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genre and warnings in professional literature
children of dune - leto 1
seperis
So this just occurred to me--and this is not to reopen the warning debates--but something I realized posting comments in a friend's DW today about warnings and genre.

Warning: Could potentially be triggering, as while it's a theoretical discussion of professional fiction and warnings, comments do mention specific instances, novels, and authors with triggering content.



Right, so we say the jacket summary will tell you sometimes, and recs, on if something is going to trigger you--examples rape, pedophilia, incest, eating disorders, self-harm, et al. I've never entirely been sure of that because a.) I rarely read reviews and b.) dust jackets/summaries are just as misleading in professional fic as fanfic.

I was trying to think of the times profic surprised me with something really unpleasant in the family of potential triggers (other people's common triggers) and it was maybe a handful of times at most, and it's not like I don't also read blind either, where to challenge myself I'll buy books in genre sight unseen and read them. (Don't ask. It's like paying to be stupid, to be honest.) Thing is--and please correct me if I'm wrong--ballpark, what are the chances of hitting a sci-fi fic that involves a character with an eating disorder?

Again, I'm not saying it doesn't happen, but I'm going to tentatively state there's not a lot of books about space ships that also linger on the character's eating disorder and treatment, for example. In general, sci fi, for example, doesn't have a huge market share with rape, outside of the John Norman school of what the fuck, in which wtf, that's not even sci-fi; fantasy is more likely to have it, almost guaranteed if a major female protagonist is involved, either Far in the Past or mostly off-screen. In fact, outside a few exceptions, when reading in any genre (non contemporary literature, non issue literature, non YA issue literature), it's not going to show up as more than a Far in the Past or Well Off-Screen.

If you're a regular reader of romance, and I am, I can spot whether the story will be seduction or rape by publisher and summary, even if it never mentions rape (which you know, it won't). Mysteries, same deal. In general--again with some exceptoins--genre telegraphs concept.

Fanfic for the most part has no concept of genre whatsoever; I'm wondering now if that's a reason it's more complicated in fandom. More or less, if you're used to genre giving you some kind of warning by being genre, then fandom's mix and match would confuse the issue. It occurs to me that very few professional works try to handle a serious trigger issue and do anything else in a story; that seems to be the story's center. Which--am I missing something?

I wish I could survey for this. Hmm. Feel free to correct me; my experience in reading is definitely not everyone's.

Posted at Dreamwidth: http://seperis.dreamwidth.org/60258.html. | You can reply here or there. | comment count unavailable comments


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I suspect YA has lots of triggery stuff- more or less front and center. Not the kind of stuff I read- but the more 'emo' teen girl stuff? I was dying about a write up someone linked to about a boy with 'HOOKS FOR HANDS'- it... kinda reminded me of fanfic and likely was triggery cause it sounded like thy just piled on the angst. 'Flowers in the Attic'? Man- I'd bet Judy Blume was triggery. And I'd bet you get more in Suspense type stories where folks have a dark/tragic/troubled past.

Man- I just read what I thought was a cozy mystery w/an animated Dachshund on the cover that I thought would be a cute/funny/cozy and ended up w/dead families and kitties and monkeys and.... jeebus. Not what I was expecting from the cover. They start killing kitties, it's really not something I want to read. But I'd agree- it was unusual for the type of mysteries I usually pick up. Genre probably is often a good hint, but I think some (YA, Suspense/Thriller) are more likely to get more books w/triggery issues (vs. say your typical cozy or classic sf).


You make a really interesting point about expectations based on the genre/summary. To me, YA fiction is where a lot of potential triggers are--I remember reading Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak in junior high/high school and loving it to pieces, but I remember reading it for the first time and knowing something awful had happened to the protagonist, but I had no idea that it was rape, and there was nothing in the summary to give me a warning either. I also find it interesting how my judgment on adult mysteries/thrillers has shifted in the wake of all the TV crime procedurals--I remember picking up one of the Rizzoli and Isles novels to try it out, and being really shocked by the graphic nature of some of the killings.

I remember the one that caught me off guard was a fantasy novel by Juliet Marillier called Daughter of the Forest. I read it a couple of years ago and had to put it down for a couple of days, not because the rape was horribly graphic, but it was very onscreen and very present and very out of the blue. Mostly, it was just that I wasn't expecting it. I read plenty of stories that involve rape, but I usually prefer to be warned in someway in advanced. Someone else mentioned Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak, which I adore, and even though there wasn't any kind of outright warning, you still knew from when you picked up the book that something bad had happened.

Same thing applies to fic, mostly. I'm okay reading most triggers, but I really prefer to know in advanced.

Yeah, I did enjoy the Sevenwaters series you mentioned but when I first read it really threw me off because I wasn't expecting it at all.

I've never been caught off guard by profic. I can tell by the genre, author, and/or synopsis what sort of things will happen.

Detective novels=may be triggery.
Fantasy novels focused on the long ago past=triggery.
Sci-fi=may have bugs.

But I've never read a profic and then was caught by a out of the blue scene I wasn't expecting.

I don't count character death in that score cause I generally assume that someone may die in any profic.

In fanfic, there's a lot of unexpected things. I've read scenes where the author intended to write bdsm or sex and instead wrote rape. There are times when there are extremely horrible things happening in a Prince of Tennis fic. (Hey, the manga's about tennis. Srsly, why is there surprise rape and torture?)

I tend to think it's because the shows/books we're basing fanfic on belong to a genre already. People sometimes take that and spin it on its head. Taking the characters out of one situ and putting them in another.

I also think that fanfic writers tend to try to generate maximum angst in a shorter span of words and tend to use things that are sure to deliver that.

A book generally has thousands and thousands of words to do a slow build if you're not relying on those old standbys.


I've read scenes where the author intended to write bdsm or sex and instead wrote rape.

SERIOUSLY WHAT IS WITH THAT????? That freaks me right out. (And makes me worry about if the author is OK, and in a safe relationship, frankly.)

In general, sci fi, for example, doesn't have a huge market share with rape

This is not my reading experience, actually. Scifi, fantasy, and horror alike have tons of rape or metaphorical rape. Some of the three volume fantasies I ate up as a kid didn't seem to think their plot had enough zest without at least one scene where a nubile young woman got menaced by a hulking guardsman. And let's not even get started on Piers Anthony. *facepalm*

Outside of romance, it's not always luridly described w/r/t sexual acts, but then that's not necessarily the triggery part of reading when you've got a trigger, as I understand it. The "bad shit is going down, but I'll just leave the details to your imagination" could be pretty unpleasant if you can fill in the blanks all too easily. And of course, our culture isn't always great at distinguishing that yes, certain situations may be rape or dubcon at the very least.

And even if you're not dealing with a straight up case of Clueless Author Fap Fantasy, there are still plenty of "what the shit? where did that come from?" moments out there in popular fiction: there's that one scene in Stephen King's It that leaps to mind.

Yeah I've read plenty of fantasy novels with non-con of some variety-- rape, possession, mind-rape, dub-con, etc. Also I read a lot of those books starting when I was in 5th grade, which I think says a lot about how much warning I had of the contents. Arthurian/medieval fantasy novels especially seemed rife with the noncon--I'm currently reading the "A Song of Ice and Fire" series by George R. R. Martin and my god, every other chapter seems to have noncon, especially of barely pubescent girls. Some of it can be explained as "the reality of medieval warfare" in context, but a lot more seems to be his id showing.

And then there are books where there aren't internal issues, but external ones-- like, in the universe as created by the author it ISN'T non-con/dub-con/creepy but then you sit back (sometimes years later) and go "oh, wait...". Like, I just did that with Pern. It's essentially AMTDI (well, Dragons MTDI but it's a fantasy series in the sci-fi genre) but the very first Pern novel has a girl (16?) who doesn't know what she's been inducted into, in a closed society with little information, whose first sexual experience is DMTDI, and then her new hierarchically determined partner has sex with her again before realizing that wait, she wasn't all that into it and actually seemed to be more enduring it (power and consent issues much?). And of course they turn into an epic romance relationship. Of course.

Also, don't even get me started on John Ringo or on Heinlein's later novels.

When I read The Clan of the Cave Bear as a kid I was pretty shocked that the main character is raped repeatedly (everyone else just ignores it because it's the male character's right) when she is a girl of 11 or 12 (?), has a son, and then later is forced to leave her clan but she is not allowed to take her son with her. She never sees him again! D: I wish there had been a warning for all that. :/

now I am super-glad I thought the cover of that book was stupid and never read it because leaving the kid behind would have given me nightmares. :(

are you KIDDING? I get slammed with unexpected triggers ALL THE TIME in profic and tv and film. Profic is the worst, far and away. Mostly for sexual assault. It actually makes me never want to read profic without it being vetted by friends gain, except my friends KEEP RECCING ME BOOKS WITHOUT WARNING ME. And I don't mean a general sense of warnings - I mean, recs to me directly, from people who know me as well as you do, without a warning for rape. Can you imagine? You don't even send me META without warnings, because you KNOW my triggers!

(which, hey, thank you. I don't know if I thank you for that enough, but. Thanks.)

The worst EVER for me was Firethorn, followed by The Way of Spider books and then Mercedes Lackey. Maybe it's worst in SciFi/Fantasy, but my experience is NOT of it being off screen or in the past at ALL. Well, not counting Flowers in the Attic, which triggered me so hard I can't even put it into WORDS, my lord.

In TV, I point you to Veronica Mars, which triggered me liek whoa (despite my love for it). I'm pretty sure I've told you when I found other things which did of late, yes?

I've whined at you about this before, actually, as well as doing LJ entries asking people to PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE REMEMBER TO WARN ME, but it hasn't helped.

So yeah. Your experience in this area and mine are... not related. And this topic was triggery, a little, because thinking about examples got my heartrate up and that awful shivery feeling in my chest and fingertips, but you warned for that so I'm not actually complaining, just feedbacking.

Love you, lady.

Added a full warning; even if the entry itself isn't triggering to most people, comments very well might be.

*hugs*

Much sci-fi, like many
space future au fics, fall
into the Space rapera
genre. They are in
Space, and someone
gets raped a lot.
With special
technology. Stephen Donaldson is guilty of this. The Highlander fic warned at least.

I work for a big trade publisher, and at my imprint, there's a copy department that writes all the jacket copy. Quite often, they do it before the book is written from the author's summary. It's my job to make sure that nothing in the copy contradicts the book, but quite often I'll come across copy that focuses on a certain angle of the story that in the final book is incidental. Like, the copy makes it sound like an amnesia fic, but in the story the hero gets his memory back by page 20. In that way, fic often has more accurate summaries--but they're usually also less punchy, as their not written by a professional team.

In my experience though, rape is all over professional fiction, at least what I work on. Romance it's kind of through and through, even with the rapist hero falling out of fashion. Now it's all about the triumphant victim (especially in erotica--no idea why). But it also pops up unexpectedly in traditional man lit, like thrillers. I gave up on Stephen King after I noticed his disturbing focus on how traumatic menstruation was to all of his female characters... (Eating disorders, not really so much. Or at all.)

Oh, and also there's Jumper, which starts out with the attempted rape of the male main character.

I think this is why I've pretty much stopped reading profic. I pick up the latest big popular Fantasy series, spend the first handful of chapters trying to sort who everyone is and why I should emotional bond with them (which I do) and then spend the rest of the book with low level nausea as they proceed to rip their lives apart in a number of horrifying ways. Honestly, it's got to the stage where reading books seems to be mostly an exercise in masochism and crude emotional manipulation, and I'm really not into that. Fanfic seems far more satisfying in that it's (usually) much clearer the general kind of experience I'm letting myself in for, plus I get to engage directly with the author and other readers which is just as interesting as the actual story itself.

I have found myself reading more YA series which I often find more satisfying in dealing with complex plot ideas than a lot of adult fiction. While I expect that characters will have bad things happen to them and have to struggle against adversity, it just seems more and more this means rape/torture/extreme violence as a kind of lazy shorthand instead of finding a more interesting form of conflict.

I dunno, maybe I'm just getting pickier - and grumpier! - as I get older (my partner is nodding emphatically).

One of my favorite scifi authors, Lois McMaster Bujold, has eating disorders and rape in her books. Heinlein opens one of his later books with the PoV female character getting raped and tortured. Bujold's pretty famous for doing awful things to her characters, so I generally know what to expect when I pick up one of her books. With Heinlein I really wasn't expecting that opener.

Friday? Yeah, Heinlein was fuuuucked up later on. And at least with Mark, Bujold didn't whitewash the issue-- he had a horrible horrible horrible life and the eating disorder was a way of taking control back, unlike Heinlein being all "oh as long as this girl's expecting it it's totally ok, mind over matter yo". But yes, I could definitely have used some warning before cracking open those books.

Oh man, genre is in no way enough warning.

I once got ambushed by SURPRISE self-aware tortured nightmare-fuel zombie. I. Just. NO. No fannish "Omg, lookit meee I'm so daaark" unwarned horror-fest I have ever stumbled into has ever been half so bad.

I don't read a lot of professionally published books but in sci-fi fantasy, is the target audience still geared primarily toward males, who statistically speaking would be less likely to be triggered by non-con/rape and thus the publisher's concern isn't their female readers who'd want warnings? Purely speculative given my ignorance of the industry and what's out there right now.

I'm sorry if this arrives multiple times; talkpost_do has fallen off the face of the Net.

I suspect that the prevalence of warnings and other readily accessible
metadata may have been spawned by the days of dial-up.

After all, in a book, one can (presumably) pick it up, flip through it,
check in the back to see if it ends in HORRIBLE DOOM AND GLOOM, etc.
before actually engaging with it.

With a computer file, one has to download it to one's browser or e.mail
program before one can peek inside -- and if it's been split up to save
bandwidth, very often it's very hard to get at the end to check (or used
to be).

For this reason, metadata tends to show up next to the link on a webpage,
and first thing in an e.mail or serialized post. Certainly it was doing so
by the time I started joining mailing lists.

I've also noticed that people who started out putting their fic in zines
or Usenet tend not to use warnings on their webpages -- and some of the
archives that started out as web versions of zine/newsgroup fics will only
tell you title, author, and maybe file size or original post date.
It tends to make finding "this one The Boogeyman (sp?) Is
Back
tag, I know it was around here somewhere, not one of the newer
ones" an... interesting and time-consuming experience.

Has anyone here been around longer than I have, and therefore in a position to
confirm or deny? I did start out in anime fandoms, and thus my experience
may not reflect that of someone who came out of a purely Western
tradition...

Here via loriel_eris to whom I was just complaining about the lack of warning on novels about things like (in the instance I was discussing) rape and sexual violence.

I can think of quite a lot of fantasy novels (my genre of choice) where rape and/or sexual violence is included, and graphically too. Not in the distant past, as you suggest. The one I'm reading now, in fact - multiple instances - Melanie Rawn's "The Dragon Prince". Sometimes I can tell from the start that it's going to go that way (I wondered about this one) but the problem is, by the time you're sure, you're too far into the plot to stop reading because you have to know what happens, even through it's really hard and distressing to get through it all. I'd rather have not started it. That is my experience with this book. Maybe I'm just soft, I don't know. I want my characters to not be torn to shreds, metaphorically! A little bit of pain and suffering maybe, but not constant. I don't know why authors do it - are they trying to make a point, or out-do each other and see how far they can push it, who can think up the worst thing to happen to a character?

One book I stopped reading altogether because of such subject matter (with child abuse thrown in - "The Weavers of Saramyr"), and it takes a lot for me not to finish a book. That one takes the biscuit so far. Also, some Gayle Greeno books, and the current Melanie Rawn one are up there as the worst offenders. And I think a Feist book I can't remember the title of and didn't get very far into. (For some reason, the Tomas Covenant books don't bother me as much.)

I wish they'd put little warnings on the cover like with DVDs, you know:

"Contains mild peril" (no problem!)
"Contains violence and strong language" (I can deal with that...)
"Contains scenes of a violent and sexual nature" (run away!)

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