Generation X, including yours truly, had a certain amount of profanity ingrained in them from their peers. To us, it wasn’t that big of a deal….the profanity was not usually used in anger and it filled in nicely whatever noun, verb, adjective, or adverb we needed at the time (now, this was with our peers. Not in the classroom, not with parents, not during job interviews, not in our cubicles at whatever menial jobs we were able to find during the recession of the early 1990s.)
Then we had kids.
The only time I’ve let something really fly that I wish I hadn’t since I’ve become a parent (besides the mildest forms of profanity…and a lot of euphemisms) was when I was on the highway recently and suddenly had to swerve to avoid a pick-up truck that was consumed by a raging fire and had flames licking out over my lane. My middle-schooler raised his eyebrows at me; less at the fireball than at my language.
What about in our writing?
I write cozy mysteries and I do know my market pretty well. I use ‘damn’ and ‘hell’ but not often. I would never use any of the four-letter words I used so carelessly 10-15 years ago.
Why use any at all? This is hard for me to answer. Occasionally I just come across a situation that seems to warrant it. Oddly enough, I use it more when a character is in a humorous, but frustrating situation.
I’ve seen many movies and read many thrillers where I found the profanity a tremendous distraction. It was repeated ad nauseum, and I’m no prude. But when I start to flinch, it’s too much. And to what purpose? That’s what I can’t figure out. Why ruin (in my mind) a great movie like Good Will Hunting with overwhelming vulgarities?
So….is there a formula, depending on your genre? How much is too much? What’s the right amount for the effect we’re looking for?