Yes! Cursing is fine. HARRY POTTER is loaded with curses. But, actually, I’m going to discuss cursing in this post… not cursing. I mean using bad words.
When I decided the topic for my next entry would be “Profanity in Middle Grade Books”, I was certain I’d find a bleep load of information. Or, at the very least, a long bleeping list of MG books overflowing with curse words.
Nope. It was actually a bleeping struggle. Turns out most MG books are pretty clean. As far as I”m concerned, that’s a good thing!
I’ve always been fascinated by curse words. It just seems strange that you can arrange a few letters one way and it’s okay, but rearrange them another way… oh, boy! For example, no one has a problem if I say or write “hits”. But take those same letters and make a different word and you’ll have the FCC coming at you like Pop-Eye after eating a can of radioactive spinach.
And sometimes cursing might not be cursing. Look at this scene:
Harvey asked his brother, “Billy? You want to play Lincoln Logs?”
Billy answered, “I can’t. I’ve got to do that dam report.”
Harvey gasped, “You just said a bad word.” Harvey ran downstairs, told his mom, and Billy was forced to eat LAVA soap (the worst tasting off all soaps).
Is Billy innocent? It depends. I mean, he did say “dam”. But that’s not really a swear word. Maybe Harvey knows that Billy’s report is about “clowns”, not “dams”. I know, I know, it’s confusing. And I’m getting off topic.
The point of this post is the use of foul language in Middle Grade books. And I think it’s fairly obvious there really is no place for cursing in MG books.
I just finished reading ARCHVILLAIN by Barry Lyga (which I enjoyed, by the way) and “poop” was as bad as it got in that book.
I think it works better to weave a story around the swear words. Like – Dad put on the wig, cursing under his breath – is all that’s needed to get the point across.
Or better yet, make up your own curse words or phrases. One of my favorite examples occurs in the movie SPY KIDS 2. The young girl spy senses trouble and says, “Oh… shitake mushrooms.” My kids giggled like crazy after that. So if you think you need to use a curse word in your middle grade writing, try to be creative.
Beware of strong language in your middle grade novel. You may wish to use profanities because a particular character demands it, but at this age, parents and teachers are still very protective. Teachers also beg writers not to include foul language because then they can’t read that book in class. If you must include it, be aware that it may limit the book’s marketability, both with editors and with the public.
You know the book BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA by Katherine Paterson. It’s a Newberry Award Winner. But it was red flagged and challenged by several school districts for profanity. The Novel THE HIGHER POWER OF LUCKY by Susan Patron faced similar issues.
Here’s a quote from a librarian: If it’s a great story, I’ll allow minor swear words like “bleep” if it contributes to the character development.
I think this is good advice. But where is that list of “minor” swear words at?
Bottom line: If you want your MG book to make it into school libraries, try to keep it clean.