Friday, January 13, 2012

Guest Post: Violence, Sex and Cursing in YA. When to Use and How Much is Too Much? By Stan Morris

First off I want to thank Stan Morris for being here with us on Ali's Bookshelf and for writing up this very interesting guest post.

Violence, Sex and Cursing in YA.  When to Use and How Much is Too Much?  By Stan Morris

Deciding how much violence, sex or cursing to use for a story in the Young Adult genre can be very difficult.  We know how much to use in the children’s genre.  Very little violence, of which nothing should be graphic, no sex and almost no cursing.

And in the adult genre almost anything goes.  Romance novels regularly have graphic descriptions that would have gotten them banned fifty years ago.  In mysteries and paranormals, dead bodies are almost required.

But Young Adult novels are more difficult for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the difficulty defining Young Adult.  Here is the definition from Wikipedia.

Young-adult fiction or young adult literature (often abbreviated as YA), also juvenile fiction, is fiction written for, published for, or marketed to adolescents and young adults, roughly ages 14 to 21.[3] The Young Adult Library Services (YALSA) of the American Library Association (ALA) defines a young adult as "someone between the ages of twelve and eighteen". Young adult novels have also been defined as texts written for the ages of twelve and up. Authors and readers of young adult (YA) novels often define the genre as "literature written for ages ranging from ten years up to the age of twenty" (Cole). Another suggestion for the definition is that Young Adult Literature is any text being read by adolescents, though this definition is still somewhat controversial.”

Twelve years old is young adult?  Maybe in the minds of people who have never had children.  Even fourteen is pushing the envelope.  So the definition of Young Adult is variable depending on who you ask.  And how do you define adult content, since both paper and digital publishers ask you to label your content?  Perhaps we need an age advisory at the beginning of every book.  “For ages x to ?”

Judy Blume was one of the first writers to push the envelope for young literature, and she was roundly criticized for doing so.  Her book, “Forever” in which there is teen sex has been one of the most widely censored books, but it began a movement to be more honest about teen issues in teen books.  The disparity in the view of the American populace is still widespread on this issue.  In my book, “Surviving the Fog” the setting is a summer camp where both abstinence and birth control methods are taught.  Although most reviewers have been positive, a recent reader complained, “Who would send their child to a camp like that?”

Violence, on the other hand, has become commonplace in teen literature, and to many of us this is a more disturbing trend.  Yet it should not be surprising given the widespread acceptance of violence and dead bodies on television.  Graphic novels containing scenes of violence are available to teens in most bookstores, although some like “Battle Royale” are shrinkwrapped.  My view is that scenes of violence should be brief and necessary to the development of the story.  In, “Surviving the Fog,” a murderer/rapist is hanged by the teenagers.  Although some readers complained about this, I felt that the scene was necessary to explain why the older teenagers would accept a younger teen as their leader.

As for cursing, the FCC maintains a list of words which may not be used on television, but which are used every day on schoolyards around the nation.  This is an area where writers should take particular care and use such words only when they are necessary for the development of the characters.  When I review my book, “Surviving the Fog,” I see that I could have used less of these words, and I am not speaking of the F word which I never use, but some of the lesser curse words.

When we write for this audience, we need to keep in mind the wide range of maturity in our audience.  Remember, a person who is sixteen, is just as close in age to someone who is twelve as they are to someone who is twenty.

Thanks again Stan for coming on my blog.  If anyone would like to visit Stan's website just click: Here


Shelby said...

If there is ANY sex in a book, I usually put it down. I know what it is, but come on! I'm fourteen years old!!!!!!

Language is another thing. I can deal with most bad language, with a few minor exception (the f-word is one) or if the people use about ten cuss word per paragraph.

As for violence, if I was watching some of the stuff I was reading about, I'd probably be scarred for life. But by reading about it I can visualize or not visualize it as much as I want.

Great guest post and Happy Friday the 13th!

Ali said...

Hey Shelby, Thanks so much for your comment! I like hearing from a younger reader on this type of guest post!

I know what you mean, I'm 28 and if I watched stuff that I read I'd be scared to death too lol.

Thanks again,

Annette Mills said...

Every 12-year-old isn't the same either. To arbitrarily assign an age to a book is also very difficult. Everyone needs to be like Shelby -- if you find something offensive in a book, put it down and pick up a different one! We do the best we can to figure out what is appropriate for each child, but there isn't a perfect system. And we need to teach our teens to be like Shelby.

Even some adults don't like these things in books. I'm not particularly interested in erotica. Just because I'm an adult, I still find profanity over-used in some books, but appropriate in others.

There just aren't any hard and fast rules...

Ali said...

I totally agree with you Annette! You have to figure out whats offensive to you! If its offensive to you, you can put it down if not you keep reading.

Thanks for the comment!

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