Showing posts with label cursing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cursing. Show all posts

22 January 2019

I've Crossed A Line -- Warning: Rated X for Expletives

by Barb Goffman

You can take the girl out of New York, but you can't take the New York out of the girl. That's my explanation for why I often pepper my speech with expletives. Anyone who read my 2017 column  titled "The Intersection of Plotting and Cursing" knows I'm quite comfortable with the word fuck. I've used it and other curse words in my stories without issue.

How often? I just ran a search of my published stories, and here are the results:

  • Asshole -- used in two stories (6% of all my published stories).
  • Fuck -- used in two stories (6%). A surprisingly low number. I'll have to work on that.
  • Shit -- used in four stories (12%).
  • Bastard -- used in five stories (16%).
  • Bitch -- used in fifteen stories (48%!). I might have to tone this one down.
Given these results, you'd think I didn't often write light cozy stories. And yet there's one big curse word missing from the list. One word that, until last week, I had never used in a published story. Can you figure out what it is? Here's a hint: it rhymes with the word for the smallest animal in a litter. See, I have so much trouble with this word, I'm squeamish about even typing it here, in an academic (ish) discussion about using curse words in my fiction. The word is ...

Cunt. There I said it.

And I'm cringing.

There is just something about this word that, to me at least, crosses a line. I know some of you are reading this thinking I must have no lines. But I do. And cunt crosses it. That's why I never say it. And until now I've never used it in my fiction.

So why did I make this exception? And was it a good choice?

To answer these questions, let's turn to the story in question. It's my newest story, "Punching Bag," which was published last week in the Winter 2019 issue of Flash Bang Mysteries, an e-zine that showcases crime flash fiction. I'm delighted that not only did editors BJ and Brandon Bourg choose to publish it, but they also chose it as the cover story and as the editors' choice story for the issue. It's the story of the darkest day in an emotionally abused teenage girl's life.

Let's stop here for a moment. I'm afraid that anything I say from here on will ruin the story for you if you haven't read it. So please go do so. The story is only 748 words long--the equivalent of three double-spaced pages. You can read it really quickly by clicking on the title in the prior paragraph. Then come back.

Okay, you've read it? Good. (I hope you liked it.)

You'll notice that the use of curse words is minimal. Toward the end the mom says the daughter is stupid and calls her a "disappointing, ungrateful bitch," and other unspecified names. That was all I planned to say about the matter originally, figuring readers could extrapolate from there. But one of my trusted beta readers told me she didn't think the girl was justified in killing her parents. She thought the girl came across as spoiled and selfish. I was surprised. I definitely didn't want that. I wanted readers to understand this girl, to be on her side, despite that she does a horrible thing. So I felt I needed to up the ante. That's when I added the part about her mom calling her a "self-centered cunt."

I figured if anything in this story was going to turn readers' perception of this girl from spoiled to sort-of justified, it would be that. If the word cunt crosses a line for me, I hoped, it would cross a line for readers, too--at least any readers whose line hadn't already been crossed by the mom's behavior.

So I submitted the story. But I worried. Was the use of the word cunt too much? Would it keep the story from being accepted? Then, once the story was accepted, I worried about readers. Would the word turn them off? Especially readers who know me primarily for my lighthearted, funny stories? The answer: So far, so good. I've gotten some feedback on "Punching Bag," and it's all been positive, with no one mentioning my use of that word. This response has helped me feel better about my choice, despite that the word still makes me cringe.

What do you think? Would you have been on the girl's side at the end if I hadn't included the "self-centered cunt" line? Or did the line push you onto the girl's side? Or do you think I went too far? What words cross your line?

One final note to my fellow SleuthSayer Robert Lopresti: Last week you wrote briefly about your newest flash short story (which is fewer than 700 words long), saying you were keeping things short because only English professors could get away with writing something about a story that is longer than the story itself. Ha ha, Rob! I have proven you wrong, because this blog about "Punching Bag" (excluding this paragraph) is 29 words longer than the story itself, and I am no English professor. Do I get a prize? Please don't make me become an English professor. I wouldn't last. I'd surely get written up for cursing in front of my students.

28 November 2017

The Intersection of Plotting and Cursing
– Rated R for Language

by Barb Goffman

"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.