For those of you who don’t know, I recently finished my first novel, which I’m revising and editing right now. I just got through an edit and I had struggles with an interesting issue, one which I’m not sure how to tackle.
First, some background. My story is an urban/contemporary fantasy, told from a first-person POV, and the main character is a young cop from Philadelphia. Although it’s not necessarily a young adult novel, I want it to be accessible to younger readers. Therefore, I didn’t use any swear words or language that I feel is really objectionable. So here’s the issue: as I went through the manuscript, I realized I tend to use a few words and phrases fairly often: Freaked out. Crap. That sucks/sucked/really sucked. I have to admit, my mom gets mad if I use these words around her, but honestly, they’re quite common for my generation. Would my story work without these words? I’m sure it would. But to me it’s a bit of a stretch in the first place to not have any of my characters, some of them pretty bad people, use foul language.
Often I’ll be watching some crime drama on network TV and a hardened thug or gangster will be yelling at the cops, and the language is decidedly PG, or PG-13 at worst. While I understand this and definitely appreciate the fact that swearing is still not allowed on TV, it strikes me as inauthentic. How can it be fixed? I have no idea. In reality it’s a pretty minor quibble, and if the rest of the show is well-written and acted, I don’t notice it as much.
Honestly, I don’t know if I would have changed much in my story as it relates to these words. But then it was pointed out to me that using these words dates the story. It makes it contemporary but not timeless. Great. Here I am, striving for a certain verisimilitude, while not resorting to obscene language, and now the language I’ve used isn’t timeless. Not only may it alienate older – and perhaps younger – readers, but in fifty years if anybody reads it, it’ll feel stale and old and so 2010.