On Triggers, a Photo, and My Alter-Ego

27.02.14 - 1Every once in a while, the subject of whether or not books should be tagged so sensitive readers know it includes scenes that may trigger negative reactions comes up.

I am against adding such warnings beyond what might be included in a blurb, and here’s why:

1. Life doesn’t come with warnings; why should books?

2. Adding revealing information to a blurb for those few few readers who insist they require them often gives away major plot points to everyone else, thereby ruining their experience.

3. Movies don’t include warnings beyond a cursory rating, why should books?

I don’t see Stephen King posting a list of stuff for readers looking to avoid certain situations. Why should m/m authors do this? Why should ANY author?

This is a very recent phenomenon, and it seems to me we are expected to bend way the hell over backward to protect the feelings and sensibilities of a handful of people. If they are so fragile they can’t read a book without having a meltdown, they should avoid reading anything other than Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. It falls on them to make these choices, not the author to alert them to possible problem areas.

Everyone has gone through shit in their lives. Writers can’t post warnings for every possible situation that put someone through the wringer, nor should they have to. Readers must take responsibility for what they read. Stop laying it off on authors.

I don’t talk about it much, but I survived a violent crime. I was an emotional and psychological wreck for a year afterward so I get it. I understand what these people are going through. During that time, I avoided all films and books that might center around or even mention that kind of crime. And then I moved on, as most people do. I didn’t make the world deal with my issues; I handled it. Don’t make me deal with yours.

I have only one trigger I know of, and it’s not related to what I went through. It has to do with the severe physical or emotional abuse one person can inflict on another, and I won’t read books or see movies that revolve around this theme. If I accidentally come across it, I put the book down, stop watching, and walk the other way. It really is just that simple. I’m an adult. I act like one.

So grow up. Take responsibility for your life and your issues and stop demanding everyone dance to your particular tune. The world is not a safe place–never has been, never will be–and trying to force people to wrap everything in cotton so you can avoid the sharp edges doesn’t work. Furthermore, it does you a disservice.

Those sharp edges are necessary. They help you learn to survive. I’m stronger than I ever was because of what I went through, not despite it.

And the things I choose not to deal with? My choice, no one else’s. I’m old enough to figure out which books I don’t want to read, what movies I don’t want to see, without requiring warnings be slapped on them first. I’ll ask friends or read reviews before making my decision.

So write what you want. Get as nasty and dark as you want to, and I’ll decide if I want to read it or not without “warnings.”


I don’t like curtains much. They close out the light. So to prevent the neighbors from looking in, day or night, I propped a Japanese folding screen in front of the bedroom window. Yesterday morning, I took a picture of it. I particularly like the hint of green leaf on the right, seen through the paper.

Window Screen 2.26.14 sm


A short while ago, I mentioned creating a new pen name for my forays into het fiction. She exists.

Yes, I went with a female name. I’m gender fluid, and I thought it would be nice, appropriate even, to explore that side of myself more fully. You can follow her… um, me… on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/elle.king.5055. I’m not very active there yet–I’m always so busy!–but I’d like it if you could stop by and say hello.


About Fenraven

Fenraven happily lives in south Florida, where it is really hot most of the year. Find him on Twitter, Google +, and Facebook by searching on 'fenraven'.
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26 Responses to On Triggers, a Photo, and My Alter-Ego

  1. Ah warnings… I was having this discussion with another author and one of my reviewers yesterday. First and foremost… I HATE SPOILERS… so if a warning provides one, leave it out. I am a depressive and don’t know all my “triggers” (yeah I know, I am the mistress of denial), but it isn’t anyone else’s responsibility to id them for me. *shrug* There I go using logic, again.

    Followed your other identity 😉

  2. W. Lotus says:

    I have mixed feelings about trigger warnings. On the one hand, I completely agree with you that we need to simply walk away when we encounter themes that bother us. That’s called taking personal responsibility for our mental health. If I fail to do so, it surely is not the filmmaker’s or writer’s fault that I was triggered. But on the other hand, I have close friends who have PTSD from the things they’ve experienced, and simply walking away once they encounter a theme that triggers them doesn’t stop the flashbacks et al. I included a trigger warning at the beginning of one of my blog posts/short stories, because I want them to feel safe reading my blog. If I present such things without warning, they may stop reading my blog altogether as part of taking personal responsibility for their mental health, and I don’t want them walking away from me like that.

    • I don’t generally put material on the blog that will trigger anyone. My books are another matter, and it’s up to the purchaser to decide whether or not something contained in the story might bother them unduly. There really are too many things that drive people crazy to list them all.

      If I put a giant spider in a story (I have in one of my WIPs), do I need to list that as a possible trigger for those who climb the walls even reading about them?

      This all started because someone read AJ Rose’s Queers and freaked out over the domestic violence it contained. I want to point out this didn’t just jump out of the closet. Clues and hints were readily given throughout the story as that part of the plot reached flashpoint. The reader had plenty of warning what was coming and should have simply stopped reading. Because he didn’t, is that AJ’s fault? I don’t think so.

  3. Mika says:

    I agree that warnings should not be required. If I think I might not like a book, then I read reviews, that’s what they are for.

    I love the folding screen. That is such a great idea!

  4. AJ Rose says:

    I know we talked about this yesterday, and I agree for the most part. However, my dad had PTSD and it wasn’t always possible for him to walk away once he was triggered. I have decided major triggers, I will warn about.

    But there’s a major difference between a real trigger and being butthurt because the story took a turn a reader simply dislikes. That, I will not warn about, nor should I be threatened that said reader will drag my name through mud because they didn’t get the exact book they wanted. No one tells me what I can and can’t write. Period.

  5. Karen H. says:

    We all have triggers and I agree each person as an adult needs to take responsibility for how they deal with them. If something is going to set me off and upset me do I really want to trust that someone else will deal with it? No. What happens when they’re not around? Do I just curl up in a ball and wait for it to go away? Expecting the world to take care of your issues is not doing yourself a favor it’s doing yourself a disservice and that’s what we’re doing when we demand labels on books or movies. In short I totally agree with you on this issue. Also I love the screen and the plant silhouette on it. Ok I’m off to FB to see what Elle King is up to, have a good weekend Theo.

  6. Judy says:

    I don’t see the necessity for warnings – at all. You have the genre and the blurb and that is well enough, imho. This is a disturbing trend to me – people getting so overly sensitive on the one hand and completely ignorant of the many really unsettling things around us. Where do they live? You can’t turn on the TV or open a paper without being confronted with all kinds of horror, and it’s the fictional work of a writer that upsets you?
    This reader who freaked out wouldn’t have put up a review on goodreads by any chance? As someone with twenty years of domestic violence behind me I was itching to comment, but I thought better of it, I get carried away too easily.
    I see it like this : life ain’t always pretty, and art imitates life, deal with it. Your life – your responsibilty, what you consume is your choice, inform yourself before you make a purchase, but stop expecting an artist to meet your expectations.

    • Nicely said. And what an excellent point you made about how awful many things are in real life and somehow, these don’t bother people? The news upsets me every day. Reading a book rarely bothers me that much.

  7. Jaycee Edward says:

    LOL – thought Elle King was a FB reporting troll so I didn’t friend her. I will go fix that now.

    I love this topic. I started seeing it on Amazon reviews all of a sudden and I thought the same thing. Huh? We can’t possibly avoid or warn against every conceivable trigger. Good lord, there would be nothing left to write about! It reminds me of years ago when everyone where I worked smoked. When another employee had a major heart attack and had to quit smoking, everyone started talking about not smoking in the lunchroom around him. Ironically, it was the boss, a non-smoker, who said, “The entire world is not going to stop smoking when he walks in a room. He’s going to have to learn to deal with being around it.” Okay, in hindsight, probably NOT the best advice, especially in a medical setting, but her point was valid and it always stuck with me. You can’t protect everyone from everything. And even if you could, they would never learn how to deal with it.

    That said, I am currently going through my story, grumbling, as I try and pay attention to how many beers my character has consumed before driving, explaining why there is no condom used and any other little detail that someone will no doubt “ding” me on.

    • The trigger thing is different from someone not liking part or all of your story. Someone is always not going to like what you write; sad but true. So write what you want, what you need to, and let the chips fall where they may.

  8. Sarah_Madison says:

    I agree with you on trigger warnings 100% I don’t like being surprised by things that upset me, but I’m adult about it. Given my work, I find it extremely difficult to read stories in which an animal is killed. Having the dog die in a story can reduce me to a sobbing wreck. Rather than have writers post warnings that could potentially affect the dramatic impact of the story they wish to tell, I get other people to screen material for me first. Simple as that.

    I have to wonder if this tendency for trigger warnings doesn’t stem from fandom and fanfic, where warnings for triggers takes on greater significance because people are writing about characters that are not their own. As such, I can see where a reader might feel that they need to be warned before reading something that wouldn’t happen in canon. I will never forget missing the warning for canon character death on a story by one of my favorite fanfic authors, and reading with shock as all my favorite characters died in slow motion in a firefight.

    The difference is clear, however. In one circumstance the character and the story are yours to do with as you please. In the other, you are merely borrowing them, and treading lightly on a fellow fan’s triggers is only respectful when playing in someone else’s sandbox, if you get what I mean. 🙂

  9. Allison says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever read warnings unless it’s been accidental. There are things that I don’t like in books and that would make me hate the book regardless of how well-written, the death of an animal, especially a dog, would be one but I don’t think that I’m owed anything from the author in this regard. I can understand that people appreciate them but expecting or demanding them seems rather an entitled response.

    I could see mentioning it in a review but reviewing a book negatively because it had something that I didn’t like? If it bothered me enough to stop reading I would not review it at all.

    Having said all that I am lucky to not suffer triggers that would cause me to spiral out of control so I might not understand what people are dealing with. At the same time if this is going to be something that is required I think it should be required across the board not just in this genre.

    • I’m sympathetic to people who suffer mentally to the point where something we wouldn’t notice might set them off, but like I said, life doesn’t come with warnings. I don’t know why entertainment media should.

      There have been scenes that were difficult for me to write because it caused pain to one of my characters, but if the story requires it, I grit my teeth and go it. Because I don’t like it when characters suffer unduly or for a long time, I will probably never be a gritty writer, exploring the darkest sides of humanity, and I’m okay with that.

  10. diannegray says:

    I sometimes put a trigger warning on my blog if there is a big insect or bug picture because my brother-on-law has arachnophobia and would literally jump out of his chair and injure himself if he saw a picture of a spider without warning. But as far as novels go – unless I was reading Ann of Green Gables and it turned into American Psycho it doesn’t really phase me 😉

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