I am a young author writing my first series. I’m not writing my books simply because I want to or that I am frustrated with other books, but those are some reasons.

The book I am writing is pure fantasy, with underlying genres of romance, tragedy, politics, and post-apocalyptic. But mainly fantasy.

I am targeting an audience of middle school and high school. When reading my favorite series targeted to the same audience, I became frustrated at the fact that no one ever really got hurt, and no one ever really died, despite the author's emphasis on how dangerous and violent this world was.

So when writing my own novel I cranked up the heat. One of the antagonists is a sixty-foot-tall giant with corpses dangling from his horns, and he thinks of killing as a game. This is just one of the servants of the real antagonist, the main bad guy. I have already made some people die, and am not afraid to make my characters be injured, because in real life odds are they would already be dead.

I’m wondering if I am being too violent, and if that would make my book “inappropriate” for younger readers, say, fifth and sixth grade.

I did not include other parts of my story in this question, but the common odds of death for my characters are typically a fifty/fifty chance, and about every three in ten people end up dying. In the past of my story, EVERYONE died until a certain character showed up, so this is a significant improvement for them.

I am not just constantly making people die or get hurt, but it happens to each main character at least once in each book, to emphasize that this actually IS dangerous.

I’m pretty much wondering if you can be too violent when writing and if this would change the kind of audience that reads your work.

4 Answers 4


There is a huge difference between Middle Grade and Young Adult books. Middle Grade book heroes are usually Middle School aged. The books are are typically read by older elementary and younger middle school students, but they are usually BOUGHT by parents and teachers. They are expected to be "family friendly," and free of graphic violence, bad language and explicit sexual content. If a parent and a child would not be comfortable reading a book together, it is not Middle Grade.

Young Adult novels are usually read by AND BOUGHT BY teenagers. They can and do often feature swearing, sex, violence, drug use, and other things that would never be allowed in a MG book.

So, the answer to your question is, unless the violence in your book is clearly cartoonish and unreal, this would NOT be a Middle Grade book, and would not be considered appropriate to target at fifth and sixth graders. It would not be out of place at all as a Young Adult book. Many fifth and sixth graders might still read it, of course, but it wouldn't be a book their parents would buy for them.


The marketing, and the age of the main character

Picking some popular YA books, many don't sound very family-friendly

Hunger Games -> Children are forced to fight to the death to entertain the ruling elite.

Twilight -> Teenager + a several hundred-year-old vampire run away from her family and elope.

The Hate U Give -> Teenager witnesses a police shooting.

L8R,G8R -> Told via instant messages between high school kids. High school students chat about drugs and hook-up culture.

It wouldn't be hard to keep listing more. What do they all have in common? Storywise, the main character is high-school age.

I’m wondering if I am being too violent

Are 24 kids fighting to the death? That's a best-seller! YA books are probably more violent than books for adults. Which book has more characters die Silence of the Lambs or The Hunger Games? Pretty sure Hunger Games wins.

EDIT response to comments

So extreme fantasy violence wouldn’t make a book be considered young adult?

Not on its own. Lord Of the Rings isn't YA, but is full of fantasy violence. There is a fallen angel who tortures people for fun with his posse of undead minions scouring the land looking for his ring. He wants to conquer the world and every other kingdom in Middle Earth has to band together and they barely survive.

LotR, of course, has inspired countless YA fantasy novels. So what's different? The characters are seen and treated as children by the other people in the novel. Why do we treat children and teenagers differently in the real world? Because both physically and mentally they aren't done developing, thus there are laws and customs written around protecting them from themselves, which they usually don't like.

You can write a story where the teenagers act just like adults - it won't be very good because you're not true to your characters. Do you treat adults and children the same?

Would you write 3 adult alcoholics sharing a bottle of vodka the same way as 3 teenagers sharing it?

  • So extreme fantasy violence wouldn’t make a book be considered young adult?
    – Leila
    Oct 21, 2020 at 18:00
  • IMHO "Hunger Games" in particular is really pushing the limits of "Young Adult" genre. While it shows that adult themes (graphic violence, sexual violence, death of major characters) can be all present in YA, the series still remain an outlier for the genre.
    – Alexander
    Oct 21, 2020 at 18:28

Ultimately, the genre of your book is defined (unless you go indie) by the publisher who buys it and puts a label on it.

My advice would be to write the story you are writing, and then look back at it. Compare it to other works and see if it's YA, NA or simply adult. Trying to cut out elements that will make it adult may tear the heart out of the story.


I took this directly from the Wiki.

Young adult fiction (YA) is a category of fiction written for readers from 12 to 18 years of age. ... Common themes related to YA include friendship, first love, relationships, and identity. Stories that focus on the specific challenges of youth are sometimes referred to as problem novels or coming-of-age novels.

But yeah, make the character a teen and you qualify as YA for the most part!

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