Slow Burn (trope)

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Trope · Genre
Synonyms: Slow Build
Related: Unresolved Sexual Tension
See Also:
Tropes · Slash Tropes · Tropes by Fandom
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Slow Burn or Slow Build is a popular fanfic trope. The term refers to fics where the characters of the main pairing start off not being together, and the relationship develops slowly.

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.[1]
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.[2]
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?[3]

It could be considered the literary equivalent of edging.

It's common for fans of slow burn fic to complain about the term's misuse. 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]

CORRECT

[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[4]

Fanwork Examples

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.

References

  1. Burn Moonbeam's Fanfiction Terminology
  2. Tumblr post by B, July 1 2016
  3. Sep 28th, 2018 by spaladin
  4. tumblr thread by andhumanslovestories, posted 23 September 2018. (archived)