I am having a dilemma with the book I am currently writing. The main character is 15 years old. The target audience for the book would be 14-18 year olds. When I was 15, I said a bad word from time to time, sometimes more often. All the other people I was in high school with did too. Saying bad words was in a way important for many, like a little rebellion. Maybe they are not drinking, shoplifting and having sex, but they will say dammit if they want to.
So I can say with certainty that teenagers curse.
But in YA novels it seems like portraying the teenagers accurately is a big no-no. In the world of YA, people don’t say bad words. They always don’t do anything more than kiss. But I guess that is another subject all together.
Yesterday I was writing and my main character thought “My jaw is a little strong, my forehead is a little high, and maybe my nose is a bit too small. I have some acne, but who doesn’t? I don’t know. I really don’t know, I just look like a person. A normal fucking person.”
I had to clutch my pearls. I went and changed it to “freaking.” Then I changed it right back. No, she would not think “freaking” here. She is upset, she is hurt, she is confused. This is the right time to say a strong word. To change it would change the character; it would give her more respect for authority than she has; it would make her more timid than she is. She is not a shrinking violet or a damsel in distress. For me, fiction is most believable when the characters act like real people. Real teenagers say “fuck.’ True fact.
As a self-publishing author I can, of course, do whatever I want. There is no editor to tell me to tone down her language. So this choice is up to me. But what if writing a teenager as a real person makes people not want to read my book? Am I writing to the audience or to the story? To the genre or for my own enjoyment? Writing is my job, so selling the books is a concern, but if I start censoring my character this early on, who is she going to be by the end of the story? I want a real, believable girl, not a cardboard cut out of one.