Killer Year–The Class of 2007

March 21, 2007, 11:10 am
Filed under: Killer Year Members, Marc Lecard

Rob Gregory Brown posted earlier this week about the bruising that occurs when someone doesn’t like your work.

I haven’t had any seriously negative responses to my book (yet), but I’ve gotten a fistful of comments objecting to the too-frequent use of the “F” word in VINNIE’S HEAD.

Well, okay: Johnnie, the narrator, says “fuck” a lot. Really a lot.

And there is a perfectly good argument to be made for not overusing potent verbal formulae.

And maybe I was guilty of overdoing it.

But I think there are good arguments for saying “fuck” a lot in fiction.

One is simple realism. A member of Long Island’s criminal underclass would naturally say “fuck” a lot. Who am I to stop him?

Evildoers from the President and Vice President on down to other, lesser criminals use the F-bomb routinely. Sometimes the microphone is left on. I’m okay with that.

Saying “fuck” a lot creates an atmosphere, a verbal baseline. Obscenity is the air Johnnie LoDuco breathes, emphatic profanity the way he understands the world. (Though he doesn’t understand it very well.)

Some of the occasional squeamishness about the “F” word may have its roots both in Puritanism and status anxiety. It’s a class thing. Only “vulgar” people use the f-word. It’s not a word for “polite” society. Sex and aggression and contempt snarled up in a single expletive.

So maybe saying “fuck” a lot is transgressive, subversive, if only in a slight way. Okay, a very slight way. But I think we need all the transgression we can get.

And I think crime fiction — hardboiled, neo-pulp, noir crime fiction, at least — is a subversive genre by nature, digging under scam and pretense. (Not sure if Vinnie fits exactly inside those categories, but the main character sure swears a lot.)

Profanity is a very minor part of this, sure, it’s one marker among many. But I think we need to leave it alone and give “fuck” some breathing room.

Or maybe I just use it too much.

Any thoughts on this?

Marc Lecard
VINNIE’S HEAD St. Martin’s Minotaur March 2007


13 Comments so far
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I use fuck a lot too, at least so far. No telling what will happen downstream, of course. But I try not to overuse it. How do I define overuse? Well, that’s the trick.

If, for example, I were to write a novel featuring as main character a writer/graphic designer with an office in his basement, and I were to write dialog that closely matched the actual way such a person spoke in every day conversation down there in his basement, every third word would be a profanity. Assuming, of course, this character was based on the only writer/graphic design with an office in his basement that I know. Um. Me.

But in an actual fictionalized version of this fellow’s story, I would probably ease off a bit. Dialog like, “Well fuck that fucking bullshit, you horse fucker,” while technically an accurate reflection of actual words spoken by this character in real life, would probably come off as excessive and distracting from the story. I would want to treat the profanity as I treat any other word — use it well, use it to move the story forward, use it to reflect character and circumstance. Lotsa fucks, while perhaps very realistic, might actually seem false and absurd in print.

In my current WIP, I’m actually trying to reduce the profanity, use it suggestively. My characters probably swear less than their real life equivalents, but I feel like it makes for more effective fiction. And I don’t think anyone gets the sense these are goodie-goodies.

All that said, I think Vinnie’s Head is funny as hell and the swearing works just fine to me. Some people will be upset by the swearing just because it’s swearing, no matter how effectively or appropriately it’s used in your story. So be it. In VH, you did it right.

Comment by Bill Cameron

I honestly didn’t think that many people were bothered by swearing until I started meeting the fuckers. And believe me, Marc, you think you’re getting grief for dropping an odd F-bomb, wait until you use “cunt”.

Comment by Ray Banks

Well, I am fully expecting to get the same comments, for what it’s worth, because Bobbie Faye curses. A lot. And uses ‘fuck’ fairly liberally. (As in ‘fuck fuck fuckity fuck’ on page two, and that’s not even the first instance.) Or maybe we should join fuckers anonymous. (nah)

Comment by toni mcgee causey

I don’t in the slightest mind it in fiction. I don’t usually mind it in real life. I do have to confess, though, to be slightly taken aback by its use in my business, in a first meeting with me.

In college, a professor of mine came up with around eighty definitions of the word. It’s a fascinating word. How it’s used really colors a character.

I haven’t finished your book yet, but … it would frankly sound weird to me if he didn’t use the word. It’s all about the truth of the character, isn’t it?

Comment by spyscribbler

Marc, I’m with you on this. I remember my wife coming to me and worrying that she couldn’t recommend my book to some of her friends because they might not like the language.

I said, “What language?”

“All the swearing,” she told me.

“There isn’t a lot of swearing, is there?”

“Uh, yeah, Rob, there’s quite a bit.”

“Well, blame the characters, not me. That’s the way they talk. I can’t help it. I mean, come on, they’re cops.”

If you have a problem with gutter mouthed characters, take it up with THEM, not me…

Comment by Rob Gregory Browne

Oh, and who can forget the line, “Fuck you, fuck ball” in Get Shorty?

Comment by Rob Gregory Browne

The ultimate use of the f-word — an entire scene written only with the expletives derivitives — The Wire. Learn it, love it, live it.

Comment by JT Ellison

That scene in The Wire’s terrific. And there’s a damn fine scene in Deadwood using only the word ‘cocksucker’. Books should have more swearing in them, not less. I’d like to see a new classics series with added swearing. Pride And Fucking Prejudice. Hard Fucking Times. Some drama too. Oedipus Motherfucking Rex…

Comment by Al Guthrie

Marc, I just wrote a review of VINNIE’S HEAD. Never occurred to me to mention the use of “fuck” in the text.

Then again, I need it to be 750 words, and I could probably get the 150 more needed by talking about that. Over 300 if I make every other word “fuck.”

Comment by Jim Winter

Fuck you, fuck ball. Just seeing that again fills me with feelings of warmth and gushiness.

Comment by Bill Cameron

I’m with Rob. It’s not my fault my characters swear. Not all my characters swear, though. In THE KILL Olivia didn’t–except one time. It had a lot of impact. But in SPEAK NO EVIL, my heroine is a cop. It’s just part of the casual style. Connor swears, Dillon doesn’t. It’s just who they are. I think must readers get it.

Comment by Allison Brennan

“Fuckers Anonymous” That cracks me up. Where are the meetings? Not like I’m ready to anytime soon…

Comment by cinemagypsy

Your blog hit home. And not just like “in the front yard” home. I’m talking past the gate, up the driveway and park it in the garage home! When I gave select family members and friends the first few copies of my recently published first novel, I had some who loved it and some who liked it (no one was brave enough to tell me it sucked). However, good old mom had to ask, “was it really necessary to have them cuss so much?” and…”Couldn’t you have toned down Chapter 16?” No, mom, it really would not have been true to character if I avoided the profanity or the graphic sexual references, but thanks for your opinion!

Comment by Charlene Engeron

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