Content Warnings - This Book Contains Death

As part of my work toward getting Flight of the Scions done, I decided to work on content warnings and potentially identifying themes in the story (tags). This is a bigger conversation because I should do this for all of my stories and novels, which is why I want to have a more unified system in place instead of trying to remember what I used where.

I also don't have an answer quite yet for this. So, this post (and potentially a few after that) are me trying to work out ideas for content warnings while seeing of anyone has opinions or suggestions that would help. Otherwise, I'll do what I normally do which is to do my best, then second-guess myself for a year or so, and then revamp it in 2027.

There are some spoilers in this post. Also some references to miscarriage, abuse, and death but no specific details.


Content warnings are critically important to me. They are for readers, not me. I'm telling a story. I have my reasons for that story, I choose or choose not to have specific themes and because I thought their presence (or non-presence) was appropriate for the story.

However, those choices are not for everyone. Sand and Blood is about abuse that comes about from traditions and “the way it always was”. It's about a character who doesn't fit the mold in a culture where most of the people consider him a liability. This is a key part of the story to me, but the last few years have pointed out, it is not something that appeals to many readers.

That doesn't mean I want to inflict that on others who have gone through it. Or, I don't want to surprise them with something horrifying that brings up those memories.

We lost a child. I wrote about it in Sand and Ash. Glossed over, but the speed and horror of that moment was important to me. That empty moment and hole in my life is part of who I am and something I wanted on the page.

I would never ask anyone to live through that again if it is still an open and bleeding wound. Hence, “death of an unborn child” is on the front page of that book.

Another example is that I like erotica in some of my romances (but not all). It is in Second-Hand Dresses because I considered it important to the plot and I also like how it played into Lily's awakening in other ways. But, if you are reading my stories for the traumatized humans, you might not be into seducing the dressmaker in the middle of a restaurant. So, if you don't want to read that, it will be on the first page in clear words so you can skip it.

My goal for writing has always been an attempt to stride for breadth, not depth. I want to show different lives at the same point. I want to show a world where a young man is trying on his first dress at the same time a family is fleeing for their life from magical assassins while another guy is being seduced by a MILF and a cranky forensic mage is investigating a gory murder in a fountain.

Because there is no one genre or theme in my writing, that means I need signals. It can come from genres (which is a related topic), themes/tags, and content warnings. That means I need to me conscious of what I'm trying to communicate since content warnings (like genres) are for readers, not the writer.


I work with systems to help me make decisions. It helps keep me consistent, which is important to me. Also, I have eighty stories and novels. Most of them should have different warnings and themes, but like the rest of the setting, I should have a so-called “consistent” framework, hence this post and my efforts.

This post is me trying to come up with a system for Fedran's content warnings. Of course that means I might be overthinking or engineering a solution, but at least I can document how I got to whatever I end up implementing so I can learn from the lessons.


The biggest problem with content warnings I have is trying to decide how detailed I want to be. Many sites just have “death” as a warning. I originally had a more detailed list. Here are some examples:

  • Death of a named character
  • Death of an unnamed character
  • Death of a named child
  • Death of animals both named and unnamed
  • Death of an unborn child

My justification is that these can received in very different ways. A death of an adult may not hit a reader as hard in a fantasy story because it happens so often in movies and books these days. Boromir is dramatic but predictable, even if you didn't read the books.

On the other hand, we have a site specifically to document if a dog died in a book. There was an urban fiction novel I had read where someone had a cat familiar that was being used to maintain a spell, effectively torturing the creature for the rest of its life. That got the book tossed in the “never let the family read it” pile.

Children? Same way. A child dying is worthy of being called out, the very thing that content warnings are supposed to alert the reader.

On the other hand, society frequently discounts the death of seniors. I can't help but look at our world today to see that. While it isn't a theme I'm planning on exploring, I do have my favorite couple of retirees running around in a brick mecha at the end of one minor war and then falling directly into the Mechanical War. I know if they are going to live or not, but it depends on how far I get with my writing.

Then, we get into personal interaction. The entire concept of a named character, someone who has a personality and at least a few pages of time. On the site, they are called “secondary” characters and those are the ones I feel are more heartbreaking. Just look at Boromir's death verses the uruk-hai he killed. One obviously has more of an impact, judging purely from the themes created.

Finally, we have the most personal interaction, the primary character. Since I write single point-of-view stories, you may spend twenty, eighty, or even two hundred thousand words in someone's head to watch them die. If I did it right, it should have major impact and I know there are people who don't read books where the POV character dies at the end.

Given all that, I struggle with “this book contains death”. There are too many cases where one death (an anonymous adult) is just a minor blip in a story while another (say, the main character who is a dog saving his human, e.g., my Old Yeller story) would be banned in my house.

Axes of Death

As I see it, I have two axes of death:

  • Primary, Secondary (Named), and Tertiary (Unnamed)
  • Age Category or “Animal”

For age categories, I'm using this site as a rough guideline:

  • Child (0-14)
  • Youth (15-24)
  • Adult (25-64)
  • Senior (65+)

The reason I included “animal” is much the same reason. Sand and Bone has both named and unnamed animals dying. The herd's death is glossed over but the named animal's is a consensual death over two chapters. Again, there is a different impact and something I thought needed to be called out.

Consolidation or Detail

Putting it together, I think I have these eleven categories.

  • Named Child Death
  • Unnamed Child Death
  • Named Youth Death
  • Unnamed Youth Death
  • Named Adult Death
  • Unnamed Adult Death
  • Named Senior Death
  • Unnamed Senior Death
  • Named Animal Death
  • Unnamed Animal Death
  • Main Character Death

I would add “Miscarriage” as a twelfth but I'm going to keep that content warning no matter what I end up doing.

Now, I don't want to hurt people so I would err on the side of excessive details. If you saw this in a book, you would a pretty good idea of what to expect. I will probably never write such a book, but then again, the famed Red Wedding is a chapter that would probably set off these triggers.

But is that too much? Should I consolidate it and does consolidation still help. For example, if I break it down to:

  • Named Character Death
  • Unnamed Character Death
  • Animal Death
  • Main Character Death

Would the lack of age categories upset a reader? What about?

  • Child Death
  • Youth Death
  • Adult Death
  • Senior Death
  • Animal Death
  • Main Character Death (I'm always going to call this out)

Would the intimacy of a named character verses an anonymous slaughter have a different response. Likewise, what if I keep all the named and collapse the tertiary deaths into a single entry?

  • Unnamed Character Death
  • Named Child Death
  • Named Youth Death
  • Named Adult Death
  • Named Senior Death
  • Named Animal Death
  • Main Character Death

Now, obviously I'm not planning on having a story that needs all of these warnings. But, where do I gloss and where do I detail?