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swearing in YA fiction

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

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