One of the advantages of my new membership of the Crime Writers’ Association is the access I now have to the members’ private Facebook Page. One of the discussions on there at the moment is about the pros and cons of swearing in books.
There was a huge response from authors and I was surprised (and pleased) to discover how many crime writers didn’t think it necessary to pepper their novels with obscenities.
One writer felt mild expletives were acceptable, but frequent course swearing ensured the book hit the rubbish bin. Others listed some best sellers that didn’t stint on the swearwords. So the four-letter words are obviously working for some readers.
Now I love my crime novels, but I hate the ones that depend on foul language and violence to sell a story. To my mind it’s the easy option for some writers who have few character development skills or can’t work a decent plot.
The ones who do scatter the F-word liberally seek to justify it by claiming they’re striving for reality, and that this is how the characters in their books would speak. Oh, really? I’m not so sure.
Is the use the F-word an expression of anger? Frustration? Or just a total lack of understanding of the English language?
To my mind, obscenities smack of violence. I always feel uncomfortable when I hear people swearing.
I was born and brought up in Glasgow, not the posh side; we lived where people had to scratch for a living. My parents never swore, and despite the ‘no mean city’ reputation that Glasgow had in those days, I don’t recall being subjected to foul language from any of our neighbours or wider family either.
Even when I started work in the busy newsroom of a city tabloid newspaper, I didn’t hear many obscenities. I’m not saying the odd four-letter word didn’t slip out now and again, but if any of my colleagues swore in my hearing it was inevitably followed by an embarrassed apology. The journalists in my newsroom were a far cry from the hard-bitten rough diamond stereotypes that were, and still are, so often portrayed in crime novels. I worked with gentlemen.
And bad language was never the norm in any of the other newspaper offices where I worked. The only people who did routinely swear were my female colleagues.
I often wondered why that was, for if these women felt that using foul language was necessary to succeed in the tough newspaper world – or life in general for that matter – well, I think they got that wrong.
What do you think? Should we have to put up with bad language in our books and our workplaces? I’d love to know your views.