This is perhaps my favourite of the genres reading (and writing) fanfiction introduced me to, and while it is in spirit certainly not restricted to only fanfiction, it is it seems most clearly indulged there.
Hurt/Comfort is an easily-defined and yet very malleable genre. In its simplest form it is in just two parts, though those parts may be more complex in themselves.
One’s main character (or characters) suffer some manner of pain, be it physical (perhaps an accident or act of malice that leaves injuries) or mental/emotional (the loss of a friend, the failure of a quest, a break up); then that hurt is . . . comforted by another character or characters. How that comfort is provided – and whether it is a true ‘fix’ or merely soothing offered on the topic of something that cannot be simply repaired – depends on the situation and the writer, of course.
The idea is to break you character apart – to varying degrees, and this can be taken so far as to leave a reader teary-eyed and wondering if they are beyond repair – and then ever-so-gently restore them, piecing the broken shards into one cohesive whole and leaving a reader feeling relieved or delighted. Ideally, one should be wrapped up to some degree in the pain of the breaking and the happiness of the re-assembly. (Shouldn’t we always, ideally, be wrapped up by and drawn into a story, though?)
There’s a feeling of . . . satisfaction, to reading a well-done hurt/comfort story, in my experience. It might bring me out to the precipice and leave me dangling with my hand clutched over my heart for a while, but eventually it will bring me back to safe ground and assure me that everything is okay, probably even better now than it ever was before.
It’s a popular genre to use with couples (granted that most things can be in fanfiction) though it can be every bit as touching with friends or families (especially found families, or replacing the hurts of a lost or abusive family with a new one of friends closing ranks). It can be a surprisingly sweet way to begin a relationship or deepen a friendship into something more, as well as to slot into an established relationship.
H/C stories can be overall light pieces of warm, soothing fluff, or range all the way to painful, angst-filled explorations with only a small salve at the end to prevent the bite of a wholly unhappy ending. The two ‘halves’ of the hurt/comfort equation can be weighted in either direction, depending on the requirements of the specific story and the choices and temperament of the author.
Of course the whole range is worthy of exploration (and useful) depending on the storyline it fits, from the simple to the most layered complexities and the sweet to the painfully poignant.
I truly love the genre myself, and I see no reason why it should be so restricted as to be allowed free rein only in fanfiction!
While I have, of course, never found anything so clearly labelled as ‘hurt/comfort’ amongst original fiction, I have read stories that fit the pattern to some degree, mixed into anthologies or even making up an arc in a novel. They can be such rewarding stories, putting your darlings through such damage and all.
Right now as part of my Camp NaNoWriMo project I am working on a hurt/comfort story (it was supposed to be a short story. . .) that has grown into a novella as details and complexities layered into the ‘hurt’ side of things and now the ‘comfort’ side requires an equally nuanced pattern.
As simple as the concept may be in essence, it is anything but limiting, and it is something I personally would love to see more explicitly explored in traditional fiction, even to the way it is indulged in fanfiction.
Hurt/Comfort might be one of my favourites, but it’s certainly not the only genre fanfiction introduced me to which I think invites further exploration in original writings as well. Which is why I decided that I’d love to talk about fanfiction specific genres here, and how I think they could translate to traditional fiction, and why this series came about.
I don’t know yet which genre I’ll talk about next!