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I'm refining my content ratings at Archive of Our Own (AO3), and I'm also going to start posting at Wattpad.

Here's Wattpad's guide to content ratings. AO3 doesn't offer guidance on what its ratings mean; they simply say, "This is left to the creator's judgment."

Here's my problem: I watch virtually no television or movies, and what I watch isn't very violent. (I think the most violent movie I ever saw is the one that gave rise to the PG-13 rating.) Most of what I read is pre-1980 literature, mainly children's fiction. As a result, I don't have a good sense of what current violence ratings mean. (I think I have a decent handle on sex ratings.) In particular, I don't know the difference between these categories:

* Intense violence.

* Nongraphic violence.

* Graphic violence.

Since I write a lot of fiction on captivity or on war, I really need to understand the difference between these three categories. Can anyone help?

(If you know my stories, maybe you could give those as examples. If not, other examples of literary violence would help.)

Edited to add: Spoilers for the first volume of The Eternal Dungeon in the Comments below.

Date: 2017-03-20 10:00 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Hi!
I don’t think those three categories are all mutually exclusive.

There might be some overlapping, but a scene is non-graphic if the violence is mild or if is not described in realistic detail. The moment you start talking about wounds, bad bruises, welts, blood, bodily fluids, innards, broken bones and/or disfigurement, that’s graphic.

The intensity of the violence depends on what degree the violent acts and their consequences are depicted. A bruised eye and bloody lip are graphic but not very intense because they’re expected to heal without imperilling the victim’s life. A bullet wound is more intense, and a severed limb for instance is extremely intense. One of the greatest intensities for me would be a lingering, painful death described in graphic detail while it’s happening. The perpetrator's motivation, level of cruelty, sadism, empathy or lack thereof, etc. can also add to the intensity.

You can also have a scene in which the character is purposedly subjected to a situation of great physchological distress even if nothing too graphic is described. To me, this also a form of intense violence, which you might want to warn about separately. It’s also intense but non-graphic if the character's life is threatened but the characters suffer no great physical harm beyond some scratches.

Another variation of great intensity in a non-graphic scene might be if something very violent happens but it’s done for comic purposes. I don’t believe you have anything like this, but think of the classic Warner Bros cartoons in which the characters are continuously defenestrated, ran over by vehicles, smashed under anvils, blown up by dynamite, etc. The violence in them is intense because it’s undeniably brutal, but it’s not graphic: there’s no gore, no lasting effects, nothing realistic at all, and the characters will be back in a minute for more.

Thinking of your stories, I’m remembering this scene in the earlier Eternal Dungeon stories in which Elsdon witnesses the High Seeker racking a prisoner. Elsdon (erroneously) thinks the helpless prisoner is being tortured viciously, for the sadistic pleasure of the High Seeker, who is very clearly enjoying himself. Therefore, this scene has intense violence. Later on, we find out that it was mostly to frighten the prisoner into confessing and barely any physical violence took place beyond tying him in place. That doesn’t change the fact it’s intense because of the degree of psychological violence that was occurring (and because you truly believe it’s happening when Elsdon sees it). However, no blood or signs of pulled limbs are described, so it’s not graphic.

More recently, you had this other story in which a guard is sentenced to a whipping so severe it’s basically seen as a death sentence. This scene is both intense due to the danger and amount of violence, and graphic because the gory proceedings are described (sking being sliced, blood pooling and such).

That said, in many places violence and torture are often put in separate categories when giving warnings. Or you can warn for both to cover all your bases whenever it applies.
Regarding the different types of violence, in the racking scene from above I would personally warn for non-graphic torture and psychological violence. In the whipping example, I would personally warn for intense graphic punishment and intense graphic violence at the very least. The point is to warn your readers against potential triggers, so better to cover all the keywords they might be looking to avoid.

Surely not everyone will perceive the level of intensity of graphicness in the same way or agree on what needs what warning, but I hope I shed some light with my wall o’ text. ;-)

May 2017

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