Is a Lot of Violence OK in YA Novels?

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


  1. Thanks, Deborah. I always learn so much from your posts!

    I recently read The Edge of Everything (excellent!). There were a few hard to stomach details, but the author held back enough that the images weren’t overwhelming. It might be a potential mentor text for the writer who posted this question. The Hunger Games is another violent YA that comes right up to Too Graphic, without quite crossing that line.

    • Wow, I just read the description for The Edge of Everything (Jeff Giles) — it sounds great. I’ll take your recommendation and add this to my reading list. I’m glad you called out The Hunger Games. So many people are familiar with that one, so it’s a great example. Indeed, I recall being quite impressed when I first read it, noting how it didn’t cross the line. And I remember being very worried how the filmmakers would handle that line! I feel they did a good job with it, too.

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