(There is cursing in this post, and you might want to click away if you’re uncomfortable with that. Instead, click on one of my more family friendly posts, like Susannah A. Martin’s Guest Post: Editing Sucks, or My Favorite New Doctor Who Episodes.)
Since the moment I started writing seriously, I’ve been looking up articles and discussions on whether or not you should included cursing if you’re writing a young adult novel.
This post isn’t about whether or not books with profanity should be banned for schools, because they most definitely shouldn’t. I have yet to see someone supporting the banning of books in schools without sounding like uneducated tool. Case in point: this article.
I’m talking about whether or not you, as a writer, should include profanity in your books. And if you don’t write but love to read, my question for you is: how do you feel about cursing in YA novels (or novels in general)? Some people think they should be completely devoid of all profanity, and some people don’t mind it at all. It’s all about opinion, really, and feel free to offer yours in the comment selection below. (Or don’t. No one’s forcing you to.)
I think when you’re trying to write a story with realistic teenage characters, you need to include profanity. Most teenagers curse, and are surrounded by profanity in school/the internet/etc., and it bugs me when some people try to act like this isn’t true. In fact, I think people who freak out over profanity come across as much more immature than the people saying them.
At the same time, you don’t want to go overboard. If you start to fucking curse in every fucking sentence, it gets fucking repetitive. Sure, there are a lot of people who talk this way in real life, but most people find them annoying. The same is true for fictional characters.
One thing I hate seeing as a reader is cheesy substitutions for curse words, or just bad insults in general. The worst was in The Titan’s Curse, by Rick Riordan, where Percy is called a “Seaweed Brain,” by Thalia, and is offended. (This I could understand, since there was at least a back-story that explained why.) He then retaliated by calling Thalia a “Pinehead,” which actually hurt her feelings.
I read those lines when I was in the intended age group (fifth or sixth grade, I think), and even I found it cringe-worthy. One other thing I hate is when authors use abbreviations for swear words, which is something The Fifth Wave had a serious problem with.
The Fifth Wave was a strange book. When it came to profanity, it was so inconsistent. In the first few pages, a character calls Cassie a bitch, and near the end, Cassie straight-up says “Fuck you,” to another character. But for the rest of the book, it seemed like Rick Yancey was going out of his way to avoid cursing. Characters (who are above the age of sixteen) would instead say WTF, or B.S., and this was in the characters’ thought process. Who the hell thinks in abbreviations?
(And seriously, in a book where over 97% of the world’s population is killed in an alien invasion, I don’t think a few f-bombs is going to make a difference.)
So basically, I think you should use profanity when necessary, but don’t overdo it. You could still make dialogue realistic without profanity. For instance, I don’t think The Hunger Games had a single curse word in it, and there’s not a single piece of awkward dialogue. The Harry Potter series had one swear throughout the entire seven books, and the dialogue (for the most part) managed to seem realistic to me.
To be fair though, that one line, “Not my daughter, you BITCH!” was the greatest line in the history of great lines.
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