This is one of the many questions most fiction writers must ask in most projects. I'm told that the coziest of cozy mysteries eschew all profanity, but it sometimes happens that the villain is a roughneck. What then?
Personally, as a reader, I can take it or leave it. I
generally don't notice it when it's missing. On the other hand, I can
tolerate a moderate amount of bad language -- more when I'm reading to
myself than when I'm reading aloud to Mom. When I'm reading aloud to
Mom, I generally redact most if not all of the F-bombs and pretty much
all of the references to anatomical naughty bits.
I once began
reading a paranormal mystery by a writer I had recently met and had
found to be a very nice person. The profanity was so thick, I stopped
reading after a couple of pages. It felt like a verbal assault. I was
willing to concede that these characters, in this situation, would talk
exactly like that; I just found the volume to be too loud for comfort.
Part of the problem was the repetitiveness. There was just enough variety to show me that the writer could
mix it up, but not enough to make it really interesting. I have a
friend from Chicago who used to be an artist with bad language. Every
sentence popped and sizzled; he seemed to have an innate sense of the
rhythm of his words. It was like listening to good bluegrass: edgy, but
Knowing these things as a reader, what do I do as a writer?
generally make the decision to limit the bad language I use. My husband
separates profanity into two kinds: irreverence and vulgarity.
Irreverence is using words that would be fine if a preacher used them in
a sermon. Vulgarity is using words referring to sexuality, body parts,
bodily functions, or lower eliminations. I say "lower" because, insofar
as I know, nobody considers "snot," "spit," or "earwax" profane.
seems to me that limiting the bad language you use in your writing --
if you're writing about people who use profanity -- makes the profanity
you do choose to use more powerful. If the usage is so common as to be
unremarkable ... part of what writing is about is eliminating
the unremarkable from your writing, yes? So I would go with just using
enough to give a flavoring without crossing the line into a waste of
Marian Allen, Author Lady
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