So, I've been thinking about Jim C. Hines' post about Trigger Warnings (http://www.jimchines.com/2016/04/trigger-warnings-are-censorship/) and writing for a few months now. Coupled with some panels and discussions at WisCon of the years, I'm thinking about putting something on the legal page of Sand and Blood (since I'm redoing the formatting in preparation for Sand and Blood's release).
“Some themes that appear in this book: bullying, death of named characters, death of anonymous animals, graphical violence, and verbal abuse. There is sexual attraction but no explicit scenes. There is no rape.”
When I review books, I always mention death of children or animals. And rape scenes, if there are any. I think it is reasonable to do the same for my own books, but I wanted to be explict there wasn't any as opposed to requiring someone to make an inference from my style. This is important because I have previously screened books and movies to make sure those scenes aren't there because people I love have those triggers.
The death of named character and graphical violence was kind of modeled after the G, PG, R ratings of movies. I do kill off characters in my books and most of them get a proper samurai drama death scene. Not everyone cares for it though. In addition, I keep saying Sand and Blood isn't Young Adult because characters die, but it is hard to say that when someone is just picking up the book.
The verbal abuse and bullying are important to me. I have had beta readers put down the books because of those two topics, so I thought it was justified.
Sand and Ash will be harder though:
“Some themes that appear in this book: bullying, death of named characters, death of unborn children, depression, graphical violence, personal tragedy, physical abuse, suicide, and verbal abuse. There is sex but no explicit scenes. There is no rape.”
I don't have a word to describe when people forced the main character back into the desert to die. There isn't a good phrase, but the fact the story is about being one of the “unclean” in the world and a large section of the population not caring if the main character dies or not. I figured that gives a better warning.
The “unborn children” is because of the miscarriage scene, which I've written about previously.
For those who are curious, Sand and Bone's draft:
“Some themes that appear in this book: death of named characters, graphical violence, personal tragedy, physical abuse, and torture. There is sex but no explicit scenes. There is no rape.”
Not a lot of bullying in this one, he gets through almost all of it in the previous book. But there is violence and suffering in this book, so I think the warnings describe it pretty well.
Interestingly, Flight of the Scions won't have any reference to death, tragedy, and sex. That one is a proper young adult novel, I have to admit.
The last point is “There is no rape” line. I don't plan on writing a rape scene by any book. I also don't have it as a viable fear in the world because it doesn't happen. Just like some authors use “historically accurate” to justify rape, I'm using “authors prerogative” ignore it. It doesn't matter how dark or overwhelming a situation, rape won't happen.
Will having a trigger warning ruin a twist? Maybe. But I'd rather ruin a story than have someone hit something that disturbs them. And “death of a named character” could mean a lot of things, you'd have to read the book to figure out how that character dies or if more than one character dies.
I don't see these warnings as catering the overly sensitive folks. I see it as being honest about what I write and letting someone make intelligent decisions if they want to go further. It is about establishing trust with readers through honesty.
I think that is the right thing to do.