Generally, I don’t have a problem with profanity in a book. I’m not going to run shrieking away from a character who drops the f-bomb or uses cuss words when he/she is particularly agitated. I prefer my characters to be as real as possible, and a lot of real people do swear.
However, I recently read a book where, for the first time, the characters’ use of profanity actually colored my perception of those people. Both the hero and heroine employed a range of common swear words as part of their normal speech patterns, and since the writer used third-person viewpoint, the characters also thought and viewed the world using the full spectrum of profanity. I found that I didn’t really like either the hero or heroine all that much, however, I couldn’t really put my finger on why that was. Neither one had done anything particularly unpleasant, nor did they have a tendency to whine or throw self-pity parties. They treated those around them with respect. Generally, there was no real reason I should have any opinion of them at all.
Then I realized that part of my distaste for these fictional people was their constant use of profanity. In my review (not yet posted), I likened the situation to having met a person for the first time and being a bit put-off when they used salty language without really knowing me or how I’d react. Or, perhaps more apt, how I feel about foul language in a public setting as opposed to keeping it to their personal world.
As a reviewer, I wondered what responsibility I had to alert potential readers to the amount of profanity in the book. Since the story is not classified as erotica or urban fantasy, where perhaps one should expect a little more latitude as far as language, some readers who find profanity offensive might pick up the title only to be put off by the language.
Several of us here at AAR starting talking about what we thought of profanity in today’s romances. Given our wide range of ages and experiences, I was actually a bit surprised that we all had basically the same thoughts.
Dabney Grinnan summed it up nicely. “I read a lot of contemporaries these days where profanity is the norm. It never bothers me because it seems appropriate to the characters. There isn’t a word I can’t stand–not even the dreaded C word–as long as its use feels inherent in the writing.”
Reviewer Caroline Russomanno pointed out that judicious use of profanity can even enhance the storytelling. “Sometimes, profanity can provide a great character moment. I remember going all giggly at the end of the film Bridget Jones’s Diary, when Bridget tells Colin Firth as Darcy, ‘Nice boys don’t kiss like that,’ and he says, ‘Oh yes, they fucking do!’ How hot was that? It was the perfect way to show that sure, Darcy was nice, but he was also going to be good at being dirty. I saw the same scene on a TV broadcast, where they redubbed the line to freaking, and the whole thing fell flat on its face.”
And sometimes, a writer may use profanity to give personality to a character. “