I am writing an action/thriller light novel for YA audience.

The story involves characters "playing" in a war-simulation game in an extremely realistic and full immersive Virtual Reality. By "full immersive" I mean that the person who plays this simulation feels like they are experiencing it. Note that this includes themes like death, fatal wounds, pain and such.

My concept may be seen as similar to Sword Art Online (SAO-Wikipedia page), where the protagonist gets drawn into a virtual reality, immersive fantasy rpg. In my case, I need it to be a bit more... adult and graphic. It would be a first-person shooter VR war game (see, for reference, Escape from Tarkov).

Now, because I'm aiming for an older teen audience (16+), how much detail (both gore and psychological impact) can I put into this light novel before it crosses the line between thriller and horror?

This question is similar, but it deals with how much a young audience can handle at all, whereas I'm trying to find the line between thriller and horror.

  • And why am i getting downvotes?
    – Kale Slade
    Nov 7, 2018 at 1:22
  • 2
    If I were to guess, you're getting downvotes because 1. your question isn't really clear. You're referencing some things without explaining them (Sword Art Online, FPS), so it's hard to understand what you're trying to describe. 2. You're asking two unrelated questions together: how much violence is acceptable in a work for teens, and how to describe something. 3. Your "how to describe X" question is very vague. What is it you're struggling with, in describing it? At the moment, it looks like you're asking us to write the situation for you. Look at How to Ask, it might be helpful. Nov 7, 2018 at 8:12
  • 1
    Kale, I've edited the question to make it more in line with the guidelines. Most importantly, I've erased the part about how to show emotions and character development as it fits as another question (that you are free to ask, of course: the problem is just grouping multiple questions together). Feel free to reject my edit if you don't feel it's on point anymore.
    – Liquid
    Nov 7, 2018 at 9:45
  • No, I think it's perfectly fine. Thanks a lot.
    – Kale Slade
    Nov 7, 2018 at 15:08
  • Rather than trying to delete this question (which the system won't let you do), why not try to edit it? That automatically throws the question into the "review for reopen" queue. It's not a bad question. I voted to close it at first, and then retracted my "close" vote after Liquid edited it. Nov 9, 2018 at 20:01

3 Answers 3


Being frank, older teens, sixteen-plus, as you said, can handle a lot, and likely will feel insulted/not challenged if there isn't any convincing peril in your story. While your prose certainly shouldn't relish in carnage and violence on the level of A Clockwork Orange or delve into the utterly depressing and pessimistic like 1984, a little bit of 'edginess' is kind of part and parcel for young adult books.

Take Harry Potter, which started its series aimed at even younger audiences and yet even The Philophorceror's Stone had lethal peril and stakes towards the end, and as the series progressed towards a late-teen demographic, the likelihood of characters dying, terrible wounds and betrayals, and overall moral greyness only gets higher.

Additional note: Don't confuse darkness with realism. Realism just means that realistic consequences akin to the real world's own appear in the story regardless of narrative conventions, while darkness is how grim/violent/cynical the tone of the story is.

  • Well, one of the things I wanted to write about was the impact of what the children are experiencing. They aren't in Kansas anymore, so to speak. They're killing to save themselves, and the effect that has, while artificial at first, turns very real. Thanks for the answer, and this'll help loads.
    – Kale Slade
    Nov 7, 2018 at 15:11

At 16, the books our school recommended included 1984 and All Quiet on the Western Front. Crime and Punishment was part of the matriculation exam at 17. Also at 17, we were visiting Auschwitz. You don't get more horror than that.

Which is to say, you can put any amount of horror in a novel for 16+ audience. By this point, teenagers are adults enough to understand it.

The only issue I see is, if you go sufficiently far into a realistic description of the horrors of war, and the psychological impact of those horrors on those who experience them first hand, what you're writing is no longer a "light" novel.

  • I don't claim to be a mind-reader of Kale, but 'light novel' in this case may refer to the closest equivalent to novels anime/manga has (an example being The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya). In that case, even the grittiest things aren't off-bars save for which audience you're aiming for. Nov 7, 2018 at 10:12
  • More here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Light_novel Nov 7, 2018 at 10:18
  • And you're exactly right, Matthew. That's the concept I was going for. Thanks for clearing that up.
    – Kale Slade
    Nov 7, 2018 at 15:12

Hell, the Animorphs series could get very frank at times with the themes of war and the moral implications of a guerilla war on children... There was a point in my reading where the ploy of having one of the heroes lose a limb (in an animal morph) was kind of something the series had desensitized me too. In the 13th Book, they have an alien essentially scalp himself to prove a point that he was not under control of the brain slug antagonists of the series... and it does get worse. And this was a series for an intended audience of late elementry school to early middle school aged kids.

The dirty little secret about YA novels is you can get away with a lot of graphic violence depictions to a much younger audience than TV or Movies or Video games and this is doubly so for books targeted to a male audience. This is because of two factors: YA has an over-surplus of novels with a female audience in mind compared to the novels for a male audience, and no matter what gender is reading, most parents are so happy to see the kids reading that they don't bother to check if they are reading a kosher amount of violence.

Additionally, when writing novels with no visual elements, people will visiualize the story differently. A kid who enjoys violence and gore will probably paint his mental picture red with blood, where as a kid with a lesser appreciation can self censor. Also, Kids are really capable of handling complex situations that adults didn't think they could.

For example, I personally remember watching an episode of "Batman Beyond" in middle school that dealt with a fairly obvious Steroid metaphor. Now, as a kid, I used to privately praise the episode for this one scene where the heroes' mother finds the drug paraphernalia in his school bag and there is a heated argument and I distinctly recall the mom expressly using the word "Drugs" during this scene, which most cartoons would dance around. When I went off to college, I binged watched the show out of a sense of nostalgia and to my great surprise, the word "Drugs" was never used in that scene (instead the ridiculous name "Slappers" was the term for the drug... it was a nicotine patch like delivery system). That was something I had added because, yeah, it was drugs... that's what the episode was discussing without saying the "D-Word". And I checked because the series was censored when parents got wind of some things that were much darker but that episode wasn't censored. And with that said, they did show rather unabashed results of prolonged drug use and what is effectively an on screen OD. All of which I had remembered from the time of viewing and found my adult self rather taken aback by the boldness of the episode to be so direct and so subtle about the topic.

One fun thing you should do (since you clearly like Japanese Media) is watch a few episodes of Super Sentai and it's cross-Pacific American Counter-part and prepared for a culture shock. Most Americans would balk at some of the shows more serious episodes for being that dark. But the funny thing is, the Japanese viewer will watch U.S. Power Rangers and be equally horrified (Japan gets away with the serious elements by very zany humor... it's usually a live action cartoon when they want to be funny, and this offsets the humor. The American version largely avoids the mood whiplash and the lack of the more wacky humor leaves the Japanese asking the same "This is meant for children?" response to Power Rangers that Americans have to Super Sentai).

  • Thanks. I'll keep that in mind. But I'm planning to have a few images inserted throughout the book, as per light novel requirements.
    – Kale Slade
    Nov 7, 2018 at 17:02
  • I'd say the best rule is to write indiscreet but visualize discreet.
    – hszmv
    Nov 7, 2018 at 17:08
  • 2
    You can almost always get away with more stuff in prose or poetry than in a visual medium. If I write "Her clothes were blown off by the explosion, She got up and started running" it's reasonable prose, and an R-rated movie. Nov 7, 2018 at 19:01

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.