Wednesday, October 20, 2010

I Swear, You Swear, Who Swears?

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

Most kids swear!

I said it. I uttered the words no parent/adult/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 my friends why, they told me 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?

The topic has been debated around the web and various blogs about the subject. It isn't something I tackle lightly (and I'd hate to offend) but I've read posts by agent Mary Kole discussing the topic here and here. There is also an author perspective 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? I heard my Seventeen-year-old cousin let one slip during a heated conversation with my uncle. For a second I thought his pulsating neck vein would explode!

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 and crap (my new favourites around my toddler goddaughter are what the flip and crud). 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 mild profanity in my completed MS and wip. 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'm curious as to your thoughts on this subject.

P.S. Don't forget to check out Katrina's contest round-up post.

Oh, and we have the frawesome query chat with Elana Johnson coming up on the 28th of October and something special happening on November 1st.

Too. Much. Awesome.


Stina said...

Yeah, drive me nuts when my kids (who aren't teens) swear.

I do have swearing in my novels, but it's organic to the character. I don't use it for shock value or to make teens like my books. I write it because that's who my character is, but I also only sprinkle in the words when really necessary.

Bast said...

To be honest, I don't even think long and hard about adding a swear word. If that's what my characters want to say, that's what they'll say.

i first started swearing in middle school. Then the novelty wore off and I used those words much more sparingly, but I still used them. Teens use them and because of that, I have no problem using them.

I actually get annoyed when writers go out of their way to not use them -- like making up new words that sound like it, but aren't quite. I think the "bleep" thing in Paranormalcy was well handled and there was a reason for not having swearing. But anytime an author just does it because they don't want to include swearing, it bothers me.

Pam Harris said...

I don't see the problem in having swear words in novels since the majority of teens use them. I've worked in several schools, and have caught students using profanity as young as 11. I think as long is authentic to the situation, then use them. If they don't read them in our books, they'll hear them other places anyway.

Michelle McLean said...

I had an issue with this too with my second book - mostly with my mom and my sis LOL I had a scene where my MC told her love interest something really intense and he said "well sh#t." Both my mom and sis wrote saying "do you really need to use that word?"

And I wrote back saying "Yes, yes I do."

Honestly, I try not to use swearing in my books. I don't swear often in real life (I've been told it's 'not me' a million times too lol) but sometimes "golly gee wiz" just isn't going to cut it and like Quinn said, it really is irritating to downright ridiculous when it is obvious an author is going out of their way to avoid a swear word.

Now some authors handle this really well, make it a part of who their character is (the MC in the House of Night series for example...her name is escaping me at the moment...oh Zoey!) - she doesn't swear, uses words like Doody, and her friends in the book tease her for it, but it works for that character.

Anyhow, I'll quit rambling now LOL Love the Jackson Pearce video! She's hilarious, one of my faves :D

Anonymous said...

I woulnd't dream of swearing as a, well, let's just say a few choice words slip out here and there...I still try to avoid the f-bomb though. That's for special occasions only, LOL!

Amie Borst said...

kind of like Ralphie in A Christmas Story. It was the mother of all cuss words. The Queen Mary. "Oh, fuuuuuddddggggeeee!" (except we all know it wasn't really "fudge")

Melissa Gill said...

My MC in my new WIP swears, quite a bit actually. But he's a kid who grew up without any parental guidance, was raised by older men who also swear a lot, and is in a dreadful situation. It would be idiotic for him to say "aw fudge sickles". I have other characters who don't swear and are offended by swearing, partly becuase of their situations.

Katrina L. Lantz said...

Oh, I almost always SWEER in my books. Bleep, fan-freakin-tastic, pansies, and rat poop are a few sweer-words (not quite swear words) I've used in my stories. I find sarcasm works well in place of profanity. There are rare times when a swear word feels more natural than a substitute, but I find that I relate more to creative characters than ones who simply repeat the profanities of their parents and friends. Like pick any cute, dorky guy from a Sarah Dessen book. I always like her guys better than her girls. Maybe that's why.

Lisa_Gibson said...

We all swear! Okay, I couldn't resist that. Yes, I swear and my son probably swears worse than I do. (Hate to admit that, but it's true.) I have some swearing in my YA novel I'm working on, but it's not drowning in off color words. :)
Lisa ~ YA Literature Lover

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Kids DO swear - and they don't think twice about it. As long as it's limited to YA and not cropping up in chapter books (LOL), I don't think it's a big deal at all.

Jemi Fraser said...

If people think kids don't swear, they need to hide around the corner from them at recess! I don't think I've ever had a year of teaching when the kindergarten teacher wasn't told to F-off by at least 2 kids.

Kell Andrews said...

I don't swear, but sometimes my characters do. In my unpublished MG book, I had a character who was a murderer who swore a couple times. I don't know if that would have made it into print, but seriously? It's OK to have murders but the evil people who do it have to have squeaky clean vocabulary?

Makes no sense.