I’ve got a potty mouth. Well, not me exactly, but several of my favorite characters. My editor has asked me to tone down the language in my upcoming novel, THE STONE NECKLACE. He went so far as to COUNT the number of times I dropped the f-bomb. (It wasn’t me, I swear. It was my character Phillip. He just talks that way. And sometimes Sandy. And yeah, Elliott, too … okay, maybe it is me.)
I thought editing out the bad language wouldn’t be that big a deal, but it’s actually been quite a challenge. For some situations, one NEEDS a special word, and—trust me—that word isn’t “fudge.”
Yet I know my editor’s correct. If I want to widen my audience, I need to be careful not to alienate anyone over a word or two. (Or thirty-seven …). My relationship with new readers is more important than any expletive I have in my text. I don’t want to offend anyone—or at least, if I do offend someone, it should be about something more substantive than SH*T.
Still, here’s my challenge: how do I accurately portray an on-the-streets, drug using, bad-guy (notice I didn’t use bada**) dude without having him speak the words I know he’d use?
For some characters, I can spice up their language more creatively. One character might actually say “fudge,” eyebrows lifted, so that we all know what she really means. The son of the car crash victim could say “damn” instead of a harsher word. (Is “damn” okay? After all, Rhett Butler said it. A question for my editor.)
But that one guy… he’s a puzzle. He wouldn’t have a big vocabulary. He has no college education that would have provided him with effective synonyms. I can’t imagine him using “monkey flunker” in any conversation.
One thing he would use, though, is silence. His cold stare night be more effective than a dozen firetruck-you’s. His sausage thick finger pointed at my protagonist could be more terrifying than any curse words he might care to utter. His looming presence casts quite a shadow over the novel; I can make use of that in place of his salty vocabulary. It could work.
Problem solved? Not quite. I still find a few places—not many—where it’s hard to come up with a word to replace the expletive without losing the effect. I must mull. And mull some more.