Thursday, September 9, 2010

Swearing In YA Necessary? [You're The Expert]

Came across this article in The Guardian about swearing in children's books.  It raises several good points about swearing that I won't steal from them (aka read their article!), but I will put in my two cents and then ask you about what you think.  Narrowing the scope to YA literature, I'd say that there is a place for swearing in the genre, but that an author has to be careful not to overdo it.  I went on record and called Robin Benway a potty mouth right here on this blog because of all of the swearing that was in Audrey, Wait! because I felt that it was too much.  I, as an adult, felt uncomfortable reading it, and felt uncomfortable for a couple of weeks later as I tried to get the f-word out of my mind.  Yes, I blame it on that book.  Was it a bad book?  Absolutely not, but I felt like it would have been a better book without all of the swearing.  I adored the story!  Will I read another book by Benway?  It'll take me a while, but provided I don't find 10 f-words in the first chapter, probably.  The problem rises in that I won't recommend Audrey, Wait! to my friends.  And I really won't recommend this to my friends' teens.  

Before you call me a prude, realize that I constantly read books that have swear words in them and don't mind because they are not on every page, and they are used appropriately for character development and/or emotional emphasis.  I also constantly read books that could very well have swear words in them and don't.

Authors, I recognize these areas where you could have inserted an expletive and choose not to, and I appreciate it.  I find myself gravitating more toward your work than the work of an author who took an easy option and inserted a swear word.   That's probably because I grew up being taught this adage, "Cussing is a weak mind trying to express itself forcefully."  I feel the same way about characters that swear.  I just do.  Especially in literature in a fantastical setting where creativity already abounds.  I realize that teens swear.  I realize that they hear it every day.  But that doesn't mean that I want to read it and it doesn't mean that they want to read it.  Does it add an element of reality and credibility to your story?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  Depends on how it's executed.

That said though, I have recommended and will continue to recommend books that have swear words in them.  I usually try to note if they do so that if you don't like swearing, you can skip them. I just usually prefer the ones that don't swear.

But I want to know what your take is on it.  Do you hate to see swearing or is it no big deal?  Is it necessary in YA?  Feel free to call me crazy, call me nuts, or tell me I'm the smartest person in the universe.  I won't take offense.  Especially since you're the expert on you and your feelings.


Pam said...

Who says what is a swear word? It's ridiculous, for religious reasons where in the bible does it say you can't say the f-word? The swearing was using Gods name in vain, the Brit's had swearing right in the 1500's with words like "God's Teeth" or the worse "God's Blood".

"Swearing" in these terms is only use of words that society deems inappropriate. If it is slang terms the character uses then I suggest let the character be true to themselves. If the main character in Audrey, Wait! uses that word a lot in her day to day life then by all means she should say it on the page.

Val said...

Of course it depends how the swear usage is executed. In reality, some kids swear more than others (and some swear A LOT), so really it is a matter of how well the writer/author applies it to the character his/herself. Want a really great example of liberal but not over the top, proper for the storyline and character development swearing? "Will Grayson, Will Grayson."

April (BooksandWine) said...

I won't lie, every other word out of my mouth is a swear word. I curse like a sailor. I, personally, loved Audrey, Wait and felt it was authentic. I don't know, I feel like forbiding a word just gives it more power. Plus, like Pam said, vernacular and slang changes over time, so what is offensive now may not be offensive 100 years down the road.

pepsivanilla said...

Excessive swearing does bother me. Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist is a pretty short book, but man are there a lot of f-bombs in it! That being said, I did love Nick and Norah's but was hesitant to recommend it. I still enjoy books with a lot of cursing but if it's too much it does kinda disrupt the story for me while my brain goes "whoa that's a lot of cursing!" I don't think cursing is necessary to write a realistic YA character though.

Mindi Scott said...

This is interesting. Most of the posts I read on this subject generally receive lots of agreement and little dissension!

I have to say that I don't believe there is any such thing as over the top as far as expletives in fiction are concerned. If it fits the character, I think it's the author's responsibility to write it that way. As a reader, if I get the feeling that an author has gone out of their way NOT to use the language that fits their character, I find it inauthentic and disappointing.

La Coccinelle said...

Sometimes in books with a lot of swearing, it seems as if the words are only there for shock value. I know some young people liberally pepper their speech with the f-word, but that doesn't mean I want to read it. Literature is supposed to be representative of life... not a carbon-copy imitation.

If a character in a novel sees a spaceship fall out of the sky, narrowly miss the farmhouse, and hit the barn (setting it on fire), I'd expect him to say something like, "Holy s#!&!" "Good golly!" isn't going to cut it. There are certain instances where a well-chosen swear word conveys emotion like no other word can. I just don't want to see that kind of language on every page.

Catherine (On The Nightstand) said...

I don't mind swearing, although personally in my writing I'm a "precision F-strike" kind of person. Use it to really slam a point home, not as a full stop.

(I had something like this with my teenage cousin reading one of my WIPs. "You wrote swear words!"
"Wait, what? Let me see?"
"Right here."
"Oh, okay. I'll just say this: if you were dying you'd probably swear too."

It was a case of "precision f-strike", or in this case "s-strike").

justpluckingdaisies said...

thanks for writing this!!! I think that it's only necessary when it really and truly illustrates who the character is and what they're going through, especially if it's a book centered specifically on a world where including a lot of swearing really is the only way to truly illustrate what life is like for those kids. but it's not always necessary, and it is SO easy to overdo as, like you said, it can be the easy choice for expressing emotions. there can be a fine line between swearing accurately portraying a lifestyle and swearing being a simple writing technique for shock value and expression. and honestly, in a large portion of the cases, if the book is full of characters who are sloppy enough to use swear words constantly to express themselves and that is all the dialogue is, then, they're probably not that interesting to read about.

Bookworm1858 said...

I had the same problem with Audrey, Wait! Only I didn't finish the book because I was so disgusted. I accept that some books will have cursing and sometimes I can get past it but that book in particular seemed to overdo it.

I feel like it's very realistic in YA though as I remember in high school how so many other people swore a lot. Didn't like it then; don't like it now. I realize that's my personal preference though.

~Jennifer~ said...

When the swearing feels completely authentic to the situation, I think it can emphasize that situation. But when a character swears repeatedly and it seems like the author is using those words to prove said character is a tough person, I think it's actually detracts from that goal. One swear word exclaimed in an appropriate setting can be much more effective than having an annoying (and seemingly fake) character say nothing but swear words. I don't think it's ever necessary to include these words in a book, but I don't think it automatically makes them worse either.

I swear like an angry trucker IRL, but somehow manage to keep anything typed clear of those words. Not on purpose, but I think it's because given more time to think of appropriate words when writing, I convey my thoughts better and don't have to resort to the "bad" words constantly.

Cialina said...

Great article! In my opinion, I really think swearing is just part of a teenager's vocabulary, so it's hard not to include that in a YA book. Excessive swearing is just plain annoying sometimes, but I know how easily the f-word can get thrown around in a teenager's conversation. I'm not saying that EVERY teenager does it, but it is very common.

Kate at Read This Book! said...

I don't mind if characters swear occasionally. Personally I found Audrey Wait a great novel. Benway's novel is not that bad in terms of swearing. Trust me. Pick up Nick and Norah's infinite playlist. That book has an F word practically on every SINGLE page.

Sometimes though, if swearing fits perfectly in that moment it is understandable. And I agree sometimes authors add swear words for the sake of it, or because they're under the impression that teens these days swear often.

Fi-chan (Bookish-Escape) said...

I don't mind actually, I rarely type vulgarities or swear in real life, but I think I swear a lot in my mind. -_- Trying to minimize my mind-swearing..

I don't like excessive swearing in books, it can be really disturbing. Unless of course, it fits. Sometimes they just don't fit in, it's so weird.

Samantha said...

Cussing in books is such a fine line thing. When you have to cater to everyone you have to play on the safe side, and that just sucks shi--- well, it just sucks. I think when a book employs a cuss word that's above a PG-13 rating it should be with a point, not just thrown in for the heck of it. On the flip side, teens in books need to talk like teens. They aren't going to say gosh-darn-golly-gee-whiz... and if they are they are the minority and their character should reflect that. I read a book a few years ago, Welcome to Kalamazoo, it contained tons of underage drinking, teenage rebellion... and then blanked out the cuss words with those lovely little dashes. We all know what f--- means! I think that might have been a publisher's choice though, so they are part of the whole issue too. I'm not sure I've ever read a book with excessive swearing or even swearing that stood out... but my entire family cusses a lot, so I'm immune. :/

Great topic! I've loved these responses!