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.
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.
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.
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.
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 😦
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.
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!