I didn’t mean for her to say it. It’s not my style. Nevertheless, toward the end of This Wasted Land, the young adult dark fantasy novel I’m writing, Our Feisty Teenage Heroine Alyx drops the “f-bomb” for the first time. Then she immediately doubles down on it.
To be sure, it’s not as though previously in the story, her language had been demure and ladylike. The abandoned child of a former military man, Alyx has grown up poor and lived under, shall we say, not the best of circumstances. She feels like a misfit, she doesn’t make friends easily, and she has anger issues.
So, while it’s in character for Alyx to use a lot of profanity, I purposefully stayed away from the “f-word.” Unlike a lot of authors–even a surprising number of authors of young adult fiction–I’m very careful with what and how many “bad words” appear in my books.
My caution is not because I’m a prude or because I don’t use profanity in my own speech, or because my audience is little old church ladies. Nor is it because I have an unrealistic idea of how kids these days talk (I’ve raised two teenagers and spent plenty of time around their friends and classmates).
Rather, I try to avoid such language–or at least tone it down–precisely because it’s used so often, especially the “f-word.” Profanity is like anything else: if you’re exposed to it often enough, you get numb to it. It’s meant to shock, but if it’s ubiquitous, it loses that ability.
By not using “f**k” at all until that point in the book–20 chapters, 240+ pages, and 99,000 words in–I’m hoping (perhaps naively) that it will jolt readers, and convey just how much hurt and pain and distress Alyx is suffering at that moment. Before that part of the story, she’d been in some scary/sticky/rough spots, but none quite like what prompts her to go off the way she does.
It may sound quaint, but I didn’t detonate the “f-bomb” in either of my two previously-published novels, Lost Dogs, or Dragontamer’s Daughters, and I’m for-real concerned how it’s going to go over with people who have been following my writing.
Actually, it’s just one of several concerns I have with this novel: when I say it’s dark fantasy, I mean it. In addition to having lots of profanity, it’s scary, it’s violent, parts of it are disturbingly “icky,” and the theme it explores is the many aspects of S-E-X.
I’m guessing that several folks who enjoyed my dog book or “Little House on the Prairie, With Dragons” are not going to like this one, but we’ll see. I was surprised a few weeks ago when my wife, who definitely is not into horror stories, or books that are “oogy” or have lots of cursing, told me that she would read this one.
How about you? How much of a tolerance for profanity do you have? Let me know in the comments. I’ll have more about This Wasted Land as I get closer to publishing it.
Kenton Kilgore writes YA SF/F you’ll feel. His latest work-in-progress, This Wasted Land, a dark fantasy novel, will be published in 2018.
Kenton is the author of Lost Dogs, the story of a German Shepherd and a Beagle-mix who survive the end of the human world, only to find that their struggles have just begun. He also wrote Dragontamer’s Daughters, (like Little House on the Prairie…with dragons) based on Navajo culture and belief. With Patrick Eibel, he created Our Wild Place, a children’s book about the joy to be found in exploring Nature.
Follow Kenton on Facebook for daily posts on sci-fi, fantasy, and other speculative fiction.
Don’t miss the latest! Sign up for my mailing list, and you’ll know about blog posts, sneak peeks, upcoming releases, sales, special offers, and more as soon as they appear. I will honor your privacy and never spam you or sell your information. And you can, of course, unsubscribe any time.