Should Books Have Trigger Warnings?

Last year, I attended ICON, Iowa’s longest running sci-fi/fantasy convention. During a panel in which I shared information about myself as an author and my books, the audience and I started talking about trigger warnings and parental advisory notices on music and movies. This led us to wonder, should books also have warnings as well? Yes, we divide the books between children’s, YA, NA, Adult, Erotica, etc., but is that enough? One YA book may be tame, but another might deal with suicide, rape, or abuse. Is it reasonable to warn readers about the contents of the books?

To start off, let’s just talk a bit about trigger warnings and parental advisory labels in general. Trigger warnings are basically statements at the beginning of a piece of writing, video, music, games, warning the reader/viewer that the piece may contain distressing material (ie. grief, suicide, child abuse, manipulation, spouse abuse, domestic abuse, rape, etc.). Viewing/reading this material can “trigger” someone and create a psychological reaction in the person and perhaps cause them to relieve traumatic experiences. To learn more about triggers and how they originated, check out “A Short History of Trigger Warnings”  by Nick Haslam, Professor of Psychology, University Melbourne.

Parental Advisory Warnings are a little different in that they just warn parents if material, often music and games, is appropriate for children. You can read more about Parental Advisory Warnings here. These can also appear in tv shows or on covers of musical albums, especially if there’s explicit language.

Shows and movies have ratings that list the type of content that may be contained in the film. I’ve seen some shows start to show trigger warnings at the beginning to prepare people for sexual assault. The one thing that all of these generally have in common though is that they are forms of media that are often used in public. So it’s not just protecting the user, it’s sending out a warning to people around the user (ie. kids who may hear music blaring from a cars).

My question is, should books have trigger warnings as well? I’ve met people who can’t read certain chapters of books because they bring up memories of traumatic experiences or it’s just something that makes them extremely uncomfortable. Should they be warned that a book contains potentially harmful themes? And how detailed do you get? Early lists for trigger warnings typically included subjects related to sexual assault and rape, but now lists are starting to include bugs, vomit, spiders, etc, things that can actually cause someone to have a visceral reaction.

I know some have argued that trigger warnings are becoming ridiculous. It’s as if we can’t produce anything without a warning going with it. And if you create a warning for one thing, it’s going to lead to warnings for everything. There’s a stigma that goes with this too that trigger warnings are “coddling” people.

Personally, I think the warnings are very helpful. Even if they don’t pertain to me, the fact that writing “This story contains elements of X, Y, and Z” can help other people is important. So what if there’s a label on an album or an extra screen before a movie warning of these things? Is that really so bad? Books could include a page at the beginning that talks about content elements so people can decide if they want to read it or not. If someone doesn’t care about trigger warnings, skip over it.

The folks I talked with at ICON agreed that having a warning page for a book was a good idea, especially for people dealing with traumatic memories or PTSD. If you go onto writing sites like Wattpad, they include a “mature” button for a story, and have also encouraged people to list out triggers in the topics category.  If I’m about to read a story that includes a suicide, I personally would prefer a warning. Sometimes I can handle reading that. Sometimes it triggers my depression, anxiety, and my own suicidal thoughts. So if online sites can do that, why not published books?

I think it’s an interesting thing to discuss. I’ve considered putting it in for Wolf Pit because there are some talks of assault and abuse, not to mention violence (they’re in a fighting pit after all). But if you include warnings, how far do you go? Is there such a thing as going too far?

What are your thoughts?

 

My Writing Process: Help! My Outline Exploded!

I love learning about people’s writing styles. I’m used to the typical question, are you a plotter, pantser, or plantser? Basically, do you plot your story,  write by the seat of your pants, or do a little of both?

I personally identify as a plantser. It doesn’t matter how detailed my outline is, my characters like to derail the story and drag me screaming down another path…usually through brambles, rocks, and sharp pointy things.

They’re jerks.

But there’s so much more behind my process than what I generally talk about. Some plantsers edit at the end of their writing. Some edit while they write. Some skip around chapters, while others write linearly. So I’m going to talk a bit about what I personally do to write, and edit, my manuscripts.

Writing: The ‘What the Hell Am I Doing’ Journey

The Outline: 

It starts with an outline. I sit down and create a rough draft idea of what I want the story to be from beginning to end. I create character lists and add in tiny descriptions if I have them locked in my mind. Sometimes I leave the skeleton of the outline alone and start writing. More often than not, though, I blow the bullet points up into paragraph summaries of each chapter. It helps me flesh out the idea, see where characters are going to go, make sure I don’t have plot holes, etc. Though, I also have the “I have no idea what happens here” bullet points because, let’s face it, sometimes you just don’t know what happens in the middle.

Once that’s complete, I start writing. I’m the type of person who has to write linearly (I hate jumping to different chapters). I’m afraid I’ll miss something or mess up the plot. I usually stick to the outline closely in the beginning. I jot down character descriptions or important little notes and go about my merry little life, feeling productive and like I know exactly what I’m doing.

Enter The Character. 

For the sake of the rest of the blog, we’ll just call her Djinn…because sometimes when you’re hoping for a plot, you have to be careful what you wish for.

The Pantsing: 

So the story is going along swimmingly and then something like this happens.

Djinn: Hey…how ya doing? I see you’ve got a little novel there. That’s nice. That’s nice…Got a second?

Me: What? I’m trying to write

Djinn: Yeahhh, about that. You know your bad guy? Yeah, he’s secretly a good guy.

Me: Wait, what?

Djinn: And the protagonist? She’s in love with her best friend’s brother.

Me: Hang on now.

Djinn: And you know that character who’s a toss away and you don’t even have a name for? Yeah, that’s me. And I need my own story line. You see, I’m actually the main character’s best friend, and I help fuel this section of the story and-

Me: What? NO!

Djinn: Come on! Give me a story line! I’m begging you. If you don’t, I’m just going to keep popping up every other scene and ask ‘Is it my turn yet? Is it my turn yet? Is it my turn yet? Is it my turn yet?’

Me: Stop it

Djinn: Is it my turn yet?

Me: Oh my god, FINE! I’ll write you in. Can you go away now?

Djinn: Of course…of course.

Me: ….

Djinn: (insert character name) dies at the end of the book. BYE!

Me: AHHHH!!!

Kinda like that. Only, repeat it about seven different times during the book. I’m not kidding. I had a 23 chapter outline with each chapter designed and the characters solidified. Three years later, I ended up with a trilogy. Part of that is thanks to Djinn. You jerk.

At this point, I’m scrambling to redo my notes, add in the extra outlines, getting dragged somewhere else and watching my characters poof and reappear with different histories. It’s no wonder I can’t keep eye color or hair color straight. Things change halfway through! And that’s just the writing process.

Editing: Why do I do this to myself? 

Editing comes next, and you would think that’s pretty straight forward. Later on it is, but in the beginning, I find parts of the story that need tweaking, scenes that need rewriting…and additional characters who need more on-page time.

Djinn, for example.

I read through the entire book to check for continuity/plot errors first. There’s no sense in polishing the text if I’m going to have to change scenes anyway or cut chapters (though I understand other authors feel differently).

After fixing the plot, then comes the check for details: did I spell names correctly, are character appearances the same throughout the book, have I overused words (part 1), did I use the right words?

Once all of that is cleared up, and I realize I wrote “sequins” instead of “synchronize” (yay NaNoisms), I start destroying words (part 2). My editor, or co-creator, point out words I overuse (pariah, information, and was being three of them). I put them into search, and I try to destroy them as much as possible. It helps with the “show don’t tell” aspect as well, especially when I focus on using a word other than “was.” It may mean restructuring sentences or whole paragraphs, but if it makes the text sound better in the end, I’m fine with that.

After that, I do a few more readings of the book, but I use a different medium each time. Stage 1: 12 pt Font, Times Roman Numeral, Single Spaced. Stage 2: 12 pt Font, Times Roman Numeral, Double Spaced. Stage 3: Blow up screen to 150% to go over each paragraph carefully. Stage 4: Read the chapters out of order so I edit the language more than the plot. Etc. Some books take more rounds than others. I use different mediums, though, because it helps me catch things since it’s like I’m looking at the book for the first time.

I have an editor also fixing my book and sensitivity readers or beta readers reviewing it at the same time.

The final edit is reading through the book one last time and only checking for egregious errors.

Books are never really done. I can open The Purple Door District and Wolf Pit now and still change things. Heck, 10 years from now I’ll want to change them. But at some point, you have to let your baby go, take wing, and fly into the hands of other readers.

That was a bit longer than I anticipated, but that’s essentially my process. No writing process is perfect, and no one can tell you how you should write. You have to make it personal to yourself and adjust it as you find things that work better.

What about you? What’s your style?

Let’s Go, Indiegogo!

Last year I set up an Indiegogo campaign to help launch The Purple Door District. Thanks to all of the amazing donations, I was able to print 100 books for publication and use the rest of the money to take care of some marketing elements. This year, I’m back at it again with my second campaign, set to last 60 days (instead of 30) with a goal of reaching $2,500 to print Wolf Pit.

I’ve had several people ask me what Indiegogo is. Well, Indiegogo is a website that allows creators to set up campaigns to help raise money towards a particular goal, usually for a product. People who back the campaign receive rewards/perks depending on the tier they pick. For example, $1 in my campaign will get you a shout out on social media, whereas $25 will get you the e-book versions of both The Purple Door District and Wolf Pit once the second book is released. The higher the tier, the more perks you receive!

Indiegogo is very much like Kickstarter except Indiegogo seems to be more author-friendly. Also, while Kickstarter is an “all or nothing” campaign, meaning you either hit your goal and get everything, or you don’t and get nothing, Indiegogo also provides a flexible campaign in which the creator receives whatever donations are made, even if the goal isn’t met. I personally prefer the flexible goal, just in case I can’t meet the deadline. Some say it’s better to do all or nothing because it pushes people to donate, but I don’t want to risk it. I know how hard it is to have money problems, and I’d rather people feel more comfortable donating a smaller amount, if anything at all. As I always say, every dollar helps!

With that being said, here’s information regarding my campaign. At the very least, hopefully it will help other writers get ideas for setting up their own campaigns! I actually used the template that Indiegogo suggested. Don’t forget to check out the actual campaign and see the book trailer/welcome video.

Overview
“Wolf Pit” is the sequel to the urban fantasy book, “The Purple Door District.” Werewolves are going missing, and the District must come together to solve the mystery of their disappearance. In the same vein, I’ve relied on the community to help me build this book. Editors, artists, marketing specialists, and other authors have been vital to its production. I want to raise the money both to print this book, and to also support other creators. Will you help the District?

Who Am I and Who’s the Community?

My name is Erin Casey, and I’m an urban fantasy and YA fantasy writer, as well as the Director of a writing organization called The Writers’ Rooms. TWR is a non-profit corporation focused on providing a free and safe environment to all writers no matter their gender, skill set, background, income, etc. I focus on bringing communities of writers together to help them learn from one another. This is what drove me to want to write about the diverse community in The Purple Door District series.

The Purple Door District and Wolf Pit started out as part of a canon that AE Kellar and I are writing together and hoping to publish in the future. PDD was a smaller component of it, but I fell in love with the concept and asked if I could write a series based on it to help support our main canon. She has been vital in helping me make sure I keep my facts straight! We jokingly say that she’s the brain and I’m the heart of our series. I couldn’t have done this without her.

So what is Wolf Pit about? Here’s the blurb:

My dream is to become an author and help inspire other people. Community plays a big part in my life now, because it was something I grew up without as a child. Last year I ran a campaign and it enabled me to print The Purple Door District. Now I’m looking for help to print Wolf Pit and also support the creative minds who are helping me.

Your generous contributions will allow me to publish the books and support additional creators:

  • Author and Editor Leona Bushman who edited the book and is an author herself.
  • Author and Proofreader, Shakyra Dunn who proofread and sensitivity read my book. See her book down below.
  • Author, Leslie Kung, who has agreed to sensitivity read my book. Check out her work on Patreon!
  • Jewelry maker Amanda Bouma who will help create jewelry for the book.
  • Artist Oni Algarra who is creating character portraits. (Tess from PDD and Wolf Pit is featured below)

Not only would this ensure the production of this book, it would open up the possibility to a series that would continue to bring more work to you and invest in these members of the literary community.

What I Need

My goal is to be open and honest with everyone, so here are what the funds will go towards:

  • Editing through Leona Bushman $500+
  • Business Cards $40
  • Book printing through Ingramspark ($6.74 per book) x 100   $850 (shipping included)
  • Ingramspark Print and Ebook Set up  $50
  • Art Marketing  $150 (for Oni)
  • Promotional Publishing/swag  $300
  • Cover $50 (for artist on Fiverr)
  • Copyright $25
  • Additional Costs (additional marketing/publicity, donation books, office supplies, ec). 

What You Get

  • Character art! Just look at that awesome picture by Oni!
  • Book swag!
  • First look at items to be sold alongside Wolf Pit and the first chance to receive them!
  • Jewelry and items that I and Amanda Bouma create for The Purple Door District and Wolf Pit. 
  • E-books
  • Printed copies
  • A one-on-one writing talk with me
  • and much more!

The Impact

I can’t even express how important your support is. Self-publishing is becoming a more respected form of publishing, and I can’t do it without your help. In a time when our country feels so divided, I think it’s valuable to bring a book with a diverse cast to the community. You get to read through the eyes of characters who are Latino/a, Native American, black, Caucasian, Indian, Chinese, LGBT, etc, and with those who have different beliefs to survive. Even if the different parahumans have prejudices against one another, they’re able to put it aside to make their community safer for themselves and for their children. I hope that people who read this will see themselves in these characters. As I get deeper in to the series, I want to bring in more people of different nationalities, beliefs, and abilities so they can feel represented as well.

Here are just a few of the reviews from The Purple Door District about the world:

  • This book has a great group of characters that are diverse in many ways, and the author will have you falling in love with each one of them. The PDD is a safe haven for all parahumans and it is interesting how all of the different species co-exist together. –Amazon Review
  • THE PURPLE DOOR DISTRICT has everything I want from an urban fantasy series–a big, diverse community of characters who have the same general goals but are at odds with each other as far as how to achieve them, a great blend of high stakes action scenes and poignant emotional moments, and the looming threat of a group of Hunters determined to track down and eliminate magical beings. –Amazon Review
  • It has been a very long time since a book has made me cry, in sadness and joy. The emotion in these characters is so moving, you can’t help but feel you are there with every character through a ride of a story. The people of the Purple Door District are multi-dimensional and it was so great to see such diversity among the characters in a modern fantasy book.  —Amazon Review

You have the opportunity to see a group of creative minds come together to create this book and its future series. We can do this together, and in December, I hope you’ll feel proud holding this book in your hands.

Other Ways You Can Help

I completely understand that you may not be able to donate, and that’s okay! There are other ways you can help!

  • Share this campaign on social media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, etc.
  • Share this campaign word-of-mouth! Get your friends involved. Show them how they can help a creative community.
  • Let me know what you would like to see promoted. More jewelry? More art? What representation do you want to see in future books?
  • Want to make a smaller but still powerful contribution? Consider becoming a patron on Patreon and receive chapters of the book before everyone else!

Thank you from the bottom of my heart! I can’t do this without you!

Cheers!

Erin Casey

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/wolf-pit-urban-fantasy-novel

www.erincasey.org