Warnings

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Warnings are part of fan fiction story headers. They give the reader an idea as to what things they might be offended, triggered, or squicked by in the story that might lead them to want to skip reading. Some readers though, will use warnings as an indication of fic they want to read, if they have a particular interest in a topic that offends many others.

Warnings are often an issue of great contention within fandom. Some communities and mailing lists have strict rules for what kind of content must be warned for, whereas others leave it entirely up to the author's discretion. Some readers consider the use of warnings an absolutely necessary courtesy within the fannish community, while others dislike them because they consider warnings "spoilers" for the story.

Commonly used warnings

The content most generally warned for, or expected to be warned for, includes:

Other content often warned for, but less universally agreed-upon as "needing" warning, includes:

Fandom-specific warnings

Sentinel

During the late 1990s, many Sentinel fans wanted a warning if a Blair Sandburg's hair was cut. This was due to the fact that there was a large degree of fetishizing of Blair's hair, as well as it representing a certain position within the fandom about how the fanwriter (and reader) viewed the series' controversial ending (with Blair becoming a cop).[1]

The major Sentinel slash list of the time, SXF, had the following rules regarding warnings:

Many people want to be warned about certain content categories, and courteous authors heed those wishes. We've tried to think of all the categories one can warn against, and they have expanded to include:

Rape (or non-consensual sex)
Death of a major character
Episode spoilers (name episode)
Alternate Universe (historical, otherworldly, future/sci fi)
Bondage/domination scenes
Sado/masochistic scenes
Extreme violence
Betrayal of J or B by the other
Multiple partners
Hurt/comfort
Bestiality
Extreme angst
Crossovers
Song lyrics used
Male/female sex
Female/female sex
Song lyrics used
Male/female sex
Female/female sex
Male/male sex (remember, we are the "adult list", not the "slash list")

Authors also had the option to say "Other: see story notes", and then explain in the author's notes in more detail. An author could also choose "None"."[2]

Senfic, the community's main gen-fic list, had the following statement regarding warnings:

Warnings and Ratings

If you are posting a story, we ask the following: Please place appropriate warnings and ratings on your works. These warnings and ratings should either be placed at the beginning of your story, or in a separate post that precedes your story to the list.
Some examples:
RATED R for violence and language
WARNING - Death Story
WARNING - Not beta-read
WARNING- Cassie story[3]

Star Trek

During the mid to late 1990s, Tissue warnings were a popular thing to include. This warning informed the reader that the story was sad, might make them cry and thus they would need tissues.

alt.startrek.creative.erotica.moderated was a Star Trek fan fiction usenet group with an attached mailing list. The FAQ dated December 18, 1998 had a section about warnings that said:

WARNING!
ASCEML is an adult list for both Star Trek fan fiction as well as its discussion.
This means that the stories and posts may contain descriptions of graphic sexual encounters between members of the opposite sex as well as same-sex encounters (aka slash.) Not all the sex depicted will be consensual and certain stories may also contain descriptions of alternative sexual practices such as BSDM (Bondage & Discipline, Sado-Mascochism) etc.
Neither the List Moderators (Alexas, Ruth, & Jen) or the List Owner (anne) take any responsibility for posts or their content. You may either unsubscribe to ASCEML if you find yourself offended or you can simply hit the delete key to rid yourself of posts that are not to your taste. Complaining to either the Moderators or Owner is *not* an option.
Most story posts are clearly marked as to the Trek universe, the people being paired (or multiple people paired <g>) as well as a standard PG-NC17 warning. In many cases, the authors also include warnings of their own regarding content. All of this is done in the hopes that you will be able to read the exact type of stories you want to read and avoid those you don't.

The FAQ was posted by Ruth Gifford.

Star Wars: The Phantom Menace

Within Qui-Gon/Obi-Wan slash fandom, it quickly became commonplace to warn for stories that were canon-compliant -- that is, stories where Qui-Gon died by the end of the film.[4] AU situations where he lived instead were highly popular at least until the release of Attack of the Clones, when some of the fandom embraced Obi-Wan/Anakin slash instead.

West Wing

The following information dates to May 2001 in the West Wing fandom:

Warnings. Generally, it's considered good form to provide a warning if your story has explicit language or graphic sexual or violent content. Even putting an R-rating on your story will often suffice. Make sure the list you're posting to is up for this kind of content before you do it, though. Some people like warnings on stories that are particularly tear-jerking or funny, but this isn't essential. [5]

Warnings on fanvids

Fan fiction is not the only type of fanworks which has caused discussion of warnings. The subject has come up in the past in relation to fanvids, particularly in regards to fanvid shows at conventions where viewers are generally given no clue as to what they are going to see, beyond (occasionally) a playlist of fandoms and vidders. With the popularity of some darker fandoms such as Oz and Dexter where a great deal of violence might be included in a vid, some viewers have become uncomfortable over having no warning of this, and would like to have the option to leave the room during a vid show without being exposed to such content. Vidders have generally responded negatively to this request.

Historical Definitions

The following term dates to December 2001 in the Harry Potter fandom:

Warning: What it says. These are literally warnings that come before certain kinds of content that may be offensive to certain groups of people. Like slash, explicit sex scenes, nudity, swearing, alternative views, religious views and so on so forth. (It's this thing about human nature and not being able to make everyone happy all at once . . . one never knows what will set someone else off.) Take warnings seriously—you never know when you might see things you never wanted to see/hear/read.[6]

The following term dates to 2005 in the Lord of the Rings fandom:

Warning - a note you leave on top of your creating to 'warn' others of content they may find objectionable - for example rape, slash, character death, "revised" endings, etc. [7]

The following definition dates to November 2005 in the A-Team fandom:

Warnings are given at the top of each piece of fanfiction - please read these in case you are disturbed by any of the subject matter. If you don't like the idea of two men having sex, then please do not read SLASH fanfiction. You'll only be disturbed even further. [8]

History

The etiquette of using warnings, and how to use warnings, began to evolve out of the internet fandom explosion in the 1990s. While 'zine publishers would often put a general content warning on a 'zine and label it as adult, gen or slash, it was not always expected that a publisher heavily label content beyond that. Fanzines were often published in-person, where a buyer could inquire for more information on a title directly, after reading reviews in letterzines and newsletters, or from flyers/adzine ads that gave the potential reader some idea of what content to expect.

As fandom and fan-fiction surged on-line and more and more fiction was being posted and published outside of 'zines, the need for warnings appeared to explode as well. Warnings were generally included in the Story header, although some multi-part stories would only include the warnings in a 0-part post, so that those who didn't want to be warned or spoiled could avoid them. Other authors would choose to put specific warnings at the very end of a story, so that those who might be concerned about content could skip ahead.

Kerfluffles

For as long as there has been the idea of having story warnings, there have been kerfluffles over them. Pro-warnings advocates feel they are necessary within the media fandom community, which is largely made up of women, many of whom can cite personal experience with abuse and sexual assault. For as many fans who enjoy and write dark content such as rapefic, there are others who find it personally triggering and feel they should be able to enjoy reading fanfiction without accidentally coming across it in a fic. Ratings advocates point out that fanfiction, in this regard, should be held to a different standard than professional literature (which generally does not contain specific warnings) because fanfiction doesn't have the critical review structure profic does, and is written for the community's enjoyment and not making greater statements.

Opponents of warnings--at least the idea of mandatory warnings--feel they can spoil the effect of a story by revealing too much of what is to happen. They point out that it is difficult when one community has one set of standards and expectations for warnings and another may have entirely different ones. Some also object to the word "warning" itself, and feel that it places too negative a connotation on some of the content "warned" for, such as BDSM. Another concern is whether the standardization of requiring some understandable warnings will lead readers to expect that any little thing they don't like in fanfiction should be warned for.

2006 Due South recs warning kerfluffle

In 2006, aukestrel would set of a wank over wanting clear warnings for featured pairings in Due South rec lists. An adamant Fraser/Ray K shipper, she did not want to end up following a link to a story that was Ray V/Ray K. Her rant was eventually locked down after causing significant wank in the fandom, but fandom_wank preserved the text of her post as:

I prefer my F/K fantasy life. I've loved it for over six years now and I'm going to continue to love it for the foreseeable future.

So please... for the love of Dief and little green apples, would you think before you rec a fucking Ray?Ray story and don't actually mention that fact?

Also, when I defriend you, it's nothing personal. I'm tired of wading through seemingly endless paeans to the glory and rightness of Ray?Ray and recs for stories I have less than no interest in.

Wait, you know what? It is personal. Because I'll wade through endless paeans to Jsquared and Sam/Dean and even McShep without getting all het up. But Fraser's a crazy-ass emotional "for God's sake don't let her near Paul Gross!" connection for me and it hurts me when he's left out in the cold, out of character and just plain out of luck.[9]

2008 Bandom warnings wank

  • In April 2008, ficsoreal posted the story "A Lifetime Committment" in which Brendon Urie of Panic At The Disco runs as a frat pledge and is drugged and then raped with the aid of a speculum. The story was posted without any warnings at all to both her own journal and several bandom-related fic communities. Many people asked her to put warnings on the story and she refused, stating:
This fic has actually been finished for days and I didn't post it for just this reason. I decided not to warn for rape and I'm not going to. The header is not vague; it explicitly states that you think before you read. You read the fic knowing that it had unwarned for situations. You decided to do that.

I'm sorry for your distress but I am not responsible for your decision and I have never been warned for rape in a book in the library, in the store or randomly on the shelf.

The story is meant to be jarring; you are supposed to be upset. That's not irresponsible; that was the point.I'm not here to hold anyone's hand.[10]

Most of the argument took place in the story's comments thread, although ficsoreal posted a follow-up defending her actions where more discussion followed.[11]

2009 Bandom warnings wank

Screencap of nightengale's comments on arsenicjade's story.

In June 2009, a very large warnings kerfluffle broke out across media fandom in response to a bandom story by arsenicjade, "Cello Sonata No. 1 in B Minor 'Naissance de Libertè'" posted on June 17 in bandombigbang.[12] The story contained a dub-con scene, which was not warned for. As the community required warnings in the header, readers assumed there was no content that required warnings, and some readers asked for such a warning to be put in place. The author complied with requests, adding a warning stating "Issues around consent" though she objected to the scene being defined as such. Some readers were still not happy, including nightengale, who wrote a lengthy criticism of the author's actions. Other readers objected to the readers who were asking for warnings, and a widespread reaction and debate on the subject of warnings continued after follow-up postings from megyal (a friend of ficsoreal, who had been the target of the 2008 warnings debate) and okubyo-kitsune.[13],[14] megyal felt there was a disparity in the way ficsoreal was treated as compared to arsenicjade, because arsenicjade was more of a BNF in Bandom (even though ficsoreal refused to add warnings to her story when asked, as compared to arsenicjade).

A large number of BNFs inside and outside of bandom became involved in the debate both pro and con once the links hit metafandom, including Zvi, Telesilla and Liviapenn.(See 2009 Warnings debate links below.) From this point forward, the argument morphed into Privilege wank‎, with some who had been active participants in Race Fail 2009 making seemingly contradictory statements in their positions on warnings and apparent dismissal, in certain cases, of victims of sexual assault.

Examples

The following are some real examples of warnings found on stories and fanvids. These examples are intended to provide a historical perspective on how people have warned for stories over time.

By fandom

Dragon Ball Z

Another Life by Auraki on October 12, 2002:

Warning: Rated R; Slightly lime-ish but not too bad [15]

Edgar Rice Burroughs

RICK JOHNSON'S EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS WEBSITE has a general disclaimer for all stories dated April 15, 2009:

Warning, many of my stories show graphic sex, violence, nudity and political commentary. [16]

General Hospital

Paradise's Stefan and Laura Fan Fiction has a general disclaimer for all stories dated August 22, 2006:

Warning: Some of these stories do have blackmail and sexual situations that might be offensive to some. I will place a warning of any story that contains a not completely consensual sexual act, but as a feminist and women's activist, I can assure you I write nothing in which Laura is weak or helpless. She is always strong in my stories as Genie wanted ABC to do for Laura. Thank you. [17]

Law and Order: SVU

Subtle Shift Within by Nymph Du Pave on October 18, 2002:

This story contains adult content. You must be the legal age within the area you live to view this material. [18]

Legion of Super-Heroes

A Legion Of Superheroes Tale' by Dannell Lites on October 5, 2001:

Cautions: WARNING! HERE BE M/M SLASH! [19]

Lord of the Rings

The Broken Shield by hannatuk85 on April 4, 2004:

Lack of canon knowledge, and only movieverse when there is canon. Non-con, but nothing graphic. Yet. [20]

Pirates of the Caribbean

Dinner and a Rape by hannatuk85 on April 16, 2004:

Table!sex, mess, and asininity. Crack!fic, of course. And noncon. And unbeta'ed, of course. Written very very quickly, before Pseudy goes to bed. Not to imply that she WANTS to read this tripe. I'm just one for coercion.[21]

The Sentinel

Critter Patrol by Scribe on February 8, 2006:

Warnings: THREAT TO BLAIR'S HAIR! And if you're squeamish about creepy-crawlies, you might want to skip this one, or your head may suddenly start to itch.[22]

Stargate

The Newest System Lord by anise01uk on December 2, 2002:

Warnings: language, violence [23]

Memories of The Heart by anise01uk on November 3, 2003:

Content Warnings: adult themes, minor language, sexual situations, violence [24]

Compromising Situations by anise01uk on August 15, 2004:

Warnings: minor language sexual situations [25]

Hidden Secrets by anise01uk on May 26, 2005:

Content warnings: violence, mild language and adult themes [26]

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

WHAT I LEFT... by T'Lin in July 1999:

WARNING: This story, although rated PG, makes an implication to a m/m love relationship. There is nothing explicit in it, but if you are uncomfortable with the idea of same gender relationships, I suggest you are in the wrong place (after all, this is a slashfanfic site). This story also has spoilers for the series finale, WHAT YOU LEAVE BEHIND. [27]


ALL THE WAY - A VALENTINE GIFT by T'Lin in January 2000:

WARNING: This trilogy contains angst and the suggestion of m/m love ... OK, more than a suggestion ... but there's no sex in these. If you find this offensive (m/m love, that is), or are under 18, READ NO FURTHER. [28]

Weiss Kreuz

Guardian Angel by Michiko on May 30, 2001:

WARNINGS: Yaoi, AU, Omi abuse ^_^; [NagixOmi] [29]


The Drinking Game by Seraph published on July 22, 2002:

WARNINGS: suggestive situations and language [AyaxKen] <- thats a first eh? *waves her YoKen banners* [30]

X-Files

The Hollow Man by Madeleine Partous on February 13, 1999:

Rating: NC-17 for disturbing imagery, violence, and sexual situations. [31]

By year

1999

The Hollow Man by Madeleine Partous on February 13, 1999:

Rating: NC-17 for disturbing imagery, violence, and sexual situations. [32]

WHAT I LEFT... by T'Lin in July 1999:

WARNING: This story, although rated PG, makes an implication to a m/m love relationship. There is nothing explicit in it, but if you are uncomfortable with the idea of same gender relationships, I suggest you are in the wrong place (after all, this is a slashfanfic site). This story also has spoilers for the series finale, WHAT YOU LEAVE BEHIND. [33]

2000

ALL THE WAY - A VALENTINE GIFT by T'Lin in January 2000:

WARNING: This trilogy contains angst and the suggestion of m/m love ... OK, more than a suggestion ... but there's no sex in these. If you find this offensive (m/m love, that is), or are under 18, READ NO FURTHER. [34]

2001

Guardian Angel by Michiko on May 30, 2001:

WARNINGS: Yaoi, AU, Omi abuse ^_^; [NagixOmi] [35]


A Legion Of Superheroes Tale' by Dannell Lites on October 5, 2001:

Cautions: WARNING! HERE BE M/M SLASH! [36]

2002

The Drinking Game by Seraph published on July 22, 2002:

WARNINGS: suggestive situations and language [AyaxKen] <- thats a first eh? *waves her YoKen banners* [37]


Another Life by Auraki on October 12, 2002:

Warning: Rated R; Slightly lime-ish but not too bad [38]


Subtle Shift Within by Nymph Du Pave on October 18, 2002:

This story contains adult content. You must be the legal age within the area you live to view this material. [39]

The Newest System Lord by anise01uk on December 2, 2002:

Warnings: language, violence [40]

2003

Memories of The Heart by anise01uk on November 3, 2003:

Content Warnings: adult themes, minor language, sexual situations, violence [41]

2004

The Broken Shield by hannatuk85 on April 4, 2004:

Lack of canon knowledge, and only movieverse when there is canon. Non-con, but nothing graphic. Yet. [42]

Dinner and a Rape by hannatuk85 on April 16, 2004:

Table!sex, mess, and asininity. Crack!fic, of course. And noncon. And unbeta'ed, of course. Written very very quickly, before Pseudy goes to bed. Not to imply that she WANTS to read this tripe. I'm just one for coercion.[43]

Compromising Situations by anise01uk on August 15, 2004:

Warnings: minor language sexual situations [44]

2005

Hidden Secrets by anise01uk on May 26, 2005:

Content warnings: violence, mild language and adult themes [45]

2006

Paradise's Stefan and Laura Fan Fiction has a general disclaimer for all stories dated August 22, 2006:

Warning: Some of these stories do have blackmail and sexual situations that might be offensive to some. I will place a warning of any story that contains a not completely consensual sexual act, but as a feminist and women's activist, I can assure you I write nothing in which Laura is weak or helpless. She is always strong in my stories as Genie wanted ABC to do for Laura. Thank you. [46]

2009

RICK JOHNSON'S EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS WEBSITE has a general disclaimer for all stories dated April 15, 2009:

Warning, many of my stories show graphic sex, violence, nudity and political commentary. [47]

External links

2009 Warnings debate

Essays

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