Recently, I’ve seen a few of these on books. They’re usually associated with the same types of warnings on movies and TV. Contains violence, rape, incest, etc. Sometimes, they give a minimum age requirement. Most are in the genres of crime, horror, psychological-based thrillers with gruesome criminal acts.
I write mainly in dark urban fantasy (I add the horror tag for the fear factor), so is the concept of content warnings suitable to transfer to [my] books?
When I opened discussion about Trigger Warnings for books (part 1, part 2), the general consensus was that the cover, title, and genre is enough to warn a reader of the contents. Of course, that assumes that the writer does these three things well enough, and that the story has all three completed (not the case for critiquing, or some early readers). It also assumes that there is a generality to a genre (funny that), but I’ve found a wide variance within a specific genre when comparing what lies within.
Maybe the big genre labels are too broad. Fantasy comes under SFF and F, a huge umbrella. Horror and Urban Fantasy come in under that, too, so I’d use it. But below these broad categories are hundreds, although the author can only use two, sometimes three.
For Diaballein (my darkest urban fantasy) these are the genre fields:
Suspense, Horror fiction, Dark fantasy (although I think on ‘zon, it’s Horror, Dark Fantasy, Suspense in terms of order, but I can’t see it unless I log in as the author — why isn’t the list of genres visible to the perusing reader?).
The next story won’t be as dark. Okay, it will be, but still different enough. It’s about facing fears, entering the places (internal and external) that scare the main character, and finding ways to work through. However, it is also a form of psychological suspense. The things she goes through could terrify … I did write it that way. Being afraid and moving forward despite the fear is part of life, I think. And I’ve experienced enough fear and terror to know what it feels like to the marrow in my bones.
And as for putting these dark elements in a story, this is what I wrote for others when attempting to help with new storytellers:
Why will a reader connect to this person in your story? What’s special about them? Is it clear that something needs to change? What is the journey they need to undertake to learn through doing?Storyteller’s Guild Book No. 1
The big question is this: Why Do We Care About This Person?
Finding the emotional link that joins the reader to the character is the first step to getting the reader to keep reading. They invest in the outcome of the character. They want to live this life for a while so they can learn the same lesson, but with no risks.
It’s the final two words that make the difference. No risks. The reader undergoes emotional ups and downs as they read, but because it’s a story, they can step back from the contents or put the book down. If it gets too much, they can leave the story behind.
That statement could be wrong, though. If a person is highly sensitive to the elements of the story, there could be risk to their psychological state. I don’t want to do that, or have that happen.
If I put contents warnings on Diaballein, I’m not sure what I’d write. I might need to research psychological labels, and I hate using those terms. Labels don’t always fit different people the same way. It could mean an ill-fitting definition is used, the most generic term, because nothing else fits nor can it be tailored. Or I could change the story to ensure one of the labels would work. (No, I won’t do that; once published, it’s there, and even though I might go back one day if big issues are raised, it’s not likely at this stage.)
However, the problem for me is that I’m not a spring chicken (more like a dry-roasted old duck, in fact), so I may not be in tune with the needs of a more modern society.
I might need help with this, but until there are clear directions, or I write something that includes the types of violence or other stuff that needs a content warning, I won’t be using it.
However, I will be adding a line to the blurb: the list of genres. I want to ensure that a reader will not enter the story unknowing of what lies within.
Would that be enough?