Nothing is True. Everything is Connected.
Discussion Thursday: Warning Labels

Discussion Thursday: Warning Labels

I have no doubt this will be touchy subject for people.  So before we even get started lets get one thing straight.  I will not tolerate flaming, rudeness, or attacks on anyone who comments on this blog.  We’re all adults which means we’ll disagree on variety of things.  And as adults we can have rational discussions without lowering ourselves to name calling.

Now that we have the ‘Warning’ out of the way… *grins*


I actually personal despise these things.  As a writer and a reader.  Why? Because the idea of a story whether it’s told via film, tv, book etc… is to entertain.  Not to be warned that something may upset me.  If it does the writer did their job – they made me feel and think.   It doesn’t matter the emotion – the writer got a reaction out of me – they did their job.

Now before you already go off screaming.

Ratings are not Warnings.

If I see the standard Ratings I can expect certain things.  If it’s rated G – I’m not expecting anything that is shocking.  PG – I can expect some language. Pg-13 – some violence and some sexual situations.  R – language, violence and sex. Nc-17 – all that in technicolor.  These 5 Ratings already gives a viewer some heads up of what they will expect.  If you walk into a PG and get graphic torture and rape scene  you’ll be shocked cause wait what?  If you’re watching R and it’s more a kids film you’re also going to be shocked.

These Ratings have been standard in the movie, tv, video game industry for over 50 years.  We use a version of these ratings for fanfic – giving the reader a quick reference of what to expect.

So why Warnings?

There are no warnings on a TV show, Movie, and Video Game  The Rating system is your warning.  If you walk into a NC-17 movie you can’t be surprised by the violence,  sex or combination there of… it’s NC-17 which means the Movie Industry has deemed this not view-able by anyone under 17.   If you pick up a game and it says Mature – you shouldn’t be shocked when your ‘Assassin’ starts killing people and blood cascades onto the walls.

Now Books don’t even get a Rating System.  When you pick it up, check the summary on the back, flip through a few pages and decided to buy it you’re taking the chance that there is things in it that may shock you.  There may be sex, violence, rape, torture, and you really have no idea of the character you fall for will survive the book.  You can get ideas of what to expect from the book you’ve picked up by its Genre.  If it’s Murder/Mystery you can expect some type of violent act.  It’s in the Gay/Lesbian section – you can expect their to be a same-sex couple somewhere in the story.  Romance is likely to have vivid sex scenes.  True Crimes – could have bloody details of deaths.  Kids section not expecting much violence/sex.

So if we accept Ratings for Movies, TV Shows and Video Games, and Genres for books to give us a clue on what to expect.

Why? Why? Why is fanfiction so rabid on Warnings.

My God I’ve never seen so many fights/wars/viscous attacks on authors over a simple warning or lack of one.   You walk into a movie, sit down for a tv show, pick up a book having no clue where the story will take you.  You are letting the writer/showrunner/director tell you the story.  You didn’t sit at the end of Sixth Sense and go OMG M. Night Shyamalan should have warned us that he was already dead!  You didn’t scream at Tolkien and demanded that he warn us that Boromir was going to die in the FIRST BOOK! *though I still haven’t forgiven him for that :D*

Yet you will reply to an author and scream/rant/rave at them for not warning you that *this will happen in this story*.   Yet won’t reply to an author to tell them you enjoyed their story – But that is a whole different discussion.

I have a standard warning on the opening screen for the Sylum Archive.  You could possibly find any of these things in this series.

And I hate it.


Because my job is to make you laugh, cry, throw things, stare at the computer in shock and call me every name in the book but a child of god.  My job is to surprise you, make sure you didn’t see that coming, fall in love with the characters, look beyond your expectations, and hopefully you’ll walk away with new perspectives.  But mostly my job is to entertain – to lure you into the story to the point that hours go by and you have no clue.

My job is not to hold your hand in case something you read upsets you.

Warning for Death

I admit who wants to see their favorite character die – hence fanfic in general – Let alone Sylum *pointedly looks at Speed* But at the same time why limit yourself to what you are willing to read.  Some of the best stuff I’ve read have revolved around a characters death.  Though I still hate Tolkien for killing Boromir – that scene in the book is amazing to read and I choke up each time.

Another good example: Transformers 3 – I sat there in shock watching my beloved Ironhide die.  I was like wait what… then promptly called Bay every name in the book.  But I didn’t demand my money back or demand that he warn us that Ironhide was going to die.  Can you imagine for a second:  Opening Credits ready to role – then before we get to see Optimus…

Warning: This story may upset you as I’ve killed off Ironhide.

Sounds ridiculous right?

So why do you make a fanfic author write that exact thing?

Warning for words that are non PC

I’m not even having the discussion on the idea of how society as gotten to PC over the past years.  Sometimes you really just need to call an idiot an idiot.  Anyway moving on.

Words are powerful.  Seeing hate filled words hurts.  I’m not going to deny that.  It’s uncomfortable to see derogatory words used by characters we love and even by those we don’t love.  I’ve already discussed how you need to take the modern thinking out historical characters. But you also need to look at the characters and their position in life.

So why am I as a writer warning you that a racists, sexists asshole character is not going to speak PC?  And why are you as the reader yelling at me for using the words?  It’s not me it’s the character… A KKK card caring member is not going to use the words African American or Mexican American.   He doesn’t in real life and he sure as hell not going to do it in a fic.  Yeah it’s shocking can even make you stop and go what? Why does it do that? Because you aren’t a KKK Card Caring Member… but don’t assume that because the author wrote it – they are.

Warning for Sex

If my fic is R and Nc-17 – be shocked if there isn’t sex.  I’m not going to warn for sex.  Now if you list pairings: Horatio/Timothy – that should indicate it’s going to be Gay Sex.  And if it says Indiana/Lara – that should indicate Het Sex.

Now yes when you walk into a book store and pick up Harlequin Romance you would probably be shocked if there is a gay couple – I would hope at some point this won’t be shocking but we’ve got a while to go on that.  If you walk into the gay/lesbian section – the gay sex shouldn’t be shocking.

Hopefully when you read the summary and it says Tom is a lawyer new to Chicago and his life takes a turn when he meets Brian the Barista at Starbucks.  Does the author really need to warn you that – gay sex may pop up?

Oh and just because your favorite character doesn’t end up with the one you want them to – doesn’t mean the author has to warn you.  Now I’ll admit I’ve read that story – it was my favorite pairing – even listed as it – at the end they both where with someone else … I was like wait what?  Oh they got ripped to shreds.  The key here is not that they should have warned for it – they should have stated a different option in the pairing listing… So that isn’t a warning – its making sure you label your story right.

Next is even more difficult thing to discuss.

Warning for Triggers

I’m lucky. I’m going to say that upfront.  I’ve not had major traumatic experiences that watching/reading something could trigger a flashback.  And I honestly can’t imagine going through something like that and dealing with the emotional, psychological, and  physical ramifications.  I do understand that aspects of stories can trigger memories.  I will not deny that.  But then everyday things can trigger memories – from smell, a touch, sound.

But why is it my responsibility to make sure you don’t get triggered? I’m being honest here.

My fic is NC-17  its a strong possibility there will be graphic violence and/or sex.  I get yelled at for triggering them…

My fic is Pg – there is no graphic violence and/or sex but I still get yelled at for triggering them because there as a line that reminded them of ….

In the end I can’t win.   I can’t write a fic with the idea that a word, sentence, scene, will trigger someone.

So here are some questions for thought:

Your brother was killed in an accident – you blame Tolkien for triggering those memories when Boromir dies?

You walk by someone who has the same cologne as your ex – it flashbacks to the memories of fights and the breakup – do you blame the stranger walking by?

I know these are simple examples and there are lot more horrific moments in life – but the question is do you blame the person who inadvertently triggered them?

For some yes they do – they blame the fanfic author – Cause how dare they not warn that there could be something in their fic that could upset them.   I’ve heard the argument I shouldn’t have to read about Rape or Child abuse and its shocking when it shows up in my fanfic.  It’s also shocking when it shows up on your tv show/movie/book.   The problem is that the author does not know exactly what can trigger someone – a person could be triggered by variety of ways a rape scene can be written, someone may react to a cop talking to a kid about being abused, while someone else flinches when the main character is slapped because they were abused.

I’m not taking away that these moments have  impact on people.  But what I’m pointing out – an author can write the same scene different ways and styles – detailed not detailed and still end up triggering someone.

That’s why you need to put a warning on it!!  So the reader doesn’t get triggered!!

Okay.  So when do you add the warning?  When  Rape or Child Abuse is just mentioned? Or when it’s graphically detailed?  The Author starts to get antsy on what to warn for – either warns to much and gives the story away or not enough and gets yelled at.   Which leads back to the original question – why is my job to warn you?  If you walk into a bookstore buy a book or sit down for a TV Show/Movie and something happens to trigger you – what do you do?

– Keep reading/watching?

– Put it down/turn it off?

Do you contact the bookstore/studio, publishing house/cable channel, author/director and yell at them for not warning you?

So why do you contact a fanfic author and do just that?


Now I’m pretty sure I’ve either pissed you off or have you nodding your head in agreement.  Either way I’m hoping a rational discussion can come about on the subject.



  1. Lorelei

    I think it boils down to taking responsibility. At the end of the day, I am an adult passed the age of having someone moniter my reading or movie/tv watching habits. If I see something I don’t like, I STOP watching it or STOP reading it. It’s my responsibility to moniter my intake. And to be honest, my definition of a rating or warning might not be someone elses. I love a good sex scene but I blush reading a Harlequin romance on the subway and those are practically PG!

    1. Bj Jones

      You have a good point in the fact Ratings can be viewed differently by different people. What someone could think as PG could be Pg-13 or even R. So that is something to take into consideration. Writers do need to be responsible in that I wrote a graphic sex scene rating it PG is not cool.

  2. Cat

    I think people just want not to think. They would rather another person tell them how to think, feel, and live. They don’t want to be responsible for their actions much less some one else. Having lived a hard life with abuse in my history I still find that I like reading stories that include that topic. I don’t have to be warned I knew that going into reading something that I might find a trigger for bad memories. The rating tells me I should or shouldn’t expect to read or see something I might not like.

  3. I have not put many warnings on my fics simply because it’s not my job to hold your hand and make sure you don’t see anything you don’t like. If it bothers you, fine. Stop reading and go elsewhere. Don’t wade through the whole thing and then flame me for not warning you. I don’t think that warnings are appropriate, for the same reasons Bev has mentioned. And Lorelei makes the same point… ultimately each of us is responsible for our own reading experience. If it bugs you, let it alone. Don’t blame the author.

    I have a lot more discussion I could loose on this but I won’t for the sake of keeping everything calm and rational and on topic. Anyone who wants to discuss my further views is more than welcome to email or message me on Facebook.

    1. Bj Jones

      Dj! *hugs*

      This discussion has been in my head for a while. As lately it seems fanfic has come down to ‘twelve-year old girls’ not everyone but the loudest of them. Sylum is beyond that. So having the ‘warnings’ just irks me.

      If you get through Clan War – you know that you can expect anything from any of the stories. None of our writers hold back.

  4. Maria

    I think that we’ve fear. Fear to all that doesn’t respond to our idea of as should be, fear to be surprised because we don’t know if the surprise will please us, … We`re like children; and as them,
    we want and require a world where all the things be accommodated to our flavor. We’re adults, but we don’t accept that responsibility and when something or someone doesn’t respond to our expectations… We protest,require and, sadly, insult.
    Is easier when all is marked, there isn’t surprise, not danger, … not emotion.
    Publically, we will not dare to protest, but Internet.. is the anonymity that it free us to express our displeasure of all that doesn’t respond to our demands.
    Well. I don’t like so seriously but…


    P.D: I’m sorry, but my english isn’t good

  5. Jessica

    I understand trigger warnings for certain things. Major personal acts of violence ( rape torture) suicide and self harm are really the only ones I think are necessary simply because those are the issues most likely to trigger a person.

  6. Nodding head. Some warnings are so involved, you’ve just about read the whole story!

    My personal grievance, someone who reads the whole story then complains.

    There has been the very odd fic where I have gotten to a certain point and thought “OK not for me.” That is what the back key or the delete button is for.

    Warning for m/m or m/f sex scenes always makes me smile. I don’t care what “type” of sex it is as long as it is well written and oh makes sense.

    Triggers are a hard thing, but in reality a single word can trigger someone, so where do you draw the line?

    I think in general we have become a very cautious world, afraid of hurting someones feelings or upsetting them. I don’t want to do either, but I’m sure it happens.

    So maybe it’s about time some people where told to… suck it up princess and move on.

    1. Bj Jones

      That’s a good point … Cause I have had the angry email from a parent screaming at me for corrupting their kid – I pointed out needed to be 18 to get the password and rating clearly states R..

  7. I agree with you. I take responsibility for what I read and watch and listen to. I am known and teased by family about my habit in checking the last page in a book to make sure the main guy/gal lives. That is my choice. It is the author’s story theyget to write what they want. If I read and enjoy that is great. The thing is the author is sharing their talent, I am always awed at the risk they take – I can not do that. I dont know how they keep on sharing when so much is taken for granted. It is the author’s choice not mine!

    Again thank you for sharing your wonderful stories!!

  8. bj drake

    Last time I checked I was a responsible adult able to chose what I read and watch. I didn’t go see Magic Mike and expect to see an elephant disappear nor do I read fanfic and expect to not read something that inspires some emotion. I know there will be gay and het scenes and honestly I have giggle fits when I watch some show wondering how the writers would turn a pairing. Would love to see Hobbs and Dom in an alternate universe story sometime. I had to stop reading To Race Through Dark Places a few times. It inspired so many emotions. But I would never write Tim Quinn and yell at him for creating those emotions. It is a sign of a truly talented writer to evoke those emotions to begin with.
    I thought I knew what I was walking into when I entered Sylum Manner. But it is so much more. The stories create a wonderful world that I like to visit as often as I can. I don’t want a PC world where I have to be spoon fed what might and might not shock or offend me. That is for me to decide. And as of yet it hasn’t happened. Just hope everyone can be an adult and to remember if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.

  9. JimmieJive

    To me warnings are ridiculous. It’s mostly people acting like they’re entitled to stuff. To me if you know you get triggered by something then that’s your responsibility as a reader. As a reader I’m sure there are ways you can find out if there are things in the story that might trigger you, for example email the author or comment politely asking if there is anything that might trigger you in their story. I’m like 99% sure if you are polite an author will reply and let you know. Or, you can ask someone who has read the story to tell you, or ask someone to read it for you to find out. I dunno, to me it’s just common sense that if you know there is something that could upset you then find out first, don’t complain afterwards.
    It’s like if you have an allergy to a food, you don’t eat out and then complain when you have a reaction, you ask if the food has your allergen in it before eating.
    In saying that though, most major food allergies are warned for now, which is why I like the AO3 warning system. It has four main warnings (major character death, violence, rape, and underage) but it also gives the option to say you aren’t using those warnings, which is an indicator and should lead to people messaging the author if they’re worried.

    Sorry this got rambly but this is just one of those things that bug me so I needed to get my thoughts out. Thanks XD

  10. AB

    I think you’re touching on one of the problems today- the lack of personal responsibility. Common man expects teachers to raise their children, the government to provide free services, schools to give easy grades, etc. Where do they have to work for anything? By getting upset if you don’t give detailed spoiler warnings, they want to avoid having their emotions upset and morals questioned. Isn’t that what every good piece of art does? I never have understood why fanfic is different from other arts.

    Thank you for your commitment to Sylum!

  11. DB

    I have to admit to mixed feelings on this topic. While I do agree that too many warnings can spoil a story, I also believe those regarding the more explicit acts of violence (e.g torture and rape) should be included.

    My reasoning for this is that while a NC-17 tag warns of adult content its also rather vague as to what kind.

    You can have a basic level of understanding of what you might find in a book or movie based on genre. You don’t watch a rom-com expecting a high body count or a horror book/movie to be full of kittens and rainbows.

    Fanfiction however isn’t limited to any one genre or type, it covers the whole spectrum. Which is why I think this is such a controversial subject, a posted story could contain anything and going in blind can be rather daunting.

  12. Lady Andrews

    Personally I hardly ever read warnings, ratings or pairings when I’m looking at new fic’s to read. I concentrate on the summary to see if the gist of the story is something I might like to read.
    I don’t care what rating a story might be, what does it matter if the story does or doesn’t have a sex scene, I am a responsible adult it is down to me to decide once I have started reading a fic if it is what I am looking for in my down time.

    As quite a few have already mentioned, Sylum is password protected by age restriction. I was originally introduced to fan fiction at around the age of 15 by an aunt who first read and decided if a story was suitable for my maturity level. She would then let me read the story after which we would discuss the story and anything I may have questions on or if I was uncomfortable with anything I had read.
    Unfortunately not everyone has such a person to do this for them. I feel that this is where personal responsibility comes in. No one should send nasty, hurtful messages to an author who has put time and effort into there work for us to read (for free I might add!) and complain that their sensibilities have been set a quiver.

    Also young people should respect an authors decision on a rating for a story just as the parents should be aware of what they are reading If the parent isn’t happy, they should restrict and the computers with parental controls.

    I don’t think an author should ever feel that they have done something wrong when this sort of thing comes up. Every reader is a self aware person who is ultimately responsible for ones self.

    Sylum is an awe inspiring fandom in its own right and as a loyal fan I have to say that nothing I have ever read in the Manor has ever made me uncomfortable and it is sad that some people can be so very small minded and rude.

  13. Kathie+Guazzo

    I just came across this again and wanted to offer my 4 cents (inflation, you know) I find younger readers/commenters tend to have the feeling that they are entitled to have fanfiction meet their qualifications. I tend to not want warnings other than pairings. I do dislike stories where A/non-consensual-rapist is listed as a pairing. I do like a brief summary but some warnings are telling the entire tale in the tags.

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