Thoughts on story warnings:
The "you" here is general, though I am thinking about some things discussed by various people in this entry in debchan's journal. (And lord, no, I'm not talking to/about anybody in particular. I'm responding to a few things Deb and Tham and others said, but also just putting out my views, in my journal, instead of letting myself get ranty in someone else's. I'm not sure if this really shouldn't be a comment response on that thread, but I think it's general enough to end up here. It deals with things I think and occasionally whine about anyway.)
I want my delicate sensibilities protected. It may not be your responsibility, but if I know you're not going to warn for character death, or extreme angst/cruelty/torture, I may never read anything you've written again. Unless I've had it recced by someone I trust, as *not* containing character death, or one of my other rare emotional squicks. Even though I know you're an excellent writer. Even though you're my friend. Even though you're my sister/mother/father-confessor. And maybe that doesn't matter - my readership isn't the reason any of the people I read, write. I'm not that solipsistic. But it does mean you won't get feedback crack from me on stories that I probably *would* have liked, because I'm too leery of reading your stuff without someone holding my hand.
So maybe I'm an infant.
When I read a good, vividly-written story, I shift gears, and go into character mode. I *am* the viewpoint character, or, sometimes, I'm me, walking right by the viewpoint character's side. So if you kill the viewpoint character, and it's a surprise, and I can't run away from it, it's like a little death for me. The bad sort of little death. If the viewpoint character's best beloved dies, then I've lost mine, as well. It *hurts*. And maybe that's the intent, but I don't want to hurt that way. I hurt enough as it is.
No, of course it's not permanent, but it hits me hard, and it lasts a while. There are fics that I still have to think loudly that I've never read and don't exist, because they stuck in my head so deep. And it's not that they were necessarily excellently written, but that the death carved a groove in my mind. Can't look at Story X, ever again. Had to write a story of my own, to counteract the bad, nasty feeling that Story Y left in my heart. (Xander and Spike's little safe-sex-with-vampires talk in "Sunday Funnies" was inspired by an AIDS story that hit me pretty hard, for instance.)
I'm not sure I understand how a story would be ruined by warning of character death in the beginning, if the author says there are sufficient warnings within the text that bad things are going to happen, in time for the reader to run away if they don't like those things. If there *are* signposts within, then what exactly does a pre-story billboard ruin? The delicate yet piercing nature of your artwork? I guess I can understand that, but don't necessarily agree with it.
For me, if I *start* reading a story, I like to finish it. Otherwise I feel as if I've abandoned a character somewhere in limbo forever. Thusly and soforth, I'd much rather be warned up front, than have to rely on my rather faulty ability to accept negative foreshadowing for what it is. I'm a dogged optimist when reading, and will hang in til the last second, hoping somebody makes things right.
I'm not looking for neutered fiction; I'm willing to take some chances. I'm willing to be killed, every so often, or lose my best beloved. But oh, God, warn me. So I'll know it's gonna be a clutching-the-stuffed-lamb-and-rereading-h