{DISCUSSION} Trigger Warnings

Do you think books should have trigger warnings?

Last week, we discussed graphic violence in books, particularly in YA, but also across all literature age groups. From that discussion, it would seem that most, if not all, readers support having violence represented in fiction as it is an unfortunate part of many people’s lives. Of course, there is still the discussion about how much violence should be allowed, but that is more determined by individual readers and their tolerance levels.

Now the question becomes, if we’re allowing violence in books, violence that could have severe emotional impacts on certain readers, shouldn’t we have a responsibility to provide a warning to readers? If authors have a responsibility to educate, don’t they also have a responsibility to protect?

That’s where trigger warnings come in.

Quick note: I personally do not have any triggers. I base the following information off of speaking with friends who have triggers and this little thing people often ignore called empathy.

“What is a trigger warning?”

A trigger warning is a short disclaimer at the beginning of a novel, article, video, or other form of media that informs the reader that some event will occur in the following piece of text/video that may be distressful for readers/viewers.

Examples: Abuse(physical/verbal/sexual), Self-harm, Rape, War, Gore, etc.

“Who needs trigger warnings?”

Trigger warnings are designed for people who have undergone traumatic events or people who have naturally low tolerance for reading/visualizing/discussing certain topics.

“Well, I can read about anything.”

Well, good for you, you snarky little bitch!

Not everyone may need trigger warnings. Some people have a high tolerance for traumatic, graphic events, but trigger warnings are still helpful for all reader/viewers to mentally prepare for such events in a work of fiction. Even if the general reader/viewer base does not require trigger warnings, they can still be effected when blindsided with a sudden graphic scene and there are always readers/viewers that do require warnings.

NEWSFLASH! It’s not always about you.

“But what about spoilers? I don’t want the story ruined for me.”

Me neither. I don’t want a story ruined by spoilers either, but having been caught off-guard by graphic scenes in fiction on multiple occasions, I fully support trigger warnings. Trigger warnings aren’t meant to spoil anything. They don’t give away specifics, just general ideas of the types of graphic events that will occur in the literature.

P.s. If you’re so worried about a trigger warning being a spoiler, go read another book, you insensitive prick!

“Why are trigger warnings important?”

In case you’ve been napping up to this point, please pay attention! Trigger warnings are important for protecting the emotional and mental state of readers who could be negatively effected were they to read about about a specific (generally graphic) event. Being unaware or unprepared that certain scenes are about to happen can have severe repercussions. Some readers/viewers may fall into a depressive state, others may suffer from panic attacks, and some may experience symptoms of PTSD, all of which can have lasting effects on said reader/viewer.

Trigger warnings in literature are designed to protect the mental health of all people within the reading community.

Even as I do not personally have any triggers, as I’ve stated above, I have been blindsided by various forms of graphic events in fiction before. Each impacted me in a negative manner. Being unprepared for certain events can be detrimental to all readers, which is why trigger warnings would benefit everyone. Yet, readers are not the ones responsible for including trigger warnings. Authors are.

“But what if readers don’t want to read my book because it has trigger warnings on it?”

OH! I believe Satan just reserved a place for you in Hell because you, dear author, are an asshole.

Your book, your publicity, your career should NEVER be above the mental health of your readers. What’s more, if you do harm readers by not preparing them for what occurs in your book, then you’ve lost readers anyway because the readers who avoid your book with trigger warnings are the ones who won’t return after being negatively impacted by your books after reading them in the first place. Stop being dumb. Kay, thanks! 😀

But what do you think?
Should trigger warnings be more prevalent in fiction?
Leave your thoughts below!


And check out my discussion from last week:
Violence in Fiction


42 thoughts on “{DISCUSSION} Trigger Warnings”

  1. YES to trigger warnings! They can be done in a way that does not spoil anything but warns readers about graphic and mature content. I think all books should have them! I recently DNF’d a book when I came to a scene involving a 13 year being locked in a car and forced to perform oral sex on the much older driver. The author went in to detail about sight, feel, and taste…I have never been in any situation like this, but even I was disturbed and disgusted, and it was unnecessary and did not fit in the story. Trigger warnings can be placed like rating labels on movies and still not spoil anything.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh. My. God. I am so sorry that you read something like that. That is just beyond awful and yet I have seen things like that in literature before. Why writers feel the necessity to add such graphic events into their work, I will never know. I don’t think I could ever write something like that. 0.0

      And yes! It would not be that hard to put warnings on books just like we do with movies and video games. Or even in online writing roleplay, a lot of the roleplays utilize the Universal RPG Rating to inform the potential writers/readers just what could appear in the roleplay. It’s on a scale of 0-3 and has three separate ratings based on language, sexual content, and violence. If anything goes, the RP will be labeled 3-3-3. Hmm… maybe I should start adding these to my reviews… ponders

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I am too, and I am even more sorry that there is no warning about it for someone who has been through something like that. I cannot imagine how that scene is going to make them feel! I hate it!

        I am definitely trying to figure out how to add some sort of warnings to my reviews. I think you have a nice post setup that you could add that at the top with a different type of biohazard symbol.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Hahahaha! More biohazard symbols. Or perhaps radioactive symbols, but I think I’m going to look at doing a numbering system like the Universal RPG Rating System because then you can break down different types of triggers to better prepare audiences. Of course… now I just need the time to do something like that. :p

          Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t see any downsides to trigger warnings. As you said, they can be very general and don’t need to give away any details. Readers who don’t care, don’t need to read the warnings, but those who do, might be able to make a more informed decision about whether or not to read a particular book.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. With most books that I’ve read, I think it is very easy to tell if something disturbing is going to happen before I even start. That being said, I do think trigger warnings are a good idea for many of the things that happen in books, particularly sexual violence, which has effected too many people and often has long lasting issues. I have not used trigger warnings, even though I have gotten a little graphic. OK, I take that back. When I have presented material on my blog that some may consider R-Rated and a prude may consider x-rated (say pencil drawings from a figure drawing class, i.e., nudes), I’ve always put up warnings. I’ve never put up a warning for violence, but then, in today’s world, my violence is pretty tame and it is all aimed at adults, not YA.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah. I very much beg to differ on the ‘it’s easy to tell’ piece because I have been blindsided by MANY books, mostly YA, with some type of violence or graphic content I did not see coming. Granted, some of it should not have been in the book, but it’s not really something that’s verbalized in YA blurbs. It’s like they try to hide the violence that could occur and I think that’s doing more damage to readers because they’re more conscious of their own image than the mental health of their readers. (I blame the publishing industry mostly since they have final say of blurb and what not.)

      I think even if it is intended for adults, it should still have warnings. Not all adults can read about violence. A veteran with PTSD may be more affected by violence than other triggers. You really can’t assume in today’s world and some people find self-harm to be more trigger-worthy than sexual violence. Each person is different and I think no matter what the intended audience of the fiction is, trigger warnings or a rating system should be utilized. But that’s just my opinion.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I get what you are saying. I don’t think I’ve read a book that was more violent than I expected when I started – genre is often a good clue. I have read a few short stories in short story collections or magazines that had unexpected violence. For a while it was trendy in “literate fiction” to to have an unexpected violent section, or something designed to make the reader, any reader, very uncomfortable. I thought it was an idiotic trend because it seemed more aimed at the gimmick than good story telling. But I’ve never read a book were something violent or disturbing came out of the blue. I guess I read boring books 😉 Or when the book isn’t “boring”, I picked that book just for that reason.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Nah. You don’t read boring books, Trent. You read books by good writers. If writers have to throw in violence to make their story interesting or for no reason at all that connects to the plot, then they’re bad writers. So, maybe you’re just better at finding good authors than I am. :p


  4. I have no objection to trigger warnings, but I think nothing beats an example. Trigger warnings, much like ratings on movies and TV shows, offer us a quick and easy label for those who are not in the market for any graphic violence or explicit sexuality, but I find the manner in which it is presented can be essential.

    For example, the original 1980s Ghost in the Shell movie featured nudity, and when it first came out this was a sticking point for my parents, but when I finally did see the movie I didn’t find it as objectionable as some, because the Major’s nudity did nothing to detract from her presence as a powerful character. Mostly I felt that it exemplified how alienated she felt from her own synthetic body, which had been replaced countless times.

    In general I like to see a story open with a microcosm. Find a way, in the beginning, to offer a sample of the different tones & styles that exist in the story, including a fair example of anything that might trouble an audience, such as violence, sexuality, or general dark tones, so that audiences can clearly see exactly how “bad” it gets.
    I think trigger warnings are a good first line of defense, but for those who are on the fence, a microcosm sampler can help clarify whether “this story is for me”.

    I also agree with Deannalcooley that a well written back cover blurb should be able to establish the general nature of the story, and work in a few artful warnings if there’s anything potentially troubling.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like this idea of a microcosm setting as an example or setting the tone for the rest of the story. More importantly, if you can’t add a microcosm with ease, then perhaps the violence/graphic situations in your novel shouldn’t be there (as seems to more often be the case). After all, graphic content is most definitely a game-changer for plot and character and should change the tone/mood/arc of the story. If it doesn’t, then you’re probably inaccurately representing that violence and are doing more harm to violence representation than not having it at all.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Great discussion, I completely agree with you that trigger warnings are extremely important to the well being of some readers. As someone who has struggled with mental health issues it’s nice to go into a book that contains self harm and suicide a little more prepared for it instead of going in blindly.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. To be honest, I hadn’t thought much of self-harm (as it unfortunately doesn’t get talked about much), but I fully agree. Thank you for bringing that side of mental health into the discussion. Self-harm too needs to have trigger warnings because that, in many cases, can be more detrimental to blindside a reader with than other forms of triggers.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Well, good for you, you snarky little bitch! – dying. I’m dying. Laughing for about 3 minutes straight so thanks for that!! 😂

    Absolutely trigger warnings should be mentioned. I realize you can’t shelter a person from everything that upsets them, but when people look to books for comfort and enjoyment and are slammed (unaware) into a situation that they weren’t looking for, then it’s not doing anyone any good. If there were warnings, it wouldn’t hurt book sales. I don’t have any triggers so I would just disregard the warning if there were any. But those, especially in the YA age group, who aren’t emotionally equipped to deal with painful situations, would benefit from knowing what they’re going into. There’s a publisher called Clean Teen who actually has warnings (and a numbered rating system to go with it) and then has specifics on the situations it’s warning about. It would be wonderful for all publishers to follow suit.
    Also having said that, my daughter is in the age range of YA now and she could find herself picking up books like A Court of Mist and Fury because it’s within her age range. The explicit sex scenes are NOT suitable to her and as a parent I would appreciate a warning!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. BAHAHAHA! You should know by now just how gosh darn funny I am! 😀 Be prepared!

      It’s not a matter of sheltering people, though. It’s about giving them the choice to protect themselves. If they know something would set them off or do them psychological harm, then they have the option to walk away. At the moment, they don’t have that option. They are being bombarded with scenes that could traumatize them and that’s not fair because they can’t control how they react. But they can control whether to expose themselves to that only if they know it’s going to happen.

      You know what really hurts book sales? A reader who has been left emotionally incapacitated after reading something they were unprepared for. You know how long it might take them to get back into reading? You really think that’s gonna do the market any good? No! You are absolutely right in that it won’t affect sales! Very good point, Shanah!

      Oh! I will look into this publisher! wanders away

      Oops! Just kidding, still responding. Hee hee! And I’m sorry about your daughter being at that age group. Young Adult is honestly much too broad of an age group at the moment and while the publishing world attempted to make an older group for more mature fiction, they need to try again (because New Adult FAILED MISERABLY. >.>) Honestly. It’s like the gave up and haven’t even attempted to re-brand and start over despite the constant need for it. Publishers will never learn. I swear.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I should be prepared yet you catch me off guard every time! Sign of a good writer I think 🙂

        Yes, a reader who isn’t ready to have a situation thrown in their face will stop buying books. Why read when it will only hurt them more.

        My daughter is a very grounded and level headed person. She can handle most adult books. She very mature for her age. But there are certain things I don’t want her to see or read about. Luckily I’m a reader and know what’s going on, but for most parents they’re left in the dark. It’s impossible for them to know!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Hahahaha! I’m just speaking from my heart. :p Maybe I’m just a naturally funny person. Hee hee!

          Hahaha! Speaking of most parents, mine were the ones who didn’t read. Well, not nearly enough, I suppose. And they didn’t pre-read my books before I did so when I started reading a lot of historical fiction, I might have been a bit too young for something of events going on, but no one ever would’ve known. Though, it’s the school curriculum that REALLY scarred me. Not my chosen fiction.

          Liked by 1 person

  7. great post! i totally agree with you 100%. i am all for trigger warnings, because you never know what will be coming! i usually include them in my reviews just to warn people. i don’t know, i never did that, but there was once a moment about a very good friend of mine. she loved watching “game of thrones” but then she had twins and from that moment on she was not able to watch it anymore. something just was off and she always needed to know about series and if there is too much violence. it was in that moment that i realized that people are so different and every one is taking things in differently. i for my part am not doing well with books about death. it makes me very emotional. so i mostly prepare before reading the book and shut off so i can still enjoy a good book. but for that i need a warning. and there are so many people out there, who need this. so i agree, there should be warnings about all kinds of stuff! great post! 🤗

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh! Good idea! I was actually just thinking that I might want to start putting in a rating system in my reviews as well because they are extremely important and maybe it reviewers start to use them then other readers, publishers, writers, etc will use them too. Maybe we can start protect readers with our amazing blogging community! 😀 By the way, what rating system do you use, Alex? Or do you just talk about the violence in your review? I’m curious.

      Wow. I am so sorry to hear about your friend. I can only imagine what that must have done to her and how it scarred her. Such a shame!

      I’m happy you’re able to mentally prepare yourself, Alex. That’s cool! I imagine that’s very helpful and can allow you to enjoy more books than originally, which means trigger warnings have an added bonus for you (and other readers like you) in addition to protecting other readers. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. i just use my own rating system with 5 stars. but at the end of every review i have a paragraph “what you should know” and that is more a recommendation or warning part. i try to state the trigger warnings, what difficulties the book could have and that way tell the reader what they could expect.

        yes definitely! i hate to be caught by surprise when it comes to the topics i have some problems with. so that’s very helpful to know before going into a book! i am all for trigger warnings!

        Liked by 1 person

  8. [insert all the clapping emojis]

    Yes, we need trigger warnings. I may not have any triggers personally but I can acknowledge that is a privilege and when I’m surprised by certain scenes, I know that the impact can be much more damaging for someone else.
    Example: (a lot of people may disagree and I don’t give a damn) The Perks of Being A Wallflower needs a trigger warning. Everyone is all, “omg I love this book, it’s so great.” And then you find out what happened to Charlie and my response is, “Um…. what about this is ‘great’ ” I don’t want to spoil the story for anyone but the secret that’s uncovered in that book should not be ignored and yet everyone seems completely content glossing over it.

    P.S. My favorite line in this was “Well, good for you, you snarky little bitch!”

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yay! I did a good post. :p Hee hee! (And even though this is a serious post, I still gotta put some sarcasm and voice into it. Sometimes that helps get people to read. 🙂 )

      And I never thought about that before, Rae. I have been caught off guard by scenes and I’ve thought about other people, but I never imagined how another person might react to the graphic scenes I just read. That is a very good point and perhaps a way to help people understand why trigger warnings are so important. Put yourself in another reader’s shoes and see what that kind of scene could do to them. Sometimes that’s the only way it’ll work.

      Oh dear! I’m sorry to hear about Perks. I’ve only seen the movie. Is it the same?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think I learned to think about other people’s reactions by posting a facebook discussion about 50 Shades of Grey and asking why people hated it. From that particular discussion I learned that people who have experienced abusive relationships are able to call it out when they see while people who haven’t just said the writing was just bad (which it was lol). That’s when I learned that experiences can heavily impact what we read and how awful it could be when you read because you love it and then it unexpectedly reminds you of something horrible.

        The general plot of Perks is the same but of course they made the movie end as a love story when it wasn’t and there were a few more disturbing scenes. There’s a very disturbing sexual assault scene in it that apparently everyone ignores. I was shocked when I read that book, I hate it with a passion.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Wow. I’m sorry to hear about Perks. That’s really quite a shame that it gets so much praise and we just ignore the bad parts. (Though, that seems to be the trend nowadays. >.>)

          Hmm… That is an interesting point you bring up, Rae. And I think I’m gonna try and keep other people in mind when I come across scenes that I find troublesome or could potentially be troublesome. After all, we’re supposed to be a reading community, right? That means looking out for and thinking of others? 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  9. I’ve never considered including trigger warnings before, but I will going forward. The only thing that makes my curious is how I would know which triggers to warn against. I’m one of those snarky bitches that can read anything. A warning that seems over-sensitive to me might be necessary for someone else.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am happy to hear that, J.W. I think that many people don’t give much thought to them unless they’ve been exposed to them before or know people who might be affected by disturbing scenes in fiction.

      And I understand your dilemma. There are the most common (and, in my opinion, obvious) ones such as abuse(sexual, verbal, physical) and self-harm. Other items, however, can still be detrimental to readers such as excessive violence (but not necessarily abuse.) The biggest problem with this is that every reader is different and has different triggers. I would recommend looking into the Universal RPG Rating scale as a way to get a rough idea. It’s not the same and trigger warnings don’t use numbers, but words, but it might help you to understand a little more of the ranges of these graphic items.

      And let me know if you want to chat more in detail regarding when and how to. I’d be happy to help! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  10. 100% yes.
    There are warnings before movies, there can a simple “graphic violence” or “scenes involving sexual assault” or “may contain scenes that are some readers could find disturbing.”
    Books like 13 Reasons Why, I think, do a good job at saying from the moment you pick up the book that it’s a book a suicide. You don’t walk into the book thinking it’s going to fun and games. Sarah Dessen’s Dreamland, states in the blurb that it’s about domestic violence. The book doesn’t have to say in book bold letters TRIGGER WARNING it can say in the blurb that there are disturbing scenes. I think that authors and publishers have an obligation to their readers. If a reader picks up a book that ends up triggering them with no warning what so ever, you lose a read for that author and possible that publisher. I read a lot of books that have difficult scenes, but I know walking in that there are going to be horrific events.
    I think that the world is changing, and we’re learning how to recognize and help those that have suffered dramatic events. Just because something terrible happened to someone, doesn’t mean they should be able to enjoy media. People with triggers learn what movies or TV shows to avoid, that should also be an option for literature.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes! Exactly! It doesn’t need to be super blatant, but it DOES need to be available for readers. The fact is that publishers and authors have a responsibility to protect their readers, but they don’t always do so. Too often publishers care about the money and authors care about the prestige. They fudge the truth to get the book to sell, but the real problem isn’t losing a reader. It’s possibly doing psychological harm to said reader.

      Too many people think words can’t hurt people, but that’s not true. Words can do A LOT. Words have inspired. Words have cut. Words have brought rebellions and started riots. So, yes, words can do irreparable psychological damage and that is on the hands of the people who wrote, published, and promoted the book without preparing readers. They need to be held responsible.

      The world is always changing. That is a very good point, Deanna. The publishing industry has changed, but not for the better, not for the readers. They care about the money and the market and while that is important for the future, so are having loyal, healthy, happy readers. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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