generally bookish

trigger warnings in books: yes or yes?

26/04/2020

Hoohoo, guys.

Just a heads up before you continue reading, I’m fed up with this discussion, hence there might be strong language and cussing. I will also be discussing trauma as necessary.

I’ve been thinking for a while about this and I finally sat down to write this piece after I had a horrible few hours thanks to an unwelcome surprise in a book some days back. I did not title this post „trigger warnings in books: yes or now?“ because for me, there is no question in this. I strongly believe that we need trigger warnings in books (and films & shows & any other media to consume) and I nothing will make me think something else. I am not here to hear any „but Kat,…“. I’m just not. The discussion about wether we need trigger warnings or not is tiring and stupid because we clearly do need them. Seriously, you don’t need trigger or content warnings? Fine, don’t fucking look at them and just turn the page. You need them? Great, here they are.

This post is not really a discussion. I simply want to say why I think trigger warnings are necessary.


The necessity of trigger warnings

First of all: if you don’t know what a trigger or a trigger warning is, we should probably talk about this beforehand.

a trigger (n.)

is „something that causes someone to feel upset and frightened because they are made to remember something bad that has happened in the past:
> A trigger is something that sets off a flashback, transporting the person back to the traumatic event.“

to trigger (v.)

is „to cause a strong emotional reaction of fear, shock, anger, or worry in someone, especially because they are made to remember something bad that has happened in the past:
> Seeing him come towards me just triggered me and I screamed.
> He could be triggered by a loud noise.
source: Cambridge dictionary

What is a trigger/content warning, then?

It is a word or list to warn readers of something that happens in the book and could upset people. Those warnings are supposed to help protecting readers from traumatic flashbacks. A trigger warning can be „self harm, bullying, alcohol, racism, homophobia“ and other things that could have had an impact on someone’s life. Differences are made between mentions and scenes that are completely written out.

And why are they important?

To be quite honest, I think this question should answer itself. But apparently it does not and I could shake my head at people constantly because… where is your empathy? Your sense of protecting yourself and others? Hm? Where?
Anyways, back to the topic at hand. Warnings are important because they can help people immensely. They can help them from not falling back into reliving a traumatic experience in their life, they can help protecting them from themselves. If you never had a traumatic experience, lucky you. Others are not as lucky. Others might fall into a mental hole because of something they read or see that transports them back to one or more situations in their life where they were hurt, wether that was mentally or physically.
And trigger warnings? They help prevent that. Prevent people from falling into a hole, prevent people from hurting.

So yes, I think trigger warnings are important and should belong in every book.

I said earlier I didn’t want a discussion but here I am, being angry at things I’ve read on the world wide webs and especially some websites where people get a public voice who rather shouldn’t have one. Seriously, why would you be against trigger warnings?

No, they aren’t spoilers. Some people argue that they are because they already tell you about what happens in a book. How does it affect you experience in any way when you know there is alcohol? Did the proagonist drink too much? Is there an alcoholic? Do people drink it at a banquet? Who knows? Certainly not you.

So no, they aren’t spoilers and the thing is: when you know you do not need them, then just skip over them. Don’t read them. That’s fine. You do not have to read every single word just because it was printed into the book. You can skip things not relevant to you. Trigger warnings just say what happens somehwere at some point in the story, not to whom or when or give explicit detail. They do not tell you „hey, this event happens on page 215 and it will be a major plot point !!1!1! No, they just give you a warning that something happens somwhere in the book so it doesn’t catch you completely unawares. So, no spoiler. Nope.

And believe it or not, there are many ways to put trigger warnings in books. You can put them in the front for everyone. Or you can put them in the back with a note in the front that people might want to check the back if they need trigger warnings. Or you could do them chapter wise. Or put them on a website and talk about that website in a note. Give a foreword. Anything that suits you.


Well, I wouldn’t pick up some books if I knew beforehand what was in there. Does that somehow negatively affect the book or the possibility to sell it? No. The thing is: just because a certain thing affects me and several others, it does not affect everyone. Things I really, really don’t want to read about might be what others love to read. A book I wouldn’t get for myself, I probably would get for a friend. People can also ask other readers who’ve read the book how the scene is writter, if it’s graphic or not. You can protect yourself so much better with trigger warnings and it won’t have any impact on how well a book sells.

That I’m even talking about this. Wow, capitalism.


You might still think trigger warnings are spoilers or that people should actively work through a traumatic experience so they don’t need trigger warnings. Wrong. You can actively work through something and it still gets you down every single time you think of it. Especially since a lot of things are never really gone, they’re just there, at the back of your mind and then something happens (like reading a book) that reminds you a lot of that thing and boom! Evenings spent crying and hurting or worse. You can work through things when you want it but your traumas should spring up on you in surprise when you’re out there, just wanting to have a good time and read a book.


And that is why trigger warnings are a necessity. Was this a bit rambly? Maybe. Did I say what I wanted to? Yes.

If you want to discuss this, go for it. Tell me your opinions. Why do you think they are important? Where would you like to see trigger warnings? I’d love to hear your opinions!


Until next time,

  1. AH I LOVE THIS POST so very much, thank you for talking about it. I so agree with you that triggers are necessary and so, so very important. I agree that there are so many ways to put triggers in books and they’re not spoilers and it’s so easy to just skip them if you don’t need any. I know I personally have felt SO grateful to find people warning me before I headed into a story. It helped me in putting the book aside for the right time, the moment I’m in the right headspace to handle it…. or to skip it altogether because I know I won’t ever be able to handle it.

    1. THANK YOU 🙂 🙂 Yes, that is exactly why they are so important. I believe it’s good to only deal with certain topics when you are ready for them and in the right headspace, as you said. Not being surprised by them. I just really don’t understand those arguments of „but real life isn’t that way either, you should deal with things when they happen, not when you’re ready for it.“ Just. No.
      I’m glad I’m not alone with this opinion! <3

  2. Hey Kat,

    another great post of yours! (And the third time I write this comment because something went wrong. -,-)
    I don’t feel like adding much because you said it all. I will never understand how people can be against trigger warnings because if you don’t need them, fine, don’t read them, it’s not as if you are forced to do so and can’t ignore a few lines or have to spoil yourself of that’s what you think it is. But it’s so helpful for those who need them, and sometimes I’m said that they are not common.
    So I totally agree with you and I simply want to share a small fun fact … last year, short story of mine was published and we had trigger warnings in the anthology. My grandfather who was a child during WW2 didn’t know the concept so he asked me about it and I explained it and he said „that makes sense, it’s actually a great idea, you know, sometimes when I read stories about war memories come back, so it’s good to be warned“ which was touching but also … screw you, haters, even my grandfather gets it.

    Have a great week!
    Dana
    (hoping the comment gets published this time)

    1. Yeah, published but with a lot of spelling mistakes … the most obvious one: „Sometimes I get sad“ and „a short story of mine“. Sorry about that, it’s late. ^^

      1. Hoohoo! Apparently it worked this time! Who knows why it didn’t work, ugh.
        Thank you for sharing that story. I somehow feel like it’s mostly people who lived their life mostly trauma-free who are against trigger warnings because they don’t need them or think they don’t. Which is where I go „but where is your empathy??“
        Another thing one of my friends said is that trigger warnings are great for temporary triggers as well. For example normally being able to read about the death of a loved one, but then someone in your family dies you don’t want or can read about it right in that moment. And things like this could happen to anyone and anytime and we should also think about this.
        Thank you for your addition!
        Love,
        Kat

  3. Yes, yes, and yes to literally everything you just wrote! I wrote my own post about trigger warnings, because this topic is so important to me and so many people just don’t understand why!

    Last week I read a book that I was really excited for. About 30 pages into the book was some highly triggering material that forced me to put the book down and significantly impacted my mental health for the next few days. In fact, since putting down that book I have been unable to read anything else, partially in fair of what that book might contain. The last thing I want is to get triggered two weeks in a row.

    I genuinely don’t understand why publishers haven’t started including them in every single book they publish. They’re so very important, and it doesn’t take that much effort to include them. Especially since publishers and editors already are looking over each book they publish with a fine tooth comb. Between the author and the editors, it would be so simple to implement an exhaustive list for anyone who needs it.

    As for the whole spoiler issue, this one makes me so mad! Do you know how many times I’ve gotten triggered because a trigger was a plot twist and so no one bothered to mention it in their reviews and such? Many times! If you’re so worried about spoilers, there are ways to work around it, just make sure that everyone who wants to pick up a book is able to do so at no cost to their mental health! That’s way more important!

    This was such a great post, and I absolutely adore your title for it. At this point, it’s non-negotiable. Put trigger warnings in books!

    1. Hoohoo!
      Oh no 🙁 Feel hugged if you want <3 I hope you'll feel better soon! But yes, this is exactly why we so desperatly need trigger warnings.
      And I very much agree. Of course it's probably not possible to really get everything that might trigger someone, but people could really make an effort! And as you said, a book is edited and read so much before it is published, it really shouldn't be that hard to make a list of trigger warnings. I'm always so happy when publishing people actually do this. And if you don't print them in a book, at least put them on a website. I mean, it's hard to put TWs into books that have been published years ago but then authors could at least put trigger warnings on their websites. Or they should be put on goodreads. Or somewhere else people can find them. While I try my best in reviews, it's not necessarily my job to warn other readers, but since publishing isn't doing it, readers have to help readers out. Which is great, truly, but it still shouldn't be so hard to find trigger warnings.

      And yup! The spoiler issue makes me really, really angry, too. I so agree with you. And that is exactly the point about trigger warnings: how is it spoiler when you know that something happens in the book at some point to some person in some form. You know nothing, Jon Snow. You just know something is going to happen eventually and that's it. It could help so many people to put trigger warnings into books and end this stupid discussion.

      Thank you! I'm so glad you agree with me on this!

  4. Liebe Kat,
    ich stimme dir da voll und ganz zu. Trigger Warnungen sind unverzichtbar. Und ich finde es gut, dass es inzwischen zum Thema geworden ist. Wer hätte vor 20 Jahren daran gedacht, eine Trigger Warnung in ein Buch zu schreiben. Zu dem Zeitpunkt war Gewalt und Trauma in all seinen Formen kein Thema für die Öffentlichkeit, es blieb ganz schön hinter vorgehaltener Hand im Verborgenen. Ich finde es spannend zu verfolgen, wie sich die Haltung dazu verändert hat.
    Ich habe es gerade sehr genossen, mal wieder einen englischen Beitrag zu lesen. Doch ist mein geschriebenes englisch so eingerostet, dass ich mich grad nicht getraut habe meine Gedanken entsprechend zu formulieren.
    LG Kerstin

    1. Huhu 🙂
      Ich auch! Ich freue mich auch sehr, dass es immer mehr Aufmerksamkeit durch sämtliche Medien hinweg bekommt. Und auch wenn ich mich nicht unbedingt über dagegen-Meinungen freue, so bin ich doch froh, dass es einen Diskurs gibt und sich Menschen aktiv mit Trigger Warnungen beschäftigen.
      Freut mich sehr 🙂 und das macht doch nichts! Im Gegenteil, das ist total verständlich 🙂
      Liebste Grüße & eine schöne Woche
      Kat

  5. Hello,
    I can only agree to that. There is one book in particular I wish had them. „Alice“ by Christina Henry. Yes, they are categorized as horror BUT the covers look so harmless that they are often placed with YA fantasy books (at least that is what my Thalia did in their English book section). I wonder how many people bought it and expected a harmless retelling of Alice in Wonderland only to find it dealing with rape and abuse.

    Kind regards,
    Sarah from Books on Fire

    1. Huhu 🙂
      Yep, my Hugendubel shelves those books as YA as well. I think they’re shelved that way in almost every online shop as well. That’s another problem you speak of there. Way too many books, especially fantasy, are shelved as YA when they clearly aren’t. But the publisher market them as such because it might have themes that interest younger people or because the protagonist is a teenager. But those are not the only criteria to go for. Explicit content, wether it’s sexual or violent in any way, should be a major criteria as well.
      Good point you made there!
      Kat 🙂

  6. Schöner Text, und kann dir nur zu stimmen. Ich verstehe die ganze Diskussion nicht. Sie helfen anderen und die, die es nicht benötigen, müssen sie sich nicht durchlesen und fertig. Verstehe diese Ignoranz einfach nicht.
    Liebe Grüße
    Nadine

    1. Jap, genau das ist es einfach. Du hast schön zusammengefasst, was ich in einem Beitrag runterpredige. Und so viel Mehraufwand wäre es schließlich auch nicht, deshalb verstehe ich einfach nicht, warum sihc manche einfach so vehement dagegen sträuben.
      Liebste Grüße
      Kat

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I agree. Ich stimme zu.