Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Trigger Warnings & The Delicate Flower

Trigger warnings for controversial material in fiction, particularly genre fiction, particularly speculative fiction. Yea or nay?


Controversial material is a cornerstone of spec-fic. Good spec-fic should make you uncomfortable even as it entertains you. It should expand your horizons.

Part of the joy of reading is experiencing new things, strange things, and unpleasant things from the safety of the printed page. As a reader, if I'm freaked out by a scene, I can flip forward in the story or I can stop reading. No one is forcing me to read that book. And, if some authority was attempting to force me to read that book, my issue would be with that authority, not the book.

I write stories for mature audiences. Adults. Grown-ups. I don't include trigger warnings on my books. I don't include explicit sex warnings. I don't include graphic violence, foul language, or abundant gore warnings. My books may contain some, none, or all of the above.

There are reviewers out there who rate books on those categories. Subjective ratings. More power to them. Completely their prerogative. They are helping inform the consumer while raising awareness of the book. Awesome.

As a writer, if I'm penning a scene that I recognize as a controversial issue, then it's on me to write it as responsibly as I can. Yes, it's possible I will write scenes that do a disservice to survivors of similar real-life events. I'm fallible. There is always room for me to improve. Yes, my villains will do and think completely reprehensible things. My heroes might too. The only thing I can promise is that events happen to develop the plot and/or the character. Squick is not gratuitous. Trauma is not for titillation.

If I wrote Young Adult (or younger) stories, then okay, sure, I could understand including a caution about controversial themes. I imagine it'd be helpful for librarians and parents.

I don't support the idea of trigger warnings on adult content because we slide very quickly into the trap of thought-police, gatekeepers, and morality judges dictating what is an isn't appropriate along with what is and isn't 'responsibly' written. If the publishing house has a standard, then great, good for them. Hopefully, the author is aware of that standard before they sign the contract.

Yes, there are horrible, horrible people out there writing horrible, horrible stories about horrible, horrible acts for purely obscene pleasures that appeal the prurient interest. Want to protect yourself from those? Read the cover copy. Read the reviews. Read the opening pages. All that will tell you if you're about to stumble into a niche market that you want to avoid.

I don't write grimdark and I don't write cozy. I write second-world and urban fantasy for adults. If I do my job right, my stories should make you feel something. If I do it really well, you'll hate and love characters, laugh and cry during their struggles, all while staying up way past your bedtime to finish just one more chapter.

Delicate flowers have to be shielded. Readers, by their very nature, are running toward the storms of adventure.

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