The word ‘Snowflakes’ has developed quite a reputation of late. Often used to describe those who get upset or angry about something, often for reasons of personal credo or political persuasion. Ironically, one has felt of late, it is often those most inclined to use the word ‘snowflake’ as a derogatory term who exhibit the most inclination to ‘snowflakeness’, which is not a word, but hey, you know what, it should be.
For example, the ardent member of the NRA complaining about ‘liberal snowflakes’ who want to take away their bump stocks, and getting upset about people using rational arguments about something that they clearly feel very emotive about. Damn those rational arguments…
But without slipping into a long side-track about the relative nature of snowflakeness, I am going to skip merrily along to what inspired this particular post. A friend of mine posted this question on their facebook earlier today. A fair and reasonable question, because clearly, the writer in question is worried about the possibility of upsetting some of her readers, and I applaud the fact that she thought it was important enough to get a wider view on the subject.
If a book contains a potentially upsetting scene, would you want to know beforehand?
This hypothetical character might have dementia and Parkinson’s and that might be upsetting for some who have family members or friends that have/had either/both of those conditions.
So the question is, would you want a warning at the start of the book or in the description on Amazon or would you rather not know?
So, here is my opinion, in its usual unadulterated form, on the subject.
I went into more detail than that in my reply to the question on Facebook, but that is the essence of it. Readers actually are often upset by things in books, to one degree or another. Readers care about characters, or should. Readers will occasionally feel a degree of emotional pain by something that happens in a book. I have had readers tell me that a certain scene in a book, or something that happens in a book ‘broken’ them, or otherwise caused them to take a moment or two. If something is well written, no matter if it is harrowing, or haunting or beautiful or torrid or whatever form of emotion inspiring event, the mere fact it causes a reader to react to it is a good sign that you’re doing something right somewhere, and I have written my fair share of torrid over the years. Richard in ‘Passing Place’ discovers his wife’s body after she commits suicide, Susanna in ‘Cider Lane‘ self-harms as a teenager in response to the fairly hellish bullying she has endured, and those are only the most immediate examples that spring to mind from my own novels.
But here is the thing, readers are not snowflakes. Reading is not a passive activity any more than writing is. A reader should respond to a tale well told, be it with a smile, a laugh or tears. But I have never had a single reader complain they were ‘triggered’ by something I have written because as I say, readers are not snowflakes. Readers are also by their nature open to a writers idea’s, and the view of the world the writer is expressing, they may well disagree with it, but it is an intellectual exchange of ideas. (yes okay I know that probably sounds a little much but in essence that what reading is, an invitation to open your imagination to the writers, and if the writing is good the reader will do just that.)
Reading is the intellectual exchange of idea’s, not the adamant adherence to the singular perspective that is so intrinsic to ‘snowflakeness’. A reader, by their very nature, is unlikely ever to get upset about something a writer had written in a triggering way because if they read something that upsets them in such a way, they will stop reading.
But more importantly, despite what twitter, facebook and a lot of reactionary ‘snowflakes’ on both side of the political spectrum may want you to believe, the vast majority of people are NOT ‘snowflakes’.
It says a lot about the writer of that Facebook question that they care enough to ask the question and to get the opinion of others, all of which is good. But my advice to her, as it would be to any writer asking me a similar question is simply this, people are not snowflakes, they don’t melt. So if it is part of the story, if there is a reason for it, if it isn’t merely something you write to fill a few pages then write it and worry not. No one is going to melt, no one is going to be upset. Indeed the opposite is probably true if its well written, well researched, and based on some of your own experience, then people living with that situation will probably thank you for doing so. At the very least it would let them know they are not alone, and that their experience is not unique.
As I say, people in general, and readers all the more so are not snowflakes. Don’t worry about upsetting them, focus on inspiring them, that what good writing should do. They won’t melt…
Yes! Thank you, this could not have appeared at a better moment. I in fact saw that post and as I was called away to dinner, a million responses flew through my head. Everyone is so terrified of upsetting the masses these days that it worries me for our future. The social media atmosphere feels as though we’re either tip-toeing around on bated breath, or it’s become an abusive partner and damned if we say the wrong thing. I can’t imagine how dull all our books would be if we padded them. I could give a whole list of amazing books with “trigger warning” scenes but it’s a moot point – just write from the heart!
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Totally agree! Shared on twitter
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I’ve never been triggered by an author doing something thoughtfully and well, no matter how dark and difficult. What has been triggering for me is the casual use of rape and abuse as plot devices or for titillation – but I’m also fairly certain that people who create that kind of thing would never, for a moment consider putting a trigger warning on it anyway.
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I know what you mean.
There is a diffrence between something well written, for a reason, carefuly thought about and considered, and lazy writing for shock value.
I try to think carefully about everything i write, and the reasons for taking a plot or a charcaters story in any direction, even when I am just throwing words at a page in a first draft.
Lazy writing offends me more than anything else. I’ve written some fairly torried stuff at times, certainly in Cider lane and to an extent in parts of Passing Place ( Hannibal books oddly enough despite the main charcters being a vilious rogue with the morals of a distopic alley cat, is a lot lighter than some of my other stuff,) But in Cider Lane and Passing Place nothing is in those novels without good reason, careful consideration and a lot of thought. Which is probably why it takes me so long to write anything.
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