Friday, November 4, 2011

Gratuitous language--True to Character or Lazy Writing?

Yesterday I finished reading a book that started out quite promising. It was a secular romantic comedy with a subplot of suspense by an author I’ve never read before. Within the first few chapters I was ready to call my library to track down every previous book by this author. Slowly though two minor characters came into prominence. They were there to offer romantic counsel for the heroine and comedic relief. Unfortunately they weren’t very funny and they became more obnoxious and annoying as the story progressed.

Before long I was skimming sections where these characters turned up. Not only were those scenes only marginally integral to the storyline, one of the characters had a habit of dropping the F-bomb for no reason whatsoever.

I realize in fiction some writers feel the need to give their rebellious characters a colorful vocabulary. It’s especially true in thrillers and military intrigue. I can usually skip over a police officer with less than choir boy diction. But these ladies were hair stylists. Not usually a profession known for its stressful situations.

In a light-hearted moment of recollecting past loves where you or I…or just about anybody for that matter…might react with a “Seriously?” or “Wow.” the character in question dropped the bomb nearly every time she opened her mouth. Our heroine who had just met these women expressed no reaction though she never used profanity herself. Mind you, the story took place in a small Texas town, not a barroom or the Gaza Strip.

In the last chapter while our heroines were hot on the trail of the bad guy, who happened to already be sitting in jail by this time, the second hair stylist began dropping the bomb with every other word. Again, no reaction from other characters. To her credit she was in a stressful situation, but wouldn’t one of the other characters notice the alteration in her personality?

I’m sure there are hair stylists out there who let their hair down, so to speak, when I’m not around. But it seemed so unnatural and out of character for such language in normal, everyday conversation. I can overlook a lot of the language when it’s warranted, at least on some level. But it ruined the story for me and convinced me not to bother reading more books by this author.

What do you think? Am I a stick in the mud who needs to lighten up and enter the 21st century? Or does an author have some responsibility to her reader? Just wondering.


Molly Noble Bull said...

Thanks, Teresa. Interesting article. And I agree with your conclusions.
Having lived in several small Texas towns, I can say that I never heard anyone use the F word -- except one time. One teenage boy at a state park played the SHOCK card by saying the F word -- perahps hoping to sound cool and older.
Of course, he sounded yucky and much younger.
Isn't that the way it always is when someone says bad words in public and/or private?

Teresa Slack said...

I spend time around all sorts of people. Most of my family can cuss a blue streak as we say in southern Ohio. But they keep it to a minimum in mixed company or with those they only just met. And never "that" word. Each incidence jerked me out of the story because it was so unnatural, esp for a group of hairdressers chatting local gossip.

Johnese said...

We're singing off the same page. It takes no creativity to use gratuitous language. Sadly, the F word has become just another way of expressing frustration. However, this reader can't get past the offense.

Linda Anderson said...

Personally I think using the F bomb is a poor device that writers who lack creative skills or integrity use. I just recently started reading a book that seemed promising in it's plot and it's main character. It was of the Sci-Fi/Fantasy genre, which i love, but after a few pages of dialog with a character that was using the word, I just put it down and returned it to the library. It just wasn't worth the effort to read it and offend my senses every time I had to read that word! I just recently read your Jenna's creek series for 2nd time and really enjoyed it..again. What ever happened to the promised 4th book about Calvin Trotter? What happened with Christy and did Abby and Noel able to reconnect after years of regret and guilt over their sin? I would love to see the continuing story about how their lives unfolded. Don't forget Tim and Noreen either! Back to the original topic, we don't use that kind of language in our family and neither my friends @ church or those I come in contact out in the community. I live in Fresno, Ca. and I know there is another segment of society that use this language, but I really think that the entertainment industry has been the one to spread and popularize and make younger people feel this is acceptable language to use. They seem to think it is an adjective the way it is used from my experience on social media. That and a curse word when they are ticked off. Do NOT like!

Teresa Slack said...

Linda, thanks so much for your words about my Jenna's Creek series. Unfortunately the series was cancelled after Book 3 because of financial reasons, not because of the performance of the series. I had written Book 4, but am now hoping to release it as a stand-alone book. Publishers seldom buy a book that is part of a series pub'd by another house. We'll see how that goes. I'm so happy you enjoyed the series. Here's hoping for another contract soon.