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Should Books Have Trigger Warnings/Content Advisories?

Updated: Jun 15, 2023


 

Before I talk about trigger warnings, I would like for you to know that I am sensitive to this struggle. I am an abstract thinker and a storyteller, so the best way I can convey my sensitivity will begin with an excerpt from one of my books.

In this excerpt, a couple is having a disagreement. To stay away from a spoiler alert, I have omitted the husband’s name and the exact nature of the argument. The rest is verbatim.


The husband is confronting his wife (Paige) about a decision she made without his input. During the confrontation, Paige gets triggered. For those who are sick of that term because it has sometimes been overused and misused, I am also sensitive to you. But I am using the term properly here, and the word itself does not occur in this excerpt. Read with me, so I can explain my stance on this.

 

“My heart was pounding at his accusatory tone. Some dormant memory alighted, though it came in through my spirit, not my mind, so couldn’t explain my sudden fear. I swallowed hard and avoided his gaze for the rug below. . .His anger was rising, and he was stepping toward me. I took some steps back, but I knew the dresser along the wall would soon block my escape. The memory was moving to my limbs as a reflex. I’d never been more scared of him. . .[His] anger was mixed with sadness. The combination moved that phantom memory to a chill down my spine. . . I was trembling. Terrified. And backed, now, against the dresser. He was now inches from me and lifted his hand quickly.

“Before I realized I was the cause of the bloodcurdling scream, my ears and heart perceived the sound with sheer terror. I found myself in the fetal position on the floor in front of the dresser before I realized that [he] was merely reaching for his car keys—which at present, he dropped with a crash on the hardwood and used both his arms to embrace me.

“He and I were both in tears. He was startled by the scream but realized its purpose immediately. He gritted his teeth and muffled into my shoulder.

‘Paige, you gotta believe I’d never hit you. Why would you even think—'

‘I know. I know. . .’ I squeaked in a sob.

‘You’ve never done that before.’ He was as shaken up as I, squeezing my trembling shoulders tighter.

‘Neither have you. You were so mad at me.’ At this, my blurred vision met the glisten. And the intent of the stare was obvious to me.


‘I’m not him. I don’t care how mad I am.’


‘What is happening to me? It’s like I was. . .” I trailed off, not knowing exactly where I’d been or what I’d been thinking.’” [1]


Paige’s husband then suggests they see her counselor, and she agrees.

 

Over the years, I have gone back and forth deciding whether I should include trigger warnings or content advisories in my books. I know how awful it can be when a sight or a facial expression or smell or line of text sends you reeling. I also don’t think it is fair to blame whatever triggered you for not giving you warning. The loving husband in my excerpt was bringing up a valid concern and reaching for a set of keys. He did not intend and could not have known that it would launch his wife into panic mode. Is he sorry? Of course he is! Read the book and you’ll see he is more than aware of her trauma and moves mountains to help Paige feel safe. But he isn’t perfect or all-knowing, and neither am I.


Here is a bit of my thought process on triggers and content.


Arguments Against Content Advisories:

  • ​It is impossible for me to know everyone's trauma and what triggers it. Therefore, a person who feels safe given the warnings may still find their own trigger in the pages.


  • ​I write Christian books. Any trigger or content is presented with the ultimate goal of leading a reader to the things of God. So while I do not feel it is my responsibility to coddle my readers, I do care about you enough to give you the hope of Christ in any circumstance.


  • Spoilers! Need I say more?


Arguments For Content Advisories:


  • Trauma is real and it really gets triggered. Likewise, people struggle with sin and may be caused to stumble by some content.


  • I respect your journey, and I care about you. I do not want to take you back to your darkest place or cause you to stumble without your consent.


  • Many years ago, my sister-in-law acted as my first beta reader as we sat in my garage during a yard sale. Two things occurred. First, she forsook all else in our life that day to read my book (excerpted above) on my laptop. She couldn’t put it down. Second, she said something that will stay with me forever:

“I wasn’t expecting that.”


It is on that final point that I base my decision to provide trigger warnings and content advisories. Even if I can’t cover every trigger or know every struggle, I still would like to give some warning for what you may encounter in each book.


I am a Christian with a biblical worldview. I am not out of touch with things of this world, but understand that my advisories may not be the same or have the same wording as many worldly trigger warnings, and I will not and cannot warn against everything. Sometimes I’m just reaching for my keys.


I have put them all on one page which can only be accessed if you are looking for it so that I do not give unnecessary spoilers. If you’d like to see it now, here it is!

I love you, reader. God loves you. I pray constantly that I represent His heart in everything. I ask that you forgive me wherever I fall short and allow me to embrace you in front of the dresser.


[1]Rebekah McKamie, To My Beloved Richie (Settings Christian Publishing LLC, 2016), 340–42.


Photo: stock.adobe @ bestsenny

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