Thursday, July 18, 2013

The F Word that Didn't Make the List by Jannine Gallant

Bet that got your attention! Yep, I'm going to talk about the F-bomb. Frivolous or Fitting in Fiction? I'm always torn when it comes to bad language in books. I don't really like using it, but let's face it--people (especially guys) tend to swear when they're angry or frustrated. When my husband is watching baseball or football or any other kind of ball and the umpire or referee or whatever makes a bad call, he doesn't respond with a mild damn. He says things unfit for a PG rated blog. So when my heroine is kidnapped by a homicidal maniac, I tend to think my hero might also use a few of those choice adjectives.

So, do you go with real life reactions from your hero or pretty up the language for the sensibilities of your readers? If you substitute acceptable euphemisms for a phrase that might shock (or not) your grandma, does that make your hero sound like a sissy?  That also worries me. I don't want my reader rolling her eyes and thinking, This guy's a total dork. Grow a pair! But, I also don't want said reader to wish my mom had washed my mouth out with soap more often when I was a girl and toss my offensive e-book into the virtual trash.

Therein lies the dilemma--the fine line between reality and morality. Please weigh in on the debate. Do you use profanity in your writing? How do you feel about reading it?

To find links to my fairly tame with the rare shocking word books, check out my website. My grandma read them and survived, so they can't be that bad!

24 comments:

Margo Hoornstra said...

I guess it's all about saying it without really saying it. Case in point. The term grow a pair! (One of my personal favorites.) Need I say more?

Barbara Edwards said...

I have used profanity sparingly. I feel its like writing an accent, just enough so the reader gets the idea.
If I read it and it gets too much I tend to skip it. If I skip too much I stop reading.

Jannine Gallant said...

That's sort of the way I feel. Once in a while it may be called for, but too much is...well...too much. Accents usually make me crazy unless it's only a word or two.

Joanne Stewart said...

Hey Jannine!

I have to admit I'm fond of books where the hero drops Fbombs all the time. I think this a particularly harsh word. I think words like the d-word or the s-word you can get in and have it almost unnoticed. They're minor. But F is a nasty word.

But I do think a well timed placement can have a lot of impact. Such as the situation you described, where the heroine gets kidnapped by a homicidal maniac.

It also depends on the hero and the situation. A father with kids isn't going to say that word nearly much as, say, a single guy whose job requires him to hang around other men all the time. Like a firefighter or a military guy.

Okay, that's my ten cents. lol Great topic!

Jannine Gallant said...

I agree, Joanne. It does have impact. It gets your attention. But good or bad attention probably depends on the reader. In my current WIP, my bad guy refers to one of my settings as Bumbf**k, Alaska. I just couldn't think of a more fitting way to describe it. Sometimes I think you just have to go for it!

Calisa Rhose said...

For the most part I allow damn or hell in my writing, but this is a conversation I recently had in another group. An author used it (the F*Bomb) in her contemporary novel so I wondered if it was acceptable. The best response I got was if the language suits the character, situation, setting, etc., then it's ok. If it is totally out of place and character, don't. I have a wolf shifter series that one character (hero) never brought out that word, yet his younger brother (bk2) throws it around when the mood hits, or the word fits. :) Nice topic, Jannine!

Susan Macatee said...

I do use profanity in my historicals, but try to keep it compatible with the rating of my book. A spicy romance might have a little more bad language, although I use it sparingly and only in appropriate moments. I've also had a few spots where a male character swore in front of a lady, then apologized. But of course, we're talking historical. Haven't used the 'F' bomb yet because, although men would have used it back then, I don't like using that in a historical. Even if I wrote a contemporary, that word would be used very sparingly.

Jannine Gallant said...

Some writers use it all the time, but I was curious how readers feel about it. You definitely have to keep your characters in character. Thanks for stopping by, Calisa.

Vonnie Davis ~ Romance Author said...

I raised two sons and had football players and wrestlers in and out of our house, raiding my refrigerator and filling our place with noise. Plus I worked almost exclusively with men for 30 years. So when I'm in a male pov, all my history and experiences drift to the forefront of my mind. If my hero is of the mind to curse, he curses. To make him sound mamby-pamby is a disservice to him. As for the "f" bombs, I save them for the moments he's very upset. In my Scottish paranormal I just contracted, I used "fecking" instead. My grown sons use "freakin'" around their kids, so I use that, too. It's a balance to be true to your character and also not have him cross the line to just plain raunchy.

Alison Henderson said...

I know it's probably more realistic to include the occasional "F" bomb, but I'm old fashioned (or of delicate sensibilities, take your pick). Every time I read certain words it's like a slap in the face. It completely takes me out of the story, and the negative feeling lasts a while. As a result, I never use that kind of language in my books. I'm always looking for more creative ways to make point - less realistic, but more "me".

Jannine Gallant said...

Vonnie, I'm a big fan of freaking. I admit to using it at home in the "I'm going to go freaking crazy if you people don't clean up after yourselves" sense. It takes the edge off but doesn't make me feel like a bad mom! LOL My heroes use it, too.

Jannine Gallant said...

See, Alison, your POV on the subject is what worries me. That fine line between keeping it real and offending. It's tough to please everyone (including myself) all of the time!

Jannine Gallant said...

Susan, any profanity would obviously have to be consistent with the time period. A hero or villain from a couple of hundred years ago probably wouldn't have said, "What the f***?" LOL A whole new world of research!

lisekimhorton said...

I have no problem using profanity in my erotic romances. Which may be because they are erotic romances and the graphic sexual language goes hand in hand. But it's also my voice NOT to pull away from graphic language in any situation. I can certainly see a place for a fun turn of phrase, perhaps something a beloved grandfather always used or something. If you give the character a reason for the use of the language, or for not using particular language, I think your readers will go along.

Jannine Gallant said...

I think it's probably expected in erotic romance, as it would be NOT expected in sweet or Christian romance. I write somewhere in the middle, and my use of language follows suit. Interesting insight. Hadn't thought about it in those terms before.

LaVerne Clark said...

I don't mind reading the F-word in the books I read, but then I read mostly suspense and thrillers with a scattering of contemporary. If the heroine in the book uses it though, it does tend to make me sit up and take notice - and not always in a good way. I never use the word myself in day to day situations as I find it is a course, heavy word - but my latest hero seemed to be rather fond of it!

Liz Flaherty said...

I don't use the f-bomb (although I did one time in one book) because I don't like it--it makes me flinch--and I think the liberal use of it takes away from its strength.

Great topic!

Diane Burton said...

I don't like hearing the F-bomb. I cringe when it's used frequently in a movie. But, sometimes no other word works. In our books, I think it depends on the type of story and the circumstances within it. Good topic, Jannine.

Lynda Coker said...

I think you demonstrated that a good writer can find a way to express a character's most extreme emotions with just a few creative word choices,like 'grow a pair'.

Foul language, is just that, foul... And when you stop to give it some thought, what does it really express besides a limited vocabulary?

I think as long as we think that it's acceptable or that there is no other way to portray our character's mindset or emotions, we'll always fall into the easy trap of inserting this kind of language. As writers, in the end, it's really up to us what we put between the pages of our books.

Great post and I enjoyed the comments as well.
Between The Pages

Jannine Gallant said...

LaVerne, I've never had a heroine use that particular word, either. Maybe there are still things a man can get away with that a woman can't.

Jannine Gallant said...

Liz and Diane, Yep, once or twice in a thriller is maybe understandable, but lavish use of F-bombs are pretty hard to take. I agree about the movies. What's the point when every other word is swearing?

Jannine Gallant said...

Lynda, some words are pretty limiting. They have impact but not necessarily always in a way the writer wants. That's why I brought up this topic - to see how authors and readers feel about profanity. It's definitely been an interesting discussion!

scarlettparrish said...

As a reader, I'm suspicious of characters who never swear. I know very few people in real life who don't, and that's not to say anything untoward about my associates! But if someone (for example) bangs their thumb with a hammer and says "Dash it; that was rather painful!" I'd like to meet them.

If characters never lose their temper or get upset, I don't believe they're even human. And swearing is a common expression of an upset equilibrium.

There is no swear word I wouldn't use in my books, and there are no swear words I could read in someone else's books that would offend me.

I don't believe for one second that swearing means you have a limited vocabulary and take more offence at that, than at any possible profanity.

Besides, the more swear words you know, the LARGER your vocabulary, surely?

I just choose not to force my morality on my characters. I write fiction, after all, not autobiographies.

Jannine Gallant said...

Interesting perspective, Scarlett. I agree that some situations call for strong language, but I think the heat level of the book may dictate how strong that language should be. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!