Get a comprehensive trigger warnings list about triggering content in books specifically, along with answers to questions you may have about literary trigger warnings, including what they mean, why they are both important and controversial, how and when to use them and more.
I was inspired to discuss the trigger warning meaning in more detail after I recently read a really excellent example of one, which I share below. And, since I know this is a topic often discussed in the book world, I wanted to also provide readers with more clarification about them, whether it be for use in your reading life, social media life, or writing life.
There’s a lot to unpack in this trigger warnings list and guide, so let’s get right to it.
What is a trigger warning?
Definition of Trigger Warning
A trigger warning is a verbal or written warning about content in media that may cause a harmful physical, psychological, or physiological effect on a person who consumes it. In other words, consuming certain content can “trigger” people to react in a negative way, including, but not limited to, post-traumatic stress.
(If you’ve heard someone refer to being “triggered,” this is what they mean by it.)
Of note, trigger warnings are often confused with content warnings. While they can be very similar, there is a slight difference.
Trigger warnings refer to generally known and widely accepted triggers, like violence and trauma.
Content warnings can be more broad to include things that aren’t necessarily triggering, but may be triggering to a particular person or simply too graphic or explicit for a person’s preference.
For example, dogs are generally not triggering to people, but if you were viciously attacked by a dog, or if you recently lost your beloved dog, then you may wish to be warned about dog content in a book. Additionally, adult content would not necessarily be triggering, but a viewer may prefer to know about it before consuming such material.
Importance of Trigger Warnings
A trigger warning serves to advise a person of potentially harmful content before it is consumed in order to mentally prepare him or her for consuming it or to help him or her decide not to consume it (or allow someone else, like a child, to consume it).
If you think it’s silly or doesn’t matter, I can assure you that I can still recall in vivid detail the fearful experience of reading a book with a snake in first grade (which caused night terrors) and, to this day, I still struggle with content about September 11, 2001. And as a mostly vegan animal lover, I almost never pick up or make it through any books involving animal cruelty.
What I’m trying to say is that triggering content can cause a long-standing negative effect on a person, particularly if he or she already experienced it in real life.
Use of Triggers Warnings
(Since this is a book-themed website, I am going to focus on who uses trigger warnings with regard to books.)
First, book reviewers often refer to trigger warnings and/or content warnings in their book reviews. On Instagram, book reviews often use the abbreviations “TW” or “CW” followed by a string of trigger and/or content warnings.
The book-reviewing platform Storygraph even allows reviewers to add trigger warnings for specific books.
Personally, I usually simply try to make major triggers known within my actual summaries and reviews. But, since there are so many triggers to consider it can be hard to capture them all for those who need them, while also not spoiling content for other readers.
If a particular book contains a lot of common book triggers, like Colleen Hoover’s Verity, Ugly Love, Layla, and It Ends With Us, then I sometimes create an entire blog post about them and link to it for more information within other related posts. (Yes, those are links to posts about trigger warnings for those particular books.)
Second, the publisher and/or author may offer trigger warnings. This may come in the description of a book or even before a story begins. (I share an example of one I found particularly useful below.)
Controversy Over Trigger Warnings
Are trigger warnings harmful? Some people think so, particularly in education. Besides spoiling content for some readers, trigger warnings can also dissuade readers from consuming content that is difficult, but important, like stories of the Holocaust and slavery.
Some professionals also argue that avoidance of triggering content isn’t necessarily the best coping mechanism.
Lastly, trigger warnings can be a slippery slope that leads to censorship.
Personally, I try to find balance in my trigger warnings and how they are presented, and I consider each book I share differently.
What is an example of a trigger warning?
Recently, I read what I considered to be a really effective trigger warning that I will share with you as an example. What made it especially effective was that it both offered a warning while also feeling like a part of the story itself, building suspense for the action to come (for those who chose to continue reading).
The hot dragon school fantasy romance bestseller Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros begins with a single page containing this text:
Fourth Wing is a nonstop-thrilling adventure fantasy set in the brutal and competitive world of a military college for dragon riders, which includes elements regarding war, battle, hand-to-hand combat, perilous situations, blood, intense violence, brutal injuries, death, poisoning, graphic language, and sexual activities that are shown on the page. Readers who may be sensitive to these elements, please take note, and prepare to enter Basgiatah War College…
Common Trigger Warnings List
Below is a common trigger warnings list that aims to be both broad and specific, depending on the particular trigger.
I aimed to cover generally all the most common triggers that can encompass a wide range of content (for example, racial discrimination), while also referring to specific triggers where I simply felt it was necessary to call them out in such a way for some reason (like slavery, which may or may not be racially motivated).
- abusive relationship
- animal cruelty
- arranged/forced marriage
- attempted crimes
- bodily fluids
- child abuse
- domestic abuse
- eating disorders
- emotional abuse
- family conflict
- fat phobia
- forced actions
- foster system
- gender discrimination
- graphic death
- graphic sex
- hate crimes
- hostage situation
- hostile work environment
- human trafficking
- mass deaths
- mass shootings
- medical problems
- medical procedures
- memory problems
- mental abuse
- mental health issues
- military service
- organized crime
- panic attacks
- physical abuse
- physical assault
- police brutality
- political conflict
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
- racial conflict
- racial discrimination
- religious conflict
- religious discrimination
- sexual abuse
- sexual assault
- sexual discrimination
- substance abuse
- suicidal ideation
- verbal abuse
- victim blaming
Understanding and applying appropriate trigger warnings for books is a powerful way to respect and protect yourself and/or other readers who may have endured traumatic experiences.
But as comprehensive as this trigger warnings list was, it’s also important to note that it’s impossible to be exhaustive, as triggers can be very individual and varied. Still, I hope it served as a really solid starting point for authors, publishers, and readers alike.
Are there any common book triggers you would like to add to this list?