“But what about the bad words?”
My first book, The Mayonnaise Murders, is more than 350 pages long. There are about 3-400 words on each page. The vast majority of those words, I promise, are not “bad words”. But I confess, some of the characters in the novel don’t feel that they can adequately express themselves using words like “gee”, “gosh” and “darn”. Just think Teamsters, and I think you get the idea of what I’m trying to say here. There are those characters, myself included, who plain and simple feel the need to curse every so often. Either because it feels good, feels right, or because no other word will do.
None of which worked as an explanation when trying to get my nearly 93-year-old mother to understand why I had to use any of those words at all. Ever. It wasn’t how she and my father had raised me, and she still can’t understand where this came from. Fortunately she still really likes the book, but every time the subject comes up she feels compelled to ask me if I’ve given any more thought to editing out those bad words. She’s convinced that if Johnny Beardy or Vid could just tone it down a bit, then maybe more people would buy the book.
So is Mom right?
Love my mother to death, but I really don’t think so. But then, this is my book we’re talking about here so let’s talk about the use of ‘bad words’ in general. Simply stated, I think any writer makes mistake when he or she doesn’t consider why each and every word is used. If the word doesn’t belong there, good or bad, then take it out. And if you’re adding naughtiness just to make whatever you’re writing seem naughty, then I suspect that will come back to haunt you as well. Besides, so-calledd bad words are in many ways so ingrained in the culture now that no one is even surprised to hear words like ‘shit’ or ‘damn’ on TV, and this is on mild-mannered shows. So trying to shock somebody with a bad word (except for my mother) doesn’t even work anymore. You need to com with a whole lot more than that, buddy.
But here’s the thing, I don’t think I’m the only fiction author out there whose characters create themselves and introduce themselves to the writer. You might like to think you’re in control, but once you give yourself over to the creative process you’re really letting the muse take you by the hand. Which sometimes can mean she might take you through some places that you weren’t expecting. Characters may introduce themselves as being one way, only to find out they are someone else altogether.
And sometimes those characters curse. Sometimes a lot. Because it’s who they are.
And who am I to tell a completely fabricated individual how to express himself?