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Scene with domestic violence?

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In my WIP there is a boy with a tough home situation.  There is an argument outside on a porch in the public eye.  I don't want it to be gruesome or set the book beyond MG.  But I also want it to be relatable and realistic.  I've re-written the scene several times now.  Any advice how to include hard topics like that in MG fiction without changing the overall feel of the book too dark?  Examples where people have done this well?  It is not a book about abuse.  But it is an important narrative piece for the protagonist to "see behind the curtain" of the antagonists' life.
#1 - June 24, 2020, 08:36 AM

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Have you read WHAT JAMIE SAW by Carolyn Coman? It's an older book, more than 20 years old I'd say. In the opening scene, an adult throws a baby across a room. I couldn't with that, and still can't. I'm not sure it's a predictor of what could get published for MG, since it seems such an outlier.

"An argument on a porch" sounds really mild by comparison, but of course that argument could be anything from trivial to devastating. I do think it still holds pretty true that you have to watch the language or school librarians will tend not to buy it. And I might limit any violence to a push or shove. I think it's very possible to convey a difficult home life while staying understated.
#2 - June 24, 2020, 11:34 AM
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That's the first book I thought of, Marcia. I remember Carolyn saying that it's more of a YA because of that scene.
What about Nancy Werlin's Rules of Survival? It's considered YA but appropriate for upper MG.

Jerry, at this point, I'd simply write the story. Later you can revise to set the appropriate tone you want. Lots of kids live with domestic violence and I'm sure they appreciate an accurate portrayal. Often showing the aftermath can be more powerful than the actual event.
#3 - June 24, 2020, 12:31 PM
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Along the lines of showing the aftermath instead of the event, you could have the violence happen off page. Someone could overhear or a friend could happen by. The reader can learn through the eyes of a secondary character. This also gives you a chance to edit what you say. A suggestion can go a long way. You do not need to include every detail. Your MC could write about the situation or listen to a play list s/he reserves for these times. These are a just few suggestions, but I don't think you need or should hit this with a head-on description.

I know the prevailing opinion is that kids want to read about the same awful things that have happened to them, but I'm not sure this is true. I'm not sure it isn't either. I'd just be very careful. Kids want and need their pain to be known and acknowledged, but it's been my experience they don't want to relive it. They don't want to feel like the only person in the world that has experienced whatever, but they don't want to dwell in that world. If anything, they want a story that takes them away, and I understand that feeling.

Our bodies respond to memories almost the same way they respond to the actual event. Some people are more sensitive to this than others. One of my daughters could not stay in the same room and watch a show where someone was going to be terribly embarrassed or humiliated or hurt. She felt it. Her siblings didn't as much. 
#4 - June 24, 2020, 03:56 PM

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The DV I have read has been in YA books (but I'm not particularly well read in MG).
#5 - June 24, 2020, 05:08 PM
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Good thoughts. Currently I have my main character outside the bully / antagonists house and just hears screaming. It is a turning point at the end of the novel where the antagonist is humanized. I’m fluctuating between the main character sees enough to have sympathy but shield enough to stay in genre.

In My pre-writing career I was a program director at a mental health clinic (and counselor) so I completely understand the question of how much people want to validate their own experiences vs not relive them. That is a great question and one to ponder.  Thanks all for the responses.
#6 - June 24, 2020, 05:47 PM

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I think watching your main character process this may be more important than the event itself. Staying in the character's voice will also help the reader. Consider carefully what the character gets from the scene, but also what you want the reader to take from it.

There are plenty of MG novels that handle tough topics from death to cancer to homelessness/poverty, to mental illness. Perhaps it will help for you to read a few to see how they do it: Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand, Solving for M by Jennifer Swender, Hurricane Season by Nicole Melleby, Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate.
#7 - June 24, 2020, 06:26 PM
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Jerry, you must read Hello Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly. There's a wonderful scene at the end when the main character realizes that the bully in question has himself been bullied. I wrote about this book here: https://vijayabodach.blogspot.com/2018/05/reading.html  and now that I think about it, MG can have quite a bit of violence. In that same post, I mention Peggy King Anderson's book Two Moon Journey, which is the story of the Trail of Tears. As you can imagine the violence is on scene. Another beautifully written book. Happy reading.
#8 - June 24, 2020, 06:57 PM
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Yeah, abuse comes in many forms, not just violence. Maybe show how the abuser publicly shames the person on the porch, very loudly. And maybe the MC (the kid?) observes, and notices neighbors watching, turning their heads away, moving inside from their own porch. Getting to the heart of it on many levels -- it makes the abuser feel more powerful, the person being abused feel shame and small, and the observers near and far are anything from "glad it's not me" to scared for themselves, to backing off and not wanting to get involved. Depending on where you are in the story (beginning, middle, end) you'll want to show where the MC is in understanding all these things in all the characters involved. Because even the the observer three houses away who keeps reading the newspaper as though he/she doesn't hear the abuse is deeply involved.
#9 - June 25, 2020, 05:35 AM
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Jerry, you must read Hello Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly. There's a wonderful scene at the end when the main character realizes that the bully in question has himself been bullied. I wrote about this book here: https://vijayabodach.blogspot.com/2018/05/reading.html  and now that I think about it, MG can have quite a bit of violence. In that same post, I mention Peggy King Anderson's book Two Moon Journey, which is the story of the Trail of Tears. As you can imagine the violence is on scene. Another beautifully written book. Happy reading.

Thanks so much!  I will check this out for sure!
#10 - June 25, 2020, 10:46 AM

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Thanks to all of you!  This has been very helpful.  I rotate "interviews" (I send you the questions) on my blog for authors I know / have interacted with.  If any of you would like, email me at jerryharwoodbooks at gmail.  I'll send you the questions.  It isn't much, but every little bit of publicity helps, right?  Pax vobiscum!
#11 - June 25, 2020, 10:49 AM

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You're welcome and I think this is the first time I've seen a pax vobiscum on this board! Very cool that you interview authors--it'd be good if you post in the "What did you blog about today" board when you have a new post: https://www.scbwi.org/boards/index.php?board=274.0

Pax et bonum!
#12 - June 25, 2020, 03:47 PM
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Will do.

Scribo ut me intellegensissimum cogites. Lol
#13 - June 25, 2020, 05:36 PM

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