Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Bombs of the Alphabetical Variety

I'm trashing any normal schedule for this week as PSATs have screwed up school and even though I'm exempt (seniors!) they're bugging me.

Bad Language
*%$$ is how it normally appears in cartoons. In one horrible 80s mystery, the girl's mother said h--- all the time. No, really. H---. With dashes.
For the responsible teenager (and many of us are that), the whole writing-bad-language-in-your-fiction can be a bit of a dilemma. Adults have an even bigger problem with it. I was at one writers' group meeting when the mom-aged writers were complaining about the crudeness of YA fiction and how shocked they were to see the f-bomb in a novel for teens. I didn't say anything but I was thinking You are shocked because...?
Look. I don't condone cursing; it's a bad habit that I and my friends pick up (and try to control) because of culture, because we're pissed off, because we're immature, for whatever reason. But for me, swear words in literature and swear words in real life are different.
You are a writer. Writers imagine worlds and write their stories true to that world. The most mild-mannered British grandmother will unleash the coarsest of words, if she's writing about the Boston drug world, because that is what her characters will do. Do your characters make mistakes? (I hope they do, or your book will be really boring; see Elsie Dinsmore) Are there murderers in your books? Are there villains? Sure. Does that make you a villain? No. Though you might be.
I try to talk clean. My book opens with a beep-out word. How is this? I'm writing about the overachieving American high school crowd, the same group of people I see five days a week. And part of writing about them is being true to the way they speak, and they speak badly. If I had all my characters say Goshdarnit! every time they got stabbed in the back, this would be an unrealistic and boring book.
Banned Book Week (last week!) celebrates the fact that fiction often expresses an ugly side of life, scenarios or characters or words that are not age-appropriate and will never be age-appropriate, yet life is many times inappropriate. If you want to clean up the world, clean it: but let the writers-- and yourself-- depict the world as they hear it.
Goshdarnit, we are totally off track.


Anonymous said...

Haha. I wholly agree with you on this one. If you want an accurate portrayal, you need to use the real words. If you slam the car door on your finger, goshdarnit or ouch just aren't going to do! This isn't to say that I think swearing is a positive thing, but it's a part of our language that, as writers, we can't ignore.

Melody said...

I disagree. Fiction is a heighten reality. It doesn't have to be exactly like the real world. Writers should challenge themselves and their readers to use language better. Writers should find other ways to express the character. Plus when you read ecapism you aren't always looking for total realism. People were surprised because the content in YA has changed in a short amout of time.

Gabrielle said...

Hey, Melody-and-Snowflake!

Snowflake, thanks for droppin' by. I agree that swearing is not a good thing in our culture, but it's there and to ignore it completely in literature (as many adults want us to do in YA) is stupid.

Melody, thanks for coming over! Yes, writers should definitely challenge and improve their language, but as Shannon Hale has been blogging about at (although she's an author sans the lingo), writers don't write to improve people. That's curricula, not art.

Of course, of course there's a place for clean reads that are more escapist. We read for lots of reasons, and escapism is totally a cool one. But for writers looking to write about the real teen scene, I can't see a way around using the bad language without making bad art.