Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Cuss words

I recently read a blog about cuss words in novels, and how some authors use them to project realism into their characters--that's how certain people respond. Another author in the same genre made the point that you can inject that realism without the cuss words. It's a sensitive topic for some people.

When I was growing up, my mother's go-to cuss word was "crap." If she got REALLY upset, you might here a "damn" from her, but that was very rare. In fact, the crap wasn't thrown out very freely and was reserved only for highly inflammatory moments. The funny part is that as she got older, she would talk about picking up cow sh!t for her flower gardens. Go figure! The point here is that I didn't grow up with "blue" language, and I don't often use it myself. Possibly more often as I get older and my filters don't work the same way, but that's a topic for another day.

The first book I found myself using any notable amount of profanity in was Mist on the Meadow, and in the middle of writing the story, I stopped myself. Wolf's language could easily be considered offensive. The problem was that the character who used it used it. As much as I tried to tone him down, he kept fighting back. Eventually, he won out, and I gave him the potty mouth he insisted on. He had issues, after all. With that being said, I did try to minimize his usage so it wasn't overdone. We all have to be civil--or at least I think so. 

Many characters have a go-to cuss word, like my mother and "crap." I think the trick is to not overuse it. Diana Gabaldon comes to mind and her "Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ." Claire uses it, but sparingly. In fact, one might even forget that's her go-to epithet. And that's the point, right? People slip up. They get wound up and the words tumble out. It's human nature. But people don't get wound up every day. 

As I work on my next novel, I've found my main character expressing her displeasure with an epithet that probably isn't needed. Displeasure is one thing. "Wound up" is something else entirely. So I'm back to reconsidering my usage. I don't think she overdoes it, but I may need to find one of those quirky, silly expressions for her when she's thwarted or frustrated, and save the big guns for the real crises.

You can find out more about the Mist Trilogy here


  1. On one or two occasions, I've had to remind readers that it's the characters who are talking, and their viewpoints and vocabulary choices aren't necessarily my own. My mom's go-to curse word was "shit." I had an editor object to a character's use of "crap" because SHE didn't like the word. Had nothing to do with the story.
    As long as it's used appropriately, I have no problem with it. I’d rather see profanity than writearounds which stop me as I figure out what word the author is trying to avoid. Or characters using substitutes that don’t fit the character.

    1. Everyone has "that one word" that sets them off. And tolerance changes over time, as well. Some people become more sensitive, some people less so. As someone said, a little goes a long way. Don't "over-season" the dish.