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Should You Include a Trigger Warning?

Rosa Marchisella is the author of the gripping "Touch of Insanity" series and the bone-chilling novella "The Greatest of Books."

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I understand that there are some readers who go overboard, wanting warnings for ridiculous things or not reading the book description to see a warning and then complaining there wasn't a warning. Some warnings might limit your marketing options with libraries and schools. Things like this can make authors feel like they're in a no-win situation or overwhelmed by the struggle to decide whether or not you need a trigger warning.

When to Consider a Trigger Warning

I'm not suggesting every story or scenario needs a warning. Your genre and blurb should give readers a general idea of what to expect. And, a well written story will give the reader a lead up to disturbing events, assuming the reader isn't so engrossed (or oblivious) to notice. But, your genre and the indication of mature content is not always enough. I'm asking you to consider adding trigger warnings - or at least making it clear in your blurb - if your story includes any of the following:

  • Rape
  • Abuse (physical, mental, emotional, verbal, sexual)
  • Child abuse/pedophilia
  • Self-injurious behavior (ie. self-harm, eating disorders, etc.)
  • Suicide
  • Kidnapping, forceful deprivation of/disregard for personal autonomy
  • Depiction or denial of oppression, marginalization, illness, or differences
  • Anything that may trigger phobias or OCD thoughts

Young and New Adult Stories

If you write Young or New Adult books, there are additional issues that need to be considered. For example, the words stupid and dumb are generally deemed "normal" or "lesser offenses" by older audiences (and authors), however today's society considers these words slurs.

  • Swearing
  • Slurs
  • Sex (even consensual)
  • Pregnancy/childbirth
  • Drug use
  • Descriptions and/or pictures of medical procedures
  • Descriptions and/or pictures of violence or warfare
  • Death or dying
  • Shaming, hatred, and -isms (ie. racism, fat shaming, anti LGTBQ+ views etc.)
  • Scarification (body modification created by cutting, scratching, etching, or burning designs, pictures, or words into the skin)
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Keep It Simple

When it comes to giving your reader's a heads up about questionable content, it can be as simple as tacking on a one line statement at the end of your online blurb. Something as simple as:

Recommended for mature audiences due to language and sexual situations.

is all you readers need to know. Of course, adjust it to warn about the content in your story.

I use the above warning for the steamy romance novels I writer under a pen name. A lot of romance readers are still new to Paranormal, Dark, Bully, and other sub-genres so giving them a simple warning helps stave off shock and negative reviews.

For my dark fantasy, I include a gore warning because many horror fans expect fear, suspense and even violence, but not descriptions of bodily (mal)function or gore.

One simple sentence is all it takes.

Not sure what a Trigger Warning is?

In my post, Trigger Warnings: What they are (and are NOT), I explained trigger warnings and why you may want to include one in the description of your book.

Original Article published Feb 20, 2017

© 2021 Rosa Marchisella

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