Monday, June 14, 2010

Dropping the F bomb

After a grouchy week of bouncing around my head between new stories, old stories, and books, I'm officially into revising! To be honest I feel better getting my hands back in there, and after a week away (and reading a popular YA book that I thought was a little bit crap), I'm ready to take on the world. Of publishing.

So! Let's talk profanity. As I've mentioned before, I'm not a genre writer, but the current WIP is a YA. Which means...rules. More rules than I'm used to having previously written mainstream novels. Among the rules debated are: sex, drugs, rock and roll, drinking, and cursing.

I'll tackle some of the other issues later this week, but I'd like to address profanity today primarily because the P-i-C told me to cut the curse words in my current WIP. I'm on the fence about this one because I can see both sides:

For profanity: Kids curse. Hell, I was cursing in middle school. To leave that out might feel inauthentic and too sugary to some readers.

Against profanity: It will bother parents, and it can pull the reader out of the actual story. And if you overdo it, it can also feel inauthentic. I've always felt that curse words carry so much more weight in print, and one f bomb on the page is worth ten in casual conversation.

So you see? Torn. The P-i-C (as he is wont to do) makes a good argument, but I don't want the book discounted because it doesn't connect with the reader. And if my characters feel too goody goody, it definitely won't connect with the reader. Even the goody goodies drop a damn once in a awhile. I also don't want to put off parents or teachers by filling the book with extraneous content that distracts from the really good story (I hope).

I put it out to the blogosphere: what are your rules for cursing (or not) in YA?


laurel said...

R-rated language will automatically move your piece to the "edgy" category, so you'd better have a lot of other very mature content to match it or it won't sell to the edgy audience. In other words, don't drop f-bombs into an otherwise sweet romance. A story with gangs or additiction or abuse or what have you would feel inauthentic without cursing.

Just keep in mind you limit audience with a cursing-rife story. Librarians are generally loathe to keep edgy stuff on their shelves because of parental objections. And sometimes cursing is just a sign of a too-small vocabulary. I'm a fan of narrative summary when it comes to characters who swear a lot:
"She cursed and stormed out of the room." I let the reader decide just how bad that cursing sounds!

Lydia Kang said...

I agree with you. I think it's okay to use it if the scene calls for it. Or if the tone of the book really needs that to show what kind of situations/characters are in the story.
I'm curious about what you decide to do!

Renae said...

I myself don't use a lot of cursing in my writing. I think Hell is about the worst. But that's just me.
I won't not read a book because of language. You're right, kids curse. If it doesn't take away from the story it doesn't bother me.

Solvang Sherrie said...

I write middle grade so no F-bombs in my stuff :)

The sad fact is that most kids know all the curse words before they hit middle school. But when I'm reading, especially books for kids, I do think it can be distracting to have too much cursing.

In the end, it might not be upto you. LiLa's editors got rid of all the f-bombs in their book so even if it gets past your beta readers and agents, it may still end up cut in the final version.

JEM said...

laurel: you always have the most useful advice!
Lydia: the P-i-C is pushing me on the issue, so I wouldn't be surprised if I end up taking it out.
Renae: I'm like you as a reader. Curse words on the page scream at me, and frequently pull me out of the story, especially if they jump out of nowhere.
Solvang: I'm glad to see you're not dropping the f bombs on the fifth graders :)

Lola Sharp said...

I don't write YA, but I do read a bit of it (my daughter is 14 and reads all the hot trendy books and talks me into reading them), and I have to say, overall, I have not been impressed with most of them. I won't name the books here, because I'd hate for the authors to see it and hurt anyone's feelings. But in my experience, most of them are poorly written. (plenty of 'grown-up' published books are poorly written too). I am not talking about the subject matter or the cursing, I'm talking the skill of the writing/mechanics. (but they're selling.)

Now as for cursing:

My daughter is a good girl (virgin, straight A and in all AP classes), popular and hip (she wears her share of Juicy and Lucky Brand etc.)
And ALL her friends know ALL the curse words, and all about sex (or they're having sex) and things even I didn't know about. By high school (14-15) at the latest (really by middle school), these kids know EVERYTHING you could ever [not] want to know about. (she told me about blue waffle. don't look it up. you can't unsee it.)

They google stuff on their iphones in class and on the bus, etc.. Between the music (which, hey, I love too) and movies (hey, my kid can quote the lines from The Hangover better than I ever could) and school, the bus, each other, they are savvy.

My point? Depending on the age you're aiming for, and the genre/story you are writing, go with what feels authentic to your characters.

But I will say, less is almost always more.

'Hell's and 'damn's and a couple sh*ts don't even count/rate. But when it comes to the f-bomb or c-words, I'd think hard. If it really rings true for a character to drop one here and there, then fight for it to stay.

In PC Casts Marked, they mention pierced genitalia in graphic detail (unnecessarily, imo)...and that book sold a TON. (yes, I read it first, and yes, I allowed my kid to read it at 12 y.o./7th grade. But I had a talk with her about it first. But, while I'm liberal, I'm also a responsible parent. Many of the parents around here were letting their kids watch R-rated movies in 3rd grade. I didn't let my daughter watch one until she was around 13 (not because of language, but some of the violence and subject matter)...and then selectively.

Most of Sarah Dessen's books have teen smoking, lots of pot smoking, and other stuff, and I allowed my daughter to read them at 10. They sell, and I don't think anyone thinks of her as edgy, do they? (though I don't recall much cursing)

Anyway, I say go with your instinct.

Also, remember, that whatever age your MC is, it's usually kids at least two years younger than that reading them.

And most parents have no clue what their kids are reading. They're usually just glad their kid IS reading.

Whew. Sorry I just rambled away. And didn't really say a damn thing of value.

I was trying to give you a parents perspective and your demographics perspective. They like some edge. (and they don't care that much about bad writing, or overuse of adverbs. My kid LOVES the mortal instr.'s series...and they are riddled with adverbs.)

Peace out-

Christina Lee said...

good topic-- I use it if called for but usually it's sh** or damn!


Great blog topic! I write essays for adults, but I have worked for a K-12 educational publishers before, and they WILL remain steadfast on the no-cursing issue. So ask yourself: How important is it? Is this a fight worth having? Or do you save this particular fight for another day/novel?