How to Write Tags
We are working on developing a system of tags that allow people to browse for the types of topics/structures/etc they like, as tags are the main discovery surfaces for Writing Atlas.
Here is our “formal” system of tags in development to give you a sense of our thinking for the ones that will span multiple stories. This is worth taking a few minutes to browse.
We’ve given you three text fields to put your tags. These text fields are called
Tags Manual. These three columns are adjacent to each other in Airtable.
Characters: who the protagonist is and other notable characters (~3-6 tags)
Setting: time and place (~2-3 tags)
Tags Manual: what the thrust of the subject matter is, what kind of ending it is, mood (~3-6 tags: these do not include characters or setting)
Note: these are RAW text fields. We will clean them up later. Try to aim for at least 3 tags per category. More is better.
For example, you might scan a story and create tags such as the following for those categories (and more!). Try to imagine what tags would be useful to help someone understand if this story is for them.
Setting: New York City, Medieval England, Castle
Characters: Mathematician, Female Protagonist, Apprentice
Tags Manual: Political Intrigue, Palace Intrigue, Betrayal, Science
Do not worry about being so precise about the tag language taxonomy. Through the miracle of modern computing, we can build “clusters” of related topics as long as you write in “natural language” (e.g. human language). For example, computers know that “drugs”, “addiction” and “alcoholism” are all related, so just pick the most narrow word and we can group them.
Tags are the trickiest, and we are still mastering the art, which is why we need a lot of examples to see how the browsing feels and then iterate to do better. So stay with us.
Both very general and very specific tags are good. Again some examples:
- Geography/setting: New York City, Mars, Beijing, the Amazon, ambiguous Latin American village
- Time period: 1920s prohibition era, near-future, contemporary, dystopian far future.
- Type of place: summer, on the road, hotel, domestic setting, alien planet, war-torn setting
- Main protagonists demographics (race/gender/age/profession): teenage female protagonist, elderly southern Black male protagonist, trans protagonist, plumber protagonist
- Personalities: protagonist who feels lost in the world, eccentric un-self-conscious best friend
- Types of relationships: strained father-son relationship, strangers who have romantic chemistry at first sight, teenage gay couple
- Types of casts: ensemble cast, predominantly male cast, harem
Come up with unusual tags that would make someone want to read the story, or at least click through. Some of the ones we found intriguing:
- symbolic cannibalism
- dangerous love
Other manual tag ideas:
- How plotty it is: vignette-y, fast-paced plot, slow plot, quiet plot, thriller plot
- Narrative thrust: revenge, friendship, betrayal, lust, death,
- How it ends: upbeat ending, downbeat ending, ambiguous ending, unsettling ending, ironic ending (just describe how it makes you feel, and you can have more than one)
- Point of View: first person, third person omniscient, third person limited
- Type of story: fantasy where protagonist is comically weak, political satire criticizing the American government, psychological dramas where the narrator is unreliable because of mental instability
- Note: genres should go into the Genre column, not in the tags.
READ IF YOU LIKE…
Add a few phrases that finish the sentence “Read if you like”.
These can be fairly descriptive. So anything like:
- mother-daughter drama
- stories that make you think twice about the meaning of life.
- the story Arrival is based on
- Chinese-American queer love triangles
- climate-change-induced horror
Try to have at least 5-6, and the more the better.
You can separate the tags by commas or semicolons ⇐ either works since the computer pulls both. Don't use any commas unless they are in between your “read if you like” tags or the tag will be broken up into two.
- Don’t write “Harry Potter” or “Hunger Games,” for these. Write more descriptive: “Harry Potter-style magical boarding school worlds, or “Hunger Games-like dystopian free-for alls.”
- Be quite creative with these tags — we are using them as data to train AI. You can add tags that a human might understand, but a computer cannot. Then we will use clustering techniques to test how your tags affect how computers understand the stories. Evocative and unusual words and phrases will help the computer cluster similar stories together.
- You don’t have to capitalize the phrase and don’t put a final period in the sequence.