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.


KrisM said...

It's a shame the reader reacted so strongly. Like you, I don't curse (publicly, anyway) and I put a lot of consideration into whether my college-student character would drop the f-bomb. She does.... at the most intense, lowest-of-the-lows in the book. It wasn't for shock value as much as an honest reaction to enhance her predicament.

That said, as a mom of a 12yo who is a prolific reader of YA fiction. I'd love to gently steer her away from too much profanity. It would be naive to think she isn't exposed to cursing... kids today are exposed to a lot more violence, sex, drugs , and other problems than my generation. Cursing is the least of the problems.

I support establishing a rating for books (similar to movie ratings) so that readers who might be offended by "salty language" or "mature content" can steer themselves (or their children) away if they might be offended.

Katy Upperman said...

Nothing makes me drop a book quicker than when a character has a disingenuous reaction to a stressful/painful/terrible event for the sake of keeping the text "clean." Like, "Oh darn it, my girlfriend has been cheating on me for six months. Shucks." Um... no. I'd rather read a book with 50 f-bombs than one that tiptoes around the way many real teenagers talk.

Arianna said...

This actually really makes me angry. Your reader obviously didn't go to a public school because I've been around cursing since I was like 7 at school. YA is for jr high and high school to college level kids usually and therefore anyone who is in a public school, or hell, most private school settings are exposed to cursing on a daily basis. Half of my vocabulary is cuss words because THAT is how everyone speaks. It's just how the world works. It's authentic, it's real, and if you don't include curse words then it'll be a fake or conservative story with no real value.

I wouldn't take the reader's comment to heart. They're probably homeschooled in a very strict Christian household and therefore are going to have a very rude awakening in the real world. It's a very odd and weird time whenever I do meet someone who doesn't curse who is my peer.

If you ever need a reference as to how real teens or young adults talk, hit me up. Or check out my new blog! *winks*

Donna Hosie said...

YA has to be real. Use of swearing and/or sex need not be gratuitous, but teens have sex and they swear.

People need to get over themselves. Keep doing what you're doing.

Laila N Mysis said...

I have to agree with what has been said thus far. I don't swear (like, at all), but at the same time, I'm not blind to other teenage norms. I went to high school. I know what it's like. So I've long since stopped cringing when I see it in books, because, like it's been said in the previous comments - it's real.

That being said, I don't think every YA character has to swear either - sure it's a pretty normal teenage thing to do, but at the same time, I know a lot of teens who don't swear that often either. Or at all. So... just because it has come in the comments... in my opinion, it isn't completely unrealistic to not have a teen character who swears. Just saying.

Interesting post :)

Beth Harar said...

"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."

I agree with you 100% My characters are supposed to be real teenagers. I work in a high school, and I can tell you from experience that they swear. A lot. If people can't handle that, then they shouldn't be reading YA.

Unknown said...

Yeah, my characters swore, though less than I had originally written... pubs asked me to take a few out. N

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