Don’t Mess With the Gatekeeper
Yesterday, I was scrolling through my WordPress reader and came across a post by ZenScribbles titled “To curse or not to curse, that is the question.” In it, she discusses her take on swearing in writing and movies.
I found that I was in complete agreement with her. Though those who know me know that I can swear like a sailor when the situation lends itself to profanity, I do not swear or put gratuitous sex scenes in my writing. (And it is not just because I am writing middle grade and YA fiction!) 🙂 I don’t like to read books filled with profanity and I while I don’t mind a steamy sex scene in my reading, I am completely turned off by books that rely so heavily on these things that the plot and character are lost.
I enjoy a vast array of fiction and movie genres but it seems that a lot of writers and directors lean so heavily on swearing that you can’t even follow the characters’ conversations. The same holds true for sex. One minute you are in the middle of a complicated plot point and the next you are rolling around in the field with a bunch of characters you just met. A good example of this would be adult fantasy. Why is it that a writer can take a perfectly fun plot and muddy it up by throwing so many inter-species sex scenes that you feel like you need to take a shower after a few chapters?
I am certainly no prude when it comes to these things, and do get a kick out of some books and TV shows that are dripping with F-bombs. Strikeback comes to mind. This Cinemax series came into our lives this summer when we were desperately seeking a reprieve from reruns. Swearing is commonplace, and my husband and I joke about how one of the characters, Damien Scott, gets lucky in every episode. Gratuitous sex? Yes, maybe. But it does not seem to detract from the plot, and has actually become kind of funny; during each episode, we try to guess who will be the lucky lady. 🙂
But I don’t think writers should try to hide a shaky plot line or weak characters behind sex and swearing. Too much of either, especially when it is just thrown in for no reason, cheapens the story and makes for a very difficult read.
When I first contemplated starting a blog, I read a lot of books about building a platform and putting yourself out there on social media. One writer, I believe it was Kristen Lamb, said something that stuck with me. She said to avoid religion and politics as it could alienate a large number of readers. I think the same holds true for sex and swearing. Those who don’t mind a little of each will probably not be put off by my leaving them out of my story. But, those who are insulted by too much sex and swearing, will be quick to pick another book to read if I fill mine with those elements.
In writing for kids and teens, you have to remember that there is another group of people who you do not want to alienate – the gatekeepers. Kids may not mind swearing and a good romp in the hay, but parents, teachers and librarians do. Those are the folks that will buy your book and recommend it to your target readers. Those are also the people who will keep your story out of the hands of your intended audience if they do not feel it is appropriate. I am not saying to completely erase profanity and sex from fiction. If there is a situation in your story that needs one or the other, then by all means, write away. But do yourself a favor… No matter who you write for, do not throw in profanity and sex without having a really good reason to include it.
What do you think? Do you like to read/write with a lot of profanity?