YA Wednesday: Is it Okay to Say #$**x! in YA?

Full disclosure: I swear a lot. When my kids were little they learned some real doozies from me (that I can’t quote here), and made up a few good ones of their own. My personal favorite was when my daughter was around three years old and exclaimed, “Holy f#*kballs,” when she dropped a spoon. I swear she didn’t learn that from me. But seriously, while I don’t think ‘colorful’ language belongs in children’s books, when my kids were teens I wasn’t worried about profanity in the books they were reading. I was glad they were reading, and given the amount of profanity on the streets of the blue-collar town where we lived, it would have felt profoundly hypocritical for me to say anything about it.

I recognize that many people are offended by curse words, but it bothers me when people suggest that there should be arbitrary limits to swearing in YA. I’m disturbed by stories I’ve heard about YA authors having to clean up the language in their books, not because the language didn’t work, but simply because it was YA. Readers are free to steer clear of a YA novel or an adult novel if they find the language offensive, but authors shouldn’t be censored. Decisions about when to cuss and when not to cuss should be based on what is best for the book, and there is lots of good advice about this out there.

What are your thoughts about swearing in YA?

Showing 6 comments
  • EB Moore

    Some editors go beyond cutting swears. I know of one (not mine) that cut anything having a literary bent. Sometimes you have to walk away.

  • Stephanie Gayle

    Ah, a blog post that really speaks to my foul language tendencies!
    Thanks, Emily.

  • Emily

    EB, I have even heard of certain YA publishers (not to be named) that won’t allow any swears. And yes some editors do things that drive writers crazy. What a crazy world it is.

  • Heather

    I couldn’t agree more! I swore A LOT as a teen, so some well-placed swears in YA come off as normal. And when written well, I don’t even notice the swearing because the world of the novel is so real. But I was at a writing conference a while back where a lot of writers were convinced they couldn’t use the f-word in a YA novel. I told them that wasn’t true, but I don’t think anyone believed me. Now I keep a list of books as examples… though as I said, I often don’t even notice the swearing if I’m so into the story and it just feels natural.

    Thanks for the post! And also, I went to LIKE it, but the button isn’t showing up.

  • Belle Brett

    Thanks, Emily! One of my favorite memories from high school involves me swearing at a boy who had insulted me. Since I was known as kind of a shy thing, it really rattled him, and he couldn’t stop talking about it! (In actuality, like Emily, I swore a lot, too, but for some reason no one noticed!) In my opinion, to be effective, whether in adult or teen fiction (or in movies, or comedy) swearing should be used to convey emotion and not appear as every other word, even though that’s the way some people speak in real life. But isn’t that what good writing is about? We aren’t trying to imitate actual speech but rather capture the essence of what people say. Otherwise, our writing would be full of “ums” (for all of us) and “like” (when capturing teenspeak), and who wants to read that?

  • Emily

    Heather, I’d heard the same thing about the F word but I actually used it early on in my YA novel and it is published. It probably depends on the publisher though – some are stricter than others.

    Belle, I totally agree about not swearing every other word. That gets tiresome very quickly!

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