Wrestling for words is always a tough one. I was looking for suitable swearwords for a YA novel a little while back, knowing full well that at 13 there weren’t many I hadn’t heard. Some I didn’t fully understand yet, and for true expressiveness I had to pass through boot camp and end up yelling at the little darlings myself. Then I ended up working as a fisheries scientist on trawlers, and just when I thought I’d heard it all, in fish factories where delicately bred ladies would discuss the merits of the water of green pineapples for the complexion… or something of that sort, while wielding really sharp knives with terrifying speed.
Yet while YA novels push boundaries of sex into areas where no man has been (well, no ordinary hetero man – like 95% of the male audience) they’re good on what when I was young was considered blasphemy, but they still haven’t got f…ing punctuation of f… ing sentences f…ing right yet. It is a punctuation. At least when you’re teenage boy among your peers, trying desperately to prove you’re not a teenage boy, it seems it is.
So: reality is not what one seeks because in reality the gay kid is not everyone’s best friend, and the group is not always gifted with a suitable white male doofus and jerk as the villain. We have applied to central planning for a larger supply, and they have promised they’re working on the school system to oblige, but in the meanwhile we have been instructed to just make-believe.
It’s a good thing we’re writing fiction, in other words, with no need to suspend the credibility. I believe it has been called training the youth to accept political debate from the PTB without throwing up or bursting out laughing. It is our duty to educate them. And if they are not educated enough, to betray them to commissars so they can be re-educated (I believe they send them to salt mines in Vermont). Like royalties, it’s all about delivering small change you can believe in to the starving authors/masses (or both).
Seriously, reality diverges considerably from either the normal text in books (let alone for YA audiences) and what editors will accept in traditional publishing, and what readers will accept in the broader world. I freely admit the idea of my dear little offspring and future grandkids reading the sort of scatological spew I managed as a real 14 year old idiot has no appeal at all. And, dear hearts, as I grew up in the ’70′s when people were still seriously trying this in print, that sort of spew irritated me then. I could do better, and they always got it wrong, and it was condescension. It did appeal 20 year old adolescents with low IQ’s, but while there are a lot of them, some in their 50′s by now, and still adolescent, they don’t read a lot.
I have noticed that children have separate vocabularies – the brighter one – i.e. probably the ones who read – quite a number, depending on who they are chameleoning with. There’s the gung-ho boys vocab, the talking girls (younger) vocab, the talking to girls (older) vocab, the talking to authority vocab, and the talking to the stupid (aka adults including parents. It takes growing up to realize that these lumbering behemoths are more than just ATMs and taxi services. Stupid is often relative – some of mine are a great example. And some think I am.)… and that’s without the dialects spoken to the different types within these groups. The dialect spoken to the girl next door whose heart or blouse the young Lothario have no interest in getting into is quite different to the fine sentiments and poetic soul that comes out with Desiree Hardache. You didn’t swear much in her presence – or in the presence of those you respected or were afraid of, or wished to impress. That was for lummoxes, who… don’t buy a lot of books.
Which brings me back to my thesis – it’s not the reality of language that sells the book – it’s convincing the audience that they are group who would hear that from you. i.e. You’re talking UP not down your audience.
Oddly, they’ll accept your respect, not your assumption of equality.
Or at least, that’s my take. What’s yours?
And here, for your edification is a little poem on the delights of spoken English.
cross-posted at Mad Genius Club