re: Which Swear Words are Allowed in YA Lit?

in Dialogue/Narrative Voice/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I’m writing a YA novel. Quick question: How are words like screw, damn, cr*p, and sh*t looked upon? (Though I think I know the answer to the last one!)

Thanks,
Weighing My Words

Dear Weighing My Words…

Depends on the eyes doing the looking, of course. But in general, screw, damn, and crap fall within the realm of slang or casual speech now, so use them if they fit the book’s tone and concept. Don’t use them if your sole reason is “because that’s how kids really talk.” If dialogue were “real talk,” you’d be writing a lot of stuttering and ums. Sh*t is trickier, being more cuss word than general-use slang. (Notice we both use an asterisk when typing it? That’s telling.) It’s not the F-bomb, but it disturbs enough people that if you can write around it you might want to. Again, consider the project. With gritty topics like drug use, strong words can be par for the course. Option: Use now, discuss with your editor later. She won’t reject a project for this alone. If she feels such words aren’t right for a book about which she’s otherwise passionate, she’ll discuss rather than nix.

Happy writing!
The Editor

3 Comments

  1. I’ve read a number of YA novels using any and all swear words. Are the novels you are reading like what you are writing? Do they use swear words verbatim? Or not?

    • Check out Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. Author Becky Albertalli made an interesting choice with the swear words in that first-person narrative: When Simon is emotionally distraught, he lets fly with f-bombs. When he’s not upset, he uses “freaking.” Example 1) “He’s so freaking shameless around Leah.” Example 2) “He’s such a freaking asswipe, seriously.” Example 3) “If he thinks I’m selling out Blue, he’s f-king crazy.” Example 3) “I hate him. I seriously f-king hate him.”

  2. I have to commend you for helping me out with a question that has been nagging at me ever since I started writing, and in the span of a paragraph. I just read a short article that seemed more focused on criticizing parents who don’t want their children exposed to swear words than answering this question, so your impartial, concise answer is much, much appreciated. Keep up the good work! We need more editors/gurus like you.

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