Often, writers who utilize the elements on this list in their stories do so poorly, exploiting trauma rather than exploring it. New writers who have not experienced any of the elements on this list themselves would be wise not to attempt touching these sensitive topics in their fiction until they’ve found a qualified sensitivity reader to advise them.
Suicide, torture, abuse, assault, and exploitation, are real-life horrors a lot of readers have experienced, and we do not have the right to re-victimize anyone in pursuit of our art. If you are the kind of writer who thinks content or trigger warnings are “censorship” and that Hard Pass lists are suppression of your First Amendment rights, don’t submit to The Dread Machine.
By far, we receive the most queries about this one. We are not averse to publishing stories that explore suicide. What we are not looking for are stories that celebrate suicide. These plots tend to read like suicide notes, confessions, or rehashes of 13 Reasons Why. Not only can these stories be extremely inauthentic (and therefore offensive), but they’re predictable and flat—a litany of sins committed against a dead or soon-to-be-dead narrator as they wallow in the injustices inflicted upon them. Additionally, these stories can be very triggering to people who suffer from depression and suicidal ideation.
Bottom Line: If you’re submitting stories featuring suicide as a theme or plot element, the story better earn it.
This is another element that tends to be clumsily handled and often totally unnecessary. Characters with torture-related PTSD (including flashbacks) are acceptable, just remember that all scenes—especially torture scenes—need to have a purpose beyond disgusting the reader.
Bottom Line: We don’t publish splatterpunk or (much) gore. Torture for the sake of torture isn’t something we’re interested in publishing, so if your story includes torture, make sure it’s plot-relevant and not graphic or extensive.
Fake religions are great! Send us bizarre cults all day long! Do not send stories that proselytize for real-life religions (or any hateful moral dictates those religions try to impose on others).
Bottom Line: Anti-abortion, anti-queer propaganda wrapped in Christian horror tropes won’t find a home here.
“But this is horror!” the writer shouted. “How can we create a horror story if the adolescent son can’t tear his dog’s ears off and the alcoholic father can’t smack his children around?”
Sure, that’s one way to write horror, but we don’t find stories that heavily leverage these elements original or interesting.
Bottom Line: We are not interested in reading graphic child abuse, and killing the family pet is very overdone. If you’re going to explore these themes or use either as a plot element, the story better earn it.
These stories almost always involve a male partner degrading and abusing a female for pages and pages and pages until one of them turns into a monster and kills the other.
Bottom Line: We will sometimes accept implied, verbal, and/or light physical violence if it’s plot-necessary, but please don’t luxuriate in it.
Bottom Line: Never, under any circumstances.
We have no desire to force readers to relive their trauma, and we don’t want to attract the kind of readers who enjoy reading torture, abuse, or trauma porn.
Sorry, none of this is up for discussion or debate. Please don’t “press your luck,” either. If you’re worried a submission may get you banned, consider revising or submit it elsewhere. Writers who violate our submission guidelines will be promptly banned from submitting in the future.