Monday, November 22, 2010

Taboo Topics in YA

Last week, I talked about how we censor ourselves and I wanted to continue that discussion this week.  So first, I ask you is anything really taboo in YA?

Just think about it for a second.  What topic has NOT been touched upon in YA?  A few months ago,  I would have said sex was a topic that could only be broached so far.  You could have the insinuation of sex, but the actual act shouldn't be described.  And this wasn't just my own rule regarding the topic.  I actually thought it was an industry standard.  Some topics were just too mature for teens (especially when you figure how young some readers of YA are).  But then I remembered a particular author I'd read growing up.  You might have heard of her (actually, she's many authors using the same pen name): V.C. Andrews.  Some of the scenes in V.C. Andrews books are straight up erotica.  It's almost embarrassing to read it's so graphic.  And yet, they're all considered YA.

So what is taboo?  Drugs?  Murder?  If sex isn't taboo, how about rape?

As far as the industry is concerned, it seems there are no taboo subjects (well, that's not really true, and we'll get to that eventually).  If the industry doesn't put up blocks on subjects, do you?

I've been thinking about this a lot this weekend and I've decided censorship of one's own writing comes in two forms.

Either your own morals, beliefs, what have you keep you from delving deep into certain subjects OR you delve deep DESPITE your morals, beliefs, etc. because you think you have to, thus censoring your own feelings.

These morals and beliefs can arise from anywhere (you don't have to be a religious person to sympathize with this).  The truth is we all have a belief system and morals taught to us by our parents, our community, and society as a whole.  Censoring happens when you think one of those groups wouldn't agree with what you have to say and you try to please them.

Let me interject right here that if you don't think you're censoring yourself, you probably aren't.  So if you still fall into one of those two forms of censorship, but you don't feel your writing is affected by it, then you aren't a victim of censorship--you've simply found a place you're comfortable writing in.

HOWEVER, if you do feel your writing is constricted, then you need to take a step back and figure out what's getting in your way.

I'll admit again that I censor my writing, absolutely.  I feel enormously constricted by all three groups (parents, community, AND society).  On the one hand, I'm afraid of delving deep into the normal topics of sex, violence, etc. because my parents will read what I write and I don't want to offend them.  On the other hand, I view the world in a different way than the vast majority of people in the artistic community and I wonder how I can write about my beliefs and glorify God in my writing while not alienating people who have come to view Christians as bigoted morons.

Do I still delve into sex and violence despite my fear of my parents?  Yeah, I'll have to say I do (now).  One of my betas actually described my MC from ELEMENTAL as an anti-hero, and I think that's a perfect description because she struggles with wanting to kill people all the time. My MC from MORCAH has to face a lot of sexy bits and temptations (and threats) because she's a paranormal that typically personifies innocence and purity.  I wanted to challenge that personification and make her fight through it.

It would be the other two groups I still have trouble with wanting to appease.  It's not that I'm trying to find a way to write something that would be offensive, but I do want to make people question their view of the world, not in an agenda type way, but in a "hmm..." way.  This is something I can't NOT do.  It's who I am as a writer, and the longer I try to fight against it, the longer my writing will remain mediocre.

Discussion: Are there subjects that you find personally taboo in YA or any other genre?  What subjects WON'T you go near, and why?


  1. Nothing is completely taboo, which I think is as it should be. I just think that certain topics ought to be handled gently, and with respect.

  2. i don't think there is anything taboo in YA as far as the industry goes. But i do feel a lot of pressure knowing the beliefs of my church. especially about issues i disagree with the church about- which somehow show up in my writing... a lot. also, my in-laws... i don't fear my parents reading my stuff. in general, they are pretty open minded, but i sure didn't send my mom that little thing i wrote for hannah's horror contest! :)
    for me, this self-censorship thing is a big struggle. because i'm 95% sure that if any of my WIPs were ever published and read by my church- i would be kicked out. and that doesn't bother me so much, but i know it bothers my husband. but he and i both agree that if i'm to spend so much time on this writing stuff, i better write about things that mean something to me.
    so... i don't think there are subjects i wouldn't go near... but as with everything in writing, the content needs to be there for a reason. i hope that makes sense! :)

  3. I don't think there are subjects that are taboo (or at least none I can think of right now), but it depends on how they are approached in YA. I agree with Matthew.

  4. Ooo, Matthew, you said it, and Stina too. It all depends on how the scene is written.
    Is a sex scene written like erotica, a la VC Andrews? Maybe not so good for teens (um, already raging hormones anyone?). Sex scenes can (should?) be done tastefully, with a good balance of detail appropriate to the scene. Most importantly, does the description or scene move the story forward? Does a violent/drug-related scene move the story forward?

    If a writer only puts these things in for shock value or cheap readership, then these scenes seem unnecessary or more negative.

  5. I think most people probably censor themselves, to a certain extent, for lots of different reasons.

    Personally, even thought I write for adults, I don't write sex unless I have a specific reason or reasons for putting it in. There has to be a purpose to the sex being there, other than to provide erotic entertainment, because I'm not fond of gratuitous sex scenes.

    I think that YA (and I'm not a YA author but hear me out) shouldn't have anything be taboo as long as there's a valid reason for the subject matter to be in the book. For example, gratuitous sex is not necessary in YA at all but if a character gets raped or molested, and the author is trying to send a message about that, then it's justified. Or if the subject is about drugs or war or violence or God. There has to be clear justification for why it's in the book. Then I got no problem with it. As long as the young adults are learning something from it, it's a good thing.



Yay! Comments! Oh, how I do love them! :D