Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Opinion, Rant, Same Thing: Swearing in YA Fiction

Author's Note: WARNING! Mild language.

Today's topic: swearing in young adult fiction.

You can't read many young adult books nowadays without running into a 'hell' or 'shit' somewhere. The central complaint around this is that it is unnecessary, encourages kids to swear, and is inappropriate for teens. Others argue that cussing is realistic, and taking it out of young adult literature would be a form of censorship.

I am definitely on the latter side.

Like it or not, teens swear. The job of a novelist is to provide believable characters (no matter the genre). If you take out the swear words, then you are not only being unrealistic, but you are lying to your reader. Characters in YA novels are put in life or death, you or your family, your future or your past, situations.  If your seventeen year old protagonist gets shot, are they going to respond with 'oh shoot!'? Probably not. Maybe it's because I'm a writer and my villain is a drug dealer, so swearing isn't a big deal to me. I feel that in most novels, it's hard to not have your characters swear, especially because of their circumstances.

That's not to say that all YA fiction has to have swear words, but if you are to write a 'clean' novel, then you need to make it realistic.

Second, it is true that the most frequent foul mouths in YA fiction are 'popular' and 'attractive' characters. This being the case, it seems to others that it is encouraging teens to cuss, in order to be more like these characters. I do understand this argument, and I can see where you might be coming from with it. However, these 'popular' and 'jock-like' characters are also often painted as mean and cruel. Something I hope your child doesn't strive for. I believe that it'd be more likely to imitate popular kids in real life than ones in books.

Also, I would like to point out that I am not for swearing just for swearing's sake. Just like anything, it has a time and a place where it is appropriate and where it is not. It's alright to have your character swear in front of their friends and their family. Or if they are in an extreme situation. However, if they swear every two seconds, it loses its effect and generally makes your work seem less intelligent.

To summarize, I am for swearing in YA fiction, for the sake of making realistic fiction.

Have a different thought on the subject? Want to suggest another subject for discussion? Comment below!


  1. Love this, agree completely.

  2. Nicely stated, Tess... and I agree!

    The Accidental Siren was never meant to be a YA novel, but because it has kids, many people are taking it this way. Even so, I have had very few complaints about the language the kids use... and it's not just profanity, but politically incorrect insults. But like you said, THIS IS HOW KIDS TALK. Parents may not like it, but it is the Truth... and is there anything more important in writing?

    Having said that, I'll play devil's advocate. I also understand the issue from a publisher's point of view. The fact is, kids have parents, and responsible parents will know the content of their children's media. Although I wouldn't personally limit my child's media-intake on language alone, many parents do... and this is something publishers need to take into consideration if they want to sell lots of books.

    Luckily, we're living in a time when Indie authors (like you and me!) can take chances on portraying kids realistically. Overall, I think that's a pretty cool thing!

    1. Yes, you do have a point. I think it's very sad when a parent tries to limit their kid's reading when there are so many other outlets where they hear swearing (*cough* Jersey Shore *cough*). From a publisher standpoint, it is something to think about. However I think parent's don't give their kids enough credit. They knew how to digest media, what to push away, and what to question.

      Then again, there will always be over-protective parents.

      But like you said, there's plenty of hope!