Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Cursing in YA

Kids love cursing. We want kids to read our books. Ergo, we should make our stories chock full of the seven dirty words. Right?

Well, that's up to you. Fantasy/sci-fi/dystopian novels generally have no cursing. It seems in scary, futuristic societies, people watch their language. And middle grade novels don't have any curse words because those readers are too young. Cursing seems to be an issue in contemporary YA. We want our books to feel real, and let's face it: real kids curse. But does that mean we need to use curse words in our books? 

The more serious your novel is, the more likely it is you will involve cursing. If you've written an issue-driven book about drugs, abuse, or violence, then chances are you will use dirty language to emphasize the scariness of a character, or the harsh reality of this world. But for regular, contemporary YA, I don't think cursing is needed unless it has a point. To this day, controversy surrounds teaching Catcher in the Rye in schools because Holden curses. Yet his cursing is viewed as a symbol of rebellion against the phony, upper-class society he inhabits.

Personally, I rarely curse, so I don't feel comfortable writing characters who drop f-bombs left and right. And when I read a YA book or watch a teen movie, I'm taken out of the story when the characters begin swearing excessively. Filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino and David Mamet LOVE swear words, but it's natural to their adult characters: mobsters, hitmen, gangsters, shady businessmen, angry power-crazed men. Some YA characters will curse more than others since it's part of their characters, like if they were lower-class or poor. But for a suburban teen, is it necessary?

To garner a PG-13 rating, a movie can only contain one f-word; any more, and it's instantly rated R. PG-rated films can only have maybe 1-3 s-words. G-rated films can't have anything filthy. When PG-13 movies cash in their f-bomb, they usually have a strong reason, i.e. the protagonist may be in a climactic fight. In She's All That, Laney Boggs shouts the infamous "Am I a bet? Am I a f--king bet?!" The f-word gives that line more power, makes it more jarring. For the most part, curse words are used sparingly, and that doesn't make audiences enjoy these movies any less. Luckily, books don't have that kind of censorship, but I think there should still be some responsibility on the author and editor's part not to take advantage and load up on swearing. Yes, kids swear, but that doesn't mean they won't enjoy a book with clean language. You don't need f--k and s--t to have your characters sound like real kids; you need them to have conflicting emotions and complexity.

I'll leave you with what my dad always said about swearing: The English language has hundreds of thousands of words. Why do you have to continually use the same 4 or 5?

What are your thoughts on cursing in YA? Do you have it in your story?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Go Team 9k!

I did it!!! I, along with Sarah at Empty White Pages, wrote 9000 words over one weekend. 9063 to be exact. Sarah put me to shame. She cranked out 9784 words by 5pm on Sunday. How awesome is that?? We took on my 9k Writing Challenge and won. I feel a great sense of accomplishment - I followed through on a goal and worked on my WIP. Those things don't happen as often as I like.

My favorite part of this exercise, though, was what I learned about my story, my writing, and myself. It had been a long while since I focused so intensely on a WIP. No work or other responsibilities to distract me. I was locked in my apartment with my WIP, and we did some major bonding. So I bring you 9 things I learned about this weekend:

  1. I work better at night. I wrote 5,889 words past 9:30pm, and 3,853 words past 11:30p. It felt like college, burning the midnight oil. I want to change myself to write early in the morning, though. I can't stay up until 2am writing when I have to be at the office seven hours later. 
  2. I don't know my characters well enough. Half of the reason for any writer's block I faced came because I didn't know how my characters would react or how they truly felt or what they wanted. I didn't know the minor details about them that fill the gaps between major events. I love to plot, and I realized that my characters are being driven by plot, not vice versa. At the same time, this challenge helped me get to know them better. But I still have work to do on this front.
  3. I stopped worrying about finding the best word. If I was stumped looking for the right word for a sentence, I didn't waste time thesauring or googling or smacking my forehead. I picked a lesser word and moved on. When I edit, then I'll obsess over one word. But right now, it's not worth it. 
  4. I need to work on my procrastination. On Friday night, I didn't begin writing until 10:30pm. On Sunday, I didn't sit down until 9:30pm. I could've finished by noon, but I procrastinated. Maybe I don't love writing at night so much as I am addicted to procrastinating. This has to stop.
  5. I think I use the same words over and over. The same expressions. How many times can someone burst out laughing, or shoot someone a nasty look? Maybe this is my writerly doubt kicking in. Do you ever feel like you use the same words over and over? Again, this is a problem for the editing stage, not first draft stage. What will combat this is to keep reading, expand my horizons, and learn from other writers.
  6. I have to push myself. Writers write. When I sat down to write on Saturday morning, I eeked out 700 words in two hours. It was slow going and painful. But I pushed on. I couldn't wait for inspiration to strike me. And soon enough, the words came faster. So if I'm feeling blocked, I won't stop. I will keep going.
  7. I wrote 9000 words in about twelve hours. That equals 750 words/hour. Not too bad. If I can write for 1.5-2 hours per day, then I can keep making progress on my WIP.
  8. I obsess too much over word count. I checked my word count repeatedly this weekend. I found myself doing a little cheating - writing wordy sentences, not using contractions. Unlike many writers, I worry that my book will be too short. But I need to stop overwriting to hit certain word goals. If my book comes up short, then that's a story problem. I need to write enough to complete the scene and then move on.
  9. I can't do it alone. I was so happy that Sarah agreed to this challenge with me. We emailed our progress back and forth, and knowing I had someone else in it with me kept me going. Tweeting my progress and receiving positive responses showed me I have support. I may have spent much of the weekend by myself, but I was not alone.
Overall, a great experience. I'll let you know if I do this again. Maybe next time, I'll try for 10k.

Friday, September 9, 2011

What I Learned This Summer

***Reminder. Tonight starts my 9k Weekend Writing Challenge. Keep up with my progress and give me a cyber kick in the pants if I'm falling behind on Twitter @FillupSeagull. You can also join the challenge. Details here.***

Who says you can't learn anything when school is out? I saw a bunch of movies this summer in lovely air-conditioned, popcorn-scented theaters across Chicago, and I learned some valuable lessons about writing that I would like to pass onto you, my casually loyal readers. Now that Summer 2011 is over (although technically it's not over until September 20th), let's look back at a summer box office filled with surprises:

Midnight in Paris = Just write!
This summer, Midnight in Paris became the highest-grossing film in writer/director Woody Allen's career. And you know how he's celebrating? By writing and directing his next film, which will be released in 2012. For the past 35 years, Woody Allen has made nearly one film a year, which is an unheard of rate. Some of his movies are hits, some are bombs. But no matter what, he keeps cranking them out. As writers, we must do the same. Always keep writing. Don't rest on your laurels. Don't wallow in your doubt. Not everything we write will be a masterpiece, but you have to write through the crap to reach the gold.

The Help, Bridesmaids = Stay true to yourself!
Both movies were humongous hits this summer, and as I said back in June, Bridesmaids, and now The Help, prove that not just teenage boys go to the movies. Both movies also featured behind the scenes talent who fought to get their vision on screen. Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo did not let Bridesmaids devolve into a trite, Kate Hudson-esque romcom. They fought to keep the raunchiness in there. They fought to let Wiig star. They fought to cast mostly unknown actresses. In the end, Bridesmaids shushed all doubters. Kathryn Stockett, writer of the novel The Help, said the movie could be made only if the studio let her childhood friend Tate Taylor write and direct. He had bought the movie rights to the book when it was an unpublished manuscript. (after 60 rejections!) Taylor had only one tiny independent film to his credit. He and Stockett also demanded that their close friend Octavia Spencer, the inspiration for Minnie, get to play the feisty character, too. Dreamworks, the studio, gave in and took a gamble, staying true to Taylor and Stockett's wishes. The Help has been #1 at the box office for 3 weeks running.

The Green Lantern, The Change-Up = Don't write what you think will sell!
Poor Ryan Reynolds. He was the punchline of the summer. Both of his starring films were huge bombs. A criticism of Lantern and Change-Up was that they seemed formulaic, chemically engineered to be hits, yet ultimately bland. The former had all the routine elements of a comic-book film: mythology, brand recognition, hero with inner demons, and lots of CGI. The latter came off as just another body-switch comedy that brought nothing new to the genre. They screamed "We want to make money!" which turned off audiences. When writing, don't write something just because you think it will sell. Write it because you want to. Most agents will tell you not to follow trends, and they are savvy enough to recognize a manuscript riddled with cliches.

Horrible Bosses, Bad Teacher = A great hook can go a long way!
I couldn't wait to see these R-rated comedies, and neither could millions of moviegoers. Horrible and Bad had fun, catchy titles that stood out on the marquee in a sea of sequels and nebulous titles (Super 8, I'm looking at you). The hook for Horrible Bosses - 3 men plot to kill each other's bosses - was the best of the summer. I didn't like Bosses, but the hook and title drew me in. When agents sift through thousands of queries a year, and readers scan thousands of books in stores and online, a sharp title and nifty hook can go a long way in making you stand out from the clutter. Don't just assume that your novel will speak for itself.

Transformers 3, Kung Fu Panda 2, Pirates 4, Cars 2, etc = Crap happens, get over it!
Yes, crappy movies still get made and they still make a lot of money. Crappy memoirs from "celebrities" still get published and still receive higher marketing budgets than 100 of your favorite YA books. Get over it.  There will always be lousy books and movies. This is a business after all. All you can do is focus on writing a good book. And if it has series potential, then even better.

What were your favorite movies of this summer? My favorites were Bad Teacher, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and, despite the title, I loved Super 8.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Nineowrimo - 9K Challenge for 9/9

I had read on Chandler Craig's awesome blog Fumbling with Fiction about 10K Writing Challenges. She and her writer buddy Jen Hayley challenged and motivated each other to crank out 10,000 words in a single weekend. After a busy, fun-filled (but writing deficient) August, this weekend I look forward to staying in - and catching up on my WIP. (Remember in July when I said I was going to crank out a first draft in a month...oh, you do remember?...crap...)

Since this Friday is 9/9, I am going to challenge myself to write 9,000 words this weekend. Ridiculous? Possibly. Insane? You bet!

Now who's with me???

I will be live-tweeting my endeavor (@FillupSeagull) We can spur each other on throughout the weekend, commiserate about falling behind, but then cyberhug and cheer when we pull ahead. After a summer where some of us were sidetracked, let's use this weekend to get back into the swing of things, build some momentum and make some progress on our WIPs. It will be fun fun fun!

Ok, NOW who's with me???

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Campaign Challenge #1

It's that time, folks. Campaign challenge numero uno. As stated on Rach Writes...

Write a short story/flash fiction story in 200 words or less, excluding the title. It can be in any format, including a poem. Begin the story with the words, “The door swung open” These four words will be included in the word count.

If you want to give yourself an added challenge (optional), use the same beginning words and end with the words: "the door swung shut." (also included in the word count)

For those who want an even greater challenge, make your story 200 words EXACTLY!

 I've never done flash fiction or writing prompts like this, but I enjoyed myself, and I enjoyed reading others. These challenges strengthen my editing skills. I'm amazed by how much I can cut and still have my story make sense. I love that four little words can inspire writers to go in a million different directions. I actually wrote a different flash fiction story for this exercise, but right before I posted, I abandoned it and wrote something else from scratch.

Without further adieu (and at exactly 200 words long)

I Am Woman. Hear Me Pee.

The door swung open, and Lacey entered a brave new world: the men’s room. For years, she watched men file in and out while she suffered on line for the ladies’ room. She finally had it.

She crept past the lineup of synchronized pissers at the urinals. The lights flickered; intermission was ending. She spotted a row of stalls; her bladder rumbled with excitement. Even the seat was down - a sign from above!

“You can’t be in here!” An old man said, cane pointing. Other men craned their heads, but kept peeing.

“This is the men’s room,” a guy wearing a pink scarf said.

“I…” Lacey’s face reddened. “I’m sorry.”

“Get out!” The old man yelled.

She glanced at the toilet. Her heart ached for the women outside who couldn’t enjoy this embarrassment of riches. Centuries of injustices endured by previous generations flooded her mind.

“No!”  She could feel the spirits of Gloria Steinem, Billie Jean King, and Susan B. Anthony surrounding her. “I am going to the bathroom, and if you have a problem with that, then you get out!”

With that, Lacey lifted her head high, marched into that stall, and smiled as the door swung shut.