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foul language for middle grade

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We don't use "foul" language in our house... more because it's not a habit than because we find it offensive. We've had the "some words are okay with friends, not with your baby sister/grandma/teacher" talk. My kids are among those who think stupid is the s-word, butt is a swear word, etc. I'm not necessarily going to disabuse them of the thought, but my oldest is in solid MG reading territory now, and I am absolutely okay with him reading books that have stronger language, as long as it fits the story and the character. It's part of the world, and I'm okay with him understanding that.

This thread made me think of Jon Stewart's interview with Bill Cosby... http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/tue-november-19-2013/bill-cosby  ::-)
#31 - November 22, 2013, 05:45 AM

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I would suggest that along with all the great input you've already received, you return to the root of your story and listen to what the characters want/need to say, and what is appropriate for the story you want to tell. In the end, that is what matters, even more than your audience (within reason), in my opinion.
#32 - November 22, 2013, 06:11 AM
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I raised my kids on Muppet Show-type humor and it really stuck.  Warp 'em to your own taste while they're young, I say. :yup

This is why I like you so much, Jaina!!  ;D

And I agree with what Kell and RaeE and especially Mrs. Jones have to say...and the same can apply to YA with more mature content (and not just naughty words). Listen to your characters first and let them dictate what you write. You can always go back afterward and revise, yes?
#33 - November 22, 2013, 07:07 AM
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Voice is everything. Go with the voice of your story/characters. The readers will get it or not. You'll never please them all.
#34 - November 25, 2013, 11:53 AM
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This is such a great discussion! I think it raises an interesting questions about who we are writing for and about self-censorship.

I think the trick is to find a balance where you censor just enough. Just enough so that the language and voice rings true for that audience, but without exposing your protective adult side. Not an easy task!

When we decide to tone down our language, who are we censoring ourselves for? Probably not the end audience. My guess is they would prefer a more accurate, truthful version of the story. I think a very small minority of kids are actually offended by these types of words. Some kids might be shocked or confused but that is different than offended. And for many, words like this are used in their daily lives. We're competing against video games and pg-13 and even r-rated movies. Their parents and teachers might not know they do, but they do.  And that's part of the problem. Ultimately when we censor we're doing it to appease parents (and editors who know parents buy the books.)

I'm not saying this is a bad thing. I'm a parent too and I protect my kids. We all draw that line differently.

But as a writer I strive to write honestly. And sometimes that means I want to use foul language, damn-it! So what's a conflicted writer to do?

Compromise. The other C-word.

We compromise because there is an unspoken pact to protect our children and get our books on the shelf. It doesn't matter too much whether one agrees with this pact. You're just the writer. You're not a gatekeeper. You don't have much say whether your manuscript ends up in the hands of a 12-year-old boy.

So then how do we write a truthful portrayal of our story and characters if that kind of language is appropriate for this particular story?
I say write as truthfully as you dare!  Let the character decide.

Great discussion!
#35 - November 26, 2013, 06:14 PM
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This is a very interesting conversation!  I have three kids at home 13, 10 and 3.  I fully admit to swearing like a sailor, although I *try* not to do so in front of my kids.  I've had to have recent talks with my oldest about not using words like "sucks" and "fricking" because they may be offensive to people.  She said "crap" in front of my aunt, and said aunt was horrified.  Took me a minute to figure out why and DD was absolutely clueless!  What I find interesting is that the DD who is 10 is horribly offended when dad and I slip up and swear in front of her.  I'm taking like the "d" word here, not the biggies.  She just *might* be offended by "butt" or "OMG" or "crap" in a book and I don't really understand exactly why.  She's the language police in our house.  But she's not really getting that from mom or dad.  So I have no idea what kids might think... 


Interestingly, in our house "stupid" and "shut up" are right on par with the F word, the C word and the N word.  I will smack you into next week if I hear any of those used.  Funny what people can be offended by.... 


For my own WIP I keep debating if it is MG or YA.  So far there has been some mild words used like "crap" and "what the heck" and "OMG." (spelled out though).  Seems like what I would hear.  Just dropped kids at school late a minute ago (K-12 school, but I was in the 4th/5th grade classroom area) and I most assuredly heard "sucks" in the hallway, and nobody acted like it was anything.
#36 - December 09, 2013, 08:29 AM

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I recently read an MG book that changes everything I thought I knew about MG books and cursing. TRASH CAN DAYS by Teddy Steinkeller through Disney Hyperion. It's marketed as upper MG, 10-14 years old.


Check it out... but be prepared for foul language and situations that I've always thought were more on the YA side of things. I had mixed feelings myself, not necessarily about the language but about how the two narrators who were kids of color were portrayed in the book.


 
#37 - December 09, 2013, 10:11 PM

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To insult someone you can add "head" to almost anything and be funny: block, butt, puddle, cockroach, poop, stupid, jar, brick, dumb, knuckle, tin, melon, banana, bowl, basketball, etc.

#38 - December 10, 2013, 12:58 AM

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There's an agent out there who has written a book about how to almost swear.  I haven't read it; just wondering if anyone else has.  I often find myself wanting to make the character swear, and so I'll just say, "John swore up a storm." or something like that, instead of spelling it out.

The book is here:
http://michellewittebooks.com/writing/the-craptastic-guide-to-pseudo-swearing/
#39 - December 10, 2013, 09:17 AM

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If you're writing a fantasy that takes place in some other world or alternate universe, you  can make up swear words. In a middle-grade novel I wrote years ago, two children and a cat are transported to another planet where full exposure to that other-world sun can be deadly. Some of the inhabitants live under and inside a protective growth of vegetation. These people are terrified of the sun, a sphere shape, so "Spheres!" is one of their most dreadful swear words, while "Short-hair" is an insult because the more powerful members of this group have huge heads of hair that grow up rather than hanging down.
#40 - December 10, 2013, 11:20 AM
Sheila Welch,  author/illustrator. Don't Call Me Marda, Waiting to Forget, Something in the Air, The Shadowed Unicorn, Little Prince Know-It-All

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I still laugh every time over the fact that my MG novel is set in hell but I can't say the word hell on here. It just makes me want to say hell over and over again. Because I'm immature like that :moose  (That'll be why I write middle grade.)


In fact, the euphemism 'Satan's home' creeps me out a bit. The word it's replacing, and the words 'devil' and 'Lucifer' don't bother me, but I find the word Satan oddly creepy. Something to do with Satanists rarely being played for laughs, I guess...
#41 - December 10, 2013, 11:50 AM
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I still laugh every time over the fact that my MG novel is set in [Satan's home] but I can't say the word [Satan's home] on here. It just makes me want to say [Satan's home] over and over again. Because I'm immature like that :moose  (That'll be why I write middle grade.)


In fact, the euphemism 'Satan's home' creeps me out a bit. The word it's replacing, and the words 'devil' and 'Lucifer' don't bother me, but I find the word Satan oddly creepy. Something to do with Satanists rarely being played for laughs, I guess...


Me too! I think it's because Satan's home conjures up far more vivid imagery than the other word. For me, anyhow.


Mary Kole did a great post on swearing in YA, which I know this thread isn't directly about, but it's still useful I think: http://kidlit.com/2010/04/21/swear-words-in-ya-fiction/
#42 - December 10, 2013, 02:49 PM

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