When I was putting the final touches on “What Next?”, I solicited reviews from some readers of “What If?” to get an outside opinion on the book. Of particular note was a comment from a reader I greatly respect that he was having trouble identifying with Jeremy because “he’s too good”. We agreed that much of that might be simply that the character was only 12 (and the reader was well past that age), but now I begin to wonder.
I was reading a graphic novel recently and almost every character was cursing. This was a “mature readers” novel. “Mature” means it’s a comic book that can have graphic violence, sex and rough language, all of which it had in abundance. The story didn’t suffer for it, but it also began to make me wonder.
Most of us are familiar with comic book and comic strip “cursing”; usually this is depicted by random symbols found above the numbers on your basic keyboard. Historically, these were rare and usually only when some character hammered his finger or some other such gag. Now, as the lexicon of modern youth changes, the acceptance of cursing seems to have grown. My question is, does this signify “realism”?
“What If?”, my first book, had no one cursing. Even in middle school, it just never came up with my characters. But step outside a school or mall where kids are congregating and the language is different from storybooks. Or at least, my storybooks. Could this also have been part of what made Jeremy appear so “good” to my review reader?
I look at Jeremy and I see someone who at various times is selfish, spiteful, mean, deceitful, arrogant and careless…in short a fairly normal 12-year old. Granted, he’s not a punk or a thug, but he hardly seems “goody two-shoes”. Is it his desire to do good that makes him seem “too” good? That would be a sorry statement about today’s kids and I reject that.
So I am given to wonder if it’s simply his lack of bad language which makes him seem “too good”. Funny thing about cursing, we still seem to get mad at our kids when they say “those” words, but they roll off our lips easy enough.
I had a girlfriend who used to apologize to me every time she cursed. She grew up in a home and neighborhood that just talked that way. I would tell her to forget it, it didn’t bother me. Just because I don’t curse much (listen to me on the tennis court when I’m having a bad day) doesn’t mean I cover my ears when someone else does. She was so adamant about her kids not cursing, too. It’s just common now, part of the way a lot of society talks.
I don’t know if I get a “pass” because I’m writing a fantasy adventure. It’s not like it takes place in “Clean Language Land”. If the curse words meant something important to the story, I’d be obliged to put them there, but it’s the characters and the plot that are critical. I don’t see how peppering the book with swearing will make it any more “real”.
As far as I’m concerned, $%!# realism.