Give Your Readers a Warning

Author Lauren Carr just helped me solve a dilemma. I’ll explain.

In a story I am working on, there are bigoted characters–as there are bigoted people in real life. There are bad guys–as in real life. And a few of the scoundrels look and behave differently than me.

Nevertheless, as a new novelist, I wondered what the reading public would think about my story, especially if their own family heritage were the same as the despicable characters in my book. When I wrote the story, I never gave the cultural or sexual orientation or race issues a thought. I simply told a story.

Once the story was essentially complete, it dawned me that several of my friends were going to find ugly characters in my story that resembled them in some way. Would they feel differently about me because I cast a negative character with their ethnicity or sexual persuasion?

Apparently mystery writer Lauren Carr had similar concerns because she included the following disclaimer in the press release for her new book:

Best-selling mystery author Lauren Carr takes fans of past Mac Faraday and Lovers in Crime mysteries down a different path in her latest whodunit. “Don’t worry,” she says. “We have plenty of dead bodies and lots of mystery-as well as intrigue, suspense, and page turning twists.”

However, Lauren does issue a warning for readers. “The key job of a fiction writer is to look at a situation, make observations about how things are and how they work, and then ask, ‘What if …’  This is what I have done with Three Days to Forever.”
Lauren Carr’s latest mystery plunges Mac Faraday, Archie, David, Gnarly, and the gang head first into a case that brings the war on terror right into Deep Creek Lake. “Current political issues will be raised and discussed by the characters involved,” Lauren says. “It is unrealistic for them to investigate a case involving terrorism without these discussions.”
With this in mind, Lauren reminds her readers that “Three Days to Forever is fiction. It is not the author’s commentary on politics, the media, the military, or Islam. While actual current events have inspired this adventure in mystery and suspense, this fictional work is not meant to point an accusatory finger at anyone in our nation’s government.”
Consequently, I am considering a disclaimer, to make the reader aware that  I acknowledge there may be sensitivity to character portrayals. The disclaimer also reminds the reader that the work is fiction.
Have some thoughts? Please share them. This is a site for learning.
P.S. In the “draft” version of this post, paragraph spacing is correct. In the “published” form, there are spaces missing between paragraphs in the final section. It is a format error on WordPress’ part. I can’t fix it.

5 responses »

  1. Hello, Fay! So you noticed my warning!

    I thought long and hard about posting a warning in a note from the author at the beginning of THREE DAYS TO FOREVER. I even asked another author, who had read the book and she didn’t think it was necessary.

    My thought process was, “Really? It’s fiction! Duh! Readers will know that.” But then, a very small percentage of readers were outraged by A WEDDING AND A KILLING, in which a murder occurs in a church. Heaven forbid! My characters had conversations about Christianity! One was a believer. Another was unsure. During the investigation, various views were discussed but simply the mention of “church” had a few readers declaring ME intolerant and narrow-minded, etc..

    The vast majority of readers and reviewers weren’t so hyper-sensitive, but a very small number were.

    When I had finished editing THREE DAYS TO FOREVER, I realized that since the war on terror became a significant topic within the plotline, and included much discussion during the course of the protagonists’ investigation, (plus a surprising direction in which the investigation takes the reader!) that maybe I should include an extra warning to readers that this whole book is fiction and meant to be read in that spirit–not as the author’s political commentary about our government or the military, etc.

    I firmly believe that twenty years ago, such a warning would not have been necessary. However, today, our culture is so divided and certain fractions are extremely hypersensitive if you even so much as touch in any area in which they disagree with you–even if that side is depicted in a fictional venue.

    However, as a writer, we aren’t going to have much material to use if we censure out any plotline or character or issue that would offend those readers too intolerant to read a FICTIONAL piece in which their side is not depicted in a completely favorable light. For example, a couple of readers were outraged that two homosexuals were murdered in A WEDDING AND A KILLING. They concluded that since I killed two homosexuals I was homophobic. Excuse me. During the course of my writing career I have killed dozens of heterosexuals. Using this line of reasoning, I must have a phobia of heterosexuals.

    As a writer, since I refuse to be censured on topics in which to write, then possibly a warning notice (The views of the characters in this book do not necessarily express the views of the author.) would help to soothe extra-sensitive readers.

    Frankly, I feel this is a sad comment on the condition of our culture.

    • Thank you, Lauren, for sharing your thoughts. I’d like to continue this discussion by sharing parts of your articulate comment in a future post. I have experienced some of the same ultra-sensitivity and was taken back by it, never thinking the content of a fictional story would be received as a personal belief statement of this author. It was eye-opening.

      • Feel free to use it, Fay. I do cover this very topic in a guest post at an upcoming blog appearance at Buried Under Book for December 26. In the post, I cover how silly it is to try to pin down a fictional author’s beliefs based on their fictional characters and those characters’ words and actions.

        While there are authors who do use their talents to promote their political, sexual, or religious beliefs, many of us do not. Usually, these authors will state so.

        But for most of us, it is about the story and what characters we need to make it the best story possible. Sometimes, we need a character who is very different from us to make that story work.

  2. Most readers are well aware that fiction is fiction. Speaking as a reader, I glean what I need to from the back cover summary, as to whether or not the content of the story is going to be Shelton-friendly. As a writer, I view the world through the lens of an observer and I elaborate or distill where needed for the character arcs in the story I’m trying to tell. As a publisher, this is when I start to think putting disclaimers about content and potential triggers might be something I should do to protect my company. Usually though, the standard clause that appears at the end of movie credits “this is a work of fiction and any similarities to real persons, places, things, past or present, etc…” you know the one, usually will suffice for any medium in the telling of stories.


    There are those in the world that sue fast food restaurants because the coffee was served hot and the cup didn’t say so. And there will always be people who read too much between the lines when, if an ounce of intelligence is exercised, they could easily see that there was no harm intended. These people will continue to react in militant manner because psychologically they need the public to acknowledge them as victims of injustice. It’s human nature and you can’t protect yourself 100% from stupid. It all boils down to how PC one is willing to go.

    Not an accusation, merely an observation.

    What I do when I publish works is to provide an extra bit in the summary on websites, like Amazon, so that people know prior to purchasing the book what they find in it. Such as “Parental Advisory: This book contains content that could be perceived as NC-17 in nature due to use of language, and the discussion or portrayal of illicit drug use, alcohol consumption, firearms, tobacco, explosives, sex, bigotry (insert whatever fits the story). Most people are aware of the movie ratings, and now that there are language advisories on music albums, it seemed like a reasonable compromise. If there’s anything more graphic, I point that out too and adjust the “rating” as necessary.

    I always have to laugh at readers who make assumptions about authors. Like my mother for example. She doesn’t care for romance novels, she reads mysteries mostly. Nothing gory, your basic cozy murder. Yet, she’s the first person to say that romance authors are sexually frustrated but it never occurs to her to think that murder mystery authors kill people in real life. She also doesn’t get fantasy or science-fiction stories because the people who write those stories have no grasp of reality and fight monsters. Why can’t the bad guy just be a bad human being? Love my mother, but sometimes…it’s hard to see that I have a genetic connection to her. 🙂

    And I just realized I hijacked your post…sorry, I’m running at the mouth today. Too much eggnog maybe. Happy Christmas!

    • Hello, Shelton!

      So good to reconnect with you! Thank you for the input. It will be helpful to authors to read this discussion and make decisions for themselves whether the content they create requires a caveat.

      What made me raise the issue is a comment I got. I thought, “Whoa, where did that come from?” Then I thought of friends who may be offended if they shared a mindset with the commenter.

      It is a live and learn world in which we create.

      Happy New Year, my friend!

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