Sunday, 6 October 2013

To Fuck or Not to Fuck

My son has recently told me that his school will not allow any books that contain swearing. You what?!

It got me to thinking about the whole YA genre. I took a look at some of the commercially popular 'teen' books and I have to say that, now I'm looking for it, the characters are wooden and unrealistic. They're too clean cut, too responsible, too polite, too...nice and they don't swear. No wonder I've always felt there was something missing, something that doesn't ring true.

So where do you draw the line? I'm not suggesting that all teen characters in books should swear like troopers, behave like assholes and are irresponsible and nasty, but a sprinkling of those qualities wouldn't hurt, surely

I sat down and started writing. I have a story, I have characters and I have lots of angst - I ALWAYS have lots of angst. I'm currently sixteen chapters in and I've had to constantly edit out swear words and tone down attitude.I'm ending up with a couple of teenagers who don't speak like teenagers and handle trouble way too easily. Actually, I've read a couple of YA lately and this has been a complaint in all of them.

What to do? What to do?

Do I stick with my uber polite kids, or do I try for realism?

What do you think?


  1. For me it totally depends on the characters (as you know, having read Black Sheep ;) ). They don't curse much in BS, and not at all even in Magical Roads.
    What I think of rules like "no cursing" is that it edges very close to "so graphic content", "no x", "no y" and suddenly all you've got left are Amish people...
    Because who decided where the line between "good" and "bad" is? I keep getting asked the question if "LGBT" topics are appropriate for teens, I know a lot of places even think it isn't. the "no cursing" seems along the same lines. Trying to 'protect' teens from things that they would encounter otherwise anyway. It's better to give them tools to deal with something than to hide it from them.

  2. You make some excellent points. I totally agree that trying to shield young people from things other people have decided aren't good for them, especially when it's all around them everywhere they go, is not only foolish but dangerous.

  3. It's a tough line to walk. The great YA books walk that line and occasionally cross it. You can maintain realism without having your 12 year old dropping the F-bomb. Your characters can use somewhat more acceptable language that still skirt that line. Sex and abuse can exist in your stories too. The stories the strip out all the reality are worse than those that pile it on.

    My biggest example is always "The Chocolate War." It's real, violent, and even uses 'real' language. Just think TV. What words show up on prime time TV? You're generally OK with that language. Anyone who gets upset with mild violence, sex, or language is too uptight will only do more harm than good.

  4. By the way, I LOVE "Plank" from Ed, Edd, and Eddie!

  5. You're totally right. I tend to write 16 - 18 year olds and expect everyone to be a mind reader and know that's what I mean. I wouldn;'t expect children under 13 to swear unless they are really pieces of work or being 'naughty' or rebellious and knowing it. Having said that, I regularly hear children as young as eight or nine swearing like sailors around here, not that I would ever write that.

    I haven't read that book but I will certainly take a look

    I love Plank, too. When I was looking for a picture to denote 'wooden' I HAD to put him in.