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Cursing in MG

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Hi everyone!

I need your help!  :sadcry  :help2
I'm working on a MG humor novel, and my main character is a 12 year old boy who swears a lot -but I 'd like to keep the story G rated. What should I do? Do you think that euphemisms could work?

Thanks!  :thankyou
#1 - August 24, 2015, 05:54 AM

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You can make up words or use tame words, or you can use symbols like &#@!   I'd get creative, because if your book is MG then there are gatekeepers to consider. For instance, I was going to use the word "smarta**" in my book. ONCE. My editor said I could if I felt it was that important, but I would sell fewer books because of it.

And trust me, in the existing market every single book sale counts. You want to expand your market, not limit it.

 :goodluck
#2 - August 24, 2015, 06:00 AM
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Thank you so much for your advice, Ena! I wanted to avoid using this kind of language -I truly hate swearing-, and what worried me the most was the same reason you mentioned: gatekeepers won't approve it. I loved your idea about getting creative and making up words. Mo Willems did something like this in his picture book "Leonardo, the terrible monster". There's a part where it says that Leonardo will "scare the tuna salad out of him". Your solution can enrich the story with healthy humor, that will amuse instead of offending.

You're wonderful, Ena! Thanks again!  :thankyou :flowers2 :love5
#3 - August 24, 2015, 06:12 AM

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You are welcome! Glad to be of help.  :flowers2
#4 - August 24, 2015, 06:43 AM
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I agree that making up words is a good alternative to swearing. Like in my Curious Cat Spy Club the main character says "Drats" instead of damn or worse, and this is a word that identifies her. But I wouldn't use too many words like this as it can get a little too "cute."  Sometimes if something happens that requires swearing I write "and Blank spewed out with words so bad if I said them I'd be grounded till I was 90."  Good luck!
#5 - August 24, 2015, 07:05 AM
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You're right, Linda! Overdoing is a bad idea. I liked the way you took advantage of this resource and turned it into a feature that identifies your character. The alternative you use of describing the character's swearing without uttering it at all ("and Blank spewed out...") is very original -loved it!  :flowers2
Thank you so much for your help! :)  :thanx :stars3 :dancer
#6 - August 24, 2015, 07:25 AM

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Sometimes if something happens that requires swearing I write "and Blank spewed out with words so bad if I said them I'd be grounded till I was 90."

Yes, this is something you can always do. Even as brief as "Blank said a bad word" can be very effective. I'd limit made-up swears to one per character or even per book. I think too much of this detracts from the story by calling attention to itself and reminding everybody that you're censoring your book for the age group. A really good made-up word, though, can be very memorable. I'll always recall "God's thumbs!" from Catherine Called Birdy.
#7 - August 24, 2015, 07:52 AM
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Thank you very much for your advice, Marcia! :)
This issue is much more delicate than I could have imagined! I'm almost tempted to make my MC's lines swearing-free... but it feels like such an important part of his personality. I agree with all of you, about keeping this to a minimum.
#8 - August 24, 2015, 08:11 AM

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Hi,
As mentioned your character may have a word he uses as a swear word. It can be a typical word, that evokes a strong emotion for him.

In The End of the Line, the kids in group (therapy) used the word "firecracker" in place of swear words. This fit in with their dynamics at the school and the word "firecracker" was an inside joke with the boys... and it was a word that their teacher permitted. (It was also a lot of fun for me and it added a bit of humor in some high tension conversations.)

In The Safest Lie, I think there is only one instance without specific words mentioned, the MC simply relates it... "She swears . . . again and again. I count five swear words."

I think when you find something that works, you'll feel it ... and if you can't write around the words perhaps your original thought is correct. You know this character better than anyone... good luck!
#9 - August 24, 2015, 12:33 PM
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My translation prior to novelization of an old Hoffmann fairytale includes a young boy uttering an old Hussar's curse, "Potz Bassa Manelka!" I took it out of the novel because I wanted more focus on the girl protagonist, and it slowed down the story. It took a consultation with a prof in Hungarian linguistics to settle on its true meaning: God F--- Thy Soul! Another reason to omit it!

What pleasure Hoffman took in putting a filthy profanity in the mouth of a child cannot be known. Best I can figure, he himself might not have known what it meant. My point being, has the plot- and character-essential purpose of swearing been fully considered? And as others have noted, it is not wise to limit a work's appeal by alienating potential readership. Sometimes others' reactions to alluded-to swearing can be more effective than The Real Thing on the page.
#10 - August 24, 2015, 02:40 PM
Persist! Craft improves with every draft.

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Angela: your comments about how the word "firecracker" ended up working in your advantage, by adding humor to extremely tense conversations, along with your advice to trust my MC (instead of taking the easy way out and concealing his flaws -like his tendency to using harsh language-), have helped me on deciding to stay true to the original concept of my MC.

I'm always worrying about the questions you've asked, Alexander, concerning the real necessity of swearing.
And as much as I'd like to give you a straight answer, listing objective reasons to justify it, all I can say is that this is the way my MC speaks -perhaps for being so full of rage after losing his parents so recently and feeling so scared and insecure.

I'm considering adopting an alternative swearword; this seems to be the best solution.

Thank you all so much for your help! :)
#11 - August 26, 2015, 06:00 AM

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I'm in the curious position of having to invent some medieval curses... I'm keeping it to a minimum, but my two characters really don't like each other and call each other names. But there's nothing to raise a librarian's eyebrow at.
#12 - August 26, 2015, 10:42 AM
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Barb, you should definitely look at Shakespeare insults. He will inspire you: http://www.pangloss.com/seidel/shake_rule.html

Vijaya
#13 - August 26, 2015, 11:30 AM
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Thanks for the site, Vijaya!    :grin3  I knew about them and used to have Shakespearean Insults Magnetic Poetry, but I must have dumped my kit when I moved. This site will have just what I need!
#14 - August 26, 2015, 12:20 PM
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It sounds like you'll be having lots of fun with your medieval curses,  Barbara! Good luck!  :goodluck
Thanks a lot for sharing the Shakespeare insults website, Vijaya! It definitely sparked my imagination! :)
I'm tempted to use bug names or something similar, like they did at the end of the Spanish film "Butterfly" ("La lengua de las mariposas"). :ranting
Sitotroga cerealella! (it kind of sounds like an insult, don't you think?  :lol4)
#15 - August 27, 2015, 01:24 PM

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Oooh, foreign words are great for insulting, esp. if they sound insulting. And bonus points for having a sound in a foreign language that means something different in English.

Enjoy the Bard.
Vijaya

#16 - August 27, 2015, 02:33 PM
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The Bard is an eternal source of inspiration!
Thinking a bit more about your advice, Vijaya, I've been thinking about another alternative: using a Spanish (invented) insult, like ponchudo.
Coming up with fake insults is much more fun than I expected! Hugs! :)
#17 - August 27, 2015, 02:45 PM

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Most middle schoolers don't curse. They know the words, but they don't dare use them. Use increases with age.

That said, Will Smith's son cursed pretty young cause his daddy did so often. Will had to explain to his kindergartner that these weren't school words. (This came from an interview with him that I saw.)

So why does this character think this method of speaking is okay? How do others react to it? Is he going for the shock value? At what point does that wear off?

My middle grade character curses, once, but his mother is dying dammit. The word darn just won't do. And mom calls him on it. It's a major scene in the book. It has impact. I'll fight for that word in that scene. Otherwise, I use the substitute words we all use: frig, crap, darn, drat. No need to make up your own. Remember, even in your book, the shock will wear off. The words will lose impact.

YA characters curse among themselves just like young adults do. It's common to the age group.
#18 - September 08, 2015, 11:29 AM
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Thank you so much for your advice, Debbie! My character has lost his parents recently, but now I'm not so sure if this can justify his behavior... I'll take your words into careful consideration until I finally decide if I'll keep any swearing (or none at all).

Thanks again! Hugs! :)
#19 - September 08, 2015, 12:33 PM

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Middle schoolers may not curse at school, but I've sure heard some foul language coming out of middle schoolers' mouths outside of school.   :uhuh

Rue
#20 - September 08, 2015, 02:53 PM
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Thanks for sharing your view on the subject, Rue! :)
#21 - September 08, 2015, 02:56 PM

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