“Linda used the F-word in her book! And here I’ve already told my friends at church to read it.” This is what my mother said to my sister in a wake-up phone call yesterday. I had sent my mother a copy of Brevity, and she started reading it as soon as it arrived. My sister works nights, and I can imagine my mother watching the clock until she thought it was safe to phone my her.
My mother is 87 years old. She’s also forgetful. I warned her mine was not a book her elderly, Christian friends would like. (Though they probably all watch the same soap operas she does, and you can see and hear “everything but” on those.) But she’s proud of me and couldn’t resist a little bragging—at least that’s my take.
Once upon a time, I was in a critique group session when the topic turned to the advisability of using four-letter words in your writing. At that point, the most vocal opponents had read only chapters of Brevity that contained PG dialogue, so I cringed when I heard them express their opinion that only weak writers resorted to using curse words.
Don’t get the wrong idea. My writing is not rife with words to turn my mother blue. Out of 87,351 words, I used some form of the “F-word” 13 times. Even damn appears only 21 times. I don’t think that’s out of line for contemporary fiction aimed at adults.
I do not cuss—all right, I slipped once and said, “Damn it!” But I see nothing wrong with my characters using expressions that would come naturally to them. Renee, one of my Brevity characters, is a streetwise bar waitress. She’s outspoken and has a temper. I think it would be laughable if she said, “Oh shoot!” or “You darned jerk!” or even “That frickin’ idiot.” In other words, she wouldn’t speak like me. I don’t even use the euphemism frickin’.
So yeah, I embarrassed my mother, but she still loves me. I think.
Your turn: How do you feel about “street language” in fiction? And why?