Thursday, November 20, 2008

Myths About YA (?)

Over on the Swivet, guest Courtney Summers blogs about some myths about YA.

Honestly, I don't know that these beliefs are common and I don't know that they are totally wrong, either.

For instance, to what degree can you swear in a YA novel? In any novel?

I find swearing, by which I mean the literal depiction of particular swear words, to be intrusive and to negatively affect my reading experience. Sure, most people swear, but most people poop, and most people pick their noses, and that's just to get started, eh? We don't generally show pooping in stories, at least not as much as we actually do, because it's pretty boring and icky. So is swearing.

The question is, what function does it perform in the story? I'm not really talking about an occasional "Damn", I'm talking pervasive f_ing foulmouthedness. Hollywood types think it makes their show "edgy", or gets them the coveted PG-13 rather than the PG the story would deserve without the gratuitous nastiness.

In any case, I'm not sure that anyone believes you can't get away with gratuitous swearing, sex, drugs etc in YA, since clearly there are books that do.

I'm also not sure that you actually can get away with them, since they are so easy to do wrong, and if you do do them wrong, your book will not sell to libraries and will die a sad, lonely death.

My suggestion - write an awesome story, where the characters are so frelling fascinating that the reader won't notice that they aren't shagging each other and vomiting meaningless epithets and imbibing mild organic poisons.

Do that, and don't worry about the myths - you'll become a legend.


Jill Wheeler said...

This is a complicated subject, and one I've thought a lot about. I am a high school teacher. Therefore, I understand the need for clean literature that you can give kids and feel good about. However, the artistic side of me feels like I need to be true to my characters. I'm not saying my characters drop the f bomb every other word. In fact, I've reserved the f word for one specific scene in my book, so I'm hoping that the fact that a character does use that word conveys the severity of the situation. In all honesty, kids swear. A lot. The kids outside my classroom talk like they're at a kegger. To write a YA book in which none of the teenagers swear is not really being realistic. Yes, everyone poops, but pooping isn't really essential to a story. Dialogue is. And to capture that dialogue accurately, you've got to really write what the characters would say, IMHO.

Dal Jeanis said...

Not really. There is no difference in the denotation between :

"F_", Rachel said.


Rachel swore.

just like there's no difference between:

Rachel went and took a sh_.


Rachel excused herself to the powder room.

Clearly, it's a voice and genre thing. Remember, we don't write to duplicate what people do in real life. We do it to simulate a real life, with the boring parts cut out. (In most genres also the icky parts are cut out, but in some just the icky parts are left.)

I think swearing is best omitted with the "boring" parts, unless you are trying for a gross-out. Remember, although you often hear foul-mouthed teens outside your class, you really don't know what percentage of the whole school is foul-mouthed. It might be 10%, it might be 50%.

It might be an interesting questions to ask three or four of your students privately. And to find out when they do their code-switching (Who do they clean up their mouth for?)

Jill Wheeler said...

In the instance above, I would agree that "swore" would work just as well with the actual swear word. But what if a rather rough character finds out that another character did something terrible to them? At a climactic point in the story, I want to capture exactly how that character reacts.

I know that not every kid swears, and I'm trying to portray that in my novel. There are some characters who do, and some who don't. I don't want to give the impression that I think it makes good writing to feature every teenager swearing up a storm. I know I'm a beginning writer, but it seems wrong to me somehow to water down the situations that kids have to deal with every day and the language that they actually use.