$h!t happens in real life, but should it in literature geared toward younger readers? I've thought a lot about the use of swear words in YA, and it seemed like a logical finale to my impromptu four letter word week here on the OV. (You can view posts one and two if you'd like, but be warned neither of them have anything to do with cursing. :0)
This isn't a new topic of debate by any means. Opinions on the subject are all over the place on whether it is acceptable for your characters to drop an F-bomb, or if they should stick to the King's English. From the highly unscientific research I've performed (the Google), I'd say the general consensus is that it's okay, so long as it is character or situationally appropriate.
Here's the thing: For some real-life folks, it's always situationally appropriate to DAMN! the dog. (So to speak.) Furthermore, for some folks it's never okay to say things you wouldn't say to momma or Jesus. Would it be okay then, to have potty-mouthed Uncle Mort be a main character and shout an expletive in every other scene? It's what Mort would do, after all.
Here's an excellent post on the subject I found over at Kidlit.com. More recently, YA author Kirsten Hubbard discussed the subtle art of Cuss-cromancy. She thinks that, like every other word you choose to include in a story, curse words should be heavily judged to see if they serve a purpose. If they aren't moving the story or provide some sort of essential color, they should be removed. In other words, unlike in real life, Kirsten thinks there should be no casual cursing in writing.
As for me, I tend to fall in line with Kirsten. I think anything overused in a novel runs the risk of becoming gimmicky and distracting to the reader. However, I also think if you try to filter too much--or underuse with a purpose--the writing can become stale or unrealistic. I'd also advocate for finding more creative ways to express curse words, as opposed to omission, in books for middle grade readers. The movies The Fantastic Mr. Fox (the main character says, "cuss" in place of expletives) and A Christmas Story (dad says a string of nearly unintelligible words in place of expletives) come to mind.
I'll leave you with a few questions to further the debate:
Is there an age cutoff as it pertains to readers/target audience and cursing? Should there be, considering YA and middle grade books are commonly mingled in school libraries? Do we need a rating system for books (similar to movies) that would guide readers, parents, etc. ?
I'll also say a quick thank you to all of the new followers AND for all of the awesome comments on the last couple of posts. Even if you don't read the nonsense I spew, you should read the comments and thoughts of the readers. Great stuff!
Have an awesome Super Sunday!