I’m not sure how I got onto this topic today. I was literally supposed to just sit down and read my assigned pages for class this week, when some link or tweet or whatever caught my eye, and it got me thinking on trigger warnings for books. Namely that I don’t see them! Now while I am not a victim of abuse or trauma, I can say without a doubt that I truly appreciate content warnings from films and shows. If they say: “This presentation contains graphic sexual abuse and violence. Viewer discretion is advised.” I will listen! I don’t like getting blindsided with the sight of a man or woman getting raped, abused, or tortured. I like knowing when these things may happen so that I can decide for myself if I can stand watching them. But the courtesy of trigger warnings is less important for me, and more important for those who have actually suffered such experiences, or perhaps knows someone who has.
Even subtle warnings seem to be absent in most books. For instance, my copy of The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett fails to mention that one main character gets raped, and another is forced to watch–not to mention all the incest. Was Mr. Brett expecting his readers to just take for granted that a dark fantasy book would feature such things? And there are plenty of books on the market these days that pull the same thing. What gets me is that movies and television shows are expected to warn viewers beforehand due to censorship ratings, but because books aren’t held to that standard they just don’t do it. I’m not saying books should be rated, but I find it a little disappointing that so many fail to think of those readers who re-experience their traumas again because of someone’s writing.
Of course, there are arguments for and against trigger warnings. I really liked the write up by Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett, who provides a reasonable argument as to why she–a PTSD sufferer–disagreed with trigger warnings. It was a dilemma I found myself facing when putting trigger warnings on Eikasia and Akumu Love Panic. What “triggers” should I even mention? Was I going to have to put a trigger tag on every post containing a potential scene, sentence, or phrase that could set someone off? And we’re talking about years worth of writing here, so the task felt overwhelming… But as Coslett states, triggers are everywhere and can come from the least expected things. I realize that not everyone who has suffered a particular trauma or negative experience may be triggered in the obvious ways. For all I know, one of my in-story jokes could set someone off. Another write-up by Ann O’Malley argues that people should at least have the choice to deal with such things, because the old phrase “don’t like it, don’t read it” doesn’t work if someone isn’t aware it’s even there. Cosslett touches on this a little bit too.
So here’s what I decided to do: for Eikasia and Akumu Love Panic, I will not be tagging potential triggers in posts or hiding them in spoiler links.* On the front page (aka the “New Readers” page) for both sites, the header for trigger warnings will be highlighted in red (with a red instruction under “ratings” to scroll down to see it) and in that list will be a general breakdown of potential trigger warnings for each story arc for both series. In these lists, I try to cover some of the more common triggers, including one or two less common ones that I think are worth noting (like child death). Given the size of both Eikasia and Akumu Love Panic, combing the stories for triggers would be unfeasible. The best I can do is highlight those that are most likely to trigger someone, and let the stories run their natural course.
The point here isn’t to coddle people or to shove an agenda into people’s faces. I agree with Cosslett that the tendency to tag everything (from blog articles to tweets) with potential trigger warnings is a bit much. But everyone deals with trauma differently, and for those who seek solace in stories like mine, I think it is important to at least give the person a heads up about what they may encounter. People immerse themselves into stories, and sometimes that level of empathy can really impact a person strongly. I’d hate to send someone over the edge just because I failed to take the short time to offer a warning!
*For those Eikasia readers wondering why I’m not putting spoiler links on posts with possible triggers when I do that for graphic sex scenes, here’s why: Eikasia began as a story that didn’t feature graphic sex. I had asserted in the past that I wasn’t interested in writing sex scenes, but this later changed. In order to keep from alienating those readers who did not want to read sex scenes and came to expect their exclusion from the series, I put spoiler links. So the difference with trigger warnings and sex scenes is that I had always intended to write about certain controversial issues in Eikasia, whereas I hadn’t with sex scenes. I hinted at things like self-harm, rape, and torture early on, setting them up as a constant in the setting, and therefore something to be encountered at one point or another. Conversely, Akumu Love Panic does not have spoiler links for its sex scenes because it was established that the story would be featuring such things from the get go. I hope that is clear.