Thursday, September 08, 2011

Cozy, My Ass

By Paula Matter

None of us Working Stiffs are old enough to have watched Gone with the Wind when it was released in 1939, but I’m sure we all know of the controversy this scene caused:
Frankly, my dears, GWTW was not the first film to’ve used profanity. That honor goes to the British version of the 1938 film, Pygmalion. The things we learn in the name of research.

Nowadays, swearing seems to have become the norm in books, films, and television. Recently I watched the TV show In Plain Sight and one character referred to another as an asshole. Ah. Should I have written that as a$$hole? Or maybe a**hole? Is anyone offended by my original choice?

I started thinking about the use of profanity in books after I picked up a cozy mystery to read the other day. At least I thought it was a cozy because of the cover, and the title. I had certain expectations when I curled up with this book. I knew immediately I was wrong.

I also had no problem with the swear words. If you know me at all, you know I don’t shy away from cussing. I hear you laughing, Annette.

Anyway, there are times I want to read a lighter mystery. I love dark, intense hard-boiled fiction, but when I’m in the mood for it. I like cozier, small town setting, amateur sleuth stories when I’m in the mood for them.

I know what I’m in for when I pick up a Miss Marple. Ditto Jack Reacher. Could you imagine if Miss Marple told the vicar to fuck off? What if Jack Reacher joined a knitting club?

Now, if Reacher later used those knitting needles, well. . .

Expectations. What are some of yours when reading? Do you find swearing offensive? What’s your favorite cuss word, or its derivative?


Joyce said...

I don't have a problem with swear words in books. The only time I notice is when it seems out of character for that person, or if it's overdone. Of course, I worked in a police department for 10 years. I learned a whole new vocabulary there.

My personal favorite--although technically not profanity--is JAGOFF. One of these days I have to write something set in Pittsburgh just so I can use it.

Annette said...

Paula! You? SWEAR??? I'm appalled. LMAO!

Okay, swearing doesn't offend me at all. I got over that way back when I worked on an ambulance service. Any further sensitivity was wiped out when I became best friends with a gal who could make a sailor blush. Sorry, Paula, I don't mean you. By the time I started hanging out with you, my ears had been permanently scarred.

I don't mind reading it either. It's how certain people from certain backgrounds talk. It's real.

As for JAGOFF... You mean that's NOT a profanity??? I dunno, Joyce, some the ways I've heard it used, the intention was definitely there! ;-)

Joyce said...

I just mean it's not in the same category as some words. It's more like asshole. Although, if I'd said it in front of my mother, she probably would have washed my mouth out with soap.

Jenna said...

I dunno. I write cozies, and sometimes there are swearwords in them. Because - yes - it's the way some people talk.

That said, I don't get away with much, and I only try when I feel it absolutely necessary. There were two instances of my protag using the word s**t in Fatal Fixer-Upper. Imagine my surprise when I first saw a copy of the book and those two had made their way into the two paragraph excerpt on page 1, before the story even started.

However, sadly, in later printings, that excerpt has turned into something else instead. As far as I know, the words are still inside, but they're no longer on display in the front.

Gina said...

My motto is "I don't give a f**k if you cuss," and I'm sticking with it. I use foul language in my writing as appropriate. Ditto in real life. It doesn't bother me in things I read unless it seems unnaturally forced.

E.B. Fyne said...

I recently read a post from someone (Ms. X) whose ARC apparently included the infamous "f-word." Twice. This disturbed her, and she decided to have it removed for the release version. I haven't read the book, but it was a murder thriller that was fairly violent and presumably included dialogue between "bad guys" and also among police. In a book like that, the word f*ck doesn't seem out of place. Clearly, Ms. X's decision to remove it was personal.

Ms. X's post prompted me to review my own WIP. It's finished although it needs revisions. Currently, it includes the word f*ck 62 times. How 'bout that? Would Ms. X be offended and not read my book? Or would she stop reading the first time she encountered the word in question? I don't know. Overall, I assume my target audience would not be offended, but her post made me think.

Personally, I am not offended by swearing if it's appropriate. It's a fact that many people swear on a regular basis. Sometimes, swearing is essential in order to realistically represent a specific culture. What would Pulp Fiction be if Quentin Tarrantino had made a decision there'd be no swearing? How would that work?

I do agree it can be out of place. Obviously, I would avoid it in children's books. And the idea of Miss Marple telling anyone to fuck off is so funny I almost choked.

But as I learned from Ms. X, it can turn people off. I would have considered her someone who would fall within my target audience. And yet, she is offended by swearing.

You can't please everyone.

Anyway, that's my two cents worth. Although I think it turned into a dollar.

Patg said...

Doesn't bother me a bit, but every so once in a while (I know there should be hyphens) I'm disappointed to know that it's part of so many people's vocabulary because of how poor their vocabularies are.
Ya know, Like, those annoy me more. When an author actually has a character using those words, you really get to see how annoying and bad it is. What's even more annoying is when a critique group wants you to 'fix' it.

Working Stiffs said...

Joyce, jagoff originated in Pittsburgh? Who knew! No wonder I like all of y'all.

Annette, I swear I swear.

And I've always thought it was jack-off. I learned something here today.


Working Stiffs said...

Jenna, so you never were told the reason for the change? I'd be curious as, well, hell.

I agree it's the way some people talk, and is sometimes necessary.

Gina, I absolutely love your motto. Y'know what's fun for me? Telling people to watch their fuckin' language. The facial expressions are priceless, and it always gets a laugh.


Working Stiffs said...

A fabulous dollar's worth, E.B.!

I'd love to read the post you're referring to. Care to share a hint?

Did those 62 times come naturally while you were writing? Congrats on finishing your WIP and best of luck with the revisions!

You're so right about the movie Pulp Fiction. An excellent example.

I'm glad I made you laugh. I live for that.

I'm curious how Ms. X ended up with this ARC. I'd love to know more of this story...

Working Stiffs said...

Yes, Pat! Those are much more annoying to me as well. Even worse to me is reading a shitload of dialect. Grrrr.


E.B. Fyne said...

Hi Paula,

Here's a link to the post in question.

Yes, for me using the f-word came very naturally and seemed appropriate. It mostly shows up in heated arguments but also in expressions of shock or, additionally, issues regarding the distinction between fucking and making love. Because those are two different things, and I think there are times when they should be termed appropriately.

Thanks for taking the time to respond to my comment. I'm not generally a reader of crime fiction or mysteries, but my mother was a huge fan of Miss Marple on the old Mystery series. Don't know if they still have it...

I've read some crime, like Dennis Lehane's Mystic River, which includes a lot of swearing. But my impression is that's how the police force speak amongst themselves. Or with some suspects, etc.


Storee Wryter said...

At a local writers group critique session one person object to a character saying sh*t in a short story by another member. I was shocked. Not by the use of the word but by the objection voiced. The word fit the character and the scene. In order to create vivid characters we must make them real. Mobsters and cops swear. So do moms and dads and even cozy mystery sleuths in certain situations. The thing to remember is context or, "If the sh*t fits, swear it."

Smuggy Smith's First Year said...

Like any other element of a story, swearing needs to add to the readers understanding of the plot or the individual character. So, use it wisely.
In real life, I look down on people who swear casually. It makes them sound stupid. I think it's the same with characters.

Susan said...

I look at swearing the same way I do combining the colors blue and brown. I like it. My husband thinks they're awful together. Who's right? No one. It's a matter of taste.

I think swearing lends authenticity. If you have a hard-boiled, raised-in-the-streets, gangbanger who says, Oh, sugar...I'm going to cringe. And probably not believe another word of your book.

But if you've got a minister who says f**k, I'm not going to buy that either.