Writing You Can Swear By (Or At)

I’m writing this piece to inform everyone who bought MythWorld Book One: The Festival Of Bones in the last twenty-four hours that you are now the owners of a collector’s item – because the vesion that was first released is not the current, permanent version that’s for sale now.

I made an editorial judgment call, one which I’d already been debating, and talked myself out of making until we’d actually published the book. Then, I realized I was still debating it internally – which, to me, is significant. My subconscious doesn’t mess around. If I’ve made a choice that isn’t resonating with my core beliefs, then it lets me know by basically itching at my brain until I give it my conscious attention

I didn’t write the MythWorld novels for kids – but then again, I didn’t write the Imaginarium Geographica novels for kids, either; it was a YA editor who liked them the most, and the rest of that tale changed the course of my career. Still, the MythWorld books were definitely written for a more mature audience – mostly, I thought, due to the complexity of the stories I was telling

However, the Imaginarium Geographica books were also very, very complex – and being read by kids as young as ten, with no comprehension problem. So what was the difference

Simply put, sex, and language. And far more language than sex – mostly in the form of casual swearing – although the sexy scenes, while still relatively tame by most standards, are more sensual than sexual, and extremely effective. (See Chapter Three, for my favorite example.

And herein lay my problem: my readership consists of a very large percentage of teens (no problems with sex and language) and an equally large percentage of pre-teens (which also includes their parents, teachers, and librarians – which is where there may be a problem with sex and language in the books.

That wasn’t my biggest concern, though. The casual swearing was – because, you see, I don’t swear. Hardly ever.

Oh, don’t get me wrong – I believe in it, as a use of language; it’s a form of exclamation, and often extremely appropriate. There’s a recurring swear word in MythWorld Book Two that absolutely MAKES the book… but I digress. Swearing is useful, and fairly common – I just simply don’t engage in it much. And neither do the characters in my books – the books I write now, that is.

But then, a decade ago, I was still finding my way around creating characters in prose – and in MythWorld, this resulted in a lot more casual swearing than I’d recalled. And the concern I had over most of those uses – most, but not all – also brought me back to three scenes where a few lines alone might have made the book less appropriate for a younger reader. Let me be clear: I’m not worried at ALL about a thirteen year old reading these books. It’s the bright ten year old I’m concerned about. And if I wouldn’t want my own almost nine year old reading those few scenes as they were (or worse, asking for specific lines to be explained) then I didn’t want to put my readers, or their parents, or their librarians in that position, either.

And if you think one word won’t make that big a difference, try a little experiment next time you’re in a crowded grocery store: yell “Flurkle!” at the top of your lungs, and see who gets offended. Then try it using a different word that begins with “F”. See what I mean?

I’m not a prude, and as I said, swearing and profanity has uses in the right places – and most of my uses weren’t the right places, so I changed many of them, often with one word switched, or deleted, or with a diplomatic rewrite of a sentence. And I went back to those other scenes, the sexy ones, and took out a couple of lines and changed a few words so that while the scenes were still sensual, they weren’t going to make the book something inaccessible to my younger readers.

As I said, I never wrote any of my books for kids – they were simply marketed that way, and so kids make up a huge part of my readership. A readership I plan to keep reading everything I write. And if I can continue to create compelling enough stories to keep my older readers too, then it’s a win all around.

So, that’s it in a nutshell – there were no major changes of content, just a few alterations. Because I want ALL of my readers to be able to continue following down the roads I’m creating, and being able to make changes like that without lessening the story is what writers do.

Man alive… sometimes this job is harder than it looks. I swear.


Writing You Can Swear By (Or At) — 2 Comments

  1. Hi James,

    FYI, I’m glad I got it in the first 24 hours (at least I think I did), but if I wanted the new version instead, do I need to buy it again or can I use the existing email link from my original purchase?

    Also I’m now curious. You mentioned a word in the second book that actually makes the whole thing work. Will you be changing that one for the younger audience as well or leaving it as is?


    • Hey Ken –

      We just switched out the file, so you may be able to just download it again. The new one has SE in the name (for Special Edition) to distinguish it. Try it – but if it doesn’t work email me, and I’ll send you the new one.

      And no, I won’t be changing the word (which is “damned”, by the way – it’s WHO says it that’s significant) just as there are a few curses in MWI. They work when they’re appropriate to the scene – I just made sure that was the case when deciding whether to change anything. 😉

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