%$#%$%!! #$%&!!Read Now
Today’s topic, boys and girls, will be naughty words. They present a real challenge for a novelist writing in a contemporary setting, because unless you’re writing Amish romance (yep, that’s a thing), grown-ups swear.
I happen to live in New York, my books are set here, and I’m told that New Yorkers swear more than people in other parts of the country. I’m not sure I believe this entirely. It smacks of one of those self-congratulatory things New Yorkers tell each to make us feel better about paying more for pretty much everything.
We pride ourselves on our ‘urban grit.” What we mean by that is—wait a sec.
I fully intend to start throwing around some f-bombs, as they’ve so quaintly come to be called. I may well be throwing them hither, thither and probably even yon, before I’m done, and I’m not doing a post about writing ‘fuck’ in a book and doing anything so feeble-minded as to start spelling it with an asterisk dropped in, in place of the vowel, like that would make it any less obscene.
So if you are an especially delicate soul; a sweet, little old lady; or a mother with a small child—please take this moment to leave the room.
<Pause here, while we listen to the sound of footsteps, and a crying baby, growing distant, and finally a closing door.>
There now. Where was I? Oh, yes.
We New Yorkers pride ourselves on our ‘urban grit,” by which we mean, basically, that we say ‘fuck’ a lot.
There’s a tee shirt they’ve been selling to tourists here for forever, that isn’t even much of an exaggeration of the New York patois:
[Fun fact: When Peter Minuit bought Manhattan Island from the Indians for a handful of beads, trinkets and a subway token, the natives threw in one of these tee shirts. (Size large, it didn’t fit.)]
The problem for the novelist, however, is in trying to replicate this vernacular, this stream of urban obscenity, in a way that isn’t as tediously repetitive and unimaginative as what you actually hear on the city streets. Because this is art, dammit.
It’s a true thing that when you’re writing, particularly for characters (I write in first-person narrative, so the whole damn book is for some character or other), you’re listening to voices in your head. Psycho as that sounds, they talk, I type.
Drafting my first book, Where Do I Start?, I was quickly aware that I was writing ‘fucking’ or ‘fuck’ or ‘the fuck’ a lot, because that’s what I was hearing in my head. I realized I needed to find an artful way to curtail/vary some of this, while still conveying the character’s natural frustration. Because life in an over-crowded city is, as you might guess, one long exercise in frustration.
Finding this new, more interesting equivalent to saying fuck all the time was not easy. ‘Oh, fudge’ was just not going to cut it, goldarn it.
So I decided that, among three central characters:
Roger – swears sparingly, using mostly variations on Jeez-Louise.
Fletch – is prone to substituting ‘frigging’ to break up the monotony.
Tommy – uses ‘effing’ occasionally to the same end.
Great. Then Book II (And the Next Thing You Know…) came flying across the room at me, and the same problem needed to be solved anew. I came up with Theo who had a particularly/peculiarly inventive method of venting—variations of Christ-on-a-cross. Christ-on-a-crosswalk. On-a-cross-stitch. And my extra-special favorite, Christ-on-a-cross-dressed-nun.
I felt pretty pleased with myself.
And Tommy was still saying ‘eff that.’
Now, of course, I have Book III on my desk, with a new crop of guys. Sigh.
Tommy, having gotten a promotion from side-kick to protagonist, is still effing around.
And my new main character? He’s from Minneapolis, where, I’m told by native Minnesotans, people don’t say fuck constantly or without provocation. The fucks are fewer.
I do have a new guy who’s a Staten Island native and swears like it:
“You think I’m bad?" he defends himself. "You should hear my mom. Mouth like a mother-fuckin’ sailor, that one.”
Don’t know how funny the world will find that, but it amused me no end.
Christ-on-a-cross-eyed-cat, this got long.
Till next time, kids.
4/9/2019 06:14:21 pm
Mmmmm. That fucking t-shirt looks worn. Did it fucking just come out of your motherfuckin' closet?
Charlotte Ann Kinzie
4/9/2019 10:31:33 pm
ooh interesting! I wasn't even really aware of the swearing or lack there of - but I think that's a testament to your writing skill and all this thought you put into it.
I went to an all-girls Catholic high school. We sounded like New York. But I appreciate your problem. When my first book got published (YA fiction -you know what teens sound like) my editor allowed "damn" but not the S-word OR the F-word. I hope that what I did to circumvent the usage sounded fairly normal. I mean, these were two teen guys for petesake. So I feel your pain and what you did with the guys in your first two books worked just fine. A THIRD BOOK! I CAN'T WAIT! (And I can't wait to see what you come up with for obscenities in this one!)
4/16/2019 04:50:53 pm
I freaking love that you care so freaking much. Really. Your approach is much more interesting and creative (and effective!) than just using the same old naughty words over and over.
7/25/2022 06:24:39 am
Great blog yyou have here
Chase Taylor Hackett
7/25/2022 04:13:08 pm
While I've been struggling with getting another book written, I'm afraid I've left this blog to languish like a Havisham wedding cake. Your nice note reminds me I should knock some of the cobwebs down and maybe give this thing another shot.
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Chase Taylor Hackett, a budding novelist chock full of witty and insightful observations on writing. And other stuff.