Today, vulgarities abound. There’s no longer a distinct “polite society” where certain words are never spoken in public. To use a couple of clichés, we live in a world of “no holds barred” and “anything goes.” During my lifetime, I have watched a new-fangled invention called television (with very few channels) go from I Love Lucy in which no one was allowed to use the word “pregnant” to a multi-channel medium that entertains viewers with exactly how she got that way and which may be presented in the most vulgar, demeaning terms.
We all know that profanity exists, sex exists, horrific violence exists. But must we wear that knowledge like a badge to show the world we’re privy to it? Or does it make more sense to aspire in our works to something different? I’m not suggesting a “Pollyanna” approach to writing; we don’t live in a “Pollyanna” world. The books I write allude to sex, profanity, and extreme violence. They’re realistic but not overly graphic, and they do not include vulgarities.
Someone noted that “serial killers do not say gosh, golly, gee.” And that’s right. But is it vital to the story to quote them? Or can a scene’s POV character be the victim who’s aghast at the killer’s language and even more so at his (or her) intent? Does the power of the scene lie in the vulgarity? the pending violence? Or is it in the victim’s emotionally-wrenching perspective as she (or he) comes face to face with the imminent end of life? How does the language affect her? What can you show the reader that will pull him or her into the scene and drive home its true horror?
Let’s consider an example. A young kidnap victim sits alone in a room with her abductor, and she knows in her heart what’s about to happen. Get inside her head and extract her emotional trauma, spreading it out in all its agonizing terror for the reader to experience. Do we need to hear the kidnapper’s bad words? Or is there a more compelling way to present this scene? Does great writing depend on vulgarity to underscore its quality?
Based on this brief description of what’s about to take place between these two characters, write the scene. Use either point of view, but do it without bad words, graphic sex, or gory violence. Limiting adverbs (“ly” words) and passive verbs (especially forms of “to be”), grip the reader in 150 words or less. Or write it two ways, with and without the vulgarities, to see which one has the most power. Then share your scene(s) with us.
As writers, we have many choices in telling (showing!) our stories. And the vast majority of us want to sell books. Knowing that a certain segment of the reading population will not choose to buy a book that contains vulgarities (among other things), why would we want to limit our sales to only those who don’t care about bad language? Why not grow as writers and learn more compelling ways to keep our readers turning pages and waiting impatiently for the release of our next book. What do you think?
Writer/editor/publisher Linda Lane works with writers to help them create powerful, compelling books. Her first love is fiction, but her editing team includes an award-winning nonfiction editor to assist those who write nonfiction. Linda's first writing venture into the world of the psychological drama was released this summer. You can learn more about her and her work at http://www.denvereditor.com/ and http://www.penandswordpublishers.com/