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The Tough Guide to Yuletide

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What to do first

1 Find the FAQ. No Tour of YULETIDE is complete without one. It will be found on the old continent, quite near the sign assuring you that the stories of years past will be moving to the archive Real Soon Now, No Really. Ignore this. It is the future, not the past, you must concern yourself with now, as you are about to embark on your own Tour. Find the FAQ.

2 Examine the FAQ. It will tell you how Yuletide works. Because the FAQ dates back to before the Great Migration of 2009-2011, however, you must be careful in reading it. Items that are no longer accurate include: the schedule, rare fandom criteria, nominations, signups, and what continent the land of Yuletide exists on. Furthermore, it will not discuss any of the culture that characterizes the inhabitants of Yuletide, which is the part that will really perplex you. It will not make any mention of goats, mice, bears, bunnies, hippos, or any of the other fauna that seem to populate the Yuletide landscape; nor will it explain any of the traditional disagreements that are acted out in ritualized exchanges every year, some of which you may accidentally stumble into without realizing it. In short, the FAQ is useless, but you are advised to keep consulting it, because it is the only one you will get. And, be warned. If you take this Tour, you are going to end up visiting every aspect of Yuletide, whether it is marked on the FAQ or not. This is a Rule.

3 Find your SIGNUP. You will find it somewhere on the ARCHIVE, inside the COLLECTION.

4 Having found your SIGNUP, you must at once set about assembling OFFERS and REQUESTS, and possibly also NOMINATIONS. (If you look all these things up in the Toughpick section, you will know what you are in for.) Once ASSIGNMENTS go out, you must locate the DEAR YULETIDE WRITER LETTER. You must resign yourself to being panicked about what you have been assigned, and also what you are going to receive. You are advised to take deep breaths occasionally.

5 You set off. Now you are on your own. You should turn to the Toughpick section of this brochure and select your Tour on a pick-and-mix basis, remembering only that you will have to take in all of it, so that it is no use going straight to REVEAL. Management Rules will not allow you to do this until December 25th. (Unless you live in Hawaii or Alaska, in which case the time zones may mean it's still December 24th for you.) With this proviso, you can take anything in any order you please. The Rules are clearly stated in every case and the OFFICIAL MANAGEMENT TERMS (OMTs) have been thoughtfully included in where necessary. All items in CAPITALS can be found in Toughpick.

6 Have a good Tour. Enjoy your time in the land of YULETIDE.

What to do next

Consult Toughpick.


More properly, An Archive of Our Own, the continent in which the realm of YULETIDE now exists. The Great Migration of 2009-2011 gradually shifted first the COLLECTION, then SIGNUPS, then NOMINATIONS to this continent (but not the FAQ). To begin your Tour, you must obtain citizenship in the Archive, and then wait for the borders of the Collection to open for visitors.

Assigned writer
The poor sod whose Tour requires them to make sense of at least one of your vague/overly detailed/incoherent/cracktastic requests. Whatever you are feeling towards your RECIPIENT, your Assigned Writer is likely feeling toward you. React as appropriate.

The main quest of your Tour. Its requirements are threefold:

1) Write a story of at least 1,000 words,
2) within one of the FANDOMS requested by your RECIPIENT,
3) using all of the characters named in their REQUEST.

The fourth requirement -- that you fulfill the previous three by the deadline -- is omitted from the list, because Western narrative patterns lead us to expect things to come in threes. However, it is equally as firm a requirement as the others; moreso, in some cases, as your Recipient may indicate in their DEAR YULETIDE WRITER LETTER or OPTIONAL DETAILS WHICH ARE OPTIONAL that you are welcome to write only a subset of the named characters.

You must complete your Assignment to properly reach REVEAL, which is the conclusion of your quest.

Author Reveal
Stands in relation to REVEAL as an aftershock does to an earthquake. Consider it the epilogue of your Tour, when you will meet up again with your fellow Tourists and exchange tales of your experiences along the way.

The most dangerous of the animals inhabiting the land of YULETIDE. Bears have reportedly eaten Tourists who fail to complete their ASSIGNMENTS on time. Some few Tourists claim that having a Bear snack on their toes is a motivating experience, but we do not recommend testing these claims. If you find yourself in imminent danger of being eaten by one or more Bears, you may wish to consider DEFAULTING.

A good enough friend that they won't refuse to speak to you again after you dump your 30,000 word Sesame Street/Cambodian History RPF AU pandaverse crossover epic on them without warning, begging wildly for feedback yesterday because the COLLECTION is closing in fifteen minutes and you don't want to DEFAULT and also could they spell-check it for you?

Many writers consider at least one beta to be essential to the satisfactory completion of their Tour. It is the recommendation of this Guide that you have as many as possible, because of the risk that some of them will stop speaking to you (thereby disqualifying them as future betas), or that those among them who are fellow Tourists will drop their own oversized fic on you in revenge.

The region of YULETIDE in which your Tour will take place. Its borders are customarily closed, and only open at the command of the MANAGEMENT to permit Tourists entry from the ARCHIVE. The impending closure of said borders has been known to draw the attention of BEARS.

Just as the sound of sleigh bells heralds the approach of Santa in the Christmas season, so too is the sound of the AO3 servers going down like felled trees the harbinger of YULETIDE. The merry sound of crashing servers is customarily first heard on SIGNUP Eve, and is the overture to the opening of the season. The servers sometimes enact a larger crash on Yuletide Eve itself; this is thought by folklorists to be a tradition whose original purpose was to heighten anticipation of the imminent REVEAL. Others theorize that is it serves as a practice run for the greatest crash of all, which is of course the advent of Reveal itself.

In recent years there has been concern that this special sound might be brought out earlier -- even as early as NOMINATIONS -- thereby overrunning events in earlier seasons, and causing Tourists to become jaded and cynical when they hear its magical tune. So far, fortunately, this fear has not materialized.

Dear Yuletide Writer Letter
Just as Tourists in Fantasyland sometimes leave trail signs for each other -- e.g. piles of stones, cunningly-arranged twigs, or scratches on walls that warn of washed-out bridges or unfriendly innkeepers -- so, too, do Tourists in YULETIDE leave messages to guide each other on their way. It is widely agreed that you can make the life of your ASSIGNED WRITER infinitely better by posting the perfect Dear Yuletide Writer Letter in your Livejournal or Dreamwidth.

If you are lucky enough to figure out what the perfect Dear Yuletide Writer Letter is, please inform the MANAGEMENT at once. No one here seems entirely certain. At a minimum, it should contain both the content of one's REQUEST and some OPTIONAL DETAILS WHICH ARE OPTIONAL, but beyond that, everything gets a bit muddled. Your Letter should ideally give information on your preferences, including SQUICKS, SQUEES, Squids, Squirts, and Squamous Dulwich -- but you must be clear about these, to avoid confusing your Assigned Writer, and yet also succinct, to avoid drowning them in words. Also, beware of discouraging your Assigned Writer, for whom your Squick may be a Squee, or vice versa. It may be safer not to mention any such things after all. Since you do not know who your Assigned Writer will be, and what will be of use to them, you should plan for all eventualities by including a clear description of the story you'd love to get (but not too clear, for fear of over-dictating their work), alternative ideas for stories they could write (but not too many alternatives, for fear of leaving them adrift in a sea of intimidating possibility), no suggestions for story concepts at all (so as to accomodate those who prefer an open field), names of other characters you'd be happy to see in the story, no names of other characters because your Assigned Writer probably didn't offer them and may possibly hate them, pairings, no pairings, a list of acceptable ratings ranging from Gen to Explicit including all points in between, and also a pony.

Some scholars theorize that the perfect Yuletide letter requires the assistance of a unicorn, as only Yuletide virgins ever seem to believe theirs is without flaw.

Premature exit from the Tour, without first completing your ASSIGNMENT. Possible causes include difficulties originating outside the Tour, an unsuitable Assignment, the menacing proximity of BEARS, and the intervention of unseen aliens who have stolen the gifts left by the PLOTBUNNY and replaced them with unusable crap.

The MANAGEMENT requires you to inform them if you intend to Default. Failure to do so with sufficient notice, or habitual Defaulting, may obligate you to do penance to the YULEGOAT (in the form of a NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTION) before you are allowed to SIGNUP for another Tour; in the worst scenario, you may be exiled permanently from the land of YULETIDE. It may be advisable to permit the Bears to eat some of your toes instead.

Any book, movie, TV show, song, painting, period of history, commercial, Twitter feed, breakfast cereal, or floor wax about which fic might conceivably be written. In other words, all of them.


A friendly beast commonly found in the River of IRC, assisting lost Tourists.

The river of words in which HIPPOS are commonly known to wallow.

Livejournal Communities
Your alternative source of information, more up-to-date than the FAQ, but also less comprehensible. Be careful, though: these regions are populated by HIPPOS, contain references to STOCKING STUFFERS, experience outbreaks of flanickingOMT, and otherwise are a hotbed of things you don't understand in the slightest. You may be safer with the FAQ.

1) A small enclave within the COLLECTION, containing STOCKING STUFFERS.

2) A period of time after the ASSIGNMENT for your main Tour is supposed to be completed (but a PINCH HIT or TREAT may still be in progress), during which Tourists often write STOCKING STUFFERS for additional RECIPIENTS.

3) The state of mind for most Tourists during the season of YULETIDE.

The rulers of the land of YULETIDE, who regulate the flow of RARITY, arrange Tours, and open and close the borders of the COLLECTION as needed.

(Your humble guide-writer would never presume to speak for them. See: NOT A MOD.)

New Year's Resolution
At its core, this is a ritual of penance designed to win back the favor of the YULEGOAT, usually in the wake of DEFAULTING. It can also, however, be treated as an optional quest, acquired after the completion of your Tour. This brings much joy into the life of the RECIPIENT, after they have departed from the land of YULETIDE.

The process by which the itinerary for the Tours in a given year is chosen. The nomination process involves careful measurement of RARITY by the MANAGEMENT, but interested Tourists are encouraged to participate. If there is a RARE FANDOM you particularly wish to visit on your Tour, Nomination is the only way to ensure it is included in the itinerary.

Not a Mod
The traditional greeting for the Yuletide season. It is courteous to begin at least half of one's comments on the LIVEJOURNAL COMMUNITIES with "Not a mod, but."

The half of your SIGNUP that will determine the nature of your Tour, consisting of a minimum of three and a maximum of six FANDOMS, some of which used to be able to cover the same Fandoms but with different character combinations but that isn't allowed anymore, and also you can have more than six but only if you're willing to offer "any," in which case those Fandoms go into a bucketOMT, presuming of course that the mysterious gods of the ARCHIVE do not delete most of the contents of your bucket as soon as you look away, and also it really isn't helpful to offer a bunch, so maybe you shouldn't bother.

Got that? Good.

Choose wisely: it is guaranteed that whichever Fandom you are the least interested in is the one that will produce your ASSIGNMENT. This commonly draws the attention of BEARS.

Official Management Term
Any word appearing in this Guide in italics and followed by OMT. Some are Official. Some are not. Very few people can tell the difference, so don't worry about it too much.

Optional Details Which Are Optional
Anything other than the FANDOM and characters you chose in your SIGNUP. Many Tourists feel that, rhetoric to the contrary, Optional Details Which Are Optional are in fact not very optional at all. Upon considering your ASSIGNMENT, if you find yourself seized by the obsessive urge to include in your story every last one of the Optional Details Which Are Optional (even the contradictory ones) (sometimes especially the contradictory ones), do not be alarmed: this is a common affliction, most commonly named But I Want My Recipient To Be HappyOMT.

Lack of Optional Details Which Are Optional is sometimes, but not always, a successful preventative for this disease. When it fails, it causes a more serious condition known as But I Don't Know What Will Make My Recipient HappyOMT, and crippling fear of ruining YuletideOMT.

Pinch hit
The same Tour, but done on fast-forward, with the Fate of YULETIDE resting on your shoulders.

No pressure.

A Tourist whose ISP delivers their e-mail a half-second faster than anybody else's.

A cousin of the Easter Bunny, who brings fic ideas instead of eggs. The Plotbunny, like its springtime cousin, is fond of concealing these ideas in unexpected places. You may have difficulty progressing through your Tour if you do not find at least one of its hidden gifts. We recommend looking in the car, the shower, and the gym, as well as on top of your pillow. If you fail to find any ideas in those places, you may have to try more unexpected locations.

Progressing without at least one Plotbunny gift in hand is not recommended, except on those occasions when the idea has been hidden some distance down the path. Unfortunately, you cannot tell in advance whether there are any ideas there; the only way to know is to go look, and the looking can be a slog. (Especially when the gift turns out to be a sign pointing back the way you came, and then down an alternate path you didn't notice before.)

Difficulties with the Plotbunny are a common cause of DEFAULTING. To propitiate it, you might try reading your recipient's DEAR YULETIDE WRITER LETTER, fics they've written, fics they've bookmarked, other fics in the FANDOM, and anything else you can get your hands on. (Alternatively, sacrifice a chicken.)

Rare fandom
Any book, movie, TV show, song, painting, period of history, commercial, Twitter feed, breakfast cereal, or floor wax that you and one other person on the planet have fond memories of and want fic for.

These are the mysterious fonts of creative energy which create and sustain life within the land of YULETIDE.

The mystical quality possessed by RARE FANDOMS, which permits them to create life within YULETIDE. Its nature is not fully understood, even by those among the MANAGEMENT who regulate it (rather in the manner of food inspectors who determine what is and is not safe to eat). There is evidence to suggest that different strains of rarity exist, and that those arising in the less familiar regions of Yuletide are particularly misunderstood.

Levels of rarity within the land fluctuate with each year; Tourists are advised to consult a current almanac for a forecast prior to beginning their journey, lest they unwittingly wander into the forbidden land of TOO BIG FOR YULETIDE.

The person whose YULETIDE you are going to ruinOMT because your story is terrible and not worth the pixels it's printed on.

Also, the person whose Yuletide you are going to make fabulous because you wrote that story they wanted, just for them.

The half of your SIGNUP that will provide the quest for someone else's Tour (as well as material for possible TREATS). You may Request a minimum of three or a maximum of four FANDOMS, guaranteeing that you will either have only one or two things you really want, or far more than four. The first of these problems may be mitigated by keeping notes during the year as to what you might Request; unfortunately, the odds of then suffering from the second problem are extremely high.

A Request may, in addition to the Fandom and characters, include OPTIONAL DETAILS WHICH ARE OPTIONAL. If you write a DEAR YULETIDE WRITER LETTER, you must insist that your Optional Details Which Are Optional are, indeed, optional -- even if the truth is that you would cut off your left arm and sell it if that would guarantee you receiving the story you want. This is a Rule.

The dramatic conclusion of everyone's Tours. Shortly after the close of the COLLECTION, all ASSIGNMENTS, TREATS, and STOCKING STUFFERS are made available for not just Tourists, but other citizens of the ARCHIVE (and indeed, the worldwide public) to read and comment on. (The AUTHOR REVEAL, however, follows later.) It is customary at this point to engage in large amounts of SQUEE.

Your contract for your Tour, consisting of OFFERS and REQUESTS (with or without OPTIONAL DETAILS WHICH ARE OPTIONAL). It may include only those RARE FANDOMS which have been put on the itinerary via the NOMINATION process.

It is the recommendation of this Guide that you think in advance about your Signup, to plan what you will Offer and Request. This won't prevent you from changing your mind at the last minute, of course, but it's fun.

1. Things you love, mentioned in your OPTIONAL DETAILS WHICH ARE OPTIONAL, that you would enjoy if your ASSIGNED WRITER included them in story.

2. The tsunami of happiness that follows REVEAL.

A landmine that may lurk in the path of anyone's Tour, either because your RECIPIENT violently dislikes something you would otherwise include in your story, or because your ASSIGNED WRITER is fond of something you violently dislike. Potential examples include humiliation, mpreg, needles, squid, M&Ms, tennis balls, and the color orange. In other words, anything can be a Squick, and the only way to be sure of avoiding them on your own Tour is to conduct a microscopic examination of your Recipient's DEAR YULETIDE WRITER LETTER, previous gifts, previous fics, ARCHIVE bookmarks, personal blog, and username for the slightest hint as to their tastes. (Even then, you will find yourself wondering whether you should perhaps avoid mentioning shoes in your story, for fear of Squicking your Recipient and ruining YuletideOMT. This kind of second-guessing is normal.)

Stocking Stuffer
A sort of "fetch quest" in which one provides a RECIPIENT with a story below the minimum word limit of your main Tour. To acquire a quest, try reading DEAR YULETIDE WRITER LETTERS. Be aware, though, that excessive pursuit of STOCKING STUFFERS may lead to the third definition of MADNESS, as well as the second.

For full-length side quests, see TREAT.

Too Big for Yuletide
A dangerous region, inhabited by FANDOMS that lack sufficient RARITY to exist within the realm of YULETIDE. It is possible for a Fandom's Rarity to be exhausted over time -- sometimes as a result of enthusiastic mining by Tourists in previous years -- such that it no longer constitutes a part of the realm. A few of these areas may be cultivated as gardens by the MANAGEMENT (see VORKOSIGAN SAGA), but most will become verboten on your Tour. Have no fear, though: new sources of Rarity are discovered every year.

Fandoms from lands less widely known to Tourists may sometimes prove to be Too Big for Yuletide, mistaken for Rare Fandoms. Be wary of committing this error. It is a common source of WANK.

Everything here in Toughpick, plus any of a few variations the Management or your fellow Tourists have devised. Many Tourists will find themselves compelled to return for repeat Tours in subsequent years. Don't say we didn't warn you.

An optional side quest on your Tour. It is not necessary to complete any Treats to reach REVEAL; however, you may find your experience of YULETIDE richer if you choose to pursue one or more. The basic requirements of a Treat are the same as those of your Tour, but you must seek them out for yourself. We recommend reading DEAR YULETIDE WRITER LETTERS to acquire a quest. But be warned: if you devote too much time to Treats, and not enough to your ASSIGNMENT, you may attract the attention of BEARS.

For Treats not bound by the word requirement of your Tour, see STOCKING STUFFER.

Vorkosigan Saga
A well-beloved garden within YULETIDE. Although no longer a source of RARITY (see TOO BIG FOR YULETIDE), it continues to be cultivated by the MANAGEMENT and returning Tourists, as one of the most famous landmarks within the realm.

We refuse to define this subject here, on the grounds that any attempt to do so is itself likely to produce Wank.

One of many animals that delivers YULETIDE stories to their RECIPIENTS. Goats appear to be the most common, perhaps owing to their omnivorous nature -- no, really; those yellow-eyed bastards will happily chew on anything -- but depending on the region of Yuletide you visit during your Tour, you may also encounter Yulemice, Yuleparrots, and other sundry Yulecritters.

1) A region filled with RARE FANDOMS, whose RARITY creates wellsprings of creativity and SQUEE.

2) The season in which Tourists embark on quests through the land described in sense #1, completing ASSIGNMENTS, TREATS, PINCH HITS, and STOCKING STUFFERS.

3) A source of stress, WANK, flanickingOMT, and fannish joy for thousands of people. Happy Yuletide.