Tuesday, May 11, 2010

do i or don't i?

it can change everything, can't it?

one of the big arguments (or area of differing opinion) in YA is whether cursing is necessary when writing for a young adult audience.
there seems to be two main camps on this issue: those who believe bad words have no place, at any time, in YA fiction, and those who believe it adds realism to the story.

well, let me tell you my wip has A LOT of cursing.
not like in a quentin tarantino "i'm gonna strive to make every other word the F word" way, but in a normal teenage angst sort of way.
but not only are there bad words, there's smoking (from a certain faction of characters), references to sex, and some marijuana use.

when i look at it on paper it looks like my book is very gritty and dark.
and yes, parts of it are, but as a whole it is not intended that way.
as i've been writing the book i've felt the cursing, drug use and sex references were necessary because it's what the characters are doing. yes, i was the one who created them, but i think most writers find their characters flesh themselves out. they are the ones who tell you how they should be depicted. so when my character reached for a cigarette, i wrote that in. when i write his diatribe filled with swear words, it's because he actually said those things.

and honestly, i felt "hey, these are the kinds of things kids are doing nowadays anyway. it's YA fiction, not middle grade." BUT i have to say i'm starting to have some concerns. and my concerns didn't appear because someone made a good argument for no cussing in a blog, or that i happened to read an awesome YA novel that was PG. nope, my concerns are named max and connor.

i have known max and connor most their lives. they just turned fifteen this year and are great kids. they are both extremely athletic, and get good grades in school.
when i was thinking of rounding up beta readers later in the year to give me feedback on my manuscript, i though max and connor would be ideal since they are part of my target audience, and they could tell me if my male main character was real enough.

but then i got nervous. what if max and connor saw the language, sex and drug use and thought since i wrote about these things, i must condone them? what if reading about the situations made them curious to try them? all of a sudden i was doubting whether what i'd included in my book was absolutely necessary.
and then i wondered why i never had any cause for concern when i though of anonymous fifteen year-olds reading my work. why did it not cross my mind that they might think i was condoning the behaviour i was depicting. or that they might be influenced by what i had written.

well, after some reflection i've decided to keep writing in the manner i started.
i'm not saying it's set in stone, but since i'm halfway through the first draft i think it would be a mistake to go back and tweak things. so i will forge ahead, finish the manuscript and then give it to my beta readers.
if the consensus is i have too many gratuitous bad words, etc., then i will look at possibly changing parts of the novel.

but of course, that is waaaaaay in the future.


KarenG said...

What might be considered normal profanity in a real high school, or even in a film, would be seen as excessive in a manuscript going out to publishers. This might give you a bit of motivation to hold back as well.

Johnny Rojo said...

Realistically, yes, most of your target audience sees that as realistic. It's been interesting to see my kids (13 and 16) experimenting with swearing, and how situational it is-- if they they I'm in earshot, with their friends, etc. and what words they feel they can use when I'm around-- for instance, they feel that they can away with a "crap" once in a while, but don't try the f-bomb. They are, of course, around when I'm driving-- I'm a swearing machine when I drive.

Overall, I agree with your approach-- keep writing it like you're writing it. You can edit later.

Johnny Rojo said...

should have read "if they think I'm in earshot.."

Dawn said...

Mi, you've raised some really great points. I've been reading with my stepdaughter for the past year (when she came to us, she had LOW literacy skills) and I faltered a bit when I came to a swear, or a topic that felt uncomfortable. (We read out loud and I hesitated or my cheeks went red.) Then one day she said: Dawn, it's not like I don't know all about that. I relaxed a bit, and through her Facebook profile, often see her friends saying a lot worse.

Society has changed. The words / topics that may have been difficult for me when I was a kid are dealt with more openly now. Sexuality, drugs, swearing, etc. But kids also make their own decisions. To say that a kid starting doing drugs after reading your book is akin to saying heavy metal made another kid murder someone. And, I write about murder - but I don't condone it.

That being said, a good friend of mine is writing a YA literary book about a young boy who is terrorized for being gay. It's gritty. Graphic. And makes me squirm with discomfort. Do I want my kid reading that? Not especially. But she might...whether he publishes it or someone else does.

I think you've made a good decision is staying the course. When you go through the next draft, you'll know whether it feels right or not. And yes, your beta readers will tell you if its over the top. I think to hold back now would spoil your flow - and that's what you need to cross the finish line.

You know I'm rooting for you :-)

Dawn said...

Wow - that was a really LONG comment. Sorry :-)

Lola Sharp said...

You write the book that is inside you. Go with your gut.


mi said...

kareng - it's true, in written dialogue those words are far more apparent.

johnny - interesting perspective since you're actually watching it happen! i wonder how much cussing happens when you're not around!

dawn - thanks for the support! and you're right, a kid isn't going to start smoking because they read about it in my book, though i do know how persuasive the written word can be! one of my beta readers spent a summer touring italy after reading my novel about a girl who spends the summer traveling around europe. she told me that she had to see it for herself after reading what i'd written!

lola - i agree. i'm not the sort who can force my novel to be one way or another. that's why i'll never be a ghost writer, haha!

Christine Fletcher said...

mi, this is a great post. I started writing a comment, but it got so long I ended up writing a blog post instead!


Random Thinker said...

That's the reality most young adults live in so it will ring true to them.

mi said...

christine - i'm so glad you wrote a post because i always love reading your insight. i made some mental notes, as well, of things to keep in mind when writing/editing. thanks!

random thinker - i think you make a solid point. if it doesn't ring true, no matter if there is or isn't swearing, it won't hold their interest.

Johnny Rojo said...

From what I've heard when they think that I'm out of earshot, a lot!

Nishant said...

It's gritty. Graphic. And makes me squirm with discomfort. D
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