Thursday, May 8, 2014

Cursing in Novels

There's the obvious point of the fact that Children's Fiction and Middle Grade probably shouldn't have too much cursing in it.

Then you get to YA and all of the books beyond. Most adult fiction can get by with it, if only for the stereotypical answer of the fact that the audience is older and therefore wiser, and therefore can "handle" seeing those darn curse words in print.

YA is that weird genre, though, where the audience is extremely broad. Not only are young adults reading it, but many adults have dipped their hands; and we can't forget about the younger generations that pick up those books, too. It's a safe bet that kids as young as twelve or even ten years old might have the opportunity to pick up the common reads, especially when they're right there at the front of the bookstores.

So the question: should there be cursing in Young Adult novels?

I'm probably not the first to say: should is not the right word. It's more of a "Can there be" question, and to that my answer is yes.

It would be a rather blatant falsity to say that no teenagers curse. I admit that I'm like a sailor when I really get to rolling, when something really makes me mad, when I jam my hand in a door or kick the wall with my bare feet. And a lot of my characters so it, too; some more than others.

The use of those "bad words" is an issue of voice. Go to your local high school, mall, grocery store, college campus, etc. You'll probably hear some people curse, and others won't. The kind of language people use is as different as their own personalities, and it all depends on the way in which they can express themselves.

My fiction example is going to come from The Hollow Men. One of the twins in my book, Lyle, is going to curse, and he's going to cures a lot. Moe curses occasionally, too. Lyle's brother, on the other hand, is much more reserved and it's more typical of him to remain quiet than to engage in the same language as his brother.

In my opinion, if the character says it then the author shouldn't be trying to sensor them. It's just not honest. I'm not saying that there should be a swear word every five lines or ten times a page; that's excessive. What I am saying is that by removing every curse word that appears in a novel and replacing it with something else, something "nicer," you're engaging in a dishonest relationship with the reader and trying to reconcile a problem that, in most cases, isn't a problem at all.

Because, well, guess what. Curse words exist and people use them. And when we're trying to write realistic fiction, it's not uncommon to see even teenagers to use those so-called "bad words" depending on the situation at hand, and also depending on how they grew up. If they were raised around it, they're going to use it. If they weren't, they won't, or it'll at least be used more sparingly.

I've grown up around the phrase, "You shouldn't curse. Your vocabulary is better than that." I'm going to be somewhat self-important, here, and say that, yes, I do have a fairly broad vocabulary. In fact, a lot of authors do. If we didn't know how to string together sentences properly and find words with the right connotation and definition for what we want to say, it would be extremely difficult to piece together an entire novel, a query letter, and so forth.

So, the fact is, since we have such large vocabularies it's more often than not that we use a swear word because we choose to. It's because no other word will suffice. Something I tell to my sister a lot is, "I swear because, usually, it's the only word that can accurately describe what I'm feeling at the moment." And it's true.

But I mean, this is all coming from a girl who doesn't exactly condone the use of curse words on a daily basis, or in her own fiction writing. Just some things to remember: situations and histories tend to be just a little bit important. For example, I'm not going to curse in front of one of my professors, or my boss, or anybody that I'm remotely trying to impress.

What are ya'll's opinions on swearing in fiction, particularly in YA?


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