Slow Burn (trope)

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Tropes and genres
Synonym(s)Slow Build
Related tropes/genresUnresolved Sexual Tension
Related articles on Fanlore.

Slow Burn is a popular trope in both fanfic and canons where the characters of the main pairing start off not in a relationship and focuses on the slow development of a romantic or sexual pairing. It is often paired with UST and pining due to the focus on the slow nature of the relationship. Some people consider the term "slow burn" to be synonymous with slow build, but others think that slow burn is specifically about the romance aspect of a fic where slow build is more about the plot.[1] Moonbeam's "Fanfiction Terminology" page gives the following definition for slow burn:

Slow Burn -- refers to stories featuring characters who gradually and naturally fall in love or lust before beginning a romantic or sexual relationship. As the emphasis is on the slow evolution of the relationship rather than a quick conflagration into sudden resolution, such stories may contain a lot of UST and pining until the smoldering passion eventually catches fire.[2]

which seems to indicate that most people believe slow burn to be indicative of romance or the promise of it. That is to say for some fans a longfic focused on the Zutara relationship is a slow burn, but a longfic focused on Zuko's redemption arc is slow build. Slow build could be considered the literary equivalent of edging, as there are people who believe that a slow burn is more about the length of time a viewer or reader is investing in a relationship rather than the length of time it chronologically takes for a couple to get together.[1] In that sense, the amount of time it takes for characters in an Arranged Marriage to actually fall in love qualifies as a slow burn even though the characters are "together" for the entire fic.

Variation in Definition

Like many fannish terms, there isn't one concrete definition for what is and isn't a slow burn. On Tumblr, the-pen-pot made a text post which asked what the meaning of "slow burn" is and offered the following definition:

For me, it’s a fic in which the romance arc is slow and complicated, with eventual pay off often at the climax (no pun intended) of the story.[3]

Others fans responded to the post with a variety of definitions, but many overall agreed with the definition given by the-pen-pot which may be due to the smaller sample size of respondents. On Reddit, r/Fanfiction had a discussion about how slow is too slow for slow burn, and the wider variety of responses seemed to land on the consensus that nothing could truly be too slow, but a reader's individual taste will vary from person to person.

It's never too slow. One of my favorite fics had them hold hands for the first time at over 300k. It was an experience.

I feel like it's not really a slowburn if it's under 100k, personally. Then it's a regular getting together fic. To me slowburn is more like... I don't know, twenty scenes together with bickering and very slowly falling in love before they even think about each other as date material instead of only scenes that directly advance the romance or plot.[4]

I read a slowburn fic which became one of my favorites. They didn't even kiss until about 600k words in. They didn't talk about the kiss or feelings til about 800k words in IIRC. The fic is currently over one million words and they have still not had "actual sex". It's a fic which I ABSOLUTELY love in the Supernatural fandom and the only destiel slowburn better than that to date is the actual TV show lol.

I'd say it varies by person though - not everyone will want to read that much without some sort of resolution. My other fav slowburn fics are usually around 100-180k words and the resolution starts about 60% of the fic in. I'd say chapter 13 out of 18 or 19 is a very good place for something to finally happen.[5]

Much like with anything else, slowburns are subject to taste. Whereas some think waiting for two chapters is a slow burn, others think chapter 10 is too fast.


I can't even offer a personal opinion on this, since my two long running stories have different pacing when it comes to the romantic sideplot. While in one they get it on in chapter 7 (not necessarily in the good way), and then dance around each other awkwardly and guilt ridden until chapter 30, the other fic waits until the end until there's any sort of movement in the romance.[6]

This lack of consensus among fans has led to fans of slow burn fic complaining about the term's misuse. There are two main camps of "slow burn" definitions: ones based on the in-fic chronology of a relationship and ones based on the meta-level investment of a fan in the relationship. The latter type of definition is more common, although the base "amount" of investment required in those definitions ranges from 10k to over 100k, but the former is also in use. The segment of fans that think "slow burn" refers the time invested by a fan into seeing a relationship come to fruition, like when shippers of Mulder/Scully waited many chronological years for their pairing to become canon, often complain about the other camp of fans who think slow burn refers to the chronological time spent trying to get characters into a relationship, such as the millennia it might take Aziraphale/Crowley to get together even in a 6k fic. A popular tumblr post by anhumanslovestories explains:

[OP by andhumanslovedstories]

If your fic is 1000 words long, you can’t tag it slow burn. It’s not slow burn. That is a matchstick. And this is my personal bias here but if those motherfuckers you’re writing experience significant forward momentum in their relationship in under 5k words, then that is just a regular old burn. Slow burn should be borderline intolerable and a mistake to start reading at 2 in the morning.

[andhumanslovedstories reblogging their own post to add to it]

If the fic doesn’t have multiple scenes where two people almost kiss but then don’t because of a contrived interruption that they are both grateful for and angry about, until the desperate reader is forced every other paragraph to mutter, “this is fucking ridiculous, this is bullshit, I’m so fucking mad, please update sooooooooooon,” then it isn’t a slow burn. It is a romance and that is a lovely thing but. Slow burns should feel like being set on fire unto your death but the tinder is people not kissing and the spark is people who don’t admit they love each other and the whole thing is. You know. Slow.

[internationalspacehobo replying to andhumanslovestories]

that sounds agonizing

[andhumanslovestories reblogging with a screencap of internalspacehobo's reply]


[throughshadow-to-the-edgeofnight reblogging andhumanslovedstories]

I once read a slow burn where the main pairing didn’t even speak to each other ontil 80k words in

[andhumanslovedstories reblogging throughshadow-to-the-edgeofnight]

This is the funniest fucking thing I’ve ever read and the only true slow burn fic[7]

In another Reddit post to r/FanFiction, Thymesinc asked "What qualifies as a slow burn?" and got several answers.[8] While some stuck to the hard line of slow burn being about the time and energy invested into a fic, with one commenter mentioning Worm being 1.7 million words,[9] others had more varied answers:

A slow burn is ultimately about the journey and I think you can have a 20k word one as long as too much doesn't happen too soon.[10]

To me, word count is less important than what’s actually in a story when it comes to slow burns. For something to feel like a slow burn to me, events have to happen slowly. Not necessarily painfully drawn out, but there should probably be a good chunk of the story spent waiting/pining/developing feelings before they get together.[11]

"Slow burn" is entirely a subjective term, there's no hard metric for it. You mostly have to go by whether you feel like it's a slow burn when you read it, and that will entirely depend on what you qualify as a long fic. 20K might not be a lot to you, but it could be a lot to some people. It's all down to personal preference IMO, as with a lot of things in fanfic.[12]

UrbanDictionary has the following definition for "slow burn":

A fanfiction genre in which the characters that are romantically shipped take a very long time to get together. It could be 30 chapters before they even brush elbows.[13]

and while UrbanDictionary isn't the be all end all authority, especially on fannish terms, the fact that this is the only fannish definition of slow burn on the site seems to indicate that the time investment of the reader or viewer is key. There's also several interesting variations on the slow burn trope. ao3commentoftheday made a post describing one such variation:

slow burn mutual pining but the burn is emotional and the fic is pwp. they smut it up while both wanting more and thinking the other one wants to be friends with benefits. having only this much of them is torture but not having them at all would be worse. each of them dreads the day their lover falls in love with someone else. both of them are so surprised to learn they’ve both been in love with the other the whole time[14]

In this scenario, "slow burn" exclusively refers to the romantic aspect of a pairing. This variation is a way of having your cake and eating it too, in a sense, since many readers complain about the length of time it takes characters to kiss or have sex and is more common in romance novels than fic.

Fan Commentary

sex is great and all but have you ever spent seven hours reading an 80K, 11 chaptered enemies to lovers, fake dating, mutual pining fanfic?[15]

There's an excellent slow-burn fic I read that hasn't been updated since spring 2018 and it STILL gets comments, two this week alone

The chapter heavily implies they would bone for the first time in the next chapter too 😭😭😭

Still love it for what it is[16]

Me: I love fanfiction with slow burn and slow built relationships, I love the pining and I want to wait 1628 chapters and three eternity before they get their shit together and end up dating


I’m so over slow burn fanfics that take like 47 chapters for them to kiss and then by chapter 48 they’re fucking.

Give me slow burn all the way through. Like damn.

It’s not let’s make up for lost time it’s hey we’re both cautious people that like to take it slow.[18]

Make it slow, but not too slow. Don’t rush to the good bits, but don’t drag it out so much that it becomes boring or you’re writing excessive amounts of unnecessary action(s) to fill in the spaces. Have the characters interact sparsely at first, if possible, or have short interactions, then slowly have them interacting more and more and become friends/develop crushes/realize attraction.

Make it real. Just because someone thinks someone else is hot, doesn’t mean they’ll have a functional relationship. Love doesn’t work itself out right off the bat. Love at first sight is fine, but develop it further. Deepen the love, make the characters find out little things they adore and some that they don’t like. You might find someone who’s amazing for you, but has flaws and things you don’t like about them. True love is willing to overlook unimportant little flaws (like say, your partner always moves the toothpaste to one side of the sink. That doesn’t matter, whereas your partner being racist/misogynistic/homophobic/abusive/controlling/etc is a problem.)

Love will ebb and flow. No romance is perfect, and your story should reflect that. Even partners that deeply love each other will fight and disagree sometimes. Sometimes they need breaks away from each other. Don’t be afraid to have your characters have some rough moments in the path to that happy ending; everyone goes through some twists, turns, or stumbles. If the love is right, they’ll make it through.

Have a good plot for your slow burn. Maybe it’s all about these two characters getting together. Maybe their romance is a subplot. Either way, there should be something else going outside the relationship, even if it’s just daily life for the two. Intersperse some other activities and moments from their lives between the romantic building, and it’ll help keep the romance from going too fast (but again, keep it at a reasonable amount; don’t overload the reader with too much side stuff.)[19]

You can’t have slow burn or mutual pining without some conflict keeping the lovers apart—usually it’s either the constraints of society and/or circumstances or their own stubbornness that prevents them from readily admitting their love.[20]

It's chapter 4 of 9, and they sat down like rational human beings, had a real conversation about the situation and their feelings, and got together.

... Excuse me, but I don't look for realism when I read this kind of trope. I'm not used to the third act misunderstanding to be resolved at the beginning of act two. I just don't understand... if you cut the sexual tension now, what's the rest of the story?

I'm still going to read it because it is very well written, and it's a little refreshing to see a couple of people actually act like real human beings to resolve this situation, but still... This is like breaking the unwritten code of fan fiction. You don't get the couple together in a pretend engagement trope until the end of the story.[21]

I was reading a slow burn fanfic, and all of a sudden the Male MC decided to ignore all the romantic tension and the fact that he literally told her her loved her, and have them just be friends. I don’t care if he changes his mind in 15 more chapters, it’s super unsatisfying and leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. If this happened at the start of the story, sure go wild, but you do not do this after a confession! It completely ruins all the tension you’ve built up and now the whole book has left a sour taste in my mouth. Slow burns are slow burns. Not your about to burn and then you yeet out another candle and restart the tension. This annoyed me to the point I abandoned the book cause I didn’t want to read another ship sailing just for it to crash and my actual ship to get together in the last chapter. It was so annoying and honestly just made me think that slow burns weren’t for me.[22]

i just don’t care for posts trying to attribute fic preferences to deep personal pains and traumas. i’m not into slow burn because i yearn to feel i am worthy of longing or something i’m into slow burn because i yearn to see a guy get emotionally edged until he loses his mind


Tbh the romance doesn't hit as hard w/o the edging. Like when they lose sleep, can't keep track of things, get in trouble at work, are moody and sensitive 24/7 all for the affection of one person who for whatever reason is just out of reach...that's real romance to me


Fanwork Examples

I Light Up Fast for a Slow Burn by I Met You On LJ
Slow Burning by jadzidraws
The Salvation Series by spiritualmachinesFandom: HansonDate: 2013-12-05–OngoingLength: 298,191 wordsStatus: WIP
A series of fanfics; the first fic takes nearly 50 chapters for the main pairing to consummate their relationship, with their slow progression toward that being a primary plot point.
Angel's Wild by LimonadeGaby and riseofthefallenoneFandom: SupernaturalDate: 2013-04-27–2014-05-04Length: 389,000 wordsStatus: CompleteGenre: Enemies to Lovers, Wingfic
A epic in which Castiel and Dean start off as enemies, and slowly transition to best friends and then to lovers over the course of 52 chapters.
When the Moon Fell in Love with the Sun by MejhirenFandom: Hunger GamesDate: Aug 18, 2012–Dec 25, 2016Length: 360kStatus: Incomplete, very slow updatesGenre: Drama/Romance
Peeta Mellark, winner of the 74th Hunger Games, returns from his Victory Tour to make the starving Everdeens an offer they can't refuse. Canon divergent, based on the fairy tale "East of the Sun and West of the Moon." Little Hunger Games knowledge is required to enjoy this, as it's an AU. Peeta hires Katniss to be his huntress, saving her family, and then most of the plot is focused on them falling in love. 360k in and Katniss has only just admitted to herself how much she loves him, much less to him. SLOWEST of slow burns."
Cursed by lossehelinFandom: Rurouni KenshinDate: July 3, 2011–Mar 2, 2013Length: 317kStatus: CompleteGenre: Romance, Fantasy
A distinctly japanese twist on the Beauty and the Beast tale. AU enough that not much Rurouni Kenshin knowledge is needed. A thousand years ago, the Emperor and his entire court were cursed to be beasts the deadline of the curse draws near as Kaoru's father promises her to the beastly emperor when she is a child. He comes to collect, when she is of age. She is made Lady of the castle, though it will be a long while before they fall in love yet.
The Girl From Whirlpool by SilverShineFandom: NarutoDate: Jan 6, 2010–Mar 18, 2011Length: 248kStatus: Incomplete, but at a decent stopping pointGenre: Romance, Action
When Naruto's father met his mother, his only impression was that a village out there must have been missing its idiot. Minato/Kushina A great fic with lots of world building of the pre-canon era, and lots of wonderful development of the relationship between Kushina and Minato, and their histories. It takes Minato a good way through the fic to realize he loves Kushina, but she's dating someone else by then. It's only in the last scene of the last chapter that they sort themselves out enough to properly start dating.
hot oil spit by faorismFandom: OverwatchDate: Jan 2017Length: 34,079Status: WIPGenre: McCree/Hanzo, Soulmarks
34k in, McCree hasn't met Hanzo yet and likely won't for another 34k based on where the fic is in canon's timeline.
Skin by Usagi SquaredFandom: Yu-Gi-OhDate: Sep 2010–Apr 2014Length: 1,808,934Status: WIPGenre: Jounouchi Katsuya/Kaiba Seto, always a different gender
"Jonouchi Katsuya will always look out for his friends, no matter how weird things get. That means he will keep on fighting, whether facing maniacs with freaky powers, monsters from a children's game, or the fact Kaiba's a girl. Wait, what? Warnings inside" It takes until chapter 99 (out of 121) for feelings to actually be admitted.
Our Bodies Safe to Shore by dharmaavocadoFandom: Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008)Date: Sep 2018Length: 51,425Status: CompleteGenre: Alternate Universe, Magical Realism, Selkie AU
A roughly 51k word Obi-Wan Kenobi/Captain Rex standalone; this Selkie AU also carries fairy tale beats, and while the initial attraction is apparent at the very beginning, the main pairing dances around the topic of their mutual attraction until nearly the very end.
The Riven Crown by The_KingmakerFandom: The Hobbit (Jackson Movies)Date: Feb 2016–Sep 2017Length: 254,269Status: CompleteGenre: Alternate Universe, Everybody Lives/Nobody Dies AU, Friends to Lovers, Hurt/Comfort, Mutual Pining, Politics
A Friends to Lovers slow burn with an added dimension of accidental engagement. The main pairing, Bilbo Baggins/Thorin Oakenshield, tackles a different approach to a romantic relationship in 31 chapters.
The Case of the Green Gown by splixFandom: SherlockDate: Nov 2014–Jun 2016Length: 209,261Status: CompleteGenre: Action/Adventure, Case Fic, Angst, Whump
Though almost 30 chapters, this more than 200k Sherlock fic steps around the topic of the main pairing until nearly the last chapter.
my heart lies buried like something dead by CinaedFandom: Les MisérablesDate: 2013-01-27–2014-06-07Length: 99,775 wordsStatus: CompleteGenre: Enemies to Lovers, Fix-it
Valjean saves Javert on the bridge. Later, Javert saves Valjean from depression. Slowly, friendship grows and turns to love. They don't kiss until the final chapter.

Archives & Links


  1. ^ a b In terms of AO3 tags, what's the difference between "Slow Build" and "Slow Burn"? Posted 29 Dec 2018. Accessed 21 Feb 2020.
  2. ^ Moonbeam's Fanfiction Predilections: "Fanfiction Terminology - Moonbeam's Predilections". 2018-06-07. Archived from the original on 2018-06-07.
  3. ^ Tumblr post by B. Accessed 1 July 2016. (archived)
  4. ^ Comment thread on "How slow is too slow for a slowburn?". Posted 3 Apr 2017. Accessed 21 Feb 2020.
  5. ^ Comment thread on "How slow is too slow for a slowburn?". Posted 3 Apr 2017. Accessed 21 Feb 2020.
  6. ^ Comment thread on "How slow is too slow for a slowburn?". Posted 3 Apr 2017. Accessed 21 Feb 2020.
  7. ^ tumblr thread by andhumanslovestories, posted 23 September 2018. (archived)
  8. ^ What qualifies as a slow burn? on Reddit. Posted 20 Jun 2019.
  9. ^ Comment on "What qualifies as a slow burn?", posted 20 Jun 2019.
  10. ^ Comment on "What qualifies as a slow burn?", posted 20 Jun 2019.
  11. ^ Comment on "What qualifies as a slow burn?", posted 20 Jun 2019.
  12. ^ Comment on "What qualifies as a slow burn?", posted 20 Jun 2019.
  13. ^ UrbanDictionary Definitions for "Slow Burn". Definition in question was posted by Now You Know on 17 July 2019.
  14. ^ Tumblr Post by ao3commentoftheday. Posted july 2020.
  15. ^ Post by spaladin. Posted 28 Sep 2018. (archived)
  16. ^ Tweet by @yeagercumslave. Posted 21 Feb 2020. Accessed 21 Feb 2020.
  17. ^ Post by moonyseok. Accessed 21 Feb 2020. (archived)
  18. ^ Post by 27snowflakes. Posted 7 Jul 2017. Accessed 21 Feb 2020. (archived)
  19. ^ Quora Answer by Jac-Mari. Posted cira 2019.
  20. ^ Five Tropes Fanfic Readers Love (And One They Hate) by Fansplaining. Posted 27 Oct 2016.
  21. ^ Reddit Post by SkyRogue77. Posted 6 Jun 2018.
  22. ^ Comment by tiny_tuba on "How Not To Write A Fanfiction" by Sky_4_Forever. Posted 19 Oct 2020.
  23. ^ Tweet by @caranthirs posted Feb 2024
  24. ^ Tweet by @tobii_p posted Feb 2024
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