The reasons for this blog: 1. To provide basic author information for students, teachers, librarians, etc. (Please see sidebar) 2. I think out loud a lot as I work through writing projects, and I'm trying to dump most of those thoughts here rather than on my friends.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Here's what interests me about this new WIP: the idea of mercy, compassion, empathy. Why are those inherently good things? What if they're liabilities and have a direct, negative impact on your own survival? Why would it be a good thing to have them, in that case? Is there something about them that deserves being nursed along, even when there's no apparent upside to having them, and many clear downsides?

Was thinking about The Hunger Games. I haven't read the second one, only the first. One thing I noticed about it--can't remember if I've mentioned this before--was what I think of as the Disneyfication of violence. I don't know if that's the right way to use the word Disneyfication or not, but what I mean is that--to me--the MC never really kills anybody in morally ambiguous circumstances. She kills from afar, she kills out of mercy, she kills accidentally. I'm thinking the only person she kills for "real" is a heinous, cruel, bad guy of a murderer that the reader wants dead. There's always some reason for moral disconnect, so that she doesn't seem like a bad person. The Games are constructed so that (you'd think) she's going to have to choose, at some point, between killing a stranger up close yet impersonally--looking them in the eyes and taking their life, like "Sorry, bub, I don't know you but I'm going to slice your throat and watch you die"--or being killed herself. But that never quite happens.

At first I wondered if this aspect of HG was because the MC was a female and girls aren't allowed to be openly violent and must have extenuating circumstances--but then I decided no, it's probably just because the book is for YA. Younger YA, if you ask me. People may think it's upper YA because it's violent, but the tone and this Disneyfication thing makes it feel younger to me. And I know "Disneyfication" sounds bad here, but I don't mean it in a bad way. It's appropriate for the age group. The book brings up ideas about violence but eases the reader into thinking about them without getting too heavy.

I was thinking about this because yesterday I was at Best Buy with son #2 as he bought BioShock 1 & 2, and the register had a block on it that wouldn't let the cashier proceed until son #2 had shown ID proving that he was at least 17. I hadn't seen this block before; not sure why, because the cashier said it's not new. I was thinking about books for YA and how you don't necessarily need a register block for them, because you could never get a book through mainstream publishers if it had the stuff some of those video games have in them.*

I don't have anything to say about ratings or censorship, just that maybe there's a gap between the real everyday world of average American teens and the world that makes books available to them. In the real everyday average world you can turn on your TV and chainsaw a guy's skull open, animation-wise. And it's a good thing. You get a sense of accomplishment from doing it. Somewhere a group of parents or educators or politicians are gathering round a table to commiserate on how awful it is that people are exposing children and teens to animated violence, but that's got nothing to do with the everyday fact that you accomplished something today by using your chainsaw to get past that guy and move on to your checkpoint.

Books are written by adults, and they go through a whole series of people gathered round tables before they get on the shelves, and then they go through even more rounds before they might make it into the hands of a YA reader. So, you know, it's no wonder most YAs don't read for fun. They never did, but they do it even less now. If you spent the afternoon ripping out hearts and exploding somebody's intestines and in doing so saved an entire world, then most books might seem like something your grandma wrote.

I don't have any point to make about all this. I think I'm just working at the problem of how far I want to go with the violence in this ms, morally speaking. How deep do I want to dig into moral ambiguity? For myself, I'd probably want to go pretty far. But how far do I want to go for the reader? Maybe not so far. On one hand I think, "You know, somebody who's spent their day chainsawing skulls probably needs to spend some time considering what that really means." But on the other hand I think, "Nobody who spends their days chainsawing skulls is ever going to see this book, and the ones who will see it are a little wimpy about that kind of thing, and need to be coddled a bit." Will have to think about it.

Okay, wimpy's probably the wrong word. Maybe sensitive would be better. Or humane. Or enlightened. There. Now everybody can feel better.

*Some books veer into shock-related territory, but as far as I can tell it's nowhere near the degree of video games.

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