I’ve been slinging words on a few stories I’ve finally decided to commit to paper (that’s a figure of speech–who uses paper anymore?) As I’m writing, it occurs to me that I’m using a few more curse words than I’m used to seeing in the books I typically read. Is that a problem? Let’s take a look at it.
I’m a fairly active reader. I read up to 50 books a year. For those keeping score, I know that’s paltry compared to some of you. But measured against the average American, whose reading typically consists of a few illegible texts and 140-character tweets, I think that’s pretty good. One by-product of all that reading is that I read a lot of book reviews while I’m browsing for my next prose binge. And I’ve noticed a common theme that pops up in many of them: a lot of readers are averse to swearing. They will even put it in their book reviews, like a public service announcement: “warning: the book contains quite a few F-bombs but if you can get past those, its a fairly good read!” Sometimes reviewers will even dock a star or two for cuss words, regardless of the quality of the writing or the merits of the story.
It’s enough to give a wordsmith pause. After all, all of those Fucks, Shits, and Cunts can actually cost you money. If a large portion of the book-reading public might shy away from your work simply for the colorful language, perhaps that will translate into a hit against your sales. Especially with all of those do-good reviewers out there diligently working to keep prospective readers’ tender sensibilities safe from such depravity. It might even be enough to cause some writers to consciously avoid curse words in their work, simply as a marketing decision.
Not me. I say “fuck that shit!” I suppose if writing were my primary career, and I was counting on maximizing sales in order to ensure my livelihood, I might look at it differently. But for me, at least at this point, writing is simply an outlet. A form of expression. A way to crystalize some of the thoughts and ideas that have come to me over the years. Well, the ones I thought were worth sharing, anyhow. I’m not really worried that the little old lady from Pasadena might decide not to drop the $2.99 on my silly eBook just because it has a few curse words. Fuck that bitch.
Many authors write with a recognizable “voice.” In addition to the stories they tell, we become enamored with how they tell them. I woouldn’t say that I’ve developed a signature voice yet for my own writing, except to say that I tell a story in the words I’m comfortable using. And my own vernacular includes a liberal smattering of curses. My writing voice is my speaking voice, and that usually comes without a filter. Sometimes a choice curse word the only way to get your point across exactly the way you mean it. I mean, is there really any other way to express the exclamation “Fucking-A”?
If I consciously censored my words, you wouldn’t be getting the real me. You wouldn’t be getting the genuine intent of the characters I’m trying to portray. My characters live in my mind, and even though some things happen to them that might stretch the ability to suspend disbelief, for the most part my stories are set in a close facsimile of the “real world.”. And to me, the real world isn’t network television. It’s not even pay-cable, where saying “shit” and showing the occasional ass cheek or side-boob is OK, but heaven forbid we see a nipple or hear someone say “fuck me!”. No, my worlds are straight premium cable–HBO, Showtime, R-rated movies, perhaps even the occasional NC-17. Its the world I live in. So that’s the world I write, with all of its grit and warts. Like it or not.
Time will tell whether anything I write will ever be considered “art” by anyone but myself. But I believe it is. And I’m not inclined to compromise the integrity of my art just to try to find a wider audience for it. Some will shy away from it just for the bad words–if the preposterous plots and un-polished writing hadn’t already driven them off. That’s OK. It’s not for everyone, and I’m fine with that. But hopefully it’s for someone, maybe even a few someones. But if it turns out I’m just over here sitting at my keyboard cussing at myself and nobody else ever reads it, well, I guess that’s OK too.