As part of Author Ethics Week, this post is about what our responsibility, as authors, is to the reader.
It wasn’t until very recently I’d heard the term “trigger warning”. It was fellow writer, Rachel Thompson, who used the term and I took the time to stop and explore what it meant.
Trigger warning- a label that warns the audience of any potential material that will invoke memories of a traumatic experience.
It wasn’t something I considered when I wrote and published Surviving the Stillness. I knew I needed something psychologically impacting to change the course of my main characters’ future. Something more traumatic than losing her mother and her home, but I didn’t want to go down the road of a sexual assault or rape. It was through developing the antagonists that I came to decide on the events that I wrote into the book.
Abuse, no matter what form it takes, can trigger our minds to recall times that we’ve been hurt. I realized a few weeks ago when the new movie American Sniper started showing its trailers that I have a sensitivity to knowing the psychological wounds of war. Every time the trailer comes on I turn it off or leave the room, because it forces me to remember too many lives taken. The movie was made to be sobering, but it doesn’t have a nice little warning label that gives me that moment to turn off the television.
Instead, I find myself watching those split seconds of decision that cause a man to be psychologically and emotionally scarred for life, and it’s too much for me. It hurts because I know veterans on street corners begging because they’ve never been able to heal from war enough to hold a job. It hurts because I’ve known good men to take their lives because they couldn’t integrate back into a life where we hyper-focus on things that don’t matter in the grand scheme of things.
All it takes is two seconds to remind me of all the wounds of war I’ve seen in men’s souls. It got me thinking maybe I should have put a trigger warning on my book. I take Abigail through the whole journey of PTSD through the series. Obviously in Surviving the Stillness she has to first accept what has happened to her. Her survival mode of protecting her brother from finding out the truth begins to unravel as her mind finds stability inside the daily routine of orphanage life. As happens in many people with PTSD, her body is the first to make others aware something is wrong. In the next three books, she has to reconstruct her life and move forward dealing with the layers of implications that a traumatic event leaves.
Many have asked me if any of Abigail’s experiences are my own, and I can honestly say no. I’ve never lost a parent or been through the experiences she’s been through, but I have dealt with Christians who used scripture out of context to justify their hurtful actions. I’ve worked with women who survived domestic violence and manipulation by narcissists, so I know the mind games they play. And I have had experiences in my life that have left their psychological imprint, like watching friends lose their husbands to war. Wounds that no matter how much they’ve healed still leave scars to remind me, at one time I was hurt.
So when I update the book, I will be adding a trigger warning to the back cover. I will also be updating the blurbs on my website, Amazon, and Goodreads soon. Because I care deeply about my readers.
Would you like to see more authors give warnings about the content of their books? Do you think that it is ethical for an author not to advise the reader of content that might trigger psychological, emotional, or physical reactions?