Bad Language in Crime FictionPosted: September 28, 2011
There seems to be/or has been an increasing pressure, steadily building, on writers to avoid using bad language in their mystery novels. How do you feel about that? This is seen more in the U.S. than abroad. Readers are pushing against bad language and are penalizing writers with one star reviews on Amazon (who takes those reviews seriously anyway?). I’m not sure if the complaint is about the use of bad language period or the excessive use of bad language in crime fiction.
At any rate, readers have felt the need to complain about it to the writer, to the publisher, to whoever. Editors are responding to it, too, which is troublesome to me, because these folks aren’t representative of me and vice versa. I will direct you to read reviewer Sunita’s conference notes from her attendance at Bouchercon this year where authors voiced their frustrations about this very thing.
Lest you think it’s just about sex, though, be advised that women characters must also refrain from swearing. As Lori Armstrong put it, “we can kill people but we can’t let them swear.”
Where I stand, well, I don’t mind swearing if it’s not overly gratuitous (the same is true for violence as well) and even then, I won’t complain about it and it certainly won’t stop me from reading the book. This is crime fiction after all. I think at the very least you should expect cursing, violence, disturbing themes, sex, macabre topics/details that pertain to the genre of crime fiction.
I know it’s sometimes difficult to disassociate real life values/baggage/life experiences/moral beliefs from our fiction reading but we all do not share the same values/baggage/life experiences/moral beliefs and shouldn’t be expected to have the same reactions/opinions to the books that we read. Writers shouldn’t be prohibited from creating their world/characters as they see fit to satisfy the few who may have problems with the language or themes of their stories. We all have freedom of choice. I offer a solution: just stop reading the author’s work if the language they use offends you.
Let me get this straight though, before I close this topic, in crime fiction it’s okay to kill people through many various methods/deeds but it’s not okay to use bad language? There is something wrong with that logic don’t you think? To close, while watching HBO’s Treme, I learned about the late Ashley Morris blog post, titled, “Fuck You, you fucking fucks” in response to his frustration with the media and the public post-Katrina. It is an awesome post (yes, I did say that) and without the language he used, it wouldn’t have been as eloquent to drive the point home. So where do you stand on bad language in crime fiction? I think it’s unfair to push this agenda on those of us who aren’t as easily offended by bad language.