Monday, February 11, 2008

WHAT did you say???

I've talked about profanity before, but only as pertains to the language I use in my blog. But I think this is an interesting subject that many readers have issues with.

How do you feel about certain language used in books, in particular, coarse language and cursing? Erotic romance certainly demands blunt language. Male and female genitalia are called what the are, and purple prose is NOT welcome. No man root or woman's flower, but c**k and p***y and words of the like.

What fascinates me more than the language that's used is who's using that language. I think it's interesting that in this day and age, with the many sexual freedoms women seem to share, that I'm bothered by a woman referring to her private parts as "p***y or c**t." I mean, I'm certainly no prude. I write erotic romance, for heaven's sake. But I have a hard time having my heroines refer to their parts as the p-word and the c-word. Frankly, I've only ever heard the c-word used in a negative context toward women. But I've read it in a lot of books. Granted, I'm married and no longer in my twenties, so Sex and The City I'm not, but even when I was swinging single and on the dating scene, my language was a lot more tame than what I read.

If a woman is talking dirty in a sexy scene, I can deal with it. And I've spent the majority of my adult life around men, particularly Marines, so I totally get how guys talk. And yes, they use the p-word quite frequently. The c-word (c**t) less, unless they're cursing someone out.

And that brings me to another point. How do you feel with the heroine who's a potty-mouth? That turns me off to a book, when the heroine keeps telling the hero to f-off, or sh*tdam*f**k-- run-on cursing. It's just laughable, to me. Because how many of us really talk like that?

And most people that use excessive profanity in their everyday lives are ignorant, likely unable to think of intelligent descriptives. (So again, more power to the versatile word f**k. A verb, a noun, an adjective..hahaha) I find profane characters boring. Yet, a male detective or SEAL who runs around chasing bad guys who can't say more than, "Darn it, I missed him again," does not ring true. Nor is the alpha hero who refers to his penis as "my one eyed dream chaser." Ack.

If characters speak they way they're actually portrayed, it all works out. No potty-mouthed heroines or mealy-mouthed heroes for me. And please, let's save the c-word (not c*ck but c**t) for those villains or prostitutes being paid to say it.

My humble opinion. :)


Aislinn Kerry said...

I actually have much less of an issue with women using the p- and c-words than I do with men. I think the reason is that when it comes from a man, it comes with inherent connotations of disrespect or objectification (even if it's not intended that way).

Monica Burns said...

Marie, Nice blog. I think the use of profanity in any type of romance definitely has it's place. Where I object to it is when it's used over and over again until I just want to put the book down. I recently read a great historical romance that would have been brilliant if the author had used her gift better. I think it's highly appropriate to use c*ck or quim or whatever in a historical. I think it's quite appropriate to use f*ck in romance. I think the problem is, too many authors either

a) think they have to use the foul language to push the envelope or

b) the foul language is over used. The author just doesn't realize how many times their using it.

All writers have trigger words they use. My most recent one is an overuse of "as"

I don't want purple prose either, but when a writer writes the story well, I'm there in the moment, and I know EXACTLY what part of the body the hero is touching. *grin*


Red Garnier said...

As with everything, measure is key. My all time fave authors have never used profanity, but I don't mind my new favorites who DO. But I HAVE heard some people find it offensive so better stay on the safe side . . . or not? LOL!

Shelli Stevens said...

I'm iffy on the p and c words. I've used them, but have cut back. It doesn't bug me too much.

As to cursing heroines...well, it depends on the character. If your character has a potty mouth, then I'm fine with it. I just wrote a book where my heroine has a bad potty mouth and the hero calls her on it. But if it doesn't fit the character (you have the sweet pre-school teacher cursing left and right) then why use it? real life? I admit, I tend to have a potty mouth. Just not around the kid. So again, I'm not bothered to read about heroines swearing. As long as it fits the character and book.

Cynthya said...

"One eyed dream chaser"--LOL. Profanity doesn't bother me at all, as long as it's consistent with the story and characters. I know several intelligent articulate women who curse like sailors, so I guess I'm used to it.

Mya said...

While I don't curse all of the time, I definately have a love of cursing, so much so that I look at it as an art form. (Steve Buscemi, Samuel L.Jackson are the kings of cursing) Not everyone can do it and not everyone should. I myself have polite speak that i use around colleagues and strangers, but my true friends the people I can be myself with, they are the ones that hear me curse, unless I am drunk.

I too don't mind characters that swear as long as it suits them or that it says something about them in the frame of the story. I am never offended by profanity however, just at the way and means by which it is delivered sometimes.

Marie Harte said...

Great comments! (NOTE: I'm using c-word and p-word euphemisms in this blog because I don't to be flagged as "offensive." God forbid.)
I spent much of my life around men, and men speak frankly most of the time. I'm not bothered by profanity in real life, as long as it's not around my kids. And for that reason, I don't curse much, because I don't want my 4 yr old asking the teacher for his f*cking bookbag. ack
But I just can't get into the mind of a heroine in a book that curses ALL the time. I do agree that if the character is well fleshed out and warrants the use of such language, it works for me. But rarely have I met a woman I'd imagine actually saying to a man, "lick my c***" unless she was wearing stilettos with a whip and chains wrapped around her hand--which now that I think about it, has possibilities. :)
For what it's worth.

Dana Marie Bell said...

I don't curse much, either, due to small ones (yes, I'm with you on the backpack thing. I can hear it now: "Mrs. Bell, we need to discuss what your son told his teacher to do today with some vaseline and a hand mixer. Can you come in?").

Let's face it, everyone curses, but not everyone uses profanity in every other sentence. That's just as distracting as purple prose, unless it really fits with the character (i.e., Our Hero has a broken wrist, and Our Clumsy Heroine keeps hitting it with Very Hard Objects).

I can see holding back completely (or using different words) if your heroine (or hero) has a child. Then it makes sense. After all, the character is setting a good example. I still use the word "freakin'" in place of a different "f word" in front of my kids thanks to my mom's influence. But once those kiddies are asleep, I expect them to talk like adults, which means occasional profanity.

Ashlyn Chase said...

I think some of the most fun I've had with heroine's using "those words" is when it's really unnatural for them to do so. Suddenly it makes a big impact. It's also fun to have the them spit out the f bomb. Usually when they do, it's a hoot.


Lara Santiago said...

Great post!
Very thought provoking. :)

I agree with what you said.
Certain specific words have a place especially in erotic romance and the usage depends on the characters speaking. :)

And the phrase "my one eyed dream chaser" is hilarious. LOL

Marie Harte said...

You make a good point Ash, about characters who don't normally use that language to suddenly use it. That could really detail a scene, giving it an extra oomph.

I like freakin' a lot, but that's probably because I'm forced to use it myself. :)

And thanks, Lara. I thought one eyed dream chaser was pretty inventive myself. hahahaha


Zena Wynn said...

Since I don't curse, this is an issue I've been struggling with because my characters do. Not all of the time, but when the situation calls for it. In my current WIP, the heroine has just discovered that she's pregnant after what was supposed to be a brief fling. Definitely a profanity moment. And because I write erotic romance, of course the terminology is graphic. Although I limit the use of the "F" word to sex scenes. Overall, I think the cursing my characters do is mild and only in stressful situations.

Kate Pearce said...

First off, I think you have to write at the level you are comfortable with. If you feel you 'have' to use words like "c**t" etc then they will sound grating and false.
I'm not a fan of c**t myself because it feels negative to me but I do use p***y in my books and the other c one :)
Having grown up in the UK where swearing is simply part of almost everyone's vocabulary, I can't agree that it means you are ignorant. I did, however, notice just how bad it was when I went back to the UK last year after several years living in the USA, so there are definitely cultural differences.
Sometimes our characters surprise us and use words that maybe we wouldn't, but if you want to be true to them, sometimes you just have to go along with it :)

Nina Pierce said...

I find the c*** word offensive in any contest. I know many erotic writers use it, but it seems harsh. P**** just seems softer, more sensual, not so jarring.

I don't mind swearing from any character, but it shouldn't be a long stream of words unless the writer has made me really believe the character would talk this way.

Interesting blog, Marie.

Nina Pierce said...

I find the c*** word offensive in any contest. I know many erotic writers use it, but it seems harsh. P**** just seems softer, more sensual, not so jarring.

I don't mind swearing from any character, but it shouldn't be a long stream of words unless the writer has made me really believe the character would talk this way.

Interesting blog, Marie.

Lyndi Lamont said...


Great topic for discussion and there's no one answer which makes it all the more interesting.

I'd just like to add that, to me, it all depends on the character. If graphic language is appropriate to the character's background and mindset, then it probably won't bother me, unless it's really excessive. OTOH, a gently bred Regency miss who uses the "f" word is going to make me throw the book across the room immediately!

Like anything else in fiction, in the end, it's all about the characters. Just MHO.


Marie Harte said...

That's a really good point about cultural differences, Kate. Hadn't thought about that.

Nina, I agree completely.

And Lyndi, I"m with you on the Regency miss. haha