Saturday, March 23, 2013

Mindful Violence? “Realistic” Super-hero Action in The Power Club

So, you’re writing a novel aimed at kids and you want to include some action or violence. You want to entertain your readers, but you don’t want to send a message that violence is “good” or an acceptable way of solving problems. 

Most of all, you don’t want parents writing you nasty letters.

What do you do?

This is one of the questions I grappled with while writing my recently published novel, The Power Club. While the answers I came up with may not satisfy everyone, I believe they accomplished what I set out to do: to show violence in a more-or-less realistic fashion from a kid’s point of view, even though the kids involved have super-powers.

To accomplish this, I had three over-arching themes I wanted to explore:

1. Even powered kids have to deal with bullies.

So, if you had a super-power, you think you’d never be bothered by bullies again?  Think again. What if those bullies also had powers?

Early in the novel, Damon, the main character, gets attacked in an alley by three other boys. Damon’s power to create darkness is no match for theirs.  One boy, Larry, can extend his fingers into metal-like poles, using them to attack from a distance. The second, Calvin, opens “holes” into other dimensions into which kids can disappear forever. The third, Rusty, is Damon’s natural antagonist: he draws power from the sun and emits a blinding flash of light which dispels darkness.

What can Damon do?

Well, you’ll have to read the book to find out. Let’s just say Damon taps deep into the well of his own abilities and discovers he can do things he didn’t think he could.

But there is a price.

Any ability which sets you apart from others must be used responsibly. Damon learns this the hard way, but, in so doing, he also learns the value of friendship and teamwork.

2. Going up against people who are weaker than you is a no-no.

Damon and his new friends in The Power Club go to the mall. While there, a gang of “ords” (people who have no powers) stage a demonstration which gets out of hand, threatening a young powered girl.

Damon intervenes to save the girl but places himself in danger—until the rest of the PC show up and fight the protesters. It's a lopsided battle: rocks and bottles prove no match for super-speed, teleportation, growing to giant size, and flight.

But instead of receiving medals for their actions, as Damon expects, he and the others receive a stern warning from the government: they must never fight with ords again, or they will be severely punished.

Damon complains that it was the protesters who started the fight, not the PC. No matter, as far as the government is concerned. Attacking ords only makes ords more afraid of powered kids.

The distinction between right and wrong is often blurred, and knowing what to do in violent situations can be difficult. Did Damon and crew do the right thing? You decide.

However, even “doing the right thing” sometimes leads to unforeseen consequences. It also does not always result in the recognition we think we deserve.

3. Damon and the rest have the makings of adult heroes—but they’re not there yet.

The climax of the novel occurs when Damon and some of the other PC members attempt to foil a robbery. Things do not go as Damon expects.

Why? For one thing, he’s dealing with two cold and calculating criminals instead of a disorganized and angry mob. For another, these criminals came prepared to battle super-powered teens.

Let’s just say Damon learns that being hero sometimes involves sacrifice. 

In the real world, violence is to be avoided. One of the harsh contradictions of the world is that violence sometimes cannot be avoided, yet it does not solve problems—as any war can teach you.

In fiction, violence can serve as an escape valve, letting readers blow off steam by living vicariously through characters who have more power and a greater ability to act than they possess.

Fictional violence can also be used to show readers the consequences of real violence.

In The Power Club, I tried to strike a balance between both of the above intentions. Having a super-power can be fun and, in some ways, it makes Damon “better” than others. But having a power does not solve all of his problems; it often creates new and worse problems.

But it also gives him a chance to become the hero he knows he can be.


Dennis Young said...

Good points all, Greg, and I agree for the most part. Of course, you're writing in a contemporary time, when violence isn't accepted as a means to an end. Other times, other situations, may dictate differently. But your point regarding consequences is still true, regardless of the story or why violence is used. And that's the important lesson, not just for the characters to learn, but for readers to come to understand your style and how you handle these situations as a writer.

Greg Gildersleeve said...

Genre, audience, and the writer's intentions always have an effect on the level of violence used, Denny. Your Ardwellian Chronicles series, for example, deals with swords and elves and stuff. Readers, I think, would be disappointed if there wasn't a great deal of fighting going on.

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