I know that some books contain strong languages that aren't appropriate in stories but in the end, I think my book needs them for extra violent highlights that would do well for the villains. I aim for an audience level of middle grade and up, so I refrained from adding in any 'Curse' words. As my story drag on longer, I began to think that adding in the words may be a good idea if it weren't for the grade level.

Is it fine for me to add strong language to my book or should I refrain from adding it since it might reflect badly on me as a person? Considering that I'm not supposed to know the F-word at the age of thirteen.

  • 1
    First, can you define the age range for Mid-Grade? Second, how old are you? Your last sentence is causing some doubt.
    – hszmv
    May 27, 2021 at 17:24
  • @hszmv I thought the last sentence was pretty clear that OP is thirteen? May 27, 2021 at 18:49
  • @hszmv 12 and up for Mid-Grade. Just like on my profile, I'm a fresh teenager=13-year-old. So if you think I'm faking my age, that not possible since I am in the class of 2026. Learning strong languages was from YA books and also from my siblings. May 27, 2021 at 18:50

4 Answers 4


Chilling Effects for Mid-grade:

If you add the language, it does somewhat definitionally shift from mid-grade to adult or young adult, which means the whole temperature of your story would need to shift, too. There is a weird double standard to writing for the younger audience, where the audience wants edgy, but they also don't. Then the publishers want edgy, but they also don't. This is one of the reasons I don't really want to write in this age target. There is, however, nothing wrong with writing for young adults/adults. Tweens can read/write books for teens, teens can still read/write books for adults, and teens certainly don't like being told to not use bad language (I have two teens, and they recreationally curse to show they're "grown up.")

And yes, my children knew numerous swear words at thirteen, and I was the only one that judged them for it (and your parents don't count). My father used profanity excessively (he grew up a bar-owner's son, then joined the army), so I'm personally a little picky about its use and think most folks just use it for effect rather than to be genuine, so I judge adults for it more than tweens/teens.

If you think your book ends up bridging the space between audiences, then find literary agents that represent books in both categories. They will be able to decide if the story is still appropriate for mid-grade with the language, and they can always say, "Drop the f**king bad language!" and you can edit it out. 'Darn' and 'fracking' are a little ridiculous, but people will know what you really want to say. Honestly, if you get to the point where someone reads your book then the language won't be a deal-breaker if you express a willingness to remove it as needed.


So I was growing up when the Harry Potter books were being released and had the benefit of maturing with the characters at about the same rate, given the gap between releases (books 1-3 were out when I got ahold of them but still weren't popular in the States just yet. My copy of Book One was "Philosopher's Stone" not "Sorcerer's" and I felt a little special that I enjoyed it without knowing what it was to begin with.).

As the books progressed the narrative does show the kids swearing albeit the really bad words are cleverly hidden. Ron and his older twin brothers were actually quite crass if you read between the lines... but in the books, Rowling never dropped the "F-word" or anything like that. Rather, she cut the dialog and went into the narrative voice and immediately said something along the lines of "Ron then called Hermione a word that made her punch him" with the implication that Ron was dropping the very inappropriate words.

Another option can be seen in the tv show "How I Met Your Mother." As the show is framed as a father telling his kids about his life in present day NYC and how it lead to meeting their mother, he often will self-censor himself or another character by inserting tame words, but leaving them in context of the bad word. In an early Christmas episode, he calls one of his best friends the "C-word" but told his kids he called her "A Grinch". For the rest of the episode, the humor derives from the onscreen characters saying "Grinch" in the context where very bad word would take place... and at one point when Ted's 6 year old cousin tells him he's being "a real Grinch", future Ted does pause the story and tell his kids that this time, she was actually refering to the Dr. Suess character for real.

These transitions were often cut with two teenagers playing Ted's kids with skeptical expressions that clearly stated they knew exactly what their dad was doing. This would happen a couple times such as once where he substituted a word in Barney's dialog for the milder "Kiss" and we have an entire scene where Barney is chanting "Kiss Him," which seems appropriate for the situation until a security guard stops by and tells him to leave, at which point Barney responds with "Kiss You" and future Ted interrupts to say that Barney wasn't really shouting "Kiss" and leaves the context clues to let the audience get that the word was the "F-word".


Middle Grade book buyers are usually parents and teachers. Children of that age read a lot, but are NOT typically making their own purchases. That means that parents and teachers are the gatekeepers. For that reason, Middle Grade books usually need to be squeaky clean.

YA books are typically purchased by teenagers. Once children turn 13 or so, they start buying their own books, and making their own choices --and they gravitate to edgy material. So there's a huge difference between what is permissible in Middle Grade fiction and what passes in YA.

Unfortunately there's very little middle ground. So either make this a sanitized, censored, family-friendly Middle Grade book, that a parent wouldn't cringe to read to their kids, or make it an edgy, grown-up, boundaries-pushing YA. Otherwise, you don't have a target audience, which means you don't have a publisher either. Note: Given your own age, I would stick to a MG novel --it will be relatively easy for you to write something kids a couple years younger would really like, but it would be hard to write for teens who have already had experiences you haven't had yet. Most kids like heroes who are a little older, so 13-year-old characters are great for 11-year-old readers.


In dialogues for sure. Characters should swear the same way real people swear. But note that the more it is used, the less effect it has on the reader. If swearing is used in every sentence, the reader gets used to it and then it is much harder to emphasize a particularly tense situation.

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