Death. Destruction. MURDER.
It’s all just a day’s work…right?
WRONG. Murder & violence in young adult fiction is something that’s becoming increasingly more common (especially as characters in books become more and more mature yet remain the same age–another post on this next month), but it seems to shock readers less and less.
Yet, as much as we know that murder and violence are bad in the real world, and most of us would be traumatized witnessing a murder in person, it also seems to have become more common in the books we read.
Everything from popular novels, like Six of Crows (an example of a darker book, not necessarily the paragon for the paragraphs to come), to almost any fantasy and science fiction novel out there features murder or death (one could argue it’s gotten more heavy in recent years).
How did we progress to the point that the loss of innocent human (and some non-human) life (both in the real world and in fiction) is normal and nothing to be worried about?
How did we progress to being okay with reading about murderers and people who sell body parts on the black market, all without a second glance or thought of the repercussions if this actually happened in real life?
I think it stems from a couple of reasons.
It’s like with violent video games or television (although we have to visualize it ourselves vs. being shown). Somewhere along the line, we’ve become more and more exposed to violence and murder (both in literature and the media) that it’s just felt normal.
And it’s not like these books are bad books, but I do feel like violence has become more prevalent in young adult literature to follow the norm of protagonists acting older and “more mature.”
It seems like in the past, childhood was more innocent. Children weren’t as fearful of school shootings and murderers and strangers offering candy from their vans. And this could obviously be untrue, but in the modern world with the Internet and quick communication, we’ve become less ignorant to what’s happening around us and more aware that death and murder and violence occur.
This isn’t a bad thing, but it also moves popular culture and literature along with it to become more heavily infused with real life topics and a more accurate representation of some of the things going on in the world.
Of course, not all books featuring violence are badly written books. Some of them are truly wonderful reads.
Yet, resorting to more brutality and more murder to actually be able to shock readers and actually make them feel something seems to be occurring as an overcompensation for lackluster writing. A genocide can feel bland if an emotional connection isn’t established.
I mean, sure, we’re completely wrecked when one of the protagonists dies. But what about all the other characters who may die in the book?
An innocent monster dies? Eh. Que lástima. Too bad.
An innocent bystander dies? Que pena. What a pity.
A beloved main characters dies? OH MY GOSH THIS IS TERRIBLE MY LIFE IS OVER I AM DYINGGGG
And this is understandable given how we’re obviously a lot closer to the characters that are talked about more than the characters that aren’t talked about as much (or at all). That’s basic psychology–we’d obviously grieve a family member dying more than we’d grieve a random stranger you don’t know from dying.
But still. SOMEONE JUST DIED ten feet away. Try and act a little concerned? (*cough*A Court of Wings and Fury*cough*)
Sometimes it feels like authors just don’t instill the gravitas of some of these situations, although this is also obviously because of how the reader interprets it too.
I think resorting to brutality as a compensation for lackluster and unemotive writing can be just generally not a great move from a literary standpoint, and it’s part of the reason why readers have become more and more desensitized to murder: because they’re not instilled with the seriousness of the situation.
Books with murder aren’t necessarily bad books.
It’s just that sometimes, it seems like so much unnecessary violence and brutality happens, and we as readers have started reacting less and less as it becomes a norm. As our characters get more mature. As murderers and bad people are conveyed in fiction without acknowledging the unsavory nature of what they do.
I like to try and really take in how many people in a book have died and give these side characters (Random Fae #5789) at least a little bit of thought for the fact that someone died. Although random side characters’ murder can feel nearly equivalent to some random stranger on another continent dying, remember that those are both instances of most likely innocent human beings dying (although, one is obviously real).
So, I guess what I’m trying to say is that PEOPLE DIE, OKAY? Let’s give it a little bit of heart, even if they’re just a random side character in a book or your life.