Recently I learned some literary agents want trigger warnings (content warnings, content advisories, whatever your favourite term is) in the query letters they receive. This was a new idea to me, but I want to do what I can to make agents happy.
So what are the trigger warnings for the manuscript I’m querying?
More fundamentally, what kinds of things do people want to be warned about. Did you know there are lists of possible trigger warnings?
This was starting to get fun. I skimmed the list given in the link, which looked pretty comprehensive, and realised I was about to learn some new words.
What is ‘amisia’? Not even my dictionary knows.
I thought Google would come to my rescue, but Google only wanted to tell me about amnesia. Oh, and Amisia may be Latin for the river Ems. (I swear that’s a real river. Probably.) Amisia is can also be a human name, meaning a mature, insightful, and loyal friend.
This is really not helping, so I’m going to take a leap and say my book doesn’t contain amisia.
The possible content advisories are helpfully categorised by type, so I’ll go through each category one at a time.
Hate, discrimination, and oppression
This list ranges from ableism to workplace harassment. The range of other -misia’s makes me think amisia might be something like prejudice against ace people. My manuscript still doesn’t have it. Phew!
Racism – I do have racism. The main character and her trusty ally flee to a foreign kingdom where they’re outsiders, and a few of the locals express negative views about people from their homeland. You know, the usual sorts of things, like that they’re all pirates and drug addicts. (To be fair, historically they were pirates, but that was a long time ago.)
Sexism and misogyny – And I have sexism. The world is fundamentally patriarchal (sorry, but I love writing about underdogs), and an antagonist tells the female main character he doesn’t think she can do [magic thing censored because spoilers] because she’s a woman. He later is proved wrong and apologises, because of course woman can do that.
Slavery and indentured servitude – The main character and her ally are, technically, slaves–slaves who fight in a vaguely gladiatorial arena. Until things happen and they run away on a quest.
Sex and sexual violence
The next category is sex and sexual violence. I didn’t think I had any of this, but then I remembered an antagonist says some very sexually inappropriate things to a minor character offscreen. Then a major character (also a woman) comes to the rescue! So, yes to sexual harassment.
Abuse and relationships
The terms given here are modern so don’t fit very well in my world, but I’ll do my best.
Abandonment, adoption, and foster care – In their backstory, the main character and her ally were both sold by their parents to rich patrons so they could join a training school for arena fighters. I don’t know what you call that, but it was kind of unfriendly.
Arranged, forced, and coerced marriages – Arranged. Not forced or coerced. Because that’s the world they live in.
Cheating/infidelity – Someone cheats, I’m not telling who. And everyone knows about it but no one does anything.
Child abuse – Yep, I can’t get around this one. The training school for arena fighters is pretty brutal.
Mental health and suicide
Phobias – The main character has some pretty inconvenient phobias–arachnophobia and fear of heights, to name a few.
Stroke – I mean, it’s kind of a magical stroke, but it happens onscreen so I think it still counts.
Alcohol and drugs
Alcohol consumption and abuse – People drink alcohol. It’s probably safer than the water.
Pregnancy and childbirth
I don’t have any of these!
Blood, injury, and medical
I’m thinking I might have quite a few of these. Let’s take a look.
Blood and gore description – yes
Dead bodies and body parts – yes
Decapitation – yes, but non-human
Emesis (vomiting) – There are body parts and some characters aren’t used to seeing that. Don’t judge.
Hospitalisation – My world doesn’t have hospitals as such, but sick and injured people are cared for in places specifically built for it.
Medical treatment and procedures – yes, mostly magical
Physical injuries – yes, quite a lot
Physical illness – yes, and it’s not a cold
Scars – yes, but no one runs around twitching about how ugly they are
Starvation and dehydration – Only a bit. They were never really going to die.
I was right, I did have quite a few. Most of them are pretty mild, but I’m trying to be generous here.
Death and loss
Death from exposure and from falling are both listed as categories here, but it never asks about the biggest problem in my world, death by dragon.
Death of a child – Um, yes. Sorry. It’s a dangerous world for minor characters (and I don’t mean ‘minor’ in an age sense).
Death of a parent or guardian – yes
Death of a sibling – in the backstory, yes
Death of an uncle or aunt – yes
Violence and crime
My prediction is I’ll have quite a few of these too.
Building collapse – kind of, but I’m pretty sure no one was in it
Captivity and confinement – yes
Hanging and lynching – yes, but offscreen and it was entirely legal
Imprisonment and incarceration – yes
Knife, sword, and axe violence – definitely
Murder and attempted murder – just a few
Physical assault – yes, and I’ll say it again: yes
Torture – yes, but with the best of intentions
Whipping – yes, but only in backstory
War and genocide
Military service and deployment – yes
War themes and military violence – yes
I was going to say no, then I remembered the flood.
Animal death and cruelty
Animal cruelty and abuse – yes, but only once and the person who did it really regretted it
Animal death – yes, but not pet death. I would never do that.
And there you have my content advisories! Reading all these, it sounds like my book is pretty horrible. I promise it’s not. The world is brutal, but the people are good. (Mostly.) They don’t even swear.
The real question is, am I too mean to my characters?
Too much? Does knowing this make you more or less likely to pick up my book?
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