In my last post, I read from Magic’s Stealing. It was the first time I edited one of my Youtube blog videos using Premiere Pro, and I used it to remove some of the more obvious stumbles where I tripped over my words. However, I ran into a bit of a conundrum that I hadn’t considered before. For public readings, should I bleep out swear words, or should I leave the text as-is?
If you recall, I wrote a post a while back on To Swear or Not To Swear, in which I debated whether or not to include actual swear words in the dialogue of the book. Ultimately, I decided to keep that particular instance, because it fit the character’s intentions and offered readers a bit of insight into the characters.
Keeping the swear as-is continued to bug me, though, largely because I wondered whether or not a middle grade audience (not just young adults) might be inclined to enjoy the book–but might have a less-inclined parent if those parents read the first chapter.
And that in itself is a whole new debate. Is it a good idea to tailor a story to a specific audience, with certain marketing expectations in mind? Middle grade novels are typically expected to be free of swearing. YA ranges the gamut, and adult depends on the genre.
The conundrum I’ve run into is that I intended Magic’s Stealing to be YA. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if a middle grade audience enjoyed it. As such, it’s led me to a new thought… if I ever do a public reading, should I censor the word? Then again, if I didn’t keep the swear, the passage wouldn’t have quite the same meaning. It’s unfortunate from a marketing standpoint that the only real-word swear is in the first few pages. Should I simply find a different chapter to read, perhaps in the middle of the action?
I suspect this will depend on the venue in question. Some venues, especially ones that are geared towards being family friendly, may ask to not have the swear read. Others may not care at all. It’s probably up to the type of fiction you write as to whether or not you choose to use venues that have specific preferences.
But what about audiobooks?
My first thought was, why change what we wrote? We choose our words for a reason.
On the other hand, people reading a book can very easily skim over words they don’t like. It’s not so easy when those words are being spoken aloud.
(I’ll admit that I don’t tend to listen to audiobooks, so I’m not sure what the general protocol is here.)
Granted, censoring spoken swears will depend on the audience. Obviously, censoring an erotic novel would be ridiculous. The target audience has expectations as to the contents of the novel.
But what about a YA novel with the occasional swear? Should this be censored in audio format? My first thought was “no.” That’s not how the author wrote it. But when read aloud, does that change the impact of those words?
Does reading the book aloud change the impact of the intent, and thus, change what should be read? Does reading aloud change how the text is perceived?
Or does trying to censor a word–whether by dropping the volume or inserting a bleep– actually draw more attention to it?
What about switching the word? The meaning changes, but what if, by switching words during a spoken performance, you actually get the intended reaction?
Is there a difference between the impact of something spoken, versus something silently read?
That, to me, is the real question.
If what we write on the page takes a different meaning when said aloud, then perhaps we should consider that impact, and decide what to change from there.
After all, screenwriting is different from novel writing. Adaptations are made because a book is a different format than what you might see in a live or recorded performance, and has different advantages and limitations.
But if the spoken word has the same impact as the written, then perhaps no changes should be made.
Honestly, I’m probably over-thinking this. For the previous reading, I left the swear in. I figured that pretty much anything I did would draw more attention to it (other than writing a whole blog post pondering the question), while letting it flow in context should keep the story running smoothly.
And in general, I’m thinking I’ll read the text as-is. If the one swear is likely to pose a problem, I could always chose a later segment to read.
But now I’m curious as to what you think. How would you handle a reading that has the occasional swear, whether an audiobook or in public?