How violent is too violent??

I am 60 pages into the third edit of my first book, a historical fantasy. I have nearly 60,000 words written into my second novel, a young adult paranormal romance. And I am no where closer to figuring out what is deemed too violent for younger generations.

I found it personally insulting upon reading the last ‘Twilight’ book, ‘Breaking Dawn,’ that we didn’t get even a slightly raunchy love scene on Bella and Edward’s honeymoon. We only got snippets of what happened to Bella’s bruised body and what remained of a headboard, or pillow, or something… that Edward bit or tore to shreds. So obviously, sex is out of the question. It can only be suggested or implied. I know of a few writers who grazed along the subject, but never did they write out the entire scene.

Now where does that lead us on the issue of violence? I was SHOCKED when I found out that ‘The Hunger Games’ series is graded as middle school and up. Meaning that it is perfectly okay for twelve year olds. I understand that many of the scenes are not described graphically, but really? A story about kids slaughtering kids in an arena to the death is okay over a sex scene?

So what can I deem as appropriate? Because this has been a question in my head for a long time. How violent is too violent? How graphic is too graphic? And who the hell gets to be the judge of that anyway? My characters in my second book cuss a little. And given that I am a historian and I will give a historical aspect to just about everything I decided to include a few case studies that I came along over the years. One about a slave who was murdered, one about a girl forced to work in a Industrial Revolution type work house/sweat shop/factory… her hair gets caught in one of the machines, killing her. And yes, this actually happened in history. I read the case study and presented it in an essay. Is this too violent? Because its true… it actually happened. Then they fired the girl’s entire family from the work house and sent them away penniless. I didn’t include this part in the story. But in my mind, the true stories are the best ones. I find that adding these pieces of history to a manuscript can enliven it and make it more real.

Then my first book… I would love to make it another young adult, but someone I had read it told me that it was too violent and border line horror. That may be true, as there is a lot of blood and all around guts. But there is a lot of that in the Hunger Games as well. So what am I to think? My lead heroine is seventeen. Will that make her less appealing to older audiences if I don’t pitch it as young adult??

Now I’m confused. Where does the line get drawn? I was waiting while querying agents for someone to tell me I was nuts to think that young readers wouldn’t be traumatized by my story.  Instead I just got a bunch of rejection letters reading “Dear Author.” So I don’t know where I should stand.

Ultimately,  I think that younger readers can handle it. In fact, it might be good for younger readers to find out a little about how brutal the poorer classes or suppressed races were treated over the centuries. And I’m sure lots of people will be in line to tell me I’m wrong.

Oh well…. I’m guessing that its best guess at this point.


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