To Cuss or Not to Cuss
When writing a cozy mystery, how do you handle your character’s language? Do your main characters use cuss words, or only your secondary characters?
I was reading on the Sinc Guppy Cosy group a discussion about swear words or even some words like “dang” or “darn” and writers wondered if even those words are okay to use in a cozy novel. I’ve always wanted to write a cozy, but somehow, somewhere, one of my characters will say a cuss word—not the worse ones, but maybe “shit” or “damn”. And I’m not sure I wouldn’t slip up and put one of those words into the mouth of a sweet little old lady.
I find my main characters watch their language, but my secondary characters aren’t so good. Maybe that’s because when I was growing up the women in our family didn’t cuss but some of the men could cuss like sailors, including my father.
When I married I was surprised to learn my sweet looking mother-in-law could throw out some words I wasn’t used to hearing out of the mouth of a woman. But that was when she was younger. As she aged, her language didn’t include so many of those words.
I have an older woman in one of my novels that doesn’t cuss, but she says mean things. She tells her daughter-in-law she’s an idiot or a hussy and she flirts with all the men and asks them to take her dancing. She’s in her 80s and has dementia.
My mom had dementia and until I could get her out of the unit, they stuck her in with Alzheimer’s patients. One night while visiting her, a woman came into her room and said to me, “Do you see all those people outside dancing?” There were none. So she then sang and danced for us. And when my cousin would visit she’d say to him, “When the others leave, you can come to my room.”
I wonder how much of what we write comes from people we’ve met over the years, or family members. One of my grandmothers used to kick her leg in the air when she was in her 80s and say, “Look, kid.” My grandfather would get upset because I didn’t want to kiss him. He chewed and spit tobacco and had a stained mustache. My dad’s family cussed when playing cards. Grandpa would roll his beer bottle on the floor and yell to my grandmother to get him another beer.
My other grandmother was from Croatia and sometimes made us hide when people came to the door, because she feared they were gypsies. Later in life I learned we did have gypsies that hung out not far from Grandma’s house. But at the age of 5 or 6, I didn’t believe her. She made us kids hide behind the couch. I also learned her fear was valid. Gypsies in Croatia are known for kidnapping children. And by the way, Grandma could cuss in Croatian, but we kids didn’t know what she said, only that our mothers told us those were bad words and not to repeat them.
I guess my question is, to cuss or not cuss? And which type of writing do you use profanity in and what books do we leave out those words?
Although I love reading a cosy novel, I’m afraid one of my characters might just slip up and be naughty. Guess I better pass on writing them.