Yup, I’m talking about those four letter words. And maybe a few with more than four letters. What’s a writer to do?
I know I’ve discussed this before, but it’s time to revisit the topic. Last week, I received an email from a woman who was enjoying THE BAY AT MIDNIGHT until she got to page 249 and discovered one of those words. (I’ve tried to respond to her email, but her address was incorrect, so I hope she’s a reader of the blog). I hate offending my readers! Over the years, I’ve heard from quite a few who’ve taken the time to let me know that, while they love my stories, they get upset when they stumble across a curse word or when a character “takes the Lord’s name in vain.” This is a tough one for me. I always listen to my readers. If they take the time to email or write to me, I know I’ve touched them in some way and I need to pay attention. I’ve never been big on using four letter words in my novels, and I’ve learned to ask myself “is this word really necessary here?” Most of the time, it’s not. Sometimes, in my opinion, it is.
Back to page 249 in THE BAY AT MIDNIGHT. For those of you who’ve read the book, remember Bruno? He was the character from 1962 who was a sexy, wild bad boy. After eight-year-old Lucy has an accident on her bike, he says to her:
“You &%$ed up your bike pretty good.”
Ned, his friend, then says, “Hey! Cool the language.”
Julie, our twelve-year-old first person narrator then tells us: I was both shocked and thrilled by his use of the forbidden word. . .
To my way of thinking, this was an appropriate use of a four letter word. The exchange showed the reader something about three of the characters: Bruno’s crass enough to cuss in front of young girls. Ned is protective of them. And Julie, while shocked, feels a secret excitement at a peek into the world of a much older, much wilder, adolescent.
On the other hand, I could have found another way of handling the scene that wouldn’t have offended this, or any other, reader. I don’t think it would have had the impact, though.
I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Diane, I got my copy of Bay at Midnight and I agree with you. I don’t think there is any other word that would have the impact that you meant it to have in this case.
Diane, I’m not offended when you use certain words that come from the mouth of a particular character…it is that character’s ‘voice’ speaking, not you…same thing when characters use poor English, for example ‘ain’t’…you are capturing the actual persona of these characters and they are BELIEVABLE people when they talk a certain way. You use very good judgment when using bad language and seriously, I’m so involved with the characters that when they talk poorly it’s really not shocking at all to me because in real life people talk this way!
Thanks for your input, Ann and Margo. Margo, I know you were a Sopranos fan, so you probably don’t even notice those words anymore!
Your right Diane! I never use bad language but I have a few relatives that do…I’m use to hearing them talk the way they do but if something like that came out of my mouth I think friends and family alike would probably faint on the spot!
I cringe when I hear them used frequently and I don’t watch The Sopranos for that reason. But sometimes it’s appropriate to use the word, especially here in this book. You’re reminding why I loved that book so much. Truly awesome. Anyway, as a writer, I also struggle with those words. Sometimes they need to be left in because it’s the most appropriate word.
Kathy, as a writer, you know that balancing act between writing what needs to be written and not putting off your audience at the same time. Sometimes it’s a challenge.
Down here in the sunny south-waiting on my car…waiting on info from the police in Georgia-to see what I will owe…waiting on repercussions-many of them-costly-from my fender bender…
Love reading this…I don’t like the language in any book. However, your books are so so so so good that I ignore it-if there is any.
A friend of mine once told me-a writer and a professor-sometimes there are NO OTHER WORDS to get the point across. (To paraphrase this wise man) You can’t say, (when picking up body parts in Vietnam story) Gosh darn…there’s this body that someone took a shot at…
He has a point.
If someone is aggravated at a word here or there..t.hey can’t watch TV, movies, or read most books…unfortunately…that’s life…
I have adjusted and don’t even pay attention. If a book is too much ingrained in the language…I don’t read it. I have not found that with yours.
I don’t believe some characters in books would be very believable if they called for a certain voice and the author was tame with their language. I personally do not use foul language and I’m very seldom around the distant relative that does use it. But the world is full of people who talk badly on a daily basis and I try not to judge them…who knows why they think its ‘so cool’ to talk like that? Diane only uses this ‘language’ when it fits the characters personality and that’s what makes her books so real…and her bad words #$%$^$ are few and far between.
P.S. I agree-sometimes it is the language of the character–that is the way it has to be.
I do not like “ain’t” ever…as an English teacher-never never never…sorry.
However…keep writing the way you are-you can’t please everyone…
What I remember about your books-the wise remarkable characters-not those words.
I minored in English and do not like the word ‘ain’t’ either…in a book, if the characters voice calls for it I can understand it being used. Remember Audrey Hepburn in MY FAIR LADY…she used ‘ain’t’ alot but it didn’t make me love her any less…she overcame her challenges and learned to talk like a proper lady, but I loved her before and after because she was still a person.
I’d love to hear from some of you out there who ARE put off by four letter words in a book and your thoughts on how to convey certain characters without them.
I’ve used many 4 letter words in the last few days, uttered under my breath most of the time. Work hasn’t been easy. The only time I find the 4 or more lettered words bad is when watching a movie geared towards kids. But in books I read it into the context of the book and character and never even notice.
I finaly get my wish and am moving back to a small town. I accepted a job as a youth counselor at a juvenile facility about 90 miles west of where I am now. I’m leary living somewhere so desolate right now. My depression is getting the best of me lately. Hopefully I can get that under control by Oct.
I am new at this blog thing so I hope this gets to where it should go.
My son is a creative writing major from Chapel Hill. We have discussed the issue of using curse words in assorted works including fiction writing, poetry, music and many other artistic works. We came to the conclusion that there are times when there is no other word that fits the character or the scene. Although many people are offended by foul language it is a real part of society and we can not hide from it any more than we can hide from crime, depression or even death. We do not ask writers to stop writing crime novels, why then should we try to control what a writer brings out of the character that he or she is bringing to life?These things make the characters real and not a plastic contained representation of what we think society should be like.
I felt like your use in that scene was perfect because I can remember looking at the older kids when I was growing up and it was a “naughty little thrill” to hear them say “those words”. It worked perfectly in the scene! That is what makes you such a phenomenal writer, you make your characters believable.
Lenoir, North Carolina
Congratulations on the upcoming new job, Krysia! I’m glad your dream of living in a small town again is coming true. I hope you’re doing whatever you need to do to deal with that depression. Not fun.
Joyce, welcome to the blog! You posted perfectly, and I really appreciate your considered response to the question of language in fiction. How great that you have a son studying creative writing at UNC! I wish him loads of success.
Krysia-Good luck. Hang in there. I think I have been pretty down lately with the accident and all the deaths in the family and stress. We are strong-and it makes us stronger-adversity…I am excited you are getting to move with your new job.
Diane-the language…during some of my writing classes (while working on my Master’s) it was awkward in class when someone would write using tons of bad language-I noticed even the younger students felt ill at ease. I think hearing aloud what is written makes it worse. Sometimes I think the students use it for shock effect. I do tell my students in high school, middle school, and will do so in the college classes-remember “ONLY WRITE WHAT YOU DO NOT MIND Others hearing…”
My friend tells me I spend to much time thinking, that’s my problem. Haha. He also said I have to many skeleton’s for someone my age. But I can still get out of bed so I think I am doing pretty good. I’ve been suffering from depression for 15 years, been on meds which made me worse and my psychiatrist cared more about herself. Anyways I am very excited for the job, it’s doing what I’ve always wanted to do. Working with troubled kids. I can’t wait, I’m working a lot of overtime just so I can move! I can’t wait.
brenda- hope things start workin out for ya.
Okay ladies-plan to leave this paradise in the A.M. Hate to go…will be an adjustment with my son so far again…but that is life, and I can’t expect him to live where the weather is horrible for training and the job here is unbelievable…
Think of us on our trip. I am antsy now after the accident.
Krysia, take care of yourself. I bet you’ll be great with those kids, and your own experiences will make you more empathetic to them. Just be sure to keep your issues and their’s separated. (Spoken by someone who’s been there!)
Brenda, We need you back safe and sound, so drive the speed limit if you can and take plenty of breaks. Hugs.
Krysia, I’ve missed reading your comments on this blog…so happy your back and very happy for your new job…take care of your health along the way.
Brenda, thinking of you as your journey home…be safe.
I suspect many of your readers love your books for the same reason I do: they seem very real. As though the people are real people, living someplace you could actually go if you wanted to. As such, no bad language bothers me…because it is realistic. It isn’t particularly gratuitous, or tossed in for effect. It is how many many people speak every day, right or wrong. It adds realism to your stories, and while I find mnay things inour culture to be offended by, the occasional four-(or longer) letter word in an adult novel just isn’t one of them.
Leigh, I appreciate your input and the compliment about my characters. They love knowing you feel as though they’re real!
I don’t mix work n play n vice versa. So i’m not worried. My first goal is a change in lifestyle. Then go from there.
I agree, your characters seem alive.
Regarding the picture/cartoon–is that Lifebuoy? All you fans of A Christmas Story will know what I mean!
You mean the soap? (I saw A Christmas Story, but afraid I don’t remember the reference). I thought it was Dial. Ugh.
It was Lifebuoy!