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How dark should I take this story?

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I have started writing a middle school age historical fiction book about a family of farmers protecting the Mona Lisa from nazis during WWII.  The story is aimed at teaching kids about some weird history of the Mona Lisa most won't learn in school as well as the Monuments Men, a group of Allied soldiers who recovered stolen art work.

The thing is, the main character, a 12 year old French girl named Clare, sees her brother shot and killed by nazis as well as helping her father and another brother kill any nazis who get too close to the house to keep the painting safe...I have not tried to write anything like this before...I mostly write picture book manuscripts or pulp stories aimed at adults.  I am unsure how dark I can or should go.

Any advice is welcome.  Thanks for reading
#1 - January 01, 2021, 12:26 PM

I write dark too and this sounds great! I think as long as you don't go too graphic with the killings, you should be good. When it gets really dark and blood and guts, it might be a harder sell for MG.
#2 - January 01, 2021, 02:41 PM
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I write dark too and this sounds great! I think as long as you don't go too graphic with the killings, you should be good. When it gets really dark and blood and guts, it might be a harder sell for MG.

Thanks

#3 - January 01, 2021, 02:42 PM

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Given your topic, I don't know how you can avoid darkness and, to try, might undermine your story. I think the MG age group can handle the setting, but keep as much of the violence off-page as you can.  Do not get graphic or gory.
#4 - January 01, 2021, 05:00 PM

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Given your topic, I don't know how you can avoid darkness and, to try, might undermine your story. I think the MG age group can handle the setting, but keep as much of the violence off-page as you can.  Do not get graphic or gory.

Thanks
#5 - January 01, 2021, 05:01 PM

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Do not get graphic or gory.
This^. Just don't get into visceral gut-spilling. Death and violence are part of your story.
#6 - January 01, 2021, 05:10 PM
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You might read some comparable titles, too, to see how those authors handled it. :goodluck
#7 - January 01, 2021, 10:48 PM
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You might read some comparable titles, too, to see how those authors handled it. :goodluck

I have tried, but most are about Jewish families escaping not staying in one place.  f anyone knows of any titles please let me know
#8 - January 02, 2021, 09:45 AM

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Number the Stars by Lois Lowry might be helpful.

Another thought: when you say Clara helps kill Nazis who come too close, I would tread very lightly. Helping to set a trap is one thing, but something closer to the act like tying someone up so he can be shot is another. I don't know from your post how involved she was, but children lack the big-picture perspective to help them understand such complicated morality. If you can, avoid Clara's part in helping with the killings. Although children can handle a horror filled setting such as you're writing, they usually identify with the MC, and seeing that MC involved in killing could be very disturbing for them.  It'd be like seeing themselves doing the same thing.

eta: Sorry, it should be Clare, not Clara.
#9 - January 02, 2021, 10:50 AM

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Number the Stars by Lois Lowry might be helpful.

Another thought: when you say Clara helps kill Nazis who come too close, I would tread very lightly. Helping to set a trap is one thing, but something closer to the act like tying someone up so he can be shot is another. I don't know from your post how involved she was, but children lack the big-picture perspective to help them understand such complicated morality. If you can, avoid Clara's part in helping with the killings. Although children can handle a horror filled setting such as you're writing, they usually identify with the MC, and seeing that MC involved in killing could be very disturbing for them.  It'd be like seeing themselves doing the same thing.

eta: Sorry, it should be Clare, not Clara.

Thanks for catching the spelling error and the advice.  No worry to feel sorry.  I am very dyslexic and spelling stuff wrong happens a lot. lol
#10 - January 02, 2021, 11:59 AM

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MG fiction has a huge range of dark. For a comp. title: Village of Scoundrels by Margi Preus. See this lovely review here: http://faithehough.blogspot.com/2020/01/mmgm-village-of-scoundrels-by-margi.html
#11 - January 02, 2021, 01:17 PM
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MG fiction has a huge range of dark. For a comp. title: Village of Scoundrels by Margi Preus. See this lovely review here: http://faithehough.blogspot.com/2020/01/mmgm-village-of-scoundrels-by-margi.html

Thanks...I need to find and read this book.

#12 - January 02, 2021, 01:21 PM

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Number the Stars by Lois Lowry might be helpful.

Another thought: when you say Clara helps kill Nazis who come too close, I would tread very lightly. Helping to set a trap is one thing, but something closer to the act like tying someone up so he can be shot is another. I don't know from your post how involved she was, but children lack the big-picture perspective to help them understand such complicated morality. If you can, avoid Clara's part in helping with the killings. Although children can handle a horror filled setting such as you're writing, they usually identify with the MC, and seeing that MC involved in killing could be very disturbing for them.  It'd be like seeing themselves doing the same thing.
eta: Sorry, it should be Clare, not Clara.

I agree with this. I really love the historical fiction plot about farmers protecting the Mona Lisa, and yes there are going to definitely be darker themes whenever you set a story within wartime. While some of the older targets in the MG age range might more understand, since some of the youngest readers include 8 year olds, you might want to be careful how you work some of those themes in.

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry is a good suggestion, since it also is set during the same time period and deals with similar themes.

However, when dealing with scenes of death, I would also like to suggest some of these MG books:

Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls. It's been a while since I read this one. Even so, I remember reading this particularly startling scene in 5th grade: There was a cruel kid in the story that the readers hated. He was coming at the protagonist's dog with an axe. However, while running with the axe, he trips and ends up stabbing and killing himself. Even though you REALLY didn't like this kid, his death was impactful and left the reader with mixed feelings. Though it was a terrifying and startling scene that left the reader conflicted over kid's death, in the end it was the character's own cruel actions that led to his death.

The Shadow Children series by Margaret Peterson Haddix. This series is pretty dark overall. It's about a dystopian world where 3rd children have become illegal in order to control overpopulation. As such, having more than 2 children is punishable, and 3rd children are rounded up if found. So there are lots of themes about death (since the protagonists are all illegal children). The author delves really well into the psychological state of the young people who are not only escaping death, but going undercover and even disguising themselves as young soldiers.

Wings of Fire series by Tui Sutherland. This is a fantasy MG series about dragon protagonists, so it might not be your genre of preference, but in the first book, the protagonist both witnesses a beheading and later his friend (the protagonist of the 2nd book) is forced to kill someone out of necessity to survive. It shows their conflicting emotions about killing, and in the 2nd book it's explored more through the point of view of the friend who struggles with the fact they killed someone, even knowing they had to.

The Wondla trilogy by Tony DiTerlizzi. This is trilogy, but I haven't read the 3rd book yet. Again, this is more of a fantasy / sci-fi. Still, in the 1st and 2nd books, there are scenes of death (including the deaths of those close to the protagonist), killing, and the shocking nature of it. The protagonist is also put in the same position where she must kill to survive by use of traps and such.

These are some good books that handle themes about death in MG novels. They might be worth a read if you're wanting examples of how other authors approached the subject.
#13 - January 09, 2021, 01:33 PM
« Last Edit: January 09, 2021, 01:40 PM by Holland »

Middle grade fiction seems to be getting darker these days, almost what I would’ve considered to be young adult when I was a kid several decades ago. For what it’s worth I would love to see a book like this out there, and I think my middle grade reader kids would find this very interesting. Particularly these days, when there are so many dark realities kids are facing, I think they can probably handle it if done tactfully.
#14 - January 10, 2021, 12:50 PM

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