Showing posts with label MG books. Show all posts
Showing posts with label MG books. Show all posts

Friday, July 6, 2012

How Much is Too Much in YA Books


So who doesn’t swear or cuss on occasion? Right? It’s part of our current culture. Everyone does it—increasingly so and harsher as we go along. Swearing has increased in movies, television shows but especially books. When I was a teen reading Lord of the Rings or anything written by Ray Bradbury there wasn’t a single cuss word anywhere. Teens then were cussing up a storm when gathered in groups and such. 

But it wasn’t in our literature nearly to the extent it is today.


This begs the question: Is all of that cussing really necessary?

Picture of Two Girls, Sisters, with Looks of Surprise or Shock on Their Faces


Sarah Coyne, professor of family life at Brigham Young University analyzed the use of profanity in forty young adult books on the best seller list. Thirty-five of them had at least one swear word. On the average there were thirty-eight instances of cussing, with one book containing nearly five hundred uses of foul language.

Is that really necessary to become a best seller with teens? The argument is the author is reaching for authenticity and grit. But there are plenty of books with grit and reality that don’t make us feel like we need a shower to rinse off the stench after reading them. Look at The Hunger Games Series. Could a story get any grittier or more realistic? How much cussing did you hear from Katniss or Peta? During the final battle with Lord Voldemort, did Harry Potter let loose a stream of expletives?

In my humble opinion, cussing is a cheap way out of finding a creative way to express oneself. And it cheapens the book as well.

Here's something interesting Professor Coyne discovered:
The characters doing the swearing tended to be of higher social status, better looking and have more money than their non-swearing counterparts.

So what does that say to the preteens who are forming their ideas of who they are and who they will become as adults? Everyone knows kids who read, tend to do so about three to five years above their age level. I’ve seen Fourth Graders reading the Twilight series. None of MY children would ever have read something like that at age nine, but I saw it when I was teaching. And the kids who were allowed to read material years ahead of their maturational level, refused to read age-appropriate, excellent literature, thereby missing out of a whole world of good books. 


The problem with today’s young adult books is a reader doesn’t know what they’re getting into until they’re knee deep in the mire. This goes for swearing, sex and violence. Ever try to stop a teen from 'enjoying' something which contains sex, foul language or gore? Of course an allowance is made for the genre bridging the innocence of middle grade books and adult-level reading. But how much is too much? How do we protect the sanctity of innocence until a young adult is ready to become an adult if what they’re reading reveals all?
As an author of Picture Books up through Young Adult, I feel the need to protect my young readers from what they’re seeing in movies and television, hearing in the lyrics of their music and experiencing while playing their video games. Teens aren’t allowed to remain innocent and naiive anymore…and I think it’s a shame on our society.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

10 Things Every Literary Hero Needs


My first draft of Odessa, then called Dragons in the Dark, could have given a garbage dump a run for the money in stink. I was so happy and proud to have the entire 600 word story finally written and out of my head. As you know, if you’ve read any of my interviews, the entire story has resided in my head for over thirty years awaiting the right moment and amount of time to pop out. When it finally did and I read it through the manuscript was obviously full of errors, bad writing and a fatal flaw. I had no distinctive main character—no hero or heroine.

Because the story is about a group of seven teens, I assumed they could all tell the story. But it didn’t work that way. I had to decide which of them would tell the story to the reader and be the hero of the book series. Once I knew that, I revised the story about eight times, writing it from Myrna’s point of view, until I got it right. The funny thing is I have a strong driving need to revise it again. I’m guessing that’s a common feeling for authors. And one day I might do it, who knows.
But I digress. My point is this: There are certain aspects of a hero/heroine an author must provide for the story to work.

1-Your protagonist must be interesting. There should be some quirk, personality trait, etc that makes your hero special. Why would a reader care about her and what happens to her? This was my first big area of improvement and why I need to revise Odessa—Myrna isn’t likable enough and she’s too white bread.
2-While the reader doesn’t need to feel sympathetic for your protag (as in the case of a detestable character-murderer, rapist, etc), they should be able to feel some empathy for them. Maybe a horrific childhood that created their current character.
3-Protags should act bravely.
4-As the ‘god’ creating your characters, it is imperative the author knows every aspect of each main character in the story. They should exist in the author’s head as surely as any living person. There are many character creation templates to help with this. I’ll post my own in my next posting.
5-Conflict, conflict, conflict. Your story must have a general overriding conflict, but so should each of the characters—especially your protag. If your hero has no inner conflict or problems to overcome, what makes them interesting enough to hold a reader’s attention?
6-In addition to or in conjunction with a conflict, your hero should have a weakness. They may not realize it at first, but sometime during the story it should come to light and they must work on improving that weakness while accomplishing their tasks.
7-All characters in a story, but especially your protagonist, must change and grow throughout the story. If you are writing a series, each book should have a character arc of growth which is different from that of the series.
8-Your hero must have a reason for doing whatever they are doing in your story. The protag’s younger sister was kidnapped; her parents were killed and the murderer is after her; she is trying to get someone specific to fall in love with her. Whatever the reason, without a purpose for the protag’s actions/journey, you have no story.
9-Make sure your hero is believable. No one is completely good or absolutely bad. Even angels and demons can have slight issues causing them to question their behavior. This is what has made the Romantic Vampire so attractive.
10-The war and final battle between the protagonist and antagonist should be satisfying and believable. Even in a Sci Fi story set in a far-away universe, the conclusion to this battle can be believable to the reader if the author understands human nature and sticks to the rules of world building they’ve created. If the story is historical, make sure you stick to the actual history of the event.
These are just some of the things I’ve learned over the past couple of years and have tried incorporating into my writing. And from personal experience as a reader I can conclude with this final nugget. If you have an awesome main character(s) your story doesn’t even have to be awesome because the character will carry it—but if you can have BOTH, you’ll have a best-seller.




Laman and Harpies are currently in edits and should be available soon.



Rebecca Ryals Russell is a MG/YA Fantasy Author of two series: Seraphym Wars Series for YA and Stardust Warriors Series for MG readers. There are currently three books of each series available via eBook wherever eBooks are sold, with several more currently in edits and others in the works. Follow Rebecca’s progress at Under the Hat of Rebecca Ryals Russellor Tween Word Quest.

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