I’m spending a whole afternoon on one word. A word which has stuck out for one of my teen readers because ‘Nonie wouldn’t use it’, and which I’ve used on ten occasions in book 2. And bizarrely, without even trying, not at all in book 1.
It’s an expression of frustration and annoyance. Stronger than ‘oh dear’ and weaker than a full-on swear word. My teens don’t swear in front of me (although I’m sure they do when we’re not around) and I try not to swear in front of them. It’s an unspoken pact of politeness we have. I’m not Melvin Burgess – much as I admire him. If I was writing for an older age group, I’d use a whole gamut of expletives without a problem. But I have one enthusiastic reader who’s ten, for example, and I don’t want her mother glaring at me in the playground because her daughter’s vocab has expanded by one or two pithy expressions that aren’t exactly on the syllabus. Or simply to make the girl’s brain sting with discomfort as she reads.
Of course, I could be coy. But boy does it annoy me when Disney teens swear. Gosh, Hannah Montana, I bet Miley Cyrus would have phrased it differently. I don’t want to be dishonest about the words I use. The thing is, I’m sure my teens express annoyance, surprise and displeasure all the time without resorting to the obvious, and I can’t remember for the life of me what they say.
Mike Klassenn addresses the problem here. Sadly, he refers to a blog discussing the subject and doesn’t link to it. I want to see that blog! Most writers – in America anyway – seem to agree that if you’re writing for 13 and up, you need to use swear words sometimes to be realistic, and they won’t be anything your readership hasn’t seen before. But what if, like me, you’re thrilled if a 9 or 10 year-old is reading ahead of their age, and you’re writing a story you want to be as accessible to them as it can be?
I can avoid this word. After a few hours’ work (oh God, I could have written 2 chapters by now), I’ve come up with alternatives for every instance of it. But it had a certain rhythm to it, which I miss. And it was only four letters (no, not that one. Or that one) and every alternative is at least a sentence. Sometimes four. Yes, four sentences!
I want to use the expressions that teens use when they’re self-censoring to appease an adult or young kids audience. I want to find the YA author chat rooms that must be devoted to this subject, or ideally a few literate teens blogging authoritatively about it for the rest of us. Are you out there? Talk to me! What do you say?