TRIGGER WARNING: This post mentions traumatic situations.
Last week I talked about pushing personal boundaries in how far you were willing to go in your writing. Today, I’m going to talk about how that content will impact other readers.
- Spicy scenes
- Graphic violence
- Killing off characters
- Dark themes that might be triggering for you or readers
- Unusual worlds that may take more effort to get across
- Emotional journeys that mean tapping into your own past
Firstly, let’s clear up content warnings vs trigger warnings required when you include certain scenes or topics. Content warnings are like a age rating for things unsuitable for younger readers like sex scenes or violence (fighting as opposed to abuse or assault). Trigger warnings are for more traumatic situations such as torture, assault, abuse, suicide, etc. The warnings are there for those who have suffered in this way and would be triggered by descriptive content in a book. PLEASE consider both of these warnings when publishing your book.
Back to why you would want to include these themes in your book… As I said at the end of my last post, you shouldn’t put these themes in for the sake of it or to create shock value. That just makes your story seem weak and that you need this to ramp up reader reactions.
You don’t need triggering content to get a reaction. Some of the most emotional scenes have been typical of their genre, albeit violent. One of the most emotions scenes I’ve ever read was in a YA fantasy fiction where a group of warriors sacrificed themselves to destroy a dangerous weapon. Yes, this is technically suicide, but it’s in the middle of a war, so it’s more of a sacrifice for the greater good that is in so many similar books of this genre.
However, if you feel characters need to suffer in certain ways to make them who they are, then by all means, throw it in there and let your critique partners or beta readers help you decide if it works or not. I had a particularly difficult scene to write in my book when a character was struggling with her emotional state. I got some great feedback on the scene and how to make it more effective with the lead-up. It was hard to take since I believed it already did the trick, but in the end I had to tweak some things and sacrifice some personal things to make it meaningful to me and readers.
I recently followed some tiktokers who were outraged by an author who’d thrown in a lot of triggering content for the shock value. The author did apologise after having realised they’d gone too far, but it was too late. Apparently someone had pointed out the various issues before publication, but the author ignored it and is now paying the price. This was a lesson to all authors to head warnings from critique partners and beta readers over these things.
A sensitivity reader could also do this for you. It’s their job to help authors avoid offending people or just avoid backlash on triggering issues.