My mother is the only person on this earth I have to answer to if a character in one my books swears. She’s 82 years old and has a tongue as sharp and damaging as a machete – but she never swears. The worst words to come from her lips in a moment of rage are, ‘For Pete’s Sake!’
In fact, I only ever hear these words after she’s read my latest WiP. It usually happens in the food court on a Sunday morning where we meet for brunch after she’s done with the ‘church thing’.
‘For Pete’s sake, Dianne! Why did you have to use the ‘F’ word in that novel? You know I hate the ‘F’ word! What am I going to tell the ladies at church and croquet?’
‘Tell them I use colourful language,’ I say. ‘They’re never going to pick up a book about demons anyway.’
It’s not that my work is spattered with the ‘F’ word. For Pete’s sake, I only use it once or twice in a novel (and now I’m worried I’m beginning to sound like her).
If a character is angry or tough and it’s part of their speech pattern – they need to swear occasionally. It’s part of life. I hear it every day. People say it at work and on the television – and I heard a policeman say it the other day when he tripped on the gutter and cracked his nose on the road at my feet. I didn’t say, ‘For Pete’s sake! Why did you have to swear?’ I said, ‘Are you okay? Here’s a tissue to stop the blood flow.’
There has to be a reason for a character to swear in a novel. It’s not gratuitous and not every second word the character says has to be is a profanity (unlike some people I see on the street). Granted, if I wrote a story about some of the kids who hang around my neighbourhood, my mother would probably spend a lot more time in church.
We’ll be sitting at brunch and my mother will look to the ceiling of the food court as if it holds the answers to everything and she’ll ask ‘Why did they ever invent the ‘F’ word?’
I don’t answer because I know she’s not talking to me.
I say, ‘I’m having a cappuccino and eggs benedict.’
‘It’s such an ugly word,’ she says.
‘Do you want a latte?’
‘Why did they invent it?’
I then go into a spiel about the olden days where a couple had to have the consent of the King of England to have children so they would place a sign on their door that read ‘Fornicating Under Consent of King’ – a bit like a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on a motel door. I know this is only an urban legend, but I say it to make her happy because she a royalist.
The conversation then turns to Queen of England and the ‘F’ word is not mentioned again – until the next week when we sit down to brunch.
Do you think twice about using that word in your work? Do you have a family member that acts as a ‘censor’ to your work?
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