Friday Rambles: Swearing in Young Adult

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Note: This post will contain gifs with swear words. Naturally. Just sayin’.

This is a topic which is always going to be divided in my opinion. Some will want their YA clean and fun and nice, whereas others will be completely fine with the mature language. But here’s the thing that bothers me — it irritates me when people complain about mature language in young adult. Why? Because teenagers swear. It’s realistic, don’t you think? I think it is. I, personally, don’t swear that often, but sometimes, it’s only natural. But you know what? Some of my characters swear. Because it’s who they are.

Especially when I read a contemporary novel, I don’t want a watered down version that’s deemed appropriate for all. I would rather it be realistic. The following is a list I comprised of the pros and cons of swearing in Young Adult.

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Oh, Cas. <3

Pros:

— It’s realistic. Teenagers swear in real life, so why shouldn’t they in fiction? I don’t want a watered-down version of a teen; I want the real thing. If it’s part of a character’s personality, then why not?

— It can create a point. Take this for an example: A character who never swears, swears. That says something about the situation, doesn’t it? If a character who doesn’t usually swears takes a sudden break from their usual personality, it shows that a scene/situation is stressful or scary or exciting.

Cons:

— How much is too much? There is a fine line between the two, I suppose. I don’t want excess profanities in a novel. Not every few lines. Here’s the thing: it’s not because it offends me, but because it’ll lose it’s effect with excess use.

— It could offend people. I am not a person who is easily offended, however, there are those out there who are, and would rather their YA be free of profanities.

— It could limit a person’s reading material. I’m lucky; I don’t have parents who are overly strict about what I read (or watch, for that matter), but of course there are parents out there who do. Which is fine. A person’s parenting techniques is not to be criticized. But on the cons, swearing in Young Adult may prevent a teenager from reading certain novels with explicit language. This, in my opinion, is a bit of a shame.

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You probably noticed that the list of cons is larger than the pros. That doesn’t mean that swearwords are to be avoided in Young Adult fiction.

In fact — it could mean just the opposite.

 So should you,  as a writer, have your characters swear? 

My answer is simple: Don’t think about your readers; think about your characters and your story. Not everyone is going to like what you’ve written. That is a big part of being a writer. If your character swears, they swear. If they don’t, then they don’t. Focus on what is important: the character’s personality, rather than worrying about what everyone else is thinking about your novel.

This is a highly debated topic. I would really love to know your thoughts on the matter; are you for or against profanities in Young Adult?

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10 thoughts on “Friday Rambles: Swearing in Young Adult

  1. I love this post. x) I’m just sayin’…I do.

    I don’t really swear, personally, because that’s how I was brought up. BUT. I don’t really have a problem with swearing, so much…it’s not a big deal to me. I prefer to read it in books instead of reading “fake swearing”. OH STOP PLEASE WITH THE FAKE SWEARING. And also: culturally. I find it quite hard to write outback Aussies without them swearing. And I absolutely agree with the “think about your characters”. It’s got to be right for the characters.

  2. I’m totally fine with swearing in books – but only if necessary. I dislike the overuse of profanities (not that I’ve read any books with this), because as you said, it loses effect. I think they’re some thing that could be used very effectively to show a character and make a point about that character or what they’re saying.

  3. I personally swear quite a bit. I went from being a line cook to being a nurse, two of the most profanity-laden professions a girl can work. Nurses *shudder* You have no idea. Anyway I didn’t swear as much as a teen because I was trying to be “ladylike” I think, or I thought it was unbecoming or some bullshit ;-) But even though I didn’t often SPEAK swear words, I THOUGHT them quite frequently. When I dropped a hot pot of soup on the floor, I never thought “Oh fudge.” Since I write in first-person, I think my books maybe have more swearing than others, because most of that swearing is in my teen MCs’ heads. But yeah, I’m not going to water it down for the censors, and I think everything you have written in this post is spot-on.

    I also hate fake swears. As an editor, it’s something I point out a lot. If you don’t want your character to swear, then fine. Leave it out. But don’t sub in “son of a biscuit” or “shoot” or some made-up word unless you want to call attention to the lack of swearing, as a means of characterization.

    It’s fascinating to me that people can be more offended by a group of letters strung together than by the sentiment behind the swearing, which is still there when you sub in a nonsense word, isn’t it?

  4. I don’t swear much either. Well, compared to some of the other bogans I hang around with :P Like I don’t say the f-word at all. My characters have seemed to start swearing less and less for some reason. But I don’t have a problem with it in books at all – helps create character, I think :)

  5. For me, you either swear or you don’t. I completely agree with the fact that it’s more realistic. But when authors write things like “fudge” or they try to censor the swear words, it just pisses me off. And if the author decides to have no swear words, that’s totally cool as well. :D

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