Writing & Editing Tips


Writing for YA can be a difficult undertaking, with more things to consider than when writing for adults. Should I include this? What about that? Is this too much?

One of the things I often see asked in writing communities is, "Should I include swear words in YA?"

It's a good question and one that doesn't have a black and white answer.

The first thing to say, is that if you don't swear (I have a friend who refuses to swear, and I don't know how she manages to remain in my company for more than 5 minutes) or if writing certain words makes you uncomfortable, then no, you don't have to include swearing in your book.

But, you have to remember that it's your character screaming "Shit!" when they hit themselves in the face with their locker door, not you. Whatever age group you're writing for, you need to ask yourself two things:

  1. Would this character use this word?
  2. Does the situation warrant use of this word?

You don't want a character swearing if it doesn't fit their personality. For example, if you have a character who's a goody-two-shoes for 28 chapters, and then in the last scene of the book they scream, "Fuck off!" that will leave your readers wondering what the hell just happened.

You also want to avoid including swear words just because you can. Writing 30 "fucks" in 2 paragraphs will most likely put your readers off. Used that often, the word loses weight and becomes meaningless.

So, back to the original question. Do I think a writer should avoid using swear words when writing for YA? No, absolutely not.

Here's the thing. Whether or not we want to admit it to ourselves, kids swear. Just because they might not do it in front of us, doesn't mean those words never leave their mouths. I feel quite confident in saying that you aren't going to be introducing your readers to any new words.

But that in and of itself isn't a reason to include bad language in YA works. The thing to remember here is that you want to make your story and characters believable. Especially in YA, you want your readers to relate and identify with the people introduced to them.

Let's say two of your characters are riding their bikes. One gets hit by a car, and the driver flees the scene. The young kid who's panicking, worried about their friend, and trying to decide what to do, is probably going to swear.

Maybe they're explaining the accident to the dispatcher and say, "Some bastard hit my friend with their car and drove off!" Saying, "Some snufflehopper hit my friend..." will most likely cause your reader to laugh and will ruin the intensity of the situation.

Do you have to include swear words in YA? No, absolutely not. Should you avoid these words out of fear of offending someone or because you don't think kids will be able to handle it? No, absolutely not.

Kids are often smarter and more mature than we give them credit for. You aren't going to ruin them by having your character call that hit and run driver a bastard.

There will always be people who dislike a book for a variety of reasons. We cannot please everyone, and we aren't meant to. If you include swear words in your YA book, and a parent asks if it's appropriate for their child, be honest with them. Tell them it includes mild swearing, and if they find that to be within their definition of what inappropriate is, then suggest a book or author that would perhaps better fit their expectations.

What's important is that you stay true to your characters, your story, and your message.

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