F-bombs, and Cuss Words and Profanity, Oh My!
Why do middle grade and YA authors include swear words in their books?
As a teacher and an author, I have struggled with this question. The first draft of my YA book was filled with profanity. At the time, my own teen daughters suggested that without 'real' teenage language, it wouldn't seem believable, especially since my main character is a boy of seventeen. Being a middle school teacher, I'm well aware of the colorful language that kids use today. So, when writing my own story, I figured I'd have more 'buy-in'; that my characters would seem more relatable if they spoke like my readers. And so it was with that mindset that I set out to have a friend and fellow author help to edit the uncensored version of my manuscript. It is worth noting that this woman's daughter was a former student of mine, who could potentially be a future reader of this book. When her suggestions came back, one of the most important was that she didn't think all the f-bombs I'd included were necessary to tell the story. She told me that using profanity is a personal preference, then gave me reasons why it would work with or without them. So, I set to work on another version of the story in which the language was much more toned down. And then I thought about which version I wanted to put out into the world. Having then just read the newly released book, The Hate You Give, by Angie Thomas, I reached out to get her perspective during a live Instagram chat. She basically responded that language was never a concern for her. She hadn't given much thought to being censored in classrooms; she'd simply told her story. In all honesty, I wasn't surprised because Angie's audience and subject matter differed greatly from mine. I was no closer to a decision over something so seemingly simple.
But, I labored over this decision. I thought about the many students I'd had over the years who have kept in touch and continue to follow me on social media. These same students knew that it was my biggest desire to write and publish a book one day. And here I was about to do just that. But one question remained...Do I still have a responsibility to these kids who once knew me as their teacher? After all, they will be readers of my book. Some will probably be my biggest supporters. Students. Reading my book. My words.
So, I asked myself again, do I still have a responsibility to those kids? And my answer was, and still is, yes. I want my words to matter. And hopefully for those who read my story, the words I've left out won't matter.