written by David Steffen
For years we have added content warnings to stories we publish on the Diabolical Plots site. As part of ongoing tweaks to our submission system that authors use to send us stories to consider for publication, we are adding a field for them to volunteer content warnings, and we are making this post to explain the purpose and to also give a (probably incomplete) list of examples of things that might merit a content warning.
What Are Content Warnings For?
Content warnings we have posted on stories are added after discussion with the author of that story and focus on things that may be close enough to a common traumatic experience that it could trigger a harmful reaction in a reader, such as a PTSD episode. These would inform a potential reader who knows they may have reactions to certain kinds of content that they may need to brace themselves harder for this particular story, or perhaps that it would be best for them not to read this particular story.
The purpose of adding them to the submission system is very similar, in that our first readers too would benefit from such warnings for the same reason as a general readership. Hopefully the submitting writer cares about the well-being of the first readers behind the scenes, but also if that submitting writer cares about their own submission this content warning may help make sure that first readers who read their story are in the mindset to read this particular story, which is to the submitting writers benefit.
Will Adding Content Warnings Hurt My Chances of Selling?
Do keep in mind that we do have some subjects we ask you to stay way from, such as needless harm to children, so if your warning would be about one of those it might be worth considering whether you should choose a different story to submit.
But stories won’t be rejected based on the content warning. We will give them the same chance every story gets, but a content warning will ensure that the first readers who read it are in a good headspace for it.
Content warnings you provide aren’t necessarily going to be on the final published story. If we accept your story we will discuss that with you and what both you and we think is necessary for your particular story. If you’re not sure if you should warn about something, it doesn’t hurt to add it, but we would suggest you don’t stress about it too much–just try to do a good faith effort when you’re submitting and it will all be good.
Content Warning Suggestions
This is not necessarily a complete list. If something in your story feels like it may merit a warning but it’s not on the list, you can feel free to add that. Note that for each of these categories you may also add extra modifiers to any of these such as adding a parenthetical like (implied) or (offscreen). This list may expand from time to time as new topics come to our attention.
- Child abuse/harm/death
- Coerced surgery
- Domestic violence
- Eating disorders
- End of life care
- Harm to animals
- Identity-based violence
- Pregnancy/pregnancy loss
- Sexual assault/rape
- Queerphobia including Transphobia or Homophobia