When I was about 13/14, I was obsessed with Rob Lowe. I got each of his films in turn from the video shop and watched them until they were almost worn out (when the screen started to flicker and the edges of the tape went frilly, it was time to give another film a turn).
Class (which also starred Andrew McCarthy) was one of my favourites (probably second to St Elmo’s Fire). I don’t know if you’ve seen Class and I don’t want to spoiler it, but Rob and Andrew have a fight. It goes on for a while, in different locations, and Rob’s character is mad as hell. At one point, Lowe says, “I’m going to kick your ass”*. A while later, Class was shown on TV and the line was changed to “I’m going to kick your head in” and it struck me as completely unconvincing (granted, part of the problem was that the actor who overdubbed the line had an English accent, but still).
I’m wittering on about Rob Lowe not because I’m finding myself a little bit obsessed again, thanks to this Vanity Fair cover, but because of a discussion about swearing in YA that I inadvertently started while requesting help with my line edits on Twitter. Lovely Jo has blogged about it at Once Upon a Bookcase (I love Tom Clempson’s comment) and equally lovely Raimy is pro-swearing at Readaraptor. I was just planning on letting the two of them duke it out, but then I thought I should probably write about it too…
You see, there was a fair amount of swearing in DELLA SAYS: OMG! When I write, I seem to write quite a lot of swears. It’s not something I’d given much thought to previously – I try to write how people speak and if I think someone would say “Shit” if they, say, knew someone was reading their diary, then “shit” is the word I’d use. My line edits for DELLA included a list of the swearwords, asking me to make sure each was essential. Once I’d stopped blushing, I said I felt they were – either for realism or because there was no viable alternative – and my editor was fine with it, so they stayed in. (For info, DELLA has some sexual content that makes it more suited to older readers, swearwords notwithstanding.)
It was a bit different with JESSIE ♥ NYC. There’s nothing in JESSIE that would make it unsuitable for younger readers (although obviously it is aimed at teens) and so my editor felt we had to be a bit stricter with the swearing so, once again, I went through the book changing or justifying my swears. There were a couple I just didn’t want to change (because I liked them) and some more that I felt I couldn’t change, again because a different word would be inauthentic.
I’ll give you an example. In the book, an 18-year-old American male (I’m trying to avoid spoilers!) has had a huge row with his girlfriend. He tells his friend, “I was so pissed at her, man.” Now there’s no alternative to this. There’s nothing an 18-year-old male would say in this context other than “pissed”. He wouldn’t say “cross”. He wouldn’t say “angry”. He would say “pissed”. And so, in my opinion, it has to stay. But if, say, a British character had said, “I was so pissed last night” I would have happily changed that to “drunk”. I think they’d be more likely to say “pissed”, yes, but it wouldn’t pull me out of the story if they said “drunk” so “drunk” would be fine.
What do you think? How do you feel about swearing in novels? For adults or for teens. Do you use “bad language” in your own writing?
* Up until about a minute ago when I tried to google it, I thought the line was “I’m going to f**k your ass”** and it literally just occurred to me I may have misheard and it was actually “kick”, but I’m not entirely sure. Anyway, I’m hoping the point still stands.
** Given the theme of this post, I haven’t asterisked that for propriety, but to prevent dodgy searches!