What Does Freeform Mean in Fanfiction? (SOLVED)

If you’ve been writing fanfiction for any amount of time, then you’ve probably come across the term “freeform.”

But what does freeform mean in fanfiction?

Here’s What Freeform Means in Fanfiction:

Freeform is an automated or user-generated tag for fanfiction content. The purpose of a freeform tag is to identify and distinguish a piece of fanfiction content. It’s “freeform” because you can use whatever tag that you want.

There are, however, some differences in how freeform is used on different fanfiction sites.

What Does Freeform Mean on Archive of Our Own (AO3)?

On Archive of Our Own (AO3), freeform is usually a site-generated tag used to differientiate one piece of fanfiction from other, similar content.

There are several common types of freeform tags:

  • Episode name
  • Book name
  • Community tags
  • Challenge tags
  • Prompt tags

Any “additional” tags that don’t neatly fit into the three main categories on AO3 (fandoms, characters, relationships) technically are freeform tags.

So, you might see:

  • Hurt/Comfort
  • Angst
  • Alternate Universe
  • And more (see more examples in the table below)

Typically, whoever uses a tag for the first time gets to use the tag without the “freeform” label attached to it.

The AO3 site itself generally adds “freeform” to the tag when anyone else uses it.

For example, the first person to use the “Harry Potter” tag gets to use the tag without the added “freeform” label. Anyone else who uses the “Harry Potter” tag will use “Harry Potter—Freeform.”

You can think of it as a kind of administrative tag that automatically prevents duplicate tags (Imagine the organizational nightmare that could create).

However, there is a second kind of use on the site.

Some AO3 users manually add the word “freeform” to their tags. This can lead to new tags appearing as, “Luke Skywalker—Freeform—Freeform.”

Are there any exceptions?

Yes. Canonical tags rarely include the term, “freeform.”

What Is the Purpose of Freeform Fanfiction Tags?

Fanfiction tags are important for two main reasons: they make it easier to find content, and they help interlink related content.

It’s essentially a filtering system to organize fanfiction.

Freeform tags work like hashtags. On social media sites such as Twitter and Instagram, hashtags help you find and follow a particular topic.

Freeform tags help users and readers organize, filter, and find very specific types of fanfiction.

For example, if you want to read Power Rangers fanfiction where Tommy has a daughter. Or, Attack of Titan fanfiction that involves time travel.

The bottom line is that freeform tags can be anything—a character, setting, relationship, activity, genre, or more.

Freeform Fanfiction Tag Examples

In case you’re still somewhat confused about exactly what freeform tags in fanfiction are, here is a list of some existing freeform tags.

Check out this table:

FluffNot Beta ReadEstablished relationshipPlot What Plot
DrabbleLight AngstKissingCharacter Study
Unrequited LovePregnancySnowDepression
Pre-CanonMilitaryFighter PilotsPost-Canon
Action/AdventureCrossoverFirst KissFirst Love
FriendshipFriends to LoversWriting ExerciseShort One Shot
Canon DivergenceMutual PiningDinosaursSurvival
HumorGetting TogetherCollege/University1930s
Trans CharacterTime TravelAged-Up Character(s)Love Confessions
ViolenceImplied Character DeathBody HorrorGore
WorldbuildingOriginal Character(s)Magic Arranged Marriage
FanartFlirtingOrphanageLGBTQ Character of Color
LGBTQ ThemesSame-Sex MarriageTransformationHappy Ending
Original CharacterStockholm SyndromeReader-InsertSlice of Life
Cute LemonSpoilers for EpisodeBabies
Future FicPOV First PersonParodySharing a Body
What does freeform mean in fanfiction?

This table is by no means a comprehensive list of tags (remember, tags can be anything, so there are new ones created every day).

The tags you use will differ based on the fanfiction story you write or want to read.

A “military” or “dinosaur” tag might make sense in one story but make absolutely no sense in another. The more accurately someone tags their fanfiction, the easier it will be for interested readers to find it.

When deciding on what freeform tags to use, consider these tips:

  • Who are the main characters in the story?
  • What are the main themes?
  • What makes your story different?
  • What type of sex, violence, and gore is in the story?
  • What major fandoms are included?
  • Is your story a crossover?
  • When does the story take place? (time period, pre-canon, post-canon, etc.)
  • What major actions occur?
  • What do you want potential readers to know about your story?

For a visual example, check out this video I made where I show examples of freeform tags for several fandoms on AO3:

Video by Writing Secrets via YouTube—What is Freeform in Fanfiction?

Does Wattpad Use Freeform Tags?

Yes, Wattpad does use freeform tags.

Similar to AO3, you can choose any tag you want for your story. That means there is an unlimited number of tags based on the author’s imagination.

Do All Fanfiction Sites Use Freeform Tags?

No, not all fanfiction sites use freeform tags.

When you write fanfiction on Fanfiction.net, you choose between tags established by the site.

While this may seem limiting at first, it can actually make tagging and finding related content much easier. Everyone uses a standardized set of tags. If you want to write or read a very specific type of fanfiction, you’ll be able to do so easily.

On other sites with freeform tags, some authors may mislabel their stories.

Other authors might forget to include certain tags for specific characters or crossovers. The result is that you may not find some really good stories about characters, shows, books, or fandoms.

What Are the Most Popular Freeform Tags? (On AO3)

On Archives of Our Own (AO3), some freeform tags are more popular than others.

Here are some of the most popular tags:

  1. Fluff
  2. Alternate Universe
  3. Angst
  4. Sexual Content
  5. Relationship(s)
  6. Sex
  7. Hurt/Comfort
  8. Family
  9. Friendship
  10. Smut

Final Thoughts: What Does Freeform Mean in Fanfiction?

The term “freeform” means many things in different contexts.

In fanfiction, freeform is a type of indexing tag for organizing and connecting content.

If you’re interested in fanfiction, I have an entire category for fiction on this website.

You can read my recommendations for the best fanfiction in specific fandoms, how to write fanfiction, and over 300+ fluff fanfiction prompts.

Since I’ve been writing for a while, I’ve also collected tools that help me. If you’re interested, I’ve listed some of them in the table below:

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