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Question for YA Readers and Writers


Are books targeted for the YA market allowed to have foul language — like the occasional f-bomb?  I’m working on a story with three teenagers and, in some rare instances, the f-bomb is dropped.  In my memory of YA books I have read, they seem to be pretty clean of foul language.  So, I’m wondering if that’s verboten.

Thanks in advance for any thoughts you might have.

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13 responses to “Question for YA Readers and Writers

  1. sknicholls June 15, 2014 at 7:36 pm

    Disclaimer here. I really don’t read YA fiction. I am confused by it though. Is it YA or is it teen? I recently read that YA was geared toward 17-30 year olds. In that case, I wouldn’t let the F-bomb slip away if it is needed for impact or is how your teens talk. But I am also seeing parents say that they let their teens read YA fiction, and some of it is very juvenile. If is is truly YOUNG ADULT, adults can handle foul language. I know YA fantasy writers who have swear words and sex in their books.

    • kingmidget June 15, 2014 at 7:39 pm

      Well, it’s Northville. Which I never thought of as YA, until my 16-year-old read it and then I thought … maybe. It is after all about two teenagers and a sixteen-year-old. When I think young adult, I think of the 17-30 age range, but then when you think about the most popular YA fiction, it’s being read by teenagers and pre-teens, which is where the language would concern me — not that they’re already hearing it, and worse, at school.

      • sknicholls June 15, 2014 at 7:41 pm

        oops. just reread that article. it says NEW ADULT 17-30 and YOUNG ADULT 12-20. Why would they call a 12 yo a young adult? I do know that most 12 yos know what the F-word is.

      • kingmidget June 15, 2014 at 7:42 pm

        Completely agree that labeling pre-teens as “young adult” for anything makes no sense. But that certainly seems to be the age range for most YA-targeted fiction.

      • sknicholls June 15, 2014 at 7:46 pm

        I also read somewhere else that you write for your readers to read up. ie. your audience is looking up to the characters they are reading about, age wise. that’s not always true. just look at the number of adult readers that read “The Fault in Our Stars”.

        But people tell me to be true to the story first, regardless. It is not an author’s place to point the moral compass.

      • kingmidget June 15, 2014 at 7:48 pm

        I don’t want to change my story and I don’t think I use foul language extraneously or excessively. So for now I’m keeping it as is. I’m considering trying to get an agent or going directly to a traditional publisher with Northville. If I do that, their feedback will be the first clue.

      • sknicholls June 15, 2014 at 7:53 pm

        Personally, I would not change it. I read that story and I think the character profiles were very well done. I wouldn’t start tweaking. Marketing that story to a YA audience would be fine. It would also make a lot of sense. A couple of characters are forced into adult roles. It works for their language to be as it is.

      • kingmidget June 15, 2014 at 7:54 pm

        Thanks. The more I think about it, the more I want to try the YA route. It is a genre that can provide incredible opportunities.

    • wordsthatscream June 16, 2014 at 3:18 am

      It’s tricky in so far as while YA is actually targeted at 12-20 year olds so many adults can’t resist it (like myself)!

  2. wordsthatscream June 16, 2014 at 3:16 am

    I think the occasional (by which I mean 1 or 2 uses in the whole book) use of mild swears like shit, God dammit (if you’re American) and crap are generally accepted, but from my own reading experiences authors tend to get around using anything stronger than that by indicating that a severe word has been used but skirting around the actual four letters. E.g. you could go with a more creative version of ‘And then I used a word, beginning with F. that would have seen my mouth washed out with coal tar as a young girl.’ It bridges a gap in so far as the YA reader knows it’s been used but censorship-fuelled parents won’t freak out because the word isn’t just being slung around. Let’s put it this way, if you say F**K more than once in a film it becomes a 15/R rather than a 12/PG13. Think about your readership.

    • kingmidget June 16, 2014 at 6:21 am

      Thank you for the feedback. I use the F word five times in a 30,000 word story. It’s not extraneous or excessive. If I decide to market the thing as YA I’ll have to consider some other words where I use it. Thanks for the feedback. It’s consistent with what I thought.

  3. Anonymous June 16, 2014 at 8:25 am

    In the YA I have read, which seems to be a lot more these last few years, the F word, if used at all, is done so very rarely. That’s one word that many parents balk at regardless of the context.

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