28 November 2017

The Intersection of Plotting and Cursing
– Rated R for Language

"Oh fuck. I miscounted."
That was the essence of a text message I sent a few minutes ago, upon being reminded that my next SleuthSayers post was supposed to be uploaded in the next hour and forty-five minutes. I had thought I was scheduled for next Tuesday, not for tomorrow.

My cursing amused my dear friend Leigh, who had sent the friendly reminder. And it made me think a few things, first being how one phrase could be used in so many situations and as the starting point of so many stories:

"Oh fuck. I miscounted," Jessica said, holding up the positive pregnancy stick. This is the conflict from which a thriller is born in which Jessica goes on the run, determined to raise her child free from the murderous gang her boyfriend is a part of.

"Oh fuck. I miscounted," said the attorney who put a decimal in the wrong place, and now had to notify a client that he screwed up some documents, costing the client millions. This is the conflict that results in the attorney realizing that if he's going to be disbarred and have his life ruined, he might as well make the best of it, so he steals all his clients' money and goes on the run. That's another thriller.

"Oh fuck. I miscounted," said the hit man when he ran out of bullets. This is the conflict that prompts a thriller in which a hit man is sent after a hit man for failure to get the original job done right. (Wait, a hit man sent after another hit man who screwed up--that's the basis for Grosse Point Blank. Great movie. But I digress. ...)

These are all interesting premises, but they're also all thrillers. Couldn't the phrase be used in other types of crime novels? Especially if it's part of the story, not the source of the originating conflict? Let's see ...

"Oh fuck. I miscounted," said the thief to his partner, hoping the guy bought the story of why the bank job proceeds hadn't been split evenly.  Damn, that's another thriller.

"Oh fuck. I miscounted," said the cop on the witness stand, revealing he screwed up his review of some evidence thus tanking the case, making the prosecutor wonder if the cop is on the take. This could be a legal thriller. Damn, there's the word thriller again. But it's a legal thriller, so it's a bit different.

"Oh fuck. I miscounted," said the PI upon realizing he'd been videotaping the goings on in an apartment on the third floor of a building instead of the fourth all day, and as a result he'd missed the payoff he'd been hired to document. Okay, this is better. A PI novel isn't necessarily a thriller.

"Oh fuck. I miscounted," said the burglar after he'd broken three fingers, two toes, and one tooth in his quest to steal an expensive ring, only to realize after he made it home that he'd grabbed the wrong ring and would have to do the job again. Now we're getting somewhere. This could be a caper.

"Oh fuck. I miscounted," said the gray-haired grandma, explaining how she'd made eight salads for her house guests, seven with peanut dressing and one oil and vinegar, but had accidentally set the wrong salad down in front of the guest with the fatal allergy. Oops.  I'm tempted to say this could be a cozy, but the fuck throws the book into traditional mystery territory. Real-life grandmas might say fuck, but in cozy novels--nope. That's not gonna happen.

"Oh fuck. I miscounted," said the man when confronted with evidence of his bigamy, right before both his angry wives start kicking him in the ... I don't know what kind of book this is, but I know I want to read it.

Okay. That's nine solid plot ideas stemming from "Oh fuck. I miscounted." I wish I could come up with a tenth, but I have just a few minutes before I have to get this post uploaded, and I still have to figure out photos to go with it. Aaaah. So, what about you, dear reader? Can you come up with a solid tenth for me?  Bonus points if you can figure out how to work the phrase into a cozy.


  1. Now, that's making lemonade. I love the last one.

  2. Candidate for cosy:

    Miss Julia sipped her tea and peered through her glasses at the crossword. “Miriam, dear, I’ve miscounted the letters. What word meaning pumper starts with ‘f’ and ends with ‘uck’?”

    “Firetruck, dearie, firetruck.”

  3. Fun stuff, Barb! And I love Grosse Pointe Blank.

  4. What the fuck? thought the hitman, I miscounted. "That's a Smith & Wesson, and you've had your six." Funny piece.

  5. Leight wins! (That was brilliant.) Totally enjoyed this post, Barb! And yes, my WIP started out as a cozy, until another writer figured out I blew the guidelines three times in the first two pages, sigh.

  6. Such a fun piece here! Deadlines do bring inspiration.

  7. I think you get full marks for coming through under pressure!

  8. Leigh TOTALLY wins!! That was fantastic. Love this post.

  9. "Oh fuck, I miscounted," said the funeral director as (s)he looked at the coffins.
    "Oh Fuch, I miscounted the address!" said the driver, as he gassed up the van emblazoned with "Fuch's moving and delivery: Humping to please."

  10. I may get fired for this, but I'm going to use this post in my fiction workshop today--hope the 20 yr olds can handle it!

  11. Miscounting was the main clue in a mystery story I submitted this morning just after midnight, and about ten minutes BEFORE I read your column, Barb. If I'd seen your post before I subbed that mystery, I would've probably included your "text message" in my story.

    Great column!!

  12. Splendid post, indeed! Here's my entry:

    The engineer laid down the plans for the fusion reactor with a satisfied sigh. The culmination of decades came down to this. “Switch it on, Jerry,” he told his mate.
    And then he saw it. Laying in the middle of the floor.
    One screw left over.
    “Aw, fuck,” he said, checking the plans. “I miscounted.”
    The reactor started to glow.

  13. And I thought I used that word a lot. LOL Not in my books though. Just my everyday life.

  14. This is so funny. I cursed like a sailor after working with a bunch of men. Finally, I cleaned up my act with "rats."

  15. Absolutely brilliant!!!!

  16. I don't feel so badly now about my recent comment, "Stupid fucks!" when I saw a wonderful historic house being torn down here. LOL. And I grew up with a granny who blushed when she said "dadgummit"! LOL.

  17. A friend had a little boy, two or three years old, who mispronounced the word "truck". She took him to Toys "R" Us, he saw a toy fire engine & announced to everyone in a loud voice, "Mommy, see big red fuck!" LOL

  18. I intended my first novel to be a traditional mystery and didn't skimp on the profanity. My editor insisted it was a cozy and said my readers would be up in arms. She won.

    Naomi Hirahara is so good at "suggestion" that you know the very word she's NOT using.

  19. Loved it, Barb! How about,
    “Oh, fuck,” I said. “I miscounted!” Outside my window, the man I thought would be released from prison tomorrow, strode toward my front door. He was carrying an axe.

  20. The lawyer saw the widow out, then looked again at the sum he'd given as her estatew.

    "Oh, fuck! I miscounted, again. I should remember to check the tens column!"

    Widow Smith, who thought she'd inherited hundreds of thousands, was in for a rude surprise.

  21. Great blog! Delighted at how many ways you used one of my favorite words.

  22. As I often say, fuck is a technical term we writers use.

  23. I agree, Marcia. It definitely has its uses!

  24. Thanks, everyone, for stopping by and commenting! I'm so glad the column has added enjoyment to your day.

    Rob, I like that last one too. Thanks. For people in that guy's position, it's the type of thing you think of and want to say because you know it's funny, even though you also know it's going to get you in trouble.

    Leigh, nice job. I don't know if that would get past a cozy editor, but it's a valiant effort.

    Janice, writing under pressure--my journalism past comes in handy once again.

    Laura, I'm sure your college students can handle it. Would love to hear the reactions.

    Richard, that's a spot on short story in exactly fifty words. I tip my hat to you.

    Patricia, you and me both.

    Vicki, I once had a supervisor who requested I tone down my language. Soon thereafter, people began hearing me regularly mutter, "Rainbows! Rainbows! Rainbows!" No one could complain about rainbows, yet they knew what I meant.

    Elizabeth, wow!

    Sasscer, I LOVE your story. Just 29 words, and you didn't need another. Plus you made me smile. Thank you.

    Marcia, a technical term. Exactly.

  25. It could be the caption for a cartoon of Noah on board the Ark surrounded by two of almost everything...

  26. FUCK, I miscounted how much I LOVE this post!

  27. When I was teaching, helping special education students get jobs, I'd always tell them about one guy I knew when I was working in a prison. After several years, he got work release. I tried to convince him he needed to clean up his language, but he thought I was being ridiculous. After all, he could control what he said.

    First day on the job, working in a fast-food restaurant on the drive-through, he got flustered. Trying hard to keep to script but relapsing into his usual vocabulary, he asked, "You want some fucking fries with that?" to a church lady with her grandchildren in the car.

    Needless to say, he had to start over with the job search.

    1. This is the best thing I've heard all day, KM. LOVE.

    2. Well, it sucked for him. And that grandma. And the kids. But it was great for me!

  28. Once again, thanks, everyone, for stopping by and commenting. I'm so glad you enjoyed the blog.

  29. LOVE it. Now I want to come up with stories based on prompts like this all the time!

  30. I'm on the run, but FYI, many grandmothers use the word.

  31. Barb, that was an inspired post. Since NaNoWriMo ends tomorrow night, here's another use:

    "Oh fuck, I miscounted!" It was seconds to midnight on November 30. I was sure I'd written the 50,000 words in thirty days that I needed to win the National Novel Writing Month challenge and my bet with Chuck. The word count gizmo at the website told me I was 213 words short. And then it was too late. I wasn't sure I could have collected the hundred bucks from him if I'd won, but I knew he'd insist on my ponying up. Me, the son of the mayor, streaking the Altonville Christmas parade? I must have been crazy. I needed to be gone. Now."

  32. "Fuck," she said. "I miscounted my birth control pills."
    "Fuck," he said. "That's the operative word."


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