Should graphic violence be allowed in fiction?
Many months ago I wrote a discussion post on Dark YA fiction. Yet that post did not even scrape the surface of some of the more graphic topics I’ve encountered in YA and adult fiction. Today, I’d like to discuss whether or not those graphic topics should be allowed in fiction, particularly in YA fiction.
****** TRIGGER WARNING ******
Violence is, unfortunately, a part of life. Perhaps it doesn’t happen to you. Perhaps you don’t witness it firsthand, but it does happen. I think we can all agree that violence occurs in the real world and, as someone who supports fiction mirroring reality, I believe that violence should have a place in fiction, as well.
However, like many non-black-or-white topics, there is a gray area, a spectrum of possibilities for how much and what type of violence is portrayed in fiction. And there are many aspects to take into account whether any type of violence should be utilized at all. One of the most obvious items to consider when implementing violence is the age-group of the reader.
In my society (as I cannot attest to other societies), we try to shield children from violence. We try to show them a bright, shining world where everyone gets along and, if they don’t, you sit down and talk about your problems in a civil manner. As such, violence is almost NEVER found in children’s fiction. Yet, as we grow older, that beautiful veil of blissful innocence (or ignorance, perhaps) is ripped away, thus we find more violence in YA fiction and quite a bit more in adult fiction.
As I read very little adult fiction (unfortunately) and do not read children’s fiction, I would like to focus this discussion on YA fiction. After all, this is the age when that veil is starting to peel away. Violence, racism, prejudice, and other negative interactions seep through the cracks and sink into our minds, but it’s not all at once. And not everyone learns about the same things at the same times. So the question becomes:
How does one gauge just how much violence to utilize in YA fiction?
I wish this topic had an easy, straight answer. Something like: “Well, any violence that could be realistically plausible for a young adult.” Unfortunately, bad things happen to young people just as they happen to middle-aged and older people. In other words, that particular idea could allow WAY too much room for violence, particularly graphic, scarring violence and, even though some people might not believe it, fiction has a HUGE impact on people and the way they think.
Side note: The impact on readers is why it’s so important to analyze violence and discuss it. (I’m particularly interested about this as a writer because I have a duty to both educate and protect my potential readers.)
So, we’ve ruled out no-violence and we’ve ruled out the all-violence free-for-all, but where is the happy medium? What kind and how much violence can a young reader take? Well, the unfortunate answer (for writers) is that every reader is different. Every reader will have different life experiences, different exposure, and most importantly different tolerance levels (ie someone who reads horror vs someone who reads contemporary.)
Some readers may handle gore, but cannot handle sexual violence. Some may have no problem with physical violence, but may break at mental violence. Some readers may handle all types of violence and others may handle none, but I think in order to answer the above question, one must also ask themselves two others.
1) Is the violence necessary?
2) Is the violence realistic?
I have, to my great frustration, read young adult novels that had repeated physical or sexual abuse (both for school-related reads and for fun). The book I read for school had some semblance of fact in it. The horrifying events that the character underwent were events that had actually happened to a person and were therefore realistic and plausible for the story. That being said, the answer is ‘yes’ to both of the above questions.
HOWEVER: please note that I was much too young for the abuse that occurred in the book I read for school and, I’ll be honest, it scarred me. The things I was forced to read (and then watch because the book was made into a movie), left me horrified and yet my school district thought it was alright for us to be exposed at that age to those particular events.
The book I read for fun also had an excessive amount of graphic abuse in it. I say ‘excessive’ because the repetition of these abuse scenes was unnecessary. Realistic? Perhaps. Necessary for the story? No. Because I cannot answer ‘yes’ to both of the above questions, I DNFed this book and would not consider it to have appropriately exposed young readers to violence.
But, as I’ve stated, each person is different. I have a different tolerance level than other people. I have read plenty of YA books with violence in them and have come out alright, but not everyone does. Not everyone can handle as much or the same type, which is why this is such a difficult, precarious topic.
What do you think about violence in (YA) fiction?
Does it have a place?
How much/little should be there?
Leave your thoughts below!
And check out my discussion from last week:
“Emotional Responses: Anger“