Navigating potential triggers is a complex issue, and of course, there is no way to predict or warn against every possible situation that may be triggering to someone who has experienced trauma or abuse.

What is a Trigger?

“A trigger is something that sets off a memory tape or flashback transporting the person back to the event of his/her original trauma… She/he will react to this flashback trigger with an emotional intensity similar to that at the time of the trauma.”

U. of Alberta, Sexual Assault Center

Trigger warnings are not intended to identify things that some may consider offensive or “in bad taste,” but rather to allow trauma survivors the information they need to be aware of topics that may have otherwise caught them off guard.

The tags included were compiled from lists of common potential triggers, and are not comprehensive, but will help you in identifying common triggering elements so readers who may be affected by these topics can go in with a risk-aware mindset.

Simply check off anything that applies to your book, and all tags will be compiled below. Then, you can copy the text and use it wherever needed.

What should you include?

What should you include?

Everyone’s needs and reactions to triggers are different, so the best way of going about choosing the triggers appropriate for your book is to make a mindful decision based on how the content is used in your book.

There are some triggers that will impact readers no matter how they’re used like child abuse, suicide, or sexual assault. Others can deeply impact those who are recovering from eating disorders or alcoholism. With any topic like this, it’s best to play it safe and include a warning–even if you add a note like “(memory)” or “(off page)” to indicate that they’re not described in great detail.

There are also triggers that may not evoke an immediate visceral reaction because they’re things we encounter day-to-day. Spiders are a common sight, we all have blood and bones, most of us have probably had a minor fender-bender, and we encounter fire in many shapes and forms, but the reason that these items are included on many TW or CW lists is that there are ways in which they’re used that can be triggering to those who have experienced trauma. For those, it’s best to consider how it’s being used, and the emotional impact of the sensory detail surrounding the event in question.

  • Is it being used in a traumatic context?
  • Is there detailed sensory information that might cause someone to remember a specific trauma of their own?
  • Could it pack an emotional shock?

In these cases, it’s more like we’re driving down a rough, unpaved, back road. We don’t need a sign that says uneven road ahead, but if there were landmines, we’d definitely want to know that.

If a character gets a paper cut and there’s a spot of blood, they deal with it, and go on with their day, the blood isn’t being used in a traumatic, detailed, or emotional way. It might be a little frustrating for the character, a little annoying, and they might get lemon juice in it later, but it’s not a remarkable event that’s going to stick with someone under average circumstances.

Sensory input is one of the factors closely tied to triggering a trauma response. As you get deeper into explaining the sensory experience of an event: tastes, smells, distinct details of how, for example, an injury looks and feels, that topic becomes more likely to stir up familiar personal experiences. These are things to keep in mind when you’re weighing whether or not to include these topics in your list of triggers. If you’re still not sure, you can also ask someone familiar with the topic and triggers.

Example: Irreverent contains a trigger warning for snakes, because the snake imagery is so woven throughout the story in nightmares and hallucinations that you can’t gloss over it. However, Fractured Legacy doesn’t currently have a snake trigger warning, because while the main character has a pet snake, Frank is pretty easy to gloss over or imagine as a ferret. He represents more of a minor quirk for the main character rather than a detailed part or active participant in the story.

What about things that are core to your genre?

This ultimately comes down to using your best judgment. If you’re writing a murder mystery, it’s obviously going to contain a murder somewhere. But if you’re relying on your genre to convey this information, it’s extremely important to ensure that your book is appearing in proper categories, and that the blurb and cover appropriately reflect the contents. And again, if you’re bringing up triggering topics that may catch the reader off-guard or detailed descriptions related to those topics, a heads-up is appreciated.

Content Warnings vs Trigger Warnings

Both Content Warnings and Trigger warnings give the reader a head’s up that there is imagery that may have a negative impact.

Content warnings: These should be used to describe something that might upset readers and make them feel bad e.g., blood and nudity.
Trigger warnings: These should be used to prevent exposing someone with past trauma, to something that might insight a physical and/or mental reaction e.g., sexual violence.

A guide to content and trigger warnings

While there are nuances that separate the two, there is still a lot of overlap, so creating an inclusive list of both types of warnings will still aid a reader in choosing a book that is appropriate for them, or determining when they are emotionally prepared to deal with those topics.

Where can you include CW or TWs?

If your warning contains sensitive information that would likely trigger the bots to suppress your work, one option is to put them on your website, with a note in the blurb to check for additional content tags.

You could also include a similar notice, or your full list on a page before Chapter 1 begins. Some authors have had difficulty if naming this page Content Warning or Trigger Warning, so you may have to be creative with the header for this page and find something that balances gaining the reader’s attention without gaining the attention of bots.

In the past I’ve used an image that says Trigger Warnings with a heading that read, “Dear reader,”. Amazon is always changing so, as with other topics on this page, use your best judgment.

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