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Profanity in MG

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I'm working on a MG graphic novel. My main character & her dad have a big fight & I think it would be unlikely for her father Not to swear. Not the F-word but I'm not sure which direction to go... Because it's a graphic novel, it would be difficult to get around it by saying "he swore." Should I just go the @#$! route? (which I would work for the unspeakable). What about milder words that might be tossed in during the escalation of the fighting?

Right now I have things like "my god"... I'm not sure if using Christ as a curse is seen as a no-no or not. In my house I tend to use "for the love of Pizza" because I use the expression so much I was worried about my kids (5&7) using it at school & getting scolded for it. But I don't think such an expression would be likely in this particular situation.

What about swearing in other languages? (Something we also do at home). 

This would just be in one scene which escalates to the point where the main character runs away but the dad later apologizes for his overreaction. Or would it be better to have the escalation end with Dad slamming his fist down or breaking something?
#1 - June 12, 2017, 05:57 AM

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The tone of your GN might dictate the language and gestures. Is it serious or more on the light side? Either way, I like the idea of @#$! over any overt swears and would leave out God references or fist-slamming.

That said, I think "For the love of pizza" is hilarious!!!  If your GN has humor, I'm totally in favor of using it. Think: Buddy in the movie "Elf." His "Cotton-headed ninny-muggins" and "Son of a nutcracker!" were much more effective and memorable than human swearing.

Best, best wishes on your GN, Marla!!

  :pizza :pizza :pizza :pizza :pizza :pizza :pizza :pizza :pizza :pizza :pizza :pizza :pizza :pizza :pizza
#2 - June 12, 2017, 06:22 AM

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Is it a younger MG, or older? If it's younger, you need to be pretty careful -- but in all honesty your editor/publisher is going to have the opinion that matters. The important thing right now is to get the tone of the scene yet and think of whatever you put there as the "place-holder."

As for "Christ" as a curse word, there are many areas of the country where librarians/teachers/parents won't buy a book with words that are "okay" in other areas. For instance, I had the words "smart-ass remark" in my first book (an older MG), but changed it to "smart remark." My publisher said it was completely up to me,  but that I'd sell more books without it. There are other words I wouldn't have thought about that some gatekeepers (mostly parents) don't like. "Stupid" is one of them.

Also, showing with the dad slamming his fist down or breaking something is a really great way to get that kind of feeling across, so I'd strongly consider that as much as possible. And that can be just "squeezing his fist tight" if you think the other examples are too violent.

 :goodluck
#3 - June 12, 2017, 06:25 AM
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Agreeing that in the end it'll be your publisher that has the most input on this. I would err on the side of leaving it out for the main reason that to get traction in MG, you need to get into libraries and schools, and ideally you want to be able to do this all over the country.

Even "crap" and "sucks" are swear words to some. If my publisher advised against using a word, I'd comply in the vast majority of cases, because there's almost always a creative alternative. And if using a word or words is going to hurt my sales, IMO making my entire book/career pay for the inclusion of a couple of words that in most cases are not crucial to the story doesn't make sense.
#4 - June 12, 2017, 09:05 AM
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You won't go wrong with the advice from mrh^  :yup

I remember the last time this came on the boards, and I happened to be dealing with this very thing. I dealt with it by inventing expletives that would become a singular way for the character and aren't used as cuss words out there. (Similar to Captain Haddock, in the Tintin series, using expressions like "blistering barnacles.") It's an opportunity to bring a character to life rather than a literary handicap or censorship.
Since then one editor specifically mentioned how she hated these invented expressions in her rejection letter.  :sigh So no matter what, someone will have a problem.  :shrug
We strive to make characters vivid and make them pop off the page as singular and real. In real life some people use curse words to seemingly punctuate all their utterances. But as young readers are just that, YOUNG-- we have to consider that many are not ready for some realistic touches. Certainly their educators aren't, and the gate keepers are mindful of it.

In my real life I never use four letter words in either of my main languages. Never have. It's easy for me to hear it and pay attention to not insert them inadvertently. Both my kids never do, either. They grew up in our home, after all. But I think they did run into some variations of this in literature, especially once they read upper MG.
#5 - June 12, 2017, 09:36 AM
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I grew up in one of those households where using any reference to god or things like sucks could get you in big crapola. I remember my parents even didn't like the use of golly & gosh in books! Although my dad drop the F-bomb  once or twice when he was very mad.  So I understand. Even fart was off-limits when we were very young.

In my own househould  we say all kinds of things my parents would've not liked when I was young.  We do end up saying a lot of words I don't necessarily approve of when mad. & I've discussed with my kids re: when & why we might swear & when it is definitely not ok. They've actually started correcting us.

Made up swear words, if they work for the character might be ok. I mean, I started using "for the love of pizza" because we really do love pizza & make it all the time. It's a bit of a threat - ie there will be no pizza if this behavior continues! but also serves as a bit of a tension diffuser because it's so silly.  My son (8), has resorted to "I want to swear" or "I want to say the F word" because I told him he was too young to be using such words.

I think the physical gestures and perhaps a few very mild- non-religious words would work for the manuscript.
#6 - June 12, 2017, 10:35 AM

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Using religious words as curses/exclamations ("God" or "Christ") are extremely prevalent in the NE and used far, far, far less in the entire rest of the country. (I was born in NJ and have lived in just about every region of the US since then. I can always tell where someone is from by that usage alone.) In some places it's viewed as quite strong--even if to a person in the northeast, it isn't a big deal.

You will never please everyone. However, sometimes you might need to weigh what you want to say in a single line versus the ability to sell your book to many, many people who will read the whole thing.
#7 - June 12, 2017, 10:46 AM

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I have "damn" and "Hell"  in my middle grade. They are as strong as I'll go. They are in situations where a weaker word won't feel real and the parent calls him out on the latter term in a very powerful scene. The word makes the scene. The family is religious, so it fits the characters. I'd fight for that one more than for the other one. 

My twelve year old says, "four letter word, four letter word, four letter word" when he wants to curse. It's almost funny.

I curse very rarely, but I do do so, especially when I'm trying to get my teen daughter to understand how truly mad I am or if I burn myself or the like. She doesn't always catch subtler cues. (Raising my voice is nothing to her.) We've also talked about the when, where, why, etc.

I've also explained that a good vocabulary can be a huge benefit. You can use big words that your friends won't know so they think you're cursing them when you're actually saying something completely true, like bipedal juvenile. It would be hard for a teacher to give you detention for those words. One of my sayings is, "Smart people don't need to curse."
#8 - June 12, 2017, 11:12 AM

If you have a good command of the English language, I believe you don't need to use swear words really at all.  Good Luck with your choice of words.
#9 - June 12, 2017, 08:22 PM

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