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Monday, July 7, 2014

Writer's Update: Subconscious Avoidance and Trigger Warnings

I've returned to res this week so that I can edit to my heart's content and do my first week of readings before  trimester 2 classes start next week. I'm very excited to get back into study-mode and also to see all of my uni friends again (Holmes, Watson, I miss you guys!). I'm also excited about my awesome timetable. I got all of my first preferences for my class allocations, and have ended up with all 8 hours I'm required to be on campus scheduled from 9-5 on Monday. I may not have a lunch break, but I have a six day weekend and optimum availability for work at the library and helping put together the next edition of Wordly magazine. Be jealous of my six day weekend.

But for this next week, I'm aiming to edit 10 pages of my manuscript each day in order to complete this first round of serious edits before classes start again. So far, so good. My pages (along with my hands and the cuffs of the sleeves of my hoodie) are covered in red pen and orange/pink/purple highlighter. On Sunday, I finished the first wall of pages, which just so happens to be the first half (70 pages) of the manuscript.

Not a great photo, but you get the gist.
I had plenty of chances to finish this wall of pages before I went back to my hometown. I had five pages left when I departed res and since I've finally finished those pages and continued to edit ten more on the next wall, I think I've figured out why I kept putting it off. It's most likely just coincidental, but it's not like I didn't know what those five pages that I kept avoiding contained. Yesterday and today, I have edited fifteen pages, and it has been emotionally taxing. I knew one of the sad parts was upon me for edits and I might have been subconsciously avoiding it because I of how dark the story was about to get.

I've passed the worst of the emotional sections for now, but I know there's another part coming up towards the end that is even more intense. I wonder if I'll find myself avoiding those pages when I get to that part.

This all makes me stop and think about the things people read and write. I know I've put my beautiful character Mil and Kovax through some really traumatic shit. But where does a writer draw the line? I tend to go with the philosophy that nothing is off limits, but does that lessen my chances of getting published later? WALLS is something I'm going to want to stick trigger warnings all over because of how messed up some parts are, even though I'd rather let readers go into the book without knowing what to expect. I've considered being more subtle about certain things which are currently heavily implied, but I don't want to beat around the bush with the dark parts of this story. That isn't my style, not in this book anyway.

I had this issue on my mind the whole way through NaNoWriMo last year when I was cranking out that first draft, but I set it aside and told myself I could come back and reassess the situation later. Earlier this year, an old friend of mine who used to get me to edit her fanfiction work (oh those were the days...) got in touch with me again for the first time in a couple of years and we started working together again, only this time I let her read some of my work too. I was giving each chapter of WALLS a quick proofread and then sending it to her for feedback. I had just sent her the third chapter when I decided to mention that later in the story there were some darker issues. With most of my other friends who have read a few chapters, I never bothered to mention it, but I wanted to warn this friend because of some personal stuff involving people around her that I knew had contributed to our lack of communication in recent years. At first, she seemed alright with it as long as I warned her when she was about to read the sad chapters, but when she asked for a bit more detail as to what I meant by 'sad', I told her truthfully some of the darker issues that were going to be covered and she never replied. It could just be another coincidence and she's dropped off the face of the earth again and will email again in a couple of years, but I can't be certain that her sudden silence isn't related to the touchy issues I warned her would be later in the story.

So I guess to end this blog post, I'm wondering what you guys think about story content worthy of a trigger warning.  Have you ever read it? Did the book come with a trigger warning? Have you ever written it? To what extent of detail? 

- Bonnee.

14 comments:

  1. There's certainly been times I have warned someone prior to reading something I've written due to what it explores or entails, however I think I do that for MY peace of mind rather than theirs, so I feel better about how that person may react. For me, at the moment, trigger warnings are more about protecting the writer from the reaction to their content rather than protecting the reader from the content. However, in saying that, I guess it just depends on what is written. I mean, there are ratings and warnings on film, TV and even certain journal articles depending where they're published, so why not have the same for fiction? It makes sense.

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    1. It's something that as a reader, I personally don't mind when it takes me by surprise in a book, specifically BECAUSE I've never seen a contents warning on a book the way they give a contents warning in film or TV. Hmm... thanks for sharing your thoughts, Blair :)

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  2. First of all, I'm really not understanding Australian university stuff: you only have to have 8 hours of classes a week? Your system seems to be very different from ours. Wow.

    I think trigger warnings are fine when it comes to sending pages to betas or crit partners. I think it's also fine if you decide to post it in chapters on a free website, the way I imagine people do it on the fan fic sites. However, when was the last time you bought a book that had trigger warnings on it? A book has a blurb, a book is shelved in a particular location, that's good enough for me.

    Personally, I think it's all in how you handle it within the pages. I don't know the content of these scenes, but if it's necessary to the story and handled in a way that does not come off as gratuitous or done for thrills, then you're okay. Don't coddle the readers, and don't wrap your story in bubble wrap.

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    1. It all depends on what subjects you're doing, how many classes run within that subject, how long they go for, and what course you're doing. Like last semester I had 9 hours a week, and one of my best friends had 24 hours of class a week because she's doing one of the science courses. I can imagine our systems must be very different though, yes...

      I've never seen trigger warnings in a book, but I've never read a book that explores the stuff I'm looking into to this extent, which is probably part of why I'm concerned. Otherwise, I tend to agree with you that the blurb and the shelf it's placed on in the shop is enough.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Jeff. It makes me feel a little better to know that someone else isn't so concerned about this.

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    2. Interesting. Over here, most colleges run on 'credits'. The number of credits awarded by a class depends on how many hours a week the class meets, and to be considered a full-time student, most universities require you take at least 12 credits per semester. And everyone, regardless of major, needed something like 120 credits, total, plus a certain amount within your major, to graduate. Everyone always tried to arrange their schedule to get Friday off, for obvious reasons. I never heard of any full-timer able to pull off what you did!

      The trigger warning thing has gotten me thinking. Maybe there's a blog post in it.....and now I've very curious about the places WALLS goes.

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    3. And here's the post...http://doubtingwriter.blogspot.com/2014/07/tipper-stickers.html

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    4. Apologies for the late reply! We also run on 'credits' or 'credit points' and each subject we take is worth 1 point regardless of how often we have classes. Full time students need to complete 4 credit points a semester. I'm not sure if there's a set number of credit points everyone needs to achieve by the end of their course, but it's 24 for me. If someone's course goes for more than three years full-time, I guess they would need more points. Hmm...

      I'll read your blog post soon!

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  3. I haven't really read anything extremely dark. I've written a few dark flash fics, but nothing psychologically-destroying. It may not whatsoever, but I wonder if this book is at all similar to the new grimdark subgenre of fantasy.

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    1. Can't say say I've heard of this subgenre of fantasy, hmm, maybe I'll look into it. Thanks Patrick :)

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  4. George Martin's sales survived the Red Wedding. You'll be fine.

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    1. Yes, but, that's George Martin... though I'm sure I'll be fine. I'm just wondering what psychological damage I'll inflict on the unsuspecting readers.

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  5. When you edit the pages at the top of the wall, do you take them down and edit and put them back, or do you stand up on your toes and edit? Readers are always looking for something new. So if you give them YA fiction with darkness that will blow off their minds, that's good because your story will stick in their minds and generate buzz. But I'm curious what is the darkness all about. Is it about dark actions (Like teens killing teens in The Hunger Games) or about dark psychology of thoughts and emotions? I don't think that warning is needed, but make sure that you capture readers attention on 1-2 chapters and then they will continue reading even the dark stuff wishing to know what will happen next. Once your novel will reach an agent/publisher they will tell you if it's better to tone down the darkness, so no need to worry about it now. The more you put your main characters (and readers) in emotional roller coast the more memorable your novel will be. So go for it. Good luck with editng WALLS and with the news classes.

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    1. I leave the pages on the wall and stand on a chair to reach the high ones :)

      Having written something memorable and different is the dream here, so hopefully you're right about all that. I'm meaning more dark psychology of thoughts and emotions rather than something like what's in the Hunger Games.

      I guess we'll wait and see what an agent says, if (when) one ever decides to take a look at this little project of mine. Thanks for visiting, G.M :)

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  6. Love that picture of the edited pages! What a fun and creative way to revise.

    I generally choose lighter reading material, but when I do opt for something else, I usually go via the blurbs and jacket copy. That usually gives me enough of an idea about the subject matter to know what to expect -- though, to be fair, I have also decided not to read books because of that (but I'm a sensitive person, and that plays into it a lot).

    Good luck with the rest of your edits!

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