Thursday, March 05, 2009

CHARACTERS WITH POTTY MOUTHS...WHAT'S AN AUTHOR TO DO?


(Photo courtesy of Peg-the-librarian-on-vacation)

I've had a few letters from readers and an occassional comment from a "book clubber" about why some of my characters "talk dirty." They ask why I did that.
I'm here to tell you it was totally out of my control.
There I've let the secret out: Authors have absolutely NO CONTROL OVER THE WAY THEIR CHARACTERS TALK.
The more I tried to edit those naughty bits the more they'd sneak them in and do you know how hard it is to wash an imaginary person's mouth out with soap? It's not a pretty sight.
In LOTTERY both Keith and Gram made me blush. After a while I came to see that they weren't me and weren't even a reflection of me- It was important for them to be salty for contrast and so they were more authentic- Have you ever met a Vietnam vet who DIDN'T use the F-word?
So I heaved a big sigh and allowed them free rein.
The characters in my new project are very circumspect and control their utterances remarkably well.
But I know some form of embarrassment is lurking...
Tooloose on the other hand has been inspired by this whole thing and has a new WIP ready to go. It's called THE BOOK OF NAUGHTY WORDS.
Of course it's totally from a cat's point of view and contains the words DIET, BATH, and VET.
How about you?
DO naughty words turn you off or turn you on????

15 comments:

D. Robert Pease said...

I lent LOTTERY to my mom to read, thinking she would love it as much as I did. Her reply was "That book had terrible language." I felt kind of bad that I had recommended a book that offended my mom. But the funny thing is I'm not a big fan of "salty" language either, but in the case of LOTTERY I hardly noticed it at all. I guess because it was so natural. I will admit it has cause me to be a little more cautious about recommending it to my friends, and that makes me a bit sad because I loved the story so much.

Madison said...

I do not like foul language. I don't write it or speak it. However, I have many books where there is bad language in them. I have learned to mentally replace those bad words with acceptable ones in my head. I mean, reading them, in a way, is no different than watching a movie with them. Nowadays, you can hardly get away from it.

I still haven't found your book! My mom and I are planning a trip to Books-A-Million sometime soon. Can I find LOTTERY there?!? (Please say yes!)

I guess you can tell that knowing it has bad language in it hasn't made me not want to read it?

Leah. said...

I didn't even notice bad language in Lottery! Is that because it was so subtle?

I think sometimes it's necessary for the character but then again, what do I know. I'm not a writer.

Jen P said...

It certainly makes me more reserved about recommending any book, especially to my 17 year old goddaughter.

On its release, (ages ago) I sat very uncomfortably through the whole of the film 'Four weddings and A Funeral' because I thought it was hilarious and knew that my mother next to me would have disliked it immensely just for the opening scenes.

If it's right for the character, it has to be, as long as they're counterbalanced. I once read/ reviewed a thriller-type extract on one of these writer websites where you read and rate others work. All three characters spoke exactly the same way, with a liberal smattering of colorful language - but it seemed like the author talking, not them - as they should have been from their descriptions, quite different from one another.

I know I'm not comfortable writing it. But I'll have to see what happens if I can or should, keep my characters in check in current work.

ORION said...

And it's funny D. Robert...many fans of LOTTERY are in their 70 and 80's and love the language and some of the readers who are 20 objected...very interesting but yanno a writer writes what she has to and can't censure!

ORION said...

And Madison- you can always order from Amazon or check it out at your library...

writtenwyrdd said...

I am not bothered by swearing, but racial epithets I run across in really old books? Those bother me lots.

Nadine said...

I tend to cringe at swearing, especially if it is excessive. However, if it seems to fit and make sense, I don't mind it.

I didn't even notice it in Lottery.

Dawn Anon said...

for me, it's not the vocabulary that turns me off or on... it's whether or not the characters are "real". The turn off for me is if the vocabulary, or accent, or vernacular doesn't match the character. Or, if it's so overdone that it is more like a caricature.

of course, this opinion is coming from someone who has been threatened with a mouth-washing on more than one occasion!

JKB said...

I didn't find Lottery's use of epithets (isn't that a nice word?) a problem at all. I don't like gratuitous cussing, but it was authentic and good for the character, IMO.

Sarah Laurence said...

I think you need to be true to your characters, and the dialogue worked well in Lottery. It’s not like you’re writing for kids.

Sustenance Scout said...

Was just asked this evening how I "learned to write dialogue," Pat. Had to admit it just comes out when I type and am heavy into a scene...even admitted to the voices in my head type of stuff. Yes it's all edited later, but if a character tends to swear what's a channeling author to do but go with it? Anything else would be stilted, I think. John Elder Robison edited his memoir Look Me In The Eye before it came out in paperback because so many kids with Alzheimers were benefitting from reading it but parental types had raised concerns about some of the language. I think he made a great choice in that particular case. K.

Jay said...

My characters talk dirty and like to have a lot of sex...Sometimes I wonder if I should switch to erotica, LOL! But yeah, they wouldn't be authentic if they didn't use a few colorful words now and then.

Patti said...

I just finished reading Lottery and the voice was so authentic. I think if you took out the cussing, the characters wouldn't have been as real.

BClark said...

Well, lets see I am a survivor of the 60's and 70's when all the rules were thrown out. I also spent far too many years working in clubs and restaurants in places like Boston. At first it was a shock, and left me in tears more then once. As time went on, I had to wash my own mouth out. In a story,if it seems to fit, it is ok. My problem is when the words are spread here and there just to be there. Does that help?