Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Mad Writer's Club Week 6 --To Trigger Warning or Not to Trigger Warning?

You know how everything comes with a trigger warning these days?

It's an increasing trend I'm seeing, this whole trigger warning business.

The first time I saw the trigger warning tag was back in the days of fan-fic and it was sandwiched among stories that held tags like M/M, non-con issues, bdsm, trigger warning: contains ass babies. Readers of all sorts traversed the world of fanfic and the writers, intoxicated with their strange sort of internet fame (every now and then someone got a cease and desist email from a famous person's lawyer, eeeeef!) began to oblige sensitive readers who demanded stories should have ratings on them because sometimes they just want to read a cute Harry Potter fanfic where Hermione takes initiative and wins Harry's heart, and they don't want to be surprised by Professor Trelawny getting it on with the Weasley twins while Ron is being forced to watch while gagged and bound on a chair.

The trigger warning increased, however, as readers wanted trigger warnings for more than just the bizarre, but also for the potentially emotionally upsetting. Everyone is unique in personality and experiences, and so one cannot anticipate the traumas a potential reader has gone through, and how they process reading scenes that may or may not remind them of bad things. This has always been true as long as there has been fiction writing, and as long as there have been people who have gone through traumas. In the old days, the only way a reader could avoid something with a triggering moment would be if someone else had read a certain novel or story and warned their friend off it, in case it might upset them.

The first time I ran afoul of the trigger warning code was when I posted a fanfic of pirates, and bad piratey behavior happens in it, which basically means murder, looting, rape, and mayhem. The pirates were not good guys by any means, and I wasn't presenting them as such, nor did I condone the bad stuff they were doing. It was just a pirate story.

Feeling pretty satisfied with it I posted it, got a few good reviews and then a very long, very upset review appeared. In it, I was called out for not putting a trigger for the bad things in it. I had ruined her day. I had ruined the characters she loves. The "R" for violence and sex tag I had put on it did not come close to covering what she had been assaulted with while reading. The bottom line, I was rude and uncaring and insensitive to her as a human being. I needed to apologize.

I didn't apologize. She felt bad after reading it, yeah that's sad, but... well... her existence did not come into play as I was writing the damn thing and after posting it? Well... I still don't know what I am supposed to feel. I've seen and been through some horrible things in my own lifetime, just as countless other people have, and those horrible things often show up in my writing. Of course those things are upsetting, they're supposed to be. That's why there are horrible things.

One way of coping after experiencing horrible things is to pretend horrible things do not exist. Now, it's understandable and good for someone who is fresh off a trauma to avoid that particular trauma if they can until they've healed enough to process the badness of the world again, but to avoid it completely for the rest of their lives and ask complete strangers to shield them as well? I'm just not on board with  that.

I have had editors tell me "this scene might be triggery", and although I have done what I can to tweak certain scenes to appease an editor I still can't shake that nagging irritation I feel at being told I have to self-censor to avoid hurting someone's feelings.

I don't think I'll be including one in the manuscript I'm writing. There will be material that is violent or aggressive, or hair raising or whatever. Perhaps there will be a reader or two who will be happily reading along and then they'll run into a chapter or scene where they go, "WTF this shit is upsetting!" They'll fling their kindle aside and never read it again.

 I am not answering to an editor, and potential readers are not my editor either. Sure, there will be some scenes and storylines that might upset someone or other... but I think we can all get through it and survive.

No comments:

Post a Comment