Dear Alicia Dearn,
“We’re going to talk about some shit that’s overdue to be talked about.”
This is a sentence in my novel Both Sides of the Fence.
I stared at it for a very long time, more than once, over multiple days, during the editing process.
Should I use the word “shit” when the character could just as easily say “things”? Will my character speaking this way impact her likability, credibility, and relatability? I debated this for an embarrassingly long time.
I decided to leave it as written. I mean, this book has adult language that is much, er, adultier. There are explicit sex scenes, so, of course it does.
Let’s talk about the use of adult language as an artistic choice.
There are some authors (and other story-tellers, like in music, TV, or movies) who use adult language to titillate or shock (e.g. Quentin Tarantino). There are some audiences who consume media for those purposes, too.
On the other hand, there are story-tellers who intentionally choose to be clean (e.g. Will Smith as a rapper) and use that as a selling point for consumers seeking clean entertainment.
I don’t choose either. And perhaps that’s a commercial mistake. (I guess I will find out over time when I get enough consumer feedback.) But I don’t tend to write for commercialism, but rather for emotionalism.
I choose to use “dirty” or “adult” language, but it’s not to shock or titillate. I use it to make you feel things more deeply.
Let me ‘splain.
As an author, I am interested in stories with a healthy dose of realism. To me, making the characters—the way they speak and act, and the predicaments and conflicts they find themselves in—ring true is important. It’s important because it helps the audience connect with them better (I hope). Better connection—better relatability—should deepen the emotional journey readers take with my characters.
And isn’t that why we consume stories? To go on an emotional journey with the characters?
The beauty of romance stories, if done well, is that they invoke all the heady and exciting feelings of passion, lust, acceptance, and optimism for the future. I want to connect with the characters so that I can feel those things with them. I want the same thing for my readers.
I have my characters swear sometimes. Because, honestly, I swear. People I know swear. I don’t think either “clean” or “dirty” is inherently good or bad. Rather, I focus on my characters doing what I think people really do.
If my characters swear in the same way that my readers swear, they ring more true. It helps me weave a spell wherein you all recognize the humanity within my fictional people, and you empathize. They become your avatars as you immerse yourself in my stories and go on the plot’s ride with them.
I usually read my dialogue out loud after I write it, to make sure it sounds like how people actually talk. “Let’s talk about this shit,” or “We need to talk through some shit,” or “We’re going to talk about some shit,” are things that I hear people actually say.
So either it’s normal parlance and not that naughty, or I just hang around a bunch of degenerates. 😉
What say you? Do you talk shit? Yay or nay?
I hope I don’t alienate too many readers by my language choices. But, honestly, I probably wouldn’t be friends in real life with someone who was offended by my regular, though playful and light, swearing. Not intentionally; such people just aren’t my people.
And you, Alicia Dearn, are my people, or you wouldn’t be voluntarily receiving emails from me. And that shit is awesome.