Saturday, May 31, 2014

Keeping It Clean in Young Adult Novels

Sometimes I'm a bit perplexed when critics or reviewers knock a young adult novel because the language is considered too clean. In other words, simply not realistic.

I'm certainly not naive to believe that some young adults don't have potty mouth. It's almost like an act of rebelliousness. After they mature, many of them clean up their acts. 

But I know plenty of kids who don't cuss or use language that many would consider insulting or abusive toward others. Maybe they are mature for their age.

Or maybe they have been raised in a home where the parents and other family members set an example by refraining to use questionable words. 

As an aside, Vice President Joe Biden regretted saying, "This is a BFD" at the signing of the Affordable Care Act, adding that his mother would have totally disapproved! Hey Joe, my mom would have reacted the same way.

And that can be the same in the fictional world. Not all kids cuss and talk dirty. Many, if not most, are well-mannered and considerate. 

I wouldn't expect to find questionable language in a Christian novel (or any other religious-based novel) unless it was totally relevant to the story.

And I believe some authors -- perhaps acting as de facto family members -- try to set an example for their young readers by showing that you can keep it clean when talking to others, expressing anger or happiness, or any other verbal emotion.

I've been reading reviews of some books where folks thought the language was too adult. I don't have a problem with language if it pertinent, rather than gratuitous, to the story.  

I also think that kids may hear enough foul language in their lives from music, movies and from their peers that reading a clean novel might be somewhat of an escape for them as well.

Before I wrote "Shooting Star," I told several friends that I planned to write a novel that would be clean and inspirational to young people, much like the books I read when growing up by authors I admired such as Clair Bee and John R. Tunis. I thought their novels influenced me a great deal in terms sportsmanship and how to treat others, and I considered my novel as sort of a tribute to them.

And I took the same approach with "The Bully List," even though it would have been easy throwing in a few expletives here and there because of the subject matter.

I'm not being critical of authors who have used "realistic" dialogue in their novels. Whatever works for them is what they should write.

Your thoughts?

Until the next time...



  1. The occasional gratuitous profanity can be amusing, but if used too often becomes wearing and detracts from the story. I'm quite happy to read a novel without any and just as happy to read others littered with them. It all depends on context and the writer's skill. If he/she uses it to conceal a plot hole then it quickly becomes unbearable.

    1. Good point, Roger. I agree that if it's in the context of the story, then fine. But the unskilled writer will sometimes do it for shock value, or whatever reason.

  2. Yes i agree too. Some times things are exaggerated in books then what we observe and experience in real life. Even in commercials and movies too much exaggeration. But a good and mature reader and viewer all at once catch the whole scenerio.

  3. Very well said, Kiran. Books, movies and TV often exaggerate things to draw attention, which can be good or bad, depending on how its done. Thanks again.