Where Ladybugs Roar

Confessions and Passions of a Compulsive Writer

Friday, November 6, 2009

Day Six-- Contributing to the Delinquency of Fictional Minors

So, I'm writing a YA book, and I picked up a few YA books to read lately. I've been noticing a trend in both TV and written media. I find it to be disturbing, but maybe I'm crazy and overly moralistic. I've been reading sites that say that nothing is off-limits in YA books as long as it's handled appropriately. This begs the question: Who is deciding what is "appropriately" and shouldn't SOME things be off-limits?

Drinking parties-- It used to be, back in the old days of the eighties and nineties, that if you wanted to portray someone as a rebel, you'd show them knocking back a beer snuck in a coke bottle at a wild party where everyone was trying to fit in. Lately, every book I've read has included under-age drinking. Sometimes, the focus of the party is just to get drunk. This isn't like nineteen year olds, but fifteen and sixteen year olds are out slamming back a six pack on a school night. The author slips it in like it's nothing. It's not to convey the teen's personality or the atmosphere of the party, but it's a prop--like a soda. They're treating it not as if it's rebellion, but it's normal-- a big "meh" on the normal teenage experience. These are the books that I'll be handing my children to read in ten years? Should we expect to preview all books by the time that decade rolls around?

Sex-- Yes, I said it. I'll admit I'm conservative, but the books I've read recently (intended for a teenage audience) haven't been about adults or older teens in monogamous relationships. Once again, fifteen and sixteen year olds--and it's treated like a big "meh."

Profanity-- Why are movies still getting "R" ratings based on language when apparently using the 'F' word twenty times in a book gives it a PG-13 age group? Plus, I've found, without fail, that the parents are portrayed as clueless in this regard because the minute their child says "damn" in front of them... or even "stupid" the parents jump on them screaming "We don't use that word around here." Twenty minutes later, they're at school dropping words that should burn holes in the paper. I'm disgusted to admit that our local high school only prohibits racist and hate language. It's also why waiting in line at a fast food place behind teenagers includes me covering my children's ears. I've even been "that" parent who taps them on the shoulder saying, "I have kids here. Can you watch your language?" There are still quite a few teens that immediately change their language when they see my kids, but... why are they using so much profanity if they CAN turn it off?

Lately, I've found myself using more mild profanity just because it seems to fit. Taking it out makes my writing unrealistic, but using it makes me feel like I'm about to contribute to the delinquency of a minor. (I have a teenage beta reader, so I will be.) I feel like I need to find a non-profanity type of profanity to fill in the blanks. (AKA "holy crow" ala Stephanie Meyer) Crap and darn sound puny now. Shoot is laughable. When I do a rewrite on my NaNoWriMo project, I'll probably yank out some of the profanity, but hopefully... not add any in.

Anyone else writing YA thinking about this stuff?

Oh, and while most don't consider this a "sin" of any kind, it's also become commonplace for teens to drink coffee apparently with their breakfast? Is this not stunting their growth? Is this really the norm outside of my little world?


  1. I definitely agree w/ your first few points (the ease w/ which sex and drinking are included... sure, they may be typical in certain demographics, but that doesn't mean they should be treated as such).

    I'm a bit more conflicted on the cursing aspect. I think things like "holy crow" cheapen the authenticity... sure, you don't have to drop f-bombs left and right, but if you've got a delinquent character, they're gonna be acting delinquently, which means having a foul mouth, etc...

    PS - I've always hated coffee... I think kids drink it b/c it's a fad thing to do (better than smoking, I guess).

  2. These are sticky subjects! I don't consider myself a prude and I'm certainly not banging on the morality drum BUT I do have a problem with the YA books that portray 15 & 16 yr olds having sex and drinking as an every day, acceptable behavior. If the story is such that it makes the reader want to be like these characters, then it's a problem.
    The swearing is a tough one. My sister read my WIP and made the comment that I needed to take out the line spoken by my 16 yr old MC..."No shit" I really had to think about it.
    You know, it really depends on the context, the character, and the subject matter of your novel. You have to be true to that.

  3. I'm totally with you on this. I hadn't read YA for a long time and I always thought if it said 12 and up that meant is was clean. I got a rude awakening when I started reading it again. There is so much garbage in some of these books. Especially the sex and drugs as exceptable part. I can do with the swearing, but it shouldn't have too much and definitely not the f-word. I don't care if it's true to life. There are lots of disgusting horrible things that may be true to life, but I don't need to read about, nor do I want my kids to read it. There's also know way of knowing what's in the book before you read it. Book reviews are helpful, but they don't always tell everything. I agree there should be some form of rating system.
    Sorry - can you tell it's a touchy issue with me?

  4. I'm not a curser (or a coffee drinker - not old enough). I like to think my vocabulary is varied enough not to need it. Sometimes I think it hinders my writing though because reality is that most people swear. A lot.

    As for sex, they shouldn't be but young teens are having it. Again reality. Does that mean you have to write it. Absolutely not. That's the beauty of fiction. You can make it real in your own way.

    If you ever do feel the need for a colorful metaphor say what I say.

    Sweet holy Moses!

  5. Exactly... to everyone, actually. What bothers me is the way it's treated right now. I'll admit--I'm very conservative. Still, I can let situations and profanity slide if it wasn't the impression that "this is reality--if you aren't doing it--you're not normal."

    I wonder if these authors have children that they wouldn't mind receiving the message that drinking themselves into a stupor at fifteen is a normal part of growing up. In this book I was reading, they thought it was funny to have a severely plastered teenager trying to fit his key into the driver's side door. Ha ha! Nothing like a little drunk driving to really move the plot. It was "okay" though because the MCs were just getting a nice buzz. (That was heavily sarcastic, btw.)

    I brought this up with a friend and she mentioned that in "Gossip Girl" the high schoolers were having cocktail parties.

    Anyway, I didn't need to rant about this to decide on the topics of sex, drugs, or drinking in my YA books (which is to say it won't be in there,) but the subject of profanity is actually tricky.

    I currently allow four: damn, hell, bastard, and ass... in moderation. I'm not turning sixteen/seventeen year olds into sailors. I rely heavily on the words "suck", "freak", and "crap." Well, they've also used the word "whore" in this story, but I don't normally. I'm on the barrel as to whether that's a swear word.

    Still, I just had a fight break out in the hallway of the school because someone thinks Sidra lit their fence on fire. Asher dove in and punched the guy. You can be sure that they wouldn't be saying, "Hey Sidra! I think you may have lit my fence on fire, you dirty rotten punk."

    Do I want to be realistic?



    I just don't know. Ugh. The situations are fiction. The people are fiction. The impression of what's okay versus not okay-- may just seem to be non-fiction.

    I know, for certain, if my daughter ever calls someone an asshat... she is going to have some explaining to do. It would certainly suck for her to say, "But I read that in your book, Mom."

  6. I'm with you on this. My daughter and I actually come up with new "swear words often". While browsing a Christmas goodies catalog, she saw an item and immediately exclaimed, "Sweet Cheese Wheels!"

    I know it sounds corny, but we really do that. She doesn't swear, so I figure my MC doesn't have to, and if someone else does it in his/her presence they can make a remark or ponder it in their minds as the wrong thing to do.

    I used damn once and my daughter was appalled. She wanted me to take it out.

  7. That's what I think is the best thing to do. Make up your own words or just imply that they utter some words of profanity. People get the idea without having to read them.

  8. I've been using the words "So-and-so swore" for the bulk of it. I would say that I use less than seven swear words per manuscript. On the other hand, in the middle of a sentence--in a heated situation--or with a cocky character, you can't just slip it by. In my Honor books, Speedy and Archer both use the word "ass" because that's just how they are. Honor sometimes uses the word "hell" because she has a lot of emotional baggage that she carries.

    It's really adjective and noun use that I find hard to replace.

  9. Check out Scott Westerfield's books. Like the Uglies Series (awesome books if you haven't read them yet, you should) I don't remember any swearing in them and they are intense books. Also The Maze Runner by James Dashner - very intense he uses his own slang. Janette Rallison doesn't have any swearing in her books. Tons of writers don't and I think they do just fine.

  10. Thanks, Mary. I'll have to check those out. Diana already recommended The Maze Runner, so it's the next on my list of books to read. Out of the two YA books that I've written so far, one has two or three swear words in the whole thing--I think. The other has none. Making up your own slang only works in certain scenarios in my opinion. It some scenarios, it's really easy to nix swearing entirely. Once you throw in an urban, modern-day setting, it seems harder. I'm trying, because there are a plethora of other words available to convey mood and it seems a cheap shot to just throw profanity in there.

    (BTW, plethora was just for Diana. Would you say I have a plethora? Yes, you have a plethora.)

  11. Also The Hunger Games - very intense, no swearing.

  12. Oh...and one other thing. I don't normally swear, and people around me pick up on that. So, they don't swear when I'm around. I never asked them not to. They just don't. Which tells me that if your book is centered around an individual that doesn't, you really shouldn't have to worry that no one else does.

  13. Wendy, What is a plethora? *Why?* Well, you told me I have a plethora, and I just would like to know, if YOU know, what a plethora is. I would not like to think that a person would tell someone she has a plethora and then find out that THAT person has NO IDEA what it means to have a plethora. I'm just saying.

    I don't swear either. I almost swear all the time. And I REALLY almost swear (as in man, I am totally going to lay an f-bomb all over that jerk faced a-hole), but I don't follow through. I say crap, suck, a-hole, jayhole, jerk, junk, bastage, mother chicken, jerkface, holy crap, crud, nerd turd, fart hole, loser, effing, eff it, fudge it you fudge hole, and (shamefaced to admit this one...) fudge hole lover. I could go on and on. Literally, a plethora of practically swear words. I know I don't sound authentic, but in my defense my dad's a truck driver and it was my own form of rebellion as a teenager. And like Tina Lynn, people don't curse around me either. I never asked them not to, but no one really does. Except my dad.

    Ass. Why can I write ass so freely? I think because it's in the bible. But I don't say ass. I say booty.

    The Maze Runner, that author is so smart. Shuck face, klunk lover, ahh love it.

  14. People also don't swear around me for the same reason and my kids have yet to say their first swear words at six and eight.

    Still, some of those books are alternate realities or fantasies. It's much easier to cut out swearing or create alternate slang in such situations.

    Plus, in a first person narrative, you're also faced with internal dialogue too. Even if you keep your life G-rated out loud... there are still some situations that really grab you and shake out some internal profanity.

    The husband and I were discussing "alternate" swearing and the fact that, in the end, you're still just turning a new word into a curse. He brought up the use of Chinese profanity in Firefly. (I knew he would--twelve years of marriage brings with it some predictability.) Once again, though, that's an alternate reality.

    As I said, though, I'll probably remove what little swearing I have in this YA book on the rewrite--if I can. On adult books, I still keep it to very little, but I really do try in YA books--it's just a lot harder when they're not a fictional setting also.

  15. I agree on the fact that substituting a word for a swear word is the same thing as using a swear word. It's all just sound anyway. I guess the reverse should be true too... if a person affectionately calls someone a curse word, with a brotherly clap on the back, it technically shouldn't be considered a bad word, but it still is. Funny the rules we have.

  16. For the record, I'm all for word substitutions for swear words.

    My kids both say "Dang it!" and "Oh Shoooot!" and it sounds adorable. It would sound significantly less adorable if their similar buddy words were there.

    I honestly need swear words or alternates to get me through the frustrating days. Whatever keeps you from drinking or violence... there you go.

    I think realistic characters need something. Realistic dialogue needs something. I'm writing for an audience that hears some pretty awful language day in and day out from their peers, so writing a story set in modern-day reality without some sort of angsty release of frustration via language is the equivalent to a pat on the head for patronizing.

    Fiction is fiction but sometimes reality must be acknowledged.

    On the other hand, my teenage beta reader is thirteen or fourteen and the daughter of my local religious leader. I've chosen a great beta reader to corrupt, haven't I? Her mother has previewed my books and said they're fine for language, but it's still a huge weight.

  17. The bottom line for me in reading is, is it gratuitous or true to character? If you stay true to character you won't go wrong, but that means true to a character that doesn't swear as well to a character that does. Both kinds can be hard to write, but you are excellent at staying true to character so trust your instincts. Go with your feelings, Luke. If it seems unnecessary or gratuitous, a good beta will be honest with you about it.

  18. When you say "a good beta," you're complimenting yourself, aren't you, Diana? That's a little vain... and that's why I like you.