Wednesday, October 06, 2010

F___in' Language

Earlier this week, author Karen E. Olson blogged about getting flak from readers over one protagonist's use of profanity. Partly in response, her second series protag doesn't use profanity at all. And yet Karen has still seen a content warning as part of a review and surprising editorial suggestions.

Summing up her blog post, she writes, "Are you easily offended by language in a book? Or do you take it all in context?"

I commented:

Language only bothers me when it sounds "off" for the character or the situation. Profanity seldom bothers me because a lot of people use it. Writers have a responsibility to reflect reality to an extent.

I was bothered recently reading a book in which the protag used the word "perhaps" far too often, making her sound overly mannered, not fitting my image of her otherwise.

Several crime novelists have pointed out that some readers are more offended by language than by depictions of violence and murder. Yes, violence and murder are givens in crime fiction, but no writer intends readers become desensitized to them. They are at heart the vehicles by which crime fiction comments on reality.

Neither should anyone become desensitized to language. Writers want readers to feel characters' anger, fear, anxiety, shock when they use profanity.


C. N. Nevets said...

Cops swear. A lot. I'm just sayin'.

Karen Olson said...

You talk about becoming desensitized to violence in books, and it's interesting but I've been reading a lot of YA books lately and find that the violence is quite disturbing. Yet my daughter, who is 13, doesn't seem to really notice it. I'm not quite sure why these books affect me more than they affect her, it's not as though she watches a lot of violent TV or movies or plays violent video games. In fact, just the opposite. But she has a rather cavalier attitude toward the violence in her books. I just finished the Hunger Games, and it's just one example of popular YA books that doesn't hold back in its violence.

Gerald So said...

Hi, Karen.

I, too, have noticed that people react to violence differently in different media. While I usually have the reaction the author or screenwriter intends, my reaction to movie or TV violence feels more intense.

I think the difference is due to the fact that in movies and TV, I'm forced to accept the director's vision of how the violence plays out. In print, my imagination acts on the author's description to end up with what I see. I still may be repulsed by what I imagine, but at least I had some control over the imagery.

Karen Olson said...

That makes sense, Gerald. We can tone down our imaginations, but when it's right in front of us in living HD color, it's hard to push that aside.