Swear Words in Young Adult Fiction

At the last few conferences I attended, people have been very interested in swear words in young adult fiction. Now, a brilliant writer I know said to me, when I asked him for guidance on this issue: “A swear word is just another word. It has to be a choice, just like every other word in your manuscript.”

swear words in young adult fiction, writing young adult fiction, ya fiction, swearing in children's books
Worried about swearing in children’s books? Keep this young adult away from your manuscript, because he’s about to drop some swear words…or not…

The Considerations of Swear Words in Young Adult Fiction

I completely agree. If you absolutely have to use a swear word in your manuscript, if there’s no other word it could be, then use it. You won’t get a squeamish look from me. (You may get an odd glance from a few people in my DFW Writers Conference audience, who apparently gasped when I dropped an f-bomb or two in response to this same question. What? The guy who dropped it first looked self-conscious, so I had to take some of the heat off of him!) You might also alienate yourself from certain libraries, school administrators, booksellers and editors who work for more clean-cut imprints and don’t publish edgy content, including swearing in children’s books. There will be parents who are too scared of their kids growing up, who are in denial of the words and ideas that fly around every middle and high school in every town in every country, too.

The thing is, kids are really good at figuring out what’s a good fit for them and what isn’t. If they are reading swear words in young adult and it makes them uncomfortable, they’ll skip that part or put the book down. The same goes for any other kind of edgy content. Parents, librarians, administrators and booksellers shouldn’t always presume to know exactly what kind of book is scandalous to what kind of teen reader.

Everyone Has Their Swear Word Limits

On a recent trip, I was getting really into a story, and dropped an f-bomb. Not loudly or rudely but, you know, sometimes I get carried away. The man in front of us, who was sitting with, no joke, a 17 or 18 year-old daughter, in a college sweatshirt, for Pete’s sake, turned around and hissed, “Can you please not say that? I’m traveling with a child!” He indicated his daughter with an angry nod of the head.

I can guarantee that his scowling teen was 500% more scandalized by being referred to as a “child” in public than she was by a word I said. Words only have power if you give it to them. (Of course, I shut my yap right after that. I may not have agreed with the guy but I’m not a jerk.)

Superfluous Swear Words

Speaking of which, there are certain times when I don’t think swear words in young adult fiction are necessary. If it’s every other word, that might be too much. If it’s peppered in to be hip or cool or edgy, then it will come across as forced. Some people circumvent the issue by creating their own colorful vocabulary. If the language is natural enough, this could work, but it mostly feels contrived to me. The important thing to remember is that nobody’s forcing you to do anything, it’s your manuscript. You can swear if you want to but, by the same token, if you don’t want to swear, you can write a clean manuscript and that’s just fine, too. There aren’t any hard and fast rules about swearing in children’s books.

Swear Words in Young Adult Writing Are Totally Up to You

If, though, as mentioned above, including swear words in young adult is a conscious choice, a careful choice, then there’s no problem with it. An editor or agent can always let you know if something is too much or not right. And if you do publish a book with any kind of content — like sex in young adult fiction — there will always be people who balk.

But you know what? Fuck ’em.


Come on. I had to.

Are you hitting the right young adult voice? Hire me to be your young adult editor.

ETA: WOW! Clearly, this is a very passionate issue. Lest anybody here thought that swearing in children’s books was settled, let them come and read the comments. The use of a swear word or an opinion about swearing, one way or another, has caused certain readers to lose their respect for me. It has caused other readers to gain it. This is powerful, powerful stuff.

My favorite part of keeping this blog and of teaching writers is ALWAYS how much I learn about my own subject matter in the process. In throwing up this post — and its intentionally cheeky last few lines — I’ve had so many new thoughts on the issue of swearing in YA. I’ve delved a lot deeper into this issue in my head. Watch out for another post about swearing in YA on Friday.

Lastly, as one reader pointed out, and to repeat the obvious, this is about swearing in YA fiction. The same rules do not apply for MG at ALL. (I would highly recommend NOT swearing in MG.) Thank you all for the food for thought!

115 Replies to “Swear Words in Young Adult Fiction”

  1. Great post.

    I struggled with this for a long time early on. I got some advice from a writer friend, early in my writing, that rang home.

    If it fits your character–and your character would swear, then use it….sparingly.

    I had been reading a section of one of my novels out loud for critique, and my character said “crap.”

    My mentor-friend said, “Okay, Lynn. Would Shelby REALLY say crap?”

    I was like, “Um…Yes?”

    He shook his head. That’s when he shared with me that my dialogue must match the character . . . and my character was HARSH with a capital H in the beginning (druggie and drunk, too.)

    Made sense to me. So, yeah, I changed it…but I’m not saying to what. . . LOL

  2. KinDallas says:

    I loved the F-bomb in conference…like you said, it’s how teens talk, shocked adults in the room or not. If a teen is in a highly charged situation, chances are very good that they’ll swear. If it’s honest to the character and true to the moment in the book, then I say be honest with the language. I work with teens — their language isn’t all that genteel.

    The pitfall to avoid is repitition. Use it too much and it gets old, like any other fave word or phrase. Swear when it has impact…otherwise, be more creative.

  3. Someone once said that swear words ares used by those who lack the imagination and vocabulary to express themselves otherwise. I think this is a great rule of thumb for writers.

    Most of the time, another–nay, better–word can be used. However, sometimes our characters are ripe for a good, old-fashioned curse word.

    It all depends on the character, the story, the audience and the flow.

    Thanks again for another great post!

  4. Shari Maser says:


    Hear, hear!

    My thirteen-year-old daughter (and her English teacher) would agree with you. Gratuitous anything (language, sex, violence) will not hold a teenager’s interest, but anything that is anchored in honesty has the power to touch his/her heart and mind.

    Teens want to experience the world, and reading books with believable characters allows them to explore things they might not feel safe exploring in person.

  5. Cat — A fantastic quote to remember, yes! But this does go back to the choice issue. It is always so important to remember that every word is a choice, whether it’s a swear word or a word that demands more “imagination and vocabulary.” 🙂

  6. Gayle Forman (author of If I Stay) touched on this topic on her blog. She was surprised about how up-in-arms people were over the use of foul language — and really didn’t take issue with the sex in the book. I thought her insights were pretty interesting. Here’s the link to her blog on this topic: http://www.gayleforman.com/blog/2010/03/22/what-the/

  7. Mary

    THANK YOU! Love this post and totally agree.

    I’ve heard a number of mg and ya writers express very passionate arguments against using any sort of profanity. I respect their opinion for their own writing and life, but I fall short on respecting the judgment that sometimes gets foisted onto people who don’t agree.

    And lines like this annoy me (I’ve read this particular phrase almost verbatim elsewhere, Cat, so please don’t think I’m picking on you, I actually agree with your comment as a whole):

    “…swear words ares used by those who lack the imagination and vocabulary to express themselves otherwise.”

    I have a great imagination, my vocabulary is excellent, and I’ve been known to swear like a truck driver. And let’s be honest here, if you go out into the world and really pay attention to people, you’ll find people in every walk of life, from every socio-economic background, who on occasion let a curse word pass their lips.

    And if you think you can’t use a curse word creatively, you need to hang out with a more colorful crowd, if only for great fiction writing research 🙂

  8. Some people circumvent the issue by creating their own colorful vocabulary that’s supposed to stand in for swearing. If the language is natural enough, this could work, but it mostly feels contrived to me.

    Uh oh… 🙂

    Also, the word you said was –Fuckity Fuck. I only remember this because it’s my new catch phrase in life.

  9. Kathryn Roberts says:

    Seriously Mary, (seriously) my respect for you just dropped about five points. I think swearing in any book is completely weak. Can’t we come up with better words to use?

    And NO, it shouldn’t be ‘shocking’ that parents don’t like swear words, of course they aren’t going to want their kids using/hearing/reading them. I AM a parent and it just shows so much lack of respect for the people around you and a lack of inteligence.

    Yes, I know kids use it. Yes, it is common, and I’m sorry to step up on my soap box here (sort of), but it ISN’T neccessary…EVER. You can make your characters come across just as crass by their actions, if they need to be that way.

    What’s wrong with being role models as well as super-cool-awesome-writers?

    1. Swear words are literally just words, you’re only giving them power. My mother realized this, and I’ve been swearing around her since I was 16. I find them completely necessary, and as a person with an IQ of 116 that’s currently writing a book of my own, I’d like to point out that your statement about it showing a lack of intelligence to be completely untrue, as I often swear like a sailor. I think swearing shows passion and personality and a want to not be a mindless follower. Truly, what reason can you give me that proves they are “bad” that doesn’t involve giving meaningless words power?

    2. Tessa Morningway says:

      Swear words are just words, sure parents might not like their kids swearing but lets be honest, have you ever met an adult or a teenager that doesn’t let loose a curse at least once in a while.
      Lots of characters personalities match with them swearing a lot even if they aren’t a bad person. My parents swore all the time when I was a kid. They taught that they are just words.
      It CAN be necessary. For a line where a character has to be expressing anger, if they burned their food you wouldn’t be hearing, “Dang it what the flippy flop did I do?” you would be hearing, “SHIT SHIT SHIT SHIT!” as they desperately try to save the food.
      You can be a role model and a super-cool-awesome writer, and still use fucking swear words. And if you are teaching your children that it shows lack of intelligence and creativity, you are the one with the lack of intelligence.

      1. Mary Kole says:

        Love this comment! Obviously, this post was controversial with some people since it was put up, but one of my big pet peeves is treating kids with, well, kid gloves. A swear word is, unfortunately, far from the worst thing that most human beings will experience in their lives. To act like swearing and conflict and strong emotions don’t exist, to write picture books where the bully has a 10000000% change of heart and is now everyone’s best friend … this does a great disservice to kids of all ages who are much smarter than most sheltering-type adults give them credit for.

  10. Thank you for this post. I couldn’t agree more. Swear words are, after all, just words. I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one to drop the F-bomb now and again.

  11. I’d bet the most of the raised eyebrows in your session came from the conference attendees who are not members of DFW Workshop. We’re a first amendment crowd–there’s always lots of colorful language in our readings.

    And don’t even get me started on that whole “reading level” vocabulary debate. Gah! I just want my students to find a book they love.

    AMEN to kids knowing what they can and cannot handle. And your words on contrived euphemisms ring true. I’m SO GUILTY on that. I need to worry less about what my mom/Grandma/great aunt thinks about profanity and more about what my characters would *really* say.

    Thanks for the great *$#@&@! advice, Mary. 😉

  12. Kathryn,

    “Can’t we come up with better words to use?”

    Absolutely. Across the board, every writer CAN come up with different words, but the question to ask yourself is whether the words you’re using are true to your character, or are they author intrusion and sensibility?

    Your answer to that question might be different than mine. It’s one of the best things about literature and art, the diversity of thought and idea and the ways in which we choose to convey it.

    And as a general rule, insulting peoples’ intelligence doesn’t bring them around to understanding your point of view.

  13. This is probably the most cogent analysis of swearing in YA that I’ve seen in a long time. Kudos! Ultimately, we’re writing books for teens that we hope they’ll be able to relate to. Leaving out profanity for propriety’s sake demeans the readers we’re trying to reach. Swearing shouldn’t be gratuitous–unless, of course, the character is a huge potty mouth–but it’s a fact that teens swear and thus YA should reflect that.

    Awesome post!

  14. To Kathryn:

    Seriously? You think using bad words in a book makes an author a bad role model? I just think it makes the story real.

    Sure you can get clever and come up with a better word, but we’re writing in the voice of teens here, the last thing they’re doing is trying to avoid bad words. Most kids are experimenting with them–the way they sound when they say them out loud–the different ways they can combine them, etc. If we ignore that, and think it makes us a better role model, then we’re no better than the crazies who pretend kids aren’t having sex. (Okay, we’re a little better, but only because bad words don’t make babies)

    I AM a parent as well, and I completely disagree with you– keep the characters true to the story, different people have different preferances for dirty words in real life, why shouldn’t they in a book?

    Acting like something isn’t happening doesn’t make us better role models, in fact, it’s quite the opposite.

  15. Ha! Love it! You have to write what fits your characters and book. Plus teens actually talk like that at times (not saying I know from experience…okay maybe a little).

  16. Kathryn: While I respect your personal stance on profanity, I have to disagree with your view that profanity is never necessary.

    First of all, they’re only words. They have power only because we give them power. I think, it’s not the words people are offended by, but the meanings they carry. If you banned all profanity, people would simply come up with new ways to swear. By making such words taboo, their power is only increased. When you make them common, they become nothing. That said, my mom always used to tell me that profanity was a tool of the simple. People reached for curse words because they couldn’t think of anything better. And I agree.

    Secondly, writers aren’t role models. Yes, YA authors have a certain responsibility to their audience. However, a YA author’s first and primary responsibility is to be honest. The world is a dark, harsh place. I grew up in a nice, upper middle class neighborhood, went to a good school, and still ran into the types of things you find offensive. When I write, I have a responsibility to honestly portray my characters and their experiences. If I were writing about a drunk character at a party, it would be a lie if he never cursed. What’s the worse sin: the profanity or lying to the audience?

    Now, that’s not to say that all books should be profane. Kay Cassidy wrote a fantastic book called THE CINDERELLA SOCIETY that is uplifting and empowering. She created characters who naturally fit the mold that you’re looking for. But not all books can be that, nor should they.

    Like I said, I respect your opinion. If you feel that way, then by all means, don’t let your children read books with profanity. But to think that the rest of the world should be restricted in the same way is a little naive.

  17. After reading this post, the only thought that entered my head was… you’re awesome. I’ve been trying to make this very same point to my co-author. Thanks 🙂

  18. Jamie. . . “bad words don’t make babies”. . . only one does, if it is used as a verb and not an adjective! LOL!

  19. Kathryn and I have already talked about this, as she read a piece of mine where the character said “What the fuck happened?” (Sorry Mary – I’ve besmirched your blog with an F-bomb!)

    I can empathize with Kathryn’s position, and in some ways it is a chicken or the egg things – do kids swear because they read it so much, or would kids swear regardless? I don’t think it’s a natural inclination, after all teenagers largely emulate the world they live in. That being said, if I’m writing a book about a kid from the streets who has a drug habit but changes his life around and becomes a superhero or something, you can bet in the beginning I’m NOT gonna have him say “What the heck just happened you stupid idiot?” It’s just not real, and any kid trying to “relate” to that voice and that character, as all readers do, is just gonna put the book down saying “man, this ain’t real”.

    I know there are fantasy books out there that have done extremely well without cuss words (Harry Potter, right Kathryn?) but they’re fantasy for a reason – and you can get away with that because it’s not grounded in reality (although, Ron does say “bloody” a lot, which would have British mothers up in arms just as much – it is a British cuss word.) However, when writing real situations, the dialogue absolutely has to match the character, their environment, and the reality of the situation. Otherwise it’s just forced.

    Mary – I agree with you 100%, and am glad you took on this very controversial topic. Kathryn and others, keep writing and keep yourselves optimistic that you can change the world with your words. I wish you the best of luck!

  20. Thanks for laying the point to rest for me. I’ve a WIP with a lot of cussing (in Spanish) … and have been wondering whether I should delete it. Thanks to you it stays.

  21. Oh, and by the way – never EVER in Middle Grade. A no brainer, I know, but I had the word ‘whore’ in my book in a perfectly natural point said by an older man, and my son had a conniption. “YOU CAN’T SAY WHORE!” So I took it out. Gotta think of the teachers reading it out loud!


  22. A couple of places I tried to avoid harder swearing in my WiP (already had the PG-13 bullshits, but once you go over 2 F’s, well, you start thinking about what your damn Mormon brother’s gonna think), but it just didn’t feel right, so I had to go w/ my gut. Great post.

  23. “Can’t we come up with better words to use?” Therein lies the rub. Swearing is powerful because we let it be. Therefore, there are are NO BETTER WORDS. When what you want to say to someone is “Fuck you,” there is simply no substitute. The F-word is a powerful word. Like a magic spell in the dark ages, forking the fingers in Siciliy, or saying “I love you.” There is no other word that will convey the depth of anger, frustration or a wounded ego than “Fuck.”

    My mother, a word snob if ever there was one, is fond of saying “English is the most precise language in the word. Please use the correct word to express what you are trying to say.” Sometimes, what I’m trying to say is “This is shit,” “Dammit!” or “Fuck yeah!” Those are the most precise words to express that sentiment.

    If the situation deserves an F-bomb, I expect it to be dropped as surely as I’d expect the L-word to be dropped at the right moment.

    You don’t have to agree, but don’t ever suggest that swearing is for the less intelligent. I am well-educated, employed, a parent, a moral person, a graduate of 13 years of religious eduction, a lover of literature and occasionally, I swear like a sailor. I’ve been doing it since I learned the power of the words, and I can’t see an end in sight.

    Thanks for a wonderful summary and for sparking a healthy debate, Mary. My respect for you just went up at least 5 points 😉

    – Liz

  24. Mary, you know how sometimes people say something (or write something) that makes you like them more? I liked you more at the moment I read, “Fuck ’em.” That’s the first time that particular sentence has ever made me feel all friendly.

    (I already liked you and your blog, of course.)

  25. KinDallas says:

    “…My mother, a word snob if ever there was one, is fond of saying “English is the most precise language in the word. Please use the correct word to express what you are trying to say.” Sometimes, what I’m trying to say is “This is shit,” “Dammit!” or “Fuck yeah!” Those are the most precise words to express that sentiment….”

    Liz — LOL, no truer words ever spoken. This is a controversial topic, but I still stick by the “honesty in the story” mantra. A 16 yo guy isn’t going to say “well, glory be” when someone runs over his foot. He’s going to say “Holy Fuck!”

    Or as my favorite style manual says: there’s nothing wrong with profanity in novels, just makes sure it has punch. To do that, make sure it’s the only one in the whole fucking book.

    (paraphrased from “Self Editing for Fiction Writers” by Browne and King)

  26. This is an issue I’ve struggled with. Stay true to a character, or stay true to my own vocabulary. I remember once calling someone a (crass euphemism for a part of the male anatomy) when I was about, oh, nine or ten, and I felt completely AWFUL within about one-point-three seconds. I can honestly that’s the worst word I’ve ever used:)

    In the end, Mary, you’re right: Every element of a manuscript should be a conscious choice. Every word, every character reaction, every scene should be something you’ve thought about and decided on. Whether those words include swear words is up to you. Personally, I would hate to use a word in a book and then have a friend – or my mother-in-law – tell me later, “You know, I let my son or daughter read this because you wrote it and I figured it would be safe. And then there was that word.” Or that scene. Or that anything that I couldn’t stand by personally.

  27. I love this post Mary! And I think what that writer said to you is key — it’s a matter of choosing the best word to make your work strong. For me, word choice (whether foul or not) is about staying true to the character and the situation that character is facing. I don’t see any sense in sugar-coating or bubble-wrapping the world for teens. They see right through that and are much smarter than I think some opponents give them credit for.

    I also agree that too much loses the effect. And really, the same rule should apply. Redundancy is never a good whether it’s the f-word used fifty times in one chapter or a sunshine-and-puppy-dog kind of word used over and over. 🙂

    Thanks for giving us your thoughts on this subject!

  28. Krista,

    I agree with you there–while I think it’s important to stay true to my characters and to the voice and plot of my story– I also don’t want to be embarrassed by my writing if my grandma reads it.

    As authors we all have to draw a line somewhere in our stories, and then it’s up to us personally to choose if we want to cross it or not. While I don’t think using bad words makes me a dumber person, I can respect that some authors don’t use them in their work. That’s the beauty of writing: it’s YOUR manuscript and you get to decide how the characters talk and act.

    For me, it’s a matter of not writing characters that would cross my ‘line’ into my book. But, it’s a personal choice, and I don’t have a problem with anyone else crossing MY line in their book… I’ll still read what they wrote.

  29. Dito to Liz all the way!

    Mary thanks for this post. You are brave, professional, and one amazing soul to have created this site for writers. You have been an inspiration for so many. Thank you!

  30. Almost peed me pants at the last line! Seriously! LOL.

    Fact is, teens swear (have to tell mine to tone it down when he does…that’s my job). But if you leave this aspect out of your YA manuscript, there’s almost a tension at the points where your characters would most likely drop some bombers…if they don’t do it.

    And overdoing it is just as uncomfortable.

    However, some characters wouldn’t swear. Ever. Which is okay if that’s their personality.

    Terrific post, Mary. Gotta love controversy. 😉

  31. Elan Cross says:

    I know I’m not a teenager anymore. Not by a long . . . er, I mean, it’s been two or three years. Whenever I come across a swear word in a great book, it, for a moment, jars me right out of the narrative. It’s not that I have a problem with swearing, just that I personally have an iron filter. (I’m the language police in my house, with a child just at the age where he repeats the words that get the biggest reaction.)
    However, once or twice, I have read a book in which a character drops an F bomb, and it’s perfect. This is when the author has so skillfully brought me to a place, to an emotional state, that the choice of language is exactly what I would have used.
    I think readers, including teens, can tell the difference between a very conscious word choice, and ‘edgy’ writing.
    Thanks for this, Mary:)

  32. Okay, so I obviously stirred up a hornets nest with this one. I have a bad habit of speaking before I really think about what I’m about to say. No, I am not backing down from my poit of view, not at all. BUT I never intended to mean that I thought all of you who agree with Mary (or Mary herself) were incompetent wooses.

    The fact is, several times people have said (not just on this site) that swear words ‘Don’t Mean Anything’. If that is true than WHY do they create shock value??? I, personally, have decided (and I admit I have struggled over wether or not to use swear words in my MS) never to put characters in my story that would be in a position to need to swear. Like Krista and Jamie stated, I, too, would feel uncomfortable having people I look up to read my book, or have others with a similar stance on swearing read my book. (They just said it better than I did…NON-hotheads, like me =)

    Though I in no way agree with the ‘need’ to swear in books, I just didn’t want to offend anyone. I still think you are all a great crowd to ‘hang’ with.

    And as for the comment Kevin made earlier ‘what came first…’ I definitely think that kids swear MORE because of what they hear in movies. OF COURSE they are going to copy their favorite characters wether in movies or books.

    So, sorry, you’ve all had enough of me for a really really really long time =)

    Seriously! I LOVE YA!

  33. My smartass question of the day: Are swear words like adverbs?

  34. Melissa Gill says:

    Wow! what a great can of worms.

    If you’re in dialogue, the only thing that matters is the imagination and vocabulary of your character. Some of the best characters in literature didn’t have a lot of either. Could we find other words? Sure, but could your character, depends on who he/she is. You have to be true to your character.

    By the way, can my MG character say “that sucks” ?

  35. Sometimes you just have to tell it like it is, esp. in YA. Kids have their bullshit meter set so high, that they’ll notice when you’re tiptoeing around. I personally hate when writers ‘make up’ swear words to get around this issue. When I read them, my inner teen starts with the eye rolling and often puts the book down.

    Interestingly, I don’t have a lot of swearing in my book (I just did a search, and ‘crap’ seems to be my character’s go-to phrase), but the only word I was asked to reconsider was ‘Christ’.

  36. Kathryn — Please don’t stop commenting! Thank you so much for coming in on one end of the discussion, even if it’s not the most popular end. This is an issue that has so many levels, it’s making my head spin.

    Bane — If you have too many of them, yes. If you have too much of anything, it’s problematic.

    CJ — PREACH IT about the bullshit meter. That’s a point I always make in my talks.

    Melissa — “Suck” has gotten a lot of pushback in MG manuscripts from editors in my experience. That’s literally where “the line” is for MG.

  37. I just came back to see where this had gone, and I would like to applaud the responders for keeping things very civil. I love it when it a bunch of intellectuals put on their debating hats.

    cj, it’s funny you say that. I just had a crit partner question my use of “Jesus” after breezing through several dozen mild oaths like crap and dammit. Just goes to show everyone has a personal line they will and will not cross. Mine just happens to be past pretty much all the buzz words- hee hee!

    – Liz

  38. Liz and all — Very good point, and I was meaning to bring this up. Everyone is so frightfully pleasant! From my experience running the workshops here on the blog to this discussion, which could’ve easily turned very mean, very quick, I am just delighted by how calmly people are talking about this issue, and with what good humor, overall.

    I have the best readers on the Internet, quite seriously.

  39. When I became a mother, I stifled my use of the f word and many others.

    Flash forward 13 years:
    My daughter has a vampire obsession. I love to support new, non-blockbuster authors. I buy her a vamp book billed as YA (Canadian author). I live in Dallas. Find out from daughter it’s full of f bombs. She drops it in a fight with her little brother a few days later. See, teens emulate other, particulalry older kids & perceived as cooler kids. I”m sure as HELL not buying her anymore books with that word in it. If she likes books, we usually buy them for her friends’ birthdays, but not that one- sorry struggling author.

    I sure wish “cooler”meant those with nice manners and good vocabulary. F*ck is really a very ugly word. As is the origin of “you suck.” When you read Austen don’t you just drool over Elizabeth and Darcy’s use of language? It’s easy to say f*ck and suck. It takes some thought to say something biting or funny without them.

  40. Oh boy, hefty stuff. I will tolerate profanity in literature when it rings true. You can write whatever you want but it should be the truth, and sometimes, the F-word slipping of the tongue is the cold hard truth.

    That said, I hate the F-word. Really, really, really. It’s ugly. It’s not uplifting, beautiful, or praiseworthy. I will always hate that word and all cuss words, and I think we would do well to never use them in our every-day speech. But if ugly words didn’t exist, then perhaps what I consider to be beautiful words would not be so lovely and make me feel so good.

    I haven’t read very many books where I thought all the profanity was necessary. Particularly in YA it seems more like shock-value, petty devices to try to connect to a certain audience, instead of worthy tools.

    I would say FEED by M.T. Anderson, (which says the F-word and every other cuss word probably more than any book I’ve ever read,) is the only YA book I’ve read where profanity was totally necessary every time it was used, where no other words could have held the same meaning or portrayed the same message. And still, I could almost feel the disdain with which he penned the word, time after time.

    Maybe Anderson likes those words and maybe he doesn’t, but that isn’t really the point. He told the truth. And the truth should be the aim of all writers, whether we’re penning things beautiful or ugly.

    As for our everyday speech: Words are not just words. We are not characters on pages. As live human beings our words are powerful, and yes because we give it to them, but that should not be an excuse to say anything we feel. It should be the reason we are careful about what we say, because whatever we say is a reflection of our thoughts and who we choose to be. We have more control over these things than most people like to believe. I know that’s not the core topic here, but I feel strongly about that one.

  41. Great post Mary. Obviously a sensitve issue for many. And you have to wonder then, where to draw that line. What about drug use in books, or being sexually active. I would think a few curse words might not be so worrisome when faced with characters who have on-going drug use.

    I agree with you as far as keeping content in mind and with Lynn (your first commenter) on making dialogue that pairs up to your character.
    Very thought provoking post. 🙂

  42. I think, like many other have stated, there is a time and place. If it fits the story then fine. I tell my kids not to curse. Yes, they see fuck scribbled on stuff or said by other kids. I tell them they know right and wrong and if I catch them dropping the F-BOMB they will be in trouble. The point being you can’t keep them from hearing or seeing it. It is just a word but if they tell their teacher to F-OFF there will be consequences. It’s in their hands :).

    I was doing rhymes with my daughter for homework and I asked her to rhyme with truck and she said the F-word. She didn’t say Fuck – she actually said the F word. I had to hide my laugh. I asked how she knew it rhymed and she innocently replied I saw it scribbled on the wall of the bus. Hee – hee. I told her it did indeed rhyme but she needed to find a new word because it’s not kosher to use that one around other students or teachers and that was that.

    By the way I am a member of this fan club on Facebook…

    Intelligent, classy, well-educated women who say “F*ck” a lot

    I joined it before I saw this thread. I think a few of you may be interested!

  43. I think Kathryn is brave to give a differing opinion on this subject, especially an unpopular one. Personally, I don’t mind some of the milder swear words too much if used infrequently, but the f-bomb is one I try to avoid for myself and my kids, so I would choose to not to read or buy books that use it.

  44. I think the best rule for swearing in any writing is to use it sparingly. An agent whose blog I read now and then said that the biggest problem with profanity is that it just becomes repetitive. It’s not about offending people, it’s about boring them. It’s the same with phrases that get over-used.

    If you don’t believe me, try reading a book where the “f” word is used three times per paragraph. It just gets old.

  45. I think that swearing can either help or hurt a story. While it is true that some middle/high schoolers do swear, swearing can be offensive at times. My general opinion about swearing is that it means you are too lazy or stupid to find a better word to express your feelings.

    And I guess if swearing is part of your character’s nature, it can add to the story.

    So, it’s sort of a matter of purpose of the word, like you said, Mary.

    Helpful post, as usual!

  46. Mary – Thank you for writing the clarification that swearing is not acceptable for MG. I am leaning more towards the camp of – swearing is almost always unnecessary. I also agree with Elan’s about the difference between a conscious choice and “edgy” writing. I really enjoy reading your blog. Words are indeed powerful.

  47. Erica Olson says:

    I read a blog post about this a few weeks ago and have thought a lot about it since then. In short, here’s what I’ve come up with: I rarely swear, but let one slip out when the need arises (never in front of children, my grandparents, or at work). I expect my characters to act the same way and I would have a hard time making it sound natural otherwise. Every author, just as every book and every reader, will be different. Thank God.

  48. People DO get passionate about this topic. Along with drugs, sex, etc. in kid literature.

    I just posted about a local article here in FL. A woman is trying to get ALL Lake county public libraries to put warning labels on any MG or YA books with “vulgar” content.

    I’ve never had so many passionate, long, and opinionated comments.

    You still have my respect. And I cracked up at the “fuck ’em” ending.
    Great example of how sometimes bad words give writing funny flavor.

    Karen’s Blog

  49. I don’t think profanity has a place in YA literature. The biggest excuse I hear to include profanity in writing is, “But my character would say that!” Yeah, but you don’t have to write down everything your character says. I think a lot of writers use profanity either out of habit or as a crutch. It’s the easy way to characterize or show emotion. If you’re a good author, I think you can manage to convey your truth without resorting to cursing. I think it holds true for adult literature, as well as YA, but I think it is especially important in YA. In choosing a YA book, you assume that you’re not going to be assaulted by offensive language. To me, if you find it in YA lit, it’s like a bait and switch. Not cool. Do you really think the Twilight and Hunger Games series would have been better if there were a few F-bombs sprinkled in?

  50. I do believe in authenticity. After reading the Newbery winner this year, with at least a couple dozen swear words, I was still comfortable letting my 10 yr old daughter read it. If it would’ve dropped the F-bomb, I would’ve thought twice about it at her age (but then I doubt it would’ve won the Newbery!) 🙂

    But to me it seems that novels that have *excessive* curse words use them as a crutch (YA or Adult). Having your character say “Damn it!” is a lot easier than thinking up a better way for them to express how they’re feeling. A lot harder!

    In THE HUNGER GAMES & CATCHING FIRE, Suzanne Collins used “hell” – in the location sense – only one time in each book. I noticed because her lack of curse words stood out to me from the beginning.

    So I figured if SC can write two intense novels about KILLING and incredibly terrifying situations, and not curse, then I should take it as a challenge to also use better word choices to describe how my characters feel.

    I’m certainly not turned off by curse words, but the excess of them often results in me feeling like the writing is rather weak – or as Mary said, the swearing comes across as forced.

  51. This is a very informative discussion. Thanks for posting about this, Mary, and allowing us to voice our thoughts.

    I don’t use the F-word or other foul language in my every day conversations. I don’t use it at all if I can help it. I admit to a damn or hell now and then when I get really angry (yes, that’s as far as my “really angry” speach goes), but as a general rule, I don’t like hearing foul language or reading it in fiction.

    Does this mean I’ll stop reading if I come across a curse word or two in a book? No. Nor does it mean I can’t be friends with someone who uses offensive language.

    Just because I don’t use it, doesn’t mean other people can’t. It’s not up to me to put words into other people’s mouths (real people, not characters) or take words away, for that matter.

    I can’t even say I won’t ever use curse words when I write (I’ve been really angry when I write and may have cursed, but I’m referring more to writing it in the actual MS). I’d like to think I wouldn’t write a curse word, but I can’t be sure I won’t someday be writing a character who uses foul language.

    That being said, I’m the first to admit I’m a prude with double standards when it comes to this issue. While I read fiction with curse words in it, I won’t pass them on to my teenage son for him to read. Nor do I give him books to read with too much sexual content.

    I’m picky and tend to monitor what my children read, watch, and play. Why do I do this? I don’t even know. When it comes right down to it, teenaged son probably hears more foul language from his classmates than he’d find in the pages of some of the books I don’t pass on to him. Still, I don’t want to expose him to it more than necessary. And guess what? As a parent, that’s my right . . . but it’s not my right to tell anyone else what their children can read, watch, or play.

    And by the same token, it is not my right to tell other writers what they should or shouldn’t put in their writing. If you choose to have curse words in your MS, that’s your business. I’ll probably even read it (if it’s not every other word), but don’t be offended if I don’t pass it on to my friends and family.

    It’s not you, it’s me. 😉

  52. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because my own y/a novel is probably riddled with words that are considered swear words in other places. I’m Irish – words like crap, damn, hell, bloody, etc. are most definitely not curse words here. They have absolutely no impact or shock value. I’ve considered that using these words and mild Irish swear words might alienate some readers but I feel I have to remain true to the characters. I’ve never heard a teenager say heck so it is never going to appear in any of my dialogue, for example.

    As a mother, I might not want my children to say fuck after every word but I know that they will curse and that there are plenty of worse things they could be doing too. I hate the idea of censoring writing so much that we can’t write about things that teenagers really do for fear of offending someone. I don’t think it is healthy to have so many taboo subjects, sex, drugs, underage drinking, swearing – not writing about it won’t make it stop happening.

  53. Julie Hall says:

    It’s all about context and character. Can you imagine CATCHER IN THE RYE without cursing?

    The language was absolutely necessary to the character. It revealed something that America had been afraid to acknowledge up to that point—that being a teenager is painful, frightening, confusing, fraught with insecurity and angst—and in doing so, it changed the world for teenagers.

    I think it just comes down to authenticity. If you do what’s right for the story, it will be right for the reader.

  54. I write for a younger age group–the worst my characters say is “Oh, poop.” I don’t have a problem with swearing in books or movies for YA and up. Sometimes a particular word is the only one that will do. But it should be used judiciously; it loses its impact if overused. I admire those who swear fluently–not a skill I possess! Great post, and how awesome to see such a civil discussion about a controversial topic!

  55. Ha! That is hilarious!I work at a high school and I cannot walk the hallways without hearing teens say fuck or any of its variations (fucker, motherfucker, fucking fucker, etc.) all flipping day long.

    I hope I have not offended anyone with this post. Just a word right?

  56. Kathryn Roberts- i admire you for being bold enough to stand up for your opinion, even though it seemed like a minority here. Go girl. I love people that speak their mind. Especially when they do it creatively (not using the same swear words every one else does-ha.)

    Mary- thanks for always facilitating real discussions and being fair to both sides. That’s admirable, too.

  57. Melissa Gill says:


    Thanks for your answer on suck in MG. Sorry it took me so long to get back to this. I guess I just have to say fooey to that!

  58. Estee Wood says:

    I’m not a fan of the saying “be true to the character.” I think on an issue like this it’s more important to be true to your audience. If I wrote, “Rachel was a typical teenager,” no one would have any idea what Rachel is like, because there is no typical teenager. Just because something is YA doesn’t mean it’s aimed at the same audience. There are kids that love to push the limits — who want books that are edgy and real. There are other kids that are sick of being bombarded by swear words everyday at school, and don’t want to read curse words. So as I writer, I know what kind of kids I want to appeal to — and the character’s language and actions naturally go in that direction. Like Mary said, kids find the books that are a good fit for them. There’s room in YA for all of us!

  59. I’m a self-confessed conservative Christian mum who also happens to be a writer. I don’t swear in real life, no matter how upset I get. I just never got into the habit when I was young and don’t feel the need to add particular words to my vocab now. When I stub my toe I say, “Ouch!” It works just as well for me. Am I aware that kids swear all the time? Of course I am. I was a middle-school teacher for many years and could come up with an alphabetised list if asked. Do I think it’s necessary? No, I don’t.

    My issue with swearing is not that writers choose to swear in their work but that those of us who don’t are often branded as out-of-touch or old-fashioned or stranglers of free expression. Mary, you have tried to provide a balanced view of the situation but the comments clearly show that most people still feel like there is some sort of authenticity lacking in work that doesn’t include swearing.

    As for the argument, “they’re only words,” to me that just doesn’t cut the mustard. Words are powerful, evocative and potentially damaging. Wars have been fought over words and hurts have been inflicted with words. If we didn’t think words were powerful, we wouldn’t be writers.

    Because of my personal value system, I will be guiding the reading choices of my children. That doesn’t mean I will necessarily be banning books that I have issue with (although I might too – it will depend on content and their age), but rather we’ll be tackling those books together and exploring them through our family’s values and faith framework. I know that my children will probably swear as they get older at some time or another, however I make no apology for the fact it will never be acceptable in our home.

    As a parent, I have the right to make choices on behalf of my children. Just as I make them eat their vegetables at dinner when they’d rather have chocolate, I will be making all sorts of decisions based on what I think is best for my kids in terms of TV programs, movies and books. As they get older, there will no doubt be some to-ing and fro-ing as they begin to navigate the world on their own and develop their own value system independent of our family’s. There is a time when I will have to let go, but believe me that’s a loooooong way away!

    As a writer, I have exactly the same right. I get to choose how my characters talk and interact and because of the strong position in my own life on swearing, I sincerely doubt there will ever be swearing in one of my books. That doesn’t make me any less of a writer than someone who chooses to incorporate swearing into their work.

    For me it really comes down to an old-fashioned piece of advice: whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. That doesn’t mean that I pretend the dark side of life doesn’t exist, but that even when I’m addressing the dark side of humanity in my writing I do so from a position of hope and purity.

    I make my own reading selections based on that premise so of course I’m going to be encouraging (and actively promoting) that my children do the same.

    Thanks for opening up the discussion on this one, Mary. It really does come down to a case of, ‘Each to their own.’

  60. So funny! I love it! I (unfortunately) have to watch my mouth because I have a 4 year old and a 2 year old who repeat EVERYTHING.

    My characters do swear, but only when the situation warrants it. And usually not f-bombs. Shit, Damn, Hell…those are their favorites.

    Now for a serious question…who is Bongo?

  61. I think swearing does have a place in YA lit, b/c swearing most certainly has a place in YA life. Authenticity is key. Too much = forced. Some of your characters won’t swear b/c that’s not their MO, but if you’re writing a teen issues book about violence, sex, drugs, or rock n’ roll, no swearing is going to make your characters come off as juvenile and your reader won’t relate.

    The best example of creating your own vocabulary, or avoiding swearing with style that I’ve read recently is in Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking series – it’s mostly internal monologue, and the character says “effing” all the time, then occasionally follows it up with (but I didn’t say “eff,” you know). It’s done often enough to get the point across, but not so much that it becomes tiring. Beautifully done. Not a swear word in the whole book, but it comes off gritty!

  62. Hehehe…great post, Mary. Especially the ending. My YA books have “minor” swearing where it’s needed, but it’s nice to see the stand you take on it. I’m right there with you!


  63. Wow – these are TEENS we’re writing about! My current MC is an 18yo boy and I can’t imagine writing this story from his POV without at least the occasional f-bomb. I critiqued some chapters at a conference once where the person had made every swear word into “****” which was SO distracting, and I thought, condescending to the reader.

    FABULOUS topic as always, Mary! 🙂

  64. In the MS that I’m trying to get out there, the MC (a 17 year old girl) does swear. Most of the adults don’t, her best friend doesn’t, but the MC does everything but drop the f-bomb. I made this decision early on because when I was hearing this character’s voice in my head, it came with a lot of flip phrases like “You’re such a pain in my ass.” She’s raised in kind-of a commune where there are very strict rules that she just can’t break. It felt like her language would be a form of her rebellion.

    And the adult characters don’t let her get away with it. When ever she does it in front of one of them, she’s always reprimanded.

    If an agent or an editor told me that before they would touch my MS the language would have to come out, I would find a way to do that. But so far, in the comments I’ve gotten, the language hasn’t even been mentioned.

  65. GREAAAT Post!

    I absolutely agree with you. The point that I would like to make is the fact that I have read books where the author tries to “write around” swear words, without a doubt it weakend the MS’s flow. I also agree that it needs to fit the situation.

    Readers in YA will not hold you above other authors just becuase you don’t say shit damn fuck blah blah, they will hold you above others if your MS has the right flow and is something that they can relate with.

    My 2 pennies!

  66. I kind of take offense to the notion that “to be a teen means to swear”. I was a teen once. I did not swear. You can call me abnormal, though I’d believe you more if you just said I was in the minority. Most of my close friends didn’t swear, either, come to think of it. But we were friends with people who swore. It wasn’t an issue to any of us.

    Today, I still very rarely swear. I must tell you, though, when I do, it is VERY powerful. Far more so than when my friends pepper their speech with it. Sure, to some people they are “only” words, and yes, each individual has to allow that power that they are given. But most individuals seem to assign a lot of power to swear words. Many are obviously offended by them. I can’t see where it’s right to tell them that their feelings are wrong.

    I am not offended by (most) swear words (no one here has mentioned the one that really irritates me), but I am offended by the notion that a teen who does not swear is somehow not “real”. All teens breathe, eat, sleep, and are within the age range of 13 – 19. Beyond that – let’s just say there’s a world of people out there…

    All that being said, I do have a YA character who swears. A lot. It’s just her. I realize she may be offensive and that I may be limiting my possible audience, but I think that’s just the way it should be. I want to tell her story, and I’m thankful that we (mostly) have the kind of society where I am free to choose the words to do just that.

  67. Amy – I completely agree that teens do not swear across the board. That’s why I think it’s important to use exactly that diversity to nail authenticity. If all your characters swear, it’s unrealistic. If none of them do, it’s unrealistic.

  68. Diana Murray says:

    Ha ha! Funny post. And very true about selecting the perfect words no matter what. If you use bad language simply as an attempt to sound cool or edgy, I think it can come across as fake. But if used properly, a bad word won’t stick out like a sore thumb (or maybe it will, if that’s the intention).

    When I was in high school, wisenheimer that I was, I wrote a whole paper on the f-word. I got a B+ on it. I wish I still had the thing. What on earth did I write?

  69. Karen C,

    I appreciate what you said about words being “powerful, evocative and potentially damaging.” It’s true that words are powerful and our use of them, for good or ill, have an impact on our readers. As authors, we make a choice about whether or not to put in a curse word or a sexual scene.

    I understand the arguement for authenticity. I respect it and don’t think less of an author who writes a story with cursing in it. It’s the author’s choice.

    I know some will say it’s not a choice if we wish to be true to the character, but the reality of it is, we DO have a choice.

    If the character uses curse words and the author doesn’t like it, they can choose NOT to write that character’s story. Cursing character can find another author who doesn’t mind his/her foul mouth. 😉

    I’m just sayin’. =)

  70. Great post! I agree that repetitive and superfluous cursing is grating and offensive, but honestly, I think it’s sad people still refuse to read certain books because of an F bomb here or there. Let’s face it: most young adults will drop an F bomb when they’re distressed or extremely annoyed. Not all young adults, but a lot. I write older YA, and I’d never sacrifice the authenticity of a character or scene to appease parents or librarians. If I wanted characters with squeaky clean mouths, I’d read or write younger YA.

  71. I think you have to be true to your characters and if your own characters offend you, then write something else (like picture books). Many teens do swear – even if only occasionally – and teens are mainly the ones reading YA books. So if the MC only says “oh, gosh darn it” all the time, it won’t be authentic – part of the developmental process for children and teens is learning to use language more effectively. If they already speak like adults, it wouldn’t be real.

  72. When I was a teen, I didn’t swear. My friends didn’t swear, either. So it’s inaccurate to say all teens swear.

    Even though I don’t use swear words, I don’t have a problem reading them as long as every other word isn’t a swear word. That gets annoying. There are over 150,000 words in the English language, so I think you could find something else for your character to say!

    Excellent post! The little f-word at the end made me laugh out loud!

  73. Karen C, I totally agree with you. I’m no prude, but I am the mother of three little boys and it’s my job to protect them. It’s true the world is a scary place a lot of the time so I choose to closely monitor what goes into their hearts and minds, whether it’s tv, books, movies, friends, etc. I know that teenagers use foul language and have sex and do drugs, but I wouldn’t want my kids to read books with loads of cursing and topics like that unless it shows the reality and consequences of those choices and even then, I’d have to read the book first. Just because it’s out there, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to do it or read about it.

    Golly-dang it, there are so many AMAZING books without that stuff, I’m sure they could keep my kids busy reading for years and years. As a matter of fact, this discussion has caused me to head out to the library. I think I’ll go read some Beverly Cleary. :O)

  74. What about characters who curse in other languages? Is that better because you don’t know what the curse word means or worse because it’s something you actually haven’t heard it before? And what about cursing in very harsh sounding languages? Like is cursing in Vietnamese worse than cursing in Spanish, even if the words basically mean the samething?

  75. The only power the F-word has is the power we give it.

  76. In a conversation with my friend, Kelly Milner Halls about his book Whale Talk, Chris Crutcher said that if a character drops an “f-bomb” in the first chapter, it’s implied in the rest of the book, and so unnecessary to keep repeating it in the dialogue. I think that’s brilliant.

    Write on, people.


  77. I don’t agree with your notion that most YA readers will put a book down if they find it disturbing, particularly if it’s a good story. Kids just keep reading.

    Also, you are not taking into consideration the context of “assigned reading,” where putting the book down is not generally an option. I can’t tell you the number of teachers who don’t take developmental/emotional maturity into consideration when assigning a book to read. (I’m a middle school teacher getting my master’s in Gifted Ed.)

  78. Michael Huxley says:

    I can’t tell where everybody is from. I’m from the UK. I am 40K words through writing a YA book and I have, in one (very stressed) chapter only, words like “Bitch” and “Bastard”. My protagonist is a 14 year old girl. My target market is around that age, too. It was not until my wife commented about the use of these words, that i decided to get some professional advice (From writers, not a psychiatrist!).

    I’m 63. I have two children, 6 nephews and nieces all who have gone through their teens and all who were accepted swearing as part of their culture (?) but are not naturals swearers themselves, although hitting the thumb with the hammer could elicit more than a “crikey” from them.

    So, having said that. am I OK to use these words?

  79. Michael Huxley says:

    Oh, crumbs, I made a typographical error “all who were accepted swearing as part of their culture ” should have been”all who accepted swearing as part of their culture”. Sorry

  80. I’ve written four YA books. All of them have a few cuss words in them at appropriate, dramatic moments, but so far I’ve only had one protag who cusses casually.

    With her, I took out the “shit” she said in panic on the second page and left in the more casual “damn” on the tenth page. After that she rarely cusses, but I felt like that one, well-placed word set the tone well for her character without throwing it in the reader’s face all the time.

    As with most things, sometimes less is more.

  81. i think it is mad to believe that even the sweetest child does not use the odd swear word. They just have the sense not to use it around their parents! YA novels are not marketed at very young children , but as YA suggests,young adults. Thus, we should allow the reader to make up his /her own mind .Treat these readers with credability and with having a mind of their own by allowing them the right to chose the type of fiction they wish to read. So…what i am trying to say is , swearing should be ok in YA books and ,as we all know , characters have a way of making themselves heard , in the most appropriate ways !

  82. I think it depends on the book and the author. The words ‘fuck,’ ‘bullshit’ etc. have their connotations just like every other word. They are loaded. Are you going for that sort of emotional reaction? Then it accomplishes something.

    I don’t like this concept wherein we classify some words as ‘bad’ and others as ‘good.’ They are all words. They are all subjective. It’s just semantics. Time and a place for everything, of course, but to suggest a story on teenage life is absolutely the wrong place is, I believe, misguided. And explanations to the contrary strike me as similar to the motivations people have to ban books. Clapping your hands on your ears doesn’t mean it’s not there.

    But I’m not one to stigmatize any word. If it is the best word to use under the circumstances, if it invokes the exact mindset you wish to portray, use it.

    That said, I’m not using explicit swearing in the YA I’m writing, but that’s because of my protagonist. She’s not the type to swear, so swearing gets alluded to but glossed over. If she were the type, you can bet it’d be there.

  83. I’m glad that you wrote this article. My YA novel, Wavering, has some cursing in the dialogue, because in order to accurately capture certain scenes that were pulled from a situation that happened to someone very close to me, I had to include it. Sometimes, life is gritty, and thus, your writing will be as well. Authors have to understand that they might offend groups of readers by using certain words, but that’s a choice we have to make. YA books aren’t meant for middle grade or younger readers. However, even sometimes they can have a worse mouth than me. Personally, I enjoy when the stories I read aren’t completely censored. What’s the fun in that?

  84. I recently read a manuscript where there was a lot of the swear word: “efwurd”. It was such a turn off. Either you use the damn word, or you don’t.

  85. I happen to be a teenager so I have a little more exposure to the real language used by teens. Especially when not being hounded by overprotective parents. I myself don’t swear to excess, but I’m the exception. Even I, who’s nicknamed “saint” in school, drop a curse word if I’m upset or wish to punctuate my point. I also suggest you stop comparing yourself to teens today. It’s a new world and generation. Curse words are losing their taboo status. It’s ridiculous to say that you can write around a word correctly. Honestly. You’re not being true to your character so why even bother to continue writing? You obviously don’t like the character you’re writing for. It messes the flow up and fractures the thought process of the reader. I, for one, am left for at least five paragraphs after that ruminating over the actual word that would authentically be there. As for you parents, I’m honestly sorry to say, but your kids are going to hear them anyway. It doesn’t matter how hard you strong arm them and monitor them. They ARE going to see it, hear it, and say it at some point. The point of growing up is being exposed to things and then learning how you want to implement that into your own life. By limiting you child’s world they aren’t going to be prepared when faced with it. My opinion is. Grow the flying monkeys up please. (see my point?) Cursing is a part of life and sure it’s going to turn off some readers, but if used correctly in most cases it will be read by without a thought. Have a little faith in your children and the way you’ve raised them or they will eventually start to resent you… So I restate my point. Grow the fuck up please…your children will thank you.

    1. This is exactly what I was thinking when reading some of the comments. The language out there even in primary schools. Sometimes I think many parents are blinkered. Well said!

  86. I think that it usually depends on the content of the book. For example, I recently read a YA novel about segregation and the main character didn’t swear, but many of the supporting characters did. Keeping this time period and the setting of the novel in hand, I found the swearing completely natural. However, if it’s a Roscommon sort of book with no heavy subjects involved, swearing should be kept to an EXTREME minimum (my opinion of course). I do like that some authors choose to use stand-in swear words. I know that teens use words like ‘shiz’ and ‘fudge’ (or various forms of that… Fudgecicles, fudging,freaking) as substitutes for swearing. Effing works alright, too. I believe J.K Rowling has used it before in the HP series…

  87. I have just published a book, Diggers Story (a biography) about a Prisoner of War on the Siam to Burma Railway in World War Two. There is sweating in it of course. I have now been asked by the publisher to adapt the book making it shorter and suitable for 10 to 14 year olds. I am inclined to leave the cursing in the text because it is used in the dialogue of the prisoners and that was exactly as they spoke at the time. I would appreciate any comment.

  88. Melanie Jones says:

    I’m getting ready to start my first YA book (everything else I write is very much geared towards grown ups, but I have an idea for a funny teen book I want to do), so I was reading up on this subject to see other people’s views. I will absolutely be including whatever swearing I think works in my book, that’s part of the point of it – I want to do something genuinely representative of real teens, and also, people who have read anything else I’ve done would be kind of weirded out if I was suddenly all “oh, fiddle-dee-dee! That will require a tetanus shot!”, but I wasn’t sure just how much the use of bad language in my book is going to piss people off. You can’t divide by the number of fucks I give whether it pisses people off, I just wanted to gauge opinion, and it seems like more people than I thought are perfectly comfortable with in-context swearing in teen dialogue. This is nice.

  89. Teens swear. Children swear. And nothing has pissed me off more than the typical parenting technique of coddling the child and hiding all things deemed as adult. The whole point of parenting is primary socialization, and the point of education is secondary socialization. The goal is to take a child and make an adult, not to preserve the child. Profanity will always exist and will always be used no matter what they desire. So they are just raising children to cuss just as much as anyone else, but feel bad about it. Sort of like the guilt cycle in religion regarding sexuality. Someone needs to break this cycle of pointless exercise in coddling or it will just continue forever pointlessly until humans are extinct.

    I think the concept of conscious choice applies to the needless words and phrases that you wrote about too. They change the way the writing feels and can be positive if used sparingly and carefully to emphasize points. I have noted my tendency to use “just” a little needlessly.

  90. Thank you! I was so confused on if I should actually put “damn” “crap” “hell” in the YA novel I’m writing, with those words coming from a bad boy (yes, he finds Jesus, but not in the beginning!) It is what makes his character come alive. I just wasn’t sure if it’d be accepted. At this point, I don’t care. I’ll write what I wanna write and go from there. 🙂 You’re awesome!

  91. WriterParent says:

    As a parent of a ten-year-old, it’s not that I’m in denial of what he is going to hear on the playground or in school. He’s heard plenty of swear-words in camp and at school. That doesn’t mean I have to allow it in my home or encourage it. There are hundreds of great YA novels that don’t use gratuitous swear words in them or no swear words at all, so why do I need to bring into my home a novel that is just trying to be hip or “realistic” or “relevant,” by including profanity, when there are so many novels that do these things without such language? And yes, you said no swearing in MG lit, by why not by your logic? Even in elementary school, kids hear swear words. Moreover, you have a choice as a writer, participate in the desensitizing of our kids, encourage it, or opt out. I’d encourage writer’s to opt out. Tolkien, J.K Rowling, and lots of other great writers of YA have done just fine without cursing. Would the Hobbit really be a better novel if Bilbo said, “Oh, Fuck,” when he saw the trolls? Would Harry Potter be a better novel series if Hermione was saying “what the fuck?” all the time?

    1. This article is referring to YA or teen fiction. If your son is 10 than he probably reads middle-grade books. The books you mentioned are not for a teen audience. They are middle-grade , books meaning their not going to have curse words in them.

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