Is “That Kind of Language” Really Necessary?

Those of you who are faithful followers, or who know me personally, know that I am something of a potty mouth.  I could give you examples, or mention all the variations of the title question I’ve heard, but that’s not really what the this post is about.

Today, I finished another Dean Koontz novel, The Funhouse.  Despite Koontz’s tendency to include thinly veiled moral/religious connotations in most of his work, and his even more irritating tendency to overdo it on the metaphorical descriptives, I do like his stories.  The Funhouse, one of his older novels and based off another author’s screenplay, is in my opinion, one of his more entertaining pieces.

But what really struck me was a passage from the “new” afterword.  The novelization was originally penned in 1980 (a year before I was born, incidentally,) and the language is gritty and (to me) realistic to a bunch of rebel teens from the ’80’s.  Koontz had this to say in his newest afterword written this year.

If I were to write the novelization […] today, I’d leave out most or all of the explicit language, since I’ve learned it’s always a crutch and that it diminishes rather than enlivens virtually any story.

I immediately took issue with this statement.  To be sure, I am picky about my writing, and critical about the writing in the books I read.  For instance, Patricia Cornwell is an extremely popular crime novelist who has sold more than 100 million copies of her novels.  And I don’t like her.  Sure, her stories are fine, but I find her writing style so irritating that I just don’t buy her books.  I can’t recall specifics because it’s been a while since I read anything of hers, but I seem to remember her as one of those authors that feels like she has to “explain” everything to audience, to the point where it causes the dialogue between characters to sound disingenuous and phony.

Which brings me to my point.  One of the major things that determines a novel’s success is the ability of the audience to relate to and care about the characters.  Nothing detracts from that faster than a disingenuous character or one who does not seem realistic.  While I concede that there are people that don’t use profanity, and writers who may eschew the use of it in their work, I believe it is a writer’s job to be true to their characters.  If their characters are typical 80’s teens, as in The Funhouse, they more than likely swear at least a little.  Even if there is a token “good girl” or “mama’s boy” in there somewhere, more than likely, the rest will curse at least a bit and more than possibly like sailors.

Nothing is more irritating than to hear (read) a character tip-toe around bad words, or worse, substitute lesser exclamations as if they were the most natural thing in the world.  “Oh, crap.”

Anyway, I just think, as successful as Koontz is, on this point, he’s…well, wrong.

What do you think, my fellow writers and book worms?

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