Hurt/Comfort is a genre of fanfiction that heavily focuses on the interaction of a pair of characters; as the name suggests, one character is somehow hurt, and the other character provides comfort or assurance. Just as any genre of fanfic, it has an equal chance to be good as well as bad.
The illuminating quality of Hurt/Comfort can be used to explore characterization. The 'hurt' character may exhibit a fall from grace, a personal weakness, or a flaw that they have paid for. The 'comforting' character may show the audience some hidden depth of their characterization, or show how they could relate to another person's suffering.
The goal of Hurt/Comfort is to display a characters overcoming conflict through a relationship: be that of a best friend, a family member, or a love interest. Many stories incorporate elements of hurt/comfort in them for this reason— overcoming or coping with conflict is the goal of most plots. Due to their single-facet nature, they are usually short: one-shots, vignettes, drabbles, or short stories (7500 words or less).
In a badfic, the idea of hurt/comfort becomes a plot device used to pair two characters together without any preexisting reason for them to connect.
- The hurt character usually becomes 'weaker' and a victim figure and oh so tragic: their plight is never self-inflicted even if the harm is. Issues like real depression, guilt, post-traumatic stress, and even insanity can be trivialized or misused, often woobifying the character.
- The comforting character usually becomes the 'stronger' figure, but may take several approaches to accomplish this. This character might become a sweet and dutiful nurse, a virtual saint, and able to do no wrong. Another method is to establish them as a dominating character: an overpowering force able to swoop in and take responsibility and fault away from the victimized character. However it happens, this character often comes across as creepy and possessive, or at the very least unrealistic.
Additionally, The 'hurt' conflict is often artificial or contrived, existing only to facilitate the interaction without actually having meaning for the characters in question. In the worst offenses, it doesn't even stem from canon conflicts or established character flaws, but invented tragedies and afflictions:
- Self-Harm: the victim character for some reason hurts themselves, by auto-mutilation, developing an eating disorder, or attempting suicide— regardless if this fits in with the themes of the home canon, or the characterization of parties involved. Overwhelmingly (and disturbingly) the motive for this behavior in badfic is attention-seeking: often because their romance object doesn't love them. The 'savior' character usually then buys into the attention-seeking threat, confessing magically appropriate romantic feelings that mitigate the 'victim's' despair. Never mind that the 'savior', when in character, probably wouldn't fall for someone so mentally unstable. Or forget to get the 'victim' some proper help.
- Injury/Illness: the victim character has an accident or is diagnosed with some disease and the savior character nurses them back to health. Regardless if the savior would even care about the victim anyway, or if they do, doesn't just call the hospital, doctor, or healer. This variation sometimes involves bad medicine.
- Trauma/Angst: something terrible has happened to the victim character: a bad childhood, dead/missing parents, or even rape. The savior character steps in and kisses the booboo away, disregarding the actual treatment and healing process for psychological and emotional scars. In some extreme, disturbing cases, the savior character will actually do more harm (such as yet more rape, disguised as 'non-con') to the victim character... which mysteriously results in love.
Overall, in bad hurt/comfort, the elements of hurt are merely used in the story to give it a semblance of a plot and move the story to the sexual or romantic content. Apart from being disturbing, this can be just plain disrespectful— a rape victim, an injured person with a cast, or an abuse victim probably won't want sex or romance to be attached to their problems... if they want it in the first place when they're in such a state of mind or body.
- Whump is a sub-genre of hurt/comfort involving a lot of hurt and very little to no comfort. Any comfort included generally comes through friendship and team interaction, not romance or sex. Whump often involves torture or extended suffering of the character that the Whump is focused on. They are often forced to cope with the physical and mental results of such treatment, so the comfort sections of these fics can be nearly as harsh as the hurt sections. There tend to be one or two characters in each fandom that are most frequently targeted for Whump, such as Colonel Sheppard in Stargate Atlantis, Daniel Jackson in Stargate SG-1, and Tony DiNozzo in NCIS. Although Supernatural is more even, Dean, in fanfic, like in canon, gets more than his fair share of Whump. If the term Whump fics did not begin with Stargate Atlantis fans, they have certainly used it most often with over 600 fics on FF.net labeled as such in their summaries, compared to just over 200 in the next most common category of Merlin. The term is much more common in TV show fanfics, with over 2,150 out of about 2,475 listed on FF.net being for television shows. Most of them outside TV shows are in the Marvel movieverse. Whump doesn't have as many entries on AO3--less than 1,500. Whump fics run the typical goodfic/badfic gamut, with poorly researched medical treatments/procedures being one of the most frequent chargeable offenses of Whump badfic. A badly done Whump!fic can easily necessitate the intervention of the DAVD. Good Whump!fic can explore the extremes of human psyche and depict psychologically and medically plausible recoveries.
- While fluff is a larger genre of fanfiction, fluff often takes hurt/comfort format, but focusing on the comfort rather than the hurt. WAFF (standing for 'warm and fuzzy feelings') is another term for this genre.