Profanity in Crime Fiction:
Reality or Lazy Writing?

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“Good authors, too, who once knew better words / Now only use four-letter words writing prose / Anything goes!” – Cole Porter, 1934

By PJ Parrish

A convenient convergence of events led me to my topic today. And thank you, Calliope, because I had nothing to say until last Friday when I started the latest book by one of my favorite crime writers, and then Saturday, when I got a fan email from a lady in Vassalboro, Maine. And both got me to thinking about dirty words.

I’ll start with the fan email, because that’s easier. Here’s what she wrote to us:

Ladies,
I have been reading your Louis Kincaid books for many years and always look forward to the next one. But about your latest book She’s Not There I have to tell that despite the fact I liked the story, I did not like the fact you felt you had to use so much profanity. You don’t need this to tell your story. I plan to buy your next book but I think this is something you should reconsider.

I’ll get back to us in a second. Now, about that book I just started reading: I was really excited about this because I adore this author and the book had a juicy premise, great setting and interesting flawed hero. But I am now 63 pages in and there is this bad ringing in my ears.

I’m being F-bombed so much I can no longer hear the story.

This makes me sad because I so want this writer to succeed. But I think this writer has made a critical error: In an effort to shrug off a reputation as a solid series practitioner, the writer over-swung for the hard-boiled fence and wiffed. What should be a compelling story of a criminal redeemed is reading like a try-out for “The Wire.”

Okay, back to us. Here’s a personal caveat: All the books my sister and I have written contain profanity. In our hard-boiled PI-police procedural series, we think it’s near impossible to construct a believable world without the language of the streets. But over the course of fourteen books, we have drastically cut down on the profanity.  Does this make us angels? Hardly, as the good lady from Maine (and others) have reminded us. But it has made me think really really hard every time I go to type a word in my chapter that here in this blog I would have to bleep out.

And if I am put off by too many F-bombs in a crime novel -– me, a person who has been known to curse like a pirate in real life –- maybe we need to consider what it might be doing to our readers.

Now, I don’t think this some weird church-lady thing. When I started to look into this, I was amazed at how many message boards are out there populated with readers looking for fiction without profanity – on such disparate sites as the crime blog The Rap Sheet to the Provo Utah City Library. On GoodReads, there’s a long thread called “Is It Clean?” where I sense a real longing for non-cozies without profanity, epitomized by this posting: “Does anyone know of an author that writes like Vince Flynn but without the language?”

These readers are not all fans of cozies or Christian fiction (though many are). Many, like the Vince Flynn fan, are looking for more realistic stories without gratuitous profanity. John Sandford’s fans evidently have complained to the point that his son, Roswell Camp, was compelled to statistically document (on his own website) a book-by-book decrease in the profanity in his father’s books.

There are different reasons why readers dislike profanity in their fiction. It can colored by religious conviction, personal morals or just plain old taste. Authors are guided by the same impulses. Mark Henshaw, a Mormon crime writer, wrote a blog “Why I Don’t Use Profanity,”  saying, “My short answer to the question is: because my mother reads my books. My long answer is a bit more involved.”

Writers of romances, cozies or “traditional” mysteries (sorry for the clumsy labels!), are sometimes under guidelines for market targeting. For the Mystery Writers of America’s Mary Higgins Clark Award, the definition is there in the submission guide lines: “The book most closely written in the Mary Higgins Clark Tradition (my italtics) according to guidelines set forth by Mary Higgins Clark.” It goes on to list several criteria, the last one being, “The story has no strong four-letter words or explicit sex scenes.”

The Agatha Awards, given out by Malice Domestic, specify that the awards “honor the “traditional mystery….that is to say, books best typified by the works of Agatha Christie as well as others. For our purposes, the genre is loosely defined as mysteries that contain no explicit sex, no excessive gore or gratuitous violence.” No mention of cussing there, but I have seen blogs taking the awards to tasks for honoring books that contain profanity. 

And then there’s the whole Pandora’s box of YA and Juvenile fiction, something I know nothing about, except that I have heard that the genres are evolving fast.

In a 2012 analysis of best-selling teen novels, researchers from Brigham Young University reported that kids encounter about seven instances of profanity per hour — and those characters with the dirtiest mouths are often the richest, most popular and best-looking.

They analyzed profanity in 40 teen novels on the New York Times’ best-seller list of children’s books targeting children age 9 or older. Some books were especially gritty. The novel Tweak clocks in with 500 profanities, including 139 F-words. There were 50 F-bombs in Gossip Girl, and 27 in the novel Tempted. The novels with the foulest language were typically aimed at kids 14 and up. Said one researcher, “I had no clue there would be that type of content in those books. If they were made into movies, they would easily be rated R, and parents have no clue.”

What about the rest of us? Where is the line for us and when can we cross it? And what exactly is profanity? We can maybe toss in a “God, that hurts.”  And maybe a bitch or bastard or “damn, that’s good!” But beyond that, things get murky.

I tried to think of current harder-boiled writers I have read that don’t have profanity or use so little that I miss it.  My short list includes John Grisham, Dean Koontz (gory yes but blue no), and Sue Grafton.  This is what passes for cussing in a Grafton’s K Is For Killer:

I drank my beer, heart thumping. I heard her exclaim of surprise. “Look at this. Gaaaaaaad…” She dragged the profanity out into three musical notes as she scooped up her belongings.

I seem to remember Robert B. Parker’s books being pretty tame. Yet when Ace Atkins took the series over after Parker’s death, one critic, in an otherwise glowing review, suggested some readers might be put off by the saltier language:

Parker used obscenities in his books the way Spielberg used the color red in “Jaws”: when you saw it, it was blood and it was designed to elicit a visceral reaction. So, too, did Parker use curse words in his books. They were there, no doubt, he certainly wasn’t a prude. But they were only there when needed. Atkins meanwhile laces the four letter words in and out of the dialogue with a kind of reckless abandon.

Then there’s Lee Child. In an interview with Ali Karim at Shots e-zine, Child talked about why he never uses any profanity:

Although personally I always have used profanity in my speech, for some very subconscious reason, I just could not write it down on the page. I really couldn’t and I also then realized that it’s impossible to capture speech realistically unless you are prepared to fill up the page with four letter words – which is actually how highly stressed people speak. So I thought were into artifice here anyway, so let’s go the whole hog and make highly stressed, tough-guy speech with no four-letter words and see if it’s possible and I think it comes across as convincing. There are a certain number of people who are grateful that there are no four-letter words, and I have never heard from anybody who misses them and wishes I’d put them in.

Now, I could have sworn Jack Reacher swore. But I guess I am wrong. Lee Child might be dropping dirty bombs but no F-bombs. And Child is making an important point here, not just about profanity, but about how to write great dialogue. In crime fiction, foul language is justified on the ground that it is lifelike. But dialogue is NOT a mimicking of real speech; it is a sleight of hand (or ear) that gives the impression of humans talking within the shape of story.  As Child says, in real life highly stressed people WOULD cuss a blue streak. But on the written page, that quickly grows tiring and trite, and stinks of a writer trying too hard.

So, where do I come down on this? Somewhere in the middle. I still believe it is a necessary element for the style I have chosen but every time I feel the urge to let loose with a stream of blue, I do one of three things:

Show Don’t Tell. Rather than putting a cuss word in a character’s mouth, I try to find a way to convey the attitude through action. Yeah, it’s harder but often more effective.

Fudge It.  “Goddammit” is pretty strong stuff. A simple “damn” will do ya. Likewise, you can get around some words with substitutes, especially if the mood isn’t exactly boiling, like when a crusty old cop is joking around about a “f-ing dirtball.” JK Rowlings uses “effing” in Harry Potter books. And “friggin'” is a good stand-in for the f-bomb, although you should be aware that there is a a really filthy Sex Pistols song called “Friggin in the Riggin.”

Leave It Out. As Lee Child said, if you over-use profanity, it can dilute its power and it can make you, the writer, look inauthentic, and do you really want to be a poor man’s Pelecanos? One or two well-placed cuss words can be the spice you need at the prime moment you need it.  Remember Rhett Butler’s exit line in Gone With the Wind: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” Why do you think the American Film Institute ranks it No. 1 movie quotation of all time? Because it’s the only profane word in the movie and boy, what a punch it packed.

But…

Sometimes, you just gotta friggin’ use it.

So, yes, I use profanity in my books and will continue to do so. No, I don’t use as much as I use to and it isn’t because I’m afraid of offending someone. Sorry, dear reader, in Vassalboro, Maine, but it’s true. I use profanity with care and caution, because words have power. And finding the right word at just the right moment is my job.

I’m going to let another writer have the last word on this because she says it best, in my opinion: Take it away, Kathryn Schultz, in your essay “Ode To a Four-Letter Word:”

Do we need…a justification, beyond the one a writer might mount for any word, i.e., that it works? There is, after all, no such thing as an intrinsically bad, boring, or lazy word. There is only how it is deployed, and one of the pleasures of profanity is how diversely you can deploy it. Writers don’t use expletives out of laziness or the puerile desire to shock or because we mislaid the thesaurus. We use them because, sometimes, the four-letter word is the better word—indeed, the best one.

 

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About PJ Parrish

PJ Parrish is the New York Times and USAToday bestseller author of the Louis Kincaid thrillers. Her books have won the Shamus, Anthony, International Thriller Award and been nominated for the Edgar. Visit her at PJParrish.com

53 thoughts on “Profanity in Crime Fiction:
Reality or Lazy Writing?

  1. Dern tootin’!!!

    🙂

    Having been raised by a sailor who spoke “French”, I find my own vocabulary similarly “bilingual” on occasion, but can’t bring myself to write out anything much stronger than the odd “damn” or acronymic “s.o.b.” – especially in songs (since, unlike reading the printed page, they might be heard by more than just the one who selected it -audio-books aside – and a large reason I don’t care for hip-hop/rap – but that’s another topic for another time [and blog?]).

    Like Childs, I find I can’t get comfortable seeing “those words” appear from my pen-tip or key-clattering, and so, while I have used some of the “milder” ones, tend to do so sparingly even with those.

    And like you, too many can be a distraction that, as JSB says, serves as a speed bump to seamless story telling.

    Thanks for letting me pitch in my pair o’pennies.

  2. Kris, this is a topic I’ve had a lot to say about. Back in 2010 I wrote a post called The Great F-Bomb Debate. What I said was that it was unnecessary and would most likely affect market share downward. No one buys a book BECAUSE of the great use of the F word.

    I wrote: “But, the protest will come, ‘I write about reality! The F word is real. How can I write about gangs or mafia types without it?’ Well, let’s see. How did one of the best TV shows of all time, which ran, what, 20 years, do it? Watch the early seasons of Law & Order. You will get a lesson in how to do gritty without F bombs. (Without, in fact, using any of those infamous seven words you can’t say on TV) … Here’s the thing: fiction is not a re-creation of reality. We have documentaries and non-fiction for that. Fiction is a stylistic rendition of reality for emotional effect. You want readers caught up in a fictive dream, and to leave them with an emotional wallop. You do this by being creative with language. If you use the F word, however, you’re liable to take a lot of readers out of the dream.”

    BTW, the Reacher books do contain a healthy dose of the S-word, so they’re not profanity free. But no F bombs, which seem to be the drug of choice for hard-boiled newbies.

  3. You’re right about Law and Order…had forgotten that one. But as you always say, story trumps all, and L&O, though formula-to-extreme, was superb at that. I’m binge-watching “Orange Is the New Black” now, and while it’s not extreme in the language, it is starting to wear thin. But as you note, times are changing and what we seem to tolerate in movies, books, TV — and even in casual encounters if real life — is under stress. I, for one, am getting a little tired hearing the F-bomb dropped so casually everywhere I go.

  4. Only one reader has commented on the profanity in my first novel, but one is enough, I think.

    My current WIP has almost no profanity, mostly due to the characters, despite situations where others would cuss in electric-blue streaks, but partly due to my desire to grow my audiences. (One character may cuss in two scenes–or may not, but even she cusses far less in this novel than in the first.)

    The interesting thing, for me, is that most of the characters in my WIP are in lower social classes than the ‘cussers’ in the first novel, yet I’ve found it easier to eliminate cuss words. They rarely even occur to me as I’m writing and editing.

    I’m wondering if it might be because my authorial voice is stronger and my understanding of the craft is deeper, something you refer to in your post.

    • I think you might be onto something, Sheryl. I sense that as you grow as a writer, your toolbox expands and you learn different ways of getting your point across. I dunno…maybe it’s like, when you’re younger, you’re testing out all sorts of stuff, ways of making yourself “heard.” But as your confidence in your identity grows, so does your need to “shout” or impress with foul language?

  5. PJ, as we say in Texas, that’s why they make Fords and Chevrolets. I don’t write truly “hard-boiled” fiction. Rather, I call them “sleep with the lights off” novels. And I don’t–strike that, I find that I can’t write things I wouldn’t want my mother, wife, or daughter to read. It just doesn’t feel natural to me. It takes a bit of work to imply profanity, but that’s what I do.
    What do I do with writers whose work contains profanity? I skim over it and continue. I was a huge Parker fan, but the ones after his death, not so much. I don’t know that it’s the profanity. It’s the way it’s told. As has been said several times by several commenters, story trumps everything. How you tell it is what makes us individual. Thanks for bringing up the subject.

    • Richard,
      I actually don’t mind profanity in my reading. What I don’t like is the gratuitous profanity, where it feels forced, in an effort to impress that what I am reading is somehow “real.” We create a sense of reality with the words we chose to put in our characters’ mouths, yes, but as Lee Child said, when I see cascades of profanity on page after page, I begin to question the writer’s message.

      • And forced foul language is easy to spot. Same as when you watch a crime show and can tell that gratuitous violence is only the producer’s way of trying to impress you with shock value.

  6. Good stuff, Kris. I like your suggestions as alternatives.

    My crime fiction novels are always referred to as noir or hard-boiled but I rarely use f-bombs. I save that “best word ever” for when I’m driving.

    • HA! What would happen if there were things in our cars to record us when we are alone? You don’t want to hear my version of “Bohemian Rapsody…”

      • We could duet that song. My nephew thought I was kidding when I told him I could sing all the parts. Ha! He’s a believer now. Pffft

  7. Thank you so much for this blog post and the responses. I’m 73, and writing my first novel. I was married to a trucker for 25 years, so I know the lingo, and I still drop some of those words occasionally.

    I’ve been struggling with whether or not to drop the F-bomb in a few really tense places—to write realistically. I like what JSB said about us not having to re-create reality in fiction. It occurs to me now that if we don’t have to put in all the “umms” and “ahs,” to make dialogue sound realistic, then maybe we don’t have to put in all the profanity either.

    • Karen,
      A well rendered scene, with great action and description, can do more to evoke “reality” than one F-bomb. I say go with your gut. If you don’t, what you put on the page will feel false to whoever you are as a writer. Good luck!

  8. If my character would curse, then he (or she) curses. In fact, one of the early parts of character discovery for me is what is their ‘go to’ curse word. I did have a reader tell me she normally won’t buy more books by an author who has used an F bomb, but she pointed out that I’d only used it 3 times, and very near the end of the book, when the ‘real bombs’ were flying … and, when I checked, they were in the character’s thoughts, not even spoken aloud.

    Another objected to God used in conjunction with swearing, and I probably think more about using that than an F bomb.

    I’ve gone back and forth with one editor who told me she didn’t like the word “crap” and wanted me to change it. I don’t care what SHE likes; my character used that word.

    At a workshop given by romance author Linda Howard, she said she had to get used to coarser language when she was writing romantic suspense, and she sat down at her computer and typed an entire page of Fbombs so she’d get used to writing them and seeing them on the page.

    I also agree, that less is more. I just did a search in my current WIP. Two F bombs in internal thoughts, one spoken. There’s other profanity. I know dialogue isn’t ‘real’ but when I read it, I want to hear the character, not an editor’s version.

    • Remember that TV show “Actor’s Studio” with James Lipton? One of his stock questions was “What’s your favorite cuss word?” Everyone had one, and it was usually a variation on the old favorite. As is mine. But I hardly ever use it — usually when driving alone. (See above comment!)

      I have a good friend, Tim, who is British. He has given me a whole new vocabulary of cuss words that most Americans don’t get.

    • If I came across the word crap in a book I would probably laugh. It’s a funny word to me. As far as using the curse word with God instead of the F-Bomb, as a Christian, I would be more offended by the curse word with God in it than the F-Bomb. But that’s just me.

  9. This is a tough subject. There was a time many years ago when I would have taken a very pristine stance and declared no foul language of any sort should be used in fiction. Although I don’t feel it’s that cut and dried any more, at most, I use an occasional ‘damn’ if the scene calls for it, and rarely that.

    I feel kind of goofy when I think that I have applied what equates to a rating scale for cuss words, but in reality I and others do. I don’t care to see the F-word. It’s like fingernails on the chalkboard, or watching people eat octopus. It just makes me cringe.

    But as with every other aspect of the novel, above all it’s how good the writer is at his or her craft. I find it interesting that Vince Flynn came up in the conversation. I love reading his books–and I’m sure I must’ve read some curse words in the Flynn novels I’ve read so far. But you know what? I don’t remember the language, just the powerful story. While I’m not interested enough in this subject to go through his books and analyze how many times he cussed, I would have to say that it must’ve been a combination of his tremendous writing skill and his judicious use of ‘colorful language’ that leaves me remembering the story, not the bad language.

    And that was the point to your post.

    • BK: I’m with you in that I have read many books that were pretty blue but the story was so well done that the words sort of disappeared. So maybe it’s also a matter of the overall quality of the book…that if the fictional world created on the page is so compelling that language that otherwise jumps out at you blends in with more grace? Strange…

  10. I am a Christian and a reader. I do not consider myself a prude. I can handle most profanity in a book if it’s well written, even F-bombs There is one exception, using the name God or Jesus in profanity. I will stop reading at that point, put the book down and most likely not pick it back up again. For me, I feel like it is an attack on my Faith.

    • Phil,
      Yes…I totally get that. This post was running too long but I had a section in it originally where I tried to spell out the “categories” of profanity, ie body functions or parts etc. And one was religious blasphemy. It is a real deal breaker for some readers, something deeply personal, and I respect that.

      • I should add that my current WIP is about religion in theme. I am not of any one faith but I have to really think hard about where I am going with this and have consulted several good friends. One is a veteran Catholic state police captain and his insights on the conflicts between law enforcement and his religion (esp the role of the sanctity of the confessional and the criminal) are fascinating.

  11. You make a lot of great points here, PJ, but one I can’t go along with is “fudge it.” To me, “friggin” is an obvious pulled punch unless it’s been clearly established that the character who says it pulls their punches in other ways. Every time I see dashes in expletives or a tough guy say “darn it” or the like, I’m aware of the author jumping in to sanitize things in a way that smacks of more than slight unreality. And just like that, I’m pulled out of a suspenseful moment. The tension is broken … and so is the contract between author and reader. I’d suggest that authors tread far more lightly around profanity than you suggested they do in that paragraph.

    Thanks for giving me a lot to think about. I probably write too much profanity, and I’m probably not as thoughtful in my choices as I could be.

    • Jim,
      You articulated something better than I did — the point about friggin. What I WANTED to say was that I think you use it exactly the way you suggest, that the character himself IS pulling his punch, that you the author are using that word purposely as something the character himself would do ie consciously making a substitute. That is when I think you should use it. If you use “friggin” as you, the author, subbing, it feels coy, right? I totally agree with you. Thanks.

  12. Just two comments. Mark Twain: ‘The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug’.

    George Carlin: Seven words you can’t say on television.

    • I was going to go into the debate about Twain’s (and other’s) use of the n-word, but realized that is a different argument entirely. One for a better day and a more thoughtful post!

      • I’ve categorised swear words into ‘neutral’ and ‘personally offensive’ and in my writing I will very occasionally use the former, but never the latter.

        To me the F-word and similar four letter clangers are my neutral words, they don’t (I think) seek to offend anybody’s belief / sexuality / race etc. They are what they are and you like them or you don’t.

        The use of the word God, or the N-word (here in South-Africa it’s the K-word), or homosexual expletives will stab at the heart of so many readers, because it’s an assault on who they are so I never use those, not even within a justified context.

  13. Profanity doesn’t bother me when I read it, but it can be annoying when it’s done out of place. If it’s in dialogue and the character comes across as genuine, then I find myself accepting it as part of the character and I won’t tie it so much to the writer. However, if it’s all over the story and outside of dialogue, it’s pretty tacky.

    The only time I will accept profanity as entertaining outside of dialogue is when a story is told in 1st person POV, then I would consider it a character development tool. If you ever read Fool: A Novel, by Christopher Moore, it will make more sense. There should be no holds barred when it comes to comedy.

    • I see your distinction, Diane. I also had a section in my post about the hugely successful book, “Go The F–K to Sleep,” but the post ran long so I cut it. It is a children’s book, written by an at-wits-end parent, but if you read it, it is also sort of a polemic on how the f-bomb has imbedded itself in our culture. Interestingly, the author wrote a follow-up G-version called “Seriously, Just Go to Sleep.”

      And it’s being made into a movie…egads. (Which, at one time, was a cuss word).

  14. Stephen King in his book On Writing, addresses the use of profanity and as i recall says use it if it makes the story better, but don’t insert if it’s not you as a writer, don’t force it but don’t be gratuitous either. I just started a new series and so far have just 2 f-bombs among 33,000 words. I don’t think I had any profanity in my first 6 books of the first series. “Crap” my favorite swear word in real ife just didn’t seem a big enough word at that time in the story.

    • I almost mentioned Stephen King in my post because I recently finished “Duma Key” and thought the hard-core cussing in it went overboard but I haven’t read widely enough in King’s stuff to know if this was his norm. Good story though…

  15. The thing about using profanity is that it’s easy. Anybody can do it. The challenge is to stay in character without it. My biggest blow-off: the F-bomb on the first page of a book. For me, that screams amateur.

    Lynn Sholes and I use profanity in our thrillers, but during the rewrite, we take each example and delete it, then ask if the story/character has suffered. The answer is almost always no.

    • We do exactly the same thing, Joe. In the rewrite, we challenge each example and it has to “prove” it needs to be there.

  16. Kris,

    My husband could (and has) made a Marine drill instructor blush, so I’m no stranger to salty language. But, as you say, “gratuitous” is the operative word.

    Also *hearing* the words doesn’t seem to have the same impact as *reading* them. I hardly notice them in movies/TV shows, but they jump off the page when I see them in a book. So I use them sparingly.

    Your post prompted me to search my latest suspense novel for the F word. Found it eight times in 75K words. IMHO, of those, five are appropriate in context and I’ll keep them, while three can be changed w/o diluting the meaning. Less is more. Save the F-bombs for impact. I never heard anyone say, “It was a great book, but it could have used more profanity.”

    Friggin’ yanks me straight out of a story b/c it’s so distracting and pretentious. The author is saying, “Look at me, reader, I’m not using the F-word. Isn’t that great!”

    We writers aspire to be masters of language, choosing the exact word to convey maximum meaning to the story. If context requires a curse, I say go for it. If something else can be substituted, save the curses for when they’re really needed.

    • “It was a great book, but it could have used more profanity.”

      Ha!

  17. F*** is my favorite word in the English language. It can take on so many meanings and be used in so many contexts. Stub a toe? It’s the first word out of my mouth. Someone tells you of a death, and it’s the perfect expression. Discover you’re overdrawn? Oh, f***. Got a winning lotto ticket? F***, yeah! Your sports team is winning? Yeah, you get the idea. And it can be used as a verb, adjective, any part of speech one wants. I love it. I use it A LOT in daily speech. But… not with everybody. I would never use it in a professional meeting, for instance. Or while checking out at the grocery store. Or meeting people for the first time. And definitely not on a job interview. No matter how great a word, and IMO f*** is a great word, but no matter how great the word you have to know its proper place.

    This might not be the proper place to bring this up, but I’ve been waiting for one of the regular contributors to bring this up: Is anyone watching The Night Manager on AMC? It’s a miniseries based on a LeCarre novel (which I haven’t read), and is just delicious. I would think the readers of The Kill Zone would enjoy it immensely.

  18. I’m a Christian. I have used profanity at the first of my work, then faded it out as my Marine returns from the filth and profane world of a Marine deployment, to the way and where she was raised. “A small, decidedly Southern Baptist Oklahoma town.” (Statistically, Okies attend church three times a week a lot more than people in virtually every other one of the United States.”

    She starts out occasionally things like “_ _ _damned”. But she ends up saying, “Holey socks,” or “What in the world?” My favorite is, “Golly ding,” borrowed from one of my all time favorite writers, John Farris, in Harrison High.

    I have to admit I was shocked when I read a post by a writer who has joined a Facebook writers group. “F_ _ _ Jesus,” he said. I don’t think I could live with myself to even think like this.

    Am I being judgmental? I think so. Of course, you’ll have to judge that for yourself.

    • Jim,
      It sounds like your character’s language “arc” is organic, a part of her natural state as she transitions from one world to the next. Which sounds like a good way for you, the writer, to deal with it.

  19. As a reader, I am turned off by the use of the F-word, which is probably why I prefer cozies in crime fiction. It makes me proud when a reader brags about my Bad Hair Day mysteries being clean so anyone can read them.

    • Yup, I get that, Nancy. The genre is wide enough, thank goodness, to offer something for everyone.

  20. Excellent post. Quite thought-provoking. I have been accused of using too much profanity in my writing, and I also have tried to tone it down, but I might need to take another look. As the general consensus seems to be, use sparingly. Thanks so much for the stellar advice!

    • Been there, Alicia. The fan mails made me rethink things, I think, but I still don’t give a hoot if someone knocks a star off an Amazon review purely for language. I mean, come on, people. But it also came from my own growth as a better writer. I try not to rely on profanity as a crutch any more than I would rely on lazy descriptions like “handsome.”

  21. Great post. I personally curse rather fluently, even though growing up those words were always saved for, as Mama would say, “times when the horse steps on your foot.” Yet, I find myself editing out curse words pretty consistently. In my first drafts, I tend not to care one way or the other and just get words on the page, but on later edits, I’ve noticed the same thing that many others have mentioned: the curse words stand out a LOT more when read than when heard. I’ve left plenty in, but I’ve also taken plenty out, and when doing so, I’ve noticed that it all depends most on which character is speaking + what sort of mood they’re in + what the situation dictates. I guess it boils down to personal taste, really.

    • Amen, Sara,
      thanks to you and everyone who dropped by today to comment.

  22. As a public librarian, finding clean, compelling, “un-put-down-able” fiction has become my life’s work. LOL I’m considering starting a site: Good Books Without Bonnets 😉 JK

    • Thanks for commenting, librarian. Hope you’ll come around again. We need your perspective. Good luck with your site. And good nite to all…am going to bed! 🙂

  23. Pingback: Writing Links in the 3s and 5…5/16/16 – Where Worlds Collide

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