Monday, June 1, 2015

Swearing in YA: Is it Worth It?

As I was reading over my current work-in-progress yesterday, I remembered that I'd included a fair amount of bad language. In my defense, this is an upper-upper YA (set in the summer after high school), and the main character is a boy who plays a lot of online video games. When I was writing his dialogue and that of his best friend, the swear words just flowed out.

But like other content issues like sex and violence, bad language in books intended for teenagers can be a hot-button topic. Although many young adults talk like that on a regular basis, that doesn't mean adults – who are often the ones buying them the books – want to encourage it or make it seem cool.

Personally, I like former literary agent Mary Kole's take on the subject: that using swear words is just a choice the writer makes or doesn't make. If the writing requires that word, that's the word that should be used. Would anyone buy that my two 18-year-old gamer friends don't drop a few (mostly mild) swear words when they get excited? I made the conscious choice to include those words because I thought it made the characters more authentic and relatable.

Of course, if you decide to go this route, you have to be prepared to deal with the consequences. Those who are trying to get their work traditionally published might run into problems at some imprints that prefer to keep their titles swear-word free. And once you are published, some librarians, schools, and booksellers may balk at carrying your book or recommending it to teens.

Do you include swear words in your YA writing?

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