Four letter words…

I have read a lot of great books and I’ve engaged myself in giving out book reviews to many aspiring authors, and the one thing that I have found to be the greatest deterrent in enjoying some of the books is the use of “four-letter words” that we call profanity.

In fact, I’m amazed that some authors who speak out as Christians still fall into this despicable use of dialogue because they think they have to in order to write their story.

As authors we know that a dynamic story uses the appropriate dialogue that suits the generation, the culture and the time period. If we fall short of these, the story is unbelievable and readers will say that it’s not how real people talk and they won’t read it.

So, there is a controversy between writers – especially teens and young adult writers. Many will use a consistent dialogue of profanity to stay with modern speech, while others will stay clear of it and avoid the concept altogether. These writers use the type of dialogue that they used as kids because they can’t or don’t want to relate to the times and changes of today’s social speech. And this can be just as damaging to the reception of the story.

So, does that mean then, that profanity should be used in young adult books because many teens use it in their daily speech?

No, not at all; in fact just the opposite. A good writer can take one idea and describe it in a dozen different sentences and have each one mean the same thing. A good writer can bring the reader’s imagination to understand the language of the characters without actually spelling out the words.

Example: Jen turned to Paul and glared into his eyes as she shouted out vulgar and profane words that made the hair on his neck stand up. He hated it when she swore like that.

In this example, we get the gist that Jen likes to use profanity and we didn’t need to write the words into the dialogue to get that across to the reader. The direction of the story hasn’t changed and the impact is the same. The reader understands what she’s saying without actually using the words.

Teens and young adults are vulnerable to fitting into their generation and when they read the profane words and hear themselves saying them, it inspires them to use them, if they don’t already. Books, just like movies and television, are a great influence on young people, and if they deem that this is the norm they will adopt it into their own speech to fit in.

I believe that we, as authors, need to realize that we have a tremendous influence on young readers. We need to encourage them to go the other way, to accept that this language may be used commonly among teens, but it’s not a respectable form of speech. We need to make them feel the hesitation in speaking profanity through our books that don’t say the words. When the main characters of a book can draw the reader in, they need to also be a good example to the reader.

We’re not only authors but we are also leaders and we need to not follow the bad examples. We need to set good ones.