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Is this too much?

In a scene I just completed writing my MC Garren is trying to kidnap a person to 1) see if he can steal his memories and 2) make sure the kidnappee (an adult) cannot reveal Garren's identity after he recovers from a certain bit of mental trauma involving having his ability to control the elements stolen. Garren infiltrates an infirmary. While trying to do so, he gets caught by a female healer and her lover. He stabs her in the heart, knocks the man out, rubs the male lover's hands in blood, and subsequently hangs the lover to make it look like a murder-suicide. This is all done in an attempt to conceal his identity as a spy during a massive war between Garren's home country and the country who's magical community he is trying to infiltrate and learn secrets from. This novel has been straddling the line between YA and adult. So, for you as a reader, does that work for you or is that just too much and would make you actually put down the book.

Keep in mind that the scene described above is part of the MC's descent from being a nice guy to turning into a dictator ruling through fear and intimidation.

What do you all think?


As someone whose first bedtime story was Pride and Prejudice and who watched the entire Aliens series before age 10, I am a poor gauge of age-appropriate material, to say the least.

Anyway, through that warped framework, it sounds fine to me as long as you're not overly graphic as to the state the healer and her lover were in when they stumbled upon Garren. :p


Does the character's arc go beyond a descent into darkness? I can't imagine that I would want my teenager reading a book where the MC just becomes progressively more despicable.
Does the character's arc go beyond a descent into darkness? I can't imagine that I would want my teenager reading a book where the MC just becomes progressively more despicable.

It's primarily a descent into darkness. I intend it to be a cautionary tale of sorts. Warning about the nature of hubris and the desire to justify evil acts because the ends are good.
I'd also like to add that I'm not writing a YA novel per se. The YA thing is just a recognition of about the violence and other pieces of graphic content up to that point.


I have no problem with reading a spy killing others to conceal his identity. It's a totally plausible motivation, given that you're steering Garren's moral ship into dark waters.


It's all going to be in the execution Brian.

Negative character arcs, like you're describing, are some of my favorites, but they can be tricky to pull off when you want the reader to still care about the character. On the whole, as you've described above, it wouldn't bother me. However, as a reader invested in the character, I'd want to intensely feel the desperation that caused this event. I'd need to understand, if not condone. If you can stack those types of situations, one after the other, at a proper pace and in a way the makes the character's descent feel real and plausible, then I may even have sympathy for the character, even when he's turned into something despicable.

An example of this well-done is the character Walter White from AMC's Breaking Bad. In the end, he was a loathsome, but capable man. In the end, I found myself still rooting for him to win, or at least make set his world right.

As far as it being YA, that line has blurred considerably from the Nancy Drew / Hardy Boy era. YA books have sex, drugs, violence, and all sorts of mischief nowadays. I wouldn't worry too much about boxing yourself up in a category just yet. Write the story, and then decide where it belongs. You may surprise yourself.

I hope that helps.

By the way, I'm currently editing a completed novel with a long, drawn out, negative character arc. They aren't easy.
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I mean if you gotta kill someone, you don't wanna get caught, and depending on the forensic skills in-story, a murder-suicide can be an okay way to divert attention from yourself. Decent people can do some pretty messed up things when you're desperate, and that capability in you or anyone else should never be underestimated. You don't wanna think you'd ever eat another human, but neither did the folks in the Donner Party. Desperate measures don't make you a horrible person. I think that's important for young people to learn, especially with the self-doubt common at that age, as well as doubt in their loved ones from mistakes they didn't notice when they were kids. It becomes a problem when you make horrible acts a habit or show no remorse. I think the hanging is a bit much, then again my brother also hanged himself. Make it look like he stabbed himself instead?


Since I think you were using the term YA more specifically as an indicator of the subject matter prior to the staged murder/suicide, I'd say this is fine. I'm am writing a similar character arc, though mine is a descent into darkness and then a rebound into light. My book is intensely violent at times but it's about an assassin working for a mafia-style crime organization, living in a class based dictatorship... no, or very little, violence would be illogical. Depth of detail is personal preference. I love Joe Abercrombie and Mark Lawrence. I also Love Brandon Sanderson.

But, if you actually meant that you intend this to be a YA novel... No, this is too much I think. I wouldn't let my young teen read it. I wouldn't let them read mine either. The developing brain of a teenager is entirely too impressionable to read that kind of thing, IMO. Will they read and see things I wouldn't want them to? Yes. I can't control them, only guide, guard and set boundaries. But I'd advise against most 'adult' books until I thought they were ready at perhaps 17 or 18. That's me though. There are many differing opinions about this kind of thing.