Would "damn" and "damned" be considered too profane for MG?

editing_for_authors
Editing for authors: because every writer needs a good editor.

Nether

Super Member
Registered
Joined
Aug 23, 2021
Messages
310
Reaction score
135
Location
New England
I know there are some contexts where it might be universally appropriate -- phrases like "damning evidence" or "damning moment" -- but I'm thinking more as an expletive ("I couldn't get the damn door open").

I also just preemptively changed a reference to "sex" (when a character acknowledges sex ed), switching it to "the birds and bees."

These are all part of broader changes where I want to make a YA novel with a protagonist at that magical threshold age of 14 -- which can be MG, or can be YA -- clean enough that it could work for a MG audience (even if the length, which is high for YA, would likely be poorly suited for MG; although Brandon Mull's Fablehaven series is MG, and I *think* they're around the same length).
 

CMBright

Super Member
Registered
Joined
Aug 23, 2021
Messages
647
Reaction score
431
I know there are some contexts where it might be universally appropriate -- phrases like "damning evidence" or "damning moment" -- but I'm thinking more as an expletive ("I couldn't get the damn door open").

I also just preemptively changed a reference to "sex" (when a character acknowledges sex ed), switching it to "the birds and bees."

These are all part of broader changes where I want to make a YA novel with a protagonist at that magical threshold age of 14 -- which can be MG, or can be YA -- clean enough that it could work for a MG audience (even if the length, which is high for YA, would likely be poorly suited for MG; although Brandon Mull's Fablehaven series is MG, and I *think* they're around the same length).

I did not realize how much that I used damn until my spouse laughed about my then toddler imitating me down to my tone and cadence.

I do remember my 9th grade ecology teacher and a lecture about snail darter fish because he used the fact that dam was a perfectly appropriate engineering term that sounded like a rather inappropriate term as a running joke through the lecture.

Bridge to Terabetha is a children's book and OMG, the profanity in that thing! Great book, I love it, even read it in school, but I don't think I'd be able to read it in front of a group of, say, 5th graders. In the sense of willing to read it without censoring the language.

Enough rambling. Would it work for kids? Maybe. Would it work for young adults? Definitely. Would it work for parents of either group? Depends on the parent and how 'damn' is integrated into the story.

At least that is my take as a voracious reader and mother of a 10yo.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Nether

KoffieKat

Registered
Joined
Sep 2, 2021
Messages
43
Reaction score
18
Personally I was swearing like a sailor at 14. But, I like that youd like to make the book more universally acceptable. I personally wouldnt use "the birds and the bees" when talking about doing the dirty in sex ed. I think it would be important to portray factual and informative information, however the MC is 14 so she may be shy to acknowlege things as that.

As a young adult the books i read heck even in my schools library portrayed scenes and language I wouldn't think they would, however it depends on your target audience.
 

Nether

Super Member
Registered
Joined
Aug 23, 2021
Messages
310
Reaction score
135
Location
New England
Personally I was swearing like a sailor at 14. But, I like that youd like to make the book more universally acceptable. I personally wouldnt use "the birds and the bees" when talking about doing the dirty in sex ed. I think it would be important to portray factual and informative information, however the MC is 14 so she may be shy to acknowlege things as that.

As a young adult the books i read heck even in my schools library portrayed scenes and language I wouldn't think they would, however it depends on your target audience.

The thing that I'd kinda worry about in that space is less the reader, and more the people buying the books because those ages the buyers are parents (who don't always read what their kids want to get, and rely more on what they've heard) and librarians (who frequently do read those books), as well as agents and publishers getting squirrel-y because of those expectations.

Personally I was swearing like a sailor at 14.

I'm not saying it isn't realistic. The problem is more that MG/YA readers tend to look toward characters two years older themselves, so if I have a 14 y/o MC (which is a significant age because that's right when they're starting high school), the industry views the readership at being 12-14 (which is an audience between MG & YA). When I was 12, I had classmates who would show up to school either drunk or with the smell of alcohol on them. That was my reality (and I'm sure it was the reality for many others as well), but that's not what parents like seeing in their kids' fiction :x

In other words, it's less about the kids themselves, and more about the adult gatekeepers at every step of the process, who are looking at the marketability (on the industry side) or protectionism (on the buyer side). And I remember all of the books my folks refused to buy me (or let me check out of a library) when I was a kid, so I was stuck trying to borrow from friends or hope that the school library would have a copy (which it often didn't) because my folks couldn't monitor what I took from that one.

I personally wouldnt use "the birds and the bees" when talking about doing the dirty in sex ed

It's not actually a sex ed thing. It's the MC misinterpreting a lecture that his dad wants to give him, thinking "Oh, we're going to have a sex talk... I don't want to have a sex talk with my dad," which also serves to clarify to the reader that the conversation has nothing to do with sex.

I had used the word "sex" in the original draft -- which, after proofing, I just sent out on an agent run and heard crickets (granted, I didn't have a huge list of agents, I didn't vet the agents carefully enough (from the responses that they don't cover YA... so the resource I used was wrong in some cases), and the real killer was that it was 102k words (the only non-boilerplate notes I got back referenced that the word count was too high; which is something that's been consistent in agency videos I've watched afterward, where some explicitly mention not even looking at books outside of the genre's geneally-accepted word counts) -- so there could a lot of other reasons as well). It wasn't until afterward when I decided to just try a few publishers.

It wasn't until I got a full request from an indie publisher (and started reading some of the guidelines on that indie's site (although, as a sidenote, after learning more about that publisher via AW, I probably won't work with them but as of now they haven't got back to me)) that I remembered a scene where the MC's dad -- when asked by the MC -- admits that he's not 100% sure he didn't father another character's child because he and the woman in question were drinking that night. (Which is both a key plot point and a red herring, although I've kinda changed that to people just *suspecting* he might be the father while he denies anything.) I wounded up reworking that to not reference that alcohol was involved, and to instead focus on other characters' suggestions that he may have been the father while his denials are a little more concrete.
 

KoffieKat

Registered
Joined
Sep 2, 2021
Messages
43
Reaction score
18
The thing that I'd kinda worry about in that space is less the reader, and more the people buying the books because those ages the buyers are parents (who don't always read what their kids want to get, and rely more on what they've heard) and librarians (who frequently do read those books), as well as agents and publishers getting squirrel-y because of those expectations.



I'm not saying it isn't realistic. The problem is more that MG/YA readers tend to look toward characters two years older themselves, so if I have a 14 y/o MC (which is a significant age because that's right when they're starting high school), the industry views the readership at being 12-14 (which is an audience between MG & YA). When I was 12, I had classmates who would show up to school either drunk or with the smell of alcohol on them. That was my reality (and I'm sure it was the reality for many others as well), but that's not what parents like seeing in their kids' fiction :x

In other words, it's less about the kids themselves, and more about the adult gatekeepers at every step of the process, who are looking at the marketability (on the industry side) or protectionism (on the buyer side). And I remember all of the books my folks refused to buy me (or let me check out of a library) when I was a kid, so I was stuck trying to borrow from friends or hope that the school library would have a copy (which it often didn't) because my folks couldn't monitor what I took from that one.



It's not actually a sex ed thing. It's the MC misinterpreting a lecture that his dad wants to give him, thinking "Oh, we're going to have a sex talk... I don't want to have a sex talk with my dad," which also serves to clarify to the reader that the conversation has nothing to do with sex.

I had used the word "sex" in the original draft -- which, after proofing, I just sent out on an agent run and heard crickets (granted, I didn't have a huge list of agents, I didn't vet the agents carefully enough (from the responses that they don't cover YA... so the resource I used was wrong in some cases), and the real killer was that it was 102k words (the only non-boilerplate notes I got back referenced that the word count was too high; which is something that's been consistent in agency videos I've watched afterward, where some explicitly mention not even looking at books outside of the genre's geneally-accepted word counts) -- so there could a lot of other reasons as well). It wasn't until afterward when I decided to just try a few publishers.

It wasn't until I got a full request from an indie publisher (and started reading some of the guidelines on that indie's site (although, as a sidenote, after learning more about that publisher via AW, I probably won't work with them but as of now they haven't got back to me)) that I remembered a scene where the MC's dad -- when asked by the MC -- admits that he's not 100% sure he didn't father another character's child because he and the woman in question were drinking that night. (Which is both a key plot point and a red herring, although I've kinda changed that to people just *suspecting* he might be the father while he denies anything.) I wounded up reworking that to not reference that alcohol was involved, and to instead focus on other characters' suggestions that he may have been the father while his denials are a little more concrete.
I completely see what you mean. I think maybe even for that age of readers, just clearly hinting at these subjects may be enough for them to understand. It would also make sense not to get too detailed and say things straight out because I imagine that age is still nervous and shy about those topics so maybe you can convey that. For example, "I really don't want to have 'THIS' talk with my dad"
 

Featured Book