What’s that? Another twitterstorm of outrage and controversy. Well, it is *checks watch* a day of the week, after all. In this case, there’s been another big blow up about including content warnings (sometimes called trigger warnings, now simply CW hereafter) in horror books. There was a day when I was against the idea. Now I’m not. Horror, or any other fiction for that matter, has no rules. Story is how we mirror and interrogate our world. Write your soul, your pain, your truth. Anyone who tries to tell you what you can write can go suck it. Equally, if you write something deeply offensive or harmful to others, be ready for consequences. Don’t be a dick is always the benchmark, for fiction of any kind or life in general. But write what you want. You should always consider whether a story is yours to tell, but we want diversity in our fiction, we want to see our world reflected. Doing that without harm is the trick.
Horror, of course, is meant to be confronting. But that doesn’t mean it should be traumatic, or that people avoiding trauma are somehow wrong, weak, or censors. If a reader asks for CW, that’s okay. People carry all kinds of trauma they don’t want reinforced. CW are not censorship. You don’t have to include them, of course, but don’t deny others discussing them. That’s a dick move. A lot of people don’t want CW, they want no spoilers. Fair enough, I’m like that too. CW should definitely be somewhere out of sight. A good idea is the back of the book maybe, where people who want them can look. Another option is to have them available via the publisher or author website. That’s an inclusive move, not censorship. I’ve added a page to my site here that people can check or be directed to, then anyone who might need a warning about the content of any of my books can find what they need. It’s not exhaustive, but it’s something. I definitely deal with some seriously fucked up shit in my stories. Horror is the genre of honesty, after all, and honestly, the world can be pretty fucked up.
But the idea that people asking for CW are somehow “snowflakes” is bloody toxic. If I love cake but I’m allergic to peanuts, it’s not censorship of the cake’s integrity or commentary on the cake’s validity to include a list of ingredients. It’s not weak of someone with a peanut allergy to want to avoid a cake that can harm them. People without allergies can ignore the ingredient list. People with peanut allergies can stay safe. It’s really that simple. If you don’t include a list of ingredients and someone has a peanut allergy, they’ll avoid your cake entirely just in case. But if they have one allergy and your ingredients point out their problem isn’t in the cake, you might even gain a new reader. Do people read cakes? This analogy has taken me down a dark alley and mugged me. Let’s move on.
I don’t think books should have CW included. If you want to put them in the back, or somewhere people can easily ignore them or find them, that’s great. But they shouldn’t be required by any means. There are inherent issues that can arise from that kind of prescriptivism. As is often the case, the best way lies somewhere along the middle path. Supplying a resource like I’ve done on my site here is easy and it’s kind. The vast majority of people don’t need CW, don’t care about them, and probably won’t ever even know about that particular page on my site. For the people who do need it though, there it is.
Just to reiterate: Horror is meant to be confronting. That doesn’t mean it should be traumatic, or that people avoiding trauma are somehow wrong, weak, or censors. If we can create whatever we want and protect people with trauma as well, why the fuck wouldn’t we? No one is telling you what you can or can’t write.