Thursday, November 19, 2009

F-Bomb Me

I feel like we've come full circle. Not too long ago when we were close to wrapping up our first draft of The Haunting of Pemberly Brown we found we had a few f-bombs in the manuscript and we discussed To F-Bomb or Not to F-Bomb. We eventually ended up taking them out because our agent felt the book should be marketed as tween and it just didn't feel appropriate.

But now as we're going through our final revisions for the WIP we've counted six F-Bombs in the manuscript. We've talked it over and we're not ready to take them out. Yet.

As of right now, we're hoping this book will be marketed as upper YA. The reality is (gasp!) teenagers swear. Sometimes they even (double gasp!!) swear a lot. Obviously, if push comes to shove and our agent feels the F-bombs are inappropriate we'll replace the references with something more PG. But right now they just feel right.

And then I saw this killer video by the fabulous YA author Jackson Pearce.

So...yeah...what she said.


Anonymous said...

I don't have a problem with my children reading a YA book that has the F word in it. But does she realize how many 10 year olds read teen lit. It might be those parents that are looking for clean teen. And parents have a right to not pass or pass on books. Though, Jackson might have gotten farther in her vlog by not being sarcastic. She came across a tad bit bitter and defensive. And that's never a good thing. Her same argument could be used against her. If its just one little word, used once - was it really needed?

Kim said...

This is a toughie. Coming from someone who drops the f-bomb often enough, I have no problems with it. But, I hate books, movies where cussing is used excessively such as Mafia type movies.

Books for kids + the really depends on the INTENDED audience to me. If it's high school, no problem. Middle school, maybe one time if it REALLY needed it. Elem, no way.

I know there are young kids who read above their age range, but I wouldn't censor your book for those. It irritates me when my DD's 4th grade friends are reading books like Twilight "because they can".

I don't care if your kid is reading on a HS reading level, don't let your kids read books whose content is inappropriate for their age. Just like you wouldn't take them to an R movie, don't hand them an R book!

One other thought to ponder, having one or two well placed swears (or what kids think are "bad words") could draw some reluctant readers in. They'd want to get their hands on your book to read the "bad words."

I think it's James and the Giant Peach that has a "bad word" in an early chapter (it's one of Roald Dahl's books) and my 5th graders LOVED that it was in there. They wanted to read on to see if there would be more. :)

lisa and laura said...

Anon - Thanks for taking the time to express your opinion. I think this is such an interesting issue. The reality for me is that I was reading a lot of adult books at a young age (11 and 12), and I'm sure they were riddled with F-bombs. We may have said this here before but our parents had a policy where if we were able to read it, we could. They didn't censor anything. Even when they saw their 6th grader reading Carrie. I'm guessing most 10 year olds have heard an F-bomb whether it be from a peer or a parental slip.

I think this is going to be an interesting day in the comments section! I can't wait to hear everyone's opinion on this topic!

MeganRebekah said...

When I was on the cruise last week they had a comedian perform. We went to his normal night show and thought he was pretty funny (not the best, but decent). Then he had a special "R-rated" show at midnight. We swung by and stood in the back for a few minutes and weren't impressed. He was trying way, way too hard to be edgy and R-rated, but all he was really doing was dropping f-bombs and s-bombs and other curse words. It didn't come across as funny. It came across as desperate to seem hip.

I think curse words in YA is acceptable, if its necessary. When authors (or movies, or anything) use f-bombs to seem cool, it fails miserably.

lisa and laura said...

Kim and MR - Just to be clear the f-bombs in our book are at really major moments. It's not casual usage. I'm sure most of them will be edited out, but there's one in particular that I think feels very organic to the dialogue and the voice. Just want to clarify that we're not dropping the bomb every other word. We've chosen our spots very carefully.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

If it's YA and they are used at really major moments, that's teen voice. Whether we like it or not, that's how they talk. Chris Crutcher has been censored, sometimes even banned, for his language, yet the high school boys (and many girls) love him because he's "real". Chris makes MANY convincing arguments for why it's sometimes necessary in YA to use YA language.

Kerri Cuev said...

If your kids ride a bus to school like mine....they know the f word lol. I have no problem my kids reading the f bomb in a book at points of will be kids, right?

My WIP also contains f bombs and other words I won't type at the moment. To me it makes that character more real because lets face it teens swear!


Sherrie Petersen said...

The Jackson Pearce video is funny and she's right: parents are scared of the f-bomb and other curse words.

My son is one who reads up. He loves Star Wars books and often buys the adult versions of the novels. He and I enjoy a lot of the same books and if there's a curse word, we talk about when it's appropriate to use.

Not so long ago I had the lovely experience of having to explain to him what a whore was. But do you know where he found the word? The Bible. Yeah. Not gonna tell him to skip that book!

I don't think books should be banned or feared because of words. I think parents should read the book themselves if they are concerned and then decide. But sometimes, I think what parents really fear is having to talk to their kids about it. To me, that's the sad part.

Unknown said...

Hi Lisa & Laura :)
I used to tell my kids NO SWEARING when they were little. I said they could swear when they were in high school because it was mandatory. Haha. But since they got in the habit of No Swearing, they hardly swear at all (at least where I can hear).
Thank you for the post!
All the best,

Amanda Bonilla said...

Oooh! I love this topic! As a self-proclaimed potty mouth, I realize that real life is sometimes peppered with profanity. If you want your novel to be believable, I think a swear-word here and there are totally acceptable if used in context. Though I don't write YA, I read it and my kids read it. Honestly, the f-bomb is super low on my list of things I would shelter my children from. In the words of SpongeBob, they're "sentence enhancers". ;)

Ellz said...

You are right, kids do swear and not just upper teens. Congrats on your progress.

Elie (Ellz Readz)

Heidi Willis said...

I respectfully disagree with Jackson, although I suspect I may be the lone dissenter here. I don't disagree with her right to put the word in her book, but I find it offensive that she would belittle me for saying it's not a book I would pass on to a teen. That is my right.

As a writer she should know it's not just one tiny word. Words carry power. Certain words especially have a force behind them, which is why one tiny word can overshadow even the best of stories for the people who find those words offensive.

While I'm certain my kids have been or will be soon exposed to swearing, it doesn't mean it's okay then to put them in the middle of it. I've taught them not to swear because there are people that do find it offensive, people who may not be on the receiving end but may hear it - the way we do standing in line or walking through the mall. And I hope I'm teaching them that respecting people is important in life.

There are hundreds of thousands of book to read, many of which are outstanding stories without words I find offensive. Unless there's a really compelling reason why I should choose hers to offer my kids over theirs,I probably won't.

I won't fight any author who makes the choice to use certain words in their books, but just by debating over whether or not you want to use them, you should recognize there are going to be people who won't read the book because of it. If you make a controversial choice, don't whine about getting controversy.

Alissa Grosso said...

I can remember what a big deal it was to read Catcher in The Rye for school in seventh grade because there were bad words in it. Then we got so caught up in the book, we forgot about the bad words.

Being from NJ I tend to drop more than a few curse words into my books. I have gone back and cleaned them up some, but have never totally eradicated all the bad words, because some of them feel right.

Christina Lee said...

GREAT topic!! I stand undecided, but generally tend to lean on the more innocent side (I am batting my eyelashes at you right now)--it's the former teacher in me--the one who got used to using FUDGE, H-E double hockey sticks, and the biggie:SHUT THE FRONT DOOR!!! :):)

Unknown said...


My husband and I both have potty mouths and, since having children, we've had to curtail our language. Still, words slip out on occasion. When I slice my finger with a sharp knife and it's bleeding everywhere, I'm more likely to scream, "F*ck!" than, "Oh poopie doo." There are times when curse words just seem appropriate.

I love reading and writing for the YA crowd, and my 10-yr-old is just now starting to show an interest in the genre. I'm much more likely to censor YA books that talk about blow jobs than those that mention a few curse words. Although, I can guarantee teens have heard of both.


Anonymous said...

I'm appalled! Not at the cuss word issue, necessarily, but at that garden-gnome looking thingy on the shelf behind Ms. Pearce. What? It's creepy!

Or not. I think in the flash fic I posted in yesterday's blog post I used damn, goddamn, and bastard. I couldn't find a way to get sh** or f*** in there, but I suppose I could still revise. I don't think my averages are so good, profanity wise (nowhere near 1/50,000 or 6/90,000).

Either way, I say use language that sounds real and is true to the character. The haters can just deal. (Then again, I don't write YA...)

P.S. I do think Heidi makes a great point above when she says, "If you make a controversial choice, don't whine about getting controversy."

The strange thing is, many, many people don't see profanity as controversial anymore. Cultural shifts, and all that...

Corey Schwartz said...

For crying out loud. Joshy knew that word when he was two! People are so uptight!

Emily J. Griffin said...

I just want to point out Fresh Prince rocking "Parents Just Don't Understand" in the end of the video. Brilliant.

I fully advocate cussing - not simply for the sake of it (though, I may do so in my personal life from time to time) - but because it's real. On censorship in general, I think that it is simply at matter of ACTIVE parenting. Be involved in your child's life and you won't have to worry about these things. Make sure they know what you find to be acceptable language, actions, goals for your home and their lives, but don't run away from the scary just because you don't want to deal.

To acknowledge those who are genuinely concerned about older YA books falling into the hands of younger teens-- Perhaps, it is time for a book ratings system to help keep parents educated. Movies do it (kids see them and they cuss far more than books, by the by). Maybe the busy-parent needs an easy reference guide so that THEY (read: key word) can manage their child's intake.

Disclaimer: I have no children. I taught 7th grade for three years and KIDS CUSS. My parents made a HUGE deal out of cussing, which made me want to do it MORE. Now (I'm 26), we all cuss together, openly, and we are closer (if not confusing to other people) for it.

Word Verfication: "Untell" - oddly relevant?

Annette Lyon said...

GREAT post--GREAT video.

I think her whole POINT is not that cuss words are good, but that parents should be involved with what their kids are reading. I've got two teens, but I know I need to keep tabs on what they're reading, not only because of content, but because I want to be able to discuss it with them the way she described in her video.

On the flip side, a writer friend of mine recently gave a FANTASTIC YA book a 2 star review on Good Reads because it had some language (no f-bombs). I was stunned. I mean, really? The writing had no merit? The plot? The characterization? The book was *brilliant*. But her entire review was all about how offensive the language was and that it was listed as "for ages 12 and up" but with that language it should be for older kids.

Well, fine I agree with the age part--I wouldn't let a 12-year-old read it, most likely. But that doesn't take away from the book's merit. It was a dang good book, and I'd hand it over to an older kid w/out any qualms--especially if I'm talking with that kid about it and keeping an open dialogue.

That's kinda the POINT of being a responsible parent.

Anon, yes, 10-year-olds read teen lit. But they *shouldn't* be. As a parent, that fact annoys me to no end. I've known 10- and 11-year-olds who have read the entire Twilight series over and over. Sorry, but Breaking Dawn is NOT a book for little girls. I don't know where their mothers are--apparently off in la-la land.

Parents have a duty to be aware of what their kids are reading and to keep that dialogue open.

Loretta Nyhan said...

I left my word doc open on my computer and my ten-year-old read a section that included the old f-bomb.

"Mom, you really need to change that," he said. "People will think bad things about you."

We need to trust our parenting skills and trust our kids. This generation is VERY protected, and I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not. I mostly read books I wasn't supposed to at 11 and 12 (Judy Blume's Wifey comes to mind...) and I don't think the long term effects were detrimental. Those books got me thinking and questioning. I know that's just one person's experience, but I doubt I was unique. The YA section of the bookstore (if there was one) consisted of one or two measly shelves, at most. We were forced to move into adult territory.

And it is weak to judge a book based on one word, as Jackson Pearce argues. We need to trust our authors as well. If the F-bomb is there, it most likely serves a purpose.

CKHB said...

Argh! Why couldn't you have posted this yesterday, when I was also talking about profanity in fiction? I'll have to find some excuse to link back to this tomorrow...

Shannon Messenger said...

Heh. This is why I love that my characters are 12--so I don't have to wrestle with this issue until book three or four in the series, and by then I'll hopefully have the selling power of J.K. Rowling to back me up so I can do whatever I want. :)

I think the one question you'll have to ask yourself is: are you prepared to fight for the F Bombs? Some people will definitely fight you on them, so as long as you are ready and willing to take on school boards and book banners and parents you can do pretty much whatever you (and your publisher) want.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

LALALALALALALA!!! Jackson got a laugh from me. I think she has reason for the video if she got slammed for one-time use of the bomb. Kids live in the real world, and if a book is marketed to teens, I don't think a few swear words are going to hurt them. Parents can, and should, monitor what younger ones read. But, personally, I'd rather they read the occasional frickin swear word than about a main character who has no life other than the guy she wants.

Valerie Geary said...

I enjoyed that video. I want to be friends with her. Can you use your infinite powers of awesomeness to make this happen?? :)

Katie Anderson said...

Whoa. Fascinating. I have the F bomb in my book ONE time too...

And my agent just asked me to take it out :-(

Katie Anderson said...

But I will say, after reading all these comments, that I can change mine easily - it's not critical to the plot or anything - it just felt natural.

I don't know. I drop 'em all the time at home and my kids (9,12) HATE it. So maybe there's something to that.

Unless is really essential to a character's persona.

I read a funny book one time called Spelldown where the little girl cussed like a sailor. She HAD to cuss - it was who she was.

Lila, so interesting!

Artemis Grey said...

I love a good f-bomb! There are times when no other word will do. And quite frankly, it's been my experience that adults use it all the time, children too young to understand it use it because their parents (or other adults) use it and they overhear, but those kids right in the middle don't use it much at all.

So long live the f-bomb, when it's warranted and in moderation!

Annette Lyon said...

One other thought from me--I've got a religious publisher, so I *can't* use any profanity AT ALL. It's just a rule. I have to work around it.

That can get tricky, because sometimes a character really would swear, and having them say, "Gee goshy darn" would be simply ridiculous. At times I have to get creative and say things like "he let out a stream of expletives" or whatever and leave it at that.

That said, because of this challenge, I've come to realize that at times, adding profanity can be a lazy way to write--there are moments where it's the easy out. Not always, for sure--I recently entered a short story into a contest that has a few expletives (obviously not intended for my regular publisher) because they were needed.

But other times, I see writers who throw in tons of swearing where it's just not needed--and then it feels like the AUTHOR speaking, not the characters. ANY time where the writer is showing up and making the fictional world less real is lazy writing.

Unknown said...

How many times did Holden Caufield utter the F-bomb? 273. Epic book.

Lori W. said...

Interesting post and comments. I'm with S.Sherrie on discussing language w/your kids, and w/Megan Rebekah's re: if you use F*** all the time, it loses its power. But, if it's the perfect word for the scene, the best word, the word that needs to be there, then let it be.

Dara said...

I have no problems with it IF it's not just thrown in there haphazardly.

Yes I know teens swear a lot, but if I had to read a book that had the amount of f-bombs in it that teens will normally use in everyday speak, I'd stop reading after the first five pages.

I think that's why I really dislike Catcher in the Rye--Holden's language got on my nerves. I know it's part of every day life and all but sometimes I just get tired of the vulgarity.

Wendy Sparrow said...

I agree whole-heartedly with Heidi Willis's comment above.

I will not allow my children to read books with the F-bomb in it because I don't need them filling their heads even more with the crap out in the world right now. Exposure leads to use.

I, myself, put down books with the F-bomb in it multiple times and it's a rare time when I think it's appropriate.

Am I conservative? Yes.
Would I give a single star rating to someone who used the f-bomb? Probably not--I'd just put down the book and advise my fellow parents not to buy it--which probably amounts to worse.

Personally, I was unimpressed with the video and saw it as a lot of rationalization. Parents are probably well aware that their kids hear crap everywhere they go, but buying them books that imply it's okay? Parents don't need swear words in books to be a "teaching experience." That made me roll my eyes. Yes, we're all just looking for special moments to sit our kids down and discuss swear words rather than teaching them every day through example and reiterating that we don't USE swear words.

Also, amen to the first anonymous--parents have the right to pass on a book--and up until about age eighteen--parents are the ones with money. So, if I choose to spend my money on books that I don't find offensive--there you go.

Likewise, I've also decided that I won't be buying books that imply minors drinking or teenagers having sex every chance they get is just a part of growing up.

Buying a book and handing it to your child is like saying "I approve." I don't have the time to go around and pre-read every book my child reads. If I hear something negative about a book from another parent, there are a million other books out there to choose from.

As I said, I'm conservative, and I make no excuses for that. I can choose not to buy a book just as much as choose to buy it. I bought three books this week. I spent nearly $40. The YA book I bought--I bought on recommendation from another parent and I know it doesn't contain the F word.

So, as authors, in this competitive market, do you really want to start out be eliminating the conservative set?

I'll be going out to lunch with a fellow parent in a bit, and we're totally going to have a good hearty laugh over the idea that we have to let our kids read books with swear words because that's "reality" or it can be a "teaching experience." Then, I'll recommend she buy the same book that I just did--or maybe I'll loan to her.

The big caveat--I will, however, let my kids read books with less offensive swear words--used moderately for emphasis or character appropriateness. The f-bomb and it's friends--nope.

Carolyn V. said...

Whew, this is some topic!

I asked my teen if they swear at his school. He just rolled his eyes. Yeah, they swore when I was in high school too.

I have read books where there was too much swearing and pulled me away from the story. But let's face it, people do cuss.

I just like to make up my own swear words, then people don't get offended. Only confused. Dag-horsepepper-monkeys. See? Just confusing.

Donna Gambale said...

Great post, ladies, and thanks for the video link. I have a select few F-bombs sprinkled throughout my WIP, but only from certain characters who actually curse, and only at the moments where it felt necessary to stay true to the book. And let me tell you, once my fingers typed that word while in my writing "zone," I stopped and asked myself if it fit.

I absolutely loathe excessive cursing for no reason, but I think it's a disservice to your readers not to be true to your characters and your story.

WendyCinNYC said...

I think it's amusing that everyone is typing f-bomb, f-word, and f*ck on this particular blog post.

I don't have an issue with the word "fuck" in YA, but I do in MG.

Bethany Wiggins said...

My humble opinion... If a writer is absolutely fabulous, she doesn't need to use the f-bomb to prove just how bad-ass her character is--hence the good ol' saying, "show don't tell."

Thanks for getting me thinking.

Mariah Irvin said...

I saw this video on her site and I LOVED IT. Growing up, I heard swearing more often than I read it. Even now, I feel like writers are hesitant to use it in their work because it might not sell.

Sometimes it's just effing necessary!

Diana Paz said...

Good points all around. Bethany, possibly you said it best. Some of the most incredibly successful YA books today, (HP, Twilight as obvious examples) are wildly popular without the need for offensive language.

I understand though, that if it's true to character, and there is a character-driven reason that he/she curses, then great, and I haven't read the book As You Wish so for all I know, that ONE curse word was the ONLY way to effectively convey the emotion and realism the author was trying to communicate. I don't know. And unfortunately, most of the time cursing in books is a cop-out for shock value, just like in movies, and it's rare when I don't roll my eyes. Cursing is one of the easiest ways to tell (instead of show) that the character is "real" or "edgy" or has a secret "rebel" persona waiting to come out or whatever. Clever writing, in books or in movies, tends not to need it. The audience knows, from the kind of person a character is, whether they curse or not without ever reading a single curse word on paper. As the writer, you can force everyone to read a curse word, or you can have such an awesomely-crafted character that we would know that the character is the type who probably curses people out all the time, (the boss from 30 Rock comes to mind, ha!!).

In any case, go on and use curse words in books if you must; some people won't like it and other people won't care, but to say that the people who don't like it (for their kids or themselves) are somehow backwards or ostriches is robbing them of their prerogative. You are the author, you wrote the curse word, you have the right to do it, and everyone who reads your book has the right to bash it or praise it, for the curse word or for any other reason they want. That's the "public" part of "publishing" a book.

I can't resist adding... the idea that just because some kids curse means it's "no big deal" to use curse words in a book (for no reason-- again, cursing that is essential to character is trickier), that is way too easy a justification. I've substitute taught in L.A. for the past five years, and not all kids curse. Yeah, some kids curse, but I've heard other kids use racial slurs and others use sexually offensive language (such creativity! Most of the time with no cursing at all!) but because of what SOME kids do I should expect books to include all those elements too or the book is lacking in "realistic" dialog? Again, curse if you want, but enough with the justification. Some people won't like it.

Mary E Campbell said...

I agree whole heartedly with Wendy Sparrow who agreed whole heartedly with Heidi Willis - both commenters above me. They said it way better than I could so I'll leave it at that. Except one thing. I might have read Pierce's book before(if I had ever heard of her), but now I'm disgusted by the patronizing way she talked down to parents trying to give their kids wholesome books to read and fill their minds with.
Lisa and Laura - I suppose it is reality, but I'm grateful your agent wanted you to take it out. Not only do I not want my kids reading it - I don't want to read it either.

Rebecca Knight said...

I agree that high schoolers (and middle schoolers) already swear like sailors, so it's not like the kids aren't exposed to it 100X a day.

My only issue is if it seems forced for just for "shock value," but I think that means my real problem is with bad writing :P.

Hooray for you guys trying to keep it authentic! Voice is everything.

Kelsey (Dominique) Ridge said...

Thanks for posting the video. Loved it.

Once upon a time, my sister was directing the play A Picasso for our drama club's spring plays. One of the first battles that needed to be found with the script was that the actors were not going to be allowed to use the F-word.

Did you know there are very few decent PG-13 'alternatives' to the F-word? Because of its multiple meanings, the word has more versatility than other cusses, and often sounds less redundant than its various synonyms when used multiple times.

As one friend said, "You get two F***s before you hit an R rating, so shouldn't we be allowed to keep two of these?" The answer, as it turned out, was no.

What I learned from that experience is that sometimes the right word, the one with the aptest meaning, the one that fits best with the character, is a swear word. And sometimes, you just need to be okay with that.

Wendy Sparrow said...

Asked my friend at lunch and she said she would absolutely not buy a book with the f-word in it. She has two teenage daughters and one of them reads a book every two days.

From a marketing standpoint, it makes no sense to leave the f-word in your YA book, to be honest. People vote with their wallets--and you'll have a decent amount of people voting "no" with their wallets if you leave it in. You won't, however, have someone say, "You know... I wasn't going to buy this book, but then I heard they use the f-word, and I just had to have it." (Wendy raises a single sarcastic eyebrow.)

Swap it out with a different swear word if it has to be there.

- said...

On an only semi-related note, my mother confiscated a Judy Blume book from me in the second grade, after I asked her what "men-stroo-ating" was.

Amy Lukavics said...

I'm pretty sure I'm probably gonna get tsk-tsked at after this, but, oh well.

I have to respectfully disagree with Mary, the poster a few above me who said that she didn't want her kids reading it and didn't want to read it herself. That was never the issue here, and if it was as simple as that there wouldn't really BE an issue.

It's one thing to disagree with using or reading the word 'fuck' in books, YA or otherwise. But to go out of your way to give the book a bad review ONLY because you don't personally agree with the word usage is crap.

Being 'disgusted' by the 'patronizing' way this author stuck up for the oh-so-scary f-bomb just shows that you may not be a part of the targetted audience of which YA books that contain 'fuck' are trying to reach.

It's as simple as pie. Stop reading it. Don't continue to read it and then go post a review that hacks away at the actual quality of the book. Characters, plot, yada yada yada, THESE are what reviews are for. NOT 'I didn't agree with the subject matter.' The author mentioned many of the reviews said, 'too bad I couldn't pass this on to a teen.' If you really think your teen is only going to read/watch/do things that you deem've got a big old cup of coffee just waiting for you to smell it.

The author is not being rude, or offensive here. This IS her work, you know. She's passionate about it. She strongly believes in using whatever language is necessary to her OWN character's situations. It just so happens that thousands of authors feel the same way.

Oh man, if there was this much hoopla over the word being used once, I'm in big, big trouble lol....

Sarah Wylie said...

I was pretty much shielded from swearing when I was growing up, so I don't do it in real life and had a hard time writing them at first. However, I came to the conclusion that if it's natural and necessary for a character to swear (in my writing or in books I'm reading), I am not against it. I understand, though, that it makes some people uncomfortable, and I think parents ultimately have the right to decide whether or not a book is appropriate for their kids. I may not agree with what they decide, but it is their place, not mine.
Personally, I tend not to like books where characters swear just for the heck of it. It's tiring and sort of um...unoriginal.
Great post!

Anonymous said...

So I am a foody. I love good food and the restaurants that serve it. My opinion is often asked for when it comes to those seeking advice on good places to eat.

The thing is, I despise cilantro. I mean I really can't stand the stuff. I find it to leave an overpowering and awful taste in my mouth and find that it ruins what would otherwise make for a good meal. The horrible thing about cilantro is that you can't un-taste it. Once it touches your tongue it is there for the rest of the meal.
I am of the opinion that chefs that rely too much on cilantro often use it as a crutch to cover up what would otherwise be a bland and flavorless meal. Instead I prefer chefs that coax the subtle flavors out without resorting to such overwhelming seasonings.

I know that there are clearly many other people love cilantro, but I am not about to recommend that they eat somewhere that I found personally distasteful and I think it would be unrealistic and unreasonable to expect me to do otherwise. You may criticize me for being narrow minded and controlling but that isn't going to make me want to either patronize your restaurant, or recommend it. In fact it would probably result in the contrary.

So I guess it all comes down to what kind of chef you want to be. Are you trying to create the perfect meal that you and a select few that have your tastes will love, or are you the type of chef that would rather appeal to a wider range of tastes in order to appeal to a wider clientèle.

The thing about restaurants is that the customer chooses the restaurant, the restaurant does not choose the customer.

Now back on topic, I think that this was a conversation about books and censorship of profanity vs. realism. Lets face it YA novels are no more real than the sitcoms on TV. TV gets by without profanity and kids believe it to be realistic. If you want to write realism skip YA, because lets face it. nobody wants to read the trite, trivial and tedious existence of a typical teen. If you find that your YA book elevates to the supernatural, then perhaps it can in language as well. You want to write gritty realism, well that is a whole different genre.

Hilary Wagner said...

Bad words in YA was a hot topic on twitter a few months back. Some were totally opposed, others basically said you have to put them in. I think it all depends on what type of YA book it is. My new MS takes place in the 18th & 19th century, so putting in bad words really wasn't too necessary to the plot, but if I was writing about high schoolers in 2009, I can't see writing a book without them. It's a touchy subject for sure! I've never faced that obstacle yet, so I'm not really sure what I'd do!

xoxo -- Hilary

Anonymous said...

I'd hope that if the only reason my friend hated a certain restaraunt was because they used an ingrediant she hated, she'd tell me. She wouldn't simply say, 'This restaraunt sucks don't even go.' That's what I'd call tunnel vision. Coming up with a clever 'spicing' metaphor isn't exactly working for you here, since people do not literally taste books. It's more so of a mental tasting, which is not the same as eating. Bad language is only used to cover up bland writing if you're, well...a bland writer. In that case, the language wouldn't be your problem and people wouldn't be saying 'This book is really good except for the bad language.' They'd be saying 'This book is pretty boring and uses lots of random bad language.'

And guess what. Trite, trivial, and tedious teens love reading about other trite, trivial, and tedious teens.

Travis Erwin said...

Bombs away I say.

XiXi said...

Hmmm, I don't really know. I went to a pretty [crap] junior high, teen pregnancies and DEFINITELY curse words galore. So in junior high, no doubt I was reading books and personally hearing plenty of the f-bomb myself.

I guess, though, it's up to every parent's discretion. My parents let me read whatever I could. That's pretty much how I intend on letting it be. I consider everything in YA to be safe for YA readers. I would only draw the line at like...romance novels and erotica, you know?

Anonymous said...

I guess I just don't understand why we base it on what teens experience in their lives. Yes every teen hears profanity daily, many if not most actively use it. That in and of itself doesn't justify writing it into a YA book as morally acceptable.

I vividly remember a moment from my youth (20 years ago) in which I was riding in the back seat of a small car with my friend and girl he just met. She had no qualms about giving him a hand-job while sitting next to me. So if teens are experiencing it, does it mean that it needs to be in a book to make it realistic?

I guess I just don't see the "but they hear it at school" to be a valid excuse. I both heard and saw a hell of a lot of things in school as a teen, and I don't see how it relates to what language you use to cater to a younger audience.

Having it in a book targeted at youth merely validates the language as appropriate, when in reality it often isn't.

Little Ms J said...

I have been reading books since I could string a sentence together and kids want to read REAL. I was saying shit in 5th grade and fuck in 7th. I grew up in a religious home and my parents would wash my mouth out with soap, put me on restriction and monitor what I read and listened to. So, my friends let me borrow their books and I hid them at school. I don't like it when authors try too hard to either be too conservative or be too "cool." If the character would say it, the character would say it. Kids know these things.

Jemi Fraser said...

I think it's always a matter of whether or not the word "needs" to be there. If the integrity of the plot/character needs it, by all means keep it in.

Dara said...

I guess this is also the reason that I write historicals often set in other countries. Then I don't have to put in vulgar language to be "authentic."

Probably also why I shy away from books that are set modern day, especially if there's teens in them. :P Like I said earlier, I don't really mind once or twice but I've put books down within one chapter because of the language. And while I may not give it a review, I certainly would let someone know the reason I stopped was for language.

Overuse of vulgar language can interferes with the story. When it takes my attention away, then the author hasn't done his/her job and made me never want to read a book by them again.

Gail said...

I don't think it's wrong to use profanity in YA books. Seeing it in print is not the determining factor for using it in real life for teens. Truthfully, most kids either just giggle to hear someone curse aloud (the young ones) or are totally oblivious of it (the older ones).

Annette Lyon said...

(Last comment from me, I swear. :)

For anyone looking for totally clean fiction that they don't have to worry about their teens reading, Janette Rallison rocks. She's made me laugh so hard I've cried. She's a great writer, and she's proud of the fact that she doesn't need to insert profanity or discuss drugs or teen pregnancy or other dark topics to make a great book.

One of her latest that I just love: My Fair Godmother.

Kim said...

Lila - I understood that you weren't overusing the word, nor using it casually. I agree that if it's true and authentic for it to be used at a major moment it has its place. I respect your decision to argue for it.

I was just thinking aloud on the subject of swearing in general, and trying to make the point that books should be written authentically for the intended audience and authors shouldn't have to censor their work b/c it may fall into the hands of younger kids.

I do not want my kids reading or being exposed to content that they are not ready for. I'm much more concerned with the subject matter than the use of a single swear word. But that is our job as parents to see that doesn't happen, not the author's who is trying to write with an authentic voice.


If you don't write what's real, teens won't trust you. That doesn't mean you have to curse, but it does mean that kids don't want to be preached to.

Kids are smart. You treat them like idiots, and they'll shove your book back on the shelf.

p.s. I don't believe that innocent Miss Katie has an F-bomb in her book. No way. Uh uh. She must think we're talking about another F word or something. Like ... french fries. Or funnel cake. Or falafel.

p.s.s. I'm with LMJ--I had the mouth of a drunken sailor in 7th grade, mostly b/c my mom was so strictly against it. What she didn't know ...

erica m. chapman said...

I agree with some of the previous posters. I think it's okay to drop the F-bomb or others in YA when it's appropriate. Some of these YA books are dealing with some heavy stuff, so maybe a swear word is warrented. We are trying to make these stories realistic right?

Obviously- we shouldn't be littering every page with them, but one here and there... come on. If we can have them dealing with first love, paranormal situations, death, murder etc. a little swearing shouldn't be that out of the realm of normal. Great post- thanks for sharing Jackson Pearce's opinion too!

Kimberly Derting said...

Wow, you guys really opened a can of worms, didn't ya? As a mom of teens, I can tell you they hear it a lot younger than "teen", especially if they ride the bus/go to school/play on any playground. My eight-year-old hears things that appall me. And then, like Jackson said, we talk...

April (BooksandWine) said...

Thank God my parents never tried to censor my reading!

I look at some of the other comments and just laugh, I mean does anyone really think they will censor their 16 year old's reading? Ha ha ha. I understand there is the almighty dollar, but even more almighty is the library card.

I say, if you are writing about modern day teens,go ahead and put in some f-bombs if it is integral to your story. I've never ever put down a book because of curse words. Then again, perhaps because I am 22, I am not so sensitive to "bad" words afterall my generation's favorite word is fuck (i.e. fuck my life, fuck that shit, fuckin' a). We say it constantly, and I really don't even notice its use any more.

Bring on the swears!

Don't call this a comeback

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