Why the Talents Have Potty Mouths

Now, obviously, the simplest answer to that is: because I do. As you know, I’m back from a weekend up home, having seen some peeps I went to school with, and have been talking to people who use “f**kin’…” the way other people use “uh…”. This is the way we talked, from middle school on, much more gratuitously foul than the language that went into Hush Money.

Now, this isn’t confined to the place or people of my childhood. When I was a military wife, it was the same thing–only taller. And you’ll notice that while the girl Talents also cuss, it’s more often a matter of emphasis, while the boys tend to be more conversational about it.

Now, this post comes out of some of the reviews I’ve had that give me a bit of a wrist-slap and a 1-star demerit for the language. I want to say, up front, that these demerits are COMPLETELY VALID. One of these days, maybe I’ll write a post about reviews and the disconnect between writers and readers in that regard, but the short version is that writers (as I’ve read them around the ‘net) tend to think readers should be evaluating their book on some kind of objective criteria, while readers tend to rate a book based on how it affected them personally. So if my cussing kids diminished your enjoyment of the story, and assuming that a rating reflects a reader’s enjoyment of the story, then what do I expect them to do, lie? No. That would be dumb. So there you are.

Anyway, on with the behind-the-scenes stuff.

When I started to write Hush Money, I really put myself back in that time.  When I felt my way into these characters, the language just came out. Right away it gave me pause. I hadn’t really set out to write YA. When I started the book, I actually didn’t know that writing about teens would automatically make the book YA. I found this out soon after beginning the book, and I was very concerned. I’ve read YA that I consider far worse than mine in terms of adult content, but not a lot of it. Kait told me, “Don’t worry about it. Just get through the first draft and edit later.”

And, of course, that’s always excellent advice.

So why didn’t I tone down the language in the edit? I’m fairly good with words. I probably could have taken all those problem elements and re-worked them into something that still carried some strong emotion, without the actual cuss-words, right? It’s not like censoring a movie for TV and having Johnny say, “No, flip you, Dad!”

I kept the language because it’s not just words or emotion. For kids, forbidden language is part of posturing. And, as some of you may recall, posturing is very important in the wild. For those of you who went to schools where the threat of violence seemed pretty constant, maybe you’ve had that feeling that you needed to have a facade that was a little harsher and a little less vulnerable than who you really were. And maybe that’s not something all readers relate to. But I do.

The Talents live in that kind of fear state, under a constant threat, and they build walls. When I went to do the edits, I couldn’t see reworking the language as anything but removing bricks from those walls and weakening my characterization overall.

I’m not defending it like I want to change anyone’s mind. If a reader doesn’t see that, it’s probably because they either don’t relate to those feelings, or because they have personal values which override them. No book can be all things to all people, and while some people enjoyed the style of the book and have said the characters seemed very real to them, in part because of the language, others didn’t like that. I totally get that.

The point of this post was more just that it’s a thing I’ve struggled with, and I thought maybe you’d be interested in a little insight into my world.

I’m not defending it like I want to change your mind or anything. It’s more that you had mentioned being able to talk to authors about the books, and I thought you might be interested in how that particular element developed for me and why it remains.


Filed under author blog, characters, Hush Money, ideas, insecurities, Talent Chronicles, writing

29 responses to “Why the Talents Have Potty Mouths

  1. I don’t curse much, but nothing in Hush Money jumped out at me. I just read it as part of language because to me it is. There are plenty “clean” words that if used a certain way can be more offensive than the bad ones.

    But like you said, that’s neither here nor there. Everyone has a different expectation when they sit down to read a book.

    At least you’re characterizations have brought out strong feelings whether they’re positive or negative. The worst is to have a reader not care either way.

  2. Dee Radic

    Most teenagers cuss, they always have and always will, it’s part of rebellion. It didn’t sound forced or unrealistic, it was a natural part of the dialog. I won’t name names, but I have recently read a book written by two authors, and the dialog seems stiff and staged, not at all how teenagers speak, and it really pulls you out of the story like having cold water thrown on you during a movie.

    I think if someone is that sensitive about cussing they shouldn’t be reading a book about teenagers.

    • What makes me a just a little crazy is the fact that where I’m able, at most places Hush Money is available, there’s a warning about the language. That’s something that very few publishers I’ve seen will let you know up front, so it makes me more confused about why someone who knows they don’t like that reads the book, and then scolds me for it after the fact when I was so up front about it before the fact. But as this is sounding very close to whining, I’m just going to shut up now! Thanks for your comment, Dee.

  3. I may be an unusual reviewer, but even if the words totally offended me, if the story was good and entertaining, I probably wouldn’t take off any stars for it. It may be partly because I’m a writer and know how bad reviews feel. We are all emotional and subjective about what we read, it’s true. But I’m careful how I review.

    I don’t use any “bad language” in my books, but most of the ones I read have different levels of cursing. I’m not going to say, “Oh no, that’s another star down for you.”

  4. First thing’s first: I have a potty mouth. 🙂

    That said, I think it’s silly to give a book a lower rating only because of swearing. A character’s vocabulary reflects their personality. He or she could swear for any number of reasons.

    I’m not saying that readers who object to foul language should be forced to read books containing swears. They can read what they like. But to penalize a book because they don’t like characters’ language? Lame.

    • Thanks, Nancy. I have a warning label on the physical book and in the product description, because it’s YA. So I’m definitely with you on not forcing anyone to read stuff they’re not comfortable with.

      I don’t think readers see it as penalizing the book or the author, necessarily. While, yeah, that’s how it feels on my end, I don’t believe that’s how they think about it.

  5. I’ve complained in the past about language being inappropriate in YA books. Not so much because I don’t think children swear, but because it seemed unnatural and inserted just for the sake of having foul language. My thoughts are the same with sex in YA books. Sure kids have sex, but I don’t think it’s appropriate to put it in just for the sake of having it.

    Kind of reminds me of the M. Night movie where he worked really hard to get an R rating for the movie. So he added some cheesy gore which was totally unnecessary and had me thinking, what in the world?, instead of really being invested in the scene.

    As far as Hush Money, I believe the first F-bomb was laid out by the antagonist. I could see that, and it sort of opened up the way for others to toss around foul language. The language in my mind seemed appropriate for the characterization.

    On the other hand, I’ve read an YA novel where the protagonist was a shy sweet girl who was drawn into a fantasy world. She had one friend who was playful but didn’t swear. Yet she was using the F word throughout the book. And I’m wondering why in the world is she swearing. Her friend doesn’t, and she spends a lot of time hanging around family who doesn’t. Is the author trying to raise the rating?

    I’ve also read a YA novel with sex in it. The girl pushes for having sex. Sometime in the middle to last quarter of the book, they do the deed. Then all the consequences are glossed over. No emotional ramifications. No physical ramifications. The book just continues like nothing happened. And I’m wondering, why was it such a big deal for your characters to have sex if it played no part in the actual story line? And why would you make it out for children reading your book that sex is no big deal?

    So I’m rambling. The point I’m trying to make is those areas folks question putting into YA novels have a place, just no in every novel. If it’s appropriate to the story line, I say go for it. But putting it in just for the sake of meeting some criteria is rather lame and detracts from the story.

  6. Kait Nolan

    Teenagers curse. A lot. It’s a fact of life. They also have sex, drink, often do drugs or smoke, and do all kinds of other stuff that grown up types disapprove of. The fact that you didn’t cut out the language, I think, really added to the reality factor, which is always an issue when dealing with the paranormal. These kids were real. If that offends some people, they really haven’t spent any time with real teenagers.

    • This made me smile because I remember writing HM and saying something like, Dylan’s hanging out with his friends where they’re smoking between classes– and you’re like, wait, they’re smoking? No, that’s too gross. Which, yeah, was why Dylan had quit again, but that’s still what they were out there doing because that’s what kids do.

      • Interesting that you made revisions for Dylan to be a non-smoker. Personally, I think it was a good call. As an afterthought, I mentally labeled Dylan’s friends as the bad crowd when I got to the smoke scene. Even though smokers are not necessarily immoral people, I think society generally puts them in a bad light. Tee hee… Potty Mouths. Putting Dylan as a non-smoker further differentiates him from the others. In the crowd, but not really part of the crowd.

        • It wasn’t a revision. While I had “bad boys smoke” as kind of a rule in my head, I also had “heroes probably shouldn’t.” In what I was mentioning in reply to Kait’s comment was the incident we had in chat where I wasn’t clear to her that my hero wasn’t actually smoking in the scene, and she was like, WHAT? Don’t you really want to rethink that?? The conversation in the scene is supposed to introduce a character who’s in flux, who kind of wants to be different, but keeps following the same crowd, and it also works in starting to establish the relationship dynamics. I like scenes that work really hard, so, although Kait was totally grossed out by the idea of anyone smoking ever and found the idea objectionable in a hero (esp a young one), it was one of those times in which I was just like, just trust me and give me your opinion after you read it through.

  7. I can honestly say I didn’t even notice the cursing in Hush Money, probably because that was pretty much the way my friends and I talked in high school (and still do).

    I’ve received the exact same complaint about my (non-YA) Shadow Fae books, where the street kid protagonist regularly curses. Actually, I felt like I’d toned his language down from where it would be realistically, considering his background. The way he speaks is as much a part of building his character as the actions he takes, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  8. Stacey Wallace Benefiel

    The cursing in Hush Money did not bother me at all. I’m a potty mouth and have been since middle school as well. I grew up in a religious household and it definitely was a “safe” way for me to rebel.

    When I wrote Glimpse, I put in a minimal amount of cursing or used other words in place of curses because Zellie is a pastor’s daughter. But, I allowed her to say OMG, or God a lot because that felt like more of a rebellion for her than saying f**K. Now the second book, Glimmer, is getting a little bit of flack for an increase in cursing and sex. Zellie still doesn’t curse much, but Ben does. He’s an 18-year-old boy who has been hanging out with adults for most of his life. I felt like, of course he would curse. Plus he’s supposed to make everyone a little uncomfortable. As for the sex…I went back and forth on whether I should include it or not, but like with the cursing, the kids are getting older and it felt like a natural progression of the characters.
    If cursing and sex offends some people, I can understand that, but I don’t think we should let the fear of losing a star on a review influence what we write.

    I look forward to your reader vs. writer review post! You are always so good with the insights. 🙂

    • He’s an 18-year-old boy who has been hanging out with adults for most of his life. I felt like, of course he would curse. Plus he’s supposed to make everyone a little uncomfortable. As for the sex…I went back and forth on whether I should include it or not, but like with the cursing, the kids are getting older and it felt like a natural progression of the characters.

      I think your points here are important. Rather than assuming all kids do [XYZ], you’ve taken into account the background.

      I think back to when I was a kid (yeah, things have changed since then) and remember going through stages in terms of foul language. A lot had to do with the folks I hung around. When in Rome. I also had friends who discouraged me from doing drugs even though they were available.

      My youngest daughter is 13. A few months ago I asked her if she swore. And though I throw a word around here and there, I’ve never heard her. I’d also moderate her if she did (do as I say, not as I do). Still, I was surprised when she admitted she swore around friends, but not often according to her. And like me, she said it depended on the group she was around.

      In terms of sex, the media plays like everyone’s having it, but it’s not true. A couple of months ago, I did a semi-roleplay scene with my daughter.

      Me: What if he says, I thought you said you loved me. Everyone else is doing it.
      Daughter: Everyone’s not doing it.
      Me: How do you know?
      Daughter gives me this look which says I’m all sorts of stupid: Mom. Everyone?

      It’s great to try to get into the minds of kids in order to portray them correctly in the YA genre. However, it’s also important to remember kids are individuals also. They have different influences which make them who they are and shape their behavior.

      All kids are not having sex, doing drugs, and/or using foul language. Likewise, not every kid abstains. With the YA genre, I think authors walk a fine line because folks can be very sensitive about certain issue. Does that mean sex, drugs, and rock and roll foul language should not be included? No. But I think it should be appropriate placed. Some authors have a knack for feeling when to include and when not. In the end, I think it really comes down to writing skill.

      As far as reviews, I think most authors learn early that they can’t please everyone.

    • No! I have to have all my stars!
      Yeah, you’re right. Plus, I think I’m going to have to give up reading them. The criticisms are voices in my head when I’m writing, and the praises are voices in my head when I’m not writing, telling me to hurry up and finish and make sure it measures up. :stresses:

      You’re totally my hero for turning me on to Roswell, btw. I’m so loving it.

  9. I don’t remember the swearing in Hush Money – maybe because it doesn’t have that much of an impact on me.

    I wrote out a big, long story there and deleted it, you really didn’t need to know all that. 😉 To condense, I drank and swore from the age of 12 (mostly because I led an overly sheltered life and needed to pack as much stuff into the little time I had) and everytime I walk outside my home now, I hear little tiny kids swearing more than I do (which, trust me, is a lot). To me, it’s unrealistic to read about kids saying heck and doing everything they’re told because I’ve never known a kid like that. My mother used to replace swear words with other words but I find that silly because it’s the intent that makes a word “bad.”

    I believe you have to write the stories and characters as they are. It would be unrealistic and forced to do otherwise. But there are different audiences out there, even within the same age range and we have to take them under consideration and prepare for the fact we can’t please everyone.

    My view is probably skewed because I’m in Ireland, hell, damn, etc, are in no way considered bad words here – you all have a lot more “rules” in a general sense. I remember a few years ago, a (lovely) American lady asked me would I not get married to save my children the shame. Someone recently said they never heard a swear word until adulthood. Both things astounded me, that’s a whole lot of wtfery right there. I can’t imagine someone saying that here. 😀

    So, yeah, we all have different perceptions and we can’t stay true to ourselves and the entire world so we have to pick our battles a little bit. Personally, if I find a story or character unrealistic or even offensive, I can still enjoy the story if it’s entertaining and well-written. I wouldn’t deduct stars because it had or didn’t have swear words/sex/violence/drugs/whatever.

    • Save your kids the shame? Seriously? Let’s do the time warp again.

      My mom was big on the substitutes. There’s a name for those, what is it? A minced oath? Anyway, her favorites were always “sugar” and “fudge”.

  10. Pingback: Guided by voices « Stacey Wallace Benefiel

  11. Brooke

    I happened to come across this while scanning multiple posts by you, and I think your use of language is very valid. The reason the language came naturally, as you said, is that it is natural for teenagers to cuss. I actually am still a teenager, though barely [19], and high school is still a vivd memory. I actually remember that, when I came into high school, I felt a little isolated because of the fact that I did not cuss. I’d lived an extremely sheltered life up until that part, and cursing is part of teenage life that is a way of saying “I’m growing up and I’ll prove it to you”. Not to do so is the abnormal lifestyle, I say.

    I’m a little bias, because I have a mouth that should have been washed out with soap on a daily basis. [I think part of this sprung from my need to cast of my sheltered life]. Language evolves continuously, and cultural and social norms dictate that change. Cursing is ingrained into teens, so [to bring this back to you] the cursing in the novel neither shocked nor offended me. My sisters love YA novels, and sometimes I read them, but typically I find the dialogue stiff and not life-like. I feel like you actually found the voice of teens, instead of trying to prove your broad range of vocabulary. That is what drew me into your story, the real and gritty way you portrayed teens.

    • Brooke, thank you so much for taking the time to write this for me. It occurs to me, as I write this, that I probably shouldn’t be so proud of any natural flair for swearing, but there it is. Thanks for your compliments!

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