re: Disguising the F-Word in YA Fiction

in Submissions/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I’m writing a book featuring a 13-year-old main character that has a lot of cursing. It’s completely integral to the story and the character’s arc, and she really can’t be older because of her maturity level. I have no issues with using abbreviations (e.g. f-ing, effing, etc.) so that the book can reach a wider audience, but I doubt I should do that in ms form. What do you think?

Sincerely,
Karol

Dear Karol…

Do in the manuscript as you intend to do in the final book. Your agent/editor needs to know exactly what you’ve got in mind in order to weigh the pros and cons with you in a useful way. And you will have that talk. Cursing may be absolutely right for your story, but it will also absolutely alienate some readers, so that discussion will be a part of the acquisition process. Using abbreviations is an option, but it won’t likely win you a wider audience because the people who would object to the real F-word will know it when they see it written as “effing”—and it’ll still rub them the wrong way. And then there’s the awkwardness factor. “F-ing” and “effing” can sound silly in a scene that shows a character mad or coarse enough to curse, which undercuts the effect of the swearing. If your character has to cuss, then let her cuss. Agents and editors know that some projects are edgier than others, and they take that into account when evaluating the cuss factor.

Happy writing!
The Editor

9 Comments

    • I also agree, but in a different way. There are still a variety of PG and PG-13 level swears, like “crap”, “hell”, “damn”, “b****”, “ba*****”, “sl**”, “p**”, “sh**” etc.

      Those are a lot of *’s, but I’m not sure what the policy for cursing is here.

      But, as with everything else, people have different kind of tastes. Some are okay with this set of words, while others aren’t.

      Keep in mind that by age 13, most kids had either used the f-word at least once, or heard one of their friends use it, so it’s more about taste, and how you feel about it.

      I’m in more of the “less is better” camp, but I still reserve some of the stronger words in my writing for more dramatic (or hilarious) moments.

      • Indeed, there is a variety of words at our disposal, giving us many options. Great to call our attention to them—stars and all.

  1. I agree with what has been said so far. As a teacher let me tell you up front that if you are planning on having it in schools, one thing that will keep it out is excessive cursing. I have books that have cursing and more mature subject matter because I have students who are more mature readers. Having said that please know that for such books my school requires me to send home a letter informing parents of the issues with the book. I then must secure written permission for their child to read the book. For that reason I find it easier to tell them that they need to check the book out from the public library and then their parents an make the decision. It is too much of a hassle.

  2. If we go long enough without a war, we see popular fiction getting all military and stuff. See the early Clancy novels, Top Gun, and Call to Glory on television all pre Gulf War.
    There was also a short-lived series about a bunch of Airborne Artillery guys in garrison. Cliff Potts was in it.
    I asked a friend about it. We’d both been in the Infantry. Did you notice the lack of cursing? He looked startled. He had not. But he thought it was realistic all the same. Infantry? No cussing? Absurd. And even the Artillery guys probably say darn once in a while.
    No. It was great writing to have upset or annoyed or happy or really angry cannon-cockers carrying on without a single bad word, and it not being noticed by ex grunts.
    It was so good I had no idea how they did it.

    • Interesting. If I had time, I wish I could read the original and try to analyze how they did it.

  3. I’ve submitted questions, have been reading your comments for over a year now and feel compelled to send a thank you today. As a beginning writer, I so appreciate your sage advise, written in a succinct manner, without ego-feeding fluff. MANY THANKS from one of your inspired fledglings. Connie

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