What's the view on "bad" language

JJBurridge

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I have had a couple of comments on my first book that the language deterred a few readers. My story is Urban Fantasy and one of the main protagonists is a young female and it seems that a few readers are expecting the read to be YA. I have the F-bomb a bit and even the C-bomb, when I felt it appropriate, but, is this limiting my audience? I could change the dialogue pretty easily without it being cheesy, I guess, but to me it reads better as is. Noone seems to mind the drug usage, reference to sex workers and people trafficking or violence. Am I over thinking it?
 
I've written actual YA with a few F-bombs and the consensus from people I've asked -- kids, adult readers, teachers, a school librarian -- is that these aren't a problem. But I think there might be a difference between US and UK in this respect, with UK being more liberal. (The only reader who suggested the F-word might be a problem was American.)

Maybe remove them from the first few pages, and then gradually increase the usage to the level you're happiest with? I'd be wary with the C-word, though. Quite a few people regard this as being beyond the pale, and I would only use it in something hard-bitten.
 
Hi JJBurridge,

Welcome to Chrons!

I think you are overthinking it. Blue language and swearing is one of the topics that can set off certain people. Many others will see it as normal for the sort of world and tone you are creating. Trying to accommodate the first group might make a some of the second group less convinced.

Basically I think you can't really win. So my advice is to stick to what you think works best. Especially if it's adult fiction.

It's interesting that some readers think it's YA. Normally if I'm picking up a book or manuscript I've got a good idea what the genre is.

Did they tell you what the problem with the language was? I might see a potential problem if this was a book that an adult had given to a very young teen, (Say Uncle giving Niece a present?), thinking it was YA, and then they found that it's got F- and C- bombs somewhere.

(But then again I grew up reading Stephen King from about 10-ish years old, and I turned out okay. And if you don't agree you can take a flying f*** at a rolling doughnut ;) )
 
People are more likely to be put off reading because of too much swearing than be put off because of a lack of it.

Adding swearing to speech in books doesn't make it sound more realistic or believable, because book-speak isn't how people really speak or have conversations.

Personally, I find that any form of bad language works bezt when use seldomly and for effect. That way it adds impact and meaning to a story.
 
I'm not a published writer like most folks here, including yourself, so add salt to my comments.

IMO, the language needs to suit the character and the environment/world, or in some cases needs to contrast with it. The question is, are you telling a story to suit the readers' sensibilities and opinion of how your world should be, or are you telling them of a place and people which might make some people feel uncomfortable? You'll also in today's social environment find that people will be more offended by outdated or politically incorrect slurs, slang, racial names, etc. Again, what suits the world and people though? If you're showing a group of extreme, radical, racial supremacists who come from the worst parts of society, they don't speak like a bunch of church ladies at tea.

Oddly, you can show ultra-violence, genocide, torture, brainwashing, slavery, and the the like, yet a little bit of vague, making love/sex, or use a couple f-bombs, and people shout, "Obscene!"

I can't tell you what you should do, or even what most other writers do. I can only relay what I used in my stories, if curious.

K2
 
People are more likely to be put off reading because of too much swearing than be put off because of a lack of it.

Adding swearing to speech in books doesn't make it sound more realistic or believable, because book-speak isn't how people really speak or have conversations.

Personally, I find that any form of bad language works bezt when use seldomly and for effect. That way it adds impact and meaning to a story.

I don't know how much of a minority I am, but I agree with you. I've never stopped reading a book because there was too little sex/violence/gore/swearing in it, but I have often stopped reading an otherwise good book because there was too much. Same for TV shows.
 
I might be the most "straight-laced" person on this forum, and I for one am put off by too much swearing. And I've never once thought, O I wouldn't say it that way, when there is no foul language present. I do definitely agree that what sets people off is a bit strange. Certainly violence and flat our cruelty should rank higher, but it seems not to. I am interested in the fact that the C-bomb is considered worse than the F bomb. That's not true for me, and I suspect not for a lot of people I associate with. Not that the C-bomb would be considered appropriate, but it would be only a little stronger than an angry female dog expletive.
 
I find I hardly use expletives in my work despite reading Stephen King. But I’m writing a new novel and find it’s quite autobiographical in terms of my struggles and have used some very and language because one of the characters has experienced what I have and has a lot of unresolved anger about it.

Just be congruent. There is as big an audience that minds bad language as there are as don’t. As Jo says upthread, tho, it’s not going to wash with YA
 
As for "c--t" There is never a decent reason for a writer (who is not named Henry Miller) to use it.
Its mere appearance on the page will pull you right out of the story because it is such an obvious attempt to "shock" that suddenly you are face to face with the author, not the character, and it is game over.

ps. I am led to understand that, in the US, use of the word is considered somewhat milder than in the UK. But here it is the one word your mother would slap your face for using.
 
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As for "c--t" There is never a decent reason for a writer (who is not named Henry Miller) to use it.
I live in Cumbria, we have a university, they are very careful to always call it the University of Cumbria, never ever Cumbria University.

This is so they can have a netball team.
 
ps. I am led to understand that, in the US, use of the word is considered somewhat milder than in the UK. But here it is the one word your mother would slap your face for using.
I am quite surprised to hear this. In my parts of the US, the "C word" is regarded as the most heinous of nasties. Meanwhile, I have been under the impression that among "The Lads" in the UK it is regarded as more of a josh than a blasphemy.

Personally, I use it most judiciously for the most terrible of miscreants. Indeed, in the most extreme cases I like to think of it as spelled with a "K", for special emphasis.
 
As for "c--t" There is never a decent reason for a writer (who is not named Henry Miller) to use it.
Its mere appearance on the page will pull you right out of the story because it is such an obvious attempt to "shock" that suddenly you are face to face with the author, not the character, and it is game over.

ps. I am led to understand that, in the US, use of the word is considered somewhat milder than in the UK. But here it is the one word your mother would slap your face for using.
For me, this really isn’t the case. As writers we have to divorce ourselves from our own sensibilities. Character first, our own cultural capital second.

I say that as someone who feels uncomfortable using it in my writing and have not used it much but when it’s authentic it’s authentic.

And the c word in the states is very offensive
 
So we went there--the C-word, which to women (at least here in the US) is beyond the N-word. For those unsure as to why, it is someone demeaning a woman down to -nothing more than that-. Not a person, not even a woman, just that, and good for nothing else.
As an example, my protagonist in a justifiable fit of rage (due to the dueteragonist's insensitivity regarding slaves) to explain says, "You’re disposable, a thing; hands and holes to be used, good for nothing else."

That said, mine is a rather gritty MS meant for adult readers. As do most -life experienced- bi women in my RL circles, the protagonist uses the T-word when 'speaking' of her or another woman's genitals. In any description of action, innocuous words are used (though never cutesy). In only one instance, the only one in the MS, does the vulgar protagonist use the C-word.
I cannot imagine anyone faulting her use of it toward another woman, considering what the woman did. The dialogue of, "You f****** c***! God d***...," ending right there as she stomps the body to mush (she's kind of angry), would be nothing short of out of character and unreasonable considering the scene if I used something other than.

I would rather lose a reader because I taxed their sensitivities--than lose a reader because my characters are unbelievable to any reasonable standard. Yet, that doesn't mean I can't use a bit of moderation throughout the same story.

K2
 
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I have had a couple of comments on my first book that the language deterred a few readers. My story is Urban Fantasy and one of the main protagonists is a young female and it seems that a few readers are expecting the read to be YA. I have the F-bomb a bit and even the C-bomb, when I felt it appropriate, but, is this limiting my audience? I could change the dialogue pretty easily without it being cheesy, I guess, but to me it reads better as is. Noone seems to mind the drug usage, reference to sex workers and people trafficking or violence. Am I over thinking it?
On the general point of 'deterring readers', there will always be something in every written work that will deterr someone.
 
Every word discussed here has a context in which it is harmless and a context in which it feels offensive. Most people would regard someone aggressively shouting the c-word at someone else as offensive. People who would regard a woman calmly using that word to refer to that part of herself (as some do) as offensive are just unable to escape from their cultural baggage in my view. Words have only the power we give them.
 

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