Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Keeping It Real in YA

I'm writing on YA fantasy novel (for want of a loose description) and I'm wondering about the use of profanity and drinking in a YA novel.

While swearing is not a massive part of the story there is the odd bit of what would be described in a movie as 'low level' language and I also have a fairly major party scene (it all goes wrong).

My initial instinct is to write what I want to write and worry about censoring it later as at this stage I'm part way my first draft especially as I hate reading YA where the characters say 'oh drat' or the equivalent. What are your thoughts on teens drinking and swearing?

Back in another lifetime I edited YA. I loved it and wanted to do more, but quickly became frustrated with what was popular at the time and what I was limited to doing based on what was supposedly selling. Now, keep in mind I was not working at a YA house and I imagine if I was I might have had a different experience, but still, what I was seeing published were not YA novels I would have ever been interesting in reading. In my opinion, they talked down to the reader, were written to appease adults, and didn't at all reflect the real life of teens.

Thank goodness times have changed.

The reason, in my mind, YA works so well today and has become so popular is that we are no longer afraid of adults. We are actually writing and publishing books that truly speak to kids. There is drinking, swearing, sex, abuse, love, hate, and bullies. We are no longer just writing about jocks and cheerleaders, but also about geeks and freaks and the one in between who is easily forgotten. Today we are writing about real kids and the real worlds they inhabit (sometimes).

I think your frame of mind on this is perfect. Write what you want to write and keep it real. When you've finished the book, read and edit and make sure that it sounds real. That the words your characters are using are fitting to the situation and to them. If there needs to be drinking and swearing, leave it in there. If it seems gratuitous, take it out. But don't take it out because you're afraid of what an editor or agent might think. Take it out only because it no longer suits the book (if that's the case).