Deadline Diaries

Five Romance writers tell all.

Friday, January 05, 2007


All right, enough of the holiday fun. It’s time to get serious here. It’s time to get serious about swear words.

I spent time in my early 20s working on a Navy base with current and retired Navy personnel. Working with men. Men who swore. I worked with women who swore too, and just as you’d expect, this previous Ivory girl (99-44/100% pure) started picking up the lingo.

That was okay, until I was a mother and didn’t want to teach my little darlings to say a notorious four-letter word before they were four years old. So I switched back to “shoot” and “fudge” and “darn me.” That’s still how I speak (okay, most of the time) and I do cringe when I hear people loudly (and frequently it seems in public these days) roll swear words off their tongue as easily as I lap up ice cream.

When I started writing romance for Silhouette Books, there were certain words I knew not to use and I had no problem with that. As one of my writer buddies once said, in many Harlequin/Silhouette romances there’s a certain filmy gauze over the grittier aspects of real life. Then I started writing single title romance and there were less limits (at least in my own mind). And as our heroines became more kick-ass and the heroes as likely to drink your blood as to drink white wine, language in our novels developed a harder edge as well.

So my fictional guys do swear out loud. More often, they swear in their head. My heroines will at times too. I’m not talking about a heroine using “bad” language in front of her child. I’m talking about adults in adult situations using adult language. Do we consider the slang forms of body parts swearing? Because I use those, too.

Those, however, don’t seem to bother my readers so much. As a matter of fact, no one has ever called me on any of my language choices until I received two letters in the last month from readers who condemned my use of the “f-word” (they’d read two different books, by the way). One said she wanted to wash my mouth out with soap (Ivory?).

Though that last letter was a little weird, it did get me thinking. Should I tone down my language?

I don’t think I will. I’m writing sexy, fast-paced romances about contemporary characters in contemporary circumstances. Lately I’ve been thinking of my books as “reality-based reading” and contemporary language and its usage are going to remain part of my single title books. While I hate to offend anyone and don’t go out of my way to do so, I’m going to stand by what I’ve written. And when word choices come up in my next manuscript, I’m going to think about what my characters would say under the particular circumstances and not what these particular readers would like. They are certainly entitled to their opinions, but those opinions on this subject do not match mine.

So what are your thoughts on swear words in books? Do certain words shock you or turn you off altogether?


At 8:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is funny, I have heard from people that they have a problem with swearing, but truthfully it just goes with the character. If a macho guy (or gal) is in a serious situation and something goes wrong, I won't expect them to say - oh golly gee. Dropping an f bomb likely would be more appropriate. I work in a university-setting and I hear a ton of foul language all around me. Now, I am trying to keep my language clean as I have a 3 year old and almost 2 year old and I sure don't want to hear them talking that way and it really doesn't seem appropriate professionally, but it doesn't bother me at all in my books.

Hope everyone had a great holiday season.


At 8:10 AM, Blogger Christine Rimmer said...

I get a little tired of it if there's constant use of the f-word (and a few other choice slang words) in a book. It begins to seem as if the author is lazy, and doesn't want to bother coming up with something different.

But. As a rule, nothing shocks me and nothing bothers me--if it fits the character and is true to the world of the story. In fact, I'm more bugged if characters say "frigging" or "frickin'" instead of the real deal. That rips me out of the story faster than repetition of "bad" words, because I know it's the author saying, "I don't want to use a really bad word and get hate mail from shocked readers, but I want to telegraph that I *mean* a really bad word." Yuck.

Great topic, Christie!

At 8:12 AM, Blogger Christine Rimmer said...

Hey, Cady. Our posts showed up at the same time. I said what you said. LOL Great minds and all that...

At 8:32 AM, Blogger Christine Rimmer said...

Oh, and this post reminds me of my Uncle John. He would turn the air blue constantly and he didn't care who was listening. Once when I was eight or nine, I stayed with him and my Aunt Diddy for a couple of days and I wanted to stay longer and he said to my folks, "Aw, shit. Let the little bastard stay." And that was cleaned-up language for him. Really, his bad mouth was part of his charm.

At 9:05 AM, Blogger Maureen Child said...

LOL, love Uncle least you knew where you stood with him, Chris!

Cady, I'm with you. I do swear, probably too often, but don't like hearing a steady stream of it in conversation. Books though, doesn't bother me unless it's like in a movie where the only word they use is F**K.......sigh.

I get letters about language too, Christie. Most though are irate when I use the word Jesus. Will I stop? Probably not.

At 9:38 AM, Blogger Susan Mallery said...

I agree that's it's an interesting choice--to swear or not to swear. At least in books! ;) I try to let my characters say what they want to say. I do tend to have men who swear more than women, which is interesting, because it's not always the case in life.

I rarely get comments on the language. Like Christie, there's a difference between my series books and my single titles, but I like that difference and I think my readers do, too.

At 10:27 AM, Blogger Pat said...

I really don't like the word

At 11:18 AM, Anonymous Kim said...

Back in the 80's my hubby and I saw Frank Zappa speak at a round table forum on language at the local liberal arts University. One of the things that he said really stuck with me...essentially that any word or sound that you make with your mouth or body cannot hurt someone without them giving that word the power to do so.

Now, that being said...I try not to swear in front of my kids...don't think that the foul mouth little boy is the picture that I want to give the world of my boys--and I do slip--and generally when I do--I look the 11 year old in the eye--and remind him that just be/c Mommy says it--doesn't mean that he gets to!

Words in books don't offend me. I am more offended if I sense that a character is using language that isn't appropriate to their personality. Sort of starts to distract me from the story. Like a book that is badly edited and has lots of spelling/grammar mistakes.

Hope you are having wonderful days--and have a lovely weekend. We have to CLEAN this house after the holidays... enough already!


At 1:49 PM, Anonymous Barbs said...

Looking back and it was only about 10 years ago I did read mostly series in romance so my first ST where the *f* word was used I wasn't happy but it hasn't stopped me from reading everything I get my hands on LOL It was a Crusie's FAST WOMEN so was that a romance? I love mysteries so language isn't a big deal to me but I was disappointed at the time but today I don't worry about it.

At 2:50 PM, Blogger Kate Carlisle said...

Interesting topic, Christie!

In one of my books, the heroine has five close friends. One of them swears constantly and the others occasionally comment on her foul mouth. At one point she says "freaking" and it stops the conversation completely. LOL

As a reader, nothing bothers me as long as the words are true to the character. Although...I've started seeing swear words (beyond hell and damn) in some Silhouette books and it's really jarring, only because I'm not used to reading those words in a Silhouette book.

Chris, love your Uncle John! LOL

At 3:36 PM, Blogger Christie Ridgway said...

I didn't grow up hearing much bad language (it was that experience with the Navy people that immersed me in it). My dad didn't swear at all, that I recall. Now my mom is married to a wonderful, dear, bear of a man who swears quite a bit. I'm always startled because he's such a =nice= guy. But, in a way, it gives another facet to his character. He's rougher than he appears.

I hasten to add that I don't think I have an overload of swearing in my books. But I'm with all of you, that substituting freaking, etc., can seem so obvious. (Kate, love that about your character who swears. Wonderful moment.)

I actually think that those slang words for body parts are dicier than the hells, damns, and f-bombs. At least I think long and hard about what words my characters will use for them. Lately I've "graduated" to guys thinking about their d--ks and c--ks, because that's how I'm pretty sure real guys think. With girls, I'm still a mostly "down there" kind of writer, because in my own POV I'm pretty non-specific about it.

Pat, I don't like that same word, but I think p---y is kind of cute (for a guy to use). Another writer friend of mine feels about that word just like we feel about c--t!

Hmm...I'm going to blog about sex parts and deeds words soon. I think it needs it's own space.

At 3:38 PM, Blogger Christie Ridgway said...

Kim: Wow. Frank Zappa. How cool. I would love to hear more whenever you get a chance.

At 6:51 PM, Blogger Christyne Butler said...

I actually think that those slang words for body parts are dicier than the hells, damns, and f-bombs. At least I think long and hard about what words my characters will use for them. Lately I've "graduated" to guys thinking about their d--ks and c--ks, because that's how I'm pretty sure real guys think.

I totally agree I am targetting Silhouette myself with Alpha Male heroes I can only use the word 'hardness' so many times! I too think most men think with the same words you wrote above --- maybe I should just use 'em and worry about what the editor thinks later!

BTW --- I loved MUST LOVE MISTLETOE and I am so hoping that NOT ANOTHER NEW YEAR'S will tell us a bit more about what happened to Bailey's store!

At 8:09 PM, Anonymous Stacy S said...

I don't have a problem with swearing in books, as long as it goes with the characters. But I don't care for constant swearing in a story.

At 1:33 PM, Anonymous Barbs said...

I just wanted to say I was in a WalMart yesterday, they don't have much of a book section, but they had a few NOT ANOTHER NEW YEAR'S and several of Susan's THE YLTIMATE MILLIONAIRE-they had just put the Desires in the racks it looked like.

At 1:36 PM, Anonymous Barbs said...

Someday I hope to learn to type or at least proof-read better. I know Susan's is THE ULTIMATE MILLIONIARE LOL

At 1:42 PM, Blogger Christie Ridgway said...

Christyne: Not Another New Year's does give you more info on the haps with Bailey! Glad you enjoyed MLM!

Barbs: Ah, thanks for the good news on Walmart. I get so depressed when I go to my local B&N. My mom will say she saw the book in good numbers at her. At mine, it won't be there on time and then...well, yesterday I saw ONE copy in the Romance section and it was spine-in. My agent says she thinks it's some sort of weird universe thing that the closest bookstore to an author will have the spottiest showing of said authors books. A way to make us crazy(ier)!

At 2:36 AM, Blogger Vicky said...

Great topic!

I actually don't mind swear words in books - I think it adds character. I know what you're thinking - I must be nuts. But I agree with Cady, if a 250lb cop -cuz I love books with cops:) were to say golly gee, I would laugh my... umm... butt off and then close the book - clearly that author (in my mind) would not be in touch with the character.

As for Pat's comment... Oh my Gosh! :) I totally agree with you, for some reason I absolutely HATE that word. Very few people use it around me, but when they do I actually cringe. Ugly word. And unless the character is... well lets just say an evil, I don't see how a main character would be able to use it in any context that would appeal to me.

If your willing to read romance - which can get pretty racy what's the problem with a swear word now and then?

So swear on Christie!



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