Lisa Burstein

This Be Where I Blog

To Fuck or not to Fuck- Editing Dear Cassie for Content

on November 15, 2012

There are 215 “Fucks” in DEAR CASSIE, A LOT, but it makes sense because it is Cassie’s favorite word. Cassie has trouble expressing herself. She uses swear words and anger because she does not know what else to do. She’s also in a terrible situation, a wilderness rehab program trying to deal with something that has happened to her that she can’t bring herself to deal with.

215 fucks, that is down from almost 400 or 500 in the original draft- I can’t remember- LOL. I would say my editor has a pretty strong stomach for letting me keep as many as she did.

I am in the third pass edits now. The pass before it goes to publisher extraordinaire Liz Pelletier for her read-through and then on to copy edits. There is just one fuck in this pass that is making my editor reconsider.

It is the one that sits at the top of the first page.

Folks who read PRETTY AMY would not be surprised that the first real word in Cassie’s book is: fucking. It is in every chapter heading. My editor loves it and I love it, but on page one, the page people read when they are glancing at your book and deciding to buy it or read it, it has the potential to turn people off.

Now, these people probably would be turned off eventually anyway, but there is something to be said for not having it happen before they even read the first line of the book.

I get this. This being my second novel, I get this in a way I didn’t with my first. This book is the book where people will either say, she did it again. Or, she was a fluke.

That is enough to make me want to fill page one with COMPLIMENTS for these readers. You are beautiful, you smell good, you are smart, funny and a really good kisser. Like me please. Buy me and rate me with 5-stars.

But since I can’t do that, I am considering removing the fuck from page one.

And, I am struggling.

On one hand it is Cassie and this is her book. On the other I want people–as many as possible–to buy DEAR CASSIE and read it. So friends, I am asking for some help here. What are your thoughts? Is 215 one fuck too many? Or, is staying true to character and vision more important?

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Sigh…

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15 responses to “To Fuck or not to Fuck- Editing Dear Cassie for Content

  1. Jana says:

    I think staying true to the character and the book is more important. Of course, that’s just my opinion. I personally don’t mind if there’s 215 ‘fuck’ words in there.

    • mbm8377 says:

      It’s setting the tone and therefore I think it should stay. It lets the reader know what they’re in for and if that is how Cassie is, then they have an idea right off the bat that it’s going to be the story of a realistic teen character. If it turns people off on the first page, it’ll turn them off five pages in and then they’ll be annoyed they spent the money. Leave it.

  2. My 2-cents. 😀
    Leave it in. Here’s why. This is Cassie’s book. It is her heart and soul. Would Cassie really want you to remove it? Also, if I picked this book up and read that first line. I’d probably go “Woah! What the fuck?!” And then I would keep reading. If you take it out, it might make the rest seem an aberration and not normal.

    I do see your point on the other side, but really, people will read it. Those who get turned off with the fuck at the beginning are probably going to return it eventually anyway.

    Oh and thanks for saying I was smart, beautiful, funny and a really good kisser. We’ll just pretend that is the case. ;-D

  3. Amelia says:

    That IS a tough one… I think you should also consider the context it’s used in. I think readers would be more open if it was used in humor rather than spite/anger.

    Also, I think YA readers are more open to that swear word than even two years ago. They hear it everyday at school. So I think, if the word is a part of Cassie, don’t try to hoodwink the reader. Some will love her, some wont, and it might be because of the 215 fucks, them they just don’t understand her, and that’s the risk. 🙂

  4. I think that staying true to Cassie’s character is important. I think if people are going to love this book they will love it whether that fuck is there or not. If people aren’t going to like it, they won’t. I say go with your gut on this. Cassie is a character that you love and have created a story for, so if it is fitting I would leave it. I can’t wait to read Dear Cassie. 🙂

  5. I think parents would be more open to letting their kids read your book, and less inclined to moments of spontaneous combustion after they’ve discovered just how many “fucks” their child experienced after reading your book… BUT I also believe in staying true to character. How far you want to take that character is up to you. Just consider your target audience and who the book is more apt to sell to…

    To be honest, I personally prefer my reading to be as “fuck” free as possible, but the inclusion of such words will not stop me from reading an otherwise excellent book. Not to mention, I am a 30+ y.o. mommy, and not a teenage daughter.

    I admit to being a prude when it comes to crude words. But with the amount of “holy stromboli”s and “schnicklefritze”s and “fracktastic”s I spurt out on a daily basis, I probably would swear like a sailor if I wasn’t such a prude.

    It should be interesting to see what Ms Liz has to say about all the fucking words.

    If I may provide a suggestion: Instead of making chapter 1 with the fucking heading the first page of the book, how about having a letter or some other type of epilogue/passage before chapter one in order t kick it off? Some people may read this passage first (or instead of chapter one) and it may balance the impact that the chapter heading has on potential readers when/if they flip the page. It’s also a creative way to start the story.

    • Ali B. says:

      I agree with Jenna. I think she said my opinion perfectly. :). I try to read books that have the least about of cussing…yes I am a prude when it comes to swear words. I know that there are parents out there that will not let there kids read your books based on the number of cuss words, actually most of the teens I know wouldn’t be allowed to read it just based on the swearing. I do believe in staying true to character…can you stay true to character and limit the swearing a little bit more?

  6. Have you read Don Winslow’s Savages? Not YA, true, but the first word of that book is fuck and it sets the tone, it sums up one character’s entire personality and it promises one hell of an eye raising story.

    I think that first page fuck needs to stay. Rather the reader learns on pg 1 how foul mouthed a character is and decides not to read, than gets two chapters in, stops reading and leaves ranty hate filled one-star reviews about your character being a potty mouth. Also, being true to the character is far more important than sugar coating it for readers. If that first fuck offends a reader’s sensibilities, that’s too bad but they probably wouldn’t have read the book anyway even if the first fuck only happened on pg 2.

  7. Heather Alexander says:

    Well it would serm that me and amyi share out love if the F-bomb. Leave out in. I might be more likely to buy it if you have it . Of course, I’m almost impossible to offend. Lol

  8. Desiree says:

    Keep the fuck! It may turn some people off but it also will turn some people on. If I were to open a YA book that had the word “fuck” on the main page, it would compel me to keep reading. It is somewhat rare to find a YA book that stays true to the way that actual teenagers speak. They swear, a lot! I find it refreshing when an author gives their characters voices that stay true to the culture of the American teenager. So yes, some people will walk away from this, but others will appreciate it. let the fuck live on!

  9. What if you use something like “Eff” just to start rolling, and then drop the F-ball once the reader gets used to Cassie? I don’t mind Cassie’s language. It’s her style, and she’s a great character, but let’s not turn the reader off on the first page until they get a feel for her personality and see how funny she is. Whatever you decide, I think it’ll be great. Can’t wait to read it!

  10. Hmm, this is almost an all or nothing question in my mind. Any number of “fucks” will turn some people off, so having one is almost the same as having 215. I have four fucks in my book, and they’re all in there for a reason–I mean, the character actually states the reason she’s saying it a couple of times–and I continue to see some people struggling with it on goodreads. So Amelia’s argument above that readers will accept it in certain contexts doesn’t seem to be true (although I’m only seeing the vocal readers, not the ones who perhaps grudgingly accepted the language). The character also says one “shit,” four “damns,” and four “hells” over the course of 73,000 words, which I naively thought was mild for a teenager. (My own teenagers swear like sailors, and I find it pretty hilarious.) I’d love to see a day when people stop giving “fuck” more importance than it deserves. Maybe you’ll break the ice!

  11. John Clark says:

    Context is the key here, if removing it skews the story enough to make you and/or your most trusted readers squirm, then I think you have your answer.

  12. Daisy R says:

    As a reader, the word fuck does not bother me. I understand that it may bother some people, but I think the characters true voice is more important. If Cassie needs to say it, I say let her.

  13. Emmy Neal says:

    That is a ROUGH one.

    I *want* to say yes because of course Cassie should be Cassie from page one.

    But honestly? One fuck isn’t going to make or break your character’s “true self”–but you’re right to think it could effect your sales. I work in a library and I know exactly how many parent take books out of their kids hands when they realize swear words are in there–even when their kids are 15/16 and you KNOW already use those words all the time. A lot of parents come and yell at us for checking out books with swear words to their kids. I can only imagine it’ll be worse at a book store.

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