Thursday, 6 February 2014
Dropping the F Bomb in YA
Recently, a reader sent me a message regarding my YA paranormal mystery, NIGHT SHIFT. She told me she was disappointed in the story because "your book promotes vulgar language, mature themes, etc."
I was floored by this comment. Had she even read NIGHT SHIFT?
I was intrigued though, so I did a little research. Out of 92, 000 words, the f bomb was down three times. Sh*t was a little bit higher with ten mentions. As for mature themes, my characters didn't even have their first kiss until chapter sixteen.
To be honest, I was a little hurt. I don't write stories to shock or upset people, but clearly this reader was offended I'd used the f bomb.
Did you notice I couldn't even spell out the curse words? That's because I'm someone who doesn't swear much in real life. It's just the way I am. But my character didn't hesitate to say it in the book.
Because it was a natural reaction for him in an extremely tense situation.
Let's look at the f bomb from a scientific point of view.
Medical journals have done studies and they conclude that if you hold in a swear word after you've experienced sudden pain, like say you've stubbed your toe, your heart rate rises and you actually feel pain longer than if you'd said, fiddle sticks—unless fiddle sticks is a bad word for you. Check out an article about cursing and pain here.
But this isn't about science, it's about sensitivity and perceived values.
As a writer you need to take yourself out of the equation and let your characters be themselves. And if that means Daniel says, "This is too fucking weird." Then he should be allowed to say it. If he'd said, "This is too flippin' weird." It would have felt fake and the reader would have been taken out of the story.
I suspect the swearing is an issue because NIGHT SHIFT is a YA novel and not adult fiction. And why should it matter? Teens can pick out a poorly placed curse or a misused slang a mile away.
I'm not into censorship. I am all about genuine story telling and realism. I feel badly the reader totally missed the whole point of the novel because of three f-bombs.
So, should there be swearing in YA?
It's up to your character, not you. If dropping an f bomb in a scene is authentic and an expected reaction, then yes. If it's something your character wouldn't normally say, but you think there should be swearing to make it edgier or more appealing to some YA readers, then no. It will come off as fake.
And we all know there's no faking it in YA.
What are your thoughts on swearing in literature?
By the way, let's all prove that there is no such thing as bad publicity. Click on this link to check out the first chapter of NIGHT SHIFT. Spoiler, the first f-bomb shows up in chapter eighteen.
Congratulations! You made it to the end of the post. As a reward, enjoy this audio clip of what has recently been judged as the most beautiful nature sound in the world.