I’ve written my first YA manuscript and a scene comes back to me now and then. One of the characters is angry for good reason, why not let him swear?
Listen to me. I, the writer, give permission for a character to swear? I write the narrative, but the characters seem to have a life of their own. Perhaps they can swear because they really, really feel like it. Perhaps they dictate the narrative and I just type it.
At first it was a children’s story? Naw. That didn’t work out. I tried different iterations and each time, it was just too—corny.
Then one day, I just started writing. I had a sad scene and lots of sobbing—the protagonist, not me. It seemed okay. But how was I to make this work? First there were two characters ages 6 and 12 and their moms. Add another kid, a girl this time. My own motherly instincts took over. Lots of love and gentle ideas, well brought up kids. The works. Make all mothers proud.
Then one day, it sounded too—corny.
No one is this nice and able to deal with adversity at a young age without blowing a gasket. Young ones have to get mad sometime. And when things just don’t go as planned? Well, they get angry like everyone else. Wouldn’t they want to express it and feel in control? Feel grownup? In their angry sort of way.
Then one day, I made the children older: 12 going on 13 and 15. But it had to fit. Chapters, many chapters written and I had to make sure the change would flow through. The protagonist had to sound and act his new age as did his friends. Then I created a diagram and a timeline for each character to make their stories fit.
I remember my first swear—whispered in anger—in my second floor bedroom. I arrived home from school, went to my drawer to fetch a small, silk umbrella. A gift from my uncle. A souvenir from his last naval trip to a land I didn’t know existed. It had a painted picture on the orange silk. I know now it was a parasol, not an umbrella. I opened the drawer. The parasol was gone! I was aware a distant cousin visited while I was at school, I knew she had absconded with my parasol! In anger I whispered “Dammit” to the bureau drawer. A voice at the bottom of the stairs said, “I heard that. Don’t you swear in this house!”
Why not? My space was violated. I was robbed! I stomped down the stairs and asked my step-mother where the parasol was. “I gave it to Rachel. She visited with her mom this morning, so I gave it to her. You don’t need it.”
I felt devastated. This was not the first time Rachel went home with my toys. My step-mother seemed to enjoy giving away my things without asking me. I swore and I felt, even to this day, justified in swearing. It was my relief valve.
That one swear did not convert me to daily swearing. I survived. As a young girl, I never swore again. Weeks later, a friend kind of swore when she nearly missed the after school bus. She said it in French, but changed the pronunciation a little. “Maudine!”
I found the word fascinating, but never used it for fear of retribution at home. I knew my parents were old enough to decipher ‘maudine’ as a play on ‘maudite’, which is French for ‘damned’.
The things one remembers.
Swearing? I do believe it is okay to let my character use one swear. Actually, I may have him say it in French because… . Now here I am enabling him. He is old enough to decide.
So I’ll continue editing my MS and see what happens. He’ll let me know what he wants to do.