Monday, January 25, 2016

This week author Irene Vartanoff joins us with her tip
Irene Vartanoff is a U.S. writer of women's stories, including superheroine adventure, contemporary romance, and women's fiction.

Writing Tip: Salty Language: Yes or No?

Recently I've seen several online discussions about the use of what is euphemistically referred to as salty language. This can mean both profanity (taking the various names of God in vain) or obscenity (using f-bombs and other words that historically the FCC has not allowed on the air waves and the New York Times has not deemed "fit to print"). Also, words that usually get caught in porn spam catchers. In between, there are words like "damn" and "hell" and "crap" that lie uneasily on the spectrum. Are they profane or obscene? No, but they could be called vulgar. Then again, to actually curse, old school, you have to say something like what Monterone says to Rigoletto in the opera of the same name: "Sii maledetto!" ("I curse you!") So there's a lot of ground covered by these words we casually throw into—or out of—our stories.

There are two basic extremes of reaction that readers tend to express. On the one end are the people who identify themselves as wanting to read "clean" books. They object to everything, flat out. No, you can't say "Jeez" or "God," and no, you can't say "Eff you and the horse you came in on." Also, no, you can't say, "Where's my damn coffee?" but you might, just possibly, get away with a heartfelt, "May you rot in Hell!"

On the other end of the spectrum are the people who say they would laugh at a novel featuring, for instance, a military character who didn't use vulgar words and "curse like a sailor." To them, a story is not true or realistic if everybody in it watches their language. Unless your story is all about teatime at Aunt Edna's, tame language will not go over well with them.

What's a writer to do? How do we make our stories accessible and acceptable to the widest variety of readers, yet still write characters who come across as true to life?

One choice is to go ahead and use whatever "bad words" you want, and post warnings on your blurb copy. Then let the chips fall where they may, and if some people give you one-star reviews based on language alone, so be it. Another option is to not allow certain bad guys in a story to talk much at all. In many stories, they don't have to. Their role is to move the action along, not to engage your James Bond style hero in witty repartee. A third choice is to use euphemisms such as "eff you," which I at first attempted to do in my latest novel, Saving the Soldier. This fell flat to the beta readers. They advised me to go with a fourth option, circumlocutions such as "he cursed." I really wanted my hero to attempt to shock my heroine, but I realized in time that I'd only end up shocking my readers. Saving the Soldier is a sweet contemporary romance, one I'd like readers at both ends of the realism spectrum to enjoy reading. So I skated around the edge. Let me know if you think it works.

Here's a Saving the Soldier excerpt to show what I did:
“Why don’t you start living your life again?” Paula Barton spoke sharply to JD Selkirk as he lay in a Veterans Administration hospital bed in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
She had a helluva nerve. Paula was his sister Tess’s friend, not his. Paula often tagged along on his family’s daily visits. Today, she was his only visitor.
He asked, “Where’s my family? They’re usually here by now.”
Paula put her hands on her generous hips. “Would you stop trying to change the subject? When are you going to get on with your life?”
Why Paula came to bother him, day in and day out, he didn’t get. She was a good-looking woman, if you liked the pushy, no-nonsense type. Which he didn’t. Probably came from her father owning half of Oregon. She was always brimming with self-confidence, with easy solutions to tough problems. She didn’t even bother with makeup the way other women did. He wouldn’t call Paula plain. She had big, dark eyes and pale skin that contrasted well with her dark hair. She had an attractive full figure, too, though she did nothing to show it off.
“Why don’t you wear jewelry like other women?” He didn’t feel like chitchat. Why was she here at all?
Paula’s expression froze. She crossed her arms—defensive gesture for sure—and gazed at him, taking his measure and making it clear from her expression that she thought he stunk. He did, too. He felt like dirt today and Paula being here annoyed him, so tough on her.
“JD, what I look like doesn’t matter a hill of beans to you. You pick on people to push them away. Not playing that game.”
He cursed her out, but the words that usually drove Tess to tears had no effect on her friend.
“Filth mouth doesn’t move me,” she said caustically. “You’ve been rotting in this VA hospital for nearly a year and a half. It’s past time for you to get on with your life.”
He tried a few more choice words, ending with “and who are you to tell me what I should do?”
“I’m a friend. You got a raw deal from your Army service, but that’s the past. Now it’s time for you to help out your family.”
“Why don’t you just leave?” he said sourly.
“Why don’t you make me?” she asked, fire in her dark eyes.

Buy link (Saving the Soldier is an Amazon ebook and available in paperback at):
U.S. Amazon

You can find Irene at:

Thanks Irene for dropping by and sharing that great marketing tip.

Don’t forget to check back next week for another author’s tip or tweak.


  1. Sigh. Good post and men -- generally -- curse. So when I worked with all men, I did too. Every now and then...

    For me, sweet is closed door sex, not necessarily language.

  2. My book was given the one star because of language, but I was okay with that. It's how the story goes... I am also a person who calls a body part by it's true alas, my language is considered crude there too.