Trigger Warnings for Fiction?

I’ve been thinking about trigger warnings. That’s when you say “Hey, there’s gonna be some rape.” (Or child abuse, spousal abuse, war, torture, etc.) That way, people who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder over these things know to avoid it or can at least make a conscious decision about whether they want to see, read, participate, etc.

I get it. I really do. I’m not in any way demeaning the practice.

But how do you handle it in fiction? Do you slap a label on it like an “Explicit” sticker? Do you just let people assume that it’s safe until they hit the bad parts? Would it be ruining it for other people to have “spoilers”?

Why am I thinking about it? Well, as I’m on the brink and becoming serious about this thing that I’ve been practicing all my life and thinking about things that I’ve read and wasn’t prepared for, either mentally, emotionally or whatever. Usually it was more of a grossness factor than anything else (I’m not really comfortable with graphic kinky sex on the page- I’ll just admit that now). If I had a real, PTSD reaction to things like that, would it have helped to know about it? Or have the option to avoid it? Would I have missed out on anything else?

For example, Chaser (in progress) is about teenage drinking. It’s basically a bunch of true stories modified to fictional characters. I don’t get very graphic, but there is basically a gang rape. How do I present that or any other awful scene without making it seem like I’m saying “Hi. I write about rape!”

What do YOU think is fair? Should I dedicate a page to trigger warnings and update it whenever a book comes out? Should we come up with a special icon that signals people to possible trigger warnings? Does anyone seek them out or is it something relegated to therapy groups and feminist podcasts?

Let me know.



2 thoughts on “Trigger Warnings for Fiction?

  1. Hmmm… I would want to know but that’s a Gigi thing. Cuz I normally pick up the happy perky stuff to read. But I am reading Fault in Our Stars… Tyler talked me into it and actually kind of bullied me into it. I knew a character dies in it… I “cheated” and glanced ahead to find out who died so I wouldn’t get emotionally wrapped up in the character. I was mad to find out who it was but am so wrapped up in the book that I am still reading it.

    Its like picking up a Nicholas Sparks book… Someone is going to die but its almost always worth reading.

    I am trying to think of whether or not Jodi Picoult had a foreshadowing or warning in one of her books where the main character was raped. I don’t think she did. Ultimately its your decision as the author.

    1. Maybe I should develop a rating system. Lol, it will be on a scale from Gigi to Game of Thrones!!
      On one end- you’re allowed to like the characters. It will be a rewarding journey to follow them. On the other end, liking them will only bring you pain.
      Heh heh.
      I feel like if you discard an entire book because of one scene or incident or mention of something that you won’t like, you might be missing out. On the other hand, it would be nice to know if there is one instance or mention and you’d like to avoid it (especially if it’s graphic). Maybe I’ll have to do a spoiler page with the specific page numbers of anything that might be too much for some people. I guess I still have a little while to figure it out, though. 🙂

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