Trigger warnings

Trigger warnings were one of the main motivations for this project. No one likes to pick up a book that sounds really good just to realize four chapters in that it’s full of gore that the summary and cover didn’t prepare you for. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Maybe a book markets itself as a book about trauma but you come to find out that the trauma in question is barely mentioned and never explored in depth. Our tags would account for both scenarios, telling you both what’s in the book and how prominently it features.

But we know trigger warnings can also be a minefield. There is the word itself, so much contested that using it is already a political statement. The word was originally used in a medical context; triggers are words, images, smells, situations, thoughts, etc. that set off a memory or flashback of a trauma it relates to. In colloquial use, it applies to anything potentially triggering an adverse reaction from being mildly uncomfortable to emotional meltdown. Some trauma survivors resent the use for milder reactions, while others applaud the growing availability of warnings for common triggers. Most people who do have triggers have some that are not usually warned for, which is commonly limited to discussions or depictions of violence and abuse.

Fanfiction jargon offers the alternative term “squick” for story themes or tropes that disgust or scare a reader, acknowledging the individuality and personal nature of those elements. However, “squick” has fallen into disuse and has mostly been applied to sexual themes and kinks.

Even the word “warning” itself can carry a judgement in that it implies the elements readers are warned of are harmful in itself. Some people might actively look for these elements in a book. Others might be put off a book if it has a bunch of warnings, when they might otherwise enjoy the story. What necessitates a warning is highly variable among readers; both PTSD triggers and aversions of preference are specific to individuals. How can we decide what should be a warning and what should not?

This question is commonly answered by drawing the line at violence and abuse. Discrimination, battery, sexual assault and self-harm all carry the potential to upset an empathic reader or one who suffered through the reality of them. After much deliberation, our current policy is to group these into their own tag type group and choose a more descriptive name (like “Violence and abuse” or “Harm”). Sexual content will get its own group too, allowing you to judge the raunchiness at a single glance. These groups will also make it easy to create a kids-safe view later, though that too is not just a matter of blocking “bad” content and will require more more planning and explanation.

Registered users can further highlight warnings both on a book and in the list view (e.g. of search results). They will be able to create a list of tags that they want to either blacklist completely (preventing books with them or tags that imply them to be shown at all) or be alerted for (in the form of a salient note at the very top of the tag list). With these lists, handling triggers will be customizable and take the specifics of a user’s needs into account. Without an account, finding tags describing abuse, death, or injury will still be easy, but they won’t be set apart from other tags except by having their own type group. Keep reading to learn how modifiers can further refine the meaning of a tag.