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

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Nether

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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

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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.
 
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KoffieKat

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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

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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

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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"
 

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Personally, I don't like overly sterile kidlit and didn't enjoy it as a child. There is no harm whatsoever in a kid knowing profanity, plus, they'll usually know the word well before reading any book. I grew up on books like the one about the little mole who wanted to know who pooped on his head. On comics about an ever-inebriated motorgang cussing each other out, throwing exhausts at cops, or drowning in plumbing mishaps. Comics whose protagonist's name is "Little A-hole", a little boy who rarely wears pants. Granted, the latter 2 comics were not really kidlit, but adults allow kids to enjoy them because they know a vulgar comic has no more power than an episode of Aaaalviiinnnnnnn (sp?).
I never ended up mooning people or pooping on them. I never grew up to throw stuff at cops or spend my days drunk-driving bikes. I don't use profanity in formal settings. I also expect adults to remind a child that not everything a fictional character does or says, needs to be mimicked in real life. I mean, really, why is profanity a bigger concern to parents, than, say, cartoon violence or cultural insensitivity? Pokemon is very child-friendly language-wise, but in real life, people who capture wild animals and force trusting animals to fight, are criminals, not heroes. I'd worry more about the message than about the delivery.


Granted, I grew up on German literature/comics, and German culture is quite profanity-friendly. That being said, you do you. You'll never please everyone, so you might as well write in a way that feels natural and appropriate to YOU, YOUR characters, and YOUR story. Not everyone will read or even like it, and they don't have to. "Damnit" isn't even that bad. There are words and phrases I'd really keep out of kidlit, but damnit? To damn just means to condemn or doom something.
 
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neandermagnon

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UK parent's opinion (in case you market it at a UK audience) - damn isn't really considered a profanity over here. Also, parents here don't care about profanity or non-sexual nudity as much as in the USA (but tend to be more sensitive about violence than USA parents). This wouldn't be something that would get a book banned from school libraries.

I found it hilarious when someone from the USA quoted Ron in Harry Potter saying "bloody hell!" but censored it like "bloody ****!" because over here, bloody (in any context other than its literal meaning "covered in blood") is a swearword but hell is not. So a Brit would censor it like "b**** hell!"

MG age range is like 10-14 or so IIRC? No problem with these words in that age range. For younger kids words that parents wouldn't want their kids to copy could be an issue, e.g. for 5-8 age range as kids that young won't necessarily understand that certain words shouldn't be used in formal/polite contexts and tend to copy whatever they hear.

There are quite a lot of books for 8-12 age range that are full of toilet humour and jokes involving non-sexual nudity/trousers falling down in funny circumstances type of thing. There's even one book about a kid whose parents are nudists and are planning on telling everyone about their lifestyle (much to the kid's embarrassment) - I've not read it, I just remember seeing it on the library shelf. It was shelved with books for 8-12 year olds.

For sex ed - the vast majority of parents on this side of the pond wouldn't give a damn about words like sex in a context like this. However the UK has a national curriculum so if set in a UK school, it has an official term (I think it's something like "sex and relationship education" and would have an abbreviation probably (SRE?) because the UK national curriculum likes abbreviations. Americans referring to sex ed in books for 8-12 would be fine.

If I'm honest, I'd be more likely to object to "the birds and the bees" as a phrase in a kids' book because it's twee and potentially confusing. I don't believe in shielding kids from stuff like this - I believe in giving them honest, scientifically accurate answers to the questions that they ask.
 

Thecla

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You're aiming the text at the people who are going to buy your book. In the first instance, if you're intending to trade publish, that will be an agent or publisher. If it gets picked up by either/both, it will be edited to fit the intended market before publication, and there may be different editions produced for different markets. It seems unlikely an agent, for instance, will say 'I really like this book, the plot, setting and characterisation are superb, it fits a gap in the market, but I'm going to reject it because you used damn in the ms'. You only really need to worry about this if you're planning to self publish, I feel. In that case you've got to write to your expected market, and the expectations of your market, which is probably libraries, parents, and schools in your own country.

[As another UK (Scotland) parent, I'll largely second what Neandermagnon said.

Personally, I looked at context when the sprogs were young enough for books to need parental vetting (< ~12, though it differed between individual children). If 'damn' and 'damned' were being used as swearwords, not really a problem, if the book was otherwise well written. As Neandermagnon says, these are fairly low level in most people's minds both sides of the border. But, if they were being used not as swear words but in their original context, as in '[character] is damned because [insert reason]', I'd have kept back the book. One of my sprogs had sufficient of an existential crisis when they realised that death, even for them, was inevitable that I didn't want to add worries about what happened next into the mix until they'd come to terms with their own mortality (personal opinion only, based on knowledge of my own offspring; I know mileage and beliefs vary).

Re. Words about relationships, sex, and sex organs: I'd have been annoyed if schools used anything other than the correct (age-appropriate) terminology; 'the birds and the bees' or 'down there' is unbearably twee for anything outwith parody.]

edit: spotted a typo
 

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My girl MC, quoting her father, said "wanker" in a book aimed at this age group, and also that something "stuck out like dogs balls."

Book was trade pubbed without issues and did very well indeed - and that was way back in the 1990s
 
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frimble3

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This is the first fiction I've written in months - you all have inspired a majestic five lines:
Ellen sat on the porch steps, staring into the yard.
"What I don't get," she said, "Is why they call it 'the birds and the bees' when it's chiefly about mammals".
Margie nodded. The world was weird.
 

neandermagnon

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This is the first fiction I've written in months - you all have inspired a majestic five lines:
Ellen sat on the porch steps, staring into the yard.
"What I don't get," she said, "Is why they call it 'the birds and the bees' when it's chiefly about mammals".
Margie nodded. The world was weird.

I would totally buy this book. I might even let the kids read it (if they complete all their chores and do their homework and stuff...)
 

Nether

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This is the first fiction I've written in months - you all have inspired a majestic five lines:
Ellen sat on the porch steps, staring into the yard.
"What I don't get," she said, "Is why they call it 'the birds and the bees' when it's chiefly about mammals".
Margie nodded. The world was weird.

Solid lines. Seems like a great start... or a great middle.
 

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