Oops … I embarrassed my mother!

“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?

 

64 thoughts on “Oops … I embarrassed my mother!

  1. For better or worse, I don’t put any cursing in my books. I understand all the reasons people do and leave their novels to their judgment. I do occasionally write that my character swore under their breath or even loudly without putting the actual word in. And it can be difficult when I know a character would probably swear to figure out how to choreograph the scene and still get the feeling and point across. I worry a tad about what my parents would think if they read my books and there was swearing, but they’ve heard me swear in real life (though not the f-word 😉 and as far as I know it hasn’t upset them too dramatically. But honestly, I worry more about my own kids reading them some day and the youth I work with at church. I don’t want them to pick up my books and think well if she uses this word in her books, then it must be okay for me to use it. And since I write for teens it’s something I’m very conscious of. I know a lot of YA books that have swearing and also have great messages and stories. For me it’s just a personal choice not to.

    Your mom sounds cute. 🙂

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    1. Candi, if I wrote for children or teens, I would find a work around too. Of course, I could have used more caution in Brevity … in fact, I used the “swore under his breath” option at least once. Meredith didn’t swear, per se. Perhaps I will challenge myself in the future to create more of those realistic characters who don’t swear. 😉

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  2. It’s always been interesting to me how in our culture (USA) profanity as well as sex is often judged more harshly than violence. There is a fine line between wanting to present a character’s speech as “natural” and overdoing foul language. There are people whose every second word is f***. You wouldn’t want to “repeat” that in a novel. However, espressing someone’s anger with a juicy four-letter word is absolutely okay. After all, it would be utterly ridiculous to let a person say “dang” or “oh, my” when in reality we all know that he/she would say “damn” or “shit.”
    Linda, there is nothing undecent in your novel at all! You know, mothers see these things a little differently. LOL.
    Christa

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    1. Absolutely, Christa! I consider abusing your child or spouse, or anyone really, more profane than anything that could come out of a person’s mouth. We can be rather prudish for such a violent lot. 😉

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  3. My Mom was reading the books that I brought to her the last couple of years that she decided she was finally retired from full time farming. I brought her quite a variety but her favourites were Danielle Steele. She asked me if I read them too and if I was getting any” notions” from them. Mom was becoming frail with age (95) but her mind and emotions never gave up. I think Danielle Steele’s salty style was a nice change from all her Bible readings.

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  4. Mothers! I’ve been down that road once with my mother. I let her read a ms I was working on and she was upset to think that it might get published because she “wouldn’t even be able to tell her friends about it” …Sheesh. That was way back in the beginning and yeah it made me stop work on that story. It is difficult to explain to mothers that we are not the ones cursing. It is our characters. And only when it’s fitting for that character to do so.. “But you must have those words in your head.” Um yeah, I have a lot of word in my head…I’ve heard a lot of words. I’m not a baby anymore, Mum. I can’t get in trouble for using bad words..

    My mother has loosened up from those days although, coincidently, most of my characters don’t use rough language these days. But that’s just until the right character comes along you understand..

    Even the characters in Ya fiction these days use the “f” word. Why not? We all know how young people talk today. Why pretend otherwise?

    Great post!

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