Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Bleep the BLEEP Up!

I can’t believe I’m doing this… editing bad language out of my YA novel and novella.

The suggestion came from the least likely person: my husband who doesn’t give a flying fig about cuss words.

He read the first chapter of my novel and called the profanity a “turn off.”

It irked me, mostly because it followed his comment (with wrinkled nose) that my book wasn’t really his style.

I’ve always been able to handle feedback from critique partners, but for some reason I had trouble swallowing Seb’s honest opinion. Probably because critique partners tell you what works and what doesn’t while “not my style” flat out says, “I don’t like it.”

“Of course it’s not your style. Are you a teenage girl?” As far as the language I said, “I hear teenagers talk like this all the time.”

“Doesn’t mean I want to read it,” Seb answered.

After a night’s (non)rest I mulled over the cussing and think Seb might have a point.

I love cursing, but don’t particularly enjoy hearing it from kids.

C.C. Hunter, who wrote the Shadow Falls series, uses “crappers” in her books and it sounds really cute. 

Stacey Wallace Benefiel, author of the Zellie WellsTrilogy, offered helpful advice. She said the language was more noticeable in my novella for our Death by Chocolate anthology. (Add it to your bookshelf at goodreads!) “I guess since the story is shorter, it’s more blatant.”

I dropped the first f-bomb on page one. Stacey suggested removing the opening curse. “Over the course of a novel, I’d say I wouldn’t even notice it.”  

I liked her advice that my adult character (Adrian, 22) could cuss all he wants – he’s an adult.

“I have cuss words in my YA novels, more than some people are used to and I have gotten some weird reviews because of it...but that's how kids talk, most kids I think. I've always had a potty mouth, so it doesn’t bother me.”


  1. Swearing is a tricky one. I just wrote the word sh** into my DBC story. It's the only swearword yet, so I think I'll leave it. Perhaps that's the way to go with certain YA stories, minimal swearing.

    Although, my daughter read a book called Looking For Alaska that was chock full of cussing. The novel even had a BJ in it! It was a gritty story with no plot. Just stuff that teens do. Books like that are okay to swear in.

    I might write a book like that someday. It will be my teen memoirs. lol. Never mind, that's gross.

  2. LOL! I'm sorry, but I have to laugh! Isn't it just like a husband to be "honest" about our work and have us stew over it?!

    While I agree with you about hearing that kind of language from kids, reading and seeing it in books is different. (I think that i makes the character sound a little worse than he might be). But, it is 2012 and that's really all that's heard, so I would use the "cuss" words sparingly for the YA characters. As for the adult, Adrian, go for it as much as you want.

    I hope this helped!

  3. My husband's a writer too. I don't even bother letting him read my books - he makes fun of me for watching Vampire Diaries, so I know he'd think my stuff is silly. I'm also not that into reading his writing either. This works for us. :)

  4. E xcellent decision. I write supernatural thrillers but I limit the expletives and reserve them only for the characters that must appear gruff and harsh. Not that many people don't throw out a few sh%$ da(* and F*&8 every now and then. But for YA, it is probably even more important so you don't limit your audience. We wouldn't let our kids read books that go overboard no matter how "realistic" they may be. Why train them to cuss?

    Jeff Bennington
    The Writing Bomb
    The Kindle Book review

  5. So, I had some cuss words in my novel and my editor asked me to remove them. When I did, I found I actually had a much stronger novel.

    Cuss words are frequently heard coming out of the mouths of teens. But in writing, they don't actually add to the story. In some ways, they are like telling instead of showing. As writers, we should be able to use language in a more creative way then resorting to cuss words.

    And, as pointed out before, when used a lot, they lose their value--they become boring an unimaginative. Save the swearing for the few times it's really needed to make a strong point.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog. I'm your newest follower. And thanks for the vampire idea, I'm totally blogging about that next!

  6. I've always found swearing, for the most part, to limit the creativity of the dialogue in a novel (AND in real life). Then again, I only swear when I'm pretty angry (i.e., in the car when I'm alone), but I rarely swear in front of my husband even, and don't really think in constant swear words.

    I can't say it's off-putting when characters swear, but when f-bombs litter everyone's speech constantly, I start questioning whether any of them have minds at all. It makes characters run together for me, and that's not a good thing.

    Then again, having ONE character who can't seem to curb his/her swearing can be really funny. Especially if it's the protagonist's 72-year-old grandmother.