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@$#%&!!! in YA Fiction July 16, 2012

 

 

I’ve read three YA books in the last several weeks where the dialogue between each of the characters was filled with expletives.  While I understand the authors are writing about teenagers, and trying to give them an authentic feel, I wonder how much adding expletives is pure laziness put in the place of writing something of quality.

 

 

I write YA fiction and yes, my characters swear every once and while.  I’m not a Pollyanna.  I get it. It’s human nature. Something frightens us, makes us angry, makes us hurt, and we swear. That’s understandable.  But when the dialogue between two high school girls turns into a swearing match, which by the way adds nothing to the story, I get frustrated.

 

 

I’ve read many YA novels where the characters are in peril, and they have every reason to swear, but somehow the author manages to express their frustration without adding curse words.  This to me is the mark of an excellent writer.  They understand the genre, they connect with the audience, and they can appeal to them without going deep into the gutter with the language.

 

 

This all reminds me of a professor I once had who told me that when cursing seeps into your writing, it’s time to step away from the work.  It’s a sign your writing is failing. Why? Because you can’t come up with creative enough words to explain the scene or evoke emotions from your characters.

 

 

So I wonder what other writers think about expletives in YA fiction.  Is there a way to add it so that it gives authenticity to a story but doesn’t take away from the work? Can you not include them but still connect with the YA audience?

 

 

Whether or not you write YA,  I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic.  Respond in the comments and let me know your point of view.

 

 

Amy

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3 Responses to “@$#%&!!! in YA Fiction”

  1. deshipley Says:

    I, for one, am really turned off by excessively strong language. …Which, as a term, is actually something of an oxymoron, since profanity is usually a pretty weak go-to — particularly in writing, when you’ve got all the time in the world to edit the dialogue into something better.

    I drafted a book (currently in the queue for revision) a few years ago where the MC cursed a lot. (Granted, with the life I wrote him, he had every reason to…) I thought I was cleaning it up with “bleep”s and asterisks in place of the actual words, but in hindsight, I’d only created a different kind of mess.
    The character swears. Okay. Some people do. But for the sake of the people who don’t want to read the kind of stuff (or write it), it’s up to me to find a creative yet honest ways to convey what he says and how he feels, sans actual cussing. It’ll probably be a bit of a challenge, but things that are worth it tend to be.

    • I love your comments. I think you walk a very fine line when using expletives. They can be effective if used correctly, you just have to be knowledgable enough about your audience to make it work.

      • deshipley Says:

        Ooh, one example of effectiveness that came to mind: If you’ve got a character that *never* swears, but then some culmination of circumstance drives them to fire off an oath, that could be a “kaboom!” heard round the world!


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