Obscenities and Fiction

So I recently finished polishing up my work in progress and started querying it. After having gone through this process once with my novel-in-the-drawer, it was so much easier this time to feel when it was “ready.” One of my last read-throughs I had to have a heart-to-heart with my red pen about all of the “bad words” on the page and things got real.

I’m not someone who swears casually in conversation. It’s not appropriate at work (even though my college students wouldn’t really care, my bosses certainly would) and at home, it can only really happen after 8PM. Obscenities are important to our language, though. Still, I checked how many times my draft had the word “shit” in it (38 pre-editing), even I thought it was excessive.

Elizabeth Sims has a great post on Writer’s Digest where she defines all of the types of rough language (or “raw talk”, as she calls it), so I won’t dig into classifications here. All the same, you can tell a lot about a character by what they decide to say when they’re angry. My father, for instance, once got into a car accident when me and my sibs were in the car with him. His curse? “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph” said in a shout. It’s all about the tone and context, I think, just like anything else.

I scrubbed a lot of the rough language, but not all of it. An editor someday may advise differently, but a character half-drunk and arguing may pull out some less polite phrasing than they did before, and I think there’s value in the difference.

Do you include “raw talk” in your fiction? When did you decide to include it?

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