I had another topic I was going to do today, but then I got my RWR (Romance Writers Report – the Romance Writers of America publication). There is a letter to the editor in the magazine that provoked my thoughts about romance writing in general. The letter writer expressed outrage at the foul language used in romance. (There also seemed a subtle slam at sex in romance as well since the writer wanted the bedroom door to remain closed – I’m NOT EVEN gonna tackle that subject except to say, if the sex is good, I like to read it, and the DH LOVES it when I read it.)
The writer of the letter didn’t cite specific words in their complaint, but the letter writer was disgusted by the alleged degradation of language in romances in general. In fact, the letter writer alluded to category romance where most everything is behind closed doors, depending on which imprint you read. I respect this individual’s opinion, and in a small way I’d have to agree that language in romance books has gotten a little crude.
The Fall of the Roman Empire?
Overall, language in society has gotten cruder. Thus I think language in romance is quite possibly a reflection of that tendency. The F-word seems to have become a common word in many people’s vocabulary. I regret how it’s pushed its way into my own speech. I’ve a firm belief that when I write it (albeit from my heroes point of view) I tend to use if more readily in my personal life. And to honest, there is a harsh ring to it that I find repulsive and attractive at the same time. Go figure!
There are other words I see commonly used in romance books, specifically those used in erotic romance, but I’ve seen them in what I’d label the sensual romances as well. Words like shit, cunt, pussy, prick, dick, clit, etc. I despise these words. I find them crude and in poor taste. However, I think in the appropriate setting they can make an impact in a book.
One part of the letter writer’s missive to the RWR struck a definite chord with me. The writer stated that using foul language indicated the writer didn’t have the ability to write something more intelligent. The comment reminded me of my grandmother who had a genius IQ (180 or thereabouts). Grandma always said that if you were going to call someone a name (as I had done at the time of her lecture) I should do it with intelligence. She said that if I had to call someone a name I should say something like “you’re a parallel biped with the cognitive skills of a Neanderthal.” Grandma always said this would leave the other person struggling to comprehend what I’d just said, yet giving me the ability to walk away while having the last word. I confess that my Italian temper never allowed me to use a phrase like that. *sigh*
A Writer’s Choice
When it comes to my writing though, I do have the ability to choose what type of language I use. So I try to make the language appropriate to the character. I tend to use language that I’m comfortable with, and I imagine that’s true of every writer. I remember the first time I used the word cock. The hero thought of his cock and I took the word out. He put it back in. We had this ongoing battle until I said “FINE! Use the damn word then.”
I doubt I’ll use any of the words I find “crude,” but then I never thought I’d ever use “cock” of “fuck” either. So there could be a first time for the other words. Personally, I’m not turned off by foul language if it’s appropriate to the character or the situation. It’s when it’s used as a word one might have in an ordinary conversation at work or play that I find it a turn off. Maybe I just don’t know people who talk that way. *shrug* Recently, I’ve read works with pussy this, clit that, dick this and cunt that. I’m not talking about sparse usage, but the words were on almost every page I turned. At that point, the foul language becomes annoying and throws me out of the read. The shock value is gone, and I find myself considering my grandmother’s thinking of “is there a better way to [write] something.” The one thing I would protest in all this debate is banning a book simply because of its language. But as a writer, I can make the choice to use it or come up with another descriptor.
So what do you think?