Why are Trigger Warnings Important for Books/TV Shows?

A few weeks ago I was discussing trigger warnings in the comments of my TV review post for Stranger Things & Fate: The Winx Saga with my friend Alex, and I decided it’d be a good topic to expand on.

Why Trigger Warnings are Important for Books TV

What are Trigger Warnings?

Trigger warnings warn readers/viewers about sensitive content they may find distressing: Things like blood, sex, violence, or specific topics like car accidents or suicide. Warnings help readers prepare for that content, should they choose to engage with the story, or avoid it entirely.

For an extensive list of Trigger Warnings, this article is quite good.

Why do you give them on Book/TV reviews?

I used to use trigger warnings when I wrote fanfiction, and I’ve carried the practice to my writing. I like using them because as a reader and viewer, there are things I don’t want to read or watch, or topics I’d rather avoid. I don’t like reading about dark topics: death, serious illness, or irreparable loss, because there’s enough of that in real life, and I read and write fantasy to escape from that.

I also like to mention content I seek in stories, like positive representation, and content I avoid, like love triangles, in my reviews, to make it easier for people to tell at a glance if the book is for them: To some, love triangles may be a positive, to others (me), they’re something to avoid.

Why are warnings important?

They warn people about content they may dislike reading:

I’m not squeamish and enjoy it when writers torture characters or make them suffer, but I don’t want to read stories where I get attached to the main character only for them to die, or stories with vivid descriptions of vomit or other bodily fluids. Some people dislike blood or torture scenes. Trigger warnings warn readers what to expect so they can avoid content they dislike if they wish.

Lighthouse overlooking a rocky shore
Like a lighthouse warns boats they are about to reach the shore, trigger warnings warn readers about content that may cause them distress.

They warn people about potentially triggering content:

If you’ve experienced sudden death in the family, you might not want to read about similar situations, and victims of assault may not want to see similar situations on TV. Trigger warnings help people avoid topics that may trigger unpleasant memories, or topics they’re not comfortable with. They also warn people about content, so if they choose to engage with the story, they can prepare themselves.

Gives parents an idea of content:

Without trigger warnings, unless they read the book themselves, parents find it difficult to decide which books are suitable for their kids. A guidance system for books, like the rating system used for films, would be useful, but trigger warnings can also help parents make informed decisions: Being able to see if a book contains sex, violence etc is a great help.

Helps avoid negative reviews:

Trigger warnings give readers a better idea of what content to expect when reading your book. Because they’re expecting certain things based on the warnings, you’ll avoid some reviews like ‘too bloody/violent,’ or ‘way too much sex’ as those readers are forewarned and may not pick up the book in the first place.

Do you read books without warnings?

Sometimes. If a book has no warnings (or I’m unsure) I’ll glance at the reviews first to see if there’s anything mentioned I might not like. If there are no reviews and the book sounds appealing I’ll take a chance, but my opinion and review will be negatively skewed if I hit a topic I’m uncomfortable with.

Woman standing on top of a cliff overlooking a city by a lake.
Sometimes looking for book reviews can be like looking for a needle in a haystack, other times the book has so many it’s overwhelming! Be sure to review books so readers know what to expect ๐Ÿ™‚

But what about spoilers?

One of the main arguments people use against trigger warnings is they spoil the story. A main character death won’t hit as hard if you know it’s coming, or perhaps you won’t feel a character’s pain as deeply if there’s a warning about a torture scene. This is why trigger warnings are usually vague.

In my opinion, when it comes to certain triggers spoilers are okay. I find car accidents unsettling, and main character death disappointing: I’d rather know in advance so I can avoid those stories. If spoilers will save me some heartache, or allow me to emotionally prepare for something bad, spoil away!

Should I use trigger warnings?

In my opinion, always. Even in crime or horror stories, where readers expect all kinds of content (murder, gore, etc) content like sexual assault should always be forewarned to give readers a choice about whether or not they want to interact with that content.

In Kid Lit/Young Adult, trigger warnings can help parents decide which books are appropriate for their child/teen. In other genres they are useful to warn about content that may shock or upset readers.

Person watching lightning striking mountains on the other side of a lake
Some content can be as shocking as a sudden flash of lightning!

At the end of the day it’s up to you, but in my opinion trigger warnings help readers make informed reading choices. Sometimes trigger warnings may even encourage readers to pick up a book, if they are interested in specific types of content.

Do you use trigger warnings?

I like to use trigger warnings, because sometimes if you’ve had bad things happen to you, you don’t want to read about similar topics. You might also dislike certain topics, and I don’t think it’s too sensitive/squeamish to have preferences. I honestly wish more people would warn about main character death, because I hate falling in love with an MC, only to find out they die ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

Which topics do you avoid in your stories?

Love triangles (I hate them), road traffic accidents (a family member died in one), main character death (it’s just depressing), romance based on physical attraction (I prefer strong emotional connections), suicide, depression, sexual assault, horror, vampires (except that one short story) and stories about having a family or growing old (my stories are New Adult/YA).

Topics I write about that may be triggering:

Torture (I like to put my characters through the emotional and physical wringer), near death experiences, anxiety, loss, emotional trauma, and panic attacks. This isn’t an exhaustive list and may be added to from time to time, but that’s most of them.

scales divider copy

Thanks for Reading!

Do you use trigger warnings for your books? Do you think trigger warnings are necessary? Have you ever come across something shocking which made you fling the book aside in horror? Chat in the comments!

18 comments

  1. I understand why readers (or TV viewers) want trigger warnings to avoid certain content, but I don’t need them. In fact, I find that when a character deals with the same sort of trauma I have dealt with in my life, it helps me process my own grief/anger/whatever better.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, I think a lot of it is down to personal preference. Some people would rather avoid stories which mention past trauma, but others can find it helpful to read about characters with similar experiences. My MA writing tutors strongly believed writing autobiographically is therapeutic, which didn’t work for me but helped others on the course!

      Like

  2. Hi Louise! First, I apologize for not responding to your comments recently – I haven’t been on much due to busyness and a terrible internet connection (it works for a few minutes, fails for a while, then works for a few minutes, then the cycle starts again). But, in regards to your post, I completely agree with you. I find trigger warnings to be very important, especially because we all have gone through different experiences in life, some of which can be quite traumatic, and to see it in a book or a show can take a toll on one’s mental health. I also agree that it’s a great way for people to know whether a book or show is for them – or at least helps one prepare for the content that can make them uncomfortable. That’s how trigger warnings help me – they help me know what kinds of books to avoid or which ones to prepare myself for.
    For the most part, I avoid the same topics that you avoid. I’m not a fan of MC deaths either, I dislike love triangles, and I nodded along to most of the other topics. While I do have some family characters (and thus, characters who do have kids), I don’t really cover having a family in my stories (I hope that makes sense lol- what you read with my characters Melissa and Peculiarexus is closest to what I’ll write with families). I’ll write horror on occasion but more for a flash fiction. Awesome post, my friend. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • No worries, hopefully your internet connection improves soon ๐Ÿ™‚

      Yeah, I like to have warnings so I’m prepared and can choose whether or not to read a story. I always saw Melissa and Peculiarexus as found family, which I much prefer over actual family as I can relate to it better ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks! I hope so too!

        Yeah, me too. They are important. Good point – Melissa and Peculiarexus are definitely found family. Would you say the same about Steph and Melissa and Peculiarexus? ๐Ÿ™‚ I also like writing about Melissa’s aunts spoiling her haha.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I had quite a nasty torture scene in my Sky-Pirates of Durn story, so I put a trigger warning before that as I know it’s not what some people want to read. Myself, as a survivor of sexual assault and sexual and physical abuse as a child, I’d rather not read about these things as they will bring on severe anxiety attacks… But I like reading about vampires.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sorry you went through such terrible experiences ๐Ÿ˜ฆ Ever since I lost someone in a car accident I’ve had panic attacks whenever someone I care about is late home, and I’ve hated reading stories where main characters die. Trigger warnings will always be something I appreciate too.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. On a purely practical level, where are trigger warnings supposed to go? I’ve read (roughly) a bazillion books and only one had trigger warnings, which were at the beginning of the book next to the contents page. Do you think it’s helpful to have trigger warnings elsewhere, like on the author’s website, or would they have to be included in the book to be helpful?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good question ๐Ÿ™‚ I think it’s best to include warnings in places like the Amazon description, or the back cover, like how DVD’s have the age rating with a few details on themes on the back. The issue with putting warnings inside the book is someone could buy it without seeing the warnings, or skip over those pages to get to the story. Putting warnings inside the book as well wouldn’t be a bad thing though ๐Ÿ™‚

      Like

  5. I have a trigger warning for one of my books, Louise, which has instances of “off stage” rape. But I don’t use them otherwise (I don’t write stories with child or animal abuse). That said, my books do have violence and death. As dark fantasy, I kind of figure my readers should expect that. I agree that we don’t want readers to have a bad experience and it’s good to let our readers know what to expect.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for visiting ๐Ÿ™‚ I think regular violence is expected in fantasy/superhero stories too, so I probably wouldn’t use warnings there either unless it was extreme. I’m usually fine with minor character deaths but I dislike major character death as I hate getting to know a character only to lose them. I get really attached to characters though, so maybe I’m in a minority when I prefer a warning about major character death!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I actually like being surprised even if it’s an upsetting surprise. I rarely even read blurbs! I’d be upset if I knew ahead of time that a character was going to die. But I understand how that may not be for everyone! Happy Reading, Louise.

        Liked by 1 person

Share your thoughts!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s