When I was at the Mall of America talking to their romance reading group about Tall, Dark & Dead one of the women there noted that there were hardly any swear words in the entire book. She wondered if this was a conscious decision on my part of if it was something that just happened.
Hell yeah it was a conscious decision, and, well, it just sort of happened, too.
The conscious part comes from having written a book, Other Me’s first, which is rather full of four letter words. At the time, my own real-life dialogue was peppered with colorful epitaphs, and, in my mind, using them was part of what made dialogue seem realistic. Plus, the universe of that novel was meant to be noir-ish and dystopian, and it seemed that characters who cursed up a blue streak fit. Still, when I look back at it, there’s hardly a page without a word that could be read on the radio, and a little tiny part of me is embarrassed by that fact.
The part that happened by accident is that I had a child. Well, actually, having a child was no accident – having a child was rather meticulously planned (but that’s another story for another post.) But, my own use of rough language changed dramatically the first time Shawn and I heard Mason utter the f-word. Luckily, he was still young enough that most people couldn’t understand a word he said partly because Mason had a habit of adding an “Ah-“ sound in front of most words. My nephew Jonathan still thinks I was making up everything Mason uttered during that time. Anyway, we were able to convince both Mason and the people who were listening to him that what he was actually saying was “Africa.” He hasn’t said it since (although I thought I heard the s-word once, which we’re a lot less cautious about).
After that, I really started noticing how stupid people sound who use @$%&^ indiscriminately. Mason and I take the bus from time to time when the car is on the fritz, and I have to fight the urge to cover Mason’s ears and tell strangers to watch their language. I don’t, because Mason is totally the type of kid to notice something is “naughty” and copy it just because he knows it twinks mama and/or ima.
Plus, I don’t really want to be a language NAZI.
Besides, I still wholeheartedly believe that a well placed “fuck” can add a lot of punch to dialogue (or even narrative), especially if it’s used sparingly. I still use it, after all. (The more it’s uttered the less impact it has, of course.) But, I also think that a creative writer can come up with just as powerful/shocking things to say that are larger than four letters.