Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Writing Profanity

april fools 2010 020aIn the post, WTF is Up With Cursing in YA, agent Jennifer Laughran answers writers’ questions on offensive language and its location in a manuscript.

She also points out that you’ll want to make sure you’re not sending a profanity-laced book to a publisher that focuses on younger-YA books or clean YA. She states that profanity can work:

Provided of course that it is right for the character, that it makes sense in context and you aren't just randomly throwing words around….cursing CAN be a lazy writer's way of making a character seem "edgy."

I write traditional mysteries, also called cozies. Use of profanity is generally discouraged in these books—it’s just not what the reader is expecting or looking for when they purchase a cozy mystery.

Conversely, if a reader has chosen a novel that focuses on the harrowing day-to-day life of members of a Mafia family…they’re going to be shocked if there’s no profanity. That would likely be something they’d expect (especially since Goodfellas and The Godfather have conditioned us to it).

So I think reader expectations can play an important role in whether a writer should include profanity in a book. Readers are, ultimately, the people we’re trying to please if we’re publishing.

Some things to consider when deciding on use of profanity in your book:

Would the character ordinarily use it? Is it realistic?

Does it make sense in the context? Is it really needed in the particular situation? Could it be left out and have the scene be just as effective?

Do you have to use dialogue with the profanity, or can you just state: Kevin cursed fluently as he hit his thumb with the hammer?

Does it fit your genre? Your audience?

Could it potentially be offensive to a reader, or is it fairly mild?

Is it distracting in the text? (By its frequency, wording, etc?)

Is it gratuitous? Is it there just for shock value or does it add something (realism, character insight) to the story?

Does profanity work with your genre and your intended readers? How much is too much?


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