Discussion

{DISCUSSION} Violence in Fiction (may contain triggers)

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

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42 thoughts on “{DISCUSSION} Violence in Fiction (may contain triggers)”

  1. Hello from me. I tend to keep away from reading or watching violent movies ect. I know we cannot escape from the society and all round us, but I try my best avoid. I have gone through a tough journey and I need to keep my mind settled as possible. Mental issues are such one never knows when they raise their heads up when the favourable conditions are on for them, just like physical illnesses. This is why I have to keep away from some of the blogs too, some are very long that stresses me, some are my past and I have moved on. I have to choose what agree with me in order to stay positive as possible. Blessings from down under πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I completely understand. πŸ™‚ I have a few blog readers who also must protect themselves against violence in fiction and we, as a community, are trying to find ways to better protect our fellow readers. Having this discussion, and having you speak out about your personal struggle, is very helpful for informing people and opening their minds to others. Thank you for commenting! πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree with many of the peeps above in that violence can have a place in YA fiction, as long as its role is justified and that it is not gratuitous. If the same story and message can be conveyed without describing the violent scene in detail, then that description should be left out. I love how Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson is written. Although it is a novel about sexual abuse, there is only one scene that describes Melinda’s experience with rape, and it is short yet impactful. I believe that violence should be described sparingly and only when necessary to convey an emotional impact on a character.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like the point you bring up, Sophie, about being short, concise, and only as graphic as is necessary for the story. I think this is something we forget somedays. After all, how many YA authors are actually young adults, you know? They forget just how much teenagers know and have experienced and, of course, each teenager is different. Thus, it’s important to keep in mind just how much of an impact graphic violence or violence in any amount will have on readers.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Exactly πŸ™‚ I am also a firm believer that trigger warnings should be used if there is any content that could be triggering, because this gives readers the chance to decide whether or not the book is right for them.

        Liked by 1 person

          1. Absolutely. What I mean is that readers should have advance warning regarding triggering scenes, so that they can make the choice to not read the book if they feel that they may be triggered. It is definitely the authors responsibility to put that out there!

            Liked by 1 person

  3. I think this is a tough one! I grew up playing video games and come from a culture that is fine with punishing a child by smacking his/her hand with a ruler, so I didn’t exactly grow up thinking the world is a wonderful rosy place filled with rainbows and unicorns. πŸ˜…

    Violence do happen in real life so adding violence to fiction can make it more realistic, but I think it has to be toned down enough for the target audience. If children books = no violence and adult books = free-for-all violence, then YA books are the stepping stone in learning about violence in the world. πŸ™‚

    How much graphic violence is too graphic, though? Gore and super graphic violence should be reserved for adult novels. Sexual violence is rather strong, though I think a toned down version of it can be introduced in YA because teenagers and young adults are at the age to be more aware of sexuality and are curious enough. Rather than the actual deed though, I’d say the emotional impact is more important, and it’s also a question of whether the violent scene is required to push the story forward or not. πŸ™‚

    As a side note, video games nowadays have pretty realistic graphics and age 13+ games have violence (think shooter games with a war setting), though graphic gore seems pretty rare; usually all we see are some blood and the injured fall onto the ground. Some even have the option to turn off blood and gore, which I usually do. πŸ˜†

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hahaha! To be honest, I wish American society would go back to the ruler thing. I see WAAAY too many kids nowadays having absolutely no respect for their parents or teachers or anyone. It’s really frustrating. It’s also going to get them into a lot of trouble in the future when they try to mouth off to their boss/etc. But we see people disciplining their children as abuse. It’s become such a black-and-white topic it’s pathetic. There is a difference between discipline and abuse and I wish people could see that.

      Mm. I like that you bring up the emotional impact because that is something teenagers and young readers are only just starting to understand. They may not necessarily understand the implications of violence, but the emotional aspect could connect with them far more. After all, emotions are the reason we can relate to things and understand things. They may see violence, but without any emotions or reactions to said violence, it means nothing. I think this is a very interesting point you bring up. πŸ™‚

      I think video game violence and fictional violence are quite a different thing, though. VG are often fighting or combat. Fictional violence, though, often manifests in the form of blatant abuse, which have different emotional impacts, as you said. Thus, I’m not sure the same ratings can really be implemented from VG into fiction. You know what I mean?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think it’s a matter of how to discipline effectively; I feel that the ruler on the hand is a fear-inducing punishment (I feared my father when I grew up). I have two nephews who were born and raised in America and are the sweetest boys ever, and they’re respectful and still spoke their mind. πŸ™‚

        I’m glad you think the emotional aspect is an interesting point I brought up! πŸ˜€

        That’s true; video game violence is more graphic, and fiction violence is more about the act. What I like about the video game ratings are the content descriptors, like there’s a game with a Teen rating and has the following descriptors: Language, Mild Blood, Partial Nudity, Violence. At least I know what I need to look out for when I play the game, and I wish I could do that for books, even if it’s not necessarily the same content descriptors. πŸ˜…

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Mm. Discipline can be implemented well and poorly, but it comes a lot from conditioning as young children. If the parents don’t have a firm enough fist or the children see ill-manners elsewhere and think it’s cool, then respect doesn’t work. Though, I think some children are just naturally more respectful. I dunno. I’d love to do a behavioral study on it. πŸ™‚

          I agree! I think we should try out a rating system for books because I think it’ll be beneficial for younger readers or readers who have low tolerance for those kinds of things. Only problem is getting publishers to agree. They’d probably be too worried about spoilers or some crap when really it’s about the readers and their mental/emotional safety.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I agree! It’s probably a nature vs nurture thing, though it’ll be great if you do that behavioral study. πŸ˜€

            Yeah, I doubt publishers will agree about the book rating system thing. πŸ˜…

            I’m reminded of how a certain manga fan site do things; they list manga and what genre they fit (fantasy, etc), and also what kind of category tags (strong male lead, saving the world, etc). It might seem a bit spoiler-ish at first, but I feel they don’t really spoil the story much, plus these help me to look for similar manga. πŸ™‚
            Here’s an example for Dragonball: https://www.mangaupdates.com/series.html?id=3106

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Hahaha! I’m the wrong type of scientist for that particular study. :p And you have to deal with parental consent and blah blah blah. Very long and arduous.

              Hmmm. That is an interesting way of doing things. It kind of looks like Goodreads for manga. :p Though, it doesn’t have any content warnings. :/

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Yeah, I can imagine. Let’s leave it to those who want to write a thesis on that. πŸ˜†

                Yeah, it’s certainly like Goodreads for manga! I find that for manga, when they don’t specify “mature” or “adult”, generally the artwork is toned down enough to be acceptable. I’ve seen a couple of non-sexual mature / adult manga, and the violence and gore are rather too realistic for me. πŸ˜…

                Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m going to add my two cents to adult fiction as I don’t read YA; violence or adult themes should only be in books if they move the story along and are in context. For example, I expect (and write) pretty brutal violence in the books I enjoy because I read a lot of historical fiction and that type of violence was true to the time periods. But I don’t want my eleven year old niece reading about that same stuff in her YA books.

    Should her books contain some violence? Probably. But age and context appropriate. It might be a bully beating up a kid at school or the superhero pummeling the villain. But I don’t see a need for these young people to yet be exposed to the really BAD stuff… there’s time enough for that when they adult.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. YAY! Thank you, Jessica! I don’t read enough adult to comment on those books so I’m glad someone does! πŸ˜€

      Ah, yes. I would agree that brutal violence would be more common in historical fiction because killing was a much messier business back in the day. No guns to kill people off with a shot. But I would agree that it’s not necessary for many teens and children.

      To be honest, this makes me almost wish we had harder lines between age groups in fiction as we do in movies. You know? Like a rating system based on violence, sexual activity, swearing, etc. Would it be more difficult for people to get books at a young age? Perhaps. But it’s not different than stopping a 12-year-old from seeing a PG-13 movie, you know? And the parents always have the option of buying the book for the child in the end. Hmm… something to think about, I suppose. I definitely think our current age groups are too broad. (Though they did attempt to rectify that with New Adult… VERY poorly. -.-)

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Uhh…. because that would probably be too much effort for publishers and would prohibit certain people from buying books, thus effect their sales. Blah. Blah. Blah. will start a new thing when becomes published author Will you join me? (You’re an author, right?)

          Liked by 1 person

  5. Violence in YA fiction, yes, if as you state Melanie, it is relevant. I know a couple of authors who write YA fiction, but neither like the classification; they just write stories that happen to have a particular audience age range. I’m currently working on a piece that could be classed as YA in which one of the 2 protagonists kills someone, it reveals something about the character, it changes their nature and adds to the readers concern for this persons safety (I hope). Too many writers are just adding a gore factor, which is just lazy writing. The world can be a brutal place. If writing about a child soldier in Africa, there will be some horrific violence. Rusty Young did just this; “Colombiano” is about child soldiers. Young adult readers will not confine themselves to ‘teen’ novels; how many have read Game of Thrones! Good writing can be about anything. Doesn’t matter if there is no violence, if the writing is poor it’s poor regardless.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ‘Gore factor’ in fiction is like jump scares to horror movies. It’s cheap. It’s an inability to find something more interesting to write about and, in my opinion, is often compensating for something else lacking in the story. That’s not to say it can’t be utilized. However, if needs to be necessary for that particular story and the plot and development of the character, as you stated with your own novel.

      However, I do not agree with ‘just write stories that happen to have a particular audience age range,’ Frankly, I think that’s irresponsible of the author. If you are writing for young adults, or from a young adult’s POV, you need to understand that character and those readers. You need to understand they may not have been exposed to the darkness of the world and reading your story that you ‘just wrote’ is not fair to them and could leave them scarred. If that’s how you want to write, please write for adult. YA readers (particularly teens) are not as prepared, hardened, or strong as adults and they do still need a little innocence and veiling every once in a while.

      If young adult readers want to go read adult books, that’s their choice. However, that doesn’t mean you get to start writing YA like it’s meant for adults. That’s not really how this works. It’s not a two-way street. :/

      Like

  6. Of course there has to be conflict or there is no story. The amount of violence, though, needs to match the target audience and the genre. It should be used in moderation to further the story. It should be as “un-graphic” as possible to further the story. If there is a reason in the story line to give a gory, detailed description of someone being decapitated, then do it. Don’t do it just to add blood. Everything should be there to add to the story and move it forward. Of course, an adult horror book might have more graphic violence because of the audience and genre, but a coming of age book should not. I also don’t like it when the violence is glorified. The bad guys use violence, the good guys only do when it is necessary and sitting down and discussing the matter isn’t going to do any good. I.e., the difference between the villain and the hero is that the villain doesn’t think twice about being violent while the hero will only use it as a last resort. (Of course, books with much more subtle villains can be far, far more interesting… What is the difference between bad and good if they seem the same on the surface?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like the point you bring up, Trent. Violence can exist in fiction, but not be graphic. It can be subtle, hinted at, and yet not necessarily scar the reader (especially young readers.) This could be a good way to introduce darker topics to teens without horrifying them, like dipping our toes in the water before jumping in.

      To be honest, I’m kind frustrated with the whole ‘good guys can’t use violence or only do it when it’s necessary.’ Like, I get it. But, personally, I think that’s just boring. I’m far more interested in the anti-hero characters than the straight hero characters because they have more depth, aren’t god-awfully self-righteous, and are more interesting to read about in general because you don’t ALWAYS know what they’re going to do.

      That being said, villains don’t have to be violent either. The idea that a villain will kill anyone and everyone who gets in their way is just a poor construct of a character and is not appropriately developing the villain (which I have huge issues with in general.) I think villains can have limits. The difference, usually, between villains and heroes is that villains care more about achieving their goal/getting what they want than anything else. It’s more important to them than other things, but I do like to watch the villain struggle with what they want. A villain who has a conscience is far more interesting to read about. πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The more grey there is in a character, the better – but I think that ambiguity is something that should grow and mature with the target audience – superheros vs super villains is great for kids, but adults want imperfect heroes and villains with some redeeming features/humanity.

        Actually, after I clicked “send” on this comment, I started to draft out a story where the hero is ultra-violent, often needlessly so, while the villain wouldn’t hurt a fly. Still trying to pin it down, but it could be an interesting experiment…

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Mm. I could see that. Children view things in more black-and-white than adults (well… some adults. >.>) And I think it’s a good starting point for children to understand right and wrong since they may not understand the gray space at that age. has never actually dealt with children. So who knows :p

          Hey! Sounds like a good idea. I like to start stories out with random, uncommon ideas, too. Though… I’m really bad at drafting them. :p Oops.

          Liked by 1 person

  7. I think that violence does have a place in YA as long as it has something to do with the plot. As the previous commenter said, having something like an attempted sexual assault in a book just because feels wrong. However books like Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, take sexual assault and show it in a way that a person picking up that book can learn from.
    I think that Sarah Dessen’s Dreamland’s domestic violence element has the same effect at Speak. Sarah Dessen is known for writing cute romance stories, and Dreamland starts that way but gets scary very quickly. Having a book like this written by someone who writes such well loved and widely read books write about domestic violence may help someone who finds themselves in a similar situation without realizing it.

    I also strongly believe that if there is violence, whether if YA or general literature, there should be a warning in the blurb. Graphic violence isn’t a fun thing to stumble upon no matter if you have lived through something like that or not.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. AHA! You have stumbled across my topic for next week: trigger warnings. πŸ˜‰ I have PLENTY to say about those and I’m glad you brought them up. πŸ™‚

      Yes, I agree with you and Rae about it being part of the plot. It shouldn’t be just thrown in there for the sake of violence or tension or any other element other than the plot requires it. What’s more, if the author does add in such traumatic events, they have a responsibility to tackle their characters reaction to it in a responsible, realistic way. Too many do not tackle it and just move on like nothing happened. That is NOT realistic. And it’s doing WAY too much harm to young readers who may have gone through something similar.

      Thank you for giving some suggestions for well-done violence. I think we need more of that and I like the point you bring up about Sarah Dessen. I haven’t personally read her books because of the genre she writes in, but it’s nice to know that she utilized her fanbase and her writing to help educate and relate to readers. Good for her! πŸ˜€

      Now… we just need to get publishers to accept more of these books. They care way too much about the $ and not enough about the readers and educating them (which is what many authors lose as they publish more books. Such a shame the way the YA world is turning. 😦 )

      Liked by 1 person

  8. apologizes in advance for the longest comment EVER!

    I think there is definitely a place for violence in YA. I grew up in a fairly protected house, which allowed me to feel safe as a kid, but as I became a teenager, it left me completely unprepared for the thing my friends and I went through. Reading and talking about the issues in YA helped us work through a lot of it.

    But I think the two questions you brought up are absolutely critical. I would also add that, in cases of self violence particularly, the recovery from these violences has to be realistic. It doesn’t do anyone any good to see characters suffer violence, only to be magically all better 3 chapters later. The recovery can sometimes be messy and hard, and I think readers need to see it portrayed realistically so they know they’re not alone.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Bahahaha! Ryann, your comment isn’t even that long. You should see some of the comments I leave on blogs. πŸ˜‰ is a nightmare for bloggers

      I am glad that YA was able to help you through some tough times, Ryann. After all, that’s really what the YA community has been pushing for in the past few years: preparing and educating teens who can’t find it elsewhere. I just wish we could do more because there are so many items we’re not even touching on. sigh

      OHHHH! I love what you bring up! I didn’t even think about self-mutilation, but this is a HUGE aspect as well and really does need to be talked about (particularly among teens because they seem to have the highest rates of self-harm. At least, based on media responses. I don’t actually have stats. :/ ) I agree that we need to discuss more about that and the recovery process in fiction, but there is, unfortunately, a caveat to that… :/

      Recovery is a slow and arduous process. It can take years, maybe decades to truly be recovered and even then there could still be remnants. I think it’s one of the reasons why we are still staying away from self-harm in YA characters because many readers (if not most) aren’t looking for that type of story. :/ It’s a shame because it’s important, but readers like to be entertained and it can be difficult to make such a traumatic and difficult journey interesting, you know what I mean?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hahaha I’m glad it didn’t seem too long! πŸ˜‚

        And that’s a good point! Actually showing the recovery phase would make a very character-driven book!

        I’d probably be content if it’s sort of
        implied, if that makes sense. Basically, I’m so sick of “Person A suffers from mental illness/self-harm, until they meet their Love Interest! Now everything is magically all better!” It just grinds my gears whenever I read it. Even if the recovery process isn’t spelled out in detail, it should still get some recognition as being a slow process that can’t be magically fixed by other people.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. OH MY GOD, NOOOOOO! That love interest fixes everything bullshit needs to go BACK to the patriarchy of the 1940s! FUCK THAT! (Sorry, I have a deep-rooted hatred of that particular mentality.) Relationships do not fix things. They make them harder and someone who doesn’t understand your problems can’t help you with your problems (well… not recover from them. They can help hide them, which is a bad idea for the long haul.) But anyway! Yes, I agree that we are on the short-end of the spectrum for recovery and we need to lengthen it to at least hint at the realm of reality.

          Liked by 1 person

  9. I think violence does have a place in YA because whether we want to admit it or not, it happens and books (at least somewhat) mirror reality. However, I hate when authors add some sort of traumatic violence to a story just to have it but it has nothing to do with the plot.

    There are two attempted rape scenes in a very popular fantasy series and neither of them were necessary. It really pissed me off to read because it was so out of place that if someone were a sexual assault victim they would have been completely unprepared and very disturbed by it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much for weighing in, Rae. You are more aware of social issues like this than I am and I was really hoping you for thoughts on this topic. πŸ™‚

      That being said, I completely agree with you. I think I tried to get at the violence having something to do with the plot with my above two questions, but you word it in a nice, direct way. If it doesn’t fit into the story and has no context, it shouldn’t be there. We don’t represent violence just for awareness sake. That’s worse than having no violence at all. (Quite similar to what they did with white-washed POC just recently in fiction.)

      Ohhhh. I am so sorry to hear about that fantasy novel and I think that’s completely irresponsible of the author to not have some time of warning for readers. There are plenty of readers in the world who have gone through traumatic events and are still affected by them (some more so than others.) For those people, traumatic scenes in books can be crippling and the author should be more aware of such things and take responsibility for protecting their readers spoilers be damned, (which is why next week’s topic is trigger warnings. πŸ˜‰ )

      Like

      1. Thank you for opening this discussion. I agree this trend is worse than having no violence at all. It kind of just makes me wonder what made them say, “Yeah let me add this out of the blue. That’s a great idea!”
        ‘Ugh
        I did a This or That? on trigger warnings and it was an interesting discussion. Can’t wait for yours!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Ten bucks says their publisher told them to add it. -.- doesn’t have ANY issues with the publishing industry at the moment >.> cough

          But yes. It’s kind of dumb that no one seems to catch or comment on the random scenes of violence. But I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. I see way too much bad writing in general. :/ Following a bad trend?

          Ohh! Very cool! πŸ˜€ I hope I can live up to your This or That standards! :p

          Liked by 1 person

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