Right … now that I’ve caught your eye ;)
No, I promise that actually is the topic of today’s post. Recently I’ve read a lot of different blog posts about the portrayal of sex in teenage fiction. Admittedly, most of these blog posts seem to have been written from a very religious standpoint. From my experiences of searching WordPress for fellow author bloggers, there appear to be a LOT of very Christian writers who blog. When I say very Christian, what I mean is that their religious beliefs colour almost everything that appears on their blog posts. Now, there are lots of blogs that I read and subscribe to, of which I know nothing of the author’s religious persuasions, and from my opinion I prefer this, because in my opinion an author’s religious beliefs should be kept separate from their fiction. Now, I realise I may well be opening up a large can of worms with that comment, but unless you are specifically writing a religious story, or the characters in that story clearly adhere to certain beliefs, then in my opinion your own personal religious beliefs should not colour the fiction. Because it is just that – fiction.
To better express myself, I’ll use Twilight as an example. Stephenie Meyer is a Mormon. And whilst none of the characters in the books are of that faith, the main criticism often hurled at the book is the unrealistic portrayal of teenage romance and sex, an aspect clearly affected by Meyer’s beliefs. In the books this attitude is explained away as a result of Edward having grown up in a very different era, however, as the high levels of criticism indicate, that explanation didn’t necessarily sit too well with the majority of readers.
This brings me on to an interesting issue of writing teenage fiction. And that issue is sex. Now, no matter what religion you adhere to. No matter what your personal views are on sex before marriage, the stark reality of today’s society is that the vast majority of teenagers ARE sexually active. Just to clarify – I’m from Britain, where the legal age of consent is 16, and where to my knowledge there is far less support from teenagers for chastity movements as there is in the United States. Now, that’s obviously not to say that everyone is doing it! But, from my experiences as a teenager growing up in the United Kingdom (and just to clarify, I went to a selective all girls’ school and grew up in a nice area of affluent South East of England), probably 95% of the people I grew up with lost their virginity before the age of 20. Those who didn’t, abstained mainly for religious reasons, or because they were extremely shy around the opposite sex.
In my opinion, teenagers have sex! Something I’m sure teenage pregnancy figures the globe over will support!
Now, I realise that as an author, you have certain responsibilities to your readers, and that particularly as a children’s author, those responsibilities can be rather profound. You and your characters can act as role models to the people reading your books, and obviously the teenage age bracket is a particularly impressionable. However, I think as an author, you have to tread a fine line with issues like sex, and swearing.
I guess for a start you have to decide how you personally see your role as an author, and ask yourself what you are trying to achieve with your books. Are you writing as a Christian for other Christians, are you trying to convert people to a religion, are you trying to be a teacher and teach moral values, or are you trying to be a realist? Are you trying to be a fantasist? And how far do you want to push the realism of your book?
They are all questions which you as a teenage bracket author need to decide where issues like sex and swearing are involved. Because lets be frank now – MOST teenagers are to some degree sexually active (and if they’re not, a fair few want to be!) and MOST teenagers swear.
So where do you draw the line, if you do want to include these things in your books?
Personally, I try to write realistically. And interestingly, when I first wrote ‘Flicker’, and a male friend of mine (who is 27, swears like a trooper and is not shy about sharing his sex life!) read it for the first time, one of his first comments was ‘do you think you should include a sex scene?’ and he also suggested I remove the swearing.
Now, just to clarify, when I admit to including sex and swearing in my books, I’m not writing porn, nor am I writing the script for Shameless! When characters get angry I might use the S or the F word, and if the plot requires someone to sleep with someone else, I might mention it happened, or if, as in Flicker, the reader needs to know a little bit more about the situation, expand it to a paragraph or two.
But even this can be seen by some to be overstepping a rather big line!
Obviously it depends on your target audience. Flicker and The Dream Navigator, are both written with 15+ year old readers in mind, and the central characters are 19 years old. 19 year olds have sex and swear, so these were things which I figure should feature in the plot just like all the other things 19 year old characters might do. But only where necessary. For this reason, Ellody, the main character in TDN doesn’t actually have sex, because, as anyone who has read the start of TDN will realise, she’s not a normal 19 year-old. She’s lived a really socially-repressed life because of her abilities, and struggles with her relationships with other people. The most the reader might see her do is kiss another character, because for her that’s a really big step.
What I’m trying to say, is that sex and swearing ARE everyday things. Particularly for older teenagers. And it seems a shame to censor them from an artform, if you are trying to be realistic. But, like all other events, actions and devices, they should only be used when necessary. If the situation and the story don’t merit it, or if you are writing for a younger audience – say the 11-14 year-old bracket – then don’t introduce those two things. Tailor your story to your audience and your purpose! There’s no need to turn a book into a swearing dictionary or a porno mag just for the sake of it! But equally, don’t patronise your audience! Don’t have a nineteen year-old burst into a tirade of ‘Oh fudge! Golly gosh I’m so angry!’ because you then you will lose your target audience! Your readers aren’t looking to you to be their religious leader, or their teacher – they already have those things. They are looking to you as a writer to entertain them, and to tell them about the real world …. or not, in a responsible but realistic manner. Or at least that’s my opinion!
So I guess it’s down to you to decide exactly what role you want to play!