Including sensitive issues can add suspense, hurt/comfort, and in general, depth to one's story. At the same time, it is not without its risks. Issues such as rape, child abuse, murder, self-harm, suicide, death, abortion, and domestic violence should never be taken lightly. Countless people experience one or more of these, including your readers, so addressing them in a flippant manner is highly discouraged. In this segment I will address some points to consider and tips for those who choose to include these elements in their stories.
First, if you are not confident in your ability to write them do not include them in your story. This is something that I cannot emphasize enough. Please, do not feel as though you have to or feel ashamed that this is not your forte. Know your limits and know your strengths. Respect them. Even professional writers are challenged in writing such scenes. Be aware that writing such scenes or acts without adequate compassion, awareness, and thoughtfulness can deeply offend others. Yes, this is fanfiction and it is for fun, but also know that these are elements that can trigger painful memories in some people and can quickly alienate readers if not prefaced by adequate warning or written with caution. Rape, domestic violence, child abuse, and murder are all acts of evil that are meant to invoke some pretty awful feelings.
I urge everyone who is reading to sit with that last line. Think about it, and the weight of these actions, before you include them in your story.
Are you ready to deal with the fallout of including one or more of them, within your story?
Is writing them within your skill set?
Second, while I have just touched on knowing your limits as a writer, I also want to highlight that you must know your limits in knowledge. Going through Psych 101 doesn't mean you are well-versed in mental health and psychopathology, just like serving food to the homeless or volunteering in a domestic violence shelter doesn't mean you know what it is like to experience either. Similarly, knowing someone who has committed suicide is very different from having survived an attempt yourself, having observed someone commit suicide, or having found someone's body after a completed suicide. Am I saying that you shouldn't approach any of these unless you have lived experience - NO. What I'm saying is that one must need to know what they don't know, and attempt to fill in that knowledge, if they are to do an adequate job. One will often find huge gaps between what textbooks and webmd and the like say about an experience, and the reality.
Do you have adequate understanding of how people commonly respond to such traumas?
Are you familiar with how these look in real life?
What don't you know? What do you know?
What do you need to learn in order to approach this sensitive topic in a believable manner?
Give warnings. I mean it. I'll say it again because I am that serious. Give warnings. Let your readers know if there is going to be some material that might be commonly perceived as triggering or offensive. You don't need to give details at the onset, but a FYI can go a long way. In those warnings, you might advise readers that you will include a summary of the scene at the end of the chapter so that they can get the gist without having to read something that they feel unsafe reading. I'm sure some people are side eyeing this as they read it or giggling. I mean, its just fanfic, right? Wrong. Even seemingly little things can trigger flashbacks of horrible memories. Respect that.
This chapter contains [insert here].
If this is a topic that hits too close to home, please feel free to skip to the end. I've included a summary for anyone who wants to keep reading but is worried about getting triggered
TIPS for addressing some of these sensitive issues
Child Abuse: Major pet peeve here. If the parents regularly abuse a child, the child witnesses DV even as an infant, or experiences sexual abuse, that child does not magically become well-adjusted as soon as he/she enters a new environment (commonly seen in stories with Michael as the savior). How the child acts depends on a number of factors (duration of the abuse, age of exposure, personality, exposure to early treatment, etc), but the most important thing all authors should know is that such a child isn't perfectly fine as soon as he/she is moved to a safe environment.
Murder: In general, how one approaches this varies depending on the context (e.g. murder-ridden neighborhood versus freak event). Regardless of this, if the perp isn't a pure psychopath, don't have them forget about the murder a day or week later. People who kill others or witness murders are often deeply impacted. Ditto for the loved ones of the killed individual. Many on both sides, never really move on.
Rape and Sexual Abuse: avoid sexualizing the scene; yes, it isn't strange for a male or female victim to perform during rape, that's biological. However, the shame, hurt, and humiliation shouldn't be minimized. Using terms such as "love hole" or highlighting the offender's/rapist's attractiveness is inappropriate. Also, if you follow it up with an investigation, know that this in and of itself can be highly traumatizing - particularly the rape kit. Even more traumatizing is the emotional abuse many experience when they are blamed for being raped or accused of lying. This last could also be said for those who are falsely accused of committing a sexual assault.
Self-harm: for a while there (I don't know if this is still the case), it was popular to write characters cutting themselves to music in full emo fashion. Honestly, this romanticizes and trivializes the act. Self-harm is often linked to anger, a deep hate for oneself, and an inability to appropriately deal with sadness. It usually isn't a cry for attention, as most do it in secret. Keep those concepts in mind.