I’ve always appreciated a well-timed, or a well-placed, “Fuck.” Especially when it’s supposed to be funny.
When I was in my lower teens, I read a lot, and I read one book where the character–and for the life of me I can’t remember who it was (I want to say it was Detective J. P. Beaumont, in the detective series by J. A. Jance, but it could have been in any of the books I read back then) who said, “Jesus Christ on a bicycle.” It cracked me up, and to this day, if I hear it, or if I read it, I laugh.
The phrase may be offensive to some, hell, I went to Baptist school as a kid and just for a split second, I was offended too, until my sense of humor won out.
My characters swear, and sometimes they swear a lot. This is a bit unusual, as I don’t swear much, in real life, and a lot of times our characters are us, or pieces of us. My amount of swearing depends on who I’m with. I don’t swear around my kids unless I’m telling them to stop being pissy, a futile plea, that, as they are teenagers. But my sister swears like a truck driver (is this really true?) and when she starts saying the F word, it starts coming out of my mouth, too.
I like to try to make my characters swear for a reason. They’re grumpy, or angry, or I, too, like to use a well-placed swear word for comedic effect. Take this excerpt, for instance, from the book I’m writing now, Wherever He Goes:
When Aiden came out of the bathroom, Kat was studying the cappuccino selections across the store. The gas station sold a huge selection of Monster energy drinks, and just as he opened the door to grab his usual, a low-carb flavor, the bell over the door rang.
In the round fish-lens mirror attached to the wall above the restrooms, Aiden watched a tall figure dressed in black aim a handgun at the older lady staring out the window behind the counter.
Aiden rested his forehead against the chilled glass of the cooler.
Not everyone wants to read characters swearing though, and sometimes the readers who come across it can take it out on you in a bad review:
This is a review for Don’t Run Away, book one in my Tower City Romance Trilogy. Never once did I say I write sweet/inspirational romance. I write contemporary, and that is the category my books are labeled under. I don’t try to fool anyone. A lot, if not most, contemporary romances have some kind of swearing and/or intimacy. In fact, had this reader used the Look Inside feature on Amazon, they would have known right away this book contained sex and swearing, maybe even both at the same time (gasp!). The book is long enough I’m going to assume the first two chapters are available.
I didn’t redo my blurb, per that reviewer’s request, simply for the fact that the category I put it under shouldn’t give a prospective reader any false illusions.
But it did make me wonder why readers are so sensitive, and if writers respond to it, or if they still do their own thing.
I read a Harlequin Blaze not long ago, and the author used the word pussy. It’s not such a big deal in the scheme of things–the series’ name says it all, to my way of thinking. But the person who read the book before me inked out all the words she didn’t agree with. I wish I had taken a picture.
When I think of swear words in content, I think about a lot of programs on the CW. I watched Gossip Girl from beginning to end (the show; I haven’t read the books to compare), and I watched a lot of The Vampire Diaries (also the same, watched the show, didn’t read the books).
The writers of Gossip Girl had a fun time throwing in curse words that weren’t curse words. Blair was forever calling Chuck Bass a Basshole. We know what she meant, but in all the episodes I ever watched, she never, ever, came out and actually called anyone an asshole.
Another favorite was when people would call Chuck a Motherchucker. This one, too, is pretty self-explanatory.
Why the creators wanted to keep the show “clean” is beyond me, as all the characters drank like fish–whether they were old enough or not. The same is true for The Vampire Diaries–even though I guess you could say that Stefan and Damon were “old enough” to drink, even while portraying high school students. When you Google “Damon and Stefan drinking” there are a lot of images that come up. I could post pictures all day of them knocking back scotch!
And while Elena starts the show at 17-18, I would assume she turns 21 at some point. But her age doesn’t stop her from having a little fun.
These characters were also having sex, some of it open door, some of it not, but it surprises me that the creators would show, or even imply, underaged sex.
So, underaged sex is . . . not worse than swearing?
What is a reader’s tolerance when it comes to books? I think swearing is natural–you can’t get away from it in real life, and writing a few curse words into your books could crank up the reality factor a notch or two.
Depending on your genre, sex, too, is also natural. A detective in a high-stakes thriller could have sex to take the edge off. Most romances and chick-lit have sex in them, sometimes even funny sex. Erotica has the most sex, of course, and it’s up to the author to submit their books to the proper category when publishing.
My characters drink–probably not as much as they do in The Vampire Diaries, but they like to have a drink now and then. So do I.
Everything in moderation.
It’s a concept the Salvatore brothers didn’t understand, but I guess, there’s nothing else to do in a small town like Mystic Falls.
Taste is subjective, and it’s easy to get freaked out by a poor review, but what an average amount of swearing is to one could be an overuse to another. Contemporary romance is light on sex, but I have yet to read a contemporary romance where the couple didn’t do it at least once. How graphic the scene turns out to be is up to the author.
I expect swearing, sex, and drinking in the books I read.
How about you?
If you’re interested, the New York Times printed an article about sex, or lack thereof, in current YA. You can read it here.
The fuckety index: how much bad language is allowed in your novel?
For Fuck’s Sake! – The Art Of Swearing And Cursing In Fiction Writing
My characters swear, as I do myself (like a drunken sailor sometimes), but my critique group has warned me that a little of it goes a long way in a story. It isn’t necessary to make your characters swear as much as they likely would do in real life. Perfectly okay to leave some of that to the reader’s imagination.
I totally agree! And I didn’t think my characters swore that much. 🙂 I still believe the woman who gave me the bad review was thinking DRA was a sweet romance, but I will make sure in edits for books going forward that my characters don’t swear if the scene doesn’t warrent it. 🙂
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I’ve thought a lot about this lately. I swear. Hell, my kid has even shouted, “Damn Driver!” from the backseat. It happens. I’d rather see/hear swearing than someone pulling a gun, or other weapon to get out their anger. Sometimes swearing to me makes me feel better. It’s safer. I also think people are too sensative in today’s world; everything offends them and get their knickers in a bunch. I say do what you feel is right for your genre and you as an author.