Watch Your Mouth!

oh-my for blog

I admit to having a bit of a potty mouth – after all, I grew  as an Army brat and heard foul language with some frequency. My mom would caution me, “Watch your mouth, young lady,” when she heard me use a mild expletive. In today’s culture, those words would hardly be noticed.

After retiring from a long career in telephony, God got hold of me and dragged me to seminary. (Can you tell it was a bit of a struggle?) I had to give up a lot of things to comply, including the occasional cuss word.

Which brings me to my current dilemma. I write mystery novels, and they are not in the Christian fiction category. While my protagonist, private investigator Angie Bonaparte, uses fairly inoffensive language, my writerly instincts tell me that neither her homicide detective boyfriend nor the killers necessarily would. So what’s a woman who wants to paint a realistic picture and yet not violate her internal standards to do?

An interesting article by Elizabeth Sims helped me to clarify my thinking on the subject. She defines the subsets of foul language thusly:

  • Profanity – using God’s name in improper, irreligious ways. My books don’t include this kind of usage.
  • Cursing – calling on God to deliver a bad outcome, as in damning someone. I’ve been known to use ‘dammit’ as a sign of frustration by Angie’s guy, Wukowski. After all, as Ms. Sims notes, “characters do need a verbal pressure valve.”
  • Swearing – making an oath to God. “I swear, next time I’ll …” This one has lost its original oath-making impact from normal usage.
  • Obscenity – the infamous f-bomb is the most egregious example. I don’t let that litter my pages.
  • Vulgarity – a word that is considered impolite, often used for body functions. Since Angie is a former librarian turned PI, her vocabulary is up to the challenge of using language in ways that don’t require vulgarity. Wukowski is not crass enough to indulge in that kind of language.

Are there readers who object to even the mildest use of these kinds of words? Yes. Amazon reviews sometimes include a comment to that effect. But a writer has to decide who her audience is and how best to engage them. My work is not so pure that I could submit it to a Christian publishing house, nor is it so offensive that I am embarrassed to have church friends or seminary professors read it. My mom’s stricture to “watch my mouth” has extended into the written words that I produce. I think she would approve.

This link will take you to Ms. Sims’ insightful post: http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/how-to-use-profanity-and-other-raw-talk-in-your-fiction

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3 thoughts on “Watch Your Mouth!

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  1. Nanci, I enjoyed your post very much. You clearly show the struggle we authors have with keeping a distance between ourselves and our characters. We must let them be themselves while not violating our own principles. It is the same with the historical mysteries we write. We must think of the words our characters would have used and the world view at the time they lived.

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  2. Great post! It is always reassuring when we can pick up certain books and know there aren’t going to be any four-letter words, etc. in it. I usually skim through books before I buy but it isn’t always easy to spot the swear words or graphic scenes. There are always mild cuss words that if few and far between really do stand out to show anger, etc. My mother said the worst word she ever heard her father mutter was, ‘shucks’!

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