Friday, September 14, 2012

Curses! - the use of "bad" words in YA novels

Now that our daughter is 18 months old, we've got to watch what we say down to the letter, because she makes a go of repeating anything and everything she can. One of my more frequented F words has been replaced with "foxtrot," and we say a lot of "seriously?" around here. Of course, I don't necessarily consider expletives the worst words there ever were. In our house, words like "fat," "stupid," and "retarded" evoke a much more fiery reaction than words I can't write here for fear my grandmother might read them.

But what about our young adult readers? To be fair, if an author aims to create a world that their teen fans can relate to, dialog is king. Gossip, chatter, lies, secrets, confessions - these kinds of things are what drive a teen novel. And expletives are now so commonplace it's cooler to abbreviate them that to use the whole word. Still, it bears mentioning that potty mouthed young protagonists may put off older readers in our potential crossover markets. And there are some that think bad language takes the integrity of the writing down a notch - and yet there are others that would argue if it's true to cause, a character cussing a blue streak would infact validate the integrity of said book.

Is there a right or a wrong answer here? Honestly, I'm not sure. But I do think it's most important to stay true to your characters. I'm drafting the sequel in the Tanzy Hightower fantasy series, and there's a point at which one of my characters realized another has set her up for an epic fail, and everything in me wants her to scream: "b#tch!" (sorry, Nana.) But I haven't used language in either book thus far, and to drop a word bomb might detract from the scene as a whole - not because it's a bad word, but because it's out of character for the novel itself. But in a YA fiction book I'm working on, one character is particularly crass, and no words are off limits for her. So my opinion is this: to thine own self be true, and no matter what words you decide to use, make them count.


  1. Jadie-
    I agree with you. I don't think there are set rules on this subject because there very well could be a character that does curse in YA, but I'm also partial to not using the words as well. Be true to character and I'm sure it will work out.

  2. Hey Summer! Thank you for your input - as always :) The topic actually came up at a bookstore in Seaside, Florida. I asked the manager about doing a book signing once Tanzy's series kicks off (she was THRILLED about the idea.) But she mentioned that they keep some adult and YA books behind the counter that have heavy language/sexual content. Just made me think about the topic.

  3. I feel this rule is true for adult category books too. There have been some books that I just can't read because every other word is a swear word. A little here and there doesn't bother me, but too much is too much for me. I guess I should say it's probably because I don't swear myself, but hey, I'm a reader too. ;)

    The funny thing is some of my characters swear. And they would swear more than they do if not for the fact my hubby is always asking me to take it out. He's concerned about my integrity. Isn't that sweet? And annoying? He can't separate the fact that my characters have different personalities. They are not me and therefore say and DO things I wouldn't. That's what makes writing so liberating. Think I'll come up with a non de plume and write some trash. LOL.

  4. I'm with you, Charity. I don't want to start noticing the forest for the trees, or however that saying goes. When I think of good, salty characters I always set them next to Clint Eastwood. Would a teenage Clint say it? (so long as it's not to an empty chair...)


Ramble on, y'all.