Wednesday, 28 April 2010

To swear or not to swear?

I'm going to let you into a secret, lean close and I'll whisper it. Ready?

Most kids swear!

There, I said it. I uttered the words that no parent/adult or relative of a teenager wants to hear. But they do, and they do it in secret.

I've no doubt that there are some kids who don't. Take my teenage self as an example, I swore.
I knew the words. I tried it but - for some strange reason - people told me (and still tell me) it doesn't suit me. When I asked why my sweet friends told me that it's because I look too innocent or something. hehee.

My word choice is now limited to bloody (a great British, non-swear word).

But what about swearing in YA?

I'll admit I thought long and hard about choosing this topic as a post. It kept me up most of the night thinking about it. But there has been debate around the web and various blogs about the subject. It isn't something I tackle lightly (and I'd hate to offend) but I read posts by agent Mary Kole discussing the topic here and here. There is also an author perspective too from Gayle Forman.

So I wondered do we, as responsible writers, close our minds (and ears) and pretend that this generation has never uttered a profanity? Believe me, my seventeen-year-old cousin accidentally let one slip during a heated conversation with my uncle.

I've also heard some choice phrases from groups of kids in shopping centers. And it creeps me out when I hear really young kids swearing (I'm not kidding, some kids on Supernanny have fruity language!)

I'm not talking about a book littered with F-bombs, although I'm sure it happens. No, I'm talking about the heated moments when a swear word may slip out. Do we, as readers, see a word like this and close the book vowing never to read that author again?

There are the handy alternatives to swear words. The hell, damn it or crap. But some people take offence to these too. And that is their right to do so. This world is a wonderful mix of opinions and choices and I would never try to change that for one second.

I think it comes down to personal choice, one that you make for your character, book and story. I have one mild profanity in my MS. It's not an f-bomb. In fact, I'm gonna call it an s-bomb.

I tried other words. I didn't shove it in to be topical or controversial. I thought long and hard about including it. But the situation called for it and an OMG wouldn't do.

I'm not advocating a book littered with profanity. But why is it less acceptable in books but not in films? How many films have you seen where they utter the f-bomb/other curse words on a regular basis?

Here is another view on the subject.

Now, I love my followers, you guys are awesome and always make me think. I value your imput and rights to an opinion. So I'm curious as to your thoughts on this subject.


MissV said...

Interesting question! I think it all comes down to tone and character.

I wasn't much of a swearer either. In junior high it was daring of me to say "Oh my God" or "Hell". It just doesn't come naturally to me.

I think it's tricky, but if you're going for realistic dialogue, in some instances it would be stranger not to include the odd swear word.

I tell my 14 year old that I know she swears around her friends. It's good that she respects us enough to refrain in our presence. I fully encourage her to swear if the situation demands it. If someone is picking on her, for example.

Palindrome said...

I don't really think about it. If it's right for a character or for the story, it usually happens of its own accord. And who am I to, myself or my characters when it's the right time for it.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

There's swearing in my wip, but it's mostly the guys who are doing it. I don't over do it, though. But it is believable in the given situation. It would be less believable if the teenage guy didn't swear.

My 7 and 10 yo are driving me nuts with the swearing. They pick it up from school. Turns out they didn't realize that some of the things they were saying were actually swear words. At least that's their story.

Jaydee Morgan said...

I have teens and yes, they swear quite a bit, especially when there's a group of them. I don't try to stop it - my only rule is that they don't talk that way around me, grandparents, elders in the community, etc. Otherwise, they're going to do it and I have better battles to fight.

My characters swear at times as well. Again, I don't try to censor them. If that's they way the would respond, then that's how they respond. I think it's more important to stay true to your characters than worry about offending someone.

Let's face it, no matter what you write, someone somewhere will take offense - it's just the world we live in.

Matthew Rush said...

In my first draft the toughest I went was hell and damn.

Now I'm revising and switching to first person and to be true to character I have to make it a little dirtier. When I was the narrator it was okay to stay cleaner, but with the MC narrating that just doesn't work.

My daughter is 14 and she tries not to swear in front of us but I know she swears.

Mayowa said...

I'm with these guys. If it is something the character would do (regardless of age)...Go for it.

Amparo Ortiz said...

I wholeheartedly agree with your post. Swear words in YA equal swear words in real life. Not writing them doesn't mean they're not real, and writing them shouldn't be seen as a sign of bad judgment.

I believe in story and characters. If both require good ol' f-bomb, so be it. My WIP has two, and they're meant to be funny. Guess we'll see if they are ;)

Gail said...

0I think if it fits the character and the tone of the story, use it, but don't abuse it!

Glad to find you, I'm a new follower! Hope to see you over at my blog some day too :-)

Jessica Hill said...

I agree, I think it's all a matter of character. If it's something the character would say, then fine. And there are some situations where you need to use a swear word to get the emotion of the character across.

KarenG said...

People who are offended by the swearing will not read books by those authors. There are plenty of books to suit everyone. It is a personal choice of the author, and the publisher and ultimately the reader.

Jen said...

I think parents who don't allow their children to read a novel because of a few foul words is just wrong. I think if they are used they should be used with caution.

I have thought about using it in my YA novel, however if I can avoid it and don't have to then I won't. I think it has to do with what your character is like. My character is a free flowing teenager so a few slip-ups might happen...

Great post, something we should all think about!

Kathi Oram Peterson said...

For me, I stay away from writing swear words. That doesn't mean I don't have slang or the occasional ... but I think readers can fill in the blank. It's like Karen said, people who like books with swearing will buy books that have it. Readers who don't like it will find authors who stay away from it. It's a big world out there and there's room for everyone. :)

Lindsay (a.k.a Isabella) said...

Thank you everyone for your amazing comments.
Time constraints are biting at my heels this morning, so I will get back to replying to them later tonight (I tried last night but laptop went crazy, lol).