had a swarm of wasps set one me. It’s really quite painful.” B, “Oh. Poor you. Fancy a shag?” [13]

The following definition dates to 2005 in the Lord of the Rings fandom:

Hurt Comfort - also "HC". Fanfic in which a character hurts in some way, and another character comes to comfort. (usually leads to sex) [14]

The following definition dates to September 2005 in the Stargate fandom:

Also referred to on the internet as angst stories, although angst stories can just be emotional anguish and no physical hurt. H/C stories usually involve physical or emotional injury to one character, which is then followed up by comfort from another character. [15]

The following definition dates to November 2005 in the A-Team fandom:

H/C (Hurt / Comfort) - One of the characters is injured, and the love they receive as an aftermath.[16]

The following definition dates to June 12, 2006 and was written by Jane Leavell:

H/C: "Hurt/comfort." One or more characters will be hurt (physically or emotionally or mentally), and one or more characters will suffer angst over this and try to comfort the victim. This is a popular category within fanfiction. [17]

The following definition dates to 2008 in the Stargate fandom:

Hurt/Comfort
Works where a character is injured and receives comfort from others. [18]

The following definition dates to 2008 in the Superman fandom:

Hurt/Comfort [h/c] - A fan fiction in which a character is put through a traumatizing experience in order to be comforted. For instance, having Clark stabbed or shot with kryptonite then get lots of hugs is a h/c fan fiction.[19]

The following definition dates to media fandom in December 2008:

hurt/comfort:
A story in which one of the characters is physically or emotionally hurt (injured, sick or tortured) and the other character (before or after rescuing them) has to comfort the first one. This form of story goes across many fandoms, and certain characters are favourites for making the victim of the author's sadistic whims. Blair from Sentinel, Daniel from Stargate SG-1 and Avon from Blake's 7 to name a few. Also called h/c for short. [20]

Academic references

P.J. Falzone writes (with a short quote from Camille Bacon-Smith, a writer with a PhD in Folklore from the University of Pennsylvania) in her/his article, “The Final Frontier is Queer: Aberrancy, Archetype and Audience Generated Folklore in K/S [Kirk/Spock] Slashfiction”, “’One of the most commonly written about themes has been hurt/comfort’ in which one of the characters sustains an injury or hurt, and is cared for by the other character. This hurt/comfort trope seems to be intrinsic to much of slash . . . and operates as a gateway through which the slashed characters become cognizant of their queer feelings.” [21]

History

The use of this term predates 1981. In the Star Trek fan fiction community in 1981, the hurt/comfort genre became more established with the release of such stories Diane King’s Captives.

Criticism of the genre

Some fan-fiction readers have raised criticisms and objections to the genre. One criticism is of the extreme, unrealistic lengths to which some writers will injure and torture their characters. Without a certain amount of medical knowledge or research, writers may put their characters through hurt which should have realistically killed them or caused long-lasting affects afterwards. Some also feel it has become a "cheap" and too cliched method of trying to get characters together for a romantic relationship.

Examples

Fan fiction archives

Some archives have hurt/comfort as a genre or tag to make this material easily findable. One example is Human Nature :: The Doctor Who RPF Archive. [22] They have two stories, both by saraid.

Fan fiction

due South

O My Chevalier by Mlyn [23]: arduinna describes this story: This is a lovely, quiet bit of hurt/comfort post-Manhunt, with Fraser depressed from the pain of his injury (and how long it's taking to heal) and Ray just *there* for him. I've always thought that injury should have affected Fraser more, especially with Buck as foreshadowing of things to come for him, and Mlyn does a wonderful job of following that up. Her Fraser is very human and vulnerable, and her Ray is all care and concern.

Fanzines

  • Nightmare is an A-Team novel by Rita Ractliffe that is a classic example of hurt/comfort fiction in the fandom, wherein the team travels back to Vietnam and Hannibal is captured and tortured by an old enemy. Not only does he have to relive his old memories of being in the POW camps, but he must endure new trauma, before being rescued by the team. The team members and Maggie Sullivan must help him recover physically and emotionally from the trauma.
  • Sacrifices is a Riptide fanzine that involves Nick Ryder finding out he has cancer, and how his partners deal with and help him with the news and his treatment.

LiveJournal

Hurt/Comfort continued to be a popular genre of fan fiction in the 2000s and a number of communities were created on LiveJournal to cater to fans of it.

External Links

Articles and discussion

See also

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