Sep 18, 2009

One Bad Word

As an English teacher I have to believe words are good. We want children to read with them, we want them to express themselves verbally with them. We want kids to have a vocabulary that grows. Yet we all cringe when teens use the 'bad' words. I am one who does not want to decipher the student's speech by removing every foul word and stringing the few that are left together.

As a writer, I feel an obligation to my reader to use the correct language, to tell the truth. This is why The Pirate Girl went from being a little kid's picture book to developing into a teen novel. Where there are pirates there is death, and death is not pretty, funny or invisible. Death is ugly and I would be lying to the reader if I left it out.

Now my predicament. My current WIP, Dog Show Detective, is about an 11yr old girl who enters dog shows with her Miniature Schnauzer and manages to solve mysteries as well. All has been going well. Kitty's dog is a boy called Shakespeare. Kitty finds another sick dog who is also a boy. Now Kitty is entering her first show and it is highly unlikely that every dog in the show will be a 'dog', that is, there are sure to be female dogs.

What do I do? Do I just casually drop the word 'bitch' wherever appropriate (the boy lifted his bitch up onto the table for the judge), or do I just use the generic word 'dog' right through? My audience was 10yrs plus, but my 8yr old is enjoying the text enough that I think it may appeal to younger chapter readers. Why is this word a problem for me? Who first took this word from our shared vocabulary and turned it into a 'bad word'?

My gut tells me to leave it out, to use the word dog. This is a happy fun kid's story. But I still worry that I am not telling the truth.

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