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re: Is a Lot of Violence OK in YA Novels?

in Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

My YA historical WIP, set in ancient times, includes a lot of violence. One character is murdered in a mill. Another (we don’t see this but hear about it) is strangled and drowned. The villain tries to kill the protagonist multiple times, she’s attacked by an animal, and her friend loses a limb in a carriage chase. Finally, the hero kills the villain by stabbing him with an object she grabs during a struggle. Of course, the teens are defending themselves and others. See what I mean? Works for me but I’m wondering what you think.

Thanks,
Writing Under Sunny Skies

Dear Writing Under Sunny Skies

There’s violence in YA literature. And why not? There’s violence in the world, and books help readers learn to process hard realities in an emotionally and physically safe way. You’re taking care to draw a line and not cross it regarding your violent content. That’s great—it suggests to me that your violence won’t be gratuitous. Reader impact aside, violence included for shock value isn’t strong storytelling. It’s gimmicky. And don’t we all want to be the strongest storytellers we can be? A strong story gets readers to care about characters and relationships so that there’s intense emotional payoff when those are taken away or damaged. In your case, the payoff comes when characters we love are lost, and other characters we love must process that loss. Turns out, there’s lot of loss in the world your characters inhabit. That’s common in high adventure stories, dystopian fantasies, historical atrocity stories, and so on. There’s this to consider, too: When you build rich characters and relationships, and deliver setting and atmosphere that add to plot tension, then when violence strikes, you don’t need to be graphic about it to score your literary gut-punch. That’s a wise approach for YA fiction. Each young reader will picture the event using only as much detail as they can handle. Allow them that safety filter. Empower them to decide how much is just enough. Empowered readers are engaged readers, and engaged readers are happy readers who tell their friends about your fab book and reach for your next one. 

Happy writing!
The Editor

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