Oh shoot! Darn it! Bummer. Cheese and crackers. We’ve heard all the substitutes for cussing in life and on the written page. But no matter how you look at it, cussing is a proverbial part of real life, and all too often it is used in excess within the youth culture.
That’s right — how many times have you stood in line behind a gang of teens talking about f-ing thing and sh@t that? More words are dropped in five minutes than in my entire bad day (depends on the day). However, when it comes to writing for young adults, less cussing means more… as in more readers, more parents that allow your readers to read your books, and more profit for your publisher.
On Twitter’s #kidlitchat, our conversations often go in different directions and strange offshoots. Tonight’s topic was about grammar. It ended up on the heavy about cussing in young adult novels. Editors and writers weighed-in on how a few f-bombs can blacklist your story, rip it off the shelves of your library and darn it to no-man’s land. Some writers stated that it’s a big turn-off when there’s too much cussing. Others felt compelled to cuss right there in the chat.
One of my writer friends, Jason, noted, “It’s a writing challenge to say something smarter than the generic 4-letter word reaction.” Indeed, he is correct. A well-thought-out quip, combined with action, speaks more than any cussword in terms of positioning your character. Is he/she bad? Do they need cigarettes and bad words as props? Better to show your characters being bad than giving them the easy way out.
Is there a happy medium when it comes to bad words in YA? How many cusswords is too many? I don’t particularly like gratuitous cussing. When a bad word is placed well, it has impact. Placed too often, it impacts the reader and makes him want to close the book.
Now, I’ve used bad language in the stories I write. I believe they can be cut to the bare minimum, leaving the actions of my characters to do the real talking. However, I’ll leave that to the editors. In the meantime, I’m taking a hard look at my current WIP to see where cussing doesn’t make sense… and that just might pertain to the entire story.