I really struggled with this. I want to warn responsibly for those who truly need those warnings. I have more than one friend with PTSD. I understand the issues, though I'm lucky enough not to suffer from PTSD myself. But at the same time, I feel strongly that being too specific with warnings can spoil enjoyment of the story for many readers. It often does for me.
Caveat: I am not interested in "squicks". This policy is about warnings for potentially triggering content which can cause genuine harm to survivors. If you're squicked by something I write you know where the 'back' button is. Please use it.
This post will be linked from my sidebar and user info, and (as long as I remember) from the headers of any fic I post from now on.
I will always warn for:
Sexual violence (inlcuding Rape, Non-con, Dub-con*, Sexual assault and Child abuse/molestation.)
Torture and extreme or graphic non-sexual violence.
Under-age sex (under 16)
I will not always warn for****:
Alcoholism or alcohol use
Addiction or drug use
BDSM or other fully consensual sex acts
Permanent physical injury/impairment
I will indicate in some way if there is warnable content but I have chosen not to specifically warn about it.
* Dub-con is included as sexual violence because what's dub-con to me may be rape to someone else. We all draw that line in a different place, so I err on the side of caution.
** Where the death is non-canon and a significant plot element.
*** Incest only where it's not obvious from the pairing. I am not going to label all my wincest fic with an incest warning.
**** I will warn for these things where I don't consider the warning a serious spoiler for the story.
The longer version:
The list above is based on the list of triggering content posted by trigger_fence, with a couple of additions of my own.
I find this a delicate balancing act between my desire to give survivors adequate information, and my feeling that too much upfront information does spoil stories. Most of my plot-oriented stories have an element of mystery in them; I'm very reluctant to ruin the big reveal with warnings. I am much more likely to include complete and specific labels/warnings on PWPs or very short fics.
The best compromise I can come up with is my general label of "Darkfic". I am not kidding when I use that label. It indicates that the story contains stuff I believe could be disturbing or distressing, including but not limited to the triggers listed above. I have always tried to include additional information, sometimes in a separate post, so those who need to can get a clearer idea of what makes this particular fic "dark". But I can't ever cover everything.
I'm also going to experiment with a label like "Warnings are spoilers", so at least you'll know there's warnable content. I don't know if that will work, but we'll see.
You are always welcome to comment (anonymously if you prefer) or PM or e-mail me for more information about the content of a story. I will not question your right to ask or demand personal information. I'll just answer the question.
Likewise, if you read something of mine you feel should have a warning, I invite you to draw my attention to my mistake. I may not agree with you, but I promise not to throw a hissy fit because you express an opinion.
I included under-age sex as a warning not because I think it's triggering (though it may be), but because it's technically illegal to read in some juristictions. I wouldn't want to be responsible for someone getting into real trouble just from clicking on a link.
There are a few things on the trigger_fence list that I can't see myself ever writing. These are domestic abuse (other than brief references in cop-oriented fandoms), starvation, eating disorders, and self-harm. The last is somewhat subjective: I do write characters engaged in reckless or self-destructive behaviour, but I'm never likely to write someone intentionally hurting him/her-self unless it's a suicide attempt.
Most of the items on my list of triggers I won't always warn about are things I agree should be indicated if they are not serious spoilers. This is, obviously, subjective, but although they are on that list I fully intend to indicate them where I can. There are two exceptions.
1. Alcohol use. Sorry, but use (as opposed to abuse) of alcohol does not belong on that list. It must be a cultural thing. I know some Americans think we still live in the Prohibition era, but I'm European. There's nothing wrong with having a drink.
2. Murder/violent death. I write in Sentinel and Supernatural fandoms (and formerly in Highlander) and this features in far too many of my stories. Seriously, if I've written a fic and it's not a PWP, you should probably just assume it includes death and/or murder. If it's the murder of a major character I'll always warn for it. If it's a murder being investigated by my heroes, or peripheral to the main plot, I won't.
Likewise, I am not going to repeat myself or state things that should be obvious. Sam/Dean (SPN) should not require an "incest" warning; if you don't know they're brothers, you're in the wrong fandom. If the summary says "Dean and Jo engage in a little rape fantasy" you really shouldn't need an additional warning for power-play or consent issues.
Warnings for things not listed above:
Every fandom has its own quirky list of things that fans think need warnings. Haircuts in Sentinel fandom, canon in SW:TPM fandom, unicorns, elves and gratuitous abuse of semi-colons. I'm not interested in playing that game. I'm just not.
Definitions of selected terms:
These are my definitions. You may disagree with them, but this is what I mean when I use the terms below:
Non-con - Non-consensual sex that's part of a pairing. e.g. Sam/Dean non-con means Sam rapes Dean, or vice-versa.
Rape - Non-consensual sex that's not part of a pairing. e.g. Sam/Dean with a rape warning means there is rape in the story, but not between Sam and Dean. It may be Other Character rapes Sam and/or Dean, or rape involving entirely different characters.
Dub-con - Sex in which one or both characters does not fully consent, or is unable to fully consent. May be considered non-con to readers sensitive to consent issues. See my meta on dub-con.
Child abuse/molestation - Any sexual act involving a child. Rape, by definition. May also include non-sexual situations of extreme (mental or physical) cruelty to a child.
Character death - The story contains the death of a major canon character, or a minor canon character who plays a significant role in the story. Deaths of original characters are not included in this warning.
Permanent physical injury/impairment - This covers any injury to a major character from which the person would not fully recover e.g. loss of a body part. I'll only warn about it if there's no "miracle cure" within the story (hence the "permanent").
Dark/Darkfic - This is a catch-all term covering any content I believe may be distressing or disturbing to some readers. I either use it alongside more detailed warnings, or occasionally instead of them.
Horror - I use this more as a label than a warning, but it means either very bloody violence (or its aftermath e.g. a bloody crime scene) or graphic descriptions of physical pain. Generally implies a supernatural element, but not always.
I'm willing to do everything reasonable to help survivors of violence or abuse avoid further harm. This does not extend to helping parents babysit their children. I read Stephen King's Salem's Lot at age ten, most of Heinlein's adult novels even younger, a truly horrific novel about zombie cats eating people at age eleven (my mother still thinks if it's sci-fi, it must be suitable for all ages) and I grew up next to a video rental store in the "video nasties" era. It did me no harm. If your child is old enough to understand it, in my opinion she's old enough to read it. If your opinion differs (as is entirely your right) it is your responsibility, not mine, to supervise your child's reading. There are far more damaging things on the internet than a little slash fic.
I do not use the MPAA ratings system. I'm not American and that system is deeply hypocritcal anyway, rating homsexuality higher than het sex, rating consensual sex higher than violence. What's up with that?
My rating system is much simpler: All Ages, Mature, or Adult.
You will notice I rarely, if ever, label a story with "All Ages". This is because regardless of the content children are never my intended audience.
I expect the reader to judge for herself whether or not she's mature. My "Mature" rating indicates it's not bedtime story material, but contains nothing overly graphic. Sex may be included, but won't be described in pornographic detail. Violence won't exceed the level of the show's canon. Bad language may be included. I also use a "Mature" rating for adult themes such as criminal behaviour. All of this is, of course, subjective.
"Adult" means the story contains the kind of stuff that (in my judgement) would get a movie a R or 15 rating: graphic sex, violence, dark themes, "on-screen" death, horror...you get the picture. My story info will usually explain the reason for an adult rating.
I'll end this post by repeating what I said at the beginning; I welcome critique and discussion of this policy and I am happy to consider suggestions for things I may have omitted from my list.
I will at some point go back through my stories and ensure that, on LJ (and its clones) at least, my headers all comply with this. For now, this should be taken to apply to anything I post from July 2009 onward.