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  • Zoë

Optimizing your fanfic search

Is there anything better than Archive Of Our Own's search function? There probably is, but I refuse to acknowledge it.


AO3's Work Search page is probably my most visited site, and I'm not sure if that says more about me or how great AO3 is.


But anyway.....


With nearly 5 million works on the site, AO3 has made it crazy easy to search through the insane number of fanfics and find exactly what you want to read. Recently, AO3 even added additional fields to its search, so you can get even more specific.


So, there are basically two ways that I use to find fanfics on AO3. One is the classic Work Search page I mentioned before. On this page, you can get so specific with the aspects you want in a fic that you may only end up with one result out of 5 million.

This page is your best friend if you know exactly what you want to read, or if you are new to a fandom and just want to see what's out there. With the Relationships, Characters and Additional Tags fields, finding a medieval Sterek AU that includes Erica Reyes is a cinch—and just change the rating field if you want to ensure there will be smut in any results.


The level of tagging on a fic depends on the author—and sometimes the fandom—so I tend not to overly rely on searching tags unless I'm looking for a specific type of AU (maybe a Game of Thrones fic with a modern setting).


Myself, I mostly rely on three of the fields: Completion Status, Relationships and Sort By. Unless I'm out of complete fics for whatever pairing I'm currently reading, I always make sure "complete works only" is selected. I do subscribe to some WIPs, but it's hard for me to go back to a fic if I can't finish it in one go (post upcoming about the WIP plight).


I used to fill out basically every field on the search, but when I expanded my fanfiction fandoms, I realized that not all the fields are necessary—or conducive—to some of them. If I'm looking for a Kastle fic, should I enter the fandom as "The Defenders" or "The Punisher" or "Daredevil"? All of them? But I realized the answer was none of them. If I entered the pairing into the Relationships field, it brought up all the Kastle fics from authors who tagged one or all of those fandoms anyway.


The last field I always make sure is filled is Sort By. For me, I sort by Kudos (likes), so I can work my way from the most popular fics to the ones with less feedback. When I start reading for a pairing, this is particularly important for me because I almost have to be convinced to continue reading fics for the new pairing. If I like the most popular fics for say SanSan, then I'm more comfortable going on to read more experimental, unknown or lower-rated ones.


Another field that gets an honorable mention from me is Date. That field is great for when you've gotten to a point in your Kudos-down search that you're not feeling any of the fics anymore. Just enter into the Date field something like "<2 months" and AO3 will bring up all the fics completed in the last 2 months, so you can check out the newer fics that may not have had a chance to rack up Kudos yet.


Remember when I said there were two ways I use AO3? All those paragraphs ago? Well, the second way is something I just started doing, and really only use it for "Game of Thrones" fics.


When you click on the pairing tag (or any other included tag or fandom), AO3 will send you to a page that includes all the fics with that pairing tag, without any removed by the fields from the Work Search page.

The reason this is one of my new favorite pages is the sidebar. It's basically the Work Search page on crack. It has all the same fields to include as the Work Search page, but it also has an "exclude" section.

You can use each of the drop-down fields to select things you would like to be excluded from your search. Don't like a certain side-pairing? Exclude it. Don't want to read any modern setting AUs? Exclude them. Not in the mood for smut? Just exclude "explicit" rated fics.


The only issue with this function is that not all of the fandoms, characters, relationships or tags are included in the drop-down options. It only includes the 10 most popular options for those fields for fanfics including the pairing you initially selected.


If you do select to exclude a pairing or tag and then click "Sort and Filter," AO3 will pull up new pairings or tags to fill in the ones you got rid of. So if you get rid of Petyr Baelish/Sansa Stark and Jon Snow/Daenerys Targaryen for your Sandor Clegane/Sansa Stark search, AO3 will replace those options with two other pairings (Shireen Baratheon/Rickon Stark and Renly Baratheon/Loras Tyrell, in case you were curious).


That's really the only way to get around that for pairings, but at least for tags, there is an "other tags to exclude" field.


These functions are part of the reason I can't make myself use FanFiction.net, Wattpad or LiveJournal because they just seem like a pain to navigate after the amazingness that is AO3. Still not convinced? Even Wired did an article on AO3's tagging system less than two weeks ago.


Is this how you use AO3? Did I bring up any AO3 functions you weren't aware of before? Is there a cool AO3 function I'm missing? Tweet me or shoot me a message.