I'm not going to write out the "f" word in my blog post, but I sure did write it out in my novel, Monarch. Twice. Oh my gosh, twice. At the time I wrote the book, I thought that word was necessary to cram into the mouth of my characters. The word was used in dialogue in two very appropriate places, I thought. In fact, even to this day, I don't mind the word where I put it, but I did end up taking it out in both places. Here's the story why, if you're interested.Read the whole thing. Argyle's not the only author to reconsider the language in her stories. In a 1959 reading of "A Good Man is Hard to Find" at Vanderbilt, Flannery O'Connor redacts a then-common racial epithet and excises an entire section where a character callously details the poverty of an African American boy with vivid slang. I find the exclusion interesting. Most writers justify the inclusion of objectionable language on grounds of verisimilitude, on the idea that the story wouldn't seem true-to-life without it. Yet if anyone could've made such an appeal it would've been O'Connor, and still she saw fit to remove the offending language.
First of all, let me lay it straight that I don't say the "f" word if I can ever help it. It's not something I like the taste of in my mouth, and although I don't believe for one second that words are inherently evil, I do think that they can have a strong impact. ...
[W]hen I wrote Monarch, I took my characters seriously and let them talk how they would really talk. Sure, they're somewhat of an extension of me, but they aren't all me, and they certainly have their own lives and personalities and free wills in my novel. So I wanted to keep it real, and that's how the ARCs ... were printed -- with that word in place.
Then I got an email from a sweet friend of mine who had started reading her copy of Monarch. I won't say what she said or anything, but her email got me thinking more about the language in my novel and what I really wanted to do. Honestly, I hadn't give the matter very much thought, even during edits. I should have.
Of course, the verisimilitude argument has merit. People do use profanity in real life, and excising it entirely from every tale would be damaging. But Argyle and O'Connor have a point, too: Language can normalize and even encourage certain modes of thought, and authors ought to choose every word carefully.
(Picture: CC 2010 by stockicide)